At the start of the new year, the Japanese Alliance scored a major diplomatic victory. After a short period of negotiations with the USA, the Japanese secured a small two-part war loan at a nominal interest rate, backed by limited military basing rights granted to American Navy forces for no less than ten years. It was not so much the funds that helped the Japanese (the loan total rose to the modest equivalent of fourty million pounds, backed in American gold) as the clear message that the Americans considered them the ones to back
in this war. The Americans had pulled out most of their forces from the South China Sea, with the tacit understanding that the Japanese Alliance would handle security in the region; the European powers, less trusting but unwilling to thrust their hands into the quickly developing mess there, assumed a more measured, neutral stance. One notable example was France, very worried about her own holdings in the Far East but not willing to side with the Germans. The political mess that ensued by contradicting statements and flip-flopping from the French Foreign Ministry was a joy for Minister Katō to watch.
In February, the R & D folks presented the Admiralty with a few minor, but significant designs. First were small diesel generators, that could serve as backups for a ship's main electrical systems. One of the most terrible ways for a ship to die was for a lucky hit to disable its electrics, leaving its pumps dead and damage control only able to stand and watch as they lost their ship from under them. This would, hopefully, no longer be an issue. Another development was the submission of designs for mine rails in light ships (Destroyers and light cruisers), partly inspired by the Russian Pallada
-class designs the Russians were working on. Until then, laying minefields was the responsibility of the 'Maru boys'; now the destroyer jockeys and scouting forces could share the burden and further reinforce the Japanese defenses.
In an effort to bring the German fleet to battle, Kongo
sailed to the coast of Northern Korea with a destroyer escort. The Germans (Japanese intelligence had accoutned for at least three capital ships in the area) wanted nothing to do with that, and preserved their forces as a fleet-in-being.
They also made some overtures for peace through the Russians; Kaiser Wilhelm II counting on his cousin, Tzar Nikolai's goodwill. Queen Victoria would have been proud to see them working together; the Japanese Government, however, were not impressed and said so in no uncertain terms, especially when it became clear that the Kaiser's Cabinet was unwilling to contemplate any territorial concessions.
What followed was a month of the Japanese Silent Service patiently explaining to the Germans that hiding in their harbours was unacceptable.
I-26, under the command of Captain Yokota Makoru casually sailed into a Korean anchorage and torpedoed the German destroyer S20 - quite the embarrasment for the Germans.
She then proceeded to sink two ammunition ships with her deck gun. I-18 and I-14 provided two more kills.
The Germans tried to counter the Japanese successes with their own submarine fleet, but lost more subs than they sunk ships.
Encouraged by the Navy's success, the Army submitted a proposal for a concentrated push into Northern Korea. The Navy, seeing an opportunity to force the Germans into a decisive fleet battle, if the army push should succeed in depriving them of their infrastructure, agreed to support the Army advance. The advance started in late March, with the Japanese ships laying supportive fire on contested coastal sites.
It was a good thing that the second and final part of the American war loan was released to the military budget in April.
The Silent Service once again dealt a crushing blow to German shipping, putting more than triple their German counterparts' sunken tonnage to the bottom. Some losses were suffered, but the submariners were highly praised for their undeniably spectacular performance.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the Chishima
. Returning home after an unsuccessful raid with her fuel bunkers near-empty, the Japanese cruiser was pursued by a German Armoured Cruiser over several hours, which forced her to run at sustained flank. By the time she successfully managed to disengage, she no longer had the necessary fuel to reach a Japanese port and had to find refuge in Manila, where she spent the rest of the war nest to Chiyoda.
Captain Miyamoto Daichi was heavily criticised for allowing his fuel stores to run so low before returning to refuel.
In May, the Navy reached one of the most controversial decisions in its history. In what was considered to be a morale-raising move, the Kongou
was brought to Yokohama where, in the presence of the old Fuso
she was renamed to match her lauded predecessor.
The ceremony was a grand affair, with the (increasingly weakening) Emperor and his family present and officiating; and multitudes of crowds massing in the quays and docks. The renaming itself caused mixed reactions among the crews. On the one hand, many sailors and officers thought it disrespectful to both Kongou
(who had, so far, honoured her name) and the old Lady of China. On the other, Fuso
was thought to truly be a lucky name for the Navy.
Of some apocryphal interest was the response of the most spiritual of sailors, who thought that the renaming would do more harm than good. They feared that the ship's spirit would be confused and angry, having to shed her own battlecruiser mantle to vest that of an old and honoured battleship. How could such a profound change in the nature of the ship not affect her and those aboard her?
They were proven wrong. Whether it was in the name or not is debateable, but Fuso
proved to be as lucky a ship as her predecessor. Less than a month after the renaming, Fuso
were patrolling off Formosa, when the battlecruiser's hull clanged on something. The watch officers were sure that they had struck a mine; fortunately for the ship, it had proved to be a dud. The Takachiho
did not have the time to avoid the minefield before the destroyers could begin a sweep; she struck another mine less than a hundred yards off Fuso's
port stern. Spectacularly
even though she was more than fifteen years old at the time with no torpedo and mine protection whatsoever, in a stroke of amazing luck, the blast only cracked her forward three compartments. Thhe crew managed to get the flooding under control in minutes. Fuso
towed her to Formosa, where she would spend the next five months being repaired.
The news from the front were not as good. The Army had run into prepared German defenses and the advance had bogged down. Massive losses were taken on both sides; the Battle of Korea was quickly becoming the bloodiest conflict of the new century. New tactics were tested and employed by both sides, but nothing could break the stalemate.
In July, Fuso
spent a short time in the drydocks. Thanks to new improvements in gun mountings and elevation gear, space could be economised in her crowded triple turrets. This gave her gun crews considerably more elbow room and alowed for a substantial increase in her rate of fire.
was holding the northern front and keeping the Germans pinned into their Korean harbours. Twice she offered battle; twice the German capital ships exited the harbours, saw the Teufelsschiff
waiting for them and immediately returned to the cover of their coastal batteries and minefields.
There was grumbling among the crews that Ikoma
By August, the reconstruction of the Tsukuba
was complete and funds could now be allocated to new construction. It was debated whether a batch of new light cruisers might be a good option; however, upon review of the performance of the various services, it was finally decided that the Silent Service could use some more toys.
Six massive new submarines, almost as big as a contemporary destroyer were laid down. Nothing like them had ever existed in the world. They could roam faster than their smaller siblings; pack more torpedoes and bigger deck guns; and run more silently than any other submersible. The Admiralty intended to give command to their best-performing crews and the submariners threw themselves into the frey with wild abandon.
This brought the Germans to the breaking point. In September, new overtures were made for a compromise, 'white' peace. The Admiralty scoffed at the idea and pointed at the massive losses the Germans had suffered - and were continuing to suffer daily. Minister Katō , on the other hand, had ideas of his own - and the skills to implement them.
In a month-long, grueling negotiation meeting that took place in London, with the Japanese battlecruisers shelling German harbours in Korea and the front finally
buckling in places, he laid down the Japanese demands and refused to budge an inch. He furthermore informed the Germans that, should a peace not
be signed, the Japanese Alliance would not engage in any other negotiations or accept cease-fires until every last German soldier had been ousted from East Asia - including
the nearly fallen Korea and Java. If the Germans wanted to keep their bases there? They would have to back off now
What did Katō want?
He'd settle for Africa. All