An island nation with few resources, Japan was in a precarious enough position when it declared war on the United States in December 1941. That its powerful navy failed to learn the lessons of previous conflicts made matters even worse, as Malcolm Murfett explains.
In the period between its initial swashbuckling attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to its final abject surrender in mid-August 1945, Japan lost an astonishing total of 8.4 million tons of merchant shipping: 2,259 vessels weighing over 500 tons were sunk in the Pacific War, with the loss of 116,000 merchant seamen. In addition, an unknown number of smaller boats, such as fishing trawlers, ketches, lighters, yachts and dinghies, along with their cargoes and crew perished in Japanese waters during these years.
A loss of this magnitude contributed enormously to Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. A resource-starved island nation, it needed a strong merchant fleet to import the vast majority of its industrial and military supplies, raw materials and mineral ores. To compound matters, Japan only grew 80 per cent of what was needed to feed its civilian population.
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