Chapter XXI
Tactical and Strategic Consequences of the Marshalls Operation

Writing soon after the capture of the Marshalls, General Holland Smith reported, "Recommendations made and acted upon . . . as a result of the Gilberts offensive proved sound. In the attack of coral atolls, very few recommendations can be made to improve upon the basic techniques previously recommended and utilized in the Marshalls . . ."1 As a matter of fact, after the capture of Eniwetok it was found unnecessary to seize any more well-defended atolls in the Pacific. Thereafter, all major landing operations were conducted against larger island masses ranging in size from such small volcanic islands as lwo-Jima and Ie Shima to such comparatively large land masses as Luzon and New Guinea.

In the latter phases of the Pacific war, then, many new problems presented themselves on which the experience in either the Gilberts or the Marshalls had no particular bearing. Large bodies of troops of corps and army size had to be maneuvered over relatively vast areas of land. Campaigns were to be measured in months, not days. The burden of supply, transportation, and medical care and evacuation were correspondingly increased. Tactical aviation assumed a new role. On Luzon and again at Okinawa, fighter and bomber planes were to be used extensively in close support of ground troops that had penetrated far inland from their original beachheads. Fleet tactics, too, underwent considerable revision. Continuous attrition of Japanese naval and air strength plus the mighty build-up of American naval power freed the U.S. Fleet from the cautious hit-and-run tactics it had been compelled to resort to as late as February 1944. For the most part thereafter, the fleets that struck succeeding objectives in conjunction with landing forces came prepared to stay at least until all serious ground resistance had been eliminated. In the Marianas, the Palaus, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and, finally, Okinawa, the U.S. Fleet stayed close offshore of the land targets for prolonged periods of time, ready to render constant support to ground troops as they pressed forward toward their objectives. And this in spite of the growing menace of the Japanese Kamikaze (suicide) Corps, which mounted steadily from October 1944 to May 1945.

Yet notwithstanding these changes the


progress of the war in the Pacific was to bring about, one aspect of most of the subsequent campaigns remained basically unchanged--the technique of the amphibious landing. Insofar as this phase of Pacific warfare was concerned, Holland Smith's generalization that "very few recommendations can be made to improve upon the basic techniques previously recommended and utilized in the Marshalls" proved quite valid. The techniques that had been perfected in the capture of tiny atolls in the Central Pacific proved applicable, and were in fact applied, with only minor variations in most of the subsequent island landings as U.S. and Allied forces worked their way closer and closer to the heart of the Japanese Empire.

In the Marshalls operations some important innovations were made in the techniques and equipment of American amphibious assault procedure. The amphibious headquarters ship, which had already seen action in the Mediterranean theater, was first introduced into the Pacific at Kwajalein, where it conclusively demonstrated its value. For the first time there also, infantry landing craft were equipped with both 40-mm. guns and rockets and were effectively employed to lay down a last-minute barrage just before the troops landed. Underwater demolition teams demonstrated their ability to swim close to shore into the very teeth of the enemy under the protective cover of naval fire. The DUKW saw its first action on any large scale at Kwajalein and proved its immense value as a cargo and artillery carrier. At Eniwetok naval star shells were for the first time extensively employed to illuminate areas behind friendly lines and thereby impose a serious check on the standard Japanese tactic of night infiltration.

With the conclusion of the Marshalls operation, the standard pattern of American amphibious landings was set and was thereafter followed with a high degree of consistency by U.S. forces whenever they attacked an enemy beachhead in the Pacific. A few new items of equipment and a few new techniques were to be evolved that would improve still further on this pattern, but they introduced no major changes. After February 1944, standard procedure called for as heavy and as prolonged preliminary naval and aerial bombardment of the beachhead as conditions permitted. Where feasible, this was supplemented by the emplacement of land-based field artillery on islands near the main landing beaches before the principal landings were made. Underwater demolition teams searched the shore line and the shallow water offshore for obstacles and mines and detonated them where necessary. Just before the landings, a last-minute preparatory fire was delivered by shallow-draft vessels of various types firing a variety of missiles from 20-mm. shells up through 4.5-inch rockets. The assault troops, boated insofar as possible in amphibian tractors, landed in waves and pressed the attack forward, followed by waves of tanks, artillery, and supplies and equipment, which were carried in amphibian tractors, amphibian trucks, and landing craft and ships of all sorts and sizes. Naval and land-based aircraft kept the enemy under continuous pressure and naval ships, where possible, supplied close and deep support to the troops as they advanced forward.

Some of these elements of force were omitted in subsequent island landings in the Pacific, especially in the various amphibious operations on the New Guinea coast, where enemy opposition was relatively light and such a preponderant


display of power was unnecessary. But most of the techniques were employed in the major landings and all of them were used with brilliant success at Tinian and Okinawa. By the close of the Marshalls campaign, the basic pattern for the Pacific style of amphibious assault was set and any subsequent deviations therefrom were minor.2

Strategically speaking, the easy capture of main bases in the Marshalls, coupled with the successful raid on Truk, was of utmost significance in its influence on the course of the future conduct of the war in the Pacific. First, the combined operations against the Marshalls and Truk served to confirm and reinforce the opinions already held by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other strategic planners that the Central Pacific drive offered the most profitable route by which Allied forces could deliver a death blow against the Japanese Empire. Second, the strike against Truk revealed that base to be far weaker than had originally been supposed by most American planners and led to the final decision to bypass it altogether. Finally, the economy of force with which the Marshalls had been taken and the removal of Truk from the list of prospective targets made available to Admiral Nimitz a large body of trained troops that could now be employed to accelerate the Central Pacific drive to a far greater degree than had originally been planned.

In the spring of 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided that the main effort in the war against Japan should be made along the Central Pacific axis, with a simultaneous but subsidiary effort to be launched through the South and Southwest Pacific. This decision had been reached in spite of the strong recommendations by General MacArthur that his own theater be given paramount consideration in Pacific planning.3 The quick victories in the Marshalls confirmed the original judgment of the Joint Chiefs and strengthened their resolution to continue the main pressure along the Central Pacific axis. Two questions, however, called for immediate solution. The first was whether to launch the next attack in Admiral Nimitz's theater against the Marianas. The second was whether or not to bypass Truk, keeping it neutralized from the newly acquired bases in the Marshalls and letting it "wither on the vine."

The feasibility of an attack against the Marianas had long been discussed and debated among members of the joint Chiefs of Staff, their subordinate committees, and theater staffs in the Southwest and Central Pacific. Admiral King had firmly declared that the capture of the Marianas was the "key to success" in the Pacific war,4 and he was supported in that opinion by the Army Air Forces representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry H. Arnold, who wanted the Marianas as bases for B-29 raids against the japanese homeland.5

In the meetings of the Combined Chiefs


of Staff held in Cairo in November and December 1943, the King-Arnold argument was accepted by the Allied strategic planners. The advance westward through the Central Pacific, through the mandated islands to the Palaus, and north to the Marianas was approved. Again, it was stated that Central Pacific operations were to have priority over those of the Southwest Pacific.6

On the basis of the Combined Chiefs' decision, Admiral Nimitz had issued a tentative plan of operations on 13 January 1944, designated GRANITE. Initial landings in the Marshalls were to be undertaken on 31 January. Late in March a carrier strike against Truk was to be executed, and in May amphibious landings were to be made in the western Marshalls. Landings on Truk and Mortlock in the Carolines would be initiated on 1 August. If Truk were bypassed, the Palaus would be invaded instead on approximately the same date. Amphibious operations against the Marianas were to begin about 1 November.7

The early successes in the Marshalls operation and the successful carrier raid against Truk of 17-18 February enabled Admiral Nimitz to step up this program considerably. He became more convinced than ever of the feasibility of bypassing Truk and so recommended to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He advocated instead an invasion of the Marianas on 15 June, to be followed by the seizure of Ulithi Atoll, about 360 miles southwest of Guam; the capture of Yap Island, a Japanese air base 100 miles southwest of Ulithi; and the capture or neutralization of the Palaus, about 300 miles still farther to the southwest. Woleai, in the Carolines, 360 miles due south of Guam, should also be captured, he recommended, to assure the neutralization of Truk and to protect the lines of communication from the Marianas to Yap and Ulithi.8

With these and other recommendations in hand, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued on 12 March a new operational directive for action in the Pacific during 1944. General MacArthur was ordered to cancel the proposed Kavieng operation and complete the neutralization of Rabaul with the minimum of forces. Following the development of Manus Island in the Admiralties as an air and fleet base, he was to occupy Hollandia on or about 15 April and conduct operations along the New Guinea coast preparatory to an invasion of the Palaus and Mindanao, southernmost of the Philippines. Admiral Nimitz was ordered to cancel his plans for seizing Truk and expedite the neutralization of Truk and other islands in that immediate area. Nimitz was also to conduct carrier strikes against the Marianas, the Palaus, the Carolines, and other profitable targets. The Marianas were to be invaded on 15 June 1944, after which Central Pacific forces were to move to the Palaus.9

Thus, with the successful conclusion of the campaign in the Marshalls, it became possible to launch the drive against the Marianas at a far earlier date than had originally been anticipated. Truk was to


be bypassed and kept neutralized by aircraft operating chiefly out of the newly seized Marshalls bases. These bases were also to be put to good use in staging fleet elements that would later be used not only against the Marianas but also against the Palaus and the Philippines themselves. Most important, the early and quick capture of the Marshalls released a volume of manpower for early employment against the Marianas. Originally, Admiral Nimitz had allocated the task of seizing Eniwetok to the 2d Marine Division and two regimental combat teams of the 27th Infantry Division. When it was found possible to employ the reserve force initially assigned to Kwajalein for this task, the 2d Marine Division and the two regimental combat teams of the 27th Division were immediately set upon the task of training for the forthcoming Marianas campaign. The decision to bypass Truk freed still more ground forces for future operations. In January 1944, Nimitz had earmarked three Marine divisions, two Army divisions, and an independent Marine regiment for the capture of Truk and adjacent atolls.10 Three of these divisions (the 2d and 4th Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division) were now free to be trained for employment in the invasion of Saipan. Two others, the 3d Marine Division and the 77th Infantry Division, as well as the 22d Marine Regiment, were to be used against Guam.

With the quick termination of the capture of the main Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands, the drive of U.S. forces through the Central Pacific against Japan was greatly speeded up. Any previous doubt as to where would lie the "main effort" against the enemy was permanently dispelled.

"Thus," to quote Admiral Nimitz again, "we get on with the war."11


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1. V Phib Corps FLINTLOCK Rpt.

2. For more details on Pacific amphibious operations after February 1944 see: Isely and Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War; Appleman et al., Okinawa; M. Hamlin Cannon, Leyte: Return to the Philippines, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1954); and the following forthcoming volumes in the Pacific series of UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, to be published by the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army: Robert Ross Smith, The Approach to the Philippines; John Miller, Jr., CARTWHEEL, The Reduction of Rabaul; Philip A. Crowl, Campaign in the Marianas; Robert Ross Smith and M. Hamlin Cannon, Triumph in the Philippines.

3. See above, Ch. I.

4. Min, 92d mtg CCS, 21 May 43, TRIDENT Conference, pp. 429-37. For a more detailed discussion of the planning for the Marianas see Philip A. Crowl, Campaign in the Marianas.

5. Min, 109th mtg JPS, 27 Oct 43; Min, 123d and 124th mtgs JCS, 15 and 17 Nov 43; Henry H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949) pp. 476-80.

6. CCS 417, 2 Dec 43, title: Overall Plan for the Defeat of Japan; CCS 397 (Revised), 3 Dec 43, title: Specific Operations for the Defeat of Japan, 1944; CCS 426/l, 6 Dec 43, title: Rpt to the President and Prime Minister. All foregoing documents located in bound volume of SEXTANT papers, copy in G-3 files.

7. CINCPAC-CINCPOA, Campaign Plan GRANITE, 13 Jan 44, Naval History Div.

8. JCS Memo for Information 200, 7 Mar 44, sub: Sequence and Timing of Operations, Central Pacific Campaign, a Rpt by CINCPOA, ABC 384 Pacific (1-17-43) Sec. 3a; Supplementary Min, 140th mtg JCS, 7 Mar 44.

9. JCS 713/4, 12 Mar 44, title: Future Operations in the Pacific.

10. CINCPAC-CINCPOA, Outline Plan for Operations in Pacific Ocean Areas, 13 Jan 44.

11. Ibid.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation