Preparations and Problems
A plan of campaign should anticipate everything which the enemy can do, and contain within itself the means of thwarting him. Plans of campaign may be infinitely modified according to the circumstances, the genius of the commander, the quality of the troops and the topography of the theater of war.
In the South Pacific, preparations for the coming offensive had begun even before the Joint Chiefs had given their approval. Before he left Washington on May, Admiral Ghormley had been alerted to the possibility of operations and since then had been kept informed of the discussions between the Army and Navy planners. Finally, on 25 June, he received word through Admiral Nimitz that the time had come to make his plans. Immediately he called General Vandegrift and his staff from Wellington, where the 1st Marine Division was located, to a conference in Auckland. It was then that the marines, who had not expected to go into action until the end of the year, learned for the first time of the plans to invade the Solomons and of their role in the campaign. They would have to be ready on 1 August, the tentative date for the landing. There was little time and the division was far from ready, but the marines did the best they could, cloaking their preparations under the guise of amphibious training.
Assembling the troops earmarked for the landing presented considerable difficulties. Only the 5th Marines, division headquarters, and miscellaneous elements of the 1st Division were actually in the theater. Of the other two infantry regiments, one, the 1st Marines, was at sea, and the other, the 2d, attached to the 1st Division for the operation, had not yet left San Diego. The division's artillery component, the 11th Marines, was with the 1st, en route to Wellington, where it was scheduled to arrive on 11 July. The large fleet of warships, transports, and cargo vessels required for the operation was scattered from Brisbane to San Diego.1
Logistics and Strategy
The logistical difficulties facing General Vandegrift were imposing. With the limited dock facilities at Wellington, it was necessary to combat-load the 5th Marines before the 1st and 11th Marines arrived. These last two, organization-
loaded before they had left the United States, would have to be completely reloaded for combat when they reached Wellington. The first task, combat loading the 5th Marines, was accomplished without difficulty, but the second proved a nightmare. Plans for handling the cargo of the eight vessels carrying the second echelon of the division could not be made in advance for there were no manifests. It was necessary, therefore, to unload, sort the cargo, requisition the rations and other supplies needed, and combat-load the eight vessels in about ten days. The marines themselves, with the help of a few skilled operators and limited equipment, had to do the job working in 8-hour shifts around the clock. Tired and in poor physical condition after the month-long voyage, the marines had to work under disheartening conditions and in a steady cold rain -- this was the winter season in New Zealand -- which disintegrated the paper cartons and spilled cans all over the docks. In spite of these difficulties the division was loaded with sixty days' supplies and ready to sail on 22 July. On that day the twelve transports with escort left Wellington to rendezvous with the remainder of the invasion force coming from San Diego, Pearl Harbor and Noumea.
Long before the 1st Marine Division had completed its preparations, it had become apparent that the task ahead would be more difficult than originally thought. At the time the Joint Chiefs had approved the directive for an offensive in the South and Southwest Pacific, the Japanese had not yet begun to consolidate their positions in the southern Solomons and New Guinea. Some Japanese activity had been observed in the area and reported by the former planters and civil servants who had remained behind to serve in the Coastwatching Service of the Australian intelligence. But it was not until early July, when the enemy landed troops on Guadalcanal, just south of Tulagi, and began to build an airfield there at Lunga Point, that the meaning of this activity became clear. The news was passed on to Washington on 6 July, where the threat posed by the new airfield combined with the existence of the seaplane base at Tulagi was fully appreciated. Additional information on Japanese shipping in the vicinity and the progress of construction on Guadalcanal did nothing to lessen the fear. Time was of the essence and obviously Guadalcanal would be as important an objective of Task One as Tulagi.2
It was while this disquieting news was coming in that MacArthur and Ghormley held their meeting in Melbourne on 8 July. The result was a joint message to Marshall and King representing, the two Pacific commanders declared, their own opinions "arrived at separately and confirmed by decision."3 With particular emphasis, they called attention to the "marked change in the enemy situation," their own shortage of planes, the scarcity of shipping to move men and material, and the absence of airfields and port facilities. The Japanese, they pointed out, were building airfields and developing their bases at Kavieng, Rabaul, Lae, Salamaua, Buka, and Guadalcanal. Both MacArthur and Ghormley
doubted that the Allies with their pitifully inadequate resources and lack of airfields would be able to gain and maintain air supremacy in the objective area. "The successful accomplishment of the operation," they told the Joint Chiefs, "is open to gravest doubts."
Ghormley, like MacArthur, disliked the idea of breaking up the operation against Rabaul into separate parts and joined him in opposing it before the Joint Chiefs. Once begun, the two men argued, the entire offensive should be carried forward to its conclusion in one continuous movement. Failure to do so would expose the assault forces to counterattack from Rabaul and constitute a danger of the greatest magnitude. Task One, therefore, should be postponed, the Pacific commanders told Marshall and King, until the means required to execute all three tasks had been assembled. Admiral Nimitz, in commenting on the proposal, argued against postponement.4
The MacArthur-Ghormley message created a most unfavorable impression in Washington. Admiral King expressed the views of many when he pointed out that MacArthur, who only a short time before was proposing to strike out boldly and swiftly for Rabaul, "now, confronted with the concrete aspects of the problem," claimed with Ghormley that even the much more limited operation against Tulagi could not be undertaken without considerably more air power and shipping.5 To the naval planners, the fact that the Japanese were consolidating their positions in the Solomons seemed to call for speed, not delay. Rather than wait until all three tasks could be pushed through in one continuous movement, they thought that Task One was now more urgent than ever and that the enemy must be ejected from the southern Solomons before he could move against the Allied line of communication. MacArthur, it was admitted, did not have the means at hand for Tasks Two and Three, but these, they felt, would have to be provided later by the Army. Task One must be launched without delay; planning for the other two should be completed as soon as possible.
General Marshall accepted the Navy view without argument and agreed that MacArthur would need more aircraft and transportation before he could begin his own operations. In his reply to the Southwest Pacific commander, therefore, he held out the promise of additional support for Tasks Two and Three, but made it clear that even if this support was not forthcoming because of conditions elsewhere he was to push vigorously the preparations and detailed planning for these tasks. Task One, King and Marshall announced, was to proceed as planned. They did not, they told MacArthur and Ghormley, "desire to countermand operations already under way," but, in recognition of the limited means in the Pacific, they asked the two commanders to submit requests for the means "absolutely essential to the execution of Task One."6
At the same time that the Army and Navy chiefs in Washington were resisting the appeals from their Pacific commanders for additional support and a more massive offensive, they found themselves arguing, by a curious twist of circumstances, for a reversal of the Europe-first strategy developed before the war and confirmed at the Arcadia Conference in December 1941--January 1942. The background of this startling proposal lies in the decision, reaffirmed in June, (a) to invade the European continent in the fall of 1942 in the event the Red Army suffered disastrous reverses (SLEDGEHAMMER) and (b) to mount a major invasion of the Continent in 1943 (ROUNDUP). BOLERO, the concentration of forces in England for the invasion, applied to both operations.7 Upon this project General Marshall and his staff had put most of their energies for months and when early in July the British, faced with threats of disaster in the Middle East and North Africa, proposed that plans for the possible invasion of the Continent in 1942 (SLEDGEHAMMER) be abandoned and North Africa be invaded instead, the Chief of Staff reacted with considerable vigor. He had opposed such an invasion earlier and still did on the ground that it was an indecisive operation that would scatter American forces, drain away Allied resources, and jeopardize both the main assault in Europe in 1943 (ROUNDUP) and the American position in the Pacific. If the British refused to go through with SLEDGEHAMMER, therefore, the United States should, Marshall argued, turn its full attention to Japan. Tearing a page from MacArthur's book, he pointed out that such a move would have many advantages, that it would receive the strong support of the American people, and, after a second front in Europe, would be the most effective way to relieve pressure on Russia.8 The Joint Chiefs, he concluded, should unite in recommending this course to the President.
The Pacific versus Europe
Admiral King was more than willing to join forces with his Army colleague. Though he accepted and supported the strategy which gave priority to the war in Europe, King had always placed greater emphasis than Marshall on the importance of holding and maintaining a strong position in the Pacific. Moreover, his conception of a defensive strategy in the war against Japan included active measures and much larger forces than the Army was willing to put into that theater. Early in May, before Coral Sea and Midway and when the threat in the Pacific had loomed so large, Admiral King had argued unsuccessfully against the build-up in Britain. Though that crisis had passed, King, like MacArthur, saw in the renewed Japanese activity a fresh threat which would require larger efforts in the Pacific. It was natural therefore that Admiral
King should welcome the strange reversal of roles that made Marshall champion of the Pacific cause. Readily he accepted, with minor modifications, the memorandum Marshall had prepared urging on the President a change in the basic strategy of the war if the British persisted in their refusal to undertake SLEDGEHAMMER.9
This threat of a shift away from Europe and toward the Pacific, used later as a stratagem in debate with the British, was apparently seriously intended at this time. The "Hitler-first" strategy and the build-up of forces in the British Isles for an early invasion of the Continent, which General Marshall had consistently advocated and defended, was based on the recognized military principle of concentration of force. Rather than violate that principle and open a major and costly offensive that could produce no decisive results against Germany, Marshall was willing to turn temporarily to the lesser enemy and the secondary theater. It was not the course he preferred, but at least it would avoid the dispersion of American resources and manpower and would bring about the defeat of one of the Axis Powers. He hoped, he told the President frankly, that the British would give in rather than see the United States go its own way but he was ready, if they did not, "to turn immediately to the Pacific with strong forces and drive for a decision against Japan."10
To President Roosevelt at Hyde Park, this unexpected recommendation from his chief military and naval advisers for a drastic revision in American strategy came as a complete surprise. Immediately he asked for a detailed and comprehensive statement of the plans they had made for such a shift, to be ready "this afternoon" -- it was then Sunday, 12 July.11 This statement, he directed, should include estimates of the time required to transfer ships, planes, and men to the Pacific and the effect of the move on the war in every theater. The request was an impossible one, and perhaps the President knew that. No one had foreseen so sudden and basic a reversal in strategy and there were no studies of the kind now required. Nevertheless, while their staffs worked feverishly to produce the information desired, the Joint Chiefs submitted a preliminary and hasty study to the President. After outlining the adjustments that would have to be made and the effect of the proposed strategy on the military efforts of the British and Russians, the Joint Chiefs recommended that, after the capture of Rabaul, the United States should concentrate its forces in a drive northwest through Truk, Guam, and Saipan. As a substitute, or, simultaneously, if conditions were favorable, they suggested the route through the Malay Barrier and Borneo to the Philippines. This program was admittedly an inadequate response to Roosevelt's request for the Pacific alternative, but it was the best that could be done in the short time allotted.12
The merits of the Joint Chief's proposal and of the staff studies initiated by the President's request were to prove shortly a matter of no consequence. By 14 July the President had made up his mind. "I want you to know," he told Marshall then, "that I do not approve the Pacific proposal."13 Instead Marshall and King were to go to London with Hopkins immediately -- the 16th was suggested -- to work out some arrangement with the British. A North African invasion, he gave Marshall to understand, was a definite possibility if the British could not be persuaded to adhere to SLEDGEHAMMER.
The next morning, after Roosevelt's return to Washington, Marshall saw the President at the White House and was left in no doubt about his views. The proposal to turn to the Pacific, Mr. Roosevelt said, was "a red herring" whose purpose, he implied, was something other than that stated in the Marshall-King memorandum. So strongly did he feel on this subject that he even suggested that "the record should be altered so that it would not appear in later years that we had proposed what had amounted to the abandonment of the British."14 That night he told Hopkins, "If we cannot strike at SLEDGEHAMMER, then we must take the second best -- and that is not the Pacific. There we are conducting a successful holding war."15
Thus, when Marshall and King left for London with Hopkins they did so with the clear understanding that the President would support their efforts to gain acceptance of SLEDGEHAMMER but would not tolerate any ultimatum to the British. "It is of the utmost importance," he told the three delegates, "that we appreciate that defeat of Japan does not defeat Germany and that American concentration against Japan this year or in 1943 increases the chance of complete German domination of Europe and Africa."16 The defeat of Germany, on the other hand, would surely result, Roosevelt believed, in the defeat of the Japanese enemy, "probably without firing a shot or losing a life." Again, the basic strategy of the war had been confirmed.
What course would the United States have followed in the Pacific had the President accepted the recommendation of his military advisers in July 1942? No definite answer is possible, of course, but in the studies initiated by the President's request for a comprehensive statement of the Pacific alternative can be found a clear statement of the strategy contemplated. Obsolete before they were completed on 15 July, these studies are, nevertheless, of interest in revealing the Army planners' views and the estimates on which these views were based.17
First, the planners considered possible alternatives to BOLERO -- North Africa, Norway, the Middle East, and others -- and dismissed them all for various reasons. The Pacific, they decided, offered the greatest possibilities and in support of this view they attributed to the Japanese a strength that was so far from reality
as to suggest that they had little appreciation of the far-reaching significance of the Midway victory. The Japanese, they thought, were capable of extending their hold in the Aleutians, attacking eastern Siberia, and seizing British positions in India. An attack against Australia and the line of communications they considered a real possibility. Even an all-out assault on Hawaii was not ruled out. And if the Japanese were successful in that, they would, the planners believed, make a determined effort to drive the United States from the Pacific. "It is possible," the planners concluded, "that, if undeterred, the enemy may consolidate and prepare defenses so effectively that he cannot be defeated by the forces which we will be able to operate against him."
To avert this disaster, the Army planners proposed a 5-phase plan to step up the war against Japan. The first was Task One, already in preparation. Phase 2 included Tasks Two and Three which, with the forces formerly allocated to BOLERO, could begin in November and be carried through as a continuous operation under MacArthur. In April 1943, when naval forces would be available, the third and fourth phases would begin, the former consisting of the seizure of the Caroline and Marshall Islands, the latter of a drive through the Netherlands Indies. Phase 5 called for the reoccupation of the Philippines at an undetermined date.
This 5-phase plan offered little that was new and was much like the one developed by the Navy staff in April. Though the planners overestimated Japanese strength they, like many others, totally underestimated the vigor of the Japanese reaction to the Solomons offensive. American weakness in the Pacific was fully appreciated in these Army studies, however, and implicit in them was the realization that the diversion of troops and planes from Europe would not greatly accelerate operations in the Pacific where the role of the Navy was so decisive. Thus, the Army planners were unable to schedule operations in the Central Pacific before April 1943, contingent on the availability of naval forces. Finally, they had no plans for operations once the Philippines were reoccupied. Where to go after that and what measures to take for the defeat of Japan were problems which none of the planners, Army or Navy, had yet faced seriously. Later, these problems would become the focal point of the debate over Pacific strategy.
Completely unaware of events in Washington, the theater commanders continued their preparations for the task ahead. Under the Joint Chiefs' directive of 2 July, MacArthur was required to supply naval reinforcements and land-based air support for the Solomons invasion, and to interdict enemy air and naval operations in his area. This he readily agreed to do and during the weeks that followed his Melbourne meeting with Ghormley, MacArthur's staff worked out the details for coordinating the efforts of two theaters with officers from the South Pacific. From his small navy, MacArthur turned over to Ghormley virtually his entire striking force, 4 heavy cruisers (3 of them Australian), 1 light cruiser, and 9 destroyers. On 14 July these warships sailed from Brisbane under the flag of Rear Adm. V. A. C. Crutchley, RAN, to join the South Pacific forces for the coming campaign.
General MacArthur and General Kenney
General Eichelberger and General Blamey
The submarines in the Southwest Pacific, though not reassigned, were also to be used in support of the coming offensive. Operating out of Brisbane, the underwater craft would have the task of interdicting enemy shipping off Rabaul. The role of MacArthur's Allied Air Forces was perhaps the most vital of supporting operations. Before the landings its planes would reconnoiter eastern New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago; thereafter they were to patrol the north and northwest approaches to the objective area, while making every effort to neutralize enemy aircraft in New Guinea and the Solomons.18
While plans were being made to provide support for Task One, responsibility for which rested on Admiral Ghormley, General MacArthur made preparations for the tasks to follow. Airfields in northern Australia and New Guinea were rushed to completion and planes dispatched as rapidly as the fields became available. These would serve in Task One and were needed as quickly as possible. To direct the training and later the operations of the two U.S. divisions in his area, General MacArthur asked for and was given a corps headquarters in July. Maj. Gen. Robert C. Richardson, Jr., who was in Australia on an inspection trip for General Marshall, was the first candidate for the post, but because of his strong feelings about serving under Australian command (Allied Land Forces was under General Blamey) the assignment finally went to Maj. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger. Command of the Allied Air Forces, with which MacArthur had expressed some dissatisfaction, underwent a change too, when General Kenney relieved Brett late in July. About the same time, Brig. Gen. Richard J. Marshall, MacArthur's deputy chief of staff and one of that small band which had come out of Corregidor with him, took over the supply headquarters (designated on 20 July U.S. Army Services of Supply) from Barnes who returned home, like Brett, for reassignment. That same day, General MacArthur moved his headquarters further up the coast of Australia but still far from the scene of operations. Effective i August the boundary between the South and Southwest Pacific was moved west to the line agreed upon, longitude 159' east.
The Joint Chiefs' directive of 2 July made necessary also another revision of MacArthur's Tulsa Plan, last revised on 1 July. The objectives of the plan were the same as those of the directive, but the timing and the forces were different. For one thing, MacArthur's planners could now assume, somewhat optimistically, that they would have the Marine division, the carriers, and the support of the South Pacific land-based aircraft for their own operations when Task One was completed. Also, they would assume that the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area would be in Allied hands before their own forces went into action. There was no need, however, to revise the scheme of operations already developed. As before the campaign against Rabaul was envisaged as a two-pronged advance in five stages through the Solomons and along the northeast coast of New Guinea. The first three phases, which would take his troops as far as Lorengau in the Admiralties and Buka in the northern Solomons,
The Battle Area
would complete Task Two; the next two, which called for the seizure of Kavieng (New Ireland) by the force moving up the Solomons and a combined assault by both forces against Rabaul, would complete the tasks assigned by the Joint Chiefs.19
An important feature of MacArthur's Tulsa plan from the start was the establishment of airfields at Milne Bay at the southeast tip of the Papuan Peninsula and at Buna. These would be required for the assault against Lae and Salamaua, and plans for the former were made even before the Joint Chiefs' directive of 2 July. Work at Milne Bay began early in July and continued without interruption from the Japanese who were apparently unaware of the project. When they did learn of it, they landed troops there late in August and made a determined effort to seize the base, but it was already too late.20
The effort to build an airdrome in the Buna area developed in a way that was entirely unforeseen and involved General MacArthur's forces in a long and costly battle at a much earlier date than anticipated. Plans for construction of the airstrip were issued on 15 July after a reconnaissance of the area, and a special task force was organized for the project. The plan was a complicated one. From Port Moresby would come one group, mostly Australian infantry, traveling to Buna by foot over the Kokoda Trail, the one passable route across the Owen Stanley Range. There it would meet a smaller group coming in by boat and forming a beachhead to protect the main convoy carrying the construction and garrison units."21
The plan had hardly been completed and orders issued when reconnaissance revealed that the Japanese had assembled a large convoy and appeared to be moving on Buna. This supposition was entirely correct. Frustrated at Coral Sea and Midway and forced to cancel operations against Samoa, New Caledonia, and the Fijis, the Japanese had nevertheless refused to give up their plans to take Port Moresby. Since a seaborne invasion was no longer possible, Imperial General Headquarters on 11 June had ordered the 17th Army commander, General Hyakutake, to make plans for an overland assault from the east coast of the Papuan Peninsula, first determining by reconnaissance whether such an operation was feasible. This task was assigned to the South Seas Detachment, and the starting point selected was Buna. But when General Horii had almost completed his plans, Imperial General Headquarters decided that a reconnaissance was not necessary; Port Moresby was to be captured by overland assault. Thus, on 18 July the South Seas Detachment was directed to "speedily land at Buna, push forward on the Buna-Kokoda road, and capture Port Moresby and adjacent airfields."22
The final Japanese plan for the Port Moresby operation called for a landing
at Buna on 21 July by a joint force of 3,300 men. Support would be provided by planes from Rabaul and a naval force of two light cruisers and three destroyers. On 20 July the convoy left Rabaul and, despite air attacks from B-17's which damaged one of the three transports, reached its destination on schedule, at 1900 of the 21st. There was no resistance and by the morning of the 22d the village of Buna was in Japanese hands. The construction troops and the garrison immediately began to convert Buna into an advance base, under steady bombardment from the planes of the Allied Air Forces. At the same time, about l,000 men, the so-called Yokoyama Force, moved out toward Kokoda, which they occupied on 29 July after defeating an Australian contingent of about equal strength. To General Hyakutake at Rabaul they sent back word that the overland assault against Port Moresby was a feasible operation and that firm plans could now be made. But they had failed to reckon with the difficulties still to be overcome in the long hard pull across the Owen Stanley Range.
Beaten to the punch at Buna and faced with a new threat to Port Moresby, General MacArthur put aside thoughts of Task Two to concentrate on the job of driving the enemy back along the Kokoda Trail and out of his newly won position along the coast. Until this was accomplished, he would be unable to begin the assault against Lae and Salamaua and inaugurate Task Two of the Joint Chiefs' directive.
There was concern in Washington also over this fresh Japanese advance. With the invasion already on its way to the Solomons, the Navy was especially anxious that the Japanese in New Guinea be contained and that the Allies retain control of the vital sea lanes in the area. General MacArthur, the naval planners felt, had not displayed any great enthusiasm for the Joint Chiefs' directive and, in the absence of any information on his activities and plans, they were fearful that he might not appreciate fully the importance of supporting the Solomons offensive. These anxieties Admiral King passed on to Marshall with the suggestion that MacArthur be asked what plans he had to hold the Japanese advance in New Guinea. The Chief of Staff, though he felt that King's assumption that MacArthur had not taken all measures to counter the Japanese threat was scarcely justified, accepted the suggestion and that same day, 31 July, queried MacArthur on the subject.23
MacArthur's response was long and detailed. In it he explained what he had done and was doing to stop the Japanese and outlined his plans for the development of bases in New Guinea. Unfortunately, he explained, he did not have enough transports to move the needed troops forward from Australia as quickly as he would wish -- the 7th Australian Division and three brigades were under orders for New Guinea -- but if the ships could be furnished he would speedily regain Buna. The remainder of the message was devoted to an explanation of the Tulsa plan. Task One, he believed, would be completed by the time he reached Buna -- it was, but at a much later date than anyone else had estimated -- and he would then start Task
Two, "if the Marines with their amphibious equipment can be used."24 Also needed, he made clear, would be the carriers and the land-based bombers of the South Pacific. With them he was confident he could complete Tasks Two and Three rapidly.
The brief crisis brought on by the British proposal to substitute a North African invasion for SLEDGEHAMMER, coming as it did in the midst of preparations for the Solomons offensive, had momentarily held out the possibility of a greatly enlarged effort in the Pacific and an end to the Army's reluctance to commit its forces there. The President's decision abruptly restored the status quo so far as the claims of the Pacific theater in relation to the requirements of other theaters were concerned, but left unresolved the problem of reinforcements for the offensive ahead. This problem, first raised by MacArthur and Ghormley on 8 July and suspended briefly while the Pacific alternative was under discussion, was reopened by Admiral King on 14 July when he sent to General Marshall a request from Nimitz for three antiaircraft regiments to be used in the Solomons. Next day, in the conviction that the situation was too serious to permit delay and that the powerful Japanese forces assembling at Rabaul spelled trouble for the South Pacific commander, King urged General Marshall to reconsider the Army's decision. In addition to the antiaircraft regiments he wanted Marshall to order MacArthur to make additional garrison troops available if needed to reinforce those from the South Pacific.25
The request for garrison forces from MacArthur's area was turned down flatly, that for antiaircraft units was met by the offer of a regiment to replace those at Bora Bora and Tongatabu, which would be moved forward to the Solomons. Though King had accepted this offer conditionally before his departure for London with Marshall, it brought strong objections from Ghormley and Nimitz, who wanted a steady flow of troops and planes to replace those lost when the battle began. Unless this was done, Nimitz wrote, "not only will we be unable to proceed with Tasks Two and Three of this campaign, but we may be unable even to hold what we have taken."26 The Army was adamant in its opposition and maintained steadfastly that it could not send reinforcements to the South Pacific Area without cutting deeply into commitments elsewhere.27
Actually, nothing done at this time could have had any immediate effect on Admiral Ghormley's plan or on the campaign ahead; already the forces for the invasion were assembling in the South Pacific. Ever since his return from Melbourne on 9 July, Ghormley and his staff had been perfecting their plans and completing their preparations. On the 10th he had received his orders from Nimitz together with a list of the ground, air, and naval forces he would have for the
operation. These included, in addition to the 1st Marine Division, three carrier task groups built around the Saratoga, Enterprise, and Wasp (the first two were at Pearl, the Wasp at San Diego), the additional B-17's from the Hawaiian Mobile Air Force, the land-based aircraft of the South Pacific Area (altogether 291 aircraft of various types), and a large number of warships, transports, and cargo vessels.28
On receipt of Nimitz' order, preparations for the coming offensive were intensified. The development of airfields in the New Hebrides, where the B-17's would base, was given highest priority. By the end of the month two strips, each 5,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, were almost ready. The one at Efate had been built in three weeks; the one at Espiritu Santo in twelve days. Both were within striking distance of the objective.
Meanwhile the planning staff had completed its work and on 16 July Admiral Ghormley issued the basic plan for the seizure of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Two major task forces were organized, the Expeditionary Force under Admiral Fletcher and the Air Force under Admiral McCain, both responsible directly to Ghormley. Fletcher's force included virtually all the ships and troops assigned to the operation, with responsibility for the amphibious forces and the landing itself going to Admiral Turner who was under Fletcher. The three carrier groups were also a part of Fletcher's force but were commanded directly by Rear Adm. Leigh Noyes. Admiral McCain's Air Force included all land-based Army, Navy, Marine, and New Zealand planes in the area. Organized into seven groups and scattered throughout the South Pacific, this force had the double task of reconnaissance and bombardment of the objective. Neither General Harmon nor any other Army officer was given any responsibility for the operation; the top command was entirely naval.
Admiral Ghormley divided the operation into three phases. In the first, starting about 27 July, the Expeditionary Force was to rendezvous in the Fiji Islands for rehearsal. Phase Two called for the seizure of Tulagi and Guadalcanal on 7 August, Ghormley having secured a week's delay in the start of the campaign. The final phase, later canceled, provided for the seizure of Ndeni in the Santa Cruz group as an air and seaplane base. Five submarines of the Pacific Fleet were to provide support from 22 July through 20 August by patrolling the waters around Truk, and Allied aircraft were to cover the approaches and support the operations once they began.
In the three weeks remaining after receipt of Ghormley's plan, each of the task force commanders assembled his force and made his own plans for D-day. Admiral Noyes's carriers came by separate ways. The Wasp had left San Diego on 1 July with the transports carrying the 2d Marines. The Saratoga group sailed from Pearl a week later, followed shortly after by the Enterprise. That same day, the last of the Marine units, the 3d Defense Battalion, left Hawaii aboard two transports. On the 21st Admiral Fletcher ordered the Expeditionary Force to assemble southeast of the Fijis by 1400 of the 26th for rehearsal. The 1st Raider Battalion, which
A-20 skip-bombing an enemy freighter.
had transferred earlier from Samoa to New Caledonia, was picked up by four destroyer-transports and got to the rendezvous in time, but the 3d Defense Battalion in Hawaii had to join the rest of the force on its way to the objective.
From the 28th through the 31st, the invasion rehearsed off Koro Island in the Fijis. It was the first time that the naval, air, and ground commanders had met to arrange the details of the operation, but the rehearsals were unrealistic and General Vandegrift thought them a loss of valuable time. When they were over, the entire force -- eighty-two vessels -- sailed for the Solomons, the carriers heading for a point southwest of Guadalcanal. Turner's Amphibious Force, in three great concentric circles with the destroyers on the outside, made for Sealark Channel between Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
As this assembly of ships made its way slowly toward the still-unsuspecting Japanese, the land-based aircraft of Admiral McCain's force went into action. From the hardly completed airstrips at Efate and Espiritu Santo, the Army B-17's of the 11th Bombardment Group, only recently arrived from Hawaii, began their daily bombardment of the objective area. Off to the west and north, over New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, MacArthur's Allied Air Forces kept close
B-17 heading home from a bomb run over the Solomons.
watch over the Japanese. Any unexpected Japanese move now might well spell the difference between success and failure.
To assemble, mount, and support the invasion force had taken all the resources of the theater commanders and left them with precious little to meet an emergency. MacArthur's requests for future operations could be deferred, but the demands from Nimitz and Ghormley for the task at hand were becoming even more insistent. And these could not so easily be put aside. At the end of July, Admiral Nimitz and General Emmons, who had repeatedly asked for more aircraft, joined forces to request two heavy bombardment groups to replace the B-17's of the 11th Bombardment Group, which left for the South Pacific on the 26th of the month. They were badly needed, Nimitz reported, to follow up the invasion of Guadalcanal and, in the absence of most of the Pacific Fleet from Hawaiian waters, to support the defense of that area.29
General Harmon, when he arrived in the South Pacific on 26 July, also found many deficiencies in his command and
added his voice to the growing chorus of complaint. His first requests for service and supporting units were turned down in Washington with the reminder that the forces in the South Pacific were to be held to the "minimum consistent" with the defensive role of the theater. Meanwhile his requests for air service units and transports were forwarded to the Army Air Forces. Arnold was willing to comply with these requests but, unfortunately, would not be able to provide the units until the fall.30
The position taken by the Army on reinforcements for the Pacific was challenged strongly by Admiral King on his return from London at the end of July. The occasion was furnished by the agreement made with the British and by Marshall's own statement that the substitution of the North African operation (Torch) for the invasion of the Continent would release planes and shipping for use in the Pacific. Citing Admiral Nimitz' need for heavy bombers, Admiral King asked Marshall to review the Army's decision against air reinforcements "in the light of recent decisions reached in London."31 The Army planners were all for turning down this fresh demand with the statement that there were no air units available and that it was impossible to say when any would be. But General Marshall held off. It was now 5 August, two days before the invasion and he decided rather than turn down the request, to withhold his answer.32
But Admiral King had no intention of letting the matter rest there. Already he was preparing a list of needed reinforcements for the Pacific that would make earlier requests appear modest by comparison. This latest proposal was based on a report by General Harmon after his first inspection of the Army bases in the South Pacific and a study of the plans for the forthcoming offensive. The minimum Army ground reinforcements needed in the area to comply with the Joint Chiefs' directive, Harmon had told Admiral Ghormley, were 2 divisions plus 2 infantry regiments, 4 regiments of coast artillery (3 antiaircraft and 1 harbor defense), and 2 battalions each of coast artillery and 105-mm howitzers. Air reinforcements, he estimated, should consist of 6 fighter squadrons (3 with the new P-38's), 2 squadrons of heavy, 1 of medium, and 3 of dive bombers. These Harmon knew perfectly well were not available then or likely to be soon, and he limited his request for immediate shipment to 3 squadrons of P-38's and replacements for heavy bombers lost in action and attrition. The remainder, he added, should be sent as soon as possible.33
Admiral Ghormley lost no time in forwarding Harmon's estimate, in which he heartily concurred, to his chief in Washington. Taken with MacArthur's most recent statement of his plans, this estimate seemed to King to represent the minimum requirements for the completion of Task One and the initiation of Task Two. He did not expect that so
large an order could be filled immediately -- shipping was too scarce for that -- but 'it would appear prudent," he told Marshall, "to commence assembly and planning for first, the air reinforcements and second, ground reinforcements in strengths required to execute plans for the immediate future."34
This time the Army planners could not deny the necessity for reinforcements. The marines had landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi on the 7th, the day before King had penned his note, but already the Japanese were gathering forces for a determined counterattack. Boldly and quickly they moved down to the threatened area and on the night of 8-9 August, off Savo Island, dealt the invading fleet a mortal blow. In one of the briefest and most disastrous naval engagements of the war, the Allies lost a total of four heavy cruisers, one of them Australian, and suffered other damage which forced them to retire, leaving the marines stranded on the beaches without air or naval support and with only meager supplies. All of the dire predictions from Admiral King and the commanders in the field had come true; all their estimates of what would be needed for the invasion, made, it should be noted, after the operation had been decided upon, would soon prove to be painfully accurate. The Japanese were evidently determined to hold on to what they had, and at Rabaul were the reinforcements they needed. Allied reinforcements were still a long way off, and before they could reach the battlefield, there would be other crises both in the Solomons and New Guinea.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (13) ** Next Chapter (15)
1. This account of preparations is based on a manuscript history of U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific prepared by the author during the war and filed in OCMH. See also, Miller, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, ch. II; Morison, Coral Sea, Midway and Submarine Actions, ch. XIII; John Zimmerman, The Guadalcanal Campaign (Washington: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1949). The 1st Marine Division at the time consisted only of two infantry regiments, the 7th having been detached for service with the 1st Provisional marine Brigade in Samoa.
2. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 6 Jul 42, CM-IN-2068. For an account of the Coastwatching Service, see Eric A. Feldt, The Coast Watchers (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1946).
3. Rad, MacArthur and Ghormley to JCS, 1012, 8 Jul 42, OPD Exec Files.
4. Ltr, Spruance to Hoover, 17 Jul 59, OCMH. Spruance was chief of staff to Nimitz at the time.
5. Memos, King for Marshall, 10 Jul 42, sub: MacArthur-Ghormley Dispatch, and Cooke to King, 9 Jul 42, same sub, both in OPD 381 (PTO) sec. 2.
6. Rad, JCS to MacArthur and Ghormley, 2100, 10 Jul 42, OPD 381 (PTO) sec. 2. The Joint Chiefs meeting of this date, their 24th, was the first one in which the coming offensive was discussed.
7. Though the 1942 operation was contingent on a major Soviet defeat, President Roosevelt had virtually promised Molotov at the end of May that the Allies would open a second front that year. The British were far from sanguine about such an operation, and there was considerable doubt in the American staff about the feasibility of the operation. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 568-70, 577; Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning, 1941-42, pp. 233-34.
8. Mins, JCS Mtg, 10 Jul 42; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 176, 8 May 42, cited in ch. IX above; Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 434. For a more detailed account of these discussions, see Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning, 1941-42, 187-90, 233-49.
9.Memo, Marshall and King for Roosevelt, 10 Jul 42, no sub, OPD 381 (Gen) case 73.
10. Memo, Marshall for Roosevelt, 10 Jul 42, sub: British Proposal Relative to BOLERO, OPD Exec Files. See also, Stimson and Bundy, Active Service, p. 424.
11. Tel Msg, President to Marshall and King recorded in memo, Col John R. Deane for King, 12 Jul 42, OPD Exec Files.
12. Memo, JCS for President, 12 Jul 42, sub: Pacific Opns, OPD 381 (Gen) case 73.
13. Tel Msg, Roosevelt to Marshall, 14 Jul 42, WDCSA Files (BOLERO). Churchill's attitude is stated in a letter of 12 July to Field Marshal Dill in Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, p. 438.
14. Memo, Marshall for King, 15 Jul 42, no sub, WDCSA 381 (War Plans).
15. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 602.
16. Memo, Roosevelt for Hopkins, Marshall, and King, 16 Jul 42, sub: Instrs for London Conf, WDCSA 381, printed in Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 603-05.
17. OPD, Statement of Present Basic Strategy, with Incls, 15 Jul 42, OPD Exec Files.
18. GHQ SWPA Opns Instr No. 14, 26 Jul 42, Hist Rec Index Cards, OCMH; The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, SWPA Series, I, ch. II; Milner, Victory in Papua, pp. 47-48.
19. TULSA II-A, Joint Basic Plan for . . . New Britain-New Ireland-Admiralties Area, no date but probably prepared at the end of July, abstract in OCMH.
20. The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, SWPA Series II, pp. 50-51, 65-68; Milner, Victory in Papua, 77-78.
21. GHQ SWPA, Instr to Comdrs AAF, ALF, ANF, Occupation and Construction at Buna Bay, 15 Jul 42, Hist Rec Index Cards, OCMH.
22. Japanese Opns in SWPA, p. 132. This account of the Japanese landing at Buna is based on this work, pages 132-36, and the sources cited therein.
23. Memos, King for Marshall, 31 Jul 42, sub: Japanese Opns in New Guinea; Marshall for King, 1 Aug 42, same sub; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, No. 384, 31 Jul 42, all in OPD 381 (SWPA) case 92.
24. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, Q-147, 2 Aug 42, OPD 381 (SWPA) case 92.
25. Memos, King for Marshall, 15 Jul 42, sub: Garrison Forces for Solomons; 14 Jul 42, sub: AAA Units in South Pacific, both in WDCSA Files (SWPA).
26. Memo, Vice Adm Russell Willson for Lt Gen Joseph T. McNarney, (both acting for their chiefs in London), 22 Jul 42, sub: Reinforcements for South pacific, WDCSA File (SWPA).
27. For the papers dealing with this decision, see WDCSA Files (SWPA) and OPD 320.2 (PTO) cases 21 and 30.
28. This account of plans and preparations is based on the author's manuscript history of the South Pacific cited above, as well as Miller, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, ch. II.
29. Rad, Emmons to Marshall, 26 Jul 42, CM-IN-9215 and associated papers in OPD 320.2 (Hawaii). Nimitz' message is attached to memo, King for Marshall, 1 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcement of South Pacific, OPD 320.2 (PTO) case 37.
30. Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 30 Jul 42, CM-I-10727. relevant papers are filed on OPD 320.2 (PTO) case 5.
31. Memo, King for Marshall, 1 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcements for the South Pacific, OPD 320.2 (PTO) case 37. The agreement referred to was CCS 94, par. 3, 24 Jul 42.
32. Informal Memo, Marshall for Handy, undated, attached to memo, Handy for Marshall, 5 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcement for South Pacific, OPD 320.2 (PTO) case 37.
33. Ltr, Harmon to Ghormley, 4 Aug 42, OCMH; Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 5 Aug 42, CM-IN-1252.
34. Memo, King for Marshall, 8 Aug 42, sub: Minimum Army Reinforcements, OPD 320.2 (PTO) case 37.