South Pacific Strategy 1942 Through 1945 AUTHOR Major D. Lovejoy, USMC CSC 1988 SUBJECT AREA Foreign Policy EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: SOUTH PACIFIC STRATEGY 1942 THROUGH 1945 I. Purpose: To provide a description and analysis of United States military strategy in the South Pacific during the period from 1942 through 1945. II. Data: War with Japan was inevitable, yet the United States was not prepared to fight. The losses the U. S. incurred in the South Pacific was crippling. Not until the naval battle of Midway in June of 1942, was the night of the U. S. able to gain the momentum and push the Japanese out of its acquired territories. Plans for the invasion of Japan were developed but never executed because of the use of the atomic bombs in August of 1945, which brought the war to an end. SOUTH PACIFIC STRATEGY 1942 THROUGH 1945 OUTLINE Thesis: The purpose of this research is to provide a description and analysis of the United States Military Strategy in the South Pacific during the period from 1942 through 1945. I War with Japan inevitable A. U.S. Embargo B. Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere II Wake Island A. Build Up B. Japanese Assault III Philippines A. MacArthur's withdraw B. Corregidor's capture IV U.S. Strategy restructured in 1942 V Naval Battle of Midway VI U.S. Advance across the Pacific SOUTH PACIFIC STRATEGY 1942 THROUGH 1945 The purpose of this research is to provide a description and analysis of the United States military strategy in the South Pacific during the period from 1942 through 1945. The battles between the Japanese and the Americans began with the December 7, 1941 attack by Japanese torpedo planes on Pearl Harbor. Before that attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had been able to stay out of the war in Europe even though the Americans openly supported Great Britain in its war with Germany and Italy. But the United States could not stay out of the war that erupted in Hawaii, a major Pacific territory of the United States, when 360 Japanese planes took off from a half dozen carriers in a task force located several hundred miles north of Oahu. The attack brought crippling destruction to the United States fleet and perhaps helps explain the fortitude with which the Americans carried the war to the Japanese from that day forward, across the Pacific, and up to the days of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still, American strategy in the Pacific preceded the Pearl Harbor attack. As we read in Bruce Bahrenburg's The Pacific: Then and Now, The war had become inevitable when the United States, in an act of cooperative retaliation with England and the Netherlands, placed an oil embargo against Japan after she had in- vaded Indochina. Earlier Japanese acts of ag- gression in Asia, especially against China, had forced the United States, somewhat belatedly, to impose scrap-iron and steel embargoes. But without oil Japan would be unable to solidify her Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which was to include, by either military con- quest or economic enslavement, her already- acquired territories of Korea, Manchuria, French Indochina, and parts of China, as well as the soon to be annexed East Indies, Burma, Malaya, and the Philippines.1 Japan never considered seriously launching an attack on the American mainland. The attack on Pearl Harbor was designed to destroy the American fleet to the degree that Japan's Sphere would be out of range of American attack in the Pacific. One of the first post-Pearl Harbor testing arenas of Japanese strength in the Pacific was at Wake Island. Once Japan had decided that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere had to be safeguarded by a defense line on the east which extended south and north of the Marshall Islands, as Bahrenburg puts it, "Wake was doomed since the United States was already there with her Marines and civilian workers pushing to finish construction on an airfield and other military installations."2 In other words, the United States military strategists were fully aware, long before Pearl Harbor, that war with Japan was probably inevitable. The United States had begun to build up its forces in the Pacific, Japan was aware of that build-up, and Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to try to stop that build-up in its tracks. After Pearl Harbor, it was clear to United States strategists that U. S. installations of any sort within the proposed Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere were in grave danger. As Thaddeus V. Tuleja writes in Climax at Midway. in a passage dealing with the events that preceded the Midway battles, "Wake's importance to Japan was understood by Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, and fated to bear a great share of the responsibility for the December 7 disaster, Kimmel did say eight months before the attack that "one of the initial operations of the Japanese navy may be directed at Wake. If Wake is to be defended, then for the Japanese to reduce it would require extended operations in an area where we might be able to get at naval forces with naval forces."3 In the last months of 1941 Wake began to have the appearance of "the stationary carrier base Congress envisaged for it when it voted money for the Navy to build submarine and air facilities there and on Midway. Marines, sailors and civilian workers converged in mid-August, 1941, bringing with them heavy machinery to crush coral for the airstrip and coastal and antiaircraft guns for beach fortifications."4 Wake was attacked by the Japanese two hours after Pearl Harbor. Plane assaults preceded an invasion fleet's attempt to land men four days after Pearl Harbor. The Americans on Wake repulsed the first Japanese attempt to land, and the Americans on the mainland put their patriotic support behind the attempt to hold the island. President Roosevelt went on radio to announce that a "Wake Relief Expedition" would soon leave for the island. That expedition was organized in Honolulu on December 13, a week after Pearl Harbor and two days after the first Japanese effort to land on Wake. It was composed of destroyers, cruisers, and the carrier Saratoga. Leaving three days later, it never reached its destination: "Heavy seas prevented refueling of the destroyers at sea, and Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher decided to abandon the attempt to relieve Wake through a daring sea operation."5 The Japanese bombed the island repeatedly, weakening American defenses until on the night of December 22 a Japanese invasion fleet came out of the darkness, landing 1000 men the next morning. After hours of bloody fighting 1500 Marines and civilians surrendered to the Japanese. Bahrenburg summarizes the subsequent involvement of Wake in the war: Before the war was over, American ships returned often to Wake and reduced the Japanese fortifications on it to rubble. However, it was deemed unworthy of a land invasion, and Wake Island was bypassed by the island hopping Americans. Wake was not recaptrued until September 4, 1945, when the Japanese on the island surrendered, days after their emperor had asked his country- men to lay down their arms. After the Japanese captured Wake, they renamed it Bird Island. One of the first things the Americans did in 1945 was to change the name back.6 Wake's role was more symbolic than substantial, then, in the overall American military strategy in the Pacific. The first hand-to-hand battles between Americans and Japanese at Wake fired up the American public, if it hadn't been fired up sufficiently by Pearl Harbor. The relatively easy victory of the Japanese at Wake, however, gave the Americans a warning that their preparedness left much to be desired, and that lesson set a context in which the strategy from that point forward would be established and developed. In the case of the Philippines, the American military strategy was more developed and specific than it had been at Wake Island, but not specific or developed enough. Perhaps that weakness should have been expected, considering that the battle of the Philippines got under way shortly after the loss and shock of Pear Harbor. Andrieu D'Albas writes in Death of a Navy that even though the Americans knew that if war came to the Far East (or so strategic thinking ran before the inevitability of war brought on by Pearl Harbor) the Philippines would be a significant battleground because they lay on the "route of conquest Japan would have to take to reach Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, the joint American-Filipino force assigned under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to defend the islands was hardly ready for the task."7 The size of the joint force looked good on paper----130,000 men. The fact was, however, that most of that number were poorly equipped and ill-trained natives, supervised as though they were a group of veteran Americans. In any case, the strategic thinking which saw the necessity of stopping Japan's advance in the Philippines was not successfully realized. The army was unable to stop the Japanese forces which landed on December 22 at Lingayen Gulf, on the north of Luzon, as well as on beaches of the southeast coast of Luzon. In fact there was little that strategists could have done but put into operation what Bahrenburg calls "their contingency plan of desperation: withdrawing their forces into the Bataan Peninsula, hoping to make a stand there until reinforcements came from the United States."8 Particularly embarrassing was MacArthur's belief that the Philippines could be saved from the air. The Japanese decimated the air power of the American force quickly in the Philippines. Up to the brief battle of the Philippines American military strategy had been sadly lacking, not having been prepared for the Japanese assault at Pearl Harbor and the subsequent attacks on Wake Island and Philippines. The Japanese marched into Manila on the second day of 1942. The first month of the war in the Pacific had seen the American military in the Philippines at 15,000 American and 65,000 Filipino soldiers on the Bataan Peninsula, several fighter planes, two dozen submarines, and a few other smaller vessels. Not much on which to build a military strategy that could ever hope to stop the Japanese anywhere in the South Pacific. Though the battle of Bataan went on for four months,much longer than longer than the Japanese might have expected, the result was another loss for American and Allied forces in the Pacific, the most recent in a string of losses to the Japanese which were becoming distressingly regular. However, the brilliance of MacArthur's strategic withdrawal from Manila to Bataan, which led to the extended defense of that peninsula, signaled the world of what was to come when America's military strategic thinkers began to operate successfully and with full preparation in the Pacific. The infamous Death March" occurred after Bataan fell, and the famous "I shall return" declaration of MacArthur came out of that battle as well and later served as a rallying cry for the Americans throughout the Pacific Theater. Corregidor was guaranteed a place in the war by its geographical location. It is strategically placed in the way of any invasion of Manila from the sea, and the city was of course vital as a port facility. Corregidor accordingly was subjected, by the Japanese, to daily air attacks from the last days of 1941 through the first week of May, 1942. The Japanese used barges to move from Bataan to Corregidor and the island fell on May 9. Corregidor was not to be recaptured until February, 1945, after an eleven-day battle in which Japanese by the thousands committed suicide in an underground tunnel on the island. But the 1942 situation was relatively hopeless from the start, and military strategy was (aside from the retreat of MacArthur's troops to put up a battle on Bataan) basically hold on as long as you can and then surrender. Without reinforcements against the Japanese, little more could be hoped for. The first six months of the war in the Pacific had been one of defeat after defeat for the American military. Strategic thinking was limited by several factors; the shock of Pearl Harbor and the destruction of ships there, the lack of reinforcements, superior Japanese planning to that point, and the condition of unpreparedness which could only be resolved over a period of time. Losses included Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake Island, Bataan, the Philippines, the Marianas, New Guineau, the Solomon Islands, and the Gilbert Islands. The Japanese losses to that point in 1942 were minimal compared to Allied losses, both in terms of men and ships, as well as planes. Finally, in the summer of 1942, American military strategic planning began to move forward. The U. S. reorganized its entire military forces in the war zone of the Pacific. MacArthur was named the supreme commander of the Southwest Pacific area, which included all of the Netherlands East Indies except for Sumatra; Australia; the Philippines; the Solomon Islands; and the Bismarch archipelago. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was appointed commander in chief of the Pacific Ocean area, which included the rest of the Pacific for all practical purposes, though his command was divided into the zones of the North Pacific (including the Aleutians); the Central Pacific (Hawaii, the Marianas, and the Marshall Islands); and the South Pacific (New Zealand, New Caledonia, the southern Gilberts, Fiji, and Samoa) The hopes of the Japanese had been that the first six months of steady and shocking defeats in the Pacific would lead the United States to a quick surrender, or at least to the American recognition of the Japanese territories acquired by force. But instead American military strategy included the launching of a number of carrier-based attacks against the Marshalls and Wake in the opening months of 1942. Besides such an obviously important military offensive, the strategy of the United States included another effort: On April 18, 1942, led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (the United States) sent sixteen U.S. Army B-25's from the carrier Hor- net to bomb Tokyo, a raid with almost no mili- tary value but one with incalculable propagan- da significance for an American public condi- tioned suddenly to be losers in a world war.9 Additionally, throughout the spring of 1942, the United States built up its forces in Australia, and the USA signed an agreement with its allies to take on the responsibility for the defense of the entire Pacific area including Australia and ew Zealand. The Japanese and American fleets were on a collision course in the first week of May, 1942, as the Japanese moved from the south from Rabaul and the Americans, with the carriers Lexington and Yorktown, coming from the southeast after an air strike against Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. This led to the battle of the Coral Sea, which began on May 7. Both sides took heavy losses. Vice Admiral Forrestel writes in A Study in Command that : "The Coral Sea was the first major engagement for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific War, and if the result was not an offensive victory, it did have benefits for the Allies. Port Moresby (in New Guinea) was temporarily saved (and) never again would the Japanese send a fleet to try to take it from the sea.10 In other words, the Japanese were sufficiently impressed that the American strategists could for the first time add Japanese caution to the elements of future strategy. After that the Japanese tried to take Midway while at the same time destroying a spread-out U.S. fleet, thereby forcing a US surrender. However, the turning point of the war was the battle of Midway, which lasted from May 26 to June 7. Tuleja writes that "Midway did not end the war. Savo Island was yet to come, and Cape Esperance and Santa Cruz and Tassafaronga and Leyte Gulf. But it was Midway which profoundly altered the stream of Japanese history. The climax had passed . . ."11 In the final days of May the Japanese gathered an armada of over a hundred ships, some of which were diverted for an attack on the Aleutian Islands. Though Midway is clearly in the North Pacific, its role in the eventual success of the United States in the Pacific area cannot be disconnected. The primary success of the Americans at Midway was more a technical matter than strategic. The success of the Japanese assault depended, as had the Pearl Harbor attack, on the element of surprise. However, "in a small cluttered room at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Secret Code was broken. Knowing the Japanese now planned to invade Midway, the Navy began a massive buildup of the island's defense. By June there were 141 officers and 2886 enlisted men on Midway . . ."12 Placed in command of the defense of Midway was Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spurance, after Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey came down with a disabling body rash. In his book on Spurance, Forrestel writes that the importance of Midway was not only in the fact that the United States won its first battle in the Pacific, but that thousands of Americans---especially bomber pilots---received their first battle experience, and that experience served as an important element in later American strategic planning. Making later American strategists' job even easier was the fact that the Japanese at Midway suffered heavy losses. As Forrestel writes, the Japanese "carrier-based air force had been irreparably crippled. About 250 carrier planes had been shot down and with them Japan's best fighter pilots. Never again in the war would Japan's carrier craft be a major threat to United States armed might in the Pacific."13 After Midway, Nimitz and MacArthur agreed that a counter-offensive---the first of the war in the Pacific for the Americans and the first real opportunity for taking the strategic offensive---should be instigated at the earliest possible moment, but the two disagreed as to how or where to launch it. Forrestel writes: Spurance agreed with Nimitz, who advocated a step-by-step push through the Solomons to Ra- baul, beginning with occupation of Tulagi and Santa Cruz by carrier-supported landings of the 1st Marine Division . . . MacArthur . . . proposed that the fleet, its carriers and the 1st Marine Division be placed under his com- mand to capture Rabaul in a single assault. Nimitz was opposed to risking his scarce car- riers and amphibious troops in a thrust through dangerous waters into a hornets' nest of enemy air power.14 Nimitz was finally directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to proceed with the capture and occupation of Santa Cruz, Tulagi, and adjacent positions. The Chiefs settled the issue by removing the eastern Solomons from MacArthur's command and placing them under Nimitz, over the objections of MacArthur and Vice Admiral Ghormley, the commander of the South Pacific Force. Guadalcanal was made an added objective after reconnaissance revealed an airfield being built there by the Japanese. Six months of air, sea, and ground battle of the fiercest sort followed until Guadalcanal was secured by the United States. Through late 1942 and 1943 Admiral Spurance favored and argued for a step-by-step advance across the Pacific to the China coast. Nimitz backed this strategy, but MacArthur proposed an Army offensive, supported by the Navy, which would advance to Japan through Rabaul, New Guinea and the Philippines to take back what the Japanese had taken from him (in the early Philippines battle which left such a bitter taste in MacArthur's proud mouth). The backers of the Central Pacific route of attack argued that strategically it would provide a faster method of assault, it would be over sea instead of the slower land route of the South, and that it would deprive the Japanese of time to prepare for each step of the assault. The possibility of flank attack would be greater on the South route supported by MacArthur, and lines of communication on the North route would be more secure. The Joint Chiefs of Staff finally favored the more northern Central Pacific route, MacArthur was put in charge of a supporting operation along the New Guinea-Philippine axis. The Joint Chiefs retained overall command of the operation, in order to prevent rivalry between Nimitz and MacArthur. On July 20, 1943 the commanders in the Pacific were directed to train forces and plan for the capture of Abemama and Tarawa in the Gilberts, and Naura, around the middle of November of the same year, and to submit a strategy for taking the Marshall Islands in early 1944. The battles involving the Marianas and finally the Philippines in 1944 were the most devastating Japanese defeats suffered after Midway until the end of the war in 1945. The so-called Battle of the Philippine Sea in June of 1944 is summarized by Forrestel: It has been an overwhelming victory for the United States but the sense of elation which ran through the force was tempered by a feeling that the victory might have been greater. Though in re- treat with its air striking arm almost wiped out, most of the Japanese fleet had survived without coming to grips with the U.S. surface force and without having been subjected to full-scale air attacks.15 Spurance was criticized for the strategic failure to steam westward to annihilate the Japanese fleet when victory in the Philippine Sea was assured. Later, however, it was determined that Spurance's decision was correct---that all the forces that remained in the Sea were needed---and that the critics had only been engaged in wishful thinking that the war would be over sooner than it was destined to be. The next step in the American strategy was the securing of the Marianas. This was accomplished late in the summer of 1944. The strategic purpose of this was to thoroughly penetrate Japanese inner defenses and to give the United States advanced naval and air bases within range of the Japanese homeland. S.E. Morison, in History of the United States Naval Operations in World Was II, writes that It was the beginning of the end for the Japan- ese, and loss of the Marianas was viewed so gravely in Tokyo that it caused the fall of the Tojo government, which had been in power since before the Pearl Harbor attack . . .16 In October of 1944 seven hundred American ships and 174,000 United States sailors and soldiers participated in the invasion of the Philippines as MacArthur made good on his pledge to return. The troops there struck "almost simultaneously at four places on an 18-mile section of the Leyte coast . . .17 Though the battle waged into 1945, the Americans eventually prevailed. In the riskiest strategic maneuver of the battle, Admiral Halsey headed north with his Third Fleet of 65 ships to seek out the Japanese carriers which had been attacking American ships after the landing at Leyte. The Halsey move left other American ships largely unprotected, but the Japanese had practically no land-based planes to attack. By Saint Patrick's Day of 1945 "the mop-up of the Japanese of Leyte was reasonably complete."18 Forrestel writes that the Philippine operations were so strategically vital because they cut off Japanese communications through the South China Sea. This also made no longer necessary any American landings in South China, which had previously been proposed as an alternative strategy in case the Philippine operations stalled or failed. Guam and Iwo Jima were taken by early 1945, as the American military machine moved inexorably toward final victory. The battle for Okinawa was declared over on July 2, 1945. preliminary planning for the operation to follow Okinawa proceeded along two lines. The first was favored by Spurance and had the Americans driving through to the China coast. The second had them going for Japan proper. Because of the decisive actions in the South Pacific, and the success of the strategy calling for Nimitz-MacArthur cooperative efforts, the move into China was discarded and the invasion plans for Kyushu replaced it. The full-scale invasion of Japan, however, never occurred because of the use of the atmoic bombs in August of 1945, which brought the war to an end. FOOTNOTES 1. Bruce Bahrenburg, The Pacific: Then and Now, 1971, 12. 2. The Pacific: Then and Now, 39. 3. Thaddeus Tuleja, Climax at Midway, 1960, 28. 4. Climax at Midway, 29-30. 5. The Pacific: Then and Now, 41. 6. The Pacific: Then and Now, 43. 7. Andrieu D'Albas, Death of a Navy, 1987, 88. 8. The Pacific: Then and Now, 63-64. 9. The Pacific: Then and Now, 95. 10. Vice Admiral E.P. Forrestel, A Study in Command, 1966, 29. 11. Climax at Midway, 207. 12. The Pacific: Then and Now, 99. 13. A Study in Command, 61. 14. A Study in Command, 63. 15. A Study in Command, 146. 16. S.E. Morrison, History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II, 1956, 191. 17. The Pacific: Then and Now, 224. 18. The Pacific: Then and Now, 231. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Bahrenburg, Bruce. The Pacific: Then and Now. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971. 2. D'Albas, Andrieu. Death of a Navy. New York: Devin-Adair, 1957. 3. Forrestel, Vice Admiral E.P. A Study in Command. Washington: Naval History, 1962. 4. Ito, Masanori. The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1962. 5. Morison, S.E. History of U. S. Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown, 1956. 6. Roscoe, Theodore. U. S. Submarine Operations in World Was II. Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute, 1959. 7. Tuleja, Thaddeus. Climax at Midway. New York: W.W. Norton, 1960.
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