With the recent release of Hearts of Iron 4‘s Man the Guns DLC, a good deal of us have been returning to the game to check out new developments and the massive changes to the naval economy and battle systems. It seems to be another step in the right direction for HOI4 and finally gives much needed depth to the so far overlooked naval dimension.
Happily, this has also led to an increased interest in the various navies of Great Power participants of the war, and the campaigns that they fought across the world from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean. From titanic battleships and aircraft carriers dueling over kilometers of open ocean, to submarines stalking wary but helpless merchant ships; exploring the battles, strategies, and technologies of these different navies can help contextualize the truly global nature of the Second World War.
This reading list aims to acquaint those interested in learning about the above facets of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), one of the less understood but incredibly fascinating combatants. The Imperial Japanese Navy is unique in its rapid transformation from the 1860s to its near total destruction in 1945. The IJN demonstrates how technology, resource limitations, inter-service rivalries, and imperial ambition all contributed to the almost unthinkable successes of 1941-2, and also to their repeated failures as the war in the Pacific wore on.
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Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941 (2012)
Authors: David C. Evans and Mark R. PeattiePages: 696Buy: Amazon
Kaigun is usually my go to recommendation to students who are interested in learning more about the Imperial Japanese Navy. While less focused on the Pacific War itself, ending its narrative in 1941, there is no other work that provides the detail and analysis than Evans and Peattie do in one place with Kaigun.
This massive tome (at nearly 700 pages it’s not one to bring to bed for a light read) will take readers through the changes and developments of the Imperial Japanese Navy from near its inception through its major combat actions including the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) and the First World War (1914-8) with an eye to the role of technology, strategy, and personality in shaping the IJN. There are diagrams and technical specifications for those inclined, alongside maps of manoeuvres. Most importantly for myself, and the main reason why it is first on my list of recommendations, is that it remains readable and engaging throughout.
The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War (2014)
Author: Mark StillePages: 392Buy: Amazon
Mark Stille’s work is particularly relevant to the wargaming crowd. Though it does offer a brief examination of IJN doctrine and the campaigns it underwent during the Second World War, the work is better used as an on-hand reference.
The meat of the work is a detailed list of almost every IJN ship, along with pictures, technical specifications, and descriptions. An excellent work to have nearby when wargaming Pacific War Naval scenarios or designing your own fleets in Hearts of Iron 4, Stille’s work is an excellent one to keep in arms reach at table top or computer desk.
From Mahan to Pearl Harbour: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (2006)
Author: Sadao AsadaPages: 385Buy: Amazon
Sadao Asada’s excellent exploration of the IJN’s understanding, and eventual corruption of, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theory of the importance of Sea Power is fascinating on several levels. The culmination of years of research using Japanese and American sources, the work examines how the IJN, and the US for that matter, used the theory to justify expansion of naval power in preparation for a future conflict over the Pacific.
The IJN, Asada argues, lost sight of the overall strategy of naval dominance in their search for a decisive engagement. The work also does a great deal to debunk myths about the inevitability of conflict, instead showing that a failure of leadership and the loss of influential defenders of the international naval treaty order led to the ascendancy of overzealous and often irrational advocates for war. From Mahan to Pearl Harbour is a must read for those interested in better understanding the how and why of the war in the Pacific, rather than jus the technical or strategic aspects of the conflict.
Neglected Skies: The Demise of British Naval Power in the Far East, 1922-42 (2017)
Author: Angus BrittsPages: 272Buy: Amazon
Angus Britts’ re-examination of the Indian Ocean Raid is not only an interesting look at one of the less known, but still influential engagements of the Second World War, but also a thorough analysis of the decisions and difficulties that led the British to be so poorly equipped to face the Japanese in 1941.
The engagement between the British Eastern Fleet and most of the IJN’s carrier group in the waters off of Ceylon was one of the largest engagements by the British in the theatre, and Japanese success there secured their flank as the Japanese Empire spread south across the pacific and South East Asia. The main narrative of the work examines British policy towards rearmament and air power, but also includes chapters on the strategic importance of South East Asia, and Japanese Naval Air Power.
Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway – The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes (2011)
Author: Tameichi HaraPages: 336Buy: Amazon
Captain Tamaichi Hara’s work is the only one on this list that comes from a participant in the Pacific War. This memoir of Captain Hara’s life as the ‘unsinkable captain’, his rise through the ranks and his personal experiences of some of the most important battles of the period is well worth anyone’s time.
Hara is frank and introspective but doesn’t shy away from discussions of tactics and strategy. From either the perspective of wanting to learn more about how the Japanese side of famous battles were organized and fought from a surface level eyes, or simply wanting to hear someone ‘on the other side of it’ tell their story, this memoir succeeds.
Though these works span from the broad and technical to the narrow and personal each one delivers a different insight into some aspects of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I hope you find them interesting and worthy additions to your libraries. Let us know if you have any other works that would compliment this list!