My apologies to ADBA

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Keith Enge
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My apologies to ADBA

Post by Keith Enge » Mon Nov 12, 2012 9:07 pm

I have always denigrated the actions of ABDA but I recently gained a new appreciation of the problems faced. The deficiencies are well known. ABDA was somewhere between an arranged marriage and a shotgun wedding. The bride and groom didn't even speak the same language with inevitable results. Tactical communication was abysmal but strategic communication was virtually nonexistant. Every side had a different strategic priority. The Dutch understandably wanted to defend everything that they could in the DEI (Dutch East Indies). The British were more concerned with defending Malaya and Singapore and also Burma. The US was basically just "showing willing" once they was realized that the Philippines would be lost. They merely wanted to delay Japanese conquests as much as possible without wasting many ships in a lost cause. Everyone was hurting for supplies too.

Like I said, those problems are well known. However, I just recently realized that distance was a problem too. We in the northern hemisphere tend to have a skewed vision of geography because we have used Mercator projection maps. These maps overemphasize distances in the higher latitudes compared to those near the equator. Therefore, even if we are conscious of the distortion intellectually, we still tend to see the DEI seemingly squished together and consider the distances in that theater to be small. On the contrary, the distances were so large that they limited ABDA responses to Japanese threats. For example, Soerabaja (now Surabaya) was a major base in eastern Java. Within 500 miles of Soerabaja, there was only one more than minor base, Batavia (Djakarta) in western Java. Within 500 miles of Batavia was only Palembang on Sumatra. Within 500 miles of Palembang was Singapore and just barely Kuching (Borneo). Given that ADBA aircraft were almost all short-ranged Dutch and British aircraft, they had great difficulty shuttling to another airfield to meet a Japanese threat.

Ships had a similar problem. Helrich tried to use the ABDA naval force as a reaction force but that was doomed to failure for two reasons. One was that he had no CAP because of the short-ranged ABDA fighters while the Japanese planes had much greater ranges and could attack him with impunity. The second reason was the time element. Even at a high cruising speed of 20 knots, it took over a day to travel 500 miles. Thus, because Japanese air superiority denied ABDA reconnaissance, landing sites were only aware of the invasion when the troopship arrived. Then, when Henrich sortied, he could only reach the location a day later. By that time, the Japanese landing was completed. The Japanese forces were heavy with troops and short on equipment and supplies. Landing thus went quickly because the troops unloaded themselves. Equipment was a minimal amount of artillery while supplies was mostly ammo; food was to be mainly foraged from Japan's victims. So, because of the distances involved, ABDA's whole reaction force concept was doomed. The only ships which could really contribute was submarines because they could patrol off likely invasion sites. If they guessed right, they could attack. However, if they guessed wrong, they had the same problem as surface ships; even at maximum speed, it would take them over a day to travel 500 miles to the actual invasion site. As it turned out, aside from some Dutch subs, ABDA subs accomplished little and those Dutch subs only look good in comparison to the minimal successes of the rest.

What brought the distance problem to my attention was a recent addition to the interactive maps in my database. The maps had always had battle "hotspots" which could be clicked to get a synopsis of the battle. Some maps could toggle off the battle hotspots and replace them with airfield hotspots. Just this week, I added an option to clicks on airfield hotspots. Instead of a short discussion of the airfield, you could how get concentric range circles around that airfield instead. I first added this capability to my New Guinea/Solomons time lapse map. Time lapse means that you can increment or decrement the date, in this case by one week. Thus, for any week, you can see what battles and invasions occurred. I also made the airfield hotspots change color to show who controlled them at that time. This was important because the Pacific war was basically a battle for airfields. You attacked an enemy island/base within range of your land-based aircraft and then, after capturing your objective, you moved your land-based aircraft forward to your new conquest. This then allowed you to attack farther up the chain. The range circles thus showed why invasions occurred where they did.

Any way, I then added this capability to my Japanese "blitzkrieg" map which covers their invasions in first four months of the Pacific war. This too is a time lapse map but, here, the time increment is a single day. Therefore, I show the daily movements of the various groups of Japanese troopships. Once I added the range circles, it was obvious that the distances meant that almost all of the Japanese landings would be unopposed by signicant numbers of ships or planes so that the Japanese blitzkrieg could steamroll though the DEI.

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Re: My apologies to ADBA

Post by cimmee » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:32 pm

First of all it's ABDA, not ADBA.

I'm not sure why you would denigrate a polyglot SAG. More likely that your LT is an attempt to say "look at me and my self aggrandizing post. :D

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Re: My apologies to ADBA

Post by RNfanDan » Sun Jan 06, 2013 1:10 pm

Mr. Enge

Ad hominem attacks by others notwithstanding , I can appreciate your concise and, IMHO --ACCURATE-- summation. While I have no comment on its underlying origins, I tend to agree with your ultimate conclusion regarding the disparate internecine politico-military aims of the three chief ABDA constituents.

I can only add that, despite being placed in a generally hopeless position against long odds, I believe ABDA fought commendably well.


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