Chapter I: The Strategic Decision

On 2 July 1942 the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Allied forces in the Pacific to mount a limited offensive to halt the Japanese advance toward the line of communications from the United States to Australia and New Zealand. At the same time the United States was committed to a program for building up forces in Great Britain to launch an offensive in Europe in 1942 or 1943. There were then available so few warships, transports, and cargo ships, so few trained troops, so few weapons and supplies, that any offensive in the Pacific, for which the United States would have to provide most of the forces, would necessarily be limited in scale. Yet it was essential to halt the Japanese who were then moving ever nearer to the flank of the tenuous line of communications. The Joint Chiefs' decision of 2 July led to the long, grim struggle for the possession of Guadalcanal, an island in the remote British Solomon Islands Protectorate which was not specifically named in the orders dispatched by the Joint Chiefs.

Allied Organization and Missions in the Pacific Theater

The decision to mount a limited offensive in the Pacific was a logical corollary to earlier strategic decisions. The highest political and military authorities of the United States and Great Britain had decided to defeat Germany before concentrating on Japan. The world had been divided into spheres of primary military responsibility, and the United States assumed responsibility for directing the war in the Pacific. Subject to decisions of the U.S.-British Combined Chiefs of Staff on global strategy, the strategic direction of the war in the Pacific was assigned to the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. In March 1942 they had agreed to assemble forces in Britain during that year to mount an offensive in Europe at the earliest possible moment. For the time being, Allied strategy in the Pacific was to be limited to containing the Japanese with the forces then committed or allotted.1 Concentration against Germany, it was believed, would give the most effective support to the Soviet Union and keep the forces in the British Isles


from being inactive, while containment of the Japanese would save Australia and New Zealand from enemy conquest. The two dominions, important to the Allies as sources of supply, as essential economic and political units of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and in the future to become bases for offensive operations, would have to be held.2 The implications of this decision were clear. If Australia and New Zealand were to be held, then the line of communications from the United States to those dominions would have to be held. Forces to defend the Allied bases along the line, including New Caledonia, the Fijis, and Samoa, had already been sent overseas. There were not enough ships, troops, weapons, or supplies, however, to develop each base into an impregnable fortress. The bases were designed to be mutually supporting, and each island had been allotted forces sufficient to hold off an attacking enemy long enough to permit air and naval striking forces to reach the threatened position from adjacent bases, including the Hawaiian Islands and Australia.3

For the conduct of operations in the Pacific, two separate commands, the Southwest Pacific Area and the Pacific Ocean Areas, embracing almost the entire ocean and its land areas, were designated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the approval of the President on 30 March.

MAP I: The Pacific Areas, 1 August 1942
The Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) included the Philippine Islands, the South China Sea, the Gulf of Siam, the Netherlands East Indies (except Sumatra), the Solomon Islands, Australia, and the waters to the south. The post of Supreme Commander of Allied forces in this vast area was given to Gen. Douglas MacArthur (CINCSWPA), who had just reached Australia from the Philippines.

The even vaster Pacific Ocean Areas included the remainder of the Pacific Ocean west of the North American Continent except for one areaóthe Southeast Pacific Area, the western boundary of which ran from the western Mexican-Guatemalan boundary southwest to the 11th parallel of north latitude, to longitude 110 degrees West, and thence due south along the 110th meridian. The Pacific Ocean Areas (POA) included three subordinate Areasóthe North, Central, and South Pacific Areas. The North Pacific Area included all the Pacific north of latitude 42 degrees North. The Central Pacific Area, embracing the Hawaiian Islands, Christmas, Palmyra, Johnston, most of the Japanese-held Gilberts, and the Japanese-held Marshalls, Carolines, Marianas, Formosa, in addition to most of the Japanese home islands, lay between the


equator and latitude 42 degrees North. South of the equator, west of longitude 110 degrees West, and east of the Southwest Pacific was the South Pacific Area, which included thousands of islands and more than one million square miles of ocean. New Zealand, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides, Santa Cruz, Fiji, Samoan, Tongan, Cook, and Society Islands all lay in the South Pacific.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC), was appointed Commander in Chief of all Allied forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPOA) except those forces responsible for the land defense of New Zealand, which were controlled by the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Nimitz, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, was to command the Central and North Pacific Areas directly, but was ordered to appoint a subordinate who would command the South Pacific Area.

Both General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz were responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. Gen. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army, acted as executive for the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Southwest Pacific Area. Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, U. S. Fleet, was executive for the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Pacific Ocean Areas.

The missions assigned to MacArthur and Nimitz were virtually the same. They were to hold those island positions between the United States and Australia which were essential to the security of the line of communications and to the support of air, surface, and amphibious operations against the Japanese; to contain the Japanese within the Pacific; to support the defense of North America; to protect essential sea and air communications; and to prepare major amphibious offensives, the first of which were to be delivered from the South and Southwest Pacific Areas. Each area was to support its neighbor's operations. When task forces from the Pacific Ocean Areas operated beyond their boundaries, either the Combined or the Joint Chiefs of Staff would co-ordinate their operations with those of other forces.4

Japanese Advances

The speed and breadth of the Japanese offensive which opened on 7 December 1941 had rendered ineffective the Allied organization of the Pacific which preceded the establishment of the Pacific Ocean and Southwest Pacific Areas. From December 1941 until May of the following year, the Japanese had been


expanding their empire; they defeated the scanty Allied forces opposing them and established a perimeter of bases to guard their newly-won gains. When Rabaul, a small town on Gazelle Peninsula on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago, fell on 23 January 1942, the Japanese had gained a major objective.

Rabaul lay just 1,170 nautical miles southeast of the Japanese bases in the Palau Islands, and 640 miles south of Truk in the Carolines. Easily defended, Rabaul possessed the best harbor in the entire archipelago as well as excellent sites for airfields. A key base for the Japanese effort to dominate both eastern New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, it was to be the focus of the Allied war effort in that area for two years. The coast of New Guinea lies 440 nautical miles southwest of Rabaul, and the center of the north coast of Guadalcanal Island in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate is only 565 nautical miles southeast of Rabaul. Since Japanese bombers from Rabaul could easily attack both areas, the Japanese were well situated for a push to the south. They could cover their advance by constructing forward fighter plane bases as they advanced. No island in the New Guinea-New Britain-New Ireland-Solomons area lies beyond fighter plane range of its nearest neighbor. The Japanese could advance step by step along the island bases covered by aircraft throughout their entire advance. Even if the Japanese commanders had ventured to seize bases beyond the range of their aircraft, they probably could have done so easily, for only a handful of aircraft and Australian soldiers were defending the New Guinea-Bismarck-Solomons area. The Japanese, fortunately, elected to move southward cautiously and deliberately.

After capturing Rabaul the Japanese garrisoned the Duke of York Islands in Saint George's Channel between New Britain and New Ireland. They also moved to New Ireland itself and built an air base at Kavieng, 130 nautical miles northwest of Rabaul. Having covered their rear, they began to move south in a series of amphibious advances which, had they succeeded completely, would have encircled the Coral Sea. The first efforts were directed against New Guinea. The Japanese did not move into the Solomons until later. The Allied base at Port Moresby on the south coast of the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea was their main objective. Instead of taking it at one blow in early 1942 and developing it before the Allies could retaliate, the Japanese moved gradually. They occupied Gasmata off the south coast of New Britain in February 1942, then crossed to New Guinea and took Lae and Salamaua in March.5


They first moved into the Solomons in March 1942.

On 13 March naval landing and construction forces took Buka, the northernmost island in the Solomons, 170 nautical miles southeast of Rabaul, and built a fighter strip there. Additional forces began building fighter strips at Buin and near-by Kahili on the south coast of Bougainville, 270 nautical miles from Rabaul. Others were begun at Kieta on the east coast and in the Shortland Islands.

The Japanese also assembled a carrier task force and an amphibious force at Truk to attack Port Moresby. A detachment of the amphibious force landed on Tulagi in the Solomons on 3 May. The main body of the Japanese force, however, failed to capture Port Moresby. Intercepted by Allied naval and air forces in the Coral Sea in May, the Japanese lost one aircraft carrier and were forced to withdraw. Allied forces also struck at Tulagi during the Coral Sea engagement.

The Japanese then turned their attention to Midway and the Aleutian Islands. Orders issued by Imperial General Headquarters during the opening phases of the Coral Sea battle had directed the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet to "cooperate" with the Army in invading Midway and the Aleutians.6 These attacks were to be followed by invasions, in co-operation with the 17th Army, of "strategic points around the NEW CALEDONIA, FIJI, and SAMOA Islands" and the destruction of "important enemy bases," to effect the isolation of Australia.7

In June the Japanese obtained a foothold in the Aleutians, but their main effort at the same time against Midway did not succeed. Four of their aircraft carriers were sunk off Midway and the Japanese withdrew without attempting to land on the island. This engagement, so disastrous for the enemy, did much to restore the naval balance in the Pacific and enabled the Allies to take the initiative.

On 11 July Imperial General Headquarters canceled the orders which had called for invasions of Midway, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa.8 But at Tulagi the Japanese had already built a seaplane base which had originally been designed to support the attack on Port Moresby. The tiny island of Tulagi, seat of government of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, dominates Tulagi Harbor, the best ship anchorage in the southern Solomons, and lies 56o nautical


BUKA ISLAND AIRFIELD was built by the Japanese in the spring of 1942 as one of a chain of fighter strips permitting their aircraft to "island hop" in the drive to the south.


miles from Espiritu Santo in the British-French condominium of the New Hebrides. Noumea in New Caledonia is 800 miles southeast of Tulagi, and the Fijis are 1,000 miles away.

Even before the Japanese orders directing the attacks against New Caledonia, the Fijis, and Samoa were canceled, the Japanese commander at Tulagi had reconnoitered the island of Guadalcanal, twenty miles away. Perhaps on his own initiative he decided to build an airfield near the mouth of the Lunga River in the center of the. north coast.9 This airfield, which was intended to provide a base for sixty naval planes, was to have been completed by 15 August.10 If the Japanese intended to continue their advance,11 the next logical step would certainly have been a series of moves through the New Hebrides toward the Fijis, Samoa, and New Caledonia.12 The seaplane base at Tulagi and the airfield under construction on Guadalcanal did not yet directly threaten the Allied South Pacific air route, but they portended a serious threat.

There was no unified Japanese command controlling operations in the eastern New Guinea-Bismarck-Solomons area. Rabaul was to become the site of separate Army and Navy commands, each of which was responsible to separate higher headquarters. The initial landings in the Solomons had been effected under naval command, but ground operations in the Solomons and eastern New Guinea later came under control of the 17th Army, headquarters of which were established at Rabaul in July 1942. Later in July the headquarters of the Southeastern Fleet was also established at Rabaul. This fleet controlled the 8th Fleet, the 11th Air Fleet, and the 8th, 14th, 1st, and 7th Base Forces at Rabaul, New Ireland, Buin, and Lae, respectively.13

The Japanese advances into the Bismarcks, New Guinea, and the Solomons had generally not been strongly opposed, and the few Australian troops had been killed or driven out of the Bismarcks and Solomons. The Allies, fortunately, had been able to keep watch on the enemy's movements. The Australian Government, long before World War II, had created the Coastwatching Service as an integral part of the Directorate of Naval Intelligence of the Royal


Australian Navy. The coastwatchers, most of whom were former planters and civil servants who had lived in the islands for years, remained behind the Japanese lines after the invasions, and radioed reports on the enemy's troop, ship, and plane movement to the Directorate of Naval Intelligence at Townsville, Australia.14

When the Japanese moved to Guadalcanal, coastwatchers hidden in the mountains reported the fact to Allied headquarters in Australia. This information was transmitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington on 6 July 1942.15 But even before the Japanese were known to have begun their airstrip on Guadalcanal, and before Imperial General Headquarters canceled the orders to invade New Caledonia, Samoa, and the Fijis, the joint Chiefs of Staff had issued orders for the limited offensive in the area to protect the line of communications to Australia.

The Problem of Command and Strategy

With the Japanese threatening to cut the line of communications to Australia, or to attack Australia directly, the American officers responsible for the conduct of the Pacific war had agreed that an offensive should be mounted to end the threat. Before the Joint Chiefs of Staff could issue orders for the attack, they had to settle serious problems regarding command and the employment of forces.

The Army's Plan

As early as 8 May, after the Japanese defeat in the Coral Sea, General MacArthur was preparing plans for an offensive. He pointed out that the Japanese victories in the Philippines and Burma would free at least two infantry divisions and additional aircraft, and that the enemy forces in Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies might also be moved forward. Still able to move unhindered along interior lines of communication, the enemy could attack New Guinea and the line of communications between the United States and Australia. To prevent these attacks, MacArthur wished to take the offensive, but he desired that his naval forces first be strengthened by aircraft carriers, and that more planes and troops be added to his air and ground forces.16


At the same time Admiral Nimitz was contemplating the possibility of attacking Tulagi in the Solomons, a project which found favor with Admiral King. Admiral Nimitz first suggested using a Marine raider battalion for the attack, but Admiral King and Generals Marshall and MacArthur all agreed, on 1 June, that one raider battalion would be too small a landing force."17 General MacArthur's plans envisaged a larger operation than a raid. Believing that one Japanese regiment was then holding Tulagi but was not thoroughly dug in, and that one division was stationed at Rabaul, he desired to mount a large-scale offensive against the Solomons and New Britain. He suggested that as more troops became available, the South Pacific forces might profitably move farther forward into the Loyalty, Santa Cruz, and New Hebrides Islands.18

After the great Japanese defeat off Midway on 3-4 June 1942, General MacArthur, on 8 June, again suggested taking the offensive at an early date, with the New Britain-New Ireland area as the objective. Available trained troops in the Southwest Pacific Area then included the 32d and 41st U.S. Infantry Divisions and the 7th Australian Division. These divisions, however, were not equipped or trained for amphibious operations. They could support an amphibious attack by moving ashore once a beachhead had been taken, but they could not take a beachhead themselves. The objectives of the offensive lay beyond range of U.S. fighter aircraft. Close air support would have to be provided by aircraft carriers, but none were assigned to the Southwest Pacific Area. General MacArthur therefore requested that one trained amphibious division and a suitable naval task force be made available at the earliest possible date. If these forces seized the New Britain-New Ireland area, the Japanese would be forced back to Truk.19

At the same time the Joint Chiefs of Staff were considering the possibility of persuading the British to use the Eastern Fleet against Timor, or against the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, in co-ordination with the offensive effort of the United States.20

General Marshall, who favored placing the prospective offensive under General MacArthur's command, explained his views to Admiral King on 12 June. He believed that an attack designed to retake eastern New Guinea and


New Britain could be mounted in early July. If the attack succeeded, it might be followed by a raid on Truk. The 1st Marine Division, part of which was soon to land at Wellington, New Zealand, could make an initial amphibious assault against the Japanese positions. This division, plus twelve transports and four destroyer-transports, could be assembled at Brisbane by 5 July. The three trained divisions in Australia could support and eventually relieve the Marine division after adequate beachheads had been established and normal land warfare had begun. One hundred and six heavy bombers, 138 medium bombers, 48 light bombers, and 371 fighters, to be assembled in Australia by 1 July, would provide land-based air support. Additional bombers could be dispatched from Hawaii. Army fighters and bombers could support attacks against Lae and Salamaua. Bombers could reach Rabaul, but the fighters, from their present basis [i.e., bases] in Australia and Port Moresby, could not fly that far. Aircraft carriers would therefore be required to provide fighter support, and other naval surface vessels would naturally be needed. Unity of command would be absolutely essential to make the operation a complete success.21

General Marshall had also directed General MacArthur to prepare tentative plans along these lines.22 The War Department and General MacArthur both believed that the operation, since it would take place in his area, should be conducted under General MacArthur's control. As the forces involved would be largely naval, the War Department suggested that a naval officer, under General MacArthur, be placed in command of the task force which would execute the operation.23

The Navy's View

The Navy's ideas differed from those of the Army. Admiral King presented his views to General Marshall on 25 June. Regretting that the United States had not been able to attack the Japanese immediately after Midway, he thought that the offensive should be launched about 1 August by a task force under the control of Admiral Nimitz. The immediate objectives would be positions in the Solomons in the Southwest Pacific Area and in the Santa Cruz Islands in the South Pacific Area, 335 nautical miles east-southeast of Guadalcanal. The ultimate objectives would be the New Guinea-New Britain area.


THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY did much to restore naval balance in the Pacifici. At 1945 hours 6 June 1942, dive-bombers from the U.S.S. Hornet attacked a Japanese heavy cruiser of the Mogami class leaving it gutted and abandoned.


Admiral King believed that the force should include at least two aircraft carriers with accompanying cruisers and destroyers, the 1st Marine Division and transports of the South Pacific Amphibious Force, five Marine air squadrons, and the land-based planes from the South Pacific. The Southwest Pacific would furnish the task force with land-based aircraft, surface ships, and submarines. The permanent occupation of the Santa Cruz and other islands in the South Pacific Area would be effected by the commander of that area with forces to be designated later. The captured islands in the Solomons-New Guinea area would be permanently occupied under General MacArthur's direction by troops moved forward from Australia on shipping provided by Admiral Nimitz.

Admiral King wished General MacArthur's forces and elements of the British Eastern Fleet to conduct diversionary attacks against Timor in the Netherlands East Indies at the same time that Admiral Nimitz' task force struck the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands.24 He informed General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and the South Pacific Area Headquarters of his ideas.25

Army-Navy Discussions

Admiral King's plans did not find favor in the War Department. Navy planners had been discussing the projected offensive with members of the Operations Division (OPD) of the War Department General Staff who were General Marshall's strategic advisers. The Army planners estimated that the Japanese ground forces in the target area included two brigades around Rabaul, about 1,000 Special Naval Landing Force troops at Lae and Salamaua, two companies on New Ireland, one battalion in the Admiralties, a small garrison on Bougainville, and a regiment in the Tulagi area. One hundred and twenty-six aircraft, including bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance planes, were believed to be located in New Britain, New Ireland, New Guinea, and the Solomons. It was considered possible that thirty-three bombers on Timor would be used to reinforce Rabaul. Japanese naval strength in the target area included only small units, but strong forces were believed to be based at Truk. The Operations Division concluded that these forces were capable of attacking Port Moresby, the east coast of Australia, or New Caledonia, and could be expected


to try to take Port Moresby, which was necessary as a base for operations against northern Australia. Loss of Port Moresby would deprive the Allies of the only advanced base from which they could strike Lae, Salamaua, and Rabaul. If the Allies were to attack the Japanese at Rabaul, the enemy would be able to move troops from Tulagi and the Admiralties to Rabaul in four days, although no strong reinforcements could be sent to Rabaul in less than three weeks. Unless the Japanese air installations at Rabaul could be reduced by preparatory bombardment, the projected offensive would meet strong resistance from land-based planes.

The seizure of Rabaul, followed by the seizure of eastern New Guinea, New Ireland, New Britain, and the Solomons, would deprive the Japanese of bases from which they could attack Australia and the Allied-held islands in the South Pacific, and advance the radius of Allied reconnaissance and air attack as far as Truk. Such a plan would require the three available infantry divisions and aircraft in Australia as well as the five cruisers, twelve destroyers, and thirty submarines in the Southwest Pacific, in addition to the 1st Marine Division, twelve transports and cargo ships, and at least two aircraft carriers from the Pacific Ocean Areas. The Navy's plan to attack and occupy Tulagi first and then move progressively against Rabaul would require a naval task force, an Army garrison force, and additional land-based aircraft from Australia and Port Moresby, all under naval command. Neither plan could be executed before August, as the necessary shipping could not be assembled in time.

The Operations Division concluded that a plan to take Rabaul first offered the greater promise of success, since it would provide for the maximum use of available forces and would strike directly at the primary objective. A quick stroke at Rabaul, the key Japanese base in the entire area, could be supported by land-based bombers although aircraft carriers would have to provide fighter support. Once Rabaul fell, the Operations Division believed, the remaining Japanese positions in the area, isolated beyond their supply lines, would be rendered impotent. The Navy plan, on the other hand, involved a gradual move from Tulagi to Rabaul. The capture of Tulagi, an operation in which the Allied forces could be supported by long-range bombers, would not be difficult, but two factors would militate against the success of the Navy plan. First, further advances northward toward Rabaul would be subjected to continuous aerial bombardment, and, second, a step-by-step advance would warn the Japanese and permit them to reinforce Rabaul with air and ground forces before enough Allied strength could be mustered to strike directly at Rabaul.


On the basis of these conclusions, the Operations Division recommended that Rabaul be attacked first, that the Navy provide the marine division and twelve transports and at least two carriers and supporting vessels, that the attack be launched as early as possible, and that the operation be under General MacArthur's command.26

The Army and Navy plans differed considerably, but the greatest obstacle to agreement between the services was the selection of a commander. Army planners reported to General Marshall that they would be able to resolve all differences with the Navy planners except that of command. According to the Army point of view, unity of command would be essential since the offensive would involve not only the amphibious assault force and land-based aircraft but also the movement and supply of the garrison forces and co-ordination with the Allies. Since the offensive would take place in General MacArthur's area he should control it, and the tactical command of the attacking-force should be in the hands of a naval officer.

The Navy agreed that unity of command was essential but feared that, if the high command were given to General MacArthur, he might dangerously expose the aircraft carriers by placing them in the waters between the Solomons and New Guinea within range of land-based aircraft. Tulagi would have to be reduced first to lessen the hazard to the carriers. Command of the attacking force, the Navy planners concluded, should go to Admiral Nimitz' subordinate, Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, the commander of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force. The Army planners recommended to General Marshall that he and Admiral King personally choose a commander for the invasion.27

Informed by General Marshall of the Navy's opposition to his plan,28 General MacArthur responded vigorously. The Navy, he asserted, had misunderstood his proposals. Rabaul was the ultimate objective, but direct assault upon it would be rendered impossible by the limited amount of land-based air support which could be brought to bear from present bases. His plans involved a progressive advance against the Solomons and New Guinea's north coast to obtain airfields from which to support the final attacks against Rabaul and to cover the naval surface forces. He felt that only confusion would result if


ground forces from the Pacific Ocean Areas were employed inside the Southwest Pacific Area under a naval command exercised from a distant headquarters, as the Navy had suggested. The Southwest Pacific Headquarters was the logical agency to direct the offensive, for the necessary intelligence, reconnaissance, and planning agencies were all in its area, and General MacArthur believed that he should command any large operation through his air, ground, and surface commanders. Finally, he opposed the idea of trying to retake Timor at that time, on the ground that there were not enough air or naval forces in the area to support such an effort.29

An exchange of memoranda between General Marshall and Admiral King on 26 June failed to produce agreement. General Marshall opposed the plan to place the invading force under Admiral Nimitz' control. He sought to allay the Navy's fear for the safety of the aircraft carriers by suggesting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff could pass on the arrangements for the employment of naval forces, and he reiterated the argument that, since the ultimate objectives lay in General MacArthur's area, he should command.30 Admiral King, still unconvinced, felt that Admiral Nimitz should command. At the conclusion of the amphibious phase, King suggested, General MacArthur could control further movements into the target area; the movements would be supported by the Pacific Fleet. South Pacific operations would be primarily amphibious and naval in character. As the nearest bomber base in Australia lay nearly 1,000 miles away from Tulagi, the Southwest Pacific Area would be able to render little support at first. Admiral King therefore insisted on a naval commander, and he suggested that the Navy would begin operations immediately even if Army forces in the Southwest Pacific Area gave no support.31

At the same time Admiral King, believing that the Army might delay its participation in the attack, directed Admiral Nimitz to proceed with preparations for an offensive in the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands and to make recommendations regarding both the movement of Army aircraft from Hawaii and support by Southwest Pacific Forces.32 Admiral Nimitz immediately began


preparations, as did Admiral Ghormley in the South Pacific. The commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, a part of which had just landed in Wellington, was ordered to prepare plans and load ships for an attack against the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands. Admiral Nimitz requested of the Joint Chiefs that eight Army B-17's and thirteen Army B-26's be moved from Hawaii to New Caledonia, and the same number from Hawaii to the Fijis, to be under his control. He also asked that the surface ships and all available submarines of the Southwest Pacific naval forces be made available to Admiral Ghormley, and that long-range aircraft from the Southwest Pacific lend whatever support Ghormley should recommend.33

The implications in Admiral King's belief that the Army might not fully participate disturbed General Marshall, for he believed that all available support should be given to the offensive regardless of the outcome of the command dispute, and he sent orders to that effect to General MacArthur.34 He decided to settle the disagreement by personal conferences with Admiral King.35 The two officers negotiated, in person and in writing, from 29 June until 2 July. Admiral King suggested that Admiral Ghormley command the offensive until the Tulagi operation was over, and that thereafter General MacArthur should control the advance toward Rabaul.36 The Army had some objections, but opposed even more strongly an alternative proposal by Admiral King that Ghormley command the operation directly under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral King's first compromise proposal was adopted. To prevent depleting General MacArthur's area of trained troops, General Marshall insisted that occupation forces for Tulagi be drawn from the South Pacific instead of from the Southwest Pacific Area. By 2 July it seemed possible that three aircraft carriers instead of two could be provided, although the serious German threat to the British in the Middle East made the raid on Timor seem unlikely.37

The Decision

On 2 July 1942 General Marshall and Admiral King, having reached agreement on all questions at issue, signed the "Joint Directive for Offensive Operations


in the Southwest Pacific Area Agreed on by the United States Chiefs of Staff." This directive ordered that an offensive be mounted at once. The ultimate object was the seizure of the New Britain-New Ireland-New Guinea area. The operation was divided into three tasks. Task One was the seizure and occupation of the Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi, and "adjacent positions," and would be under the command of an officer designated by Admiral Nimitz. General MacArthur was to attach the necessary naval reinforcements and land-based aircraft to the South Pacific forces, and to interdict enemy air and naval activity west of the target area. The target date of Task One for planning purposes would be 1 August.

Task Two, the seizure and occupation of the remainder of the Solomons, of Lae, Salamaua, and of the northwest coast of New Guinea, would be under General MacArthur's command, as would Task Three, the seizure and occupation of Rabaul and adjacent positions in the New Britain-New Ireland area. The composition of forces, the timing of the tasks, and the passage of command would be determined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The boundary between the Southwest Pacific and the South Pacific Areas was to be moved west to longitude 159 degrees East on 1 August, a change which placed the entire Task One target areaóTulagi, Guadalcanal, and Florida, as well as the Russells, Malaita, and San Cristobalóin the South Pacific under Ghormley but left the remainder of the Solomons in the Southwest Pacific under MacArthur.

Forces for all three tasks were to be drawn from the ground, air, and naval forces then under General MacArthur, and from Marine air squadrons and land-based aircraft in the South Pacific, plus at least two aircraft carriers with accompanying cruisers and destroyers to support the South Pacific Amphibious Force (which included transports, cargo ships, and the 1st Marine Division). Army forces from the South Pacific were to be used to garrison Tulagi and the adjacent positions, while troops from General MacArthur's command would provide other necessary garrisons.

Naval task force commanders would exercise direct command of the amphibious forces throughout the conduct of all three tasks. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reserved the power to withdraw U. S. Fleet units upon the completion of any phase of the operation if the aircraft carriers were jeopardized or if an emergency arose elsewhere in the Pacific.38


DISTRIBUTION OF U.S. NAVAL FORCES IN THE PACIFIC at the time of planning for the Guadalcanal operation.


Admiral King dispatched orders to Pearl Harbor39 embodying the provisions of the directive and went to San Francisco to confer with Admiral Nimitz. General Marshall informed General MacArthur of the plan and told him that Admiral Ghormley, who would command during Task One, would visit Melbourne for conferences.40 Admiral King's orders of 2 July did not actually initiate naval preparation for the offensive, for both Nimitz and Ghormley had begun their preparations in June when Admiral King had contemplated making the offensive an all-Navy operation.

By the first week in July Admiral Nimitz' plans were approaching completion. He decided that Admiral Ghormley should exercise strategic control over the forces in the Task One operation. Vice Adm. Frank J. Fletcher would command, under Admiral Ghormley, the entire seaborne invasion force. Designated as the Expeditionary Force, it was to be made up of aircraft carriers and other warships organized as the Air Support Force, and the Amphibious Force consisting of warships, transports, and the troops who would make the landing. Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner was to command the Amphibious Force of the Expeditionary Force. Fletcher and Turner were present at Pearl Harbor during the first days of July. Turner, by a previous appointment, was then on his way to the South Pacific to take command, under Admiral Ghormley, of the South Pacific Amphibious Force. Nimitz, Fletcher, Turner and their staffs discussed the forthcoming invasion at this time. The Japanese were known to be building the airstrip on Guadalcanal, and at these conferences it was suggested that Guadalcanal be specified as an objective. This possibility was made known to Admiral Ghormley on 7 July.41

Admiral Ghormley had formally assumed his duties as Commander of the South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force (COMSOPAC) on 19 June, with headquarters at Auckland, New Zealand. He flew from Auckland to Melbourne on 7 July to confer with General MacArthur, as the Joint Chiefs had directed. The general and admiral discussed the directive and agreed on the obvious necessity for invading Guadalcanal as well as Tulagi. Their plans and recommendations, subject to change after Fletcher and Turner arrived in the South Pacific, were immediately radioed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. MacArthur and Ghormley strongly objected to the immediate launching of Task One, which they defined as an orthodox landing in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area.


There were enough forces available for Task One, they believed, but only one amphibious division had been assigned, and heavy casualties might render it incapable of engaging in all the subsequent invasions which were needed to carry out the remaining two tasks. Not enough ships to move all the necessary troops were available. A third major difficulty arose from the fact that the successful execution of Task One would require that the ships of the South Pacific Amphibious Force remain for perhaps two days in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area, beyond range of Allied land-based aircraft and exposed to attacks by Japanese warships. Southwest Pacific aircraft were too few in number to prevent enemy air and surface forces from attacking the invasion force, and the aircraft carriers would be exposed to attacks by land-based aircraft.

It would be difficult, they believed, for the attacking forces to surprise the enemy, whose patrol planes could cover the approaches to the target. In addition, the Japanese were known to have been increasing their efforts to develop the airdromes at Rabaul, Lae, Salamaua, and Buka as well as on Guadalcanal. To begin Task One without the assurance of sufficient aircraft for complete support of each succeeding operation would be dangerous, as the Japanese had discovered in the Coral Sea and Midway battles. They believed that once Task One had been started it would be necessary for Tasks Two and Three to follow it quickly. If Rabaul, which could be strengthened by forces from Truk, were to remain in enemy hands throughout Task One, the attacking Allied forces might be destroyed.

General MacArthur and Admiral Ghormley therefore recommended that the Allied forces continue to move into the New Hebrides and the Santa Cruz Islands, but that Task One be postponed until the South and Southwest Pacific forces were strengthened to such an extent that Tasks One, Two, and Three could be executed in one continuous movement.42

The Joint Chiefs of Staff rejected this recommendation on 10 July. The Japanese development of positions in the Solomons and their southward advance had to be halted immediately, regardless of the disadvantages. The British Eastern Fleet would not be able to take part, the joint Chiefs explained, but Admiral Nimitz was sending more naval forces than had been planned originally and Army B-17's of the 11th Bombardment Group would be sent from Hawaii to Ghormley's area. In addition, the Army had decided to speed the movement of replacement aircraft to the Pacific, and would do its best to follow


up Task One with appropriate measures.43 Guadalcanal and Tulagi were to be invaded at once.

It is clear that the Joint Chiefs and the Pacific commanders knew precisely the strategic advantages that would be gained for the Allies by the seizure of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. An immediate invasion, which would halt the advancing Japanese and secure for the Allies an advanced base from which part of the offensive operations against Rabaul could be mounted, would enable the Allies to capitalize on the victory at Midway by wresting the initiative from the Japanese.44 Equally clear is the fact that the Joint Chiefs realized that invading Guadalcanal and Tulagi before sufficient forces could be mustered for the advance against Rabaul would be an operation in which the margin for error would be perilously small.


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[1] See JCS 23, Strategic Deployment of Land, Sea, and Air Forces of the United States, 14 Mar 42.

[2] JCS Minutes, 6th Meeting, 16 Mar 42.

[3] See JPS 21/7, Defense Island Bases along the Line of Communications between Hawaii and Australia, 18 April 42. (JCS 48 has the same title.)

[4] JCS, Directive to General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, 30 Mar 42. The correct title of POA was actually Pacific Ocean Area, but because the POA included three Areas, the plural will be used.

[5] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul (Washington, D.C., 1946), P. 7. U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey will be cited hereafter as USSBS.

[6] Imperial General Headquarters, Navy Stf Sec, Ord No. 18, 5 May 42, in ATIS, SCAP, Doc No. 14016 B.

[7] Ibid., Ord. No. 19, 18 May 42; Japanese Studies in World War II, XXXIX., 17th Army Opns, I, (n.p.). A copy is filed with the Hist Div, SSUSA.

[8] ATIS, SCAP, Doc No. 14016 B, Ord No. 20, 11 Jul 42.

[9] USSBS, Interrogations of Japanese Officials (OPNAV-P-03-100, 2 vols.), I, 68.

[10] GHQ, SCAP, ATIS, MIS: Hist Rpts, Naval Opns: Rpt Battle Savo, 8 Aug 42 (Doc No. 15685, 15 Mar 46). ATIS reports and translations are in the MIS Library, Dept of the Army.

[11] See USSBS, Interrogations, I, 70; II, 474, 524; Allied Campaign Against Rabaul. pp. 46, 87.

[12] Maj Gen Shuicho Miyazaki (former CofS, 17th Army) Personal Account of His Experience during the Solomons Campaign, p. 5. Miyazaki and other 17th Army officers were interrogated, at the author's request, by G-3 AFPAC historians and ATIS, SCAP, in Tokyo in 1946. Miyazaki also proffered his personal account which, together with the interrogations, is in the files of the Hist Div, SSUSA.

[13] Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, pp. 43, 87; 17th Army Opns, I.

[14] See Commander Eric A. Feldt, RAN, The Coastwatchers (Melbourne, 1946).

[15] Rad, CINC SWPA to WDCSA, CM-IN-2068, 6 Jul 42. All times and dates given in this volume are local time except those in citations in the South Pacific War Diary. The latter bear Greenwich Civil Time.

[16] Rad, CINC SWPA to WDCSA, CM-IN-2333, 8 May 42.

[17] Rad, GHQ SWPA to OPD, 1 Jun 42. OPD 381 PTO Sec. II (5-28-42); Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA, CM-OUT-0095, 1 Jun 42.

[18] Memo, WDCSA for COMINCH, 6 Jun 42, sub: Early Attack on Japanese Adv Bases. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II.

[19] Rad, GHQ SWPA to WDCSA, CM-4N-2264, 8 Jun 42.

[20] COMINCH to COMNAVEU, 0046 of 10 Jun 42. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. I.

[21] Memo, WDCSA for COMINCH, 12 Jun 42, sub: Opns in SWPA. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. I Case 73; rad, GHQ SWPA to WDCSA, CM-IN-7976, 24 Jun 42.

[22] Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA CM-OUT-23 19, 10 Jun 42.

[23] Memo, ACofS USA for WDCSA, 24 Jun 42, sub: Opns in SWPA. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. 11 Case 76; Rad, GHQ SWPA to WDCSA, CM-IN-7976, 24 Jun 42.

[24] Memo, COMINCH for WDCSA, 25 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in SO and SOWESPAC Areas, copy of FF/1/A16-3 (1) Ser 00544. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II Case 80.

[25] Ibid.; CINCPAC to COMSOPAC, 0017 of 23 Jun 42, in War Diary, South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force, 1 May 42-31 Dec 42 (hereafter cited as SOPAC War Diary); COMINCH to COMSOWESPACFOR, 1255 of 23 Jun 42; COMINCH to CINCPAC, 2306 of 24 Jun 42. SOPAC War Diary. A copy of the SOPAC War Diary is in the Office of Naval Records and Library, Dept of the Navy.

[26] OPD Estimate, in memo of Col W. L. Ritchie (Chief, SWPA Theater Gp), OPD, for Brig Gen St. Clair Streett (Ch Theater Gp, OPD), 23 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in SWPA. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. 11 Case 80.

[27] Memo ACofS OPD (Brig Gen T. C. Handy) for WDCSA, 24 Jun 42. sub: Opns in SWPA. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. 11 Case 76; rad, WDCSA to GHQ SWPA, CM-OUT-5704, 23 Jun 42.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Rad, GHQ SWPA to WDCSA, CM-IN-7976, 24 Jun 42. Apparently OPD had also misunderstood General MacArthur's plans. Complete details on General MacArthur's plans during this period will be given in a forthcoming volume of U.S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.

[30] Memo, WDCSA for COMINCH, 26 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in SO and SOWESPAC Areas. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II Case 80.

[31] Memo, COMINCH for WDCSA, 26 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in SO and SOWESPAC Areas. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II Case 80.

[32] COMINCH to CINCPAC, 1415 of 27 Jun 42. SOPAC War Diary.

[33] Memo, COMINCH for WDCSA, 29 Jun 42, sub: Amph Opns in So and SOWESPAC. OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II Case 80.

[34] Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA, CM-OUT-7356, 28 Jun 42.

[35] Memo, WDCSA for COMINCH, 29 Jun 42 (no sub). OPD 381 SWPA Sec. II Case 80.

[36] Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA, CM-OUT-7501, 29 Jun 42.

[37] Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA, CM-OUT-o677, 3 Jul 42.

[38] Joint Directive for Offensive Opns in SWPA Agreed on by U.S. CofS, 2 Jul 42. OPD 381 Sec. II Case 83.

[39] COMINCH to CINCPAC, 2100 of 2 Jul 42. SOPAC War Diary.

[40] Rad, WDCSA to CINC SWPA, CM-OUT-0677, 3 Jul 42.

[41] CINCPAC to COMSOPAC, 0125 of 7 Jul 42. SOPAC War Diary.

[42] Disp, CINC SWPA and COMSOPAC to WDCSA, COMINCH, CINCPAC, 1012 of 8 Jul 42, CCR 82 S, in ABC 370.26 Sec I (7-8-42), in Plans and Opns Div, GSUSA.

[43] WDCSA and COMINCH to CINC SWPA and COMSOPAC, 2100 of 10 Jul 42. SOPAC War Diary.

[44] On 12 July, the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested the possibility that the offensive against Rabaul might be followed by an advance northward from the ". . . TRUK-GUAM-SAIPAN line, and/or northwestward through the Malay barrier and Borneo to the Philippines." Memo, Gen Marshall, Admiral King, Gen Arnold for the Pres, 12 Jul 42, sub: Pacific Opns. ASP docs in Special Collections subsection, Hist Rec Br, DRB, AGO.

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