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To General Douglas MacArthur
October 16, 1942 Radio No. 2716 Washington, D.C.
I have just gone over Naval charts on Japanese Naval surface concentrations in Bougainville Ports and to the south, especially the Shortland Islands-Faisi Area, altogether totaling 5 or 6 battleships, 3 carriers and many cruisers and destroyers. Another carrier task force has been operating south and southeast of Guadalcanal but unlocated. Our Navy has but 1 carrier at present in the South Pacific.
Japs have outranged our artillery on Guadalcanal, keeping airfield under constant bombardment from land and occasional heavy bombardment from ships. Their Naval superiority is preventing reinforcement and resupply, especially gasoline. Situation therefore most critical.1
It is evident that supporting action of some sort must be taken immediately and at the moment we can only see possibility of increased frequency of bomber activity from New Guinea directed against Naval task forces referred to. This apparently can only be managed by accepting the hazard of basing heavy bomber group at Moresby and operating medium bombardment from Milne Bay to maximum possible extent. Can this be managed and how quickly?
General Harmon reports this morning that Admiral Ghormley feels that Kenney’s Air Force has cooperated with him so far as difficulties of communications, logistics, primitive operating conditions, enemy action and violent prevalent weather frontal systems would permit.
I suppose the foregoing proposal would mean some weakening of air support of your Ground operations in New Guinea. However the situation in the Solomons is so critical that such action seem imperative. Since the Japanese have committed themselves to the maximum effort in the Solomons can anything be done to expedite your operation to seize the airfields on the northeast Guinea coast?2
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed radio message.
1. The Japanese had been landing units of their Seventeenth Army on the north shore of Guadalcanal for several weeks in preparation for an offensive to recapture the island prior to taking control of all the southern Solomons, which their planners considered a necessary precondition to reinforcing New Guinea. At Rabaul they had assembled their largest naval force since the battle of Midway. On October 13 and 14 the Japanese launched a series of massive air and sea attacks on the United States airfield on Guadalcanal, severely damaging it, reducing the number of operational aircraft there from ninety to forty-two, rendering the field untenable for B-17s, and destroying a large portion of the aviation gasoline stocks. The Japanese had also landed some 150-mm howitzers, which Marine Corps 75-mm pack artillery and 105-mm howitzers had been unable to silence. (John Miller, Jr., Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1949], pp. 137-39, 146, 148-51.) At sea the cumulative score in the naval battles in the region was still in Japan’s favor. The U.S.S. Enterprise was undergoing repairs after being damaged on August 24; Wasp had been sunk by a submarine on September 15. Only Hornet was left to provide naval air support for Allied forces in the South Pacific. Admiral Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas, reported on October 15: “It now appears that we are unable to control the sea in the Guadalcanal area. Thus our supply of the positions will only be done at great expense to us. The situation is not hopeless, but it is certainly critical.” (Samuel Eliot Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942-February 1943, a volume in the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1949], pp. 136-37, 178.)
2. MacArthur replied that he had “been acutely aware of the critical situation in the Solomons and in fact anticipated it” in August and had “begged review of the question” of the invasion plans “lest it become too late.” (See Marshall to MacArthur, August 31, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-305 [3: 330].) MacArthur insisted that his air forces were already doing all that they could for the Solomons operation. Moreover, the existing airfield at Milne Bay could not be used by heavy bombers. His own operations in New Guinea were severely hampered by supply shortages. “It is now necessary to prepare action that must be accomplished beforehand in preparation for possible disaster in the Solomons. If we are defeated in the Solomons, as we must be unless the Navy accepts successfully the challenge of the enemy surface fleet, the entire Southwest Pacific will be in gravest danger. I urge that the entire resources of the United States be diverted temporarily to meet the critical situation.” (MacArthur to Marshall, Radio No. C-731, October 17, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
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. 401-403.