Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6, 1942 and 1944 – A Cursed Day for the Allies

On two occasions two years apart during the Second World War, the sixth of June proved to be a day of disaster.  The first was in the Pacific Theater as the Imperial Japanese Navy looked to take Midway Island and push American control 1,200 miles backward.  Since the war in the Pacific had begun for the Americans with the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it had been mostly a calculated retreat.  FDR ordered General Douglas MacArthur to relocate from the Philippines to Australia in February, 1942, prompting the famous “I shall return” speech.  The Japanese swept through the Dutch East Indies until finally being stopped at the Battle of Coral Sea.  While the Allies took heavier losses, they hindered the Japanese enough to stop their invasion of southern New Guinea.

In the next weeks, Yamamoto collected a massive fleet to make an attack on Midway Island, America’s most forward holding in the northern Pacific.  The attack had been expected by command since the 1930s, but there seemed no way to beat Japanese numbers with victory at Coral Sea being granted by superb American flight crews since ships did not even sea one another.  Code-breakers attempted to trick the code for Midway out of the Japanese naval code JN-25 by falsely broadcasting in May that the Midway water distillation plant had broken and requesting supplies.  While Japanese radio-operators were preparing to pass along word that “AF” (Midway) was short of water, command stopped them, having been suspicious over the American carriers seeming to appear exactly in the right place and time at Coral Sea.  Yamamoto, who had spread his fleet widely to avoid detection, decided Americans were already suspicious and reordered his ships into a tighter pack that struck Midway and the few American reinforcements there.  Most of the American Pacific fleet was in Hawaii, with the U.S.S. Lexington carrier under extensive repair.

After the fall of Midway, the Japanese and Americans fought endlessly between Midway and Hawaii, with the Americans finally pushing the Japanese back in November of 1942.  They had allowed the Japanese to dig in at places such as the Eastern Solomons and Guadalcanal, but the full industrial might of America finally outpaced early Japanese advantages.  With the loss of nearly 1000 pilots over the month-long Battle of Hawaii, the Japanese were unable to replace their crews, and the navy became impotent, relying on the army to hold the islands conquered early in the war.  The Second Battle of Midway in 1944 restored it to American hands at the cost of thousands of Marines’ lives.  By December 1945, the Americans had overtaken outlying Japanese bases at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, making routine firebombing of the mainland possible.

June 6 was also the day of the disastrous attempt at an amphibious landing on the north coast of France.  Weather had delayed the attack from June 5, but the Allies made an eager assault at Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944, without full air support.  While many of the German High Command were absent (Hitler was reported to have slept late that day) or more fearful of attack at Calais, communications broken up by Allied paratroopers ironically inspired reserve commanders to act on their own initiative.  The Allies held the beach for a time, but Panzers under Rommel drove the troops back into the sea by afternoon (thanks to winning out before Hitler in an argument with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt about mobile defense).

Eisenhower and the Allies retreated to prepare for another amphibious invasion, but the “worst channel storm in 40 years” delayed them through June.  Instead, the Allies determined to feint at Calais and made an assault Marseille in the South, for which Churchill had long campaigned.  Italy had been occupied by the Germans after capitulating, slowing advance up the Italian peninsula into a stalemate.  Operation Dragoon created a fresh front through southern France, causing the Germans to move their attention southward.  Shortly afterward, the Allies struck at Brittany, finally establishing a lasting beachhead at Brest.  Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, Stalin began ferocious counterattacks, pushing westward and catching whole German armies in pincer movements.  By May of 1945, Russians had marched into Bavaria, taking as much ground as possible as the Western forces attempted to catch up for the Battle of Berlin a month later.

The war in Europe ended on May 28 with the Soviets controlling almost the whole of Germany.  Issues immediately began to arise with occupation zones as French demanded an area of Germany.  At Potsdam that July, the quickly fracturing Allies determined that the Soviets could control Germany as long as it followed the Potsdam Agreement and Russia would declare war on Japan to end the Pacific theater.  President Truman’s use of the atomic bomb and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria led to VJ Day on January 14/15.  Again, the Soviets made great leaps in occupation, taking Korea and the northern islands of Japan while the beleaguered American forces worked to disarm southern islands still held by imperial forces.

With so much Soviet influence in the East, Stalin refused to give up Manchuria to the Chinese as a result of the ongoing Chinese Civil War, explaining they needed secure railways to support the occupational forces in Korea.  Both Nationalist and Communist Chinese balked at the invasion and called another truce as they had during Japanese invasion, although each was willing to injure the other whenever possible.  The occupation of Manchuria began the Sino-Soviet War, which dragged on as Western powers watched.  With the development of Russian atomic weapons in 1949, the West finally acted with a NATO ultimatum banning the use of atomic weapons.

NATO-Soviet relations continued to crumble until the death of Stalin in 1956 ignited revolutions beginning in Hungary and spreading throughout Europe.  Already stretched thin with fighting in China and occupation in Central Asia, the stress was enough to break the Soviet Bloc and bring the experiment of Russian Communism crashing down.  War in China continued until NATO influence finally brought Kai-shek’s Nationalists into power, spreading capitalism into other former Soviet nations such as Korea and Xinjiang.


In reality, the US had broken the Japanese naval code and was able to appear at Midway with reinforcements, including the Yorktown, which had been repaired round-the-clock in Hawaii over 72 hours at Nimitz’s urging.  German High Command, however, was not as able and delayed counterattacks on D-Day until much too late to reverse Allied advances into Normandy.

1 comment:

  1. on the Today in Alternate History web site we revisit this concept in our variant article June 6, 1944 and 1946 - A Cursed Day for the Allies which imagines the failure of X-Day, the fictional invasion of Japan two years later.


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