Hector C. Bywater (1884-1940), British journalist, author, and spy could claim the title “Heir of Mahan” because of his effect on naval strategy before and during WW2. He is best remembered today for his fiction novel “The Great Pacific War”, which prophesied a future conflict between Japan and America. Hector was born in 1884 in N.E London, and turned an early obsession with boats into a lifelong career of studying and writing about naval affairs. At the age of 10 his family moved to America, where the young Hector gained first-hand knowledge of the emerging US seapower by frequent visits to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
At age 20 he became a reporter for the New York Herald, and was soon off to London as the paper’s European Naval Correspondent, about the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Three years later he was working in Germany, reporting on the country’s naval buildup. His articles soon brought him to the attention of the British Secret Service, which hired Hector as a spy. He remained in Germany until 1913, just as the Anglo-German naval rivalry reached its peak. Throughout the First World War, he continued in his capacity as a spy, ending the conflict as Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy.
After the war, his first non-fiction analytical book”Sea Power in the Pacific” was published, on the heels of the Washington Naval Conference in 1921. The book brought him much attention in US naval circles as well as among the delegates to the Conference. Hector became a much quoted and sought after naval expert. Months before the Conference, an article by Hector appeared in the Atlantic Monthly stating the US would propose a 5-5-3 ratio in battleships for the US, Britain, and Japan. This was the correct proportion finally agreed upon by the delegates in December, with great reservations from Japan who received the smallest number. Hector then broke another story that Japan would only agree to the ratio if America promised not to fortify her Western Pacific bases in Guam and the Philippines. Adding a personal note, he warned against the US agreeing to such and “insidious proposal”.
One of Hector’s critics was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt. The future US President disagreed that war with Japan was inevitable, or could even be carried out successfully in the far reaches of the Pacific. Bywater considered FDR “naive”, and claimed America could successfully conduct a western Pacific campaign if the correct strategy was followed. It was as a rebuttal to Roosevelt that Hector published “The Great Pacific War” in 1925. Though a work of fiction, it was based on fact, and described a naval war between Japan and the US in the 1930’s.
In its description of such a campaign, the book was prophetic on several accounts. The war began with a Japanese attack on the Hawaiian Islands, as eventually happened in 1941. The author even came close to the exact number of deaths after the attack: 2500 to the actual 2403. Next, he correctly fore-told the simultaneous invasions of Guam and the Philippines, even naming the exact beaches for the Japanese landings. He also surmised accurately the American Island-hopping campaign which finally proved the demise of the Japanese Empire. This in stark contrast of the American War Plan Orange which called for bypassing Japan’s Central Pacific holdings, for the short route to the Philippines.
The Great Pacific War was a immense success, and solidified Hector Bywater as an expert in naval affairs, as well as making him rich. The effect of the book on naval thinking was dramatic. In 1926, War Plan Orange was revised to include an Island-hopping strategy as described by Hector. In Japan it was initially criticized for foretelling a Japanese defeat, yet the overall plan soon became official Japanese policy. A young Japanese naval attaché in Washington at the time of publishing was Isoroku Yamamato, who seemed to have adopted many of Hector’s ideas. Many of the novel’s prophesies came true during Hector Bywater’s lifetime, including Japans aggression in China, as well as the rise of radical warlords in the government. His great triumph of foresight, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor came a year after his death from heart failure in 1940.
My name is Mike Burleson and I currently reside in historic Branchville, SC. Last year I completed my first book also titled “New Wars-The Transformation of Armies, Navies, and Airpower in the Digital Age”, available for purchase from Blurb.com As a freelancer my articles on military issues have appeared in The American Thinker, The Washington Post, Sea Classics Magazine, Townhall.com via Opeds.com, Buzzle.com, and Strategypage.com. My blog title New Wars concerning military issues is updated daily.