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Japan Attacks The Panama Canal 1942

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  • Japan Attacks The Panama Canal 1942

    June of 1942 saw the IJN launch a massive attacks against Midway.

    Lesser known is that a part of the Combined Fleet was sent to attack the Aleutian Island chain, a part of the Alaskan Territory, in the hopes of diverting at least a portion of the US Navy to the defense of our assets there and to invade and capture the islands of Attu and Kiska. The Japanese naval force was centered around two light carriers with attendant cruisers and destroyers.

    My What If? scenario is:

    What if that diversionary force had gone southeast rather than north and attacked the Panama Canal?

    I can't see them actually invading the Canal Zone, but I could certainly see them putting several of the locks out of commission, thus depriving the US of its quickest transit method between the Atlantic and Pacific.

    http://www.history.army.mil/books/ww...US/ch12.htm#b3

    This is the best site I was able to find for an estimate of US assets defending the Canal Zone. It dates to late 1941 and shows that an estimated 21000 ground troops were available for defense. Another source indicates that they did have radar, and two- possibly three- squadrons of fighters, consisting of P-39s (reasonable to assume that they would have transitioned to P-40s by 6/1942). Air recon was the province of the Navy, though I cannot find a roster of what ships were assigned to the area.

    Assuming that the Japanese used the same two carriers (Ryujo and Junyo), their air strength would have been around 70-75 planes. A good argument can be made that these were the best-trained fliers in the world at the time. While the numbers of fighters would have been roughly equal, the Zero outclassed the P-40 or P-39 by a substantial margin and their pilots by an even more substantial one. I think it reasonable to expect that the majority of the attackers would have gotten through to the target, facing only AAA fire.

    Mitigating against success is the type of target. Simply put, we don't really know how effective Japanese bombs would have been against the massive concrete locks. We can be reasonably assured, however, that the bombs would have been quite effective against powerhouses, lock control rooms and the like because the record bears that out.

    So might such an attack have been feasible? Could it have succeeded? and, if yes, what might its long-term effects be?

  • #2
    I believe Japanese plans for an attack on the Canal were well advanced, but involved launching planes from submarines, not carriers.


    Philip
    "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."— Bertrand Russell

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    • #3
      One would have to ask how the Japanese were going fuel a task force that far from Truk or Japan. The Aleutian Islands are skip and jump from Japan in comparison to Panama.
      The Purist

      Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking - John Maynard Keynes.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by The Purist View Post
        One would have to ask how the Japanese were going fuel a task force that far from Truk or Japan. The Aleutian Islands are skip and jump from Japan in comparison to Panama.
        Not a task force, but a kamikaze attack on the Panama canal's lock gates, using four planes launched from specially-adapted submarines was believed to have a good chance of rendering the canal unusable for at least 6 months.

        But the raid was planned for 1945, not 1942.

        Originally conceived in 1942 to attack U.S. coastal cities, the I-400 subs and their Seirans were central to an audacious, top-secret plan to stop the Allies' Pacific advance by disguising the floatplane bombers with U.S. Army Air Forces insignia and attacking the Panama Canal. It was a desperate, Hail Mary–type mission to slow the American advance in the closing days of World War II. However, when the giant subs were finished too late in the war to be effective in stemming the Allied tide, they were reassigned to attack U.S. carrier forces at Ulithi Atoll, the launch point for a devastating air campaign against Japan in preparation for Operation Olym*pic, the planned invasion of the island nation.
        More at: http://www.historynet.com/japans-pan...nal-buster.htm
        "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."— Bertrand Russell

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        • #5
          Depictions of the plane-carrying Sen Toku I-400-class submarines built for the planned attack on the Panama Canal.





          While Japan built many submarines that were larger than those of other Navies, the three Sen Toku boats were far larger than anything ever seen before. Some 60% larger than the largest contemporary American submarine, USS Argonaut, they had more than twice her range. The most unusual feature was that they each carried three floatplane bombers (and parts for a fourth), a feat never achieved by any other class of submarine. These aircraft folded to fit into the 115-foot cylindrical hangar, which was slightly offset to starboard and opened forward to access the catapult. The huge double hull was formed of parallel cylindrical hulls so that it had a peculiar lazy-eight cross section, and may have inspired the Soviet Typhoon-class built some 40 years later. Although aircraft must be considered their primary armament, they also carried a formidable torpedo battery and the usual 14cm deck gun. Anti-aircraft armament included ten 25mm cannons in three triple mounts and one single. Each of these boats had radar and a snorkel.


          I-400 beside submarine tender USS Proteus after the war. Note the large hangar and forward catapult.

          From: http://combinedfleet.com/ships/i-400
          "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."— Bertrand Russell

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          • #6
            The US had replacement gates for many of the key locks, so it appears that the loss could have been repaired in a relatively short period of time. Keep in mind too that the Panama Canal Zone was heavily defended both in AAA and aircraft as well. It wouldn't have been an easy strike for the Japanese.
            "Profanity is but a linguistic crutch for illiterate motherbleepers"

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            • #7
              I had to wargame the Pacific theatre once, as the Japanese, though I didn't do any real reading apart from what forces were moving to where just before Pearl Harbour to see if I could re-direct any. However, one idea I came up with was a modern equivalent of 'fire ships' - civilian vessels under false flags, rammed with explosives, making a course for the canal. No idea if that would work or what the response might be but worth a go perhaps.
              ------
              'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.' - Thomas Jefferson

              If you have questions about the forum please check the FAQ/Rules

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              • #8
                Hi

                There is a rather exhaustive thread (49pages) over on the AHF about an attack on Panama. Though the timing is different by 7months many of the technical details regarding the locks and the logistical/military aspects remain pertinent. A decent source for this discussion

                http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtop...8&hilit=Panama

                Regards
                "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

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                • #9
                  I was familiar with the plans to bomb the Canal with submarine-launched aircraft. Those were some incredible submarines, weren't they?

                  I admit that the refueling would have presented a problem. Japan had competency, but lacked capacity. A diversionary task force would have required a dedicated tanker train and that might have been stretching their assets too thinly, given their other commitments at that time.

                  Another possibility: assuming that the materials needed to repair any damage were right at hand and therefore damage to the actual locks themselves would not have caused any long-term inconvenience, what if multiple merchant ships passing through the docks were targeted, thus blocking the canal?

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                  • #10
                    Too many important assets to gamble away for minimal effects. Cost/Reward ratio is way too high.
                    Кто там?
                    Это я - Почтальон Печкин!
                    Tunis is a Carthigenian city!

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by The Purist View Post
                      One would have to ask how the Japanese were going fuel a task force that far from Truk or Japan. The Aleutian Islands are skip and jump from Japan in comparison to Panama.
                      Assuming they had the means to refuel and make the trip I see several things that would not be in Japan's favor. First though if they did manage a strike from the two carriers mentioned:

                      The best strategy is not to just go for the locks per se but rather attack shipping that may be in them. The locks themselves are going to be a very poor target. Only damaging the actual gates and ajoining equipment and rail system would have any effect. Sinking a ship in one of the locks would be easier and have the same effect as damaging the lock itself.
                      Sinking a ship or capsizing it in the locks or a narrow portion of the canal would have greater effect.

                      The other target should be shipping moving in the canal to and from the locks. Again, these represent potential hazards to navigation that would require clearing. The lack of salvage equipment in the Canal Zone and in general (most of it is tied up a Pearl Harbor) means a bigger mess to clean up.

                      That said, several things mitigate against success.

                      The Junyo and Hiyo have the least experianced air crew and air wings aboard them. Most of their pilots are wartime graduates with limited flying time compared to the prewar carrier wings.

                      The biggest danger is once they have struck and their presence is known, is they have to withdraw over thousands of miles of ocean that is essentially hostile territory. That means there is a good chance at some point they will be found and once found, likely sunk.

                      If the US manages a counter strike they also run the real risk of being damaged and given the distance home likely having to be sunk or abandoned as a result.

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                      • #12
                        In one of my books on the JU52, there is a story on the seizure of three Ju53s in Columbia that Nazi agents were going to use to bomb the locks. The aircraft were Condor Airlines 52s and were seized by US agents and flown to Panama. USAAF designation C-79 were use as transports in the canal zone.

                        The story sounds a bit Indiana Jones, but who knows.
                        Captn Tommy

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                        • #13
                          It would have taken about a month longer to get there, and they would have had to cross or come very close to all the US shipping lanes to Asia.
                          I just don't see them pulling it off.

                          But, if they had, it would have been deadly.

                          More do-able and potentially a huge distraction; why not send a fast light carrier like Ryujho and a pair of cruisers to hit the shipping lanes south of Hawaii?
                          "Why is the Rum gone?"

                          -Captain Jack

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                          • #14
                            Seems the US did have some C-79's. Here's some on the Panama Canal ones:

                            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Re...sance_Squadron

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                              Seems the US did have some C-79's. Here's some on the Panama Canal ones:

                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_Re...sance_Squadron
                              Just when you thought you'd heard it all...

                              That was a hell of a good find, TAG.
                              I know the need was desperate, and they had ever right to it, but I still wonder why they didn't pass it on to the O.S.S. or the British. A genuine Junkers could have come in very handy over occupied Europe.
                              "Why is the Rum gone?"

                              -Captain Jack

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