Which navy in WWII was stronger: The British Navy or the Japanese Navy?

During the opening moments of the war the British Navy remained the largest and best equipped in the world. During the war losses and lack of ability for rebuilding (compared with the US's military-industrial machine) ceded that title to America.

However a lot of the British Navy were getting older by this point, a lot of them having been left over from WW1 or even earlier. As the war crept forward it also became clear that the traditional dominance it had once held in terms of battleships and cruisers was swiftly being eroded and replaced by aircraft carriers. Despite being pioneered by Britain, it was the US who were able to create them in numbers at speed.


The British Pacific Fleet

These two navies are difficult to compare because they saw limited contact during the war, being so far apart. The only significant Royal Navy present in the Pacific wasn't established until 1944, when the British Pacific Fleet was established. It was one of the largest fleets every assembled, consisting in part of the scraps of several other fleets that had been savaged by the Japanese advance in 1941-2.

This was only possible because of the US's simultaneous advance, and a number of the ships were contributed by the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy. It also relied heavily on the Americans for logistical support since the British had little support in the Pacific Rim, and the threat of U-boat attack was so high. This gave them very little functional use, especially when denied forward bases in the Philippines by the US.

It is undoubtedly true that the BPF would have taken part in Operation Downfall (the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands), but with the dropping of the nuclear bombs this became a moot point. The Americans controlled the Pacific. 

The Imperial Japanese Navy

The IJN was the smaller only than the Royal Navy and US Navy during WW2, but aimed to compensate for smaller numbers with quality. Their doctrine of quick and successive strikes, however, led them to leave a vitally important hole in their fleet: a lack of anti-submarine forces. Early in the war they were able to drive the British from the Eastern Indian Ocean, as well as delivering a deadly blow to the Americans at Pearl Harbor and proving that carrier aircraft could take down capital ships whilst afloat.

Japanese planes preparing for the attack on Pearl Harbor

Later in the war, as the advance began to stagnate, the industrial power of the US began to tell, and the Japanese were pushed on the defensive. A large proportion of its ships were sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (the biggest naval battle ever), inspiring the leadership to began kamikaze raids to compensate for lack of ships. By July 1945 there was only a single capital ship remaining unsunk.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, where the majorty of the IJN was sunk

Comparison 


 At the start of the war the British Navy outnumbered both the US and Japanese navies, but as a result of attrition and being forced to accompany vital supply fleets across the Atlantic for the British Isles, they found themselves unable to reach across the globe as once they had.

By contrast the Japanese had a small theatre to fight in, and high quality ships and aircraft. However, by forcing American in the war as well they found themselves facing a foe with a much higher capacity to make industrial war. 

The result was that both British and Japanese navies become subordinate to the US Navy by the end of 1945.
 

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