3-569 Editorial Note on the Pacific Military Conference, March 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 12, 1943

Editorial Note on the Pacific Military Conference

March 12-28, 1943

Representatives of the three Pacific commanders—General MacArthur, Admiral William F. Halsey, and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz—assembled in Washington, D.C., March 12-28, 1943, to attend the Pacific Military Conference, held to discuss Pacific operations for 1943 and to define more clearly operational areas of responsibility in the Pacific Theater. Among the principal theater representatives were Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, Allied Air Force commander, and Major General Richard K. Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, from the Southwest Pacific Area; Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, commanding general of the South Pacific Area, as well as Major General Nathan F. Twining (U.S.M.A., 1919), commanding general of the Thirteenth Air Force, and Captain Miles R. Browning, Halsey’s chief of staff, from the South Pacific Area; and Lieutenant General Delos C. Emmons, Hawaiian Department commander, and Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, deputy and chief of staff to Nimitz, from the Central Pacific Area. Admiral Ernest J. King and Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, representing General Marshall who returned from Florida on March 14, and Major General George E. Stratemeyer, representing Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, attended the opening session on March 12, but subsequent meetings of the conferees were held under the supervision of the Joint Staff Planners, headed by Rear Admiral Charles M. Cooke, Jr., and Brigadier General Albert C. Wedemeyer. (Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 89-92; Minutes of First and Second Meetings of the Pacific Military Conference, March 12, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, ABC 370.26 (7-8-42)]. Kenney gives his account of the conference in General Kenney Reports, pp. 209-18.) At the conference a major discussion of troop, naval, aircraft, and general resource allocation proceeded among the respective theater commands. The difficulties inherent in achieving consensus over issues of global strategy were aggravated at times by long-standing army-navy rivalries.

At the opening session Admiral King presented a brief summary of the Casablanca Conference decisions, and Sutherland presented General MacArthur’s ELKTON plan, which stated requirements for the capture of the major Japanese base at Rabaul. MacArthur’s planning staff demanded greater resources than the Joint Planners had projected for the South and Southwest Pacific areas. In addition, MacArthur assumed that his headquarters would have direction of Admiral Halsey’s naval support forces. The discrepancy between MacArthur’s demands and the expectation of the Washington planners indicated that the conferees would either have to meet MacArthur’s demands or elect not to make the capture of Rabaul a major objective for 1943.

At subsequent meetings of the conferees, the War Department presented the projected allocations of air and ground forces in the Pacific areas for 1943. Wedemeyer noted that “although we had sufficient trained and equipped divisions available to meet the demands of the Elkton Plan, we could not move them due to limitations in shipping.” Cooke, representing the navy planners, disputed the air allocations. Brigadier General Orvil A. Anderson, the Army Air Forces representative, insisted that the aircraft allocations were consistent with the terms of the Casablanca Conference, which called for “the heaviest possible bomber offensive against the German war effort.” Cooke admitted that the defeat of Germany was the first aim of the Allies, but he pointed out that the Casablanca agreement called for adequate forces to maintain the offensive against Japan. He challenged the Army Air Forces allocations to Europe and insisted that it was not fulfilling its obligations in the Pacific. Wedemeyer reported to Marshall: “The position of the War Department representatives has been rather difficult in that all of the conferees from the Pacific area, both Army and Navy, arrived in Washington determined to get additional means for their respective areas. For obvious reasons, they have been urged on and strongly supported by the Navy.” (Wedemeyer Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, March 16, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, ABC 370.26 (7-8-42)]; Minutes of Fourth Meeting of the Pacific Military Conference, March 15, 1943, ibid.; Louis Morton, Strategy and Command: The First Two Years, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1962], pp. 390-93; Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 93-94.)

Unable to reach an agreement, the conferees referred the problem to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Staff Planners submitted two plans to the Joint Chiefs: the first plan, which reflected the War Department’s interpretation of the Casablanca decisions, called for additional ground forces and a modest increase in aircraft; the second plan, which the navy favored, called for canceling one division allotted to the South Pacific and increasing air allocations to the South and Southwest Pacific areas. The Pacific commanders preferred additional air forces over ground forces, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the second plan. General Marshall joined Admirals King and Leahy in voting for the additional air units, while Stratemeyer, representing Arnold, voted against increased aircraft for the Pacific. (Minutes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Meetings, March 16 and 19, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].)

The conferees agreed that not enough forces were allocated to capture Rabaul. Only Task Two of the July 2, 1942, directive could be carried out in 1943, which corresponded to the first three stages of the ELKTON plan, and completion of the task would locate MacArthur’s forces at Cape Gloucester in New Britain and Halsey’s forces in Bougainville. The conferees called for the construction of air bases on Kiriwina and Woodlark Islands. On March 21 the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the conferees’ plan for 1943 operations. (Morton, Strategy and Command: The First Two Years, pp. 393-96; Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, pp. 94-96.)

Before a directive for the theater commanders could be drafted, the question of command had to be resolved. General Marshall presented a draft proposal dated March 26 to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-570 [3: 607-8]) on March 28, which gave control of the campaign in New Guinea and in the Solomons to General MacArthur. Admiral Halsey was to command the operations in the Solomon Islands, operating under general directives of MacArthur. The naval units involved were to remain under the operational command of Admiral Nimitz.

Admiral King objected that this arrangement tied Halsey’s forces to operations in the Southwest Pacific Area and thus interfered with Admiral Nimitz’s operational freedom to deploy the fleet where he believed it was needed. General Marshall said that an effort had been made in the wording of the draft directive “to avoid a situation in which a large Naval force would be controlled by an Army officer, General MacArthur. . . . Admiral Halsey commands a large area containing certain troop commands and certain air units, other than those to be used in these operations. These should not be under General MacArthur’s control.” (Minutes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, March 28, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed on March 28 to allow Nimitz free control over all naval units not assigned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to task forces. At the same meeting they agreed to reword paragraph 3 of Marshall’s draft proposal to read “Forces will be allocated for these operations as determined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” and General Marshall suggested inserting “composition of task forces” between the words “including” and “sequence” in the sixth paragraph. In conformity with Marshall’s March 26 draft proposal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff called for a completion of the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns. The stated objectives included the ultimate occupation of the Bismarck Archipelago. (Ibid.; Morton, Strategy and Command: The First Two Years, pp. 397-99.) The Pacific Military Conference directed American strategy in the Pacific for 1943, and while in line with decisions agreed to at Casablanca for a main effort against Germany, the decisions made at the conference insured that an offensive military initiative would be maintained against Japan.

Following is General Marshall’s proposed directive submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Papers pf George Catlett Marshall, #3-570 [3: 607-8].)

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 604-607.

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