As he relates in his book Admiral Halsey's Story, the Commander III Fleet had inclined toward a dim view of the whole Western Carolines project from the time it was first broached to him in early May at a conference with Admirals King and Nimitz in San Francisco. Thus, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff queried the feasibility of by-passing certain of these objectives, he favored striking directly at the Philippines and by-passing all of them with the possible exception of Ulithi, which offered a fine anchorage and was believed garrisoned lightly, if at all. Yap, he contended, could be of use only as a minor staging point for aircraft. The Palaus constituted a threat to the New Guinea-Philippines route and possessed valuable air and anchorage facilities, but he believed that the cost of taking them would be excessive in relation to the advantages gained. He was alone in this opinion, however, and the final conception of STALEMATE II emerged as something of a compromise.
The need for a large land mass on which to mount an all-out assault on the Japanese home islands was recognized by all, but there was little unanimity of opinion on what this should be. Admiral King favored Formosa, Admiral Spruance and others various areas along the coasts of China and Korea. Admirals Nimitz and Carney agreed with Halsey that it should be the Philippines, which General MacArthur was determined to take for sentimental and political as well as strategic reasons.
Admiral Halsey had long held the belief that at some point in the war Japanese resistance would begin a swift collapse, and that when this occurred every advantage should be pressed vigorously. The unexpectedly weak opposition he encountered when striking at enemy air bases in the Philippines as part of the covering action for STALEMATE II convinced him that this time had come. Accordingly, on 13 September he dispatched to CinCPOA the following drastic recommendations: (1) That STALEMATE be cancelled immediately; (2) that the ground troops already mounted for that operation be turned over to General MacArthur; (3) that MacArthur revise his own plans in order to invade the Philippines at the earliest possible moment.
Admiral Nimitz replied that with commitments already made, Phase I must go through as planned, but that Phase II would be submitted to immediate review.
MacArthur's plans, as then set up, called for an invasion of Mindanao, the big southern island, on 15 November, to be followed by an assault on Leyte, in the central Philippines, on 20 December. On the day that the Marines hit the Peleliu beaches, a dispatch in his name1 expressed willingness and ability to shift the sequence of these operations and to strike at Leyte as early as 20 October, provided the immediate services of the XXIV Corps could be obtained.
Word to this effect was immediately relayed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then in Quebec with President Roosevelt for the OCTAGON conference. So impressed were they by this dramatic agreement between the top Pacific Theater commanders that ninety minutes after the dispatch was received they were able to flash their approval. Thus the XXIV Corps departed the Central Pacific to play its important part in the dramatic "liberation" campaign.
1. But without his knowledge. As General George C. Kenney describes the situation at the time this dramatic decision was made: "MacArthur was on a cruiser off Morotai, with radio silence being preserved. There was no way of getting in touch with him, but a decision had to be made and an answer sent to the Joint Chiefs immediately." George C. Kenney, General Kenney Reports, New York, 1949.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation