And by the end of this blog post, the one thing I can guarantee you is that if you don't have an opinion on this now, you will before I'm done.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the key part of the story. Stick with me, because it's kind of long but I have to tell it all before I can start drawing EVE parallels.
The overall framework of this naval battle is actually pretty simple: the objective of the Allied Navies was to put invasion landing forces on the major islands of the Philippines. The objective of the Japanese Navy was to prevent this, preferably by destroying the relatively fragile landing transports and their support ships. The islands in question stretch from north to south, in three sets of archipelagos. The landing beaches were on the east side of the islands. The Philippine Sea and points south had been decisively closed to Japanese shipping a few months earlier. Therefore, the Japanese fleet had to approach from the west and had three avenues of approach:
- from the north, around the tip of the northern island of Luzon;
- between Luzon and the middle archipelago (primarily the island of Samar) through the Sibuyan Sea; or,
- between the middle and southern archipelagos (south of the island of Leyte) through the Surigao Straight.
This resulted in four overall naval battles: one in the north, one in the south, and two in the center.
The Allied navies had overwhelming force on the battlefield, and far outstripped the Japanese forces in every conceivable way. As a matter of fact, it's arguable that each of the three Allied task forces set to guard the northern, central, and southern approaches were more powerful than the combined Japanese fleet.
And yet, a powerful Japanese fleet still managed to evade all three defensive fleets and steam right very nearly right onto the invasion beaches and the nearly-defenseless transports and support ships!
Now, the exact details of how that was done are not particularly germane to my story. Short version:
- In the south, U.S. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf won an absolutely crushing and historic victory against the Japanese southern force.
- In the center, after several brief skirmishes, U.S. Admiral William Halsey was baited away from the position he was supposed to be guarding by Japanese Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. And,
- in the north, Halsey rather foolishly -- and to put it in EVE terms in a desperate rush for kill-mails -- steamed his center force hundreds of miles after Ozawa's fleet eventually destroying much of it.
How did the Japanese bait Halsey out of position? They had learned a lot about the man over the prior two years, and knew that he could be goaded into chasing Japanese carriers. So that's all their northern force was made up of: the remaining Japanese carriers, dangled in front of "Bull" Halsey, who had a dream of getting Japanese carrier kill-mails. That tendency drew him hours out of position, nearly cost him the entire battle, and it was only luck and a desperate action by overwhelmed American forces off Samar that prevented it.
U.S. propaganda at the time -- which is actually really a lot like EVE propaganda -- stated that before the Battle of Midway two years earlier, the U.S. had known nothing but defeat. After Midway, the U.S. knew nothing but victory. Now that wasn't quite true -- that's another part that's a lot like EVE propaganda -- but it was true enough that a Japanese victory in the Battle Off Samar would now be a lot more remembered.
So, let's start comparing this to EVE but before we do, I just want to take one more minute to remind you: this battle took place between:
- three Japanese forces, north, center, and south; and,
- three Allied forces in the same locations, each of which was about the strength of the total Japanese force, plus the Allied invasion force.
In a lot of ways, this was just like an EVE fight: the overall battle was like a final null-sec station timer because everyone knew where and when the battle was going to take place (there's no way the Allies could hide those troop transports). But in a seriously important way, this battle was absolutely nothing like an EVE fight. Had the Battle of Leyte Gulf been an EVE fight, all seven fleets on both sides would have fought off Samar where the invasion force was!
Instead of four disparate battles fought over four different objectives supporting an overall strategic plan where the admirals involved had to intelligently split their forces to move and counter-move against their opponents, every ship involved would have been in a big melee around the main objective. The Japanese force therefore wouldn't have stood a chance, overwhelmed as they were nearly four to one in striking power. It was only the tactics and counter-tactics used and involved that gave the Japanese any chance of any sort of victory at all... and those tactics very nearly worked!
In EVE, of course, no such tactics exist.
In EVE, everyone just piles into the same system and smashes into each other until the overwhelmed side acknowledges they've been overwhelmed... but they hope to get a few kill-mails out of it. Sure, there might be disparate battles that happen in that single system where the overwhelmed side gets local superiority for a few seconds (bombing run) or a couple of minutes of sniping and skirmishing. But these are minor anecdotes around the overall battle, rarely remembered.
Had World War II been like EVE, Bull Halsey could have instantly titan bridged his center force back into position once he realized he was being baited out of position. More likely, he could have first titan bridged his fleet on top of the Japanese carriers, destroyed them, and then bridged back.
Things like true logistics, supply lines, rear echelon forces, and the like don't exist in EVE either. Nor does the concept of using tactics to bait fleets out of position where they can have no impact on a battle. Even if these tactics were somehow successful, fleet mobility in EVE is far too good to allow it to be successful for more than a few minutes. Remember when a few of PL's capital ships missed a cyno headed toward a major battle a few weeks back and RAZOR pounced on them? PL simply jumped an overwhelming force back and wiped the floor with the RAZOR dreads.
And yet in real life, using tactics to bait the enemy into fighting where you want to fight instead of where he wants to fight have been a major component of large battles, naval and otherwise, for thousands of years. So has ambushing a moving force caught out of position.(1)
A lot of EVE players including myself have fond memories of the Homeworld series of games. This series of games was notorious for throwing Leyte-style split fleet engagements at you and forcing you to make tactical decisions about how to split up your forces and address multiple threats. In the final mission of the first game, you more or less literally play as the Japanese at Leyte! There are three fleets opposing you, each of which is the equal of your own fleet, all of them coming at you from three different directions. If you turtle up and wait for them to come to you, you'll be wiped out by this three to one overwhelming force. Only by striking out and attacking each of the three fleets in turn do you have a chance. Homeworld sequels threw this situation at you more and more often. There are three such missions in Homeworld: Cataclysm and no less than six in Homeworld 2. Homeworld also includes supply lines which can be broken and rear echelon forces which can be disrupted.
The net result of all of this? When people say you can't use World War II analogies to describe EVE Online combat? You know what? That's not a complimentary fact about EVE!
As the EVE meta is now, numbers will always win out over tactics because the very mechanics of the game are structured to make tactics irrelevant and numbers superior. Again, you might manage to achieve local and very brief superiority over a portion of an enemy force, but we're seeing more and more often that simply overwhelming force is brought to bear by one side and there's little or nothing that the other side can do about it.
CCP's devs working to make "guerrilla tactics" behind enemy lines a reality probably have these facts in mind as they work their magic. Hopefully we'll see at least part of this problem with EVE addressed over the next couple of years with the addition of supply lines that can be cut and rear echelon forces that can be disrupted. In the meantime though, when I'm asked why I'm less and less interested in the goings on in sov null-sec space? This is a big reason why. And until something is done about it, sov battles are only going to get bigger and bigger... with more of them decided by node crashes caused by overwhelming force instead of tactics.
(1) It's interesting to think about what would have happened to those RAZOR dreads had they had the Mobile Cyno Inhibitor available to them at that time.