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Editorial Note on the Central Pacific Campaign
For decades, United States plans to defend the Philippines against Japanese aggression had implied a westward thrust by the U.S. main battle fleet down the five-thousand-mile-long sea lane between Pearl Harbor and Manila Bay. Formalized in 1924 as War Plan Orange and continuously modified in subsequent years, this idea was never superceded. Its implementation, however, was a moot point during 1942, as the Allies struggled desperately merely to maintain their line of communications to Australia, but at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 Admiral King raised the issue and secured approval from the Combined Chiefs of Staff for at least the start of such a drive in 1943. The Pacific Military Conference in Washington in March 1943 had curtailed the scope of operations in the South and Southwest Pacific areas—that is, it was decided not to try to take Rabaul in 1943—thereby indirectly giving impetus to the Central Pacific alternative. At the TRIDENT Conference in May, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved a plan that designated the Central Pacific as the location of the main effort in the Allies’ westward advance, specifically authorizing Admiral Nimitz to drive through the Marshall Islands and allocating to him the resources to do it. (Editorial notes on the three conferences mentioned are #3-484, #3-569, and #3-669, Papers of George Catlett Marshall [3: 515-18, 604-7, 705-8].)
In June, MacArthur protested the proposed diversion of troops (especially the First and Third Marine divisions) and materiel from the South Pacific. While his objections did not dissuade the Joint Chiefs of Staff from launching the Central Pacific thrust, the fear of diverting too many forces from CARTWHEEL—the two-pronged attack aimed at the Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain Island—was the chief reason they decided to initiate the drive against the Gilbert Islands (i.e., at Makin and Tarawa) rather than directly against the Marshalls. General Marshall supported the Central Pacific operation, observing that the great carrier forces the United States had built up could not stand idle and that the operation would help MacArthur’s offensive. (Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO 1955], pp. 3, 8-12, 18, 21, 23.)
In mid-June, Admiral King proposed that the First Marine Division be withdrawn from MacArthur’s command, but Marshall had opposed it. King wrote to Marshall again on July 22 to express his “strong desire that the projected operations in the Central Pacific shall be implemented by the use of Marine divisions. Not only will such use avoid the inevitable consequences of ‘mixed forces’ and so promote the effectiveness of the operations, but I hope you will agree that the Marines are by tradition, experience and training eminently suited for amphibious operations, particularly those where the land objectives are island in character and without a `hinterland’ as in the case of New Guinea and the larger islands of the Solomons and Bismarcks.” He requested that the First and Third Marine divisions be withdrawn from the CARTWHEEL operation. (King to Marshall, July 22, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, Project Decimal File 1941-43, 381 South Pacific (7-26-43)].)
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. 71-72.