MacArthur's SW Pacific campaign was a waste of resources

After the securing of the US - Australia shipping routes and the elimination of Rabaul, was any strategic value added by MacArthur’s actions.
After the Marianas campaign the taking of Iwo Jima and Okinawa would have protected the southern flank of an invasion of Japan.
All MacArthur’s campaign seems to achieve is to divert resources away from the thrust towards Japan.
What are your thoughts on the matter?

8 Likes

Great points,

I had this discussion in history class long time ago and what probably also mattered was that:
1 The US wanted its Colony back in view of post-war goals;
2 They wanted to free US prisoners and reverse the defeat;
3 But what seems plausible (but I am not a Roosevelt expert), FDR was afraid of the political influence of MacArthur SO he kind of supported both campaigns at the same time for political reasons. The teacher really supported that view as well.

Any thoughts?

7 Likes

Thoroughly agree that the reason for the Philippines invasion was political. But given the damage done to Manila and the civilian population it almost certainly did more harm than by-passing the Philippines to focus on attacking Japan.

7 Likes

Chew’s points 1 and 2 cannot not be minimized. In the post war era, former colonies, not occupied by US troops were at a high risk of Communists insurgency-the Philippines had a long history of threat from such revolutionaries, but did not suffer that fate post war. When it was clear Korea was outside US protection, well, you know the rest. As an aside, many nations were invited onboard the Missouri for the signing ceremony, but only the US occupied Japan-wisely.

Point 2 is a noble idea and certainly must be comforting to mom dads and wives back home that were sacrificing too (and yes, political).

It’s easy but unfortunate 75 years on, for teachers and historians to critique the the US war plan, as executed, as ‘not the most quickest, efficient, least amount of petrol burned’ way of conducting and winning that war. Those thought leaders seem to need reminding that by the end of 1943, the Allies were essentially beating Japan with one arm behind its back and had the luxury of choices.

6 Likes

We should consult Indy about that. I went to high school in a bizarre building made entirely of concrete, with walls two feet thick built in 1944 because of no steel reinforcement because of steel shortages. I once mused that the builders should have waited until the war was over and steel was available. My high school girlfriend, smarter than I was, pointed out that they didn’t know when the war would end.

So I did some research and found an article in Time magazine reflecting that the best information (in early 1945) than the Pacific War would probably go on until 1950 or 51.

I commend reading “The Making 0f The Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. More than 95% of the people building the atomic bomb had no idea what they were working on.

5 Likes

The US invasion of the Philippines took place in October of 1944. The Japanese Navy was just about neutralized, ref Leyte Gulf, the B-29 heavy bombing of mainland Japan would soon to begin, half of Japan’s merchant fleet was on the bottom.
George Marshall and FDR knew that Japan’s ability to wage aggressive war was over and the only question now was----how many more people on both sides would die to end this awful conflict, the exact date of the end seems like a secondary point, but the result was foregone.

3 Likes

As you have seen so far if you followed the series from the beginning, many campaigns and battles have been relegated into obscurity because they are not exciting compared to other events and they don’t even get covered in most general history books and websites. This especially applies to the war in the Pacific. Most general histories will immediately jump from Guadalcanal to the Central Pacific with scant coverage paid to the Solomon Islands and New Guinea because the Marine assaults in the Central Pacific are far more exciting. This had led to the perception of many that Southwest Pacific Area Theatre under the command of General Douglas MacArthur was a waste of Allied resources.

The reality is the exact opposite. The Imperial Japanese High Command considered Southwest Pacific Area Theatre under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to be the main threat to the Japanese Empire. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) deployed their forces to meet the threat of General Douglas MacArthur completely neglecting the Central Pacific. The combination of the Marines landing on Guadalcanal along with MacArthur’s improvised offensive at Buna-Gona to divert the Japanese from Guadalcanal forced the IJA to respond. The IJA eventually deployed 8 infantry divisions and 6 infantry brigades to counteract the offensives at Guadalcanal and Buna-Gona as well as Operation Cartwheel which is the follow-on attacks in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Additionally, the IJA deployed 6 infantry divisions and 2 infantry brigades in Western New Guinea, the Sunda Islands, and Timor in case General MacArthur and SWPA launched an offensive from Darwin. While this is going on, the IJA only deployed the 52nd Division to Truk Atoll and 2 infantry brigades to the Marshal and Caroline Islands.

The same thing occurred again when Nimitz’s Pacific Theatre launched their offensive in the Central Pacific in the aftermath of General MacArthur’s Admiralty Island Campaign. The IJA deployed one division and two brigades to the Bonin Islands with the main force at Iwo Jima. The IJA deployed two infantry divisions and three brigades in the Mariana Islands. But General MacArthur and SWPA was still considered the main threat. So the IJA deployed an armored division, 12 infantry divisions, a parachute brigade and 9 infantry brigades to the Philippines and the Palau Islands to reinforce the 16th Division, 30th and 33rd brigades of the 14th Army in the Philippines.

Even when the US took Guam, Saipan, and Tinian; the Japanese High Command still considered SWPA to be the main threat with their belief that MacArthur would strike Taiwan next. So the IJA deployed 6 infantry divisions and 7 infantry brigades to Taiwan. The IJA even stripped the 25,000 men of the 9th Infantry Division off of Okinawa and moved them to Taiwan to counter the threat of MacArthur. So SWPA even had an impact on the bloodbath of Okinawa. The Japanese 32nd Army in charge of the defense of the Ryukyu Islands deployed an infantry division and two infantry brigades to the southern Ryuku islands leaving only 2 infantry divisions and an infantry brigade on Okinawa because of the threat of SWPA.

So imagine what would have happened if the there was no dual offensive. Everyone knows the horrendous bloodbath of Okinawa. Think about the slaughter if the IJA deployed 6 to 8 divisions and 5 to 6 brigades on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and Rota or if the Japanese had 4 divisions on Okinawa or two to three division equivalents on Iwo Jima. Additionally the Combined JCS ran into the same problem in the Pacific that they had with the Mediterranean Theatre. They lacked the merchant ships and troop transports for a massive redeployment of soldiers, equipment, and supplies from SWPA to the central Pacific so the Combined JCS decided to continue the dual offensive. If they had spent their time on a mass redeployment, the time it would take to shift the forces would have given the Japanese more time to build up their defenses in the Central Pacific.

When it comes to the Philippines, they were a colony by dictionary definition only. The Commonwealth of the Philippines had the same status as the modern day Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth has two non-voting representatives in the US Congress to represent their interests and advise on laws enacted by Congress that affected the Philippines. They were still citizens of the United States of America. Even when the Philippines were still a territory of the United States under a Presidential appointed Governor-General, the Filipinos still had complete control of their legislature, judiciary, police forces, and all territorial departments and bureaus. So the United States government had both a moral and legal obligation to liberate their citizens from Japanese occupation. So the liberation of the Philippines was not a waste of resources in freeing American Citizens from Japanese occupation.

9 Likes

Excellent information Robert, thanks for sharing it.

Cheers-John

3 Likes

Indeed, this is a really good discussion and I learned lots of new stuff, thanks to all.

3 Likes

The SW Pacific campaign was strategically and tactically useful; but going beyond Bougainville served no purpose.
If MacArthur had attacked Peleliu and Iwo Jima in Sept/Oct 44 it would have validated the IJA thinking.
But would have allowed Nimitz to take Okinawa in Dec/Jan.
These deployments you reference were made before the attacks started and by the time their error became apparent they didn’t have the shipping capacity to redeploy.
The strategy of the IJA was in many ways bizarre, even in 44 they seemed unable to conceptualize an adult on the home islands from the South East.
They weakened homes defence by sending troops to colonial territories while watching their shipping capacity collapse.
By early 1945 the home islands were under siege, they were essentially out of fuel and their war industries were collapsing. There were in a far worse state than Britain had been in 1940 while hundreds of thousands of troops were isolated on islands.

2 Likes

It is a case of history could have been distinctly different. If the Atom Bombs had not been used or the technology had failed, the US was set to launch Operation Olympic in November 1945. Thus was the invasion of Kyushu. The main staging, logistic, repair and support base was to be the Phillippines with zma forward base on Okinawa. If Olympic had been conducted the Phillippines would have been critical.

But a surrender was induced without an invasion of mainland Japan and so the Phillipines were much less important.

3 Likes

I apologize for the delay in answering but I have been heavily involved with work.

The landing on Bougainville was part of a major offensive known as Operation Cartwheel. Operation Cartwheel was a combined offensive of Southwest Pacific Area Theatre under General MacArthur working in conjunction with South Pacific Area Command under Admiral Halsey. The purpose of the offensive is to buildup and provide naval and air bases to cover a direct assault against Rabaul and Kavieng. In August 1943, the decision was made by the Combined Joint Chiefs of Staff to isolate the Japanese at Rabaul if possible instead of a direct invasion. Rabaul, New Britain; Kavieng; New Ireland; and Truk Atoll were still major operational air and naval bases at the time of the landing at Bougainville.

Operation Cartwheel does not officially end unit March 25, 1944 with the 4th Marine Regiment seizing Emirau Island in the St. Mathias Group to the northwest of the Japanese base at Kavieng on New Ireland island. Very few people have ever heard of Emirau Island because the Japanese Army detachment abandoned it a couple of months before the invasion so there was no fighting. Emirau was subsituted to be seized instead of using the III Marine Amphibious Corps in an invasion of New Ireland. Unofficially, Cartwheel actually ends in May 1944 when the 1st Cavalry Division finishes the elimination of the last Japanese soldiers in the Admiralty Islands.

The Japanese base at Truk Atoll was savaged in a combined radar guided nighttime and daytime air assault by the Pacific Fleet but the base was not neutralized until April 30, 1944 which finally cut off air reinforcement to Rabaul and Kavieng.

For Peleliue, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima; these were objectives chosen by the Joint Chiefs of Staff very late in the war. Even though the Pacific conference between General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and President Roosevelt occurred on July 26, 1944; the JCS was still undecided between the seizure of Luzon or Taiwan to cut communications between Japan and Southeast Asia. After Admiral Hasley’s extremely successful carrier raids against the Philippines in the summer of 1944; both Admiral Nimitz and the JCS were convinced by Admiral Halsey to invade the Philippines at Leyte instead of a planned attack at Mindinao. That was when Admiral Nimitz made the decision with the approval of the JCS to provide bomber bases om the Palau islands to support the Leyte invasion. Admiral Halsey objected to the Palau Island invasion by the III Marine Amphibious Corps which he wanted to use to reinforce MacArthur’s assault but he was overruled and Peleliu happened. Because the amphibious assault on the Philippines was accelerated, XXV Army Corps was temporarily loaned to MacArthur by Nimitz to conduct the Leyte invasion.

Only on October 3, 1944 did the JCS finally agreed with Admirals Nimitz and Spruance that it was impossible to successfully and rapidly seize Taiwan. The US did not have sufficiant Army and Marine forces available for a rapid campaign and any invasion will result in a long and bloody campaign tying down American forces. Taiwan did not have the 300,000 Filipino guerillas to assist the United States. The JCS decided to replace Taiwan with Okinawa. Two weeks later, Iwo Jima was added as target for invasion. Admiral Spruance only had V Marine Amphibious Corps availabe for an attack on Iwo Jima. III Marine Amphibious Corps and XXV Army Corps started to be moved back to the Mariana islands only in January 1945. Even then, Admirals Nimitz and Spruance delayed an attack on Okinawa because they wanted the Japanese to pour more men and aircraft into Taiwan in response to MacArthur’s invasion of Luzon.

5 Likes

Many words on this topic, but to answer the question posed I just need three: “I shall return”

3 Likes

I don’t think the Americans appreciated just how successful their submarine force had been in isolating the Japanese Home Islands.
And given that they managed to support the Philippines invasion without a large land area base would they really need either the Philippines or Taiwan to support an attack on Japan.

3 Likes

Operation Downfall was to be of an entirely different magnitude. It had 2 parts, Olympic and Coronet. The first was the invasion of Kyushu with an initial landing of 12 divisions, twice the size of D-Day. The second part was the invasion of Honshu, which would involve 20 divisions landing on the first day. The entire US Navy was to be involved. The Philippines was to be the marshaling, staging, logistics and repair area.

4 Likes

I know what the American plan was. I question if it was necessary. After all the invasion of the Philippines was more than 10 divisions and didn’t require a large land base to support.
Rather it diverted resources from attacking Japan and defeating Japanese land forces that did not need to be defeated.
An invasion of Shikoku by the forces dedicated to the Philippines could have provided a land base and airfields that would have allowed allied attack aircraft to ravage Kyushu and Honshu.

3 Likes

FWIW the Phillippine Campaign involved three series of landings at Leyte, Mondanoro and Luzon. The largest individual wave was 4 divisions on Luzon. Olympic on Kyushu was three times that size, awith ll landing on a single day. This operation pressed against the logistical capabilities of the US Navy. A round trip from the Phillippines to Kyushu was better than a round trip from San Francisco to Kyushu for supplies.

In Japan the US believed it had to contend with a hostile population given to stealing and sabotage. That’s why it wanted all its supplies prepositioned in-theatre.

The idea of a base on Shikoku without a theatre backup is too risky if the Japanese resort to attrition, flexible defence or sabotage . Attrition requires increased supplies, sabotage is attrition in the rear and a flexible defence counters a decapitation strike, which is what this Shikoku suggestion is.

The American advantage was supplies and logistics, in copious amounts on a regular basis. That is what their plans were designed to exploit.

3 Likes

Exactly this is why all parties make mistakes. The Philippines were considered by the USA as their own colony, alike the Dutch looked upon the Indonesian colonies and the UK on Singapore, India and the French on SE Indochina… Because of this outdated colonial view on the world, western powers lost in 1942 to Japan, they had many hearts and minds to free the Asian peoples from their oppressors (“I shall return” already states MacArthur’s mindset and intentions). So getting back your “own” colony takes priority. Shamefully, being Dutch, I have to admit that my country fought over Indonesia for many years even after the war, which resulted in a humanitarian disaster and drama on all sides.
I recommend the series that Indy made on this tragedy…never forget

3 Likes

FWIW the Phillippines were on track for independence, it had been enacted into US law in 1934 in the Tydings-McDuffie Act and was scheduled to be implemented in 1946. It was enacted on schedule, regardless of the war. In the Phillippines case, few wanted to die for the Japanese for something the US was going to do anyway very soon.

6 Likes

Eisenhower has a good say about this matter in his memoirs, because he was stationed in the Philippines before the war. In dec 41 he was asked by Marshall about his opionion on the strategy in the South Pacific. His opinion: The phillipines will fall, but we cant say that in public, we have no naval Power to venture into Japanese held territory at this time. The primary base would be Australia, so all efforts should be made to keep the sealanes open. This was, in my opinion, the strategic reason for the swift reaction to the new japanese airbase on Guadalcanal. Marshall had already made the same conclusion, but just wanted to have his view confirmed by Eisenhower.

4 Likes