Marines in the Philippines

Chapter 1
Background and Planning1

Even though relatively few Marines participated in the liberation of the Philippines, the support they furnished and the services they performed were out of proportion to their small numbers. Marine artillerymen under the command of Brigadier General Thomas E. Bourke supported Army troops on Leyte; Marine pilots commanded by Colonel Clayton C. Jerome bombed and strafed assigned targets and flew fighter missions throughout the campaign, under the overall direction of General MacArthur's air commander, Lieutenant General George C. Kenney. Even more important were the accomplishments of the pilots who developed, crystallized, and refined the doctrine and techniques for the close air support of ground troops. On Leyte, Luzon, Mindanao, and other islands, Marine pilots convinced skeptical Army ground commanders that aviation was capable of rendering valuable and effective support to the frontline troops. These pilots proved their worth by assisting in the capture of objectives and helping to meet the operational timetable. It was here, in the rain, mud, and jungle of the Philippines, that Marine aviation put the new doctrine of close air support to the test. No individual can be more closely identified with the liberation of the Philippines than General Douglas MacArthur. During the darkest days of the war the general had pledged his return to the Philippines. From the time that General MacArthur left Corregidor in 1942 to take over the new Allied command formed in Australia, the liberation of the Philippines dominated his thoughts. Only a short time after establishing General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area ( SWPA), in Brisbane the general initiated planning for that return. More than two years were to pass before these plans were fulfilled. During this period of time, the command setup in the Pacific Theater underwent several changes. As early as the Guadalcanal campaign, General MacArthur had wielded strategic control over most of the Solomons. Inasmuch as the SWPA commander at the time was preoccupied with operations in eastern New Guinea, Admiral Halsey


was given control over the entire Solo. mons chain in addition to the operational command he already exercised at Guadalcanal.2

Initially, the JCS viewed the importance of liberating the Philippines with skepticism. A compromise between the JCS and General MacArthur resulted in a two-pronged campaign in the Pacific during 1943 and 1944. Admiral Nimitz' forces in the Central Pacific received priority in their drive through the Marshalls, the Marianas, and the Carolines while General MacArthur's forces moved northward along the New Guinea coast.

A JCS directive of 12 March 19443 guided operations in the Pacific Theater for the remainder of the year. As it became apparent that the Japanese power in the Pacific was waning and the two-pronged advance continued, the Joint Chiefs decided that the entire Pacific timetable should be advanced. This revision was based on a sound premise. The campaign in the Marshalls, in February 1944, had brought speedy results. Carrier strikes, in mid-February 1944, against the fortress of Truk proved that Japanese air and naval strength was far weaker than had been assumed. In the end, General MacArthur had been able to advance the target date for the Admiralties operation by a full month.

The 12 March directive was of crucial importance to General MacArthur. Even though it fell short of his expectations by not giving him full priority for his return to the Philippines, the directive did authorize the capture of supporting bases and provided for the movement of MacArthur's forces into Mindanao, the southernmost of the Philippine islands. General MacArthur's air commander, General Kenney, was "dumbfounded" to learn that the Joint Chiefs seemed to attach more importance to Nimitz' Central Pacific drive than to any other campaign in the Pacific Theater.4 [Was Kenney not aware of war plan ORANGE (incorporated into RAINBOW 5)? The "central Pacific drive" had been the core of US war plans since the end of Spanish-American War! --HyperWar] Despite the limitations imposed on further operations in the Southwest Pacific by this change in strategy, the SWPA staff continued to plan for the most ambitious action possible under the circumstances.

In late March 1944, Admiral Nimitz visited General MacArthur in Brisbane for a planning conference. The immediate subject under discussion was the Hollandia operation, though it was inevitable that the two military leaders would also bring up the invasion of the Philippines.5 As a result of this conference, MacArthur and Nimitz set up, subject to JCS approval, an operations schedule which called for SWPA forces to land on Mindanao on 15 November 1944.

The Joint Chiefs in March 1944 did not make any provisions for operations in the Philippines following the invasion of Mindanao. Strategy in the Pacific for 1944 called for SWPA forces to move gradually northwest along the New Guinea coast, occupy the islands northwest of the Vogelkop Peninsula,


and seize a foothold on Mindanao. American forces in the Central Pacific were to advance towards Japan by way of the Marianas and westward towards the Philippines by way of the Palaus.6

While MacArthur's and Nimitz' forces were drafting plans to implement the 12 March directive, the Joint Chiefs conducted a complete reappraisal of the situation in the Pacific and concluded that operations there could be further accelerated. As a result of these deliberations, the Joint Chiefs sent American commanders in the Pacific three alternate proposals for consideration and comment. One of these was revolutionary in that it suggested bypassing the Philippines in favor of Formosa. The other two dealt with advancing target dates and bypassing presently selected objectives. Neither MacArthur nor Nimitz favored the new proposals, and both commanders insisted that the operations as proposed by MacArthur in RENO V were sound.7 Nimitz considered it important to take reasonable shortcuts and exploit favorable situations as they arose. He felt that complete control over sea and air was absolutely essential in major assault operations. Naval superiority was assured, but an invasion of Formosa could succeed only if Japanese airfields on Luzon were first neutralized by land-based air- craft. CinCPac felt that aircraft carriers should not be used to support prolonged operations ashore but should be utilized to carry out strategic missions.8

General MacArthur strongly opposed any direct operations against Japan unless air bases were first secured on Luzon. Admiral King, on the other hand, insisted that Formosa should be seized before the Japanese had a chance to reinforce it. In the end General Mac- Arthur won his point, but not until the President had intervened. A new operations schedule called for Southwest Pacific forces to occupy Morotai on 15 September, followed by the invasion of Mindanao on 20 December. Once these two objectives had been secured, the forces of the Southwest Pacific and Central Pacific commands would jointly assault either Luzon or Formosa and Amoy off the China coast.

On 15 June 1944 General MacArthur, as Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area, reassumed control of the area west of 159 degrees East Longitude and south of the Equator. This reacquisition included most of the Solomon Islands west of Guadalcanal. Admiral Halsey relinquished the title of Commander, South Pacific (ComSoPac) to Vice Admiral John H. Newton and returned to sea as Commander, Third Fleet. Due to this change in boundaries, MacArthur regained not only the area he had previously controlled but all units located there.



The Philippines consist of more than 7,000 islands of varying size with a land area of roughly 115,000 square miles. Located only 500 miles off the mainland of Asia, the Philippines occupy a strategic position in the Pacific in relation to southeast Asia, China, and Japan. The islands extend from the vicinity of Formosa in the north to Borneo and Celebes in the south, a distance of 1,150 miles. Astride the trade routes from Japan and China to southeast Asia and the former East Indies, now known as Indonesia, the islands are centrally located within 700 miles of Formosa and Hong Kong and 1,500 miles from Singapore; only 1,800 miles separate Tokyo from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Among the islands within the archipelago, Luzon ranks foremost in size and population. Next in size is Mindanao, followed by a large group of islands in the center of the archipelago commonly known as the Visayas, consisting of Samar, Panay, Cebu, Leyte, Negros, and a number of unnamed smaller islands. (See Map 16).

A tropical climate prevails throughout the Philippines, with alternating wet and dry seasons, though these are not so pronounced on Mindanao and southern Luzon as in other areas of the archipelago. Monsoon winds hit the islands from the southwest between June and September; northeasterly winds prevail from October through April. Mountains with elevations up to 10,000 feet are common in the Philippines; these ranges are often surrounded by narrow coastal plains culminating in sand beaches at the shoreline.

In 1941 the population of the Philippines numbered 17,000,000. Manila had 684,000 inhabitants and was the largest city in the archipelago. The people of the Philippines are predominantly of Malayan origin, though about 30,000 Japanese and 117,000 Chinese also resided in the islands. A peculiar language problem exists throughout the archipelago in that no less than 65 dialects are spoken there, and even though certain similarities exist, natives from different parts of the Philippines frequently find it difficult to communicate with each other.

Spain had gained a foothold on the islands in 1565, when Spaniards established their first permanent settlement in the Philippines on Cebu. Spanish possession of the archipelago continued until 1898, when the United States wrested the islands from Spain. As a result of lengthy foreign domination, a curious mixture of Oriental and Occidental cultures blended, resulting in the adoption of Islamic religion and Moslem customs in the south; Christianity and European culture were predominant in the remainder of the islands. When the United States gained possession of the Philippines, a small percent+ age of the population spoke Spanish. By the outbreak of World War II, it was


Map 16: Philippine Islands
Map 16: Philippine Islands


estimated that about one quarter of the population spoke English.

The Philippines were predominantly devoted to agriculture; principal crops were rice, sugar, corn, hemp, and tobacco. Mining for gold, silver, and other metals was carried on in mountain areas but never achieved major importance before the outbreak of the war.

The dispersal of the islands over a large area and the resulting decentralization reduced the need for roads and railroads; inter-island commerce depended primarily on coastal shipping. The only exception to the sparse rail and road net was Luzon, where routes of communication were somewhat more adequate to support military operations. Prior to World War II there were only 50,000 motor vehicles in the Philippines. Principal towns and cities in the archipelago are linked by telephone, telegraph, and radio. Transcontinental telephone and telegraph lines radiate from Manila to provide communications with the remainder of the globe.

Manila owed its importance as capital of the Philippines to its proximity to Manila Bay, one of the best natural harbors in the Far East. Several small islands at the approach to the bay split it into two channels. The largest and most strategically located island is Corregidor, whose defense in World War II was to become a classic of heroic efforts.

Following the acquisition of the Philippines and the pacification of the islands, the United States maintained a permanent garrison in the archipelago. This force numbered about 10,000 men in the mid-thirties, when a Commonwealth Government was established. Up to this time the defense of the Philippines had been a purely American responsibility. Even though the 10,000-man force was a U.S. Army unit, half of the garrison consisted of Filipinos. Except for this force and a Philippine Constabulary organized at the turn of the century, the Filipinos did not have any military tradition that could serve as a basis for a national army.

During the summer of 1935, General Douglas MacArthur, then Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, became military advisor to the new Philippine government at the request of the first President of the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon. General MacArthur's mission was to establish a national army to consist of 10,000 regulars and a reserve of 400,000. Since these figures were to be reached in 1946, at the time that the Philippines were to gain independence, progress in setting up the Army was slow. When war suddenly came to the archipelago, the combined American and Filipino forces were unable to stem the determined Japanese onslaught; the fall of the islands became inevitable despite the solidarity and heroism of Americans and Filipinos fighting side by side. As the fortunes of war changed and Japanese power in the Pacific receded, the Philippines once again figured prominently as another milestone on the long, hard road to Tokyo in Allied planning for the conquest of Japan.


By the end of June 1944, the Japanese military situation had greatly deteriorated.


Serious Allied interference with Japanese sea commerce, and piercing of the outer circle of the defenses ringing Japan had underscored the seriousness of the situation. Far from slackening, Allied operations in the Pacific were still gaining momentum, and Japan was faced with the threat of becoming separated from those islands in the South and Southwestern Pacific that constituted a major source of oil. According to Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet:

. . . the biggest cause of fall in production, especially in aircraft and air matériel, was the effect of your bombing on the plants--factories--in Japan proper; but as regards the effects on our war strength on the whole, I think the greatest effect was felt after all by the lack of ships and consequent inability to bring material from the south.11

United States control of the Central Pacific forced the Japanese to establish a line of defense extending from Japan proper through the Ryukyu Islands, Formosa, the Philippines, and finally to Timor, Java, and Sumatra. Since the Japanese expected the decisive battles of the war to be fought near the Japanese homeland, Imperial Japanese Headquarter initiated four contingency plans in anticipation of decisive operations. These plans, designated SHO or SHO-GO Operations,12 visualized four possible Allied operations during the summer and autumn of 1944. SHO-1 envisioned a decisive battle in the Philippine Islands by the end of August; SHO-2, a decisive campaign in the Formosa area and Ryukyus at about the same time; SHO-3 and 4, decisive battles in various parts of Japan proper by late October.

Since SHO-1 and -2 were considered the most imminent, the Japanese gave full priority to strengthening their defenses in these areas. The Army and Navy agreed that an all-out land defense in the Philippines would be made only if Luzon was invaded. In the event of an American invasion of the Central or Southern Philippines, only air and naval forces would seek decisive action.

The defense of the Philippines from American attack received priority in the minds of the Japanese high command. Reinforcements were dispatched to the northern part of the archipelago by the Japanese Army, which harbored a distrust of the capabilities of the Navy in stemming the American tide of victory. Once the Americans had committed themselves to a specific objective in the Philippines, a mobile countermanding force was to throw back or at least delay the invader.

By summer of 1944, the Japanese Fleet was hopelessly outnumbered and outclassed, yet ready to fight wherever American forces were landing. The Japanese were fully aware that land-based forces in the Philippines did not stand a chance at success unless they were backed up by the Combined Fleet. For


this reason, there was no choice but to gamble the entire fleet. In the words of Admiral Toyoda:

If things went well we might obtain unexpectedly good results; but if the worst should happen, there was a chance that we would lose the entire fleet; but I felt that that chance had to be taken. . . . There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.13

During the late summer of 1944, the Fourteenth Japanese Area Army under the command of Lieutenant General Shigenori Kuroda was charged with the ground defense of the Philippines. This army consisted of about 260,000 men stationed throughout the archipelago. (See Chart 2). Under the overall command of the Fourteenth Area Army, the Thirty-Fifth Army was to defend the Visayas and Mindanao. The Japanese Combined Fleet, under Admiral Toyoda, consisted of a Striking Force, the First Mobile Fleet, as well as the Second, Third, Fifth, and Sixth Fleets. Japanese air defense of the Philippines was furnished by the First Air Fleet of the Imperial Navy and the Fourth Air Army. Subsequently, the Second Air Fleet was moved from Formosa to the Philippines and joined with the First Air Fleet and the Fourth Air Army to form the First Combined Air Force under Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome. At that time Japanese air strength in the Philippines consisted of 400 aircraft, two-thirds of which were operational.14

The plan evolved by Imperial General Headquarters for the defense of the Philippines called for the commitment of 10 divisions and 5 brigades. The main force, consisting of 5 divisions and 2 brigades, was to be stationed on Luzon. Four divisions and two brigades were to defend the southern Philippines. One division and one brigade stood by in China and Formosa, ready for immediate movement to the Philippines once an American landing became imminent.

In the end, lack of cooperation between the Japanese armed services resulted in a compromise, which really failed to please any of the Japanese commanders involved.15 The Fourth Air Army, in loose cooperation with the Army and Navy, planned to annihilate the Americans when the invasion force hit the Philippines. Army and Navy aviation units were to destroy American landing fields and carrier-based


Chart 2: Japanese Command Organization
Chart 2: Japanese Command Organization


aircraft. Fighter units, based in the central and southern Philippines, were to be committed against the American main force. Japanese heavy bombers were to attack the American convoys; the fighters could be alternately employed against American aircraft or shipping.

A study of battle lessons learned in previous campaigns had led the Japanese planners to conclude that a fight for annihilation at the beachhead did not hold much promise, and for this reason a resistance in depth similar to the one on Peleliu was projected. On 9 October, General Tomoyuki Yamashita assumed command over the Fourteenth Area Army, in place of General Kuroda, who was not deemed sufficiently aggressive to cope with the defense of the Philippines.

In preparation for the American invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese Navy planned to concentrate its strength for a decisive action in defense of Japan proper and of the chain of islands linking Japan with the southern islands. Once the Americans struck at any of these vital areas, the Japanese Navy was to fight a decisive battle with all the strength it could muster. The overall mission was to intercept and destroy the Americans within the operational sphere of Japanese land-based aircraft.

Even before the American invasion of the Philippines got under way, however, the Japanese suffered heavy losses in Army aircraft, carriers, and carrier-based planes. As a result, land-based Japanese aircraft would have to bear the brunt of the American attack. The timing of the American invasion of the Philippines also was a factor that caused concern to the Japanese. Admiral Toyoda expressed his sentiments in the following words:

I expected your offensive against the philippines would commence around August or September; that is not to say that we were prepared at the time to meet that offensive, for the reason that our forces, both Army and Navy, had lost practically all their supporting aircraft at the various operations and it took anywhere from four to five months to replenish the lost aircraft.16

When the Allied invasion came on 20 October 1944, uncertainty paralyzed the enemy and prevented him from taking immediate counteraction at the time when troops were en route to the shore and American shipping was extremely vulnerable to air attack. Admiral Toyoda delayed alerting his forces until American warships were actually observed entering Leyte Gulf. Several days were to pass before the Japanese Navy could pit its still formidable might against the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleets.


The only Marines to participate in ground action in the Philippines were approximately 1,500 Marine artillerymen under the command of Brigadier General Thomas E. Bourke. The attachment of this Marine force, which consisted of the corps artillery of the V Amphibious Corps (hereafter VAC) to the Army XXIV Corps had a strange


background. During the campaign in the Marianas (Operation FORAGER), most of the corps artillery of XXIV Corps had been detached to VAC.

In view of the circumstance, CinCPOA decided to attach elements of VAC artillery to the XXIV Corps for the Yap operation. Initially, Headquarters Battery, VAC artillery, three 155mm gun battalions, two 155mm howitzer battalions, and one Army field artillery observation battalion were to support the assault on Yap. The three gun battalions were to include one Army and two Marine battalions; the two 155mm howitzer battalions were to consist of one Marine and one Army battalion each. Subsequently, because of a shortage of shipping, one Marine gun battalion was deleted.

While planning for the Yap operation was still in progress, the VAC units slated for attachment to the XXIV Corps were stationed in Hawaii, as was Headquarters, XXIV Corps. When the invasion of Yap was cancelled and planning for the recapture of Leyte got underway, the VAC artillerymen, still under the command of General Bourke, remained attached to the XXIV Corps.

The revamping of the command structure in the Southwest Pacific did not fail to leave an imprint on the organization of aviation units in the theater, Under the overall control of SWPA, Lieutenant General George C. Kenney had been commanding Allied Air Forces and the U.S. Fifth Air Force. Transfer of the U.S. Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and other Allied aviation units to SWPA made a revision of the air command structure necessary. General Kenney exercised a dual command over Allied Air Forces and the next lower echelon, the Far East Air Forces. (See Chart 3). The latter command consisted of the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces; units of the Royal Australian and the Royal New Zealand Air Forces, Aircraft Seventh Fleet (U.S. Navy), and Aircraft Northern Solomons with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing came under Allied Air Forces.

Under the peculiarities of the command structure in the Pacific, it was more commonly the rule rather than the exception for a commander to exercise a dual function. Aircraft Northern Solomons (AirNorSols) was no exception. The headquarters, first established by Admiral Halsey in his capacity as ComSoPac, was a composite of Marine, Navy, New Zealand, Australian, and U.S. Army Air Forces units then based in the Solomons. Major General Ralph J. Mitchell, USMC, commanded AirNorSols and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW) simultaneously from his headquarters at Torokina, Bougainvillea Island. In addition to Marine aviation units, all remaining Allied aviation in the Solomons came under General Mitchell's command. Many of Mitchell's aviators were experienced and battle-hardened; others were new arrivals from the States getting their first taste of combat.

As early as May 1944, General Mitchell had made the rounds of various headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, in order to sell an idea. In addition to approaching General MacArthur, General Mitchell also conferred with the Commander of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral


Chart 3: Organization of Air Command SWPA 15 June 1944
Chart 3: Organization of Air Command SWPA, 15 June 1944


Thomas C. Kinkaid, and General Kenney. The Marine general was attempting to draw the attention of SWPA Headquarters to the fact that under his command, a large number of well-trained and experience aviation units were not being utilized to best advantage, even though they were eager to participate in operations farther west.18 Japanese air power in the Northern Solomons and on New Britain was no longer in evidence and many of the aviators felt that they were beating a dead horse.

Initially, these entreaties appeared to fall on deaf ears. A ray of hope for the restive Marine aviators appeared briefly and flickered out when General Kenney directed AirNorSols to support the planned U.S. Army XIV Corps drive from the Solomons to New Ireland, then called off the move because shipping and forward airfields were not available. The Marine aviators pounded Rabaul and Kavieng without much enthusiasm, still trying to find ways and means to get some real action.

Just when it appeared that the eager Marine aviators would be forced to sit out the remainder of the war as actors in a sideshow, fate intervened and a radical change in the situation occurred. On 12 September Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet struck the Central Philippines. In three days of almost continuous air attacks, averaging 1,200 sorties per day, pilots of the Third Fleet downed 173 enemy aircraft, destroyed an additional 305 on the ground, sank 59 ships, probably sank another 58, and inflicted heavy damage on installations, at the cost of 9 aircraft. The implications of this victory were at once apparent to Admiral Halsey, who felt that:

. . . we had found the central Philippines a hollow shell with weak defenses and skimpy facilities. In my opinion, this was the vulnerable belly of the imperial dragon. The time might be ripe not only to strike Manila, but perhaps to mount a far larger offensive. Specifically, I began to wonder whether I dared recommend that MacArthur shift to Leyte the invasion which he had planned for Mindanao, and advance the date well ahead of the scheduled November 15.19

Admiral Halsey made his recommendation, and on 15 September the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to bypass Mindanao in favor of Leyte. Five days later, Far East Air Forces announced that seven dive bomber squadrons of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing would be committed against Luzon. On 10 October, Brigadier General Claude A. Larkin, Deputy Commander of the 1st MAW, summoned Colonel Lyle H. Meyer, commanding officer of MAG-24, and informed him that the group was to get ready to provide air support to Army ground forces in the Philippines. Later information revealed that the remaining three dive bombing squadrons of the wing would become attached to another headquarters, but accompany MAG-24. MAG-32 was sent from Pearl Harbor, and Colonel Clayton C. Jerome, Chief of Staff to the Commander, AirNorSols, took command.

It appeared that Marine aviators were finally back in a shooting war again. The major impact of the new


mission fell on MAG-24, whose operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Keith B. McCutcheon, had to come to grips with planning for effective support of ground troops. The job promised to be far from easy. As Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon himself expressed it:

When Marine Air Group 24 was informed early in October 1944, that it would give close support to an Army Corps in the Philippines, it was completely unprepared to fulfill its mission. Efforts were made immediately to assemble all the available literature on the subject but it became clearly apparent that the existing instructions were published piecemeal in many forms and much of the data was contradictory. . . .20

In developing a new concept of close air support, Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon was able to utilize the tools that had been previously tested by others. For instance, the radio gear that was to play such a significant role in the maintenance of ground-air communications had been obtained early in 1942 by Major Peter P. Schrider who at the time served as Air Officer for the Amphibious Training Command at Quantico under General Holland Smith. With the assistance of other aviators, communication experts, and supply personnel, Schrider, anticipating a future need for a forward air controller, experimented with portable and jeep-mounted radio equipment for direct contact with supporting air. These tests, which were conducted in the Chesapeake Bay area, included the employment of front line marking panels. Subsequently, the experiences gained were used with success in the training of Army battalions in amphibious operations.21

In his efforts to set forth his doctrine of close air support, Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon had the full support of Colonel Jerome, Commanding Officer of MAG-32. The latter, in the words of one of his contemporaries, represented

. . . the firm guiding hand behind all this endeavor. It was Colonel Jerome who set the general policy for implementation of close air support and who, through imagination, persuasion, salesmanship, and sheer force of personality brought his various commands so satisfactorily into the overall combat picture. . . .22

The time for the formulation of a clear-cut doctrine for close air support had arrived; once such a procedure had been devised, it would remain for Marine aviators to test it in the crucible of combat.


The changed combat mission of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing immediately raised a number of questions in the minds of responsible Marine planners. Foremost among these was the question of the techniques that should be


employed to give the most effective support to the infantry while still keeping within the generally accepted bounds of caution to avoid endangering the lives of friendly forces.

Though generally favored as a necessity, close air support had previously been employed on the basis of spur of the moment decisions, and with varying degrees of success. On Guadalcanal, Marine and Army pilots had given an excellent account of themselves in providing effective close support--so close, in fact that prior to taking off on a mission they could frequently get a look at the target from the ground. But long before World War II, back in 1927, Marine aviators had taken credit for the first organized dive bombing attack and possibly the first low-altitude attack ever launched in support of ground troops. On that occasion, Marine aviators in Nicaragua had first dived out of column from 1,500 feet and pulled out at about 600 feet. In subsequent dives the Marines started their run at 1,000 feet and pulled out at 300.24

During the New Georgia campaign, close air support for ground troops suffered from a lack of air-ground coordination. The simple truth was that the friendly ground troops were afraid of the bombers. At the time, close air support meant bombing and strafing about 1,000 yards in front of friendly lines, but under conditions of jungle warfare the front lines were frequently only a few yards apart. The difficulties encountered by Marine aviators attempting to provide close support on New Georgia have been described as follows:

The use of aircraft in close support of ground troops proved to be impractical. The dense jungle encountered made the location of enemy positions suitable for air attack impossible until friendly troops were too close to the prospective target for safety. As 200 to 300 yards was a good day's advance, it was not practical to withdraw sufficiently to use air attacks. . . . Frequently troops could not locate their own position on the map, much less the position of the enemy.25

During the Bougainvillea campaign in 1943, close air support was still regarded with more than casual suspicion, once again for the reason that ground troops had occasionally been bombed by the planes they had requested. On 13 December 1943, in an attempt to dislodge the enemy from "Hellzapoppin' Ridge," one of the attacking aircraft missed the target and instead hit friendly troops 600 yards away, killing two men and wounding six. Despite this mishap, close air support was redeemed when Marine aviators, attacking with delayed-fuze bombs, greatly aided the ground troops in seizing the obstinately defended ridge. Marines who fought at Bougainvillea had this to say about the air support they had received:

It was the air attacks which proved to be the most effective factor in the taking of the ridge. Lieutenant Colonel Butler, Executive Officer of the 21st Marines, was ordered to plot and direct the strikes. He flew with the flight leader to spot the enemy positions, with which he was now thoroughly familiar.

The two final strikes proved to be the most successful examples of close air support thus far in the Pacific war. The


planes, flying at times only fifty feet above the ground, bombed and strafed the enemy as close as 75 yards from the Marines' positions. The Japanese, who held out so with the attacking aircraft instead of desperately against infantry and artillery attack, were almost completely destroyed. Following the second air strike the 1st Battalion, Twenty-First Marines smashed through the last resistance with bayonet and grenade on the afternoon of December 18.26

The above action marked the first time that Marine aviators received credit for a support mission that was beyond the capabilities of the artillery. After Bougainvillea, there was an ex. tended lull as far as Marine air support for Marine ground forces was concerned. Peleliu offered a welcome opportunity to further improve ground-air coordination, though conditions on that island severely limited the effectiveness of air support; the Ngesebus operation offered an even more graphic illustration of what close support during a shore-to-shore landing could accomplish.

The Navy had partially solved the problem of controlling support aircraft through shipborne radio systems, which greatly reduced the time required to coach aircraft to their targets. Since this method was geared to carrier-based air support, the Marine divisions employed air liaison parties to transmit requests for aerial support and to direct air strikes. The Marine concept of close air support differed from that of the Army or the Navy in that it was felt that members of the air liaison parties, stationed in the front lines, should maintain direct communications having the information channelled through intervening echelons.

Under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon, operations officer of MAG-24, a detailed doctrine for air support organization was drawn up. Aside from special equipment and conditions that could be expected in the Philippines, the doctrine was based on the premise that close air support is an additional weapon to be employed at the discretion of the ground commander. He may employ it against targets that cannot be reached by other weapons or in conjunction with the ground weapons in a coordinated attack. It should be immediately available and should be carried out with deliberation and accuracy and in coordination with other assigned units.27

In addition to outlining the requirements for communications equipment, the establishment of radio nets, and the implementation of procedures that would ensure accurate and efficient air support when and where needed, the doctrine put forth the following points:

  1. Air support does not supplant any of the other existing weapons and it cannot be considered a general competitor of either field or naval artillery.

  2. Aircraft provide a mobile platform for transporting projectiles to the enemy, but if the same target is within artillery range, the latter can deliver a heavier and more accurate volume of fire per unit of time than aircraft.


    When the infantry commander is bogged down and he makes an estimate of the situation, he must weigh clearly the advisability of using aircraft in preference to artillery. Unless the attack is coordinated closely, the planes will not do enough damage to warrant the cessation of fire by the artillery for the necessary length of time.28

Once the doctrine of close air support had been formulated, it remained for MAG-24 to implement it by training personnel for the impending mission. Beginning on 13 October, only three days after Colonel Meyer had received word of the new mission of MAG.24, its pilots, crews, communications personnel, air combat intelligence officers, and operations officers on Bougainvillea were subjected to an intensive ground school course. This course, which lasted until 8 December, covered all phases of close air support ranging from organization and tactics of U.S. and Japanese infantry units to map reading, communications, artillery spotting, and target identification. Similarly, personnel were also familiarized with the geography and history of the Philippines, as well as the peculiarities of the Philippine climate.

Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon, who supervised the training, handpicked his instructors and finally emerged with a cadre of wing and group intelligence officers, and specialists from the Seventh Fleet intelligence section and the staff of two Army divisions stationed on Bougainvillea at the time. One of the Army units, the 37th Infantry Division, scheduled joint training problems with the Marine aviators. All pilots were able to observe a ground exercise conducted by an infantry battalion simulating an attack on a Japanese pillbox installation. To these exercises, MAG-24 added planes in close support with their own air liaison parties on the ground. No live bombs were dropped during the training exercises, but the infantry actually fired all of its weapons. Altogether, about 500 Marine pilots and gunners attended the course; a final examination and critique determined the effectiveness of the training.

Concurrently with the training program, a series of conferences were scheduled with representatives of the Fifth Air Force to coordinate planning for the Philippine operation. In the course of these conferences it was brought out that the Fifth Air Force would furnish the support air parties, but Fifth Air Force did not contemplate using direct communication between the air liaison parties and the aircraft engaged in a close air support mission. The Navy concurred with the Army Air Forces in this matter. As far as Lieutenant Colonel McCutcheon was concerned, the only logical way to conduct close support was to train and utilize Marine air liaison parties, which actually constituted a combination of the air liaison party and the support air party.

The Army Air Forces agreed with a statement expressed by the British Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery:

. . . that though a tactical air force must be integrated with the ground force,


it must not be tied in piecemeal lots to ground units. Its function was massed, theatre wide blows and deep penetrations to fill the gap between tactical and strategic operations.24

According to the interpretation by MAG-24, Marshal Montgomery was correct, though close support aviation was not identical with tactical aviation and there was a decided difference in the employment of the two. MAG-24 had no intention of attaching units to divisions piecemeal; it did plan to maintain close control of its aircraft when engaged in close support. If Marine liaison parties were not to be permitted to maintain that control, then the group would send out its own personnel to exercise it in accordance with the SOP that had been very carefully developed for close support by Marine aviation.

MAG-24 planned to attach air liaison parties to infantry units down to the battalion level. Utilizing radio-equipped jeeps (AN-VRC-1), air liaison personnel functioned like forward observers. The ALP could keep pace with advancing command posts and still remain in constant communication with aircraft. The radio equipment could be used to operate on Very High Frequencies (VHF) with the SCR-542 for short-range communications or with the SCR. 193 on the lower frequencies (HF) where longer distances had to be covered. If, for any reason, the air liaison officer had to leave his jeep, he could still use a portable transceiver30 or field telephone, the latter to keep in touch with the jeep radio operator, who in turn relayed messages to the aircraft.

A guide for the successful employment of close air support had now been established. Out of a hazy idea had grown a plan, which evolved into a concept. At maturity it became a doctrine that Marines could translate into action. In the short time available, all possible training that would assist Marine aviation personnel in the air and on the ground to put the theory into practice, had been given. The stage was set for the ultimate test.


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1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: Maj Charles W. Boggs, Jr., Marine Aviation in the Philippines (Washington: HistDiv, HQMC, 1951), hereafter Boggs, Marines in the Philippines; Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War; The War Reports of General of the Army George C. Marshall, General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King (Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1947), hereafter War Reports with appropriate originator; USSBS, Pacific Campaigns; Morison, Leyte. Where location citations for documentary sources for this part are missing, the material is in the files of the Reference Branch, Historical Division, HQMC.

2. JCS 238/5D, 28Mar43 had placed operations in the Solomons under Halsey's direct control subject to MacArthur's "general directions," as cited in Boggs, Marines in the Philippines, p. 1.

3. JCS 713/4, 12Mar44. Ibid., p. 5.

4. Kenney, Reports.

5. Ibid., p. 377.

6. For a detailed account of the roles of Admirals Nimitz and Halsey and Generals MacArthur and Sutherland in altering these plans, see Morison, Leyte, pp. 13-15.

7. The RENO plans provided for the approach to and recapture of the Philippines. They had originated within General MacArthur's SWPA headquarters,

8. USSBS, Military Analysis Division, Employment of Forces Under the Southwest Pacific Command (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 36.

9. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines--The War in the Pacific--U.S. Army in World War II (Washington: OCMH, DA, 1953), hereafter Morton, Fall of the Philippines; LtCol Frank O. Hough, Maj Verle E. Ludwig, and Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal--History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, v. I (Washington: HistBr, G-3 Div, HQMC, 1958), hereafter Hough, Ludwig, and Shaw, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal.

10. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: USSBS, Pacific Campaigns; Military History Section, FEC, Japanese Monograph No. 50, Central Pacific Air Operations Record, 1953, (OCMH), hereafter Japanese CenPac Air Ops Rec; James A. Field, Jr., The Japanese at Leyte Gulf (Princeton and London: Princeton University Press, 1947), hereafter Field, Japanese at Leyte.

11. USSBS, NavAnalysisDiv, Interrogation of Japanese Officials, 2 vols. (Washington: GPO 1946), Interrogation No. 378, Adm Soemu Toyoda, IJN, II, p. 313, hereafter Toyoda Interrogation.

12. The Japanese word "SHO-GO" stands for "Conquest" or "Victory Operation."

13. Ibid., pp. 280-281.

14. Craven and Cate, The Pacific, p. 346.

15. "Small manpower and large area to defend, that is how we planned to wage the fight on Luzon Island alone, but if we gave the American Air Force a chance to gain a foothold on islands other than Luzon, these would seriously interfere with Japanese operations on land, sea, and air. So the Japanese decided to fight for any part of the Philippines. If Americans landed in Central or Southern Philippines or North, then the Japanese air and sea forces would have to bear the brunt of battle in an entirely different kind of fighting from ground operations on Luzon. This is something that the armed forces could not understand, that they had to have coordination. About air defense, Navy aviation wanted to fight American carriers and part of the Army air power would be used for this purpose. Army aviation was to concentrate on convoys and when Americans had landed and constructed air bases on land, then the Japanese were to attack there." Official Japanese comment, War History Office, Defense Agency of Japan, Mr. Susumu Nishiura ltr to Head, HistBr, G-3 Div, HQMC dtd 16Dec66, in Philippines Comment File.

16. Toyoda Interrogation, p. 316.

17. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: Sherwood, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II; Halsey and Bryan, Admiral Halsey's Story.

18. MajGen Ralph J. Mitchell memo to Maj Gen Field Harris, dtd 26Mar46.

19. Halsey and Bryan, Admiral Halsey's Story, p. 199.

20. LtCol Keith B. McCutcheon, "Close Support Aviation," in Marine Aviation in Close Air Support File, HQMC-DivAvn, Aug-Nov45, hereafter McCutcheon Rpt.

21. Col Zebulon C. Hopkins ltr to Head, Hist Br, G-3 Div, HQMC, dtd Nov66, in Philippines Comment File.

22. LtGen Vernon J. McCaul ltr to Head, Hist Br, G-3 Div, HQMC, dtd 5Nov66, in Philippines Comment File.

23. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section is derived from: 1st MAW Hist and WarD, Jul-Dec44; Records of Committee on History and Doctrine of Close Air Support, DivAvn, HQMC, 8Nov45, hereafter CAS Recs

24. Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, p. 26.

25. Headquarters New Georgia Air Force (Forward Echelon, MAW-2) SAR, 29Jun-13Aug43, as cited in Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, p. 151,

26. Robert A. Aurthur and Kenneth Cohlmia, The Third Marine Division (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1948), p. 78.

27. " LtCol Keith B. McCutcheon, "Close Air Support SOP," Marine Corps Gazette, v. 29, no. 8 (Aug45), pp. 48-50.

28. Ibid.

29. Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery in TIME Magazine, v. 44, no. 7, p. 28, 14Aug 44, cited in McCutcheon Rpt, p. 9.

30. A radio capable of transmitting and receiving, usually compact because part of the circuit is alternately used for either function. Each ALP was provided with a TBX portable HF radio set to meet the initial communication needs of the party.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation