4-237 Editorial Note on Strategy in the Pacific, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Strategy in the Pacific

January-February 1944

American strategic direction of the war against Japan in the Pacific had retained a general policy of flexibility through 1943, shifting the weight of forces committed as the Japanese reacted, between concurrent offensive operations in the Southwest Pacific Area—commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, centered on the New Guinea front—and the island advances made with forces of the Central Pacific Area commanded by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The capture of the Gilbert Islands in the Central Pacific Area and preparations for the continuation of the island campaign into the Marshall Islands for early 1944 clearly indicated the necessity for more specific decisions regarding overall strategy in the Pacific war. The leaders at the Cairo Conference in December 1943 had approved a general advance to the Formosa-China-Luzon area; however, aside from the general outline of operations, they had agreed to few specifics. Questions centered on future operations following the campaign in the Marshalls. The Mariana Islands might be next, bypassing the great Japanese naval base at Truk in the Caroline Islands, with the intention of commencing B-29 strategic bombing operations against the Japanese homeland from the Marianas. This option tended to downplay the importance of General MacArthur’s operations. The alternative was a drive through the Caroline Islands after the occupation of the Marshalls, either taking Truk by assault or bypassing it and capturing the Palau Islands. The result in the latter scenario would be direct support of General MacArthur’s drive toward the recapture of the Philippines. The high-level discussions over the course American strategy should follow for 1944 in the Pacific was complicated by real disagreement, strong personalities, and service rivalries. (Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1959], pp. 453-55.)

Admiral Nimitz submitted his operational plan for 1944, code-named GRANITE, to Washington on January 13, 1944. Nimitz’s objective was to “obtain positions from which the ultimate surrender of JAPAN can be forced by intensive air bombardment, by sea and air blockade, and by invasion if necessary.” He proposed the occupation of the Marshall Islands through assaults on Kwajalein and Eniwetok, and control of the Caroline Islands by capture of the Mortlock Islands, invading or bypassing Truk as circumstances dictated. Saipan and Tinian islands, and ultimately Guam, would be invaded in the Marianas with the general objective of basing very long range aircraft (B-29s) and submarines for offensives against the Japanese home islands. Admiral Nimitz suggested that the capture of the Palau Islands might be necessary to assist General MacArthur’s operations, and he stated his acceptance of an ultimate juncture with MacArthur’s forces in the Philippines. “The reoccupation of the PHILIPPINES is essential to the attainment of the ultimate strategic objective,” but the plan also indicated that the Combined Chiefs of Staff in December 1943 had given priority to operations in the Central Pacific whenever conflicts in timing and allocating resources existed. (Campaign Plan GRANITE, January 13, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OPD, ABC 384 Pacific (1-17-43)].)

General MacArthur had submitted his plan for operations in the Southwest Pacific Area to reoccupy the southern Philippines, code-named RENO III, in October 1943; but he had not presented a plan since the Cairo Conference, as Nimitz had. MacArthur intended initially to bypass the Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain Island with the capture of Hansa Bay in New Guinea, Kavieng on New Ireland, and the Admiralty Islands. The plan called for further operations in the northern and western areas of New Guinea and operations against Halmahera Island and northeastern Celebes, with the ultimate objective the invasion of Mindanao in the Philippines by February 1945. MacArthur recognized the necessity for operations against the Japanese in the Caroline Islands. (Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 314-15. RENO III, October 20, 1943, is printed in Louis Morton, Strategy and Command: The First Two Years, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1962], pp. 686-92.)

Representatives of the Southwest Pacific Area, South Pacific Area, and the Central Pacific Area commands held a conference on January 27 and 28, 1944, at Pearl Harbor to discuss overall Pacific strategy for 1944. Major General Thomas T. Handy, assistant chief of staff of the Operations Division, reported to General Marshall that the consensus of opinion of the conferees suggested the occupation of the Marshalls; support for MacArthur’s advance through New Ireland, the Admiralty Islands, and New Guinea; bypassing Truk through the capture of the Palau Islands, all with the ultimate invasion of Mindanao by the end of 1944. In addition, there was some discussion as to whether the B-29 program could be better employed in the Marianas or along the New Guinea-Mindanao axis. Handy wrote that “although the B-29’s could attack Japan proper from the Marianas, the range is long, thus cutting down the bomb load; and the operation would in no way be decisive.” The conferees generally agreed that Japan would be defeated from bases in China, and the most effective way the Allies could reach China was by way of the Philippines. No decisions were reached at the conference, but there was general expression of support for MacArthur’s program for 1944. (Handy Memorandum for General Marshall, February 7, 1944, and Colonel William L. Ritchie Memorandum to General Handy, February 4, 1944, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, 334.8, Case 125]; Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson to Marshall, February 2, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

On February 2, General MacArthur sent a message to General Marshall in which he urged the War Department to concentrate forces, following operations in the Marshalls, along the New Guinea route to the Philippines. “All available ground, air and assault forces in the Pacific should be combined in a drive along the New Guinea-Mindanao axis supported by the main fleet based at Manus Island and other facilities already available in these waters. This axis provides the shortest and most direct route to the strategic objective and is the only one that permits of an effective combination of land, sea and air forces.” MacArthur pointed out that the B-29s could be more effectively supported logistically and used more effectively with full bomb loads against the Japanese while operating from his theater. He was willing to accept a British naval presence in his theater and advocated a unified Allied naval command operating in the Southwest Pacific Area under Admiral William F. Halsey. MacArthur advocated a single unified drive aimed at the recapture of the Philippine Islands, rather than dissipating Allied strength in “two weak thrusts which can not attain the major strategic objective until several months later resulting at best in the delay of future operations that would entail conflict with the rainy season in the Philippines with a consequent overall delay in the conduct of the war of 6 additional months.” MacArthur insisted that time constraints made a final decision regarding Pacific strategy imperative, and that he was sending his chief of staff, Major General Richard K. Sutherland, to Washington to express his views to General Marshall more completely. (MacArthur to Marshall, Radio No. C-1217, February 2, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OPD, TS Message File (CM-IN-1443)].)

Admiral Ernest J. King responded to General MacArthur’s statements in a memorandum to General Marshall on February 8. King admitted that in the immediate future B-29s might be profitably employed in General MacArthur’s theater; nonetheless he stated that his understanding was that ultimately the B-29s would be employed in a strategic bombing offensive against Japan from bases in the Marianas. Admiral King argued that unless the British Royal Navy task forces were prepared to support themselves logistically, the alternative being taking resources from the support of U.S. carrier groups, they were best deployed in the Indian Ocean diverting Japanese forces from the Pacific. At the recent conference, “adequate carrier forces in addition to surface forces were allocated to the 7th Fleet for carrying out the impending operations in the Southwest Pacific.” He saw no reason to create a joint naval command in MacArthur’s theater, and he insisted that “the economic employment of naval forces in the future will require that the strategic control of the Pacific remain the responsibility of a single naval commander, and that the naval support in the Areas be adjusted from time to time as required by the operations underway.” King stated his understanding that the Combined Chiefs of Staff had already decided “that the advance in the Pacific shall be simultaneous along both axes and shall be mutually supporting, that when conflicts in timing and allocation of means exist, due weight should be accorded to the fact that operations in the Central Pacific promise at this time a more rapid advance toward Japan and her vital lines of communication.” Admiral King also stated that “the people in the Southwest Pacific are unduly optimistic about the rate of their advance in the New Guinea theater.” In addition, King commented on the staff organization in the Southwest Pacific, which he considered unsatisfactory, and gave his opinion that “we will eventually require a combined staff in this area and that we should now have a joint staff along the lines of the one we have established in the Pacific Ocean Areas.” (King Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, February 8, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) On February 10 General Marshall sent the following reply to Admiral King (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-238 [4: 280-82]).

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 276-280.

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