Chapter I
The Strategic Plan

"It is with the deepest regret that I must inform you that conditions over which I have no control have necessitated the surrender of troops under my command."1 With this message of 20 May 1942, from Lt. Col. Theodore M. Cornell, U.S. Army, to Bernardo Torres, Governor of Leyte, the control which the United States had held over the island since 1898 came to an end. Nearly two and a half years were to elapse before the sound of naval guns in Leyte Gulf would announce to the world the opening of the Leyte Campaign, the first phase of the re-entry of American forces into the Philippine Archipelago.

The primary purpose of the Leyte Campaign was to establish an air and logistical base in the Leyte area in order to support operations in the Luzon-Formosa-China coast area and particularly to nullify Japanese strength in Luzon. Leyte is one of the Visayan Islands, which constitute the geographical heart of the Philippines. It was hoped that the fertile Leyte Valley, broad and flat, could be utilized for major airfields and base sites from which large-scale operations could be launched against the rest of the Philippines.

Preliminary Discussion

Behind the decision to go into Leyte lay a series of strategically significant victories, which had followed a staggering initial reverse. American prewar plans for the Pacific had originally been based on the assumption that only the United States and Japan would be at war and that the U.S. Pacific Fleet would be in existence.2 But the destruction of the fleet at Pearl Harbor and the entrance of Germany and Italy into the war nullified these plans. The strategy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff3 in early 1942, therefore, was concerned chiefly with trying to limit the rapid advance of the Japanese and with keeping the line of communications to Australia open. The Pacific Theater was divided into command areas--the Southwest Pacific Area, with General Douglas MacArthur as


Supreme Commander (he referred to himself, however, as Commander in Chief), and the Pacific Ocean Area (which included the Central Pacific), with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz as Commander in Chief.4

In 1942 and 1943 the Allied forces had halted the Japanese at Papua and Guadalcanal and started to push them back. On 8 May 1943 the Joint Chiefs approved a "Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan," which was endorsed by the Combined Chiefs in December. The objective of the plan was to secure the unconditional surrender of Japan, an objective that might necessitate an invasion of the Japanese home islands. As such an invasion promised to be a "vast undertaking," it would be necessary to secure a large supply base from which a great aerial offensive could be mounted against Japan. According to the original plan this base was to be located in China, but the Mariana Islands were afterward substituted for China. The plan called for the acquisition of successive island bases which could be used as "steppingstones," preferably those which would shorten the sea route, provide for its security, and at the same time deny to the Japanese bases from which they might interfere with the Allied line of communications. The main effort was to be through the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Nimitz' operations were to be conducted west through the Japanese mandated islands while MacArthur's proceeded northwest along the New Guinea coast. The two series of operations were to be mutually supporting.5

Although no specific islands were named in the Strategic Plan, the Philippine Archipelago, because of its strategic position and long possession by the United States, naturally loomed large in the planning. The Philippines lie athwart all sea routes south from Japan to the economically important Netherlands Indies--rich in rubber, tin, oil, and rice. The capture of the Philippines would help to sever this line of communications and would furnish an excellent staging area for attacks against China, Formosa, or Japan. Aside from strategic considerations, the liberation of the Islands was important for reasons of Far Eastern politics and prestige.6 The obligation of the United States to the subjugated Filipino people could not be lightly ignored. Furthermore, General MacArthur was imbued with a burning determination to return to the Philippine Islands and avenge the humiliating defeats suffered by the American forces in 1941 and 1942.

By the spring of 1944 the operations in the Pacific were going so well that the successes had exceeded even the most optimistic hopes of any of the planning officers. On 12 March the Joint Chiefs ordered General MacArthur to prepare plans for a return to Mindanao, southernmost island of the Philippines, with a target date of 15 November 1944.7 General MacArthur on 15 June issued a plan for his future operations. The entrance into the Philippines was to be accomplished in two phases. The first would be a preliminary operation on 25


October into the Sarangani Bay area in southern Mindanao in order to establish land-based air forces to augment the carrier-based air support for the principal effort. The major effort was to be an amphibious landing operation with forces mounted from New Guinea for the seizure on 15 November of airfields and bases on Leyte.8 The latter was to follow quickly on the heels of the first operation in order to take full advantage of the surprise tactics.

Leyte occupies a commanding position in the Philippine Islands. Because of its central location, its repossession by the United States would not only divide the Japanese forces in the Philippines but would also provide an excellent anchorage in Leyte Gulf, together with sites for bases and airfields from which land-based aircraft could bomb all parts of the Philippines, the coast of China, and Formosa. To an even greater extent than Mindanao, Leyte could be made into an excellent springboard from which to launch subsequent operations against the Japanese in Formosa or in the rest of the Philippines.

In his planning, General MacArthur recognized that the Leyte operation, his most ambitious to date, would require "massed carrier-based air support" and all of the "combined amphibious and naval forces available at the time."9

By June 1944 General MacArthur's forces had pushed up the New Guinea coast to the island of Biak, about nine hundred nautical miles southeast of Davao, Mindanao, while those of Admiral Nimitz were poised to strike at Saipan some twelve hundred miles northeast of Davao. In most of their previous campaigns the Americans had struck with overwhelming force at weakly held Japanese garrisons. Since the tide of war was now so favorable to the Allied cause, the Joint Chiefs thought that the Pacific timetable of pending operations might be accelerated. On 13 June they had therefore asked MacArthur and Nimitz their opinions with regard to three ways proposed for speeding up operations: "(a) By advancing target dates of operations now scheduled through operations against Formosa; (b) By by-passing presently selected objectives prior to operations against Formosa; and (c) By by-passing presently selected objectives and choosing new ones including the home islands." Although the Philippine Islands were not explicitly named as targets that might be bypassed, they were certainly included by implication.10

On 18 June General MacArthur replied to the query of the Joint Chiefs,11 and on 4 July Admiral Nimitz made known his opinions.12 On the advancement of the target dates, both commanders were in complete agreement--it was impossible unless certain conditions could be changed. The logistic resources in the Southwest Pacific were being strained to the limit to meet the fixed target dates, while the strengthening of Japanese garrisons made it unlikely that the Central Pacific could make its present scheduled dates.

With respect to bypassing objectives prior to the seizure of Formosa, MacArthur thought it would be "unsound" to bypass the Philippines and launch an attack across the Pacific directly against Formosa--an attack which would have the benefit of no appreciable land-based air support and


which would be based upon the Hawaiian Islands, 5,100 miles away. In his opinion it was essential to occupy Luzon and establish land-based aircraft thereon before making any move against Formosa.13 Nimitz stated that in a series of informal discussions between his and MacArthur's planning officers, the latter anticipated the seizure in early September of Morotai Island, 300 statute miles southeast of Mindanao. This was to be followed in late October by a limited occupation of the Sarangani Bay area on Mindanao, which was to be used primarily as a base for short-range aircraft. The major operation was to be the occupation of Leyte about 15 November. Nimitz thought that this timing was "optimistic." He felt that the critical and decisive nature of the Leyte operation required "practically all available covering and striking forces, fire support forces, and all available assault shipping." If successful, however, the Americans would achieve air supremacy over the Philippines. Therefore, since the inclusion of the Leyte operation with that of Mindanao would expedite subsequent operations, Nimitz considered it "advisable."14

As to the feasibility of bypassing present objectives and choosing new ones, including the Japanese home islands, the two commanders were not in complete agreement. MacArthur pronounced the concept "utterly unsound," since the available shipping was limited to a seven-division lift and there was insufficient air support. Nimitz thought that no decision should be made until after further developments.

The proposals disturbed General MacArthur, who concluded his message to the Joint Chiefs with the following peroration:

It is my opinion that purely military considerations demand the reoccupation of the Philippines in order to cut the enemy's communications to the south and to secure a base for our further advance. Even if this were not the case and unless military factors demanded another line of action it would in my opinion be necessary to reoccupy the Philippines.

The Philippines is American Territory where our unsupported forces were destroyed by the enemy. Practically all of the 17,000,000 Filipinos remain loyal to the United States and are undergoing the greatest privation and suffering because we have not been able to support or succor them. We have a great national obligation to discharge.

Moreover, if the United States should deliberately bypass the Philippines, leaving our prisoners, nationals, and loyal Filipinos in enemy hands without an effort to retrieve them at earliest moment, we would incur the gravest psychological reaction. We would admit the truth of Japanese propaganda to the effect that we had abandoned the Filipinos and would not shed American blood to redeem them; we would undoubtedly incur the open hostility of that people; we would probably suffer such loss of prestige among all the peoples of the Far East that it would adversely affect the United States for many years. . . .15

In reply, General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, cautioned MacArthur to "be careful not to let personal feelings and Philippine politics" override the great objective, which was to end the war. He also pointed out that "bypassing" was not "synonymous with abandonment."16

Admiral William F. Halsey, the commander of the Third Fleet, and his staff, when they heard of the proposal, were enthusiastic about the possibility of bypassing the more immediate objectives. But in contrast to Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations, who wished to move directly


CONFERENCE AT PEARL HARBOR brings together (left to right) General Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Admiral William D. Leahy and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

to Formosa, bypassing the Philippines, Halsey felt it necessary and profitable to go into the Philippine Archipelago, which he considered to be "the vulnerable belly of the Imperial dragon."17 Halsey stated that when Rear Adm. Robert B. Carney, his chief of staff, was asked by King, "Do you want to make a London out of Manila?" Carney replied, "No, sir. I want to make an England out of Luzon."18

The Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that none of the currently selected objectives could be bypassed. They continued, however, to search for means by which the tempo of the war in the Pacific might be accelerated.

In the latter days of July, General Marshall invited General MacArthur to visit Pearl Harbor in order to confer with Admiral Nimitz on future plans for the war in the Pacific. MacArthur arrived on 26 July. To his surprise, the President of the United States was present. President Roosevelt invited him and Admirals Halsey and Nimitz to dinner. After dinner the President drew out a map and, pointing to Leyte, is reported to have said, "Well, Douglas, where do we go from here?"19


Although MacArthur had been given no intimation that strategy was going to be discussed, he launched into a long talk on the necessity of taking Luzon before moving against Formosa. Nimitz did not enter into the conversation. The following morning the discussions were continued. Admiral William D. Leahy, who was present, later declared: "Both General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz felt that they did not require any additional reinforcements or assistance" for the scheduled operations.20 This Admiral Leahy considered most unusual.

Admiral Nimitz reported to Admiral King that the conferences "were quite satisfactory. The general trend of the discussion . . . was along the line of seeing MacArthur into the Central Philippines. . . ."21

There was no strong disagreement between General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz. Admiral Leahy said, "I personally was convinced that they together were the best qualified officers in our service for this tremendous task, and that they could work together in full agreement toward the common end of defeating Japan."22

Strong efforts were already under way to accelerate operations in the Pacific. A shortage of shipping appeared to be the bottleneck which halted all attempts to speed up the operational target dates. General MacArthur at Brisbane had been directing the whole of his planning toward the reoccupation of the Philippine Islands, and on 10 July had issued a plan for all operations into the archipelago. According to this plan the conquest of the Islands was to be accomplished in four major phases.

The initial phase envisaged footholds in the southern and central Philippines for the establishment of bases and airfields from which subsequent operations could be supported. The first operation, planned for 1 November 1944, was to be the seizure of the Sarangani Bay area in southern Mindanao for the purpose of establishing land-based air forces to augment the carrier-based air support for the advance into Leyte. The Leyte operation, the main effort of this series, was to come on 22 November. Major air, naval, and logistic bases were to be constructed on the shores of Leyte Gulf for the control of Leyte, Samar, and Surigao Strait, and for the neutralization of the Japanese aerial strength on Luzon.23 The other phases covered the occupation of Luzon and the consolidation of the Philippines.

On 26 July the Joint Chiefs agreed that the primary purpose of the occupation of the Leyte-Mindanao area was to establish air forces there in order to reduce the enemy air strength on Luzon. Some of Admiral Nimitz' assault craft which were suitable for shore-to-shore operations were to be transferred to General MacArthur. The Joint Chiefs, therefore, asked their planners to submit their views on the possibility of advancing the target date for Leyte to 15 November by compressing the intervals between contemplated operations or by the elimination of certain scheduled operations.24


In furtherance of this directive, planning officers from Washington met with General MacArthur and his staff in Brisbane in the early part of August and discussed means of accelerating the target date for Leyte. General MacArthur told them that a substantial interval between the operations at Sarangani Bay and Leyte was necessary. His reasons were as follows: (1) the assault shipping that was used for the Sarangani Bay operation would have time to turn around, reload, and then be used for the Leyte operation; (2) in the interval six combat air groups could be installed in the Sarangani Bay area to support the Leyte operation; and (3) the carriers would have sufficient time to execute two strikes before the Leyte operation.25

The planners from Washington, however, felt that there was sufficient assault shipping in the Pacific without using the same craft for both the Sarangani Bay and the Leyte operations. An enumeration of the vessels assigned to the Southwest Pacific and the Central Pacific gave the areas more than a six-division lift. As Brig. Gen. Frank N. Roberts, chief of the Strategy and Policy Group, Operations Division, War Department General Staff, in Washington, told Col. William L. Ritchie, his deputy, who was in Brisbane, "If you sit down and look at those figures a bit you will see that there should be sufficient assault lift for Leyte just on playing the numbers racket, without touching the shipping on Sarangani."26

Both Washington and Brisbane recognized that the operations in the Leyte-Surigao area were necessary in order to provide air bases, depot areas, and a fleet anchorage for any future advance whether in the Philippines, against Formosa, or by a direct route into the Japanese homeland. Consequently, the planners never seriously entertained any idea of bypassing this area, although they continued to probe for means which would accelerate the target date.

The determination of the target date was dependent upon the availability of assault shipping and the desire of General MacArthur to have each successive advance supported by land-based aircraft. The existing shipping was needed for operations already scheduled. The planners concluded that additional shipping could be made available if certain phases of the campaigns of Central Pacific forces into the Palaus, scheduled to start on 15 September, were canceled or set ahead of schedule. The alternatives were to modify the concept of providing land-based air support for subsequent operations or to execute the Sarangani Bay and Leyte operations simultaneously.27 There the matter rested. Apparently the Joint Chiefs had decided that the time was not opportune for an acceleration of the target dates.

On 27 August General MacArthur furnished General Marshall a timetable for future operations by his forces. On 15 September a division and a reinforced regiment were to seize Morotai in order "to protect the western flank" and to provide land-based aircraft for advances northward. On 15 October a division less one regimental combat team was to land in the Talaud Islands northwest of Morotai in order "to neutralize the [Japanese] western flank," to establish air bases from which the neutralization of Mindanao and the western Visayan Islands could be accomplished, and to set up a base for airborne troops. On 15 November two divisions were to land in the


Sarangani Bay area in order to construct bases for land-based aircraft that were to support the Leyte operation. On 7 December a regimental combat team and a parachute battalion were to drop on Mindanao and establish an airfield for fighter cover for the aerial neutralization of the western Visayan Islands and southern Luzon. On 20 December five divisions were to land on Leyte for the purpose of providing "major air and logistic bases for operations to the northward." The plan was predicated on the assumption that there would be available in the Pacific sufficient amphibious lift and fleet support.28

Plans Agreed Upon

On 1 September 1944 the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their 171st meeting reviewed the situation in the Pacific. The time had come when it was necessary to issue a directive for future operations in that area. After much discussion, the Joint Chiefs left in abeyance the question of what operation should follow Leyte but "directed the Joint Staff Planners to prepare, as a matter of urgency, a directive to the Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, and the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, to carry out the Leyte operation."29

Accordingly, on 8 September, the two commanders were given the following missions: General MacArthur, after conducting the necessary preliminary operations, was to take the Leyte-Surigao area on 20 December, with Admiral Nimitz furnishing fleet support and additional assault shipping. Both commanders were to arrange for co-ordination of plans and mutual support of operations; to co-ordinate plans with General Joseph W. Stilwell, Commanding General, United States Army forces, China, Burma and India, in order to get maximum support from that theater; and to arrange with General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, Twentieth Air Force, for supporting operations.30

Concurrently with the issuance of this directive, momentous events were taking place in the Pacific. Admiral Halsey was in command of scheduled operations against the Palau Islands. On 7 and 8 September aircraft from his carriers struck at Yap and the Palau Islands, against which Admiral Nimitz had scheduled operations, and for the next two days bombed Mindanao. On the 12th and 14th the bombers hit the central Philippines in support of the operations against the Palau Islands and Morotai.

Admiral Halsey advised Admiral Nimitz that, as a result of the strikes, few serviceable planes in the Philippines were left to the Japanese, the bulk of the enemy's oil supplies was destroyed, there was "no shipping left to sink," the "enemy's non-aggressive attitude [was] unbelievable and fantastic," and "the area is wide open."31 Halsey also told Nimitz that one of his downed carrier pilots had been told by his Filipino rescuers that there were no Japanese on Leyte.32 He therefore felt that it was time to accelerate the operations in the Pacific, and he strongly recommended that the intermediate operations


--Yap, Talaud, and the Sarangani Bay area on Mindanao--be canceled. Leyte could be seized immediately and cheaply without any intermediate operations. Halsey's fleet could cover the initial landing until land-based aircraft could be established. The force intended for the occupation of Yap could be made available to General MacArthur.33

When this message was received, the Combined Chiefs of Staff were attending a conference in Quebec. The recommendations were transmitted to Quebec by Admiral Nimitz, who offered to place at MacArthur's disposal the III Amphibious Force, including the XXIV Corps, which was loading at Pearl Harbor for Yap. General Marshall so informed General MacArthur and asked his opinion on the proposed change of target date.34

The message reached MacArthur's headquarters at Hollandia, on New Guinea, while MacArthur was en route to Morotai and observing radio silence. His chief of staff advised General Marshall that although the information from the rescued pilot that there were no Japanese on Leyte was incorrect, the intermediate operations could be eliminated. The 1st Cavalry Division and the 24th Infantry Division with sufficient service troops were available for the Leyte operation; adequate air strength could be provided; the logistic support was practicable; and the XXIV Corps could be used.35

General Marshall received this answer at Quebec on 15 September while he, Admiral Leahy, Admiral King, and General Arnold were at a formal dinner given by Canadian officers. The Americans withdrew from the table for a conference. Within an hour and a half after the message arrived, the Joint Chiefs ordered MacArthur and Nimitz to cancel the three intermediate operations of Yap, Talaud, and Sarangani, co-ordinate their plans, and invade Leyte on 20 October.36

Later that evening, as he was on his way to his quarters after the dinner, General Marshall received this message: "Subject to completion of arrangements with Nimitz, we shall execute Leyte operation on 20 October. . . . MacArthur."37

On 3 October the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed General MacArthur to occupy Luzon on 20 December 1944, the date originally set for the entrance into Leyte.38 The decision had been made. General MacArthur was to return to the Philippine Islands in force.


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1. Philippine Municipal Government Reports, Folder 2, App. DD, Guerrilla File 6910.23 (B), Military Intelligence (MI) Library.

2. Louis Morton, "American and Allied Strategy in the Far East," Military Review, XXIX (December, 1949), 38.

3. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, United States Army; Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations; General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces; and Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief--the President of the United States. The Joint Chiefs were responsible for the conduct of the war in the Pacific, subject to the decisions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The latter were representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom. The Joint Chiefs represented the United States.

4. Memo, Gen Marshall and Admiral King for President, 30 Mar 42, no sub, and two incls, "Directive to the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Ocean Area" and "Directive to Supreme Commander in the Southwest Pacific," OPD ABC 323.31 POA (1-29-42), 1-B.

5. JCS 287/1, Strategic Plan for the Defeat of Japan, 8 May 43; CCS 417, Over-all Plan for the Defeat of Japan, 2 Dec 43.

6. United States Strategic Bombing Survey [USSBS], Military Analysis Division, Employment of Forces Under the Southwest Pacific Command (Washington, 1947), p. 32.

7. JCS to CINCSWPA, CM-IN 5137, 12 Mar 44. CM-IN and CM-OUT numbers used in the footnotes of this volume refer to numbers on copies of those messages in General Marshall's Message Log, on file in the Staff Communications Office, Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

8. GHQ SWPA, RENO V, 15 Jun 44.

9. Ibid.

10. Rad, JCS to CINCSWPA and CINCPOA, CM-OUT 50007, 13 Jun 44.

11. Rad, CINCSWPA to CofS, CM-IN 15058, 18 Jun 44.

12. Rad, CINCPOA to COMINCH, CM-IN 2926, 4 Jul 44.

13. Rad cited n. 11.

14. Rad cited n. 12.

15. Rad cited n. 11.

16. Rad, CofS to CINCSWPA, CM-OUT 55718, 24 Jun 44.

17. William F. Halsey, Admiral Halsey's Story (New York, 1947), pp. 194-99.

18. Ibid., p. 195.

19. Information was furnished by Capt. Samuel Eliot Morison, USNR, 22 January 1951, who stated that Roosevelt had related the incident to him. Lt. Gen. Robert C. Richardson, who was not present, states that MacArthur told him that the President pointed to Mindanao when he made his remark. Ltr, Gen Richardson to Gen Marshall, 1 Aug 44, Book 21, OPD Exec 9.

20. Interv with Admiral Leahy, 5 Oct 50, OCMH.

21. Memo, COMINCH for CofS, 9 Aug 44, OPD ABC 384 Pacific (11743).

22. Interv with Admiral Leahy, 5 Oct 50, OCMH. See also, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York, 1950), pp. 247-52. In answer to an inquiry about the conference made to the director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the author was informed that "a careful search of the papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt in this Library has not revealed any materials that would be pertinent to the subject. . . ." Ltr, Herman Kahn to author, 20 Oct 50, OCMH.

23. GHQ SWPA, MUSKETEER Plan, 10 Jul 44.

24. Rad, JPS to Staff Planners of CINCPOA and CINCSWPA, CM-OUT 71483, 27 Jul 44.

25. Tel conf, Washington and Brisbane, 7 Aug 44, WD-TC 797.

26. Tel conf, Washington and Brisbane, 10 Aug 44, WD-TC 809.

27. Ibid.

28. Rad, CINCSWPA to CofS, CM-IN 24770, 27 Aug 44.

29. Min, JCS 171st Mtg, 1 Sep 44.

30. Rad, JCS to CINCSWPA and CINCPOA, CM-OUT 27648, 8 Sep 44.

31. Rad, Com3dFlt to CINCPOA, CM-IN 13120, 14 Sep 44.

32. Rad, Com3dFlt to CINCPOA, CINCSWPA, and COMINCH, CM-IN 12893, 13 Sep 44.

33. Rad, Com3dFlt to CINCPOA, CM-IN 12893, 14 Sep 44.

34. Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1945, to the Secretary of War (Washington, 1945), p. 71.

35. Rad, CINCSWPA to JCS, CINCPOA, and Com3dFlt, CM-IN 12636, 14 Sep 44.

36. Rad, JCS to CINCSWPA, CINCPOA, and Com3dFlt, 15 Sep 44, OCTAGON 31-A, CofS CM-OUT Log, 15 Sep 44; Biennial Report, p. 71, cited n. 34; General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York, 1949), pp. 529-30.

37. Rad, CINCSWPA to JCS, CM-IN 17744, 15 Sep 44.

38. Rad, JCS to CINCSWPA et al, CM-OUT 40792, 3 Oct 44.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation