Crisis in the Pacific, August--November 1942
When a general makes no mistakes in war, it is because he has not been at it long.
The Allied disaster off Savo Island on the night of 8-9 August created so serious a situation that for almost four months the fate of the Allied offensive hung in the balance. The Japanese, though they did not at first grasp the full meaning of the Marine landings, were determined to maintain their hold on the Solomons and New Guinea. Skillfully utilizing every means at their disposal and the advantages of interior lines of communication, they sought time and again during these months to oust the invaders from Guadalcanal. It was not until mid-November, after a series of fierce aerial and naval battles which gave the Allies control of the air and sea, that the issue was decided. But the Japanese fought on for two more months in the vain hope that they might yet snatch victory from defeat. In the end they lost, but the six months' campaign gave them time to strengthen their positions further up the Solomons ladder, in the Bismarck Archipelago, and along the northeast coast of New Guinea. Never again would the Allies underestimate the Japanese will to resist or the capacity and skill of the Japanese soldier.
Few men in Washington had anticipated so vigorous a reaction from the Japanese. Though every senior commander in the Pacific, with the strong support of Admiral King, had warned of trouble ahead if more planes, ships, and men were not quickly dispatched, the Army and air planners had stoutly resisted their demands and maintained that no more could be spared for what was, after all, a secondary and defensive theater of operations. But so strong was the desire to exploit the advantages of Midway and check the Japanese advance toward the Allied line of communications that the commanders in the field acquiesced in the decision to attack. Once the offensive was begun, it was no longer possible to deny the resources needed for victory. Against the arguments for European (and North African) priorities for a future offensive were now posed the immediate and compelling demands of the Pacific. The consequences of failure were too serious to be accepted and again, despite the oft affirmed "Germany first" strategy, the proponents of stronger measures and larger forces for the Pacific won another
round in the never-ending contest for the resources of war.
Hardly had the 17,000 men of the 1st Marine Division (reinforced) taken Tulagi and the neighboring small islands and seized the partially completed airstrip at Lunga Point (promptly named Henderson Field) on Guadalcanal, than they found themselves isolated -- without air or naval protection and with less than half of the supplies they had brought with them. The aircraft carriers had gone first. Short of fuel and faced with the prospect of hostile air attack, Admiral Fletcher, on the evening of the 8th, had requested and been given permission by Ghormley to withdraw his carriers to safety the next morning. Admiral Turner, perforce, decided that he would have to pull out his amphibious force of warships, transports, and cargo vessels also, and so informed General Vandegrift. This decision had hardly been made when the disastrous Battle of Savo Island provided additional impetus for a hasty withdrawal. By evening of the 9th the amphibious force was steaming southward, carrying with it the heavy construction equipment needed to complete the airfield at Lunga Point, the 5-inch guns of the 3d Defense Battalion, the barbed wire so sorely needed for defense, and large quantities of ammunition and food. Virtually a besieged garrison, the marines were in a desperate plight.1 The offensive opened so hopefully only a few days earlier already seemed in jeopardy.
In Washington there was consternation at the unexpected withdrawal of the fleet and the disastrous consequences of the Battle of Savo Island. From Admiral Nimitz came an urgent request, strongly supported by King, for more planes, and from General Harmon came a similar request for reinforcements together with a pessimistic report on the situation on Guadalcanal. "We have seized a strategic position from which future operations against the Bismarcks can be strongly supported," he wrote. "Can the Marines hold it?" He was doubtful that they could. The Japanese, he thought, could assemble their forces quickly and recapture the island before the Allies could reinforce. Only "the resourcefulness and determination of our own forces," he told Marshall, would be able to "foil this attempt."2
The first problem, everyone recognized, was to provide the isolated marines with air support. There was no time to collect the planes in the United States and ship them out. They would have to come from resources already in the theater. But from where? Admiral Nimitz had the answer: divert to the South Pacific the heavy and medium bombers allocated to MacArthur and already en route. Marshall accepted this proposal immediately and authorized
Harmon to retain these planes temporarily if he felt they could be used more effectively in his area than in the Southwest Pacific. At the same time, the Chief of Staff urged MacArthur to intensify his own efforts to neutralize the enemy's airfields and to make plans to send a pursuit squadron to Guadalcanal. Marshall was interested, too, in the extent of coordination between the South and Southwest Pacific Areas and asked MacArthur for a report on that matter as well as the feasibility of the plan to rush fighters to Henderson Field.3
MacArthur's reply was both disappointing and reassuring. The plan to send fighters to Guadalcanal would be a hazardous undertaking and the chances of success slim. But if Marshall thought the measure necessary he would be willing to risk it. His report on relations with Ghormley was much more encouraging. Coordination between the two theaters, he told the Chief of Staff, was excellent. He had made arrangements with Ghormley, he reported, to provide air support on request, but thus far had received no requests. This was not the understanding in Washington, but Ghormley and Harmon, when queried, confirmed MacArthur's assertions of harmonious relations.4
Reassuring as such reports were, they did not lessen the seriousness of the situation in the Solomons or diminish the need for planes and supplies. General Harmon's estimates of the force needed for victory, made on the eve of the invasion, were now strengthened, and he used the occasion to impress them once more on his superiors in Washington. Admiral King, too, pressed hard for reinforcements, reminding Marshall on the 13th that his earlier requests were still unanswered and asking for immediate action to meet the demands from Hawaii and the South Pacific.5
The real question at issue between Marshall and King was the disposition of fifteen of the air groups (including three of heavy bombers) originally allocated to Bolero. At the London meeting with the British Chiefs of Staff in July, Marshall had insisted that, since SLEDGEHAMMER had been canceled in favor of TORCH, these air groups plus the shipping for one division be set aside "for the purpose of furthering offensive operations in the Pacific."6 King accepted this statement at face value and used it as a basis for his demands on the Army. General Marshall, however, apparently never intended that this provision should be interpreted literally. "I regarded the list of withdrawals for the Pacific," he told Eisenhower soon after his return from London, "as one which gave us liberty of action though not necessarily to be carried out in full, and no dates were mentioned."7 One of the heavy bomber groups, he did admit, would probably have to be sent to the
Pacific but the disposition of the others would depend on the situation. Thus, when Admiral King asked for more planes on the 13th, Marshall readily agreed to release one heavy bomber group, but refused to accede to King's earlier requests. And he stipulated, moreover, that the bombers -- the 90th Bombardment Group (H) was selected -- were to go to Hawaii, not to the South Pacific. For the South Pacific, Marshall told King, the Army was readying 44 fighters and had already authorized General Harmon to retain for his use any of the 29 B-17's, 52 B-25's, and 9 B-26's en route to Australia.8
To the commanders in the Pacific, these promised reinforcements -- the 90th Bombardment Group was not scheduled to arrive until mid-September -- could hardly be considered adequate. The position of the marines on Guadalcanal was precarious, with the Japanese bombarding the island almost at will, and in New Guinea the Australians along the Kokoda Trail were still retreating before the advancing enemy. Instead of changing their plans when the marines landed on Guadalcanal, the Japanese had intensified their campaign in New Guinea, bringing in more construction equipment, supplies, and infantry reinforcements. These moves were based on the view held in Tokyo, largely by the Army, that the Allied action in the Solomons was only a reconnaissance in force, a view that was confirmed by the failure of the Allies to reinforce the marines or to make a determined bid for air and naval supremacy in the days after the landing. The recapture of Guadalcanal, the Japanese thought, would therefore not be too difficult and could be accomplished while the Port Moresby operation was in progress.9
If the Tokyo planners misread Allied intentions, so, too, did some planners in Washington apparently misread the aims of the Japanese. Because the enemy had failed to follow up his victory off Savo Island with a large-scale counteroffensive, they concluded that he would make no effort to do so and that the battle for Guadalcanal would soon be over. It was none too soon, they believed, to make plans for Task Two, and within a week of the Marine landings, on the basis of MacArthur's Tulsa plan, General Marshall was proposing to Admiral King that they ask the Pacific commanders when Task One would be completed and Task Two begun.10 King readily agreed and next day, 15 August, the theater commanders were queried about their plans for the future.
The response from the South Pacific put to rest any illusions about an early end to the battle for Guadalcanal. Though the Japanese had not yet made an effort to land troops on the island, the danger, Admiral Ghormley asserted, was still great. If he did not get reinforcements soon, he told Nimitz and King, he might lose not only Guadalcanal but other positions in the South Pacific as well. Until planes had been based on Henderson Field, the line of communications
to Guadalcanal restored, and men and supplies sent forward, any idea of further advances, Ghormley warned, was a delusion.11
General Harmon concurred in this view and filled in the details which made it painfully evident that much more was needed on Guadalcanal. The Japanese, he was certain, would make an effort to retake the island, either by direct assault or infiltration from New Georgia to the north. To guard against this contingency he called for large air and ground reinforcements and for a determined effort to break through with supplies for the marines and enough equipment and gasoline to start large-scale air operations at Henderson Field.12
Armed with these statements from the South Pacific commanders, Admiral King again called on the Army for reinforcements, as agreed at the London meeting. By this time Marshall had decided to send the 90th Bombardment Group to Hawaii and so informed King. But ground reinforcements in the quantity General Harmon had asked for earlier in the month, and which Ghormley and King now requested again, could not be sent without considerably more shipping than was available to the Army. Finally, after the Army had agreed to provide a balanced force of about 20,000 men, the Navy agreed for its part to contribute enough ships from its own September and October allotments to transport about 'half of the force. On this basis plans were made which ultimately saw the arrival of the 43d Division in the South Pacific -- one regimental combat team, the 172d, going to Espiritu Santo to defend the heavy bomber base there, and the rest of the division to New Zealand. Shortly thereafter, the division was transferred to New Caledonia at a heavy cost in scarce shipping.
The movement of the division to the Pacific, completed in November, was not without incident. The President Coolidge, which was carrying the 172d Regimental Combat Team as well as a harbor defense battalion, blundered into a mine field at the end of its voyage in the harbor of Espiritu Santo and sank, taking with it all the desperately needed weapons and equipment of the units aboard. Fortunately, only two lives were lost in this tragic and unexplained accident.13
Long before these reinforcements had reached their destination, the situation in the Pacific had taken a turn for the worse. In the two weeks since the Marine landings, the Japanese had assembled a force of about 1,000 men and ferried them to Guadalcanal, where, on August, they sought to penetrate the thin Marine line and overrun the airfield. This attack was easily repulsed, but the Japanese had other forces ready at Truk and these they immediately dispatched under naval convoy to Guadalcanal
via Rabaul. Alerted in advance to the presence of a Japanese naval task force steaming south ahead of the transports, Admiral Ghormley sent his own naval forces, including two carriers, to meet it. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons that followed (23-24 August) the Japanese lost the carrier Ryujo, a destroyer, and ninety planes; the Americans only twenty planes and the services of the Enterprise, which was badly damaged. Neither side could claim a victory, but the Japanese withdrew, only to return a few days later with the Guadalcanal reinforcements. More were already on the way and it was clear that the next few weeks would witness bitter fighting on Guadalcanal and along its sea and air approaches.
In New Guinea, General MacArthur was having troubles of his own. The reinforced Japanese garrison at Buna, despite attacks from the planes of the Allied Air Forces, was rapidly completing the airfield and other installations there. The South Seas Detachment had meanwhile continued its slow advance along the Kokoda Trail and by the end of the month had overcome Australian resistance and begun the long, hard climb up the Owen Stanley Range. Though faced with some of the worst terrain and weather in the world, the Japanese troops pushed on, moving ever closer to their goal. Meanwhile, on 25 August, another Japanese force had landed on the north shore of Milne Bay, at the southeast tip of New Guinea, where a combined Australian-American garrison was holding the partially completed air base there. This attack, which was part of the coordinated Japanese offensive against Port Moresby, was repulsed in less than a week, but the threat of further Japanese offensives and naval action still remained.14
The crisis in the South and Southwest Pacific and the clear threat of further Japanese offensives produced in the last week of August renewed requests from the theater commanders for air reinforcements. On the day after the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, Admiral Ghormley asked once again for heavy and medium bombers, pointing to mounting losses and the critical situation in the Solomons as justification. King endorsed this request and passed it on to Marshall, who already had a similar message from Harmon before him.15
Since the 20th, when King had concluded, on the basis of Ghormley's and Harmon's estimates, that Task Two would have to be deferred and had asked for air and ground reinforcements, the Army staff had been studying air deployment in the Pacific. Ground reinforcements had been made available without question once the shipping was found, but there was strong opposition to sending more planes. General Arnold in particular objected to additional allocations of aircraft to the Pacific as a dangerous "tendency toward ever greater dispersion of Air Forces throughout the world." In his view, American aircraft should be concentrated in the United Kingdom for the planned bomber offensive against Germany, not scattered unprofitably throughout the Pacific. Some 300 Japanese planes in the South and Southwest Pacific, he pointed out, were holding down over 800 American planes. The
argument was a telling one and was endorsed by Admiral Leahy, who had recently joined the Joint Chiefs as the President's Chief of Staff.16
The Army planners, too, had been counting planes in the Pacific. Their figures, though differing slightly from Arnold's statistics, constituted an impressive list, showing a total of 161 heavy, 98 medium, and 42 light bombers, and fighters in the theater. En route and being prepared for shipment were 66 more heavies, 22 mediums, and 257 fighters. Such a computation, combined with Arnold's cogent argument, confirmed Marshall in his decision not to allocate more aircraft to the Pacific. There were enough planes there to meet the present danger, he told King, if the theater commanders would pool their resources to get the most effective use out of what they had. MacArthur had already been instructed to provide aid to the South Pacific, and Ghormley, Marshall suggested, should call on him in the event of an emergency.17 For the moment this ended the matter.
The quantity of planes in the Pacific was not the only question at issue; pilot training, combat fatigue, armament, armor, and performance of different types of aircraft were other equally pressing problems that had to be solved. There was much dissatisfaction with the P-400 fighter, the export version of the P--39. From Guadalcanal had come reports, through General Harmon, that the P--400 could not climb fast or high enough and was no match for the Japanese Zero. The new twin-engine P-38 was what he needed, he said, but the only ones in the Pacific were in MacArthur's area. Twenty-one had recently reached Australia and forty-four more were being readied for shipment. If Harmon wanted any, Marshall suggested, he should negotiate directly with MacArthur; none were available in the United States.18 When the request was made some days later, MacArthur had to refuse because he did not have enough for his own operations, but he stood by his earlier agreement to send thirty P-39's. "I want to do everything I can to help you even to the jeopardy of my own safety," he told Ghormley, "but my resources are practically negligible.19
By this time, MacArthur had revised his previous optimistic estimates for an early start on Task Two. So serious did the situation in the Pacific seem to him at the end of August that he urged, "with greatest reluctance," a complete review of the Army's policy on reinforcements. "I beg of you most earnestly," he wrote Marshall on 30 August, "to have this momentous question reviewed by the President and the Chiefs of Staff lest it become too late."20 In the last two months, he pointed out, the situation in the Pacific had changed drastically. The Japanese had decreased their forces in China and in the recently occupied territories and were concentrating
their resources in the South and Southwest Pacific. The "main battle front" in the war with Japan, he asserted, had now definitely shifted to New Guinea and the Solomons. Far from planning for further offensives, the Allies, he thought, should be increasing their ground, air, and naval strength in that area to match the rapid Japanese build-up.
MacArthur understood entirely even if he did not agree with the strategy that assigned to him limited forces and a holding mission, but, he told Marshall, it was doubtful that even this task could be accomplished with the forces at hand. "Holding areas," he pointed out, must have "sufficient forces actually to hold," and their size could only be determined "by a constantly changing accurate appraisal of the enemy's power; an arbitrary predetermined strength figure will not insure safety." Failure to review the strategic situation and to meet the changing conditions, he warned, was to invite a disaster "similar to those that have successively overwhelmed our forces in the Pacific since the beginning of the war."
In Washington this urgent dispatch, soon supported by a similar if less eloquent warning from Ghormley, received immediate attention. One copy went to the President, who discussed it with Marshall, and another to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who turned it and the Ghormley message over to their planners for study. Persuasive as MacArthur was, Marshall showed no disposition to change his views. In a carefully worded reply, sent out on the last day of the month, he expressed his understanding and sympathy but made clear his opposition, in the light of "recent decisions involving world-wide strategy," to further reinforcement of the Pacific. "The defense of the Pacific areas, particularly in air and naval matters," he told Mac Arthur, "will depend to a large degree upon the closeness of the cooperation and coordination of the forces now available to you, Nimitz, and Ghormley." There was no misunderstanding the Chief of Staff's meaning. MacArthur and the other Pacific commanders would have to get along with what they had and cooperate with each other to get the maximum use out of the forces already in the theater. No more would be forthcoming.21
Admiral King took a more serious view of the situation than Marshall, and, as so often before, sided with the Pacific commanders. Again, on 3 September, he presented the case for Ghormley and Harmon and repeated their requests for more aircraft, including the modern P-38. These needs must be met, he insisted, even if to do so would interfere with commitments in the Atlantic theater.22
Nor did General MacArthur accept Marshall's decision in this matter. In a strong response to the Chief of Staff's message, he rose to his own defense. Pointing to the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Trail, he emphasized his need for naval forces -- practically all of his had been loaned to Ghormley for the Guadalcanal invasion -- and for shipping to move ground reinforcements from Australia to New Guinea. These were essential defense moves, but more than that was needed. A defensive strategy, he argued, might lead to further defeats
New P-38s being hauled from the port area to the airfield at Noumea, September 1942
in New Guinea, with disastrous results for the Allied cause. What was needed were the means to open an offensive to clear the northeast coast of New Guinea -- essentially Task Two, with the additional burden of taking Buna -- as soon as possible.23
General Marshall was not moved by these arguments and appeals. Stoutly he maintained, and sought to prove with the statistics supplied by Arnold, that there were enough planes in the Pacific to meet the Japanese threat; that the fighters in the theater were adequate for operations; that more fighters could not be sent in time anyhow; and, finally, that to do so would have a drastic effect on the plans for TORCH. Naval forces and shipping, Marshall thought, could be supplied from the South Pacific and Australia, and he suggested to MacArthur that he refer his requests to Ghormley.24
From the Pacific came quick disagreement with this estimate of the performance of aircraft and the numbers needed. Admiral Nimitz pointed out that the total figures were misleading. The area covered was enormous, attrition high,
replacement difficult and slow. Moreover, the dispersion of fighter planes along the line of communications, distant from the scene of operations, accounted for a large part of the total.25
General Harmon, too, took issue with his superiors in Washington on the performance of his fighter planes. It was discouraging to the pilots, he observed, to watch impotently while the high-altitude Japanese aircraft flew over to drop their bombs. Even two squadrons of P-38's in the forward area "would be a God-send." "Do you think it might be possible," he asked Marshall, "to whittle just a little bit from Bolero? I do not like to unduly press this, and would not, but for my conviction that it is of real and continuing importance in the conduct of the Solomon-Bismarck action."26
Harmon's comments on attrition and replacement, and on the need to rest the pilots, gave strong support to Nimitz' observations, but Harmon also emphasized, as he had many times before, that the difficulty in bringing strong air support into the Guadalcanal area lay in the failure to develop the facilities at Henderson Field and in the shortages of heavy equipment and fuel needed for air operations.
Though Marshall followed up these and other questions Harmon and Nimitz had raised, the central problem was still the deployment of aircraft to the Pacific. Several committees of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been studying this and related problems for some weeks but thus far had succeeded only in disagreeing. It was evident now that before a decision could be reached the Joint Chiefs themselves would have to review the issues. It was to this task they turned after the first week of September.
The decision of late July, affirmed during the first week of September, to launch an offensive in North Africa (TORCH) before the end of the year had a profound effect on almost every phase of the war. The cost of this venture had to be closely calculated, shipping set aside, troops, planes, and supplies furnished, and plans re-examined. The allocation of forces to the various theaters, established earlier on the basis of the ARCADIA Conference and Bolero, had to be studied again and new priorities fixed in terms of the requirements for TORCH. And all this had to be done while the desperate battle for Guadalcanal and northeast New Guinea was raging and when the need for planes and ships in the Pacific was most urgent.27
The Debate Over Priorities
Work on these problems began early in August and it soon became evident that, as in previous discussions, there was a wide difference of opinion between the Army and the Navy on the apportionment of resources, especially aircraft, to the Pacific. The question at issue again was the disposition of the fifteen air groups -- actually fourteen since one heavy bombardment group was soon to be sent to Hawaii -- originally allotted to Bolero and to become available during the next six or seven months. General
Marshall and General Arnold took the view that until the requirements of TORCH, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom were met, no decision could be made on the disposition of these planes. Admiral King, while admitting the priority of TORCH and even the Middle East, countered with the argument that the planes should go where the need was greatest. Thus, the debate was really one of priorities.
It was the Joint Staff Planners who first reviewed this problem. Responding to a suggested order of priority from the British Chiefs of Staff, the planners took the position held by their respective service chiefs. Expanding on the theme propounded by Admiral King, the Navy members argued that there was no reason why the United Kingdom should have a greater claim on Allied resources than the Pacific. Against the needs for a future offensive from the British base they placed the urgent requirements of the South and Southwest Pacific where the situation was critical and where planes might well make the difference between victory and defeat.28
The Army and Air Force planners were equally convinced than an early offensive against Germany with the full power of Allied ground and air forces was the most effective way to bring about the defeat of the Axis. Moreover, they argued, the Pacific would have approximately 5,000 planes by April 1943, as opposed to an estimated total of 4,000 for the Japanese. And these 4,000 included the air complements of Japan itself and the neighboring islands. The commanders in the Pacific, the Army planners thought, should certainly be able, with a superiority of 1,000 planes, to carry out their defensive mission.29 This argument by numbers overlooked a number of important factors: the performance of American aircraft, the vast extent of the Pacific area, the number of planes immobilized but required in Hawaii, Australia, and along the line of communications, and the more technical problems of replacements, attrition, untrained crews, and others which the air officers in the theater were finding so frustrating.
Unable to resolve their differences, the planners submitted the dispute to their superiors for a decision on 5 September. But the views on which the Army and Navy planners had split were held as strongly by their chiefs, and the discussion at the next meeting of the JCS simply reflected and extended the arguments of the subordinate committees.30 The Navy members insisted on the literal interpretation of the July agreement relative to the fifteen air groups and stressed the urgency of sending air reinforcements to the South Pacific, at the expense of TORCH if need be. The Army refused to accept this view, pointing out that the July agreement "had been recorded only as an agreement for the transfer of planes from one jurisdiction to another." On the priority of TORCH and the Middle East Marshall refused to budge, though he was willing, like
Leahy, to reserve judgment on the United Kingdom. But, he reiterated, the Atlantic was the area in which the United States could get "the greatest return for the investment of forces."31
General Arnold took an even stronger position than his chief. Though ordinarily silent in the deliberations of high strategy, he was eloquently articulate on the deployment of aircraft. The buildup in Britain of a strong air force with which to bomb Germany out of the war was his chief interest and, in his view, took precedence over all other matters. TORCH, he argued, was the beginning of the offensive against Germany and was closely related to the air offensive from the United Kingdom which would divert German aircraft from North Africa. Both, therefore, should have the same priority, General Arnold asserted, and he cited messages from Eisenhower, Spaatz, Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., and Maj. Gen. Mark W. Clark, in support of this view. The Pacific, he believed, had enough planes, if only they were properly used, and he opposed sending more until the needs for TORCH, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East -- which bore the same relation to TORCH as the bomber offensive from Britain -- were met.32
When challenged by Admiral King, Arnold went even further and asserted that the diversion of aircraft from TORCH or the United Kingdom constituted a violation of the accepted Allied strategy for the war and would seriously jeopardize the success of the North African venture. To this King replied that since TORCH had not yet been launched and the Middle East did not seem to be in danger -- a view that Marshall and Leahy seemed to support -- the Pacific ought not to be relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Finally, after a fruitless discussion at the 15 September meeting of the Joint Chiefs, when Arnold argued that facilities in the Pacific were hardly adequate for the planes already in the area, much less the reinforcements King was asking for, Admiral Leahy suggested that the matter be dropped until General Arnold had had an opportunity to inspect these facilities for himself. The suggestion was immediately accepted and the debate over priorities tabled for almost two weeks.33
Meanwhile the joint planners had produced another split report. Given MacArthur's 30 August warning of disaster and Ghormley's supporting message, the planners had been directed to review the situation in the Pacific and make recommendations on the best course to follow. The job was handed over to a subcommittee whose Army members reported a week later. Their findings, informally concurred in by Brig. Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer and Col. Orvil A. Anderson, the chief Army and Air Force planners, added nothing new to the debate. MacArthur and Ghormley, they asserted, had exaggerated the danger. No additional forces were needed beyond those already
allocated, and if neither commander believed he had sufficient resources to undertake the operations called for in Task Two, then these operations ought to be deferred. The Joint Chiefs, they suggested, should explain again to the commanders in the Pacific the strategic policy of the Allies.34
The Navy's case was prepared by the senior naval planner himself, Admiral Cooke. Squarely he met the argument of his Army and Air Force colleagues by challenging the thesis that preparation for operations in the European theater had an overriding priority. He was not opposed to such measures or to those operations which would contribute to the defeat of Germany, but he felt that they should be undertaken only after steps had been taken to ensure the security of the Western Hemisphere, Hawaii, Alaska, and the line of communications to Australia and New Zealand. To accomplish the last it would be necessary, Cooke asserted, to send air reinforcements, especially fighters, to the South Pacific. What the Pacific commanders needed most, he said, was reassurance that their area was not forgotten, not an explanation of Allied Strategy. And with this reassurance should go, Cooke concluded, a promise of reinforcements in the near future.35
In the discussion that followed, Wedemeyer moved closer to Cooke's position, largely because of his opposition to TORCH. But the Air Force planner, Colonel Anderson, continued to argue that the employment of aircraft in the Pacific was uneconomical and failed to take advantage of the mobility of the air arm. All efforts to change his views proved unavailing, and the planners finally decided to refer the matter back to the subcommittee for further study. There it remained until December despite attempts to drop it altogether from the agenda.36
General Arnold's trip to the Pacific, at the end of September, though brief, gave him an opportunity to observe at first hand the conditions under which the war in the Pacific was being fought and to talk with the commanders. Only recently a Japanese counteroffensive on Guadalcanal had been thrown back in the battle of Bloody Ridge and reinforcements and supplies were just beginning to trickle into the marine perimeter. But conditions at Henderson Field were still far from satisfactory and the lack of fighter planes of modern design to fight off the almost daily attacks from Japanese bombers was still the most serious weakness in the South Pacific. Naval forces, too, were considerably reduced. The carrier Wasp had been sunk on 15 September, and the Saratoga, damaged by torpedo action on 31 August, was in Pearl Harbor for repair, as was the Enterprise. Only the carrier Hornet remained in action in the South Pacific. And already coast-watchers and reconnaissance aircraft were reporting large Japanese forces at Rabaul and in the northern Solomons. A major Japanese effort to retake Guadalcanal was clearly impending.
During this same period the Japanese in New Guinea had advanced along the Kokoda Trail until on 16 September
they had reached a point on the Australian side of the Owen Stanley Range, only twenty air miles from Port Moresby. There they halted, worn out by starvation, disease, and the hardships of an incredibly difficult journey, to await reinforcements and supplies and to consolidate their position for the final assault.37 That assault never came, for on 23 September 17th Army Headquarters at Rabaul, faced by the more serious threat at Guadalcanal and the possibility of Allied landings on the northeast coast of New Guinea, ordered its troops back toward Kokoda with orders to secure future offensive key points on the north side of the Owen Stanley Range, as well as a strong rear base at Buna. By the end of the month the Japanese were retracing the path they had so lately traveled, with the Australians in pursuit. It was at this time that two regiments of the 32d Division reached Port Moresby by air to join the Australian 7th Division and MacArthur issued his plans for a general offensive designed to clear the Japanese out of the Papuan Peninsula.
By accident or design, Arnold's trip to the Pacific coincided with a previously scheduled visit by Admiral Nimitz to Noumea. The advantages of a conference of the theater commanders with Arnold prompted General Marshall to suggest to the Air Forces commander that he arrange his itinerary so as to be present in Noumea on the 27th, the date when Nimitz would be there. This suggestion Arnold readily accepted.38 Marshall also wanted MacArthur to attend the Noumea conference but the Southwest Pacific commander declined because, he said, "pending the completion of the operations I am now developing in New Guinea I can not leave here."39 Instead he invited Nimitz to meet him in Brisbane and, on Marshall's suggestion, sent his Chief of Staff and air commander, Generals Sutherland and Kenney, to Noumea.40
The visit to the Pacific and the conference at Noumea did not alter General Arnold's belief that the South Pacific already had as many planes as it could support and that the solution to the problem lay in a more effective distribution, not an increase in the number of aircraft assigned to the theater. This was the position he took on 6 October when he reported to the Joint Chiefs, and again it was Admiral King who challenged him with the oft-repeated arguments and with references to the fresh threat of a Japanese offensive. The only new note in the meeting was that interjected by Admiral McCain, just returned from the South Pacific, who emphasized some of the practical problems faced by the air commanders in a theater where maintenance and spare parts were not always available and where ground crews often did not have the equipment to service new planes when they arrived. No closer to agreement than before Arnold's trip, the Joint Chiefs again referred the problem back to their planners, this time with instructions to study the distribution of aircraft and the number required to reach the "saturation point"
General Arnold (center) confers with (from left) General Twining, General Patch, Admiral McCain, and General Streett at Noumea, September 1942.
of the facilities in the Pacific. This time they were to have the help of General Arnold and Admiral McCain.41
Within ten days a preliminary report covering the South Pacific Area was ready. At Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, where the possibility of "inflicting attrition losses" on the enemy was greatest, the planners agreed, the airfields should be kept at the saturation point, with 100 percent replacements at Efate, New Caledonia, and the Fijis. In the rear areas, the planners stipulated, there should be a 50 percent reserve for losses by attrition. Marshall and King approved the report quickly and the staff began immediately the detailed work required to put it into effect.42
The full story of the joint planners, incorporating the computations of Arnold and McCain, was completed on 22 October and approved five days later. As finally revised it provided for increases for the South Pacific: 30 heavy
Admiral Nimitz discusses the Solomons campaign with (from left, standing) General Patch, Admiral Ghormley, and General Harmon at Noumea, October 1942
and 32 medium bombers, 34 fighters, 14 Navy patrol and 12 torpedo bombers, and 24 observation planes. Assignment of these planes to specific islands was to be made by Admiral Nimitz, and for this purpose he was authorized to deploy and distribute air units within the theater at his discretion and without specific permission, as had been the case before, from the War and Navy Departments.43
This late October solution to the problem of air deployment left unanswered the basic question: what to do with the air groups remaining from the Bolero commitment. That question had served Admiral King well as a lever to raise the authorized level of Pacific allocations and to gain for the theater commanders a portion of the air reinforcements they were asking for. Now, when the question came up again at the last October meeting of the Joint Chiefs, King agreed without argument that the twelve remaining groups, which were not yet available anyhow, should be considered
as part of the U.S. strategic reserve.44 Thus was ended, temporarily, the debate begun almost three months earlier by the cancellation of SLEDGEHAMMER and the decision to invade North Africa.
The decision in mid-October to send air reinforcements for the South Pacific was undoubtedly due, in part at least, to the threat of a new and larger Japanese assault in the Solomons and New Guinea. The signs of such a threat were too clear to be mistaken. From intelligence sources had come news of the movement of enemy forces from China, the Netherlands Indies, the Philippines, and Truk to the South Pacific, and as early as mid-September Allied aircraft had reported the massing of Japanese ships, planes, and troops at Rabaul and in the northern Solomons. The transfer of these troops southward to Guadalcanal, by destroyer and landing craft, begun in late August, was by the end of September in full swing. On the basis of the evidence Admiral Ghormley could not help but conclude that the enemy would soon make a major effort to recapture Guadalcanal.
The October Crisis
General Harmon not only agreed but also believed that the Japanese would probably succeed unless considerable reinforcements were forthcoming and air operations intensified. And from MacArthur came similar warnings and a plea not to lose this "golden opportunity" to anticipate the enemy and clear the northeast coast of New Guinea.45
The estimates of the Pacific commanders were entirely correct. After their initial miscalculation of Allied intentions, the Japanese had quickly revised their views and on 31 August Imperial General Headquarters had given first priority to the recapture of Guadalcanal. Both the Army and Navy commanders at Rabaul had been ordered to assemble the forces required and push preparations for a general offensive in the Solomons. Between 30 August and 7 September they had put enough troops ashore on Guadalcanal to launch their mid-September attack. The failure of this attack only spurred the Japanese on to greater efforts and convinced them that they must defer the Port Moresby operation and concentrate their forces for a major offensive in the Solomons. It was at this time, it will be recalled, that the troops on the Kokoda Trail in the Ioribaiwa area had been ordered back to Kokoda and Buna and the reinforcements originally intended for New Guinea, plus additional troops allotted by Imperial General Headquarters, were ordered to Guadalcanal. The new offensive was to open on 21 October, later postponed to the 23d, and was to be made by one full division and supporting troops, about 20,000 men, and all the naval forces the Combined Fleet could spare.46
Allied intelligence sources first thought that this Japanese activity portended an attack against Hawaii, the Aleutians, or even Siberia, but these possibilities were soon ruled out. New Guinea or the Solomons, King told Marshall and Leahy on 3 October, were the probable objectives, and he recommended "additional
forces and logistic support ... to meet this situation."47 No action was taken at the time other than to refer the matter to the planners, but within ten days the Japanese were moving in force down the "Slot" -- the narrow waters between the double Solomon chain -- with large reinforcements and supplies. Though attacked by American aircraft and opposed by a naval force of cruisers and destroyers in the Battle of Cape Esperance (11-12 October), the Japanese succeeded in putting ashore over 3,000 troops and large quantities of supplies for the attack later in the month.
With this additional evidence of Japanese intentions, it became clear that the situation in the South Pacific was critical and that emergency measures were required. Immediate warning went out to General MacArthur on the 16th relaying the information picked up from intercepts that the Japanese were concentrating large naval forces -- three carriers, five or six battleships, together with cruisers and destroyers -- in the vicinity of the Shortland Islands, and asking him again to do everything possible to support operations in the Guadalcanal area. Most useful, Marshall told MacArthur, would be air attacks against the Japanese naval forces assembling in the northern Solomons.48
To this call from Washington for assistance to the beleaguered marines -- one in a long series of similar requests -- MacArthur tartly responded by pointing out that he had been supporting the South Pacific as much as he could and that Ghormley had on three separate occasions "radioed his appreciation." Moreover, he was in constant communication with Ghormley, was coordinating his air operations with South Pacific requirements, and "three times within the week" had sent out bombing missions specifically at Ghormley's request.49 Nor did MacArthur miss the opportunity to remind the Chief of Staff that not only had he been aware of the situation in the Solomons for some time, but had, in fact, anticipated it. In a reference to his message of 30 August, he reminded the Chief of Staff that he had called attention to this new Japanese threat sometime before and "begged review of the question by the President and the Chiefs of Staff lest it become too late."
Having thus set the record straight, MacArthur then went on to provide a picture of the situation in his own area and the disadvantages under which his forces were required to operate. Supply, he pointed out, was the controlling factor, and until he had overcome the incredible difficulties of transportation to and in the battle area, the outcome would remain in doubt.
MacArthur's solution to the crisis in the Pacific would require a sweeping reversal of the carefully calculated and delicately balanced U.S.-British program for global warfare. Nothing less was required, he declared, than that shipping "from any source" must be made available to the Pacific; that the Army corps promised him earlier should be "dispatched immediately"; that all heavy bombers must be "ferried here at once"; that his air strength be increased; "immediate action taken" to establish naval bases along the east coast of Australia;
and that the British Eastern Fleet should be moved to the west coast of that continent. In short, MacArthur was proposing that the entire resources of the United States and Great Britain should be diverted to the Pacific to meet the critical situation in the Solomons and New Guinea.50 And to make certain that his views reached the highest authority he sent a personal message to Secretary Stimson the next day calling attention to his message and appealing for a complete review of Pacific strategy.51
Other commanders, though more modest in their demands, were pessimistic also about the prospects. On 6 October, before the Battle of Cape Esperance, Harmon had declared that it was his personal conviction that the enemy was capable of retaking Guadalcanal and would do so "in the near future" unless Allied air, ground, and sea forces were greatly increased. If they arrived in time, these reinforcements, he thought, would make a Japanese offensive so costly to the enemy that he would not attempt it.52
Among the measures Harmon proposed to meet the Japanese threat was the immediate shipment to Guadalcanal of one Army regimental combat team. Admiral Ghormley accepted this recommendation, and on 8 October the 164th Infantry of the Americal Division, formed in May from Task Force 6184, left New Caledonia to reinforce the tiring marines. The move was completed five days later when the Army troops landed at Lunga Point. So great was the need for fresh troops that Vandegrift immediately assigned them a portion of the defense perimeter around Henderson Field.
The day the 164th Infantry reached Guadalcanal was the one selected by the Japanese to begin intensive preparations for the coming offensive. Late that afternoon, thirty-seven Japanese bombers came down to hit Henderson Field, after which the enemy on the ground opened up with his 150--mm. howitzers. Finally, shortly before midnight, a Japanese naval force, including two battleships, stood off the island and leisurely dropped 14-inch shells on the field for over an hour while a cruiser plane overhead kept the target well illuminated. Clearly, this was a prelude to the expected offensive, and Admiral Ghormley asked MacArthur again to send his bombers against Rabaul and Japanese bases in the northern Solomons in order to relieve the pressure on Guadalcanal. Arid when the Japanese continued their bombing and shelling of the island, he told Nimitz on the 15th that the big push was on and that he was doubtful whether the marines would be able to hold out. Air and naval reinforcements were desperately needed, as was another division in the Fijis, which might well be the next Japanese objective if Guadalcanal fell.53
If any support was needed for this gloomy prediction it could be found in General Harmon's report on the 17th. Japanese activity during the last ten days had strengthened Harmon's conviction that the enemy would be able to take Guadalcanal. Like MacArthur, who had stated that the Allies faced disaster in the Solomons "unless the Navy accepts successfully the challenge of the enemy
surface fleet," Harmon asserted that Guadalcanal could not be held "without more naval support."54 It was time, he told Marshall, to consider the consequences of defeat and to strengthen the islands along the line of communications to Australia. Fiji, the most important base on that line, would be most vulnerable to attack and he recommended to Marshall, as Ghormley had to Nimitz, that another division, in addition to the 43d, which was already en route, be sent there.
The transfer of one of the four divisions in Hawaii had, in fact, already been discussed and decided upon in Washington. Still pending was the selection of unit and destination. The first was settled quickly with the choice falling on Maj. Gen. Lawton Collins' 25th Division, which was alerted for shipment on 19 October. Fixing its destination presented more serious problems, for at this moment the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, was pressing for the return of his 9th Division from the Middle East. His claim was a strong one, and to satisfy him the 25th Division was tentatively earmarked for Australia. The President and Joint Chiefs hoped in this way to meet Australia's demands and at the same time allow General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, who was then preparing his counteroffensive against El Alamein, to keep the 9th Division under his command. It was with this idea in mind that President Roosevelt told Curtin that he was releasing an American division. Carefully avoiding any commitment on its destination, Roosevelt said only that the division would go to the South or Southwest Pacific wherever "its employment will be of greater advantage to the defense of Australia." Final decision on the destination of the 25 Division was not made until the end of November, when the Joint Chiefs compromised by directing the division to Guadalcanal, instead of the Fijis, to relieve the 1st Marine Division for shipment to Australia. Thus MacArthur would get a combat-tested amphibious division, the marines a well-earned rest, and the South Pacific a fresh Army division.55
Meanwhile Admiral Nimitz was doing what he could to help Ghormley. Securing permission from Washington to strip the defenses of the Central Pacific, he rushed fighters and bombers to the danger zone. And by pushing repairs on the damaged vessels in Pearl Harbor he found naval reinforcements for Ghormley. On 16 October. the carrier Enterprise, repaired in record time, left for the South Pacific in company with the battleship South Dakota and nine destroyers. But Nimitz had grave doubts that Admiral Ghormley was the best man to meet the crisis in the Solomons. Someone more aggressive, he thought, might do better, and, after a meeting with his staff on the evening of the 15th, he asked King for authority to replace Ghormley with Admiral Halsey. Permission was readily granted and on 18 October, when Halsey reached Noumea to take over his old task force with the Enterprise as his flagship, he received orders to take over
command of the South Pacific area.56 No one thereafter had cause to complain about a lack of aggressiveness in the South Pacific.
President Roosevelt, too, was viewing the situation in the Solomons with increasing concern. Undoubtedly he had followed the debate over priority with keen interest, but it was not until 24 October, when the Japanese offensive had already begun, that he took a hand. "My anxiety about the Southwest Pacific," he wrote in an urgent message jointly to Leahy, King, Marshall, and Arnold, "is to make sure that every possible weapon gets in that area to hold Guadalcanal, and that having held it in this crisis, that munitions and planes and crews are on the way to take advantage of our success." Soon Allied ground troops would be engaged in North Africa and they, too, Roosevelt reminded his military advisers, would need air support. Matters would have to be so arranged that both fronts could be supported "even though it means delay in our other commitments, particularly to England." What the President wanted the chiefs to do over the weekend -- it was then Saturday -- was to prepare for him a report on the status of all combat aircraft in the United States and to check every possible source for the temporary diversion of munitions."57
This was a large order for a short weekend, but by Monday, the 26th, both Marshall and King had their separate replies ready. Both dealt primarily with the situation in the South Pacific, outlining the forces each service had in the area and the measures being taken to meet the crisis. Neither could find any air reinforcements in the continental United States, where there were barely enough planes for tactical training and security. The only practicable source from which to draw on for the Pacific was the United Kingdom or TORCH.
Shipping, Marshall and King agreed, was the critical problem. In the final analysis, reinforcements to the Pacific and support of the troops there were limited by the number of cargo vessels and transports available. In the next three months, Marshall pointed out, the Army and Navy would be short twenty-five ships a month for the Pacific route. Only by halting troop movements to England, the Middle East, and India, discontinuing the Persian Corridor project, and canceling the five-ship allotment to Russia for west coast shipments and other lend-lease commitments could they find the ships required to move the needed supplies and equipment to the Pacific. Another critical shortage was in ammunition, and that lack, too, Marshall observed, could not be overcome without cutting into other commitments. "Regardless of the strength of combat units we deploy in the area," he concluded, "we cannot effectively consolidate our gains unless we secure appropriate logistic support."58
Whether or not Roosevelt read these reports is not clear in the record, but that afternoon Marshall apparently discussed their contents with Admiral Leahy. The admiral then passed on to Roosevelt the gist of the reports and later in the day, on the President's authority, Leahy instructed the War Shipping Administration to "provide without delay twenty additional ships ... for use in the South Pacific, not at the expense of Russia or the new expedition (TORCH)."59
By this time the Japanese offensive on Guadalcanal had virtually run its course without disaster for the Allies, and though the Japanese on the island were still capable of offensive action, the crisis was over. The ground offensive had begun on the night of the 23d. Under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Masao Maruyama, commander of the 2d Division, the Japanese sought for three days to penetrate the line around Henderson Field. But the marines and Army troops of the 164th Infantry held firm, and on the 26th Maruyama called off the assault, having lost at least 2,000 men.
Hardly had this threat ended when a Japanese naval force built around four carriers and led by Admiral Nagumo was discovered near the Santa Cruz Islands, southeast of Guadalcanal. The approach of this formidable fleet had been noted earlier and preparations made to meet it. But all Halsey had were two carriers, Hornet and the recently repaired Enterprise, which had reached the area on the 24th. It was this force which met and engaged the formidable Japanese fleet on the morning of the 26th in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Fought at long range by carrier aircraft, this battle, like the one that preceded it, proved indecisive. The Hornet went down and the Enterprise, South Dakota, and several smaller vessels were damaged. Japanese surface losses were less severe -- 2 carriers, 1 heavy cruiser, and 2 destroyers damaged -- but their loss of aircraft and trained pilots, combined with the losses at Midway, was serious.
The battle over, Admiral Nagumo withdrew northward to Truk, not because he had been defeated but because General Maruyama had failed and there was nothing more he could do until another offensive was launched. Behind him he left a badly crippled American fleet guarding an island on which American troops still held precarious possession of a battered and pock-marked airfield. The immediate crisis on Guadalcanal was over, but the final battle for possession of the airstrip and for air and naval mastery of the southern Solomons was still ahead. "I feel that the Jap can win now in the Solomons only by bold aggressive action of heavily superior forces," General Harmon reported optimistically on 1 November. "The picture has materially changed."60
The scarcity of shipping, which both Marshall and King had stressed in their report to the President on 26 October and which the commanders in the Pacific had complained about frequently, was a problem of long standing. MacArthur had attributed most of his difficulties in New Guinea to a total lack of light shipping
The Shipping Crisis
Ships at Noumea waiting to be unloaded
and made clear that he could not begin Task Two without assurance of continuing logistical support and a secure line of communications. In the South Pacific, supply was only second in importance to air reinforcements. His "most vexing problem," Harmon told Marshall on g September, was logistics. "Army, Navy, and Marines all mixed in the jungle, mountains of supplies piling up on the beach, and a road-stead full of ships, bombs and fuel drums scattered through the coffee and cocoa," he wrote, "was a fine picture of war as she is but not as it should be."61
Much of the difficulty was the result of the world-wide shipping shortage or,
as at Espiritu Santo where the confusion derived from the hasty withdrawal of troops and supplies from Guadalcanal, of unexpected and unanticipated developments. But Pacific geography, climate, and the absence of any well-developed transportation system, combined with the shortage of service troops and the waste and duplication of a divided command, aggravated and enlarged the logistical problems. The enormous distances in an oceanic theater of operations almost completely dependent upon water transportation created an insatiable demand for ships, the most precious of Allied commodities. And once committed to the Pacific route, with its primitive or nonexistent ports and discharge facilities, a vessel would be a long time returning to home port. More than
twice as many ships, General Somervell estimated, would be required to move the same number of troops to Australia as to England, and to maintain them there.62
Undertaken on a shoestring despite warnings from MacArthur and Ghormley, the Guadalcanal campaign absorbed more and more men and equipment. No provision had been made for the receipt and storage of the supplies that reached the area in response to the urgent requests from Army and Navy commanders. Soon these emergency shipments, together with those normally required for the support of the garrisons in the area, were piling up at the forward bases, where the supplies originally scheduled for Guadalcanal were still awaiting shipment.
None of the ports in the South Pacific had the docks, labor, equipment, or storage areas to handle this traffic. Except for Auckland, Suva, Noumea, and one or two others, none of the ports could handle large ocean-going vessels, and even these were suited more for the normal peacetime conditions of a leisurely sugar and copra economy than for the heavy shipments of modern war. There had been no time, even if there had been the will, to build docks, storage areas, and roads, and to bring in the modern equipment and machinery required for the rapid discharge of large vessels. In all of the South Pacific there was in July 1942 only one port company. It was stationed in New Zealand -- far from the scene of battle.
The heaviest burden fell on the Free French port of Noumea where by 23 September there were eighty-six ships in the harbor. Not all the supplies on these vessels were earmarked for the troops in New Caledonia. Some of the ships were destined for Guadalcanal and other ports in the forward area which could not receive them; others were naval vessels in need of provisions. With the few berths available in Noumea (shared with French commercial interests), it is not surprising that unloading could not keep pace with the arrival of new ships. The situation was hardly improved by the lack of coordination between the Army and Navy, each of which requisitioned separately, had its own shipping, and received its own supplies, leaving those not needed aboard ship in the harbor. Ships thus became, in a sense, floating warehouses, a use never intended. Moreover, the vessels destined for Guadalcanal and other advance bases had to remain in the harbor of Noumea until such time as they could sail freely into the forward area and be unloaded promptly. In this way, vessels that could have been used to carry vitally needed supplies and reinforcements were immobilized for considerable periods of time, thereby aggravating the already critical world-wide shipping shortage.
So wasteful a system could hardly be tolerated, and emergency measures were taken to reduce the congestion. General Patch, commander of the New Caledonia base as well as of the Americal Division, was told to add more men to a provisional port company he had organized earlier, and the Navy considered a proposal to move 600 longshoremen to Noumea by air. In October, General Somervell sent his chief planner, Maj.
Gen. Leroy Lutes out to the Pacific to look into the situation. Appalled at what he saw, Lutes urged Harmon to push through plans for a strong, centralized supply and service organization, and one was formally established under Brig. Gen. Robert G. Breene in mid-November. "General Lutes' visit," Harmon reported to the Chief of Staff, "was a definite help."63 The solution to the confusion and waste in the South Pacific, Lutes believed, lay in the establishment of a truly coordinated interservice logistical organization which could control and supervise all supply activities in the theater. This was the solution he proposed in general terms to the theater commanders and in specific terms on his return to Washington in November. He also impressed on the Washington planners the need for additional service troops in the South Pacific, and was successful in increasing the allotment.64
Though General Lutes' proposal held out the promise of a more efficient supply system in the future -- a joint logistical plan was approved in March 1943 -- it did not relieve the congestion at Noumea. That job was done by Halsey and Harmon whose success was, in part, attributable to the improvement in the tactical situation on Guadalcanal. By 16 November, when Halsey gave General Breene's Services of Supply responsibility for loading and discharge at Noumea, the danger from Japanese air and naval attack had lessened and it was possible to send forward many of the vessels waiting in the harbor. Thus, when the New Caledonia service commander, Brig. Gen. Raymond E. S. Williamson, assumed control of port operations on the 20th, there were only thirty-seven vessels awaiting discharge. This total jumped rapidly during the next month when the Americal Division was moved to Guadalcanal, and the 43d Division plus New Zealand troops moved in to take its place. These shipments, with the supplies destined for the 25th Division, then moving from Hawaii directly to Guadalcanal, soon crowded the port at Noumea again.
General Williamson met this challenge bravely. Utilizing combat troops, Navy longshoremen, native labor, and experienced civilians from New Zealand, in addition to the regular port detachment, he was able to move the cargoes much more rapidly. He also had the use of the so-called Nickel Dock -- the dock reserved for the French Nickel Company -- for three months. During his first month of command, sixty of the vessels in the harbor were unloaded, leaving a backlog of only twenty-nine. The port was not yet cleared, nor would it be for some months to come, but by the end of the year there was little likelihood of a repetition of the September-November congestion. The measures already adopted or under consideration gave promise of that, and of a more efficient and coordinated theater-wide logistical program.
Relieving the congestion in South Pacific ports was one way of getting more cargo vessels and transports for the Pacific run; another was to take the ships from other theaters. During the October crisis, when the need was greatest and congestion at its peak, President Roosevelt,
it will be recalled, had directed the War Shipping Administration to furnish twenty vessels for November sailings to the South and Southwest Pacific with the stipulation that they must come from projects other than TORCH and the Soviet aid program.65 The War Shipping Administration, unable to find twenty commercial vessels, declared that commitments elsewhere would have to be cut if Pacific requirements were to be met. But this was a task for the military, not the War Shipping Administration, and at the end of October the problem was turned over to the Joint Planners.66
Within the week the planners had come up with a solution. Since there was no time to divert vessels from the Atlantic, they left commitments to that area undisturbed. Six ships, they proposed, should be taken from the Hawaiian, Alaskan, and Panamanian runs, and another six from lend-lease shipments to India and the Middle East. A few more could be provided by economies in existing schedules.
The Joint Chiefs accepted these recommendations informally, but the War Shipping Administration pointed out that the cut in lend-lease shipments violated priorities established by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Action by that body was a clear prerequisite to approval of the plan and the matter was therefore referred to one of the combined committees for study as a matter of urgency -- it was already mid-November. But before that committee could meet, the War Shipping Administration suddenly announced that it had found the vessels required for the Pacific without cutting into British requirements for the Middle East, thus meeting the minimum shipping needs for November in the Pacific.67 But the shortage of cargo vessels was still serious and an even more serious shortage in personnel carriers was soon to develop.
By the time the shipping crisis had passed, the Guadalcanal campaign had reached its final stage. Having failed in October to wrest control of the southern Solomons from the Allies, the Japanese were only more determined to succeed next time. There were still large Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, and to these General Hyakutake decided to add the 38th Division, recently arrived at Rabaul, for his second attempt. As before, the ground assault would be coordinated with air and naval action, and Admiral Yamamoto at Truk furnished the forces designed to gain undisputed and final mastery of the Solomons. In early November these forces assembled at Rabaul and in the northern Solomons while destroyers brought in additional troops and equipment to Guadalcanal.
The Crisis Ends
Allied intelligence faithfully recorded these movements, reporting by 12 November the presence of 2 carriers, 4 battleships, 5 heavy cruisers, 30 destroyers,
and a large number of transports and cargo ships in the northern Solomons. To meet this threat Admiral Halsey had 24 submarines, which had been temporarily assigned to the South Pacific during the October crisis, the carrier Enterprise, 2 battleships, 3 heavy cruisers, plus some light cruisers and more than 20 destroyers. On Guadalcanal itself, reinforcements brought in since the October crisis included artillery, a Marine regiment, and on 12 November, when the battle opened, another regiment, the 184th Infantry, of the Americal Division.
The naval and air engagements between 12 and 15 November, known collectively as the Battle of Guadalcanal, decided the issue. They began with a simultaneous effort by the Americans and Japanese to reinforce their troops on the island. In the van of the Japanese convoy was a strong battleship force with orders to neutralize Henderson Field and clear the way for the landing to follow. Guarding the American transports unloading the 184th Infantry was a naval task force of five cruisers and eight destroyers under Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan, a friend and former aide of the President. It was this force that met the Japanese battleships off Savo Island on the night of 12-13 November and in one of the wildest naval engagements in modern times drove back the superior enemy force and foiled the Japanese plan. Losses on both sides were severe.
On the 14th, the Japanese, freshened and reinforced, came in again, but this time they were met by two battleships and destroyer escort. The ensuing battle, fought at long range by radar, was a clear victory for the Americans. The Japanese lost one battleship and then withdrew, leaving four of their transports to be destroyed at leisure the next day. The Battle of Guadalcanal was over; the Japanese had made their last major effort to retake the island and had lost. Air and naval mastery of the southern Solomons was now in Allied hands and though the grinding task of destroying the Japanese on the island continued for almost two more months, the final outcome was no longer in doubt. In their pidgin English, the natives summed up the general feeling in a song with the refrain "Me laugh along Japani, ha, ha!"68
The Allied situation in New Guinea had also improved considerably by mid-November. Since the end of September the Australian 7th Division had pursued the Japanese back across the Owen Stanley Range through Kokoda and on toward Buna. By this time two regiments of the U.S. 32d Division had moved into the area and stood ready with the Australians to begin a coordinated attack against the Buna beachhead. The Japanese offensive in New Guinea, begun so hopefully four months before, was clearly marked for disaster. Virtually cut off by Allied air and sea power from their base at Rabaul and pinned down along a narrow strip with the sea at their backs and with Allied troops pressing in on them, the Japanese in Buna, like their fellows on Guadalcanal, were indeed in desperate straits.
Not only in the Pacific but elsewhere also fortune favored the Allied cause. At Stalingrad the Germans had been
checked and the great Russian winter offensive was already beginning to unfold; in North Africa General Montgomery had defeated Rommel at El Alamein and was in full pursuit of Rommel's army when, on 8 November, U.S. and British troops landed at Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca. "It would seem," said President Roosevelt, "that the turning point in this war has at last been reached."69
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (14) ** Next Chapter (16)
1. Miller, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, 81. Unless otherwise noted the material in this chapter dealing with ground operations on Guadalcanal is based on this volume; that dealing with naval and air operations in Samuel Eliot Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942--February 1943, vol. V, "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950); Craven and Cate, AAF IV, ch. II, and the Marine Corps account, Zimmerman, The Guadalcanal Campaign.
2. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 11 Aug 42, copy in OCMH; Ltr, King to Marshall, 9 Aug 42; OPD Memo for Record, 10 Aug 42, sub: Aerial Reinforcement of South Pacific. Last two in OPD 452.1 (PTO), case 6.
3. Rads, Marshall to Harmon, 9 and 10 Aug CM-OUT 2792 and 3043; Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 10 Aug 42, CM-OUT-3042.
4. Rads, MacArthur to Marshall, 12 and 13 Aug 42, Nos. C-253 and 341; Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 12 Aug 42, No. 768. All in OPD Exec Files.
5. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 11 Aug 42, copy in OCMH; Memo, King for Marshall, 13 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcements for South Pacific and Hawaii, OPD 320.2 (PTO), case 37.
6. CCS Memo, 24 Jul 42, sub: Opns in 1942-43, CCS 94, ABC 381 (7-25-41), sec. 1.
7. Ltr, Marshall to Eisenhower, 20 Jul 42, cited in Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning, 1941-42, pp. 301-02; Mins, JPS Mtg. 16 Sep 42.
8. Memo, Handy for Marshall, 15 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcements for South Pacific and Hawaii; Memo, Marshall for King, 20 Aug 42, sub: Reinforcements for South Pacific and Hawaii. These and other relevant papers are in OPD 320.2 (PTO), case 37; see also OPD 370.5 (Hawaii), cases 22-24.
9. Japanese Opns in SWPA, II, pp. 136-38.
10. Memo, Marshall for King, 14 Aug 42, sub: Early Initiation of Limited Task Two, OPD 381 (PTO) case 84.
11. Rad, Ghormley to Nimitz and King, 17 Aug 42, 0230, cited in Miller, Guadalcanal: The First Offensive, pp. 82-83.
12. COMGENSOPAC Summary of Sit, 20 Aug 42, OPD (PTO), sec. 3.
13. Lt. Gen. Millard F. Harmon, The Army in the South Pacific, pp. 3-4, a narrative prepared by General Harmon at the request of his historical officer, copy in OCMH. Memo, King for Marshall, 20 Aug 42, sub: Early Initiation of Limited Task Two; Memo, Marshall for King, 24 Aug 42, sub: Early Initiation of Limited Task Two. Both filed with related papers in OPD 370.5 (PTO), cases 9 and 14. Memo, King for Marshall, 27 Aug 42, sub: Transportation of 13,000 Army Troops, OPD 381 (PTO), case 84.
14. This account of the New Guinea campaign i based on Milner, Victory in Papua, ch. VI; and Allied Opns in SWPA, I, chs. III-IV.
15. Rad, Ghormley to Nimitz and King, 25 Aug 42, 0330, OPD Exec Files; Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 25 Aug 42, CM-IN-9889.
16. Memo, Arnold for Marshall, 21 Aug 42, sub: North African Opns; Memo, Leahy for Marshall, 21 Aug 42. Both in WDCSA (SPA).
17. Memo, Marshall for King, 25 Aug 42, sub: Air Reinforcements for South Pacific, OPD 452.1 (PTO), case 8.
18. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 30 Aug 42, CM-OUT-9510; OPD Memo for Record, 30 Aug 42, sub: Fighter Support for Solomons, OPD 452.1 (PTO), case 10.
19. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 3 Sep 42, CM-IN-0944.
20. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 30 Aug 42, No. C-381, GHQ Hist Rec Index Cards, OCMH. Mr. Curtin sent a similar message to the President and Prime Minister the next day. CCS 660.2 (3-14-42), sec. 2.
21. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 31 Aug 42, filed with JCS 96, Japanese Intentions in the Pacific, same date, ABC 384 (8-31-42) Pac.
22. Memo, King for Marshall, 3 Sep 42, sub: Air Reinforcements for South Pacific, WDCSA (9-3-42) SWPA.
23. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 3 Sep 42, CM-IN-0944; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 6 Sep 42, no number, GHQ Hist Rec Index Cards, OCMH; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 7 Sep 42, CM-IN-2633.
24. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 9 Sep 42, CM-OUT-3025; Memo, Arnold for King, 5 Sep 42, sub: Air Reinforcements; Memo, McNarney, DCofS, for King, 5 Sep 42, same sub. Last two in WDCSA (9-3-42) SWPA.
25. Rad, Nimitz to King, 6 Sep 42, 0199, WDCSA (9-3-42) SWPA.
26. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 9 Sep 42, copy in OCMH. See also Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 8 Sep 42, No. 222, OPD Msg file; Memo, King for Marshall, 11 Sep 42, sub: Aircraft Sit, OPD 452.1 (PTO), case 19.
27. For a full account of the cost of TORCH see Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning, 1941-42, ch. XIV; Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, ch. XVII.
28. Memo, Handy for Marshall, 6 Aug 42, sub: TORCH, OPD Exec Files; Mins, CPS Mtg, 7 Aug 42; Mins, JCS Mtg, 11 Aug 42; Mins, CCS Mtg, 13 Aug 42.
29. JPS 48, 28 Aug 42, sub: Deployment of Air Forces in Pacific; OPD Notes on 32d JPS Mtg, 2 Sep 42, sub: Deployment of Air Forces in Pacific. Both in ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec. 3.
30. JCS 97, 5 Sep 42, sub: Deployment of Air Forces in Pacific, ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec. 3; Mins, JCS Mtg. 8 Sep 42.
31. Mins, JCS Mtg, 8 Sep 42; Memo, Admiral Willson (Deputy for King) for JCS, 7 Sep 42, sub: JCS 97, ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec. 3.
32. JCS 97/1, 11 Sep 42, sub: TORCH and Air Opns from the Middle East and United Kingdom, ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec. 3. For statement of Arnold's general views, see his Global Mission, pp. 337ff.
33. Memo, King for Arnold, 5 Sep 42, sub: Aircraft for the Solomons; Memo, Arnold for King, 14 Sep 42, sub: Aircraft for the Solomons. Both attached to JCS 97.2, 15 Sep 42, ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec 3. Mins, JCS Mtg, 15 Sep 42.
34. Memo, Maj Robert W. Davis for Lt Col R.L. Vittrup, JPS Secy, 8 Sep 42, sub: Japanese Intention in Pacific.
35. Memo, Cooke for Vittrup, 14 Sep 42, sub: Japanese Intention in Pacific.
36. Mins, JPS Mtg. 16 Sep 42.
37. Msg of Instr to South Seas Detachment, 20 Sep 42, ATIS GHQ SWPA, Current Translation 2.
38. Rd, Marshall to Arnold, 22 Sep 42, CM-OUT-7355. For Arnold's account of the trip, see his Global Mission, pp. 336-50.
39. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 22 Sep 42, CM-IN-9515.
40. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 22 Sep 42, CM-OUT-7382; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 23 Sep 42, CM-IN-9987.
41. Mins, JCS Mtg, 6 Oct 42.
42. JCS 97/4, 16 Oct 42, sub: Deployment of Air Forces in Pacific, and related papers filed with it in ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec. 3. See also OPD 320.2 (PTO), case 64.
43. JCS 97/5, 22 Oct 42, sub: Deployment of Air Forces in Pacific; Memo, King for JCS, 6 Nov 42, same sub; Memo, Marshall for Deane, 11 Nov 42, same sub, all in ABC 381 (9-25-41), sec 3; Mins, JCS Mtg, 27 Oct 42.
44. Mins, JCS Mtg, 27 Oct 42.
45. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 27 Sep 42 GHQ Hist Rec Index Cards; Ltr, Harmon to Arnold, 15 Sep 42, with entries dated 19 Sep, both in OCMH.
46. Japanese Opns in SWPA, pp. 136, 139, 152.
47. Memo, King for Leahy and Marshall, 3 Oct 42, sub: Mil Sit in Pacific, OPD 381 (PTO), case 102.
48. Rad, Marshall to MacArthur, 16 Oct 42, CM-OUT-05130.
49. Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 17 Oct 42, No. C-731, GHQ Hist Rec Index Cards.
51. Rad, MacArthur to Stimson, 18 Oct 42, GHQ Hist Rec Card Index.
52. Memo, Harmon for Ghormley, 6 Oct 42, sub: Occupation of Ndeni, OCMH.
53. Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 15 Oct 42, CM-IN-06202, in which Harmon reports Ghormley's message to Nimitz.
54. Rad, Harmon to Marshall, 17 Oct 42, CM-IN-07191; Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, 17 Oct 42, No. C-731, GHQ Hist Rec Index Cards, OCMH.
55. Rad, Marshall to Emmons, 189i Oct 42, CM-OUT-0650063; Rads, Curtin to Churchill, 17 Oct 42, and Roosevelt to Curtin, 28 Oct 42, filed with Memo, Leahy for Roosevelt, 27 Oct 42, CCS 320.2 (10-22-42) Australia; OPD Memo for Record, 30 Nov 42, sub: Destination of 25th and 1st Marine Division, with other related papers in OPD 370.5 (11-30-42), PTO, case 45.
56. Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, p. 183. Halsey, who was promoted to full admiral soon after his assumption of command, had had no inkling of the change when he left Pearl Harbor. Ltr, Spruance to Hoover, 17 Jul 59, OCMH. At the time, Spruance noted, Admiral Turner was doubtful of the ability of the Allies to hold Guadalcanal.
57. Memo, Roosevelt for Leahy, King, Marshall, and Arnold, 24 Oct 42, OPD 381 (PTO), case 107.
58. Memo, Marshall for Roosevelt, 26 Oct 42, sub: Sit in South Pacific; Memo, King for Roosevelt, 26 Oct 42, sub: Diversion of Munitions to South Pacific. Both in OPD (PTO), case 107. See also Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, ch. XV.
59. Memo, Leahy for Deane, 26 Oct 42.
60. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 1 Nov 42, copy in OCMH.
61. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 98 Sep 42, copy in OCMH.
62. ton and Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, ch. XV. Unless otherwise noted, this section is based to a large extent on this excellent volume, although the author consulted most of the documents there cited.
63. Ltr, Harmon to Marshall, 1 Nov 42, copy in OCMH.
64. For his account of the trip, see Leroy Lutes, "Supply: World War II," Antiaircraft Journal,, Nos. 4 and 5 (July-October 1952); Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, 413.
65. See above, p. 345.
66. Ltr, Lewis Douglas, WSA, to Leahy, 28 Oct 42, with Memo, Vice Adm. Emory S. Land and Douglas for Roosevelt, 27 Oct 42, sub: Rqmts for Additional Tonnage. These and other relevant papers in CCS 540 (10-26-42) SWPA.
67. Memo, Deane for Leahy, Marshall, and King, 5 Nov 42, sub: Allocation of Twenty-Nine Additional Ships for SWPA; Ltr, Douglas to Leahy, 9 Nov 42; Ltr, Douglas to Leahy, 17 Nov 42. Mins, JCS Mtg. 17 Nov 42; JCS 143 ser. 5, 16, and 19 Nov 42; Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, pp. 396-98.
68. Among Those Present, Official Story of the Pacific Islands at War, prepared for the Colonial office by the Central Office of Information (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1946), p. 37.
69. Address to the New York Herald-Tribune Forum, 17 Nov 42, quoted in Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 656.