The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


War Plan Orange

The first US doctrine of expeditionary warfare came with the development of War Plan Orange in 1890. War Plan Orange changed several times from its initial inception. Theodore Roosevelt started War Plan Orange in case of war with Japan. The annexation of Hawaii in 1898 relieved tensions of possible Japanese claims on the island, but the United States remained wary and continued to update War Plan Orange, which consisted three phases.

Phase I: The U.S. expected the loss of the lightly defended outposts south and west of Japan. The US knew it could not defend these outposts successfully. The War Plan envisioned the concentration of US Navy ships at their homeports. These forces could be deployed from the Eastern Pacific on short notice.

Phase II: The U.S. with superior naval and air power would advance west. Small-scale attacks against Japanese occupied islands would capture them and establish supply routes and overseas basing. Due to U.S. production power, the U.S. anticipated that the Philippine Islands would be reoccupied within two to three years.

Phase III: The U.S. would then advance toward Japan utilizing islands that were parallel to and near Asia. These newly acquire bases could choke Japanese trade and allow air bombardment of Japanese cities and industry, leading to victory without invasion of the Japanese homeland.

The Japanese scenario had existed since the turn of the century when the United States, after its war with Spain, found itself in possession of many islands in the Pacific Ocean, most notably the Philippines and Guam, which it could neither administer nor adequately defend. The military aspects of the situation called for close cooperation between the Army and Navy and in 1903 led to creation of the joint Army-Navy Board, usually known as the Joint Board. From its inception the board concerned itself with prospects of war with Japan, particularly after Japan emerged victorious from the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-05. A fundamental assumption by the board was that the Philippines would always be Japan's first wartime objective.

Adopting a series of colors to identify its plans, the board developed the first Japanese war plans (Orange) in 1904-05. The usual pattern was for the joint plan to be augmented by individual service plans which were constantly reviewed and refined each year depending on military necessity, the moods of Congress, and the international situation. As the plans grew in complexity, the service plans themselves were augmented by individual service plans, such as Naval Communications and Naval Intelligence. The US Navy began planning for a conflict with Japan as early as 1906, after the Russo-Japanese War.

The strategy of a war in the Pacific with Japan was the only part of American military planning that had a long, continuous history. Since the early 1900's it had been evident that the United States Government, if it should ever oppose Japanese imperial aims without the support of Great Britain and Russia, might have to choose between withdrawal from the Far Fast and war with Japan.

After World War I the Army and Navy paid more and more attention to just this contingency as a result of the resurgence of Japanese imperialism, the exhaustion of Russia and its alienation from the Western world, the disarmament of the United States, and the withdrawal of the United States from its temporarily close association with the European colonial powers. In the Pacific the Japanese had strengthened their position early in World War I by taking the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls. Japanese control of these strategically located islands was confirmed in 1920 by a mandate from the League of Nations. After the Washington naval treaty of 1922, the United States began to fall behind Japan in the construction of new naval vessels.

In the early 1920s the United States was faced with the unpleasant prospect not only of the continuation of a prewar Anglo-Japanese alliance with unfavorable balance of power implications, but with the equally distressing prospect of a superior Japanese fleet in the Pacific, occupying the German islands which lay astride US lines of communication to Australia and making defense of the Philippines virtually impossible. Aided by Canada and Australia at the Washington Conference in late 1921, the US succeeded in replacing the Anglo-Japanese alliance with a four-power treaty with Britain, France, and Japan. This treaty unfortunately limited US and UK base building in the Pacific in return for reluctant Japanese acceptance of apparently unfavorable ratios in naval strength.

Although not at first seen as an advantageous treaty for Japan, several factors conspired to make it so. Among these were an obsolescent British dreadnought fleet which effectively eliminated the British Asiatic Fleet as a force; a moratorium on battleship construction which saw the United States scrap twenty-eight vessels including eleven capital ships in various stages of completion; a US commitment to a two-ocean navy which meant that not all new ships joined the Pacific Fleet; and the base-building restrictions of the four-power treaty. Collectively these measures left Japan in a position of local superiority and in a dominant position regarding the coast and approaches to China, the treaty notwithstanding.

In the early 1920s, the war plans divisions of the War Department and the Navy Department drew up contingency plans for what they envisioned to be a two-theater world war fought in the Atlantic and the Pacific theater. In PLAN ORANGE, the Pacific Strategic War Plan, U.S. strategists theorized that there would be a war with Japan over resources and territory in the Pacific.

In PLAN RED, the Atlantic Strategic War Plan, the strategists theorized that there would be a war with Great Britain. They did this because England was locked in a strategic alliance with Japan, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, which was renewed and lasted until the Washington Conference of 1921-22. American planners thought that England's imperial reach would bring it into conflict with the US.

Another contingency war plan they developed was the RED-ORANGE PLAN, which hypothesized a two-theater war, seeking to win first in the Atlantic, against England, while fighting a holding battle in the Pacific, and then defeating Japan. When World War Two broke out, military and naval planners simply dusted off the old RED-ORANGE PLAN and substituted Germany for England in the Atlantic Theater.

The broader strategy and the resources to carry it out, including defense construction and mobilization of reserves, was essentially the same. The main point to be learned here is that a theoretical planning construct does not make an enemy of a country. England made a strategic policy choice at the Washington Conference, deciding to cast its lot with the United States, and turned out to be a close ally by the late-1930s. But the RED-ORANGE PLAN stayed on the US Joint Army-Navy Board's agenda through 1939.

The first postwar plan for war in the Pacific, developed between 1921 and 1924, reviewed America's unfavorable strategic position and recognized Japan as the probable enemy. A war with Japan would be primarily a naval war fought in the Pacific. So far as anyone could foresee, there would be no requirement for large ground armies. There was a possibility, of course, that Japan would attack the Panama Canal, Hawaii, and even the west coast, but no real danger that Japan could seize and occupy any of these places. The strategic concept adopted by the planners in the event of hostilities was to fight "an offensive war, primarily naval" with the objective of establishing "at the earliest date American sea power in the western Pacific in strength superior to that of Japan." To do this the United States would require a base in that area capable of serving the entire U.S. Fleet. Since the only base west of Pearl Harbor large enough for this purpose was in Manila Bay, it would be essential, said the planners, to hold the bay in case of war and be ready to rush reinforcements, under naval protection, to the Philippines in time to prevent their capture. To the Army fell the vital task of holding the base in Manila Bay until the arrival of the Fleet, but the major role in any war with Japan would be played by the Navy, for success in the Final analysis depended on sea power. War Plan ORANGE made no provision for a landing on the Japanese home islands. Japan was to be defeated by "isolation and harassment," by the disruption of its vital sea communications, and by "offensive sea and air operations against her naval forces and economic life." Presumably it would not be necessary to invade Japan. but the planners recognized that if they could not bring Japan to her knees by these means they would have to take "such further action as may be required to win the war."

For about fifteen years, the strategic concepts embodied in the ORANGE Plan formed the basis for most American war planning. Variations of the plan were prepared and discussed at length. Every conceivable situation that might involve the United States in a war with Japan, including a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor, was carefully considered and appropriate measures of defense were adopted. At least half a dozen times between 1924 and 1938, the plan was revised, sometimes in response to military changes and sometimes as a result of Congressional sentiment, or because of the international situation. Each time, all the implementing plans had to be changed. The Army and Navy had their separate ORANGE plans, based on the joint plans and complete with concentration tables, mobilization schedules, and the like. In addition U.S. forces in the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, and other overseas bases had their joint and service plans, as did the defense sectors and continental commands within the United States. Rarely have plans for a war been so comprehensive and detailed, so complete on every echelon, and so long in preparation.

The Army and Navy watched with growing anxiety during the 1930's as Japan acquired control of Manchuria, seized strategic points on the north China coast, and forbade access to the mandated islands. The Japanese Government acted with growing confidence, in the belief that the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European colonial powers were not likely to take concerted action against its expansion. In 1933 the Japanese Government exhibited this confidence by withdrawing from the League of Nations in the face of the Assembly's refusal to recognize the Japanese puppet regime in Manchuria. Having taken this step with impunity, the Japanese Government served notice, in accordance with the 1922 treaty terms, of its intention to withdraw from the 1922 and 1930 naval limitations agreements, both of which accordingly expired in 1936.

By the mid-1930's the American military planners had finally concluded that Japan could be defeated only in a long, costly war, in which the Philippines would early be lost, and in which American offensive operations would take the form of a "progressive movement" through the mandated islands, beginning with the Marshalls and Carolines, to establish "a secure line of communications to the Western Pacific." The planners then faced the question of whether the makers of national policy meant to run the risk and incur the obligation of engaging in such a war. The State Department had not relaxed its opposition to Japanese expansion on the Asiatic continent. This opposition, for which there was a good deal of popular support, involved an ever-present risk of armed conflict.

After the passage of the Philippine Independence Act (Tydings-McDuffie bill) in 1934, the belief gained ground in the War Department that the United states should not run the risk nor incur the obligation of fighting the Japanese in the western Pacific. When the question finally came up in the fall of 1931, the Army planners took the position that the United States should no longer remain liable for a fruitless attempt to defend and relieve the Philippines and the costly attempt to retake them.

The senior Army planner, Brig. Gen. Stanley D. Embick, stated the case as follows:
If we adopt as our peace-time frontier in the Pacific the line Alaska-Hawaii-Panama:
a. Our vital interests will be invulnerable.
b. In the wont of war with Japan we will be free to conduct our military (including naval) operations in a manner that will promise success instead of national disaster.

This view was entirely unacceptable to the Navy planners. The whole structure of the Navy's peacetime planning rested on the proposition that the fleet must he ready to take the offensive in the Pacific should war break out. It was out of the question for the Navy planners to agree to give up planning offensive operations west of Hawaii. For two years the Army and Navy planners engaged in intermittent dispute over the military policy on which they should base plans for fighting a war with Japan. The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Malin Craig, evidently shared the views of his planners, but he was either unable or unwilling to have the dispute brought before the President for decision.

The weakness of the American position in the Far Fast and the danger of war steadily became more apparent. The expiration of the naval limitations agreements re-opened the possibility that the United States might fortify Guam, thus partially neutralizing the Japanese position in its mandates (which were presumably being fortified, since it had become impossible to gain access to them or much intelligence about them). The Congress refused to authorize this step. In the summer of 1937 the Japanese began an undeclared war in China -- the "China Incident" -- bringing closer the moment at which the United Mates must choose either to accept or contest Japanese aims.

The planners finally came to an agreement by avoiding the disputed issues. Early in 1938 they submitted a revised plan, which the joint Board ; the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations) and the Secretaries at once approved. The Navy planners agreed to eliminate references to an offensive war, the mission of destroying Japanese forces, and the early movement of the fleet into the western Pacific, in return for the agreement of the Army planners to eliminate the proviso that any operations west of Midway would require the specific authorization of the President. The revised plan gave no indication of how long it should take the Navy to advance into the western Pacific and tacitly recognized the hopeless position of the American forces in the Philippines. Those forces retained the basic mission "to hold the entrance to MANILA BAY, in order to deny MANILA BAY to ORANGE [Japanese] naval forces," with little hope of reinforcement.

The version of the Navy's Orange War Plan which was current in 1941 actually had its inception in May 1929 as WPL13. Changed eight times in ten years, Orange number six in May 1937 brought the Navy's plan into line with the Joint Army-Navy Basic War Plan Orange. It is both interesting and instructive to follow the vicissitudes of War Plan Orange (WPL13) from 1937 to 1941, as they provide a revealing insight into the events at Pearl harbor on 7 December 1941.

A familiar and fundamental feature of WPL13 in 1937 was a U.S. Navy offensive into the western Pacific from Pearl Harbor. The initial objective of this operations was to either relieve its defenders or recapture Manila Bay. Although the Army thought the offensive aspects of this Orange plan in 1937 were "an act of madness," they could not argue that Manila Bay was the best and possibly the only base from which to conduct future offensive operations in support of other US interests in the Far East. Here was an obvious area for future compromises.

The Navy Base War Plan Orange for 1938 contained three new assumptions inspired by extensive Army revisions to the Joint Plan, which eliminated all references to offensive warfare: (1) outbreak of war would be preceded by a period of strained relations; (2) Orange would attack without warning; and (3) a superior US fleet would operate west of Hawaii.

The eighth and final change to WPL13 was made in March 1939. This change reflected the initial shift in US strategic thinking from the Pacific to events in Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, away from offensive operations toward a concept of defensive operations and readiness. At the same time a new planning system replaced the colors adopted over thirty years before with the Rainbow Plans.

Until 1939, the US government followed a pattern of conflicting policies regarding China and Japan. Committed on the one hand to an Open Door Policy toward China, the US conversely recognized in 1908 and again in 1917 that Japan had special rights and interest in eastern Asia because of its "territorial propinquity." The Lansing-Ishii Agreement of 1917, in fact, specifically recognized Japan's special position in Manchuria and on the Shantung Peninsula. Moreover, until 1941 the US consistently supplied Japan with the war materials necessary to undertake and sustain operations not only against China but against the Netherlands and France as well. At the same time, the United States maintained a naval rivalry with Japan which, because of various factors, had already begun to tilt in Japan's favor following the end of World War I.

As the war in Europe expanded and Japanese behavior toward China, the United States, England, and France grew more intransigent, a realization developed in Navy circles that budgetary decisions since the end of World War I, and particularly since 1929, had almost crippled the U.S. fleet. The most severe suffering was felt in manpower-intensive activities. While German and Japan openly rebuilt their military establishments during the depression years, the US Congress, preoccupied with disarmament and rebuilding the nation's economy, consistently imposed harsh fiscal constraints on the Navy. In the name of disarmament, Congress called for reductions in both capital expenditures and manpower.

Forced by domestic economic considerations to cut back on military spending, the US continued to adhere to arms limitations agreements and self-imposed building moratoriums well into the 1930s while the Axis powers skillfully circumvented them by modernization programs and new construction. By 1939 both the U.S. and British navies had fallen behind the Japanese Navy, not just in numbers of modern vessels but particularly in the technology of naval architecture and naval armaments, ship design, hull speeds, torpedoes, and the caliber of ships' guns.

The latest revision of these plans, completed in April 1941 and called War Plan ORANGE-3 (WPO-3), was based on the joint Army-Navy ORANGE plan of 1938, one of the many "color" plans developed during the prewar years. Each color plan dealt with a different situation, ORANGE covering an emergency in which only the United States and Japan would be involved. In this sense, the plan was strategically unrealistic and completely outdated by 1941. Tactically, however, the plan was an excellent one and its provisions for defense were applicable under any local situation.

In War Plan ORANGE it was assumed that the Japanese attack would come without a declaration of war and with less than forty-eight hours' warning so that it would not be possible to provide reinforcements from the United States for some time. The defense would therefore have to be conducted entirely by the military and naval forces already in the Philippines, supported by such forces as were available locally. The last category included any organized elements of the Philippine Army which might be inducted into the service of the United States under the Tydings-McDuffie Act.

An analysis of Japanese capabilities, as of 1 July 1940, led the Philippine Department planners to believe that the enemy would send an expedition of about 100,000 men to capture Manila and its harbor defenses in order to occupy the Philippines, sever the American line of communications, and deny the United States a naval base in the Far East. It was expected that this operation would be undertaken with the greatest secrecy and that it would precede or coincide with a declaration of war. The garrison therefore could expect little or no warning. The attack would probably come during the dry season, shortly after the rice crop was harvested, in December or January. The enemy was assumed to have extensive knowledge of the terrain and of American strength and dispositions, and would probably be assisted by the 30,000 Japanese in the Islands.

Army planners in the Philippines expected the Japanese to make their major attack against the island of Luzon and to employ strong ground forces with heavy air and naval support. They would probably land in many places simultaneously in order to spread thin the defending forces and assure the success of at least one of the landings. Secondary landings or feints were also expected. It was considered possible that the Japanese might attempt in a surprise move to seize the harbor defenses with a small force at the opening of hostilities. Enemy air operations would consist of long-range reconnaissance and bombardment, probably coming without warning and coordinated with the landings. The Japanese would probably also attempt to establish air bases on Luzon very early in the campaign in order to destroy American air power and bomb military installations.

Under WPO-3 the mission of the Philippine garrison was to hold the entrance to Manila Bay and deny its use to Japanese naval forces. There was no intention that American troops should fight anywhere but in central Luzon. U.S. Army forces, constituting the Initial Protective Force, had the main task of preventing enemy landings. Failing in this, they were to defeat those forces which succeeded in landing. If, despite these attempts, the enemy proved successful, the Initial Protective Force was to engage in delaying action but not at the expense of the primary mission, the defense of Manila Bay. Every attempt was to be made to hold back the Japanese advance while withdrawing to the Bataan peninsula. Bataan was recognized as the key to the control of Manila Bay, and it was to be defended to the "last extremity."

Nothing was said in WPO-3 about what was to happen after the defenses on Bataan crumbled. Presumably by that time, estimated at six months, the U.S. Pacific Fleet would have fought its way across the Pacific, won a victory over the Combined Fleet, and made secure the line of communications. The men and supplies collected on the west coast during that time would then begin to reach the Philippines in a steady stream. The Philippine garrison, thus reinforced, could then counterattack and drive the enemy into the sea.

Actually, no one in a position of authority at that time (April 1941) believed that anything like this would happen. Informed naval opinion estimated that it would require at least two years for the Pacific Fleet to fight its way across the Pacific. There was no plan to concentrate men and supplies on the west coast and no schedule for their movement to the Philippines. Army planners in early 1941 believed that at the end of six months, if not sooner, supplies would be exhausted and the garrison would go down in defeat. WPO-3 did not say this; instead it said nothing at all. And everyone hoped that when the time came something could be done, some plan improvised to relieve or rescue the men stranded 7,000 miles across the Pacific.

It appeared in January 1942 that the defenses of the west coast had been breached by the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the Hawaiian Islands. Two weeks of panic followed the Pearl Harbor attack as anxious citizens made many erroneous "sightings" of the Japanese fleet. The Army rushed antiaircraft units to defend the California oil industry; critical aircraft plants at Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle; and naval shipyards in the Puget Sound, in Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. By the end of February almost 250,000 troops had arrived to defend vital installations on the west coast, a task for which Army ground combat units were neither intended nor trained. General Marshall's chief concern was that the public fear of imminent invasion would freeze this force in a perimeter defense of the coast at a time when these regulars were desperately needed to train the citizen army being mobilized by the Selective Service System. Within six months, however, the demand for such defenses abated as Japanese intentions became clearer. If there had ever been a risk of west coast invasion, it disappeared after the Battles of the Coral Sea (6-8 May 1942) and Midway (3-6 June 1942), which crippled the Japanese aircraft carrier force ican mainland. After the results of Midway became clear, the Army began to stand down its defenses on the west coast, reassigning its Air Forces units and antiaircraft forces to other duties. Thereafter, the War Department adopted a "calculated risk" policy that gave priority to mobilization duties rather than to passive defense.

The west coast actually saw a limited amount of warfare. Submarines of the Japanese 6th Fleet performed reconnaissance and struck the sea lines of communication. Around the middle of December 1941, nine submarines arrived in American waters for the start of what was to be eight months of operations. Four of these boats eventually made attacks on coastal shipping, sinking two tankers and damaging one freighter. On 23 February 1942 the submarine I-17 surfaced near Santa Barbara and used its deck gun to fire thirteen 5.5-inch shells into oil installations, although with negligible damage. On the night of 21-22 June 1942, a submarine rose to the surface at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and fired about a dozen 5.5-inch shells at Fort Stevens, a coast artillery fort. Militarily insignificant, that attack marked the first time since the War of 1812 that a foreign enemy had fired on a military installation in the continental United States. In early September 1942 the final Japanese submarine attack on the American coast during the war took place in reprisal for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo the previous April. The I-25, which carried a float plane, launched its aircraft off the Oregon coast on the 9th of the month. The airplane dropped an incendiary bomb on a forested mountain hill near Brookings, starting a small forest fire that local authorities quickly extinguished. The I-25 then sank two tankers before leaving for Japan.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:36:31 Zulu