I have been researching the end of the Pacific War for several years now. In the official histories, when General MacArthur was very, very good, such as in the 1945 Southern Philippines Campaign, his bureaucratic enemies described his actions and motives badly. And when MacArthur was awful, such as in the 1942-1943 Buna campaign, they were worse…and what they did “while being worse” wasn’t documented in those official histories
A case in point is US Naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison. He made this very snarky comment on page 214 of the 2nd to last book of his official histories, The Liberation of the Philippines 1944-1945:
“It is still somewhat of a mystery how and whence, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur derived his authority to use United States forces to liberate one Philippine island after another. He had no specific directive for anything subsequent to Luzon. He seems to have felt that, as Allied theater commander in the Southwest Pacific, he had a right to employe the forces at his command as he thought best for the common cause; certainly he went ahead with his plans.”
The MacArthur haters still parade that comment by Admiral Morison around like the foremost battle streamer on their “We Hate MacArthur” banner.
I have always thought that Admiral Morison’s comment was a cheap shot. The Japanese murdered 100,000 Filipinos in Manila in early 1945 and the Japanese high command had issued “Kill All” orders for Allied prisoners and internees. Ultra code breaking delivered this information to MacArthur, Nimitz and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) showing the humanitarian necessity to liberate occupied Filipino territory. However, it turns out the Adm. Morison comment was far worse than a cheap shot. Based upon what I just found in a couple of the US Army Green books, Adm. Morison “Parked a Convenient Lie” on top of MacArthur’s historical reputation.
Page 304 of WASHINGTON COMMAND POST: THE OPERATION DIVISION lays out the various Pacific command conferences of WW2. There were two Washington DC theater commander — JCS conferences in March 1943 and Feb-Mar 1944 and four Joint Theater Commander conferences in the Pacific:
Pearl Harbor – Jan 1944
Hollandia – Nov 1944
Guam – Feb 1945
Manila – July 1945.
In order to discover the subject of these conferences, I cross referenced Coakley and Leighton’s GLOBAL LOGISTICS AND STRATEGY 1943-1945, since all high level military strategy is logistical in nature. Chapter XXIII showed the Nov. 1944 conference at Hollandia was primarily about the coming Luzon campaign and it hammered out the Philippine Base or “FILBAS” Agreement (See page 566). The agreement had the following points:
o MacArthur would support the XXIV Corps staging to Okinawa from Leyte
o The Navy abandoned an earlier promise to crew US Army small coastal freighters, the Coast Guard would instead
o MacArthur would create the logistical infrastructure to stage nine POA Infantry/Marine divisions for operations against the China coast. Which the US Navy saw as necessary for the close blockade, as opposed to direct invasion, of Japan.
o Nimitz gave up any further claim to US Army service units in the closed out South Pacific theater
Only the first two points were carried out in full. MacArthur could never get his shipping squared away in time for Navy needs, so Nimitz started requesting the Army South Pacific service units again.
MacArthur never stopped trying to fulfill the FILBAS logistical objectives. There were exactly nine infantry divisions staging from the Philippines for Operation Olympic. Two of those divisions were being staged from the Southern Philippines, due to hard logistical limits. The port capacity of Manila was very limited after Japanese destruction of facilities there in Feb.-Mar. 1945.
Even world class port facilities of the time made rapid unloading of break bulk cargo via cranes and cargo nets “financially problematic” for ships weighing more than 6,000 tons, with more than four cargo holds, due to port congestion issues. (This fact I discovered from a US Army 1950s era logistics over the shore document on the Defense Technical Information Center or DTIC.) It was not until the ISO container revolution that you got rapid port clearance infrastructure that allowed the expansion of cargo ships to the 50,000 ton Midway class carrier sizes we see today.
There were also limitations what could go over the beach and small ports of Leyte. So, in order to do the required staging in the Southern Philippines for Olympic, all the islands in between needed to be captured to allow unimpeded sea movement for MacArthur’s small freighters, impressed Aussie fishing smacks and tug-barge shipments to their ports.
In short, MacArthur did not need JCS approval for his Southern Philippines campaign. That campaign never made it to the JCS level for approval because he had Nimitz’s sign off for it in the Nov. 1944 FILBAS agreement. Adm. Morison damned well knew that, and decided to “park a Convenient Lie” in his history about it anyway.
Now, as for what Adm. Morison didn’t write in his official naval histories that involved kicking MacArthur when he was down, you first have to go back to the history of the Buna Campaign in New Guinea. Then you have to look inside Vice Adm. Barbey’s 1969 book MACARTHUR’S AMPHIBIOUS NAVY: SEVENTH AMPHIBIOUS FORCE 1943-1945.
Barbey states on page 8 that one of the biggest reasons MacArthur had Vice Adm. Carpender replaced after the 1942-1943 Buna campaign was due to the fact that Carpender turned down a request for a single destroyer to provide naval gunfire support at Buna. The reasons given by Vice Adm. Carpender were Japanese air power and “fear of grounding in uncharted waters.”
This refusal by Vice Adm. Carpender was after two very significant events in affecting the Buna campaign. The first was MacArthur sending two Australian heavy cruisers (CA) from his SWPA command to support the US Marine Guadalcanal landing — with the US Navy promptly losing one at the military disaster known as the Battle of Savo Island. And the second event was the Imperial Japanese Navy sending a fleet made up of two light cruisers, three destroyers, with a pair each of transports and submarine chasers into the face of both Allied air power and the just as uncharted waters of Milne Bay. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Milne_Bay.)
So, we see MacArthur supporting the US Navy in a tough spot with all he could send, but the US Navy refusing to do the same…and leaving it out of their official histories.
The final 32nd Division attacks at Buna went in with a pair of Aussie 25-pounders firing fewer that a couple of dozen rounds each. Pretty much everything that MacArthur’s “fleet” of impressed Aussie fishing boats and harbor tugs could get in.
This, of course, was all MacArthur’s fault. Just ask the official histories.
Update 02 June 2013 Notes —
The column was significantly updated for increased clarity with input from my wonderful wife Mindy.
I would like to thank commenter Jim Miller request for the page of the Morrison quote for significantly improving this post. Which was also updated to reflect the correct location of the Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison quote used.