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Easter is the center of Christianity, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. The Venerable Bede, 7th century English Saint (672-735) and historian, informed us that the word Easter derived from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre.
Despite its holy significance, Easter also marks the anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. As world tensions slowly ratchet up, and talk continues on the possibility of Communist China invading the island of Formosa, it might be instructive to look at an invasion of a good-sized island. It’s particularly illuminating because, by February 1945, US superiority over the Japanese was of an almost unimaginable scale; a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would not enjoy anything even remotely approaching such superiority in numbers, overall firepower, or logistics.
Some numbers: Okinawa is 463 square miles in area, and in 1945 had a population (less the Japanese Army) of roughly 300,000.
By the time US forces moved on Okinawa, the Japanese had been reduced to a shadow of what they had been just a few years earlier. No aircraft carriers remained, only a handful of submarines were operational, and large numbers of aircraft were being retained for the final defense of the home islands. Some 80,000 Japanese regular army and 40,000 local militia defended the island; the Japanese were prepared to use their aircraft (and some ships) in last ditch, one-way missions to attack US forces.
US forces included Task Force 58 which never had fewer than 13 aircraft carriers and at times more than 20, not to include a Royal Navy task force with 10 aircraft carriers, acting as a blocking force.
US ground forces consisted of 3 Marine Divisions, 4 Army divisions and a host of supporting units, resulting in a total of some 185,000 US combat troops and more than 300,000 combat support and combat service troops.
Including pre-landing bombardments that began on March 26, and the landings, which took place on Easter Day, April 1st, 1945, the battle for Okinawa lasted until July 2nd. By that time, the Japanese had suffered 77,000 regular army dead, more than 30,000 dead conscripts, and as many as 150,000 dead Okinawan civilians.
A small Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) task force did conduct a “Kamikaze” attack on US forces that resulted in losses to the IJN of a battleship, a cruiser and 11 other ships.
Additionally, some 1485 Kamikaze sorties were flown resulting in more than 250 US ships damaged and 34 sunk.
For anyone trying to draw analogies to Formosa, the US, with a truly massive preponderance of forces, suffered 12,500 combat dead, another several thousand combat related deaths, and more than 38,000 wounded.
All this on an island of less than 500 square miles, with the US facing an army of a bit more than 100,000, and army that had no outside logistic or intelligence support; with the US in absolute control of the sea approaches to the island.
Taiwan is an island of 14,000 square miles - with a very rugged, mountainous center, and a population of 23 million; that is, 30 times larger, with more than 60 times the population of Okinawa, able to support an army of roughly 300,000, with universal conscription and a reserve force nominally of 3 million.
Add to this modern weaponry, a strait separating them from Mainland China that is notorious for bad weather, and likely support from the US in the form of intelligence and warning, logistics, and perhaps the support of US submarines and long-range anti-aircraft and anti-ship weapons.
Does this mean that Communist China can’t invade? Does it mean that they won’t invade? Does it mean that if they invaded they wouldn’t win?
No, no, and no. Or, actually, maybe, maybe, maybe.
The truth is that any amphibious assault is difficult; the larger the invasion, the more difficult. The longer the range, the more difficult. The larger the opposing force, the more difficult. And just about everything else can make it more difficult.
Consider Allied forces landing on the Normandy coast in 1944: experienced forces with truly massive air superiority, covering a shorter over-water assault than one the Chinese would face. The Allies went up against mainly inexperienced, “second string” German troops. Allied forces had overwhelming air and sea control; in the first three days of the landings the Luftwaffe flew fewer than 300 total sorties of all types over Normandy, while total Allied strike sorties (not including and airborne or logistics sorties) numbered in excess of 14,000 missions on the first day alone.
Yet US and Allied forces bogged down and took weeks to break out of the “hedgerow” country, and that only after massive bombing and artillery support against various German positions.
Communist China is a bit more than 100 miles from the Island of Formosa. The Communists have a massive preponderance economically, demographically, and militarily. If Emperor Xi wants to take the island “no matter the cost,” he can. But, it probably would be a good idea for him to find a general who will tell him unvarnished truth. Because such an operation is likely to look different in fact than it does on the briefing slides he is being shown.
Xi might ask himself whether he wants to bite off an invasion that lasts more than 3 months, results in 10,000 or more dead PLA, 30,000 or more wounded PLA, and hundreds of thousands of dead Taiwanese. In fact, a more likely case is casualty figures 10 times that - or more. He may not care about losses, but he will care about loss of face.
Meanwhile, the US should load Taiwan with a host of defensive weapon systems, and keep sending the unambiguous message to Beijing that any attempt to invade Taiwan will not go unanswered by the US.
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...