*** World War II Pacific naval campaigns -- Kantai Kessen

World War II Pacific Naval Campaign: Kantai Kessen

Kantai Kessen
Figure 1.--This painting depicts the image seared on the mind of every Japanese naval officer graduating from the Imperial Naval Accademy, ironically at the time of World War II located in Hiroshima. We see Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on the bridge of the Battleship Mikasa. Left to right we see : messenger Yamazaki Genki, navigator Second Lieutenant Edahara Yurikazu, staff Major Iida Hisatsune, chief navigator Lieutenant Colonel Nunome Mitsuzō, aide-de-camp of gunnery officer Lieutenant Imamura Nobujirō, captain of Mikasa Captain Ijichi Hikojirō, gunnery officer Major Abo Kiyokazu, 4th grade sailor Noguchi Shinzō, chief of staff Rear-Admiral Katō Tomosaburō, measurement officer Cadet Lieutenant Hasegawa Kiyoshi, Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, staff Lieutenant Colonel Akiyama Saneyuki, 1st grade sailor Miura Tadashi, cadet Tamaki Shinsuke. The artist was Tōjō Shōtarō.

Kantai Kessen (decisive battle) Doctrine dominated the thinking of the upper echleons of Japanese naval thinking. This was cemented by the great victory of the fledgling Japanese Imperial Navy commanded by Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō over the Russian Fleet in the Tashima Straits (May 1905). It was Japan's Trafalgar, but unlike the British Royal Navy, the Imperial Navy was a very recent creation with few influential traditions. But as Japan embarked onthe Pacific War, Tsushima and Katai Kessen was deeply embedded in the mind of every officer who has passed through the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy located in of all places--Etajima, Hiroshima. (It had been founded in Ngasaki.) Interesting, the U.S. Navy came up with a very similar doctrine -- War Plan Orange. The U.S. Navy had a much longer history, but had never before conducted a major fleet action against a serios enemy fleet. The similar naval plan reflects the importance of naval U.S. naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan at the time. [Mahan] Plan Orange was U.S. Navy's strategy of how to wage a war with Japan. Both Katai Kessen and Plan Orange were based on the assumption that Japan would quickly seize the Philippine Islands and neutralise the small U.S. Asiatic Fleet. And thus the decisive battle would occur when America's primary striking force (the Pacific Fleet) would sail West and engage the Imperial Fleet just as the Russian Fleet had sailed east. There were differences as to just where this engagement would take place (Japan's mandate territories, the Philippines, or the Home Islands), but it was envisioned by both the Americans and Japanese that it would be in the western Pacific. The planning in the inter-War era did not take in account the vital impotance of both air power and the submarine. Both navies were thinking primarily of battleships. Which is why the Japanese constructed two super battleships (Yamato amd Musachi) and planned a third. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they were so sucessful at Pearl Harbor that the U.S. Pacific Fleet no longer had operational battleships (December 1941). Thus the Pacufic Fleet did not have thevships needed to execute Plan Orange. Admiral Nimitz had to devise a new strategy and the tactics for the ships that were left -- most importantly the carriers. Even before Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy had begun to revise its war plans--the new Rainbow Plans. [Spector, Eagle ..., p. 59.] The U.S. Navy had revised the assumptions and plans for Rainbow 5 in the Plan Dog memo, which concluded that the United States would adhere to a Europe-first strategy in World War II. The Japanese did not revise their Katai Kessen doctrine even after Pearl Harbor, but by the time that the United States had built up its fleet, the Imperial Fleet had been so attritted that it had no realistic possibility of winning a major fleet action. The United Srates also lost vessels, but had the industrial capacity to build enormous numbers of new vessels. The Japanese did not. The Japanese Kntai Kessen doctrine was flawed because it did not take into account the enormous industrial capacity of the United States as well as the unlikely prospect that America, like the Russians in 1905, would be willing to make peace after losing a major naval battle. Pearl Harbor had just thebopposite of the impact intended. The American people who had wanted to avoid war wwere now united with a desire to wage war.


Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783 (1890).

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun (1985).


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Created: 4:54 PM 4/28/2021
Last updated: 1:49 AM 8/18/2022