For Want of a Nail
© Final Sword Productions LLC 2009
For the last fifteen months of WW2 the USN essentially ruled the waves worldwide. Indeed this has been true ever since so for most living people this is just the accepted order of the universe. Yet from Pearl Harbor through the end of 1943 this was not the case. Not only were the US and its UK allies short of ships relative to the multiple missions they had to perform; they also lacked the ability to fully deploy the ships they had. WW2 operations were conducted far from secure Anglosphere bases and the West was extremely short of fleet train ships, especially fleet tankers.
Now there is no way to create bigger fleets much faster. The Washington and London Naval Disarmament treaties were taken seriously by both elite and popular opinion throughout the English speaking world. Indeed such opinion was so opposed to rearmament that even when Japan denounced the treaties in 1934 it was some time before public opinion would accept substantial rearmament. The four year gap between Japan and the Anglosphere was paid for in blood 1941-43.
However even more than lack of ships was the lack on tankers. At the time of Midway
Task Force 1 VADm Pye
was left off the West Coast because the USN lacked the tankers and forward resupply ships to send it west of Pearl. Throughout the South and Southwest Pacific campaigns a similar lack kept these ships from being deployed to aid the Solomons Campaign. Lack of tankers led to the USN essentially abandoning the Marines on Guadalcanal.
None of the naval treaties prohibited building fleet tankers, tugs or similar fleet train ships. So let us presume that FDR vastly overbuilt these categories as part of his New Deal employment programs. In OTL the WPA and PWA in fact did build a few cruisers using that excuse. What changes?
Pearl will still happen. There will be no changes through the Coral Sea. It is highly doubtful that the USN would have risked the battle fleet that far away from defending the Pacific Coast and Hawaii that early. Midway would have seen these ships covering the carriers west of Pearl but Spruance was unlikely to have risked a surface engagement after his airpower win.
The big change comes at Guadalcanal. Let us presume a forward deployment of half of Task Force 1 [with more to follow to replace losses as needed; in other words a permanent force of four older battleships] with the Watchtower force. With enough tankers Gromley does not pull out halfway through the unloading. In turn that means the Japanese attack force at Savo finds a battle force waiting for them. Savo would still be a screwup of monumental proportions but with four battleships present the losses are more even [in good part because there would have been a senior surface forces officer present in command]. In turn the Slot battles would have been battleship on battleship much earlier. Presume even losses and Japan loses the vast bulk of its battle line killing off the old battleships one and two at a time. US night gunnery was subpar as were our torpedoes. However we had land based air at Henderson Field so Japanese cripples were all dead the morning after night battles.
The net effect is that by building 40-50 fast tankers and 10-20 other support ships 1933-38 the US manages to near destroy the IJN surface fleet before the end of the Solomons Campaign probably advancing the Pacific War by six months. This in turn means the Marianas happen early winter of 1944 instead of high summer which in turn means the Philippine campaign never happens. Most discussions of the US war ignore the manpower cost of Macarthurís Philippine obsession. Not going to the Philippines in turn means Ikeís divisions are not as short of riflemen the winter of 44-45. This probably shortens the war in Europe by a month.