Seizing the Initiative

The passage from the defensive to the offensive is one of the most delicate operations of war.



In war, the only sure defense is the offense.


Chapter XIII
Planning the Offensive

Strategy is a system of expedients. It is more than knowledge; it is the application of knowledge to practical life, the art of action under the most trying circumstances.


Though the decisive and far-reaching effects of the victory at Midway were not immediately apparent, it was clear that the Allies had temporarily gained the initiative in the Pacific. For the first time since the outbreak of war, they were in a favorable position to take the offensive.

The prewar decision to concentrate Allied resources on the defeat of Germany and to pursue a defensive strategy in the Pacific -- confirmed more than once since 7 December -- did not preclude offensive action in this secondary theater. Rainbow 5 provided for limited offensives by the Pacific Fleet, and the Navy, once the shock of Pearl Harbor had worn off, showed no inclination to interpret the strategic defensive as a mandate for inaction. Under the leadership of King and Nimitz, the Navy sought eagerly and willingly every opportunity to strike at the enemy whenever and wherever possible. Perforce, these operations, conducted with small forces, were largely hit-and-run affairs which had little more than nuisance value. Stronger measures were called for if the victory gained at Midway was to be exploited. The problem was to settle on an operation that could be undertaken with the limited forces available and within the accepted strategic concept for the Pacific but which would produce more enduring results than earlier raids and strikes.

Availability of forces and the direction of the Japanese advance rather than abstract strategic calculations ultimately determined the choice of Allied objectives. The Midway victory had ensured the security of Hawaii, and, in any case, the fleet was not yet strong enough for an advance across the Central Pacific. So that possibility was ruled out. Similarly, an advance by way of the Aleutians, where the danger was considered remote and the possibility of strategic gain small, was discarded. Only in the South and Southwest Pacific was the danger real and imminent. There the Japanese had advanced along the New Guinea coast and down the Solomons ladder until in May they reached Tulagi. And though frustrated in their attempt to take Port Moresby, there was little likelihood that they would abandon altogether their effort to gain control of Papua, and with it of the Coral Sea and Torres Strait. Should they succeed, and should they be allowed to retain control of the southern


Solomons, then Australia and the line of communications would be in jeopardy. Thus, the choice of objectives quickly narrowed down to an operation in the southern Solomons. The removal of the threat there was clearly an objective of the first importance.

Offensive action in the Solomons was attractive for other reasons also. Not only was it believed that such an operation would fall within the capabilities of the Allied forces en route or already in the theater, but, more important, that it would open the path for a drive on Rabaul, the major Japanese base in the South Pacific. The capture or neutralization of that base, only 700 miles from Truk and the focal point of the Japanese advance southward, would make it possible for the Allies to support a drive later across the Central Pacific and to initiate an offensive that would bring the forces of MacArthur and Nimitz back to the Philippines. Once there they could cut the Japanese off from the strategic resources to the south and make ready to storm the citadel of Japan itself, if that should prove necessary.

Early Plans

The Navy, with its traditional interest in the Pacific, took the lead early in the war in the development of plans to meet the immediate Japanese threat and ensure ultimate victory. Like their Army colleagues, the naval planners believed that before an all-out offensive against Japan could be undertaken it would be necessary to build American defenses in the Pacific and assemble large forces there. It was in the application of this principle, in timing and in the allocation of resources, that differences arose. The Army planners wanted to establish a line that could be held with minimum forces, and generally opposed large reinforcements to the defense of this line unless vital American interests were involved. Short of such a challenge, they were willing apparently to accept the loss of territory rather than divert to the Pacific the resources allocated to the war against Germany.

The naval planners never fully accepted this view, even when it was indorsed by the President, and were willing to risk the delay of BOLERO in order to hold the Pacific. Firmly and with conviction they consistently argued that until such time as the all-out offensive against Japan could begin, the United States must maintain and improve its strategic position in the Pacific while taking every opportunity to strike at the enemy to prevent him from becoming so firmly entrenched that it would be extremely difficult to dislodge him.1 It was this view that prompted Admiral King to instruct Nimitz shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack to extend his operations westward toward the Fijis and to undertake raids and limited offensives wherever possible.2

The desirability of offensive action in New Guinea and the Solomons became apparent early in February after the Japanese began to move southward from Rabaul. The necessity for defensive measures was still paramount, but the Navy, in recommending the establishment


The Japanese Advance Into the Solomons-New Guinea Area
January--July 1942

of an outpost at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, did not fail to point out that the island could also serve as a base for future offensive operations. The Army planners opposed this measure, arguing that until the United States was ready to open a sustained offensive "our island commitments should be limited to those necessary to secure our routes to critical areas." Every additional garrison, General Gerow pointed out, meant the further diversion of air and ground forces and the use of critical shipping.3 The Joint Chiefs finally gave their approval to the Funafuti project on 16 March.

While this project was still under discussion, Admiral King, it will be recalled, had proposed on 18 February that bases be established also at Efate in the New Hebrides and Tongatabu. Offered primarily as a defensive measure to secure Australia and the line of communications, the proposal to establish a base at Efate, like that for Funafuti, carried clearly the implication of an early offensive in the area. This implication was not lost on the Army planners and was confirmed some weeks later when Admiral King explained, in support of his proposal, that current naval strategy


included a drive northwest from bases ("strongpoints," he called them) in the New Hebrides through the Solomons and New Guinea to the Bismarck Archipelago. A garrison at Efate, therefore, would serve the double purpose of protecting the line of communication and providing a spring-board for a "step-by-step general advance." Marine forces, King thought, would make the landing and capture each position after which Army troops could move in to occupy the islands, thus relieving the marines for the next step forward.4

Not only did Admiral King's exposition of naval strategy fail to evoke any objection from the Army planners who had only a short time before expressed strong views on the subject, but within a few days it received the powerful sanction of Presidential approval. At a White House meeting on 5 March dealing, among other matters, with the impending loss of Java and the security of the line of communication to Australia, Roosevelt made it clear that Australia and New Zealand would have to be held and that the Navy's concept of operations in the Pacific would prevail. The President's understanding of the Navy's concept was based on a memorandum King had written for him. In it the admiral had repeated substantially the same points he had made to Marshall in defense of the Efate proposal -- the establishment of strongpoints along the line of communications and an advance into the Solomons and New Guinea similar to the one made by the Japanese in the South China Sea. "Such a line of operations," King told the President, "will be offensive rather than passive -- and will draw Japanese forces there to oppose it, thus relieving pressure elsewhere."5

This victory for the naval point of view was only one round in the long debate over BOLERO versus Pacific priorities which ended temporarily in early May with the President's decision in favor of BOLERO6. But while this debate was in progress, the Navy staff continued to develop plans for an offensive in the Pacific. By 16 April it had produced a plan which called for an offensive in four stages or phases. The first, already in progress, was the one in which the Allies would build up their forces and secure positions in the South and Southwest Pacific for an offensive, while engaging in minor action against the enemy "for purposes of attrition." The next phase of the Navy plan consisted of the New Guinea -- Solomons operations already described by Admiral King. Also called for in this period were "heavy attrition attacks" against Japanese bases in the Carolines and Marshalls, a move that would inaugurate the long-delayed Central Pacific offensive envisaged in the old Orange plan. This offensive would reach more formidable proportions in the third phase of the Navy plan, when both the Carolines and Marshalls would be captured and converted into advanced naval and air bases. From these newly won positions as well as those gained in the Bismarck Archipelago


Training on Australian Beaches for assault operations.

during the second phase, the Allies would then advance into the Netherlands Indies or the Philippines, "whichever offers the most promising and enduring results."7 Beyond that point the naval planners did not go.

Nothing was done about this naval plan at the time; Coral Sea and Midway fully occupied the Navy's attention. But, interestingly enough, among the measures proposed to meet the danger at Midway was one from Admiral Nimitz to General MacArthur for a landing at Tulagi by the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, then in Samoa, supported by the naval forces of the Southwest Pacific. Such an operation, Nimitz told MacArthur, would accomplish two results: It would throw the enemy off balance at a moment when he was preparing a major blow in a distant area; and it would blunt his drive southward toward the New Hebrides and New Caledonia.8

With the objectives of this bold maneuver, General MacArthur was entirely in sympathy. Unfortunately, he explained, he did not have the forces to support such a move or to ensure the permanent occupation of the island, which was in his area, once it was taken. But he did have, he told General Marshall, his own plans for an offensive in the Solomons and suggested that, until


such time as he was ready to put them into effect, Admiral Nimitz might well assist him by using his forces in the South Pacific for a push northward through the New Hebrides to the Santa Cruz group east of the southern Solomons.9

Admiral King, too, thought Nimitz' scheme impractical and recommended that he employ his forces in raids against whatever worthwhile objectives he could find in the area. Under no circumstances, King warned Nimitz, should he engage in any operations that would involve the permanent occupation of a base without first getting approval from Washington. MacArthur would not even concede the advisability of raids. The Japanese, he pointed out, had a full regiment at Tulagi and could, from Rabaul, send troops into the southern Solomons a good deal faster than the Americans.10

General Marshall, to whom MacArthur had forwarded Nimitz' proposal, agreed that the time had not yet come for an offensive. But, he reported to MacArthur, the Navy was "impressed with the possibilities of an early attack" on Tulagi and would try to assemble the forces required. Though the question of command had not been raised, Marshall assured the Southwest Pacific commander, who might have wondered why the Navy should be seeking forces for an operation in his area, that if such an assault was undertaken, it would be under MacArthur's direction. "All decisions, including the extent to which you accede to any further proposals by CINCPAC [Nimitz]," he assured his former chief on 1 June, "rest with you."11

If this was the case the Navy apparently did not know it. At the same time Marshall was reassuring MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz was telling Ghormley that he would continue to control elements of the South Pacific force, even when they were operating in the Southwest Pacific Area.12 Thus, the Navy served notice that it would retain control of the forces required for amphibious operations, and therefore of the operations themselves, wherever they occurred. The Army for its part made it equally clear that the theater commander was the supreme authority in his own area, and, once an operation was approved and the forces assigned, would control those forces and command the operation.

Strategy and Command

Plans for an early offensive in the Pacific received their greatest impetus from the victory at Midway. The smoke of battle had scarcely cleared when General MacArthur took the center of the stage with an urgent appeal for an immediate offensive to exploit the opportunity presented by the Japanese defeat. What he had in mind was not a raid on little Tulagi but a full-scale assault against New Britain and New Ireland to gain control of Rabaul and the strategic Bismarck Archipelago. If his superiors in


Washington would give him, in addition to the three divisions he already had, a division trained for amphibious operations (presumably marines) and the two carriers he had asked for so often, he was ready, he announced, to move out immediately. With confidence, he predicted he would quickly recapture the Bismarcks and force the Japanese back to Truk, 700 miles away, thus winning "manifold strategic advantages both defensive and offensive" and making "further potential exploitation immediately possible."13

The initial reaction in Washington to MacArthur's characteristically bold plan was favorable. The Navy already had plans of its own for operations in the Solomons, which, though more limited in scope, had similar objectives. The Army was also considering an offensive, and General Marshall, only a few days earlier, had directed his planners to study the problems posed by operations in the New Britain-New Ireland area, assuming the use of a Marine division and two carriers.14 Thus, during the days that followed, the Army and Navy planners to whom was entrusted the task of studying MacArthur's proposals were able to reach substantial agreement on the outlines for an offensive in the Southwest Pacific.

The plan developed in Washington called, like MacArthur's, for a quick campaign against Rabaul. Landings in the Bismarck Archipelago, the planners recognized, would have to be preceded by intensive air bombardment of the enemy's bases in New Guinea and the Solomons. Only in this way could air support for the invasion force, an indispensable condition for success, be assured. But where would the aircraft come from: B-17's could reach any target in the area, but the Allies had no fields within fighter range of Rabaul. Carrier aircraft was the answer and the planners asserted that three carriers with necessary escorts would have to be provided, as well as the B-17's from Hawaii. The landing itself, the planners stated, could be made by the amphibiously trained 1st Marine Division, which, it was estimated, could be ready in Australia by 5 July. Once Rabaul was taken, it could be garrisoned by Army troops already in Australia -- the 32d and 41st U.S. Divisions and the 7th Australian -- and the area cut off reduced at leisure. On the touchiest question of all -- command -- the planners recommended that the operation be placed under General MacArthur with a naval officer in tactical control of the assault force.15

Agreement on the planning level was no assurance that Admiral King, who was in favor of an offensive but under different conditions, would accept this plan. That General Marshall expected opposition is evident in his warning to MacArthur, in reference to the aircraft carriers required for the operation, not to take any action until he, Marshall, had had an opportunity "to break ground


with Navy and British...." "I comprehend fully the extreme delicacy of your position," replied MacArthur, "and the complex difficulties that you face there."16

Neither the effort to secure aircraft carriers for MacArthur from the Navy and the British nor the strategic concept of the plan was the main issue in the debate which ensued. It was the fight over command that became the crucial question. Admiral King struck the first blow when he remarked to Marshall almost as soon as he learned about MacArthur's plan that the forthcoming offensive would be "primarily of a naval and amphibious character" -- and therefore, by implication, should be under naval command.17 Marshall ignored this remark. The success of any operation against the Japanese stronghold in the Bismarck Archipelago, he asserted, depended on speed and close cooperation between the Army and Navy forces involved. After enumerating these forces -- including the carriers -- he declared that a quick decision and unity of command were the essential prerequisites to success. Further delay might wreck the entire project.

Everyone agreed on the desirability of the operation and the need for speed. But MacArthur, staunchly supported by the Chief of Staff, insisted that it be under Army command; King and his senior advisers that it be under naval command. MacArthur's argument was a geographic one. Since the objectives were in his area, he declared, operational control should be in his headquarters.18 The naval position was based on the concept that amphibious operations should be under naval command. But behind this view was Admiral King's reluctance to give MacArthur any of the Navy's precious aircraft carriers, and with them the battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliaries that would be needed for their support.19 On that point he was adamant and not once during the war did MacArthur ever have any large carriers under his command.

Although the naval planners, with their Army colleagues, looked with favor on MacArthur's plan and thought to solve the command problem by placing the operation under a naval task force commander subject to MacArthur's control, they were unable to win over their immediate superior, Rear Adm. Charles M. Cooke, Chief of the Navy War Plans Division, or Admiral King. The planners, these two believed, had placed too much reliance on air power. The enemy's bases in New Guinea and the Solomons, both King and Cooke asserted, could not be knocked out entirely by bombing, and until they were it would be foolhardy to send aircraft carriers into the area, within the range of Japanese land-based aircraft. It would be safer, they argued, to go slowly and by stages up the Solomons to Rabaul, eliminating the enemy's bases and air power as they went along.20

When MacArthur learned of the objections to his proposal he quickly shifted


ground. Admiral King, he protested, had misunderstood his plan and was laboring under a misapprehension.21 In his original message, he said, he had purposely sketched only the broad outlines of the plan and deliberately omitted the preliminary steps of an invasion of Rabaul. Certainly, he agreed, it would be necessary to gain positions in the Solomons and along the north coast of New Guinea before committing any forces in the Bismarck area. He had never had any other idea.

But on the matter of command MacArthur would not yield. Repeating the now-familiar arguments for placing the operation under his general direction he, like General Marshall, contended that "the very purpose of establishment of the Southwest Pacific Area was to obtain unity of command." The point was doubly emphasized by his protest, at the same time, to the procedure followed by Admiral King in sending instructions on operational matters directly to Admiral Leary, the commander of naval forces in the Southwest Pacific. Correct procedure would have been for King to forward these instructions to Marshall, as executive agent for the Joint Chiefs, who would in turn send them to MacArthur for Leary. Failure to follow the regular channels, MacArthur pointed out, made "a mockery" of the concept of unity of command, and of the organization established for the Pacific less than three months earlier.22

If Admiral King had misunderstood his plan, as MacArthur claimed, so, too, had the Army planners. Not only had they construed it as a quick blow directly against Rabaul but, with their naval colleagues, had found it entirely acceptable and superior to the much slower process of attacking successively Tulagi and other Japanese bases in the Solomons and New Guinea before assaulting Rabaul. To do that, the Army planners pointed out, would expose Allied forces to continuous attack from Rabaul during each stage of the advance. MacArthur's original plan they thought superior to King's for it avoided that danger and, in addition, eliminated the necessity for taking many preliminary positions. These, the planners believed, would fall of their own weight once Rabaul was seized.23

Actually, no one had misunderstood MacArthur, as is clear from the detailed plans prepared in his headquarters at this time. His objectives were the same as King's, but there were important differences in emphasis and timing. MacArthur, it is true, admitted the necessity of capturing intermediate positions in New Guinea and the Solomons, a step King asserted was an essential condition to the advance on Rabaul. But King placed much more emphasis than MacArthur on the capture of Tulagi and adjacent positions, and envisaged a much slower advance than did the Southwest Pacific commander. MacArthur's TULSA I plan, completed on 27 June, three days after his second message, provided for the seizure of Rabaul in about two weeks, including the time required for the occupation of bases along the way. Obviously this plan, which never went to Washington, could hardly be characterized as a step-by-step advance such as King had in mind. Even the


General Handy

planning officers on MacArthur's staff thought the timing of TULSA too rapid, and recommended revision. The second draft of the plan, therefore, completed on i July, provided for a slower schedule, but one which hardly met the objection. Rabaul was now to be taken in eighteen days instead of the fourteen originally allocated, and this time the plan called for an airborne operation -- though there were no paratroopers in Australia -- and the seizure of Buna as a staging point for the assault against Lae and Salamaua. Just how these places, as well as others, would be taken and developed into forward air bases in time to support the final attack on Rabaul -- all in less than eighteen days -- was not explained in the plan. Nor did General Chamberlin, MacArthur's G-3, yet know the answer.24

Despite the significant differences between MacArthur's concept of operations and that of Admiral King, it was assumed in Washington that the debate over strategy had been settled. The only issue remaining was that of command and on that Admiral Cooke, the Chief of the Navy War Plans Division, would not give way. To all appeals from his own and the Army planners, Cooke turned a deaf ear. The Navy, he insisted, must command and the logical solution was to turn the operation over to Admiral Ghormley, commander of the South Pacific Area. Finally, on 24 June, General Handy made one last effort to persuade his naval opposite number to go along with the recommendation of the planners. But Cooke stood firm and Handy had to report that he had made no progress whatever and that the Navy would not consent to MacArthur's control. "Cooke," he told Marshall, "was very emphatic and stated that he was expressing Admiral King's decision as well as his own view."25 The issue, Handy concluded, would have to be settled between King and Marshall. He could do no more.

Admiral King had not only made up his mind, but before the day was out had taken it on himself to direct Nimitz to make ready for the forthcoming operations. This alert, sent without consulting Marshall and at a time when operations themselves were still under discussion, took the form of a draft directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Though the directive, King explained, set forth only "contemplated" arrangements, it made perfectly clear his views


Admiral Cooke

on how the offensive should be conducted, and by whom. Nimitz would command; that was categorically stated. For the offensive he would have not only his own and Ghormley's forces, but also aircraft, ships, and submarines from MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area. The Army, in King's plan, would have no share in the assault; its role would be limited to furnishing garrisons for the islands taken by the Navy and Marine troops.26 The next day, 25 June, King submitted this draft directive to the Joint Chiefs for approval, and with it a letter to Marshall stressing the need for action before the Japanese recovered from the defeat at Midway and this "golden opportunity" was lost.27

On the assumption that there was no real difference between MacArthur's and King's concept of the offensive, Marshall restricted his comments to the Navy's arrangements for command. These he found neither practical nor logical. In an appeal for a genuine acceptance of the principle of unity of command he asked King to reconsider. He appreciated fully, he wrote, the Navy's concern for the safety of its vessels and the great difficulty of coordinating land, sea, and air action, but he suggested that these objections to Army command might be eliminated if the Joint Chiefs defined the manner in which naval forces were employed and the waters in which they would operate. The "lines drawn on a map" -- the geographical argument for MacArthur's command -- Marshall conceded, should not govern the choice of commander, but he felt, nevertheless, that the operation which "is almost entirely in the Southwest Pacific Area and is designed to add to the security of that area, "should be entrusted to MacArthur. He and his staff, including Admiral Leary, had been in the Southwest Pacific for months, Marshall pointed out, during which time they had learned much 'about the islands and the problems involved in operations there. To bring in another commander at this time, Marshall concluded, would be most unfortunate.28 At the same time he told MacArthur, who was growing impatient at the delay, not to concern himself with the question of command. "I am now engaged," he explained, "in negotiations looking to settlement of the


question of unity of command under your direction."29

Admiral King showed no disposition to abandon his claim to naval control over the operations against Rabaul. The original directive to Nimitz, he pointed out to Marshall, had authorized him to "prepare for the execution of amphibious operations to be launched from the South Pacific Area and Southwest Pacific Area" -- just such an operation as was then under consideration. He reminded Marshall, too, that he had recommended an Army command for Europe where most of the forces would be ground troops. And by the same reasoning, he observed, the operation in the Solomons, which would involve primarily naval and amphibious forces, should be under naval control. Permanent occupation of the area could be delegated to the Army, but the landings and the assault, King asserted, would have to be under Nimitz' direction; indeed, in his view, they could "not be conducted in any other way." MacArthur, he thought, could contribute little initially. Bluntly he warned General Marshall that he was ready to open the offensive, "even if no support of Army forces in the Southwest Pacific is made available."30 And the next day he gave point to this threat by instructing Admiral Nimitz to go ahead with his preparations for the campaign, even though there would probably be some delay in reaching a decision on the extent of the Army's participation. Meanwhile, King wrote, Nimitz could proceed with his plans on the basis that he would have the use of only naval and Marine forces.31

Resisting his first impulse to reply in kind to King's impolitic note, General Marshall waited instead for several days to compose a suitable answer. But while tempers in Washington cooled, General MacArthur found fresh cause for irritation. First came a copy of King's message to Admiral Nimitz, then Nimitz' reply setting forth the forces, which included elements of MacArthur's own air and naval forces, that he would need for the operation. Finally, MacArthur found that King was again corresponding directly with Admiral Leary. All these, MacArthur saw as clear warning of the Navy's intentions. To him, it was quite evident, as he told Marshall, that the Navy intended to assume "general command control of all operations in the Pacific theater." If the Navy succeeded in this effort, the role of the Army in the Pacific, he warned, would become subsidiary and would consist "largely of placing its forces at the disposal and under the command of Navy or Marine officers." This objective, he pointed out, was the real purpose of the Navy's insistence on controlling operations in the Pacific, using marines as the assault force, and relegating the Army to occupation duties. It was all part of a master plan, which he had learned about "accidentally" when he was Chief of Staff, MacArthur told Marshall. Under this plan, he asserted, the Navy hoped to gain complete control over national defense and reduce the Army to a training and supply organization. Having alerted his chief to the far-reaching implications of this perfidious scheme, MacArthur pledged


that he would take "no steps or action with reference to any component of my command" except under direct orders from Marshall.32

MacArthur's attitude was no more helpful in reaching agreement than Admiral King's and Marshall made it clear immediately that he was more interested in fighting the Japanese than the U.S. Navy. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations (and he hoped it would be in MacArthur's favor), it would be necessary, he told the Southwest Pacific commander, to throw all forces, Army and Navy, into the battle. MacArthur responded immediately with the assurance that he would use all the resources at his command against the enemy "at all times and under any conditions." Once the decision was made, he declared, he would cooperate to the fullest extent.33

Compromise: The 2 July Directive

By the end of June, it was evident that neither MacArthur nor King would give in on the question of command. A compromise had to be found, and it was up to Marshall to find one and then persuade both parties to accept it. He made his first move on 29 June, when he replied at last to Admiral King's strong note of the 26th. In a calm and moderate tone, he observed that at least on the essential thing, the necessity for speedily mounting an operation against the Japanese and pushing it through to a successful conclusion, he and King were in agreement. But neither did he ignore King's scarcely veiled threat of unilateral action by the Navy. The implications of that statement disturbed him greatly and he told the admiral, in language almost identical to that he had used with MacArthur, that "regardless of the final decision as to command, every available support must be given to this operation, or any operation against the enemy." Finally, he asked King to meet with him at his earliest convenience to discuss the problem.34

It was as a result of the meetings between the two men -- they met apparently on the 29th and 30th -- that a basis for compromise on the troublesome question of command was finally evolved. Two solutions were offered by King. The first was a modified version of the suggestion made earlier by Admiral Cooke, to give command to Admiral Ghormley who would operate under the control of Nimitz. It was King's idea that this arrangement would hold only for the Tulagi operation; thereafter MacArthur would have control of the rest of the campaign against Rabaul. While this proposal was being studied, King made another: to give command of the entire Rabaul offensive to Ghormley, but to make him responsible directly to the Joint Chiefs in Washington rather than to Nimitz. This move would, in effect, put Ghormley on the same level as Nimitz and MacArthur and create a third command in the Pacific.35


General MacArthur, whose comments the Chief of Staff solicited, thought the proposal to shift command after Tulagi a poor one from the "standpoint of operational application." The entire offensive, he thought, must be considered as a whole and not in parts. Moreover, its success would depend upon the "complete coordination of the land, sea and air components," a condition difficult to attain, he thought, under the arrangements proposed. To change command in the midst of operations, at a time when it was impossible "to predict the enemy's reaction and consequent trend of combat," MacArthur warned, "would invite confusion and loss of coordination."36 The conclusion was obvious. MacArthur should be in command from the start and be responsible for coordination through the responsible air, ground, and naval commanders.

King's second proposal was not even sent to MacArthur for comment. Marshall found it unsatisfactory and apparently did not consider it seriously as a basis for discussion. Instead, he offered King a counterproposal that skillfully combined the first proposal with an arrangement designed to meet MacArthur's objections to it. The major feature of this compromise was the division of the offensive into three separate tasks whose objective was the seizure and occupation of the New Britain-New Ireland area. Task one was the Tulagi assault and would be under the control of Admiral Nimitz; Ghormley was not even mentioned but presumably would exercise direct command. It would start

about 1 August, at which time the boundary of MacArthur's area would be moved westward one degree to longitude 159° east to put the southern Solomons in the South Pacific, thus meeting the objections of the proponents of the geographic argument. As before, the Army would furnish the garrison for the island after it was taken but the forces would come from the South, not the Southwest Pacific. Task Two called for the seizure of Lae, Salamaua, and the northeast coast of New Guinea; Task Three, for the final attack on Rabaul and adjacent positions. Both would be under General MacArthur's control, but the Joint Chiefs would reserve for themselves the right to determine when command would pass from Nimitz to MacArthur, what forces would be used, and the timing of the tasks.37

Admiral King met this compromise plan, which Marshall thought the only way "we can successfully and immediately go ahead," in the same spirit in which it was offered. He still believed that the offensive should be entrusted to Ghormley under the direct control of the Joint Chiefs "whose authority cannot properly be questioned by either principal -- General MacArthur ... or Admiral Nimitz." But he was willing to forego this point "to make progress in the direction in which we are agreed that we should go," if Marshall would agree to defer a decision on Tasks Two and Three until a later time. Task One, which favored the Navy, King accepted, though he preferred placing it under the


Joint Chiefs rather than Nimitz. Marshall refused to accept this change and later in the day persuaded Admiral King to accept his original compromise.38

The Joint Chiefs approved the plan that same day, 2 July. There was only one change. Task Two, which originally mentioned only the seizure of Lae, Salamaua, and northeast New Guinea, now called for the capture of the "remainder of the Solomon Islands" as well.39 Thus, MacArthur was made responsible, without any preliminary notice or discussion, for an area which would witness some of the bitterest fighting of the Pacific war.

At the same time that the directive for operations in the Solomons and New Guinea was approved, Admiral King gave his consent to two proposals he had long opposed. The first of these was the creation of an Army command for the South Pacific Area, the post which went to General Harmon.40 The second was the Army's plan for the formation of two mobile air forces in the Pacific theater, consisting of heavy bombers and stationed at each end of the line of communications in Hawaii and Australia. For months King had been insisting that heavy bombers must be stationed along the line of communications as well as in Hawaii and Australia, but he now suddenly abandoned his position and agreed to the Army's scheme under which the bombers would be available for operations anywhere in the Pacific "as may be directed by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff."41 These arrangements completed, Admiral King set off for San Francisco to meet Admiral Nimitz -- who was slightly injured in an air accident on the way -- to explain personally to him the plans that had been made and his hopes for the future.

Thus was ended the debate that had consumed much of the time of the Washington and Pacific staffs and their chiefs for almost a month. Marshall, who had never given up the fight for the principle of unity of command, had displayed throughout a high order of military statesmanship. Avoiding the extreme position of both King and MacArthur, he had ably defended the point of view of his own service and fashioned a compromise that offered an effective instrument for the prosecution of the war. His satisfaction with the outcome was evident when, on the 3d, he told MacArthur that "a workable plan has been set up and a unity of command established, without previous precedent for an offensive operation."42 That there would be further difficulties he did not doubt, but so long as there was the will to cooperate he was optimistic about the future. "I wish you to make every conceivable effort to promote complete accord in this affair," he told MacArthur. "There will be difficulties and irritations inevitably, but the end in view demands a determination to suppress these manifestations."43

To this plea MacArthur replied with assurances that he would cooperate fully. And as a mark of this cooperative


spirit he pointed to his invitation to Ghormley and Maj. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commander of the 1st Marine Division, to come to Melbourne to arrange for the coordination of their efforts in the coming operation. Finally, he suggested that Ghormley, after he completed Task One, should be retained as commander of forces afloat during Tasks Two and Three.44 The prospects of a harmonious relationship between the Army and Navy were never brighter, but the task of making ready for the offensive to come would soon create fresh problems and renew their earlier disagreements.


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1. The clearest statement of the naval view is to be found in Memo, King for JCS, 4 May 42, sub: Defense of Island bases, JCS 48; the Army view in memo, WPD for CofS, 28 Feb 42, sub: Strategic Conception. . . , OPD Exec Files.

2. See above, p. 205; Hayes, The War Against Japan, ch. VI, p. 2.

3. Memo, Gerow for CofS, 10 Feb 42, sub: Advance Base in Ellice Islands, and related papers in ABC 381 Ellice Is (2-5-42).

4. Memo, King for Marshall, 2 Mar 42, sub: Establishment of Garrisons at Efate and Tongatabu, ABC 381 (3-2-42). See also Memo, Marshall for King, 24 Feb 42, same sub, OPD Exec Files; JCS Mins, 2 Mar 42. For the occupation of Efate and Tongatabu, see above, ch. IX.

5. Memo, King for Pres, 5 Mar 42, no sub, ABC 323.31 (1-29-42 sec. 1A) A: See also Mins, White House Mtg, 5 Mar 42, CCS 031 (3-5-42); Hayes the War Against Japan, ch. VI, pp. 7-8; Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, pp. 146-47.

6. See above, p. 222.

7. Memo, WPD (Navy) for COMINCH, 16 Apr 42, sub: Pacific Ocean Campaign Plan, cited in Hayes, The War Against Japan, ch. VI, pp. 7-8.

8. Rad, Nimitz to MacArthur, No. 0351, 28 may 42, cited in Hayes, The War Against Japan, ch. VI, p. 11.

9. Rads, MacArthur to Nimitz, 29 May 42; MacArthur to Marshall, Nos. 840 and 217, 28 May and 2 Jun 42, CM-IN-8352 and 0469; Memo, Marshall for King, 6 Jun 42, sub: Early Attacks on Japanese Bases, OPD 381 (PTO) case 41.

10. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 217, 2 Jun 42, CM-IN-0469, contains the text of King's message to Nimitz of 1 June; Rad, King to Nimitz, No. 0100, 1 Jun 42, WDCSA Files, SWPA (6-3-42).

11. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, No. 161, 1 Jun 42, CM-OUT-0095.

12. Instr, Nimitz to Ghormley, 1 Jun 42, copy in WDCSA files, SWPA (6-1-42).

13. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 913, 8 Jun 42, CM-IN-2264. The development of plans for the offensive after Midway is treated also in Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning 1941-42, pp. 258-267, and John Miller, jr., Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1949), pp. 8-21.

14. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 10 Jun 42, CM-OUT-2319.

15. Memo, Marshall for King, 12 Jun 42, sub: Opns in SWPA; Memo, Street for Ritchie, 23 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Operations in SWPA, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 73 and 80.

16. Rads, Marshall to MacArthur, 10 Jun 42, CM-OUT-2319; MacArthur to Marshall, 11 Jun 42, CM-IN-3328.

17. Memo, King for Marshall, 11 Jun 42, sub: MacArthur Dispatch of 8 Jun 42, WDCSA File (SWPA).

18. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 16, 18 Jun 42.

19. Hayes, The War Against Japan, ch. VI, p. 15.

20. Memo, Ritchie for Street, 23 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in SWPA, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80; Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, No. 2787, 23 Jun 42, CM-OUT-5704; Hayes, The War Against Japan, ch. VI, pp. 15-16.

21. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 248, 24 Jun 42, CM-IN-7976.

22. Ibid.

23. OPD Memo, 22 Jun 42,: Estimate SWPA Offensive, 381 OPD (SWPA) sec. 2.

24. Extracts of TULSA I and II are in OCMH.

25. Memo, Handy for Marshall, 24 Jun 42, sub: Opns in SWPA, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 76.

26. Rad, King to Nimitz, 2306, 24 Jun 42, OPD 3281 (SWPA) case 80.

27. Ltr, King to Marshall, ser. 00544, 25 Jun 42, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80.

28. Memo, Marshall for King, 26 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in the South and Southwest Pacific Area, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80.

29. Rad, Marshall for MacArthur, 26 Jun 42, CM-OUT-6596.

30. Ltr, King to Marshall, ser. 00555, 26 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns in South and Southwest Pacific Area, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80.

31. OPD Cover Sheet, 27 Jun 42, sub: Offensive Opns Pacific Theater, OP 381 (PTO) case 64.

32. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 254, 28 Jun 42, CM-IN-9329.

33. Rads, Marshall to MacArthur, 28 Jun 42, CM-OUT-7356; MacArthur to Marshall, 29 Jun 42, CM-IN-9591.

34. Memo, Marshall for King, 29 Jun 42, no sub, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80.

35. Rads, Marshall to MacArthur, 29 Jun 42, CM-OUT-7501 with attached informal Memo from Marshall for King 1 Jul 42, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 80; King for Marshall, 2 Jul 42, OPD 384 (PTO) sec. 2.

36. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 261, 1 Jul 42, CM-IN-0088.

37. Memo, Marshall for King, 1 Jul 42, sub: Joint Draft Directive for Offensive Opns in SWPA, OPD (SWPA) Case 80.

38. Memo, King for Marshall, 2 Jul 42, OPD 384 (PTO) Sec 1.

39. Joint Directive for Offensive Opns in SWPA, 2 Jul 42, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 83.

40. See above, Chap. XI.

41. Ltr, King to Marshall, ser. 00, 2 Jul 42; OPD Memo for record, 4 Jul 42, sub: Pacific Theater Mobile Air Force, both in OPD 384 (PTO) sec. 1.

42. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, No. 334, 3 Jul 42, CM-OUT-0677.

43. Ibid.

44. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. C-121, 4 Jul 42, CM-IN-1306.

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