Latest Moves in Pacific


By ADMIRAL CHESTER W. NIMITZ, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet

Broadcast from Pearl Harbor to American Legion Convention in Chicago, Ill., September 18, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 744-746.

SINCE the American Legion last assembled for a national convention, American forces fighting in both hemispheres have scored some of the most decisive and crushing victories in military history. It has been a year of decision, a year which has brought Germany to the brink of defeat and which has Japan backtracking toward her home islands.

Our coordinated forces in the Pacific now are engaged in bitter fighting to capture the Palau Islands. These islands lie across our advance to the Philippines from the east. In

tackling them, we seek to cut the Japanese defensive line which runs west from the central Caroline Islands through the Palau Islands and turns southward to the enemy's battered and besieged stronghold of Halmahera.

If we succeed in this undertaking, we will have achieved three important purposes:

First, we will have isolated the Japanese in the Caroline Islands, and their once important base of Truk will be next to useless.

A second result is the placement of American forces in an improved position from which to strangle communications between Japan proper and Japan's conquered territories in New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies. When we develop the Palau Islands into new bases, the enemy will find it even more dangerous to supply or reinforce his marooned troops in these areas, and more difficult to obtain from them the raw materials, principally oil, he so ungently requires.

Finally, when Palau falls, an obstacle to our eventual return to the Philippines is swept away, and we will have a base from which to cover and support General MacArthur's Philippine campaign.

I thus highlight the significance of our latest move in the Pacific because the invasion now in progress more than 4,000 miles from Pearl Harbor is characteristic of our war against Japan from the beginning. In all of our offensive operations our goal has been the bringing of more and more enemy-held objectives within the range of our weapons. In succeeding moves across great ocean distances we have now reached a point where these weapons can strike at the enemy's military and industrial vitals.

The Palau invasion also illustrates the close inter-relationship of strategic moves in all theatres of the Pacific war. The simultaneous moves made from the southwest Pacific toward Morotai Island and from the Central Pacific toward the Palau Islands, exemplify the cooperation and coordination between the two theatres.

All our forces in all theatres have planned their blows so that the enemy has been kept off balance continuously. The close coordination of the several commands in the southwest, central and north Pacific, and in China and Burma, under the direction of the joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, has made possible our substantial progress. This explains why, in the words used on Tokyo radio, "Japan has no room for optimism."

But if the Japanese have "no room for optimism," we Americans have no room for over-optimism. With each new westward advance, new problems arise associated with the supply of distant bases. We also expect that as we draw closer to the heart of Japan we will run into tougher and more compact defenses, and we will be attacking in areas to which the enemy can better move defenses as needed.

We have not yet come to grips with the main bodies of the well-trained Japanese army, in spite of the virtual annihilation of some garrison forces stationed on Japan's outer island fortresses and heavy casualties inflicted on her expeditionary troops in China and in the north and south Pacific. The Japanese navy was severely dealt with at Midway, in the Solomons, in the raids on Truk and Palau, and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. It is still a threat to the success of our operations, still a worthy opponent if and when it chooses to come out and fight.

We are opposed by a tenacious and savage enemy who worships false gods and false ideals and who is willing to die for them. We cannot allow ourselves to escape from these realities to indulge in wishful thinking or heedless optimism.

Even in the war in Europe were over tomorrow, it would take some time to shift the enormous strength accumulated there to the tasks we face in the Pacific.

The big bombers might fly to this theatre in a matter of hours only to land on airfields, which necessarily take weeks to supply with needed amounts of fuel, food and ammunition.

This is because our supply lines extend over so many thousands of miles of water, and there is no way to cover this distance with cargo in bulk except by ship.

Great strides have been made in the field of moving freight by air, but it is obviously uneconomic to burn 800 gallons of aviation gas flying 500 gallons to the fighting front. So it is inevitable that our forward progress must remain directly related to the availability of shipping, and many ships will be needed in the European theatre to carry goods for the rehabilitation of liberated peoples and to supply the many American troops who will remain as long as necessary after a European victory.

Shipping Is a Problem

Therefore, victory in Europe will not immediately provide us with all the means quickly to overthrow Japan. We will need more ships, and we must get the maximum use out of each one. Every cubic foot of shipping space available to us in the Pacific has had to be used for purposes directly connected with winning the war. One regrettable result of this necessity is that we have not been able to establish a system for giving military leaves to many deserving service men.

Careful thought has been given to the idea of setting up a system of rotation by which these men might be furloughed home for a time, however brief. But for each service man sent back, a replacement might have to be sent out, and we have not reached the stage where available transportation permits such a plan.

We have been guided by the realization that the quickest way to get the boys back home in the greatest number is to employ all our resources for the single purpose of licking the Japs. To the courageous American lads who have been fighting this war, the hunger for home is very real, but because they have accepted these necessities, they have been able to maintain their enthusiastic will to win.

Final Victory Yet to Be Won

In view of these facts I want to remind you that even if the issue of who is going to win this war is settled in our favor, it is not yet settled when our final victory is to be won. The answer to that question hinges upon the ability and determination of our fighting men and no less upon the ability and determination of the people at home.

Japan will be brought to unconditional surrender much more quickly if all of us continue our unconditional efforts to win. If these efforts are slackened we have brought a pro* longation of the war upon ourselves.

The generating plant for America's unprecedented sea power is at home. A battleship blasting at enemy fortifications or a carrier launching its deadly burden of aircraft against the enemy objectives is the result of combined efforts that were begun in countless American mines, factories, offices, farms, warehouses and shipyards and in the same way that there are many factors that go into the creation of sea power, so there are many things that go into the maintenance of sea power.

Besides battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines and all the other types of combatant ships, we require auxiliary vessels such as repair ships, tankers and ammunition ships. We also require bases to supply operations of the fleet thousands of miles away from our coastlines.

To take away any one of these elements definitely would weaken the whole structure by which control over the sea ismaintained. This close interrelationship is not always thoroughly understood.

To some people mention of the Navy brings a mental picture of a line or battleships majestically cutting blue water, or a squadron of carrier aircraft sweeping the sky, or a submarine sinking an enemy ship with a well-aimed torpedo.

To some who live in America's inland regions mention of the Navy may only bring to mind a picture of a local lad in bell-bottom trousers who came home on leave with a flock of ribbons on his chest and a collection of salty stories. All are partially correct, but no one is completely so.

Like the fable of the six blind men of Industan who went to view the elephant, leaving their sense of touch to judge what kind of a beast the elephant is, the result was that the first to touch the elephant and happening to fall against his broad and sturdy side at once began to bawl, "God bless me, but the elephant is mighty like a wall."

The second feeling up the tusk, cried, "Ho, what have we here? So very round and smooth and sharp, to me it's mighty clear, this wonder of an elephant is very like a spear," and so on until each had made a different evaluation of what constitutes an elephant. The moral of this story is that the Navy, like the elephant, has many parts all vitally important to the function of the whole.

The parallel might be carried further. Although we would not like to be thought of as being as ponderous as the elephant, we have developed tremendous power, and there are certain things about which we have an elephant's memory, notably the infamous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. This we have already avenged and we will avenge it again and again, until the day of our ultimate victory.

Just as each element of sea power plays a vital role in carrying the war to Japan, so each element of our country's industrial and labor power plays a vital part in hastening victory. The men fighting the Japanese all are confident the great material and moral support extended by the home front will not diminish.

I am glad to have this opportunity to greet the American Legion on the occasion of your national convention.

Mr. Warren H. Atherton, your national commander, paid us a visit in the Pacific not long ago. He saw at first hand some of the bases that are the stepping-stones toward Tokyo.

He knows, as I know, that our entrenched enemy and the long road we must travel to get at him are barriers to victory. They will not be overcome until much hard work has been done at home and much hard fighting is done out here. But we know, too, and all the American Legion know that any aggressor nation choosing to test the fiber of the American people in war will be given an object lesson in what it means to work and what it means to fight. With faith in the justice of our cause, and confidence in our ability to see it through, we will not fail.

When we have won the war we must not fail in striving for a lasting peace. The peace to follow is not and will not be certain unless we are intelligent enough to build an international structure that can withstand the storms of the future, and until we learn to make such adequate and timely preparations to wage war that our enemies would not attack us.

War Likened to Hurricane

War is like the hurricane which has just struck our Atlantic seaboard, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Unwanted though they may be, hurricanes are not unpredictable, and intelligent observation discovers how to forecast their coming and their probable course. Intelligence has likewise taught us how to build against their destructive effects, although we find that only the few build against them. War, like the hurricane, is the result of unbalanced forces which continue until stability or equilibrium is restored. Hurricanes are the result of forces over which men can exercise no control. He can only do certain things that may minimize the damage.

War, however, results from unstable forces of man's own creation and might be prevented by continuous application of intelligent vigilance and preparation. It is in the last factor, that of preparation that democracies have failed too often.

There are always some men, both in and out of the Government, who can recognize the signs of impending war and who can be depended upon to sound the alarm. These men, however, are powerless to force adequate preparation. You men of the American Legion have shown that you have the courage and the resolution to face war, with all its horrors, and to win through despite the blood, sweat and tears, despite the mud, filth, flies and stench of rotting dead. In the peace to follow, have you the courage and the resolution to face your fellow-citizens and insist on an adequate national preparedness to maintain this peace?