Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Great Pacific War

Today's post brought a new book to add to my collection ... THE GREAT PACIFIC WAR by Hector C Bywater. This edition is a reprint (Original published 1925; this edition published 1991 by St Martin's Press [ISBN 0 312 06364 4]) of Bywater's imaginary history of a war fought across the Pacific Ocean by Japan and the United States, but unlike most imaginary history this was not a fanciful volume of fiction; it was based upon a very detailed knowledge of the navies of both nations and an understanding of their strategic and tactical philosophies.


I have wanted a copy of this book ever since I read William H Honan's biography of Bywater (BYWATER: THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE PACIFIC WAR) when it was published in 1990 by Macdonald (ISBN 0 356 19135 4). I was so intrigued by the notion that someone had already identified in 1925 the basic strategy the Japanese would adopt in the 1940s that I wanted to read his account of what he thought might happen. I was also intrigued by the man himself.

Hector C Bywater was born in London in 1884. His family moved to the United States when he was 17, and by the age of 19 he was working as a part-time writer of navy-related news articles for the 'New York Herald' newspaper. The newspaper then sent him back to Europe to act as one of their overseas correspondents. It was at about this time that he began to spy for the British Secret Service. He maintained his cover story that he was an American journalist so effectively that he was able to remain in Germany until he returned to the United States in 1915. On his return to the US he helped to investigate suspicious activity in New York's docks and to avert a German bombing campaign in New York.

After the Great War Bywater became a full-time journalist specialising in writing articles about the World’s navies. His articles covered such topics as the Washington Treaty negotiations – which he attended – and the growing might of the Japanese Navy. In 1921 he wrote his first book about the possibility of a clash between Japan and the United States entitled book SEA-POWER IN THE PACIFIC: A STUDY OF THE AMERICAN-JAPANESE NAVAL PROBLEM. He followed this in 1925 with his book THE GREAT PACIFIC WAR.

For a time Bywater lived near Keston Ponds near Beckenham, Kent, and it is recorded that he actually fought wargames on the ponds using model warships that fired corks at each other. His biographer actually states in his book that these wargames were part of the way in which Bywater developed his ideas about how the forthcoming Great Pacific War was going to be fought.

Hector Bywater died in August 1940 of as a result of complications arising from acute alcoholism, although some conspiracy theorists insist that he was actually poisoned by agents working for the Japanese.

8 comments:

  1. I've been thinking of picking this up for some time.

    I will be very interested in your frank review of it once you've had a chance to read and digest it.


    -- Jeff

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  2. Bluebear Jeff,

    From what I have read so far - which is not a lot - it reads more like a military history book than most imaginary history books that I have read. The style is very much of its time, but Bywater has obviously given quite a lot of thought to how the war would be fought. It is still very much of a battleship vs. battleship war ... but carriers do play a not insignificant part, as do submarines. Think of it as being World War I but continued into the 1920s.

    There is a mixture of real and imaginary ships named in the book, the latter being based upon the sort of ships navies were planning to build in the light of their experiences in World War I.

    Not exactly a page-turner ... but my judgement so far is that it is a book I needed to buy.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. This is a very interesting book - I bought a copy about five years ago and keep meaning to re-read it. I read Honan's biography of Bywater last year - there may be a CoW session in it....

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  4. Tim Gow,

    I did not realise that you had read it ... and if you think it is worth re-reading, it must be good.

    As to a COW session ... it sounds like a good idea. Are you thinking of a large-scale naval battle using Fletcher Pratt's rules? It would certainly be in keeping with the era.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. An interesting book and an interesting time in history. A man that created models that shot corks. A true war gamer indeed. H.G. would have been proud of Bywater ! Thanks for the post ... Jeff

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  6. Chasseur (Jeff),

    I imagine that it was something like the battles fought by the Big Gun R/C Warship Combat group ... but without the benefit of radio control (I think that Bywater used clockwork motors to power and control his ships).

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Darn, I picked this up in a shop once and to my shame put it back on the shelf :(

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  8. Geordie an Exiled FoG,

    That is a great pity as I think that you might have enjoyed reading it.

    I am part of the way through the book, and I am pleased that I bought it. It is, however, causing me some problems as I keep wondering if I could refight the campaign using as-yet-to-be-built basswood model ships!

    All the best,

    Bob

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