Feigning grand strategy: Japan, 1937–1945

Alessio Patalano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Now we are in the very day to which we have been looking forward so eagerly. That is, the long-cherished ‘X’ day for the outbreak of war now offers itself. As Lt Commander Sadao Chigusa committed these thoughts to the pages of his diary in the early hours of 7 December 1941, the destroyer Akigumo, on which he served as executive officer, was steaming in formation with the carrier force ready to unleash the full strength of its air wing over Pearl Harbor. Three hours later, the first laconic battle report reached the fleet: ‘Succeeded in our surprise attack. … Attacked the main force. Had a great effect’. Indeed, the Japanese air raid over Pearl Harbor had a ‘great’ effect. What followed – in the words of John Dower – was a ‘war without mercy’, a forty-four-month-long conflict, stretching from the high seas of the Pacific to the jungles of Southeast Asia and the plains of China. Japanese authorities had locked themselves in an all-out fight against a coalition of nations. The great effect was something they did not anticipate: the destruction of the Imperial Navy, the demise of the Japanese Empire, and the moral and physical collapse of the Japanese people. Yet for Japanese commanders deployed in the battle fields in China, and for army planners in Tokyo, the navy's long cherished ‘X’ day did not mark the outbreak of war. The navy, too, had seen action off the coasts of Shanghai and in the skies of eastern China in 1937 and 1938. These experiarmy, however, major battles and proxy war across China and along the Mongolian border, most notably the 1939 Japanese-Soviet conflict at Nomonhan that saw the engagement of some 100,000 troops, had been taking place since 1937. These differences in perception among soldiers and sailors revealed bureaucratic fragmentation over the aims of national strategy, and the means to achieve them.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the Second World War: Volume I: Fighting the War
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9781139855969, 9781107038929
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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