History Friday: Validating a Pro-MacArthur Story

In my last column (History Friday — MacArthur: A General Made for Another Convenient Lie) I opened with the following point about General Douglas MacArthur —

“One of the important things to know about General Douglas MacArthur was that almost nothing said or written about him can be trusted without extensive research to validate its truthfulness. …”

…and explained how MacArthur’s very personally poisonous relations with Australian Military Forces commander General Blamey polluted the historical record of the events around the Sandukan Death March.

General Douglas MacArthur decorates General George Kenney
General Douglas MacArthur decorates General George Kenney

This week is a MacArthur story from 180 degree opposite direction than the Blamey one, via General George L. Kenney’s book “The MacArthur I Know”. Kenney was General Douglas MacArthur’s 3rd and final air commander for WW2 and, while not part of the “Bataan Gang,” he became a fierce partisan for MacArthur. This is story is from the book’s Chapter III. I Join MacArthur’s Command at page 56 —

At every opportunity I talked MacArthur to the kids. I told them that he appreciated the place of air power and that his backing of me was responsible for the improvement in food and living conditions during the past few weeks. We had started flying fresh meat to New Guinea and screening all mess halls and kitchens. The dysentery and malaria rates had dropped amazingly. Men were even beginning to get back some of the weight they had lost. MacArthur had approved my action, in spite of the expressed disapproval of many of his staff and Service of Supply people.

It turns out that this pro-MacArthur story Kenney told was not the whole truth…it was over a longer period and -A LOT- more complicated.

In validating this story, one of the more important things to know about the 1940s military and shipping culture involved with MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) theater was the way that “grand theft sea lift” was a cultural norm. Organized crime and longshoreman’s unions have been hand in glove for as long as both existed, and the American and Australian rear echelons took their cue from that behavior and skimmed the best food from the front line troops before it was delivered from Australia. I found a 2010 USAF master’s thesis on Kenney’s SWPA logistics which made that clear.

One of the stories in the thesis was the same story as Kenney told, but with further detail, as the author Major Borchers (USAF) had the original SWPA message traffic and his thesis notes did not include “The MacArthur I Know”. Like Kenney’s version, Major Borchers’s thesis started with Kenney trying to find out why the food was so bad at the front in 1942-43, considering the quality of the food supplies requisitioned from beef and mutton exporting Australia. Kenney found out that the supply clerks in Army Service Forces and the freighter crews were skimming the best fresh food and meat, leaving canned Australian bully beef and and US Army C-rations.

Gen. Kenney then took the requisitions, detailed aircraft, and airlifted the best food direct from Australian warehouses to forward bases, skipping the entire supply chain of food parasites.

At this point Major Borchers thesis departs from the “The MacArthur I Know” Kenney story in that the parasites patron’s in Allied high command started screaming bloody murder. Gen. Kenney tried to make a deal to placate the “Service of Supply” brass and keep it below MacArthur’s level.

There is nothing like frustrated franchise to make bureaucratic thieves stupid, so the parasites took the matter to MacArthur.

MacArthur’s reaction, and indicative of his “holding court” command style wasn’t to tell Kenney to stop. Instead he told Kenney to start sharing the “Service of Supply cut” Kenney tried to negotiate with parasites patron’s to General Krueger’s forward deployed ground troops instead of the parasites…which Kenney did.

So here is another example of why you cannot believe a single story about MacArthur from either his friends or enemies without validating the truth of them.

Note and Sources:

The MacArthur I Know by GENERAL GEORGE C. KENNEY, DUELL, SLOAN AND PEARCE., New York, @ 1951, by George C. Kenney, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. Jl-10404

United States Army Air Forces Logistics in the Southwest Pacific During World War II by Brent W. Borchers, Air University (U.S.). School of Advanced Air and Space Studies @ 2010

26 thoughts on “History Friday: Validating a Pro-MacArthur Story”

  1. Instead he told Kenney to start sharing the “Service of Supply cut” Kenney tried to negotiate with General Krueger’s forward deployed ground troops instead of the parasites…which Kenney did.

    OK, I am a simpleton. I don’t understand this sentence.

    Instead he told Kenney to start sharing the “Service of Supply cut” — got it.

    Kenney tried to negotiate with General Krueger’s forward deployed ground troops instead of the parasites — got it

    which Kenney did. — what?

  2. Erisguy

    The thesis specifically mentioned communications between Generals Kenney and Krueger in 1944 for air delivery of fresh food to Krueger’s troops in Western New Guinea, after it laid out the “Grand theft sea-lift” problem and the solution of same.

    How Kenney started sharing with Kruegar wasn’t something Major Borchers addressed, as it was outside “his lane” — Kenney’s USAAF logistics and not MacArthur — but Kenney in the “The MacArthur I Know” story made clear in this sentence —

    >>MacArthur had approved my action, in spite of the expressed disapproval of many of his staff and Service of Supply people.

    So, we have,
    1) Pre-emptive airlift requisition meeting (Kenney & Borchers agree),
    2) Rear area Service of Supply (SoS) parasite theft-franchise (Kenney & Borchers agree),
    3) Kenney saying the parasites “expressed disapproval” to MacArthur and,
    4) Major Borchers finding the Kenney/SoS parisite negotiations and the Kenney/Krueger 1944 messages, but not reading Kenney’s “The MacArthur I Know”.

    Thus we have a perfect double-blind research test of a MacArthur story that shows the full truth.

    MacArthur was informed about the food airlift and theft from the thieving parasites. MacArthur approved Kenney’s actions (Borchers’ confirmed they continued into 1944). And then Krueger got a cut for his troops after MacArthur was made aware of the situation…and Kenney got a word in edge wise.

    This was very much a story that wrote itself.

  3. trent,

    that sentence is still vague. Try cutting it down into 3 sentences and make it declarative. To start sharing the ‘service of supply cut’ with whom?

  4. The REMF’s (a technical term for non-combat types) stealing items designated for the front line combat troops must be almost universal. My dad told me that his unit (101st Airborne) was critically short shoepacks and jump boots after Eindhoven. They were in reserve and rotated on short leaves to Paris where they found ample jump boots being worn by those stationed there (especially MP’s) and shoe packs available in trade for souvenirs. The weather was still mild, but they knew they wouldn’t be in reserve long. Trades were made for the needed shoepacks and those wearing jump boots were “subdued” and relieved of the jump boots, usually in an alley. The relationship between those MP units and the 101st was never peaceful after that. Some of the brawls after copious drinking by the troopers might have added to that result. If Bastogne hadn’t happened, the Paris situation likely would have resulted in Paris being off limits to the 101st. In the later part of their rest and recuperation in reserve, my dad was moved from heavy machine gun platoon leader to battalion supply officer. That’s another story, but it didn’t have much to do with requisitions through proper supply channels.


  5. Another good source while not directly addressing McArthur but addressing his support for airpower is chronicled in Gen Kenney’s excellent book, “General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War.” Gen Kenney documents how McArthur provided him unstinting support for the air war because Kenney also thought outside the box when employing airpower.

  6. Duane,

    I have Kenney’s book. It is very useful but almost as much for what isn’t in it as what is.

    Off the top of my head —

    1) Radar & Radar Countermeasures for both land and aircraft use. These were key to airpower use in the SWPA and were excluded from the mainline USAF or US Army histories. You have to go to chapter 15 of the OSRD Division 15 summary report and chapter 42 of HENRY E. GUERLAC’S “RADAR in World War II” in order to find the American side of the “Radar in the South West Pacific” story.

    2) Close air Support. You quite literally have to go to USMC histories to find out about the extensive use of CAS in Luzon and the Southern Philippines campaigns. The USMC land based aviation flew more CAS missions in WW2 for MacArthur’s Army units than it did for USMC ground units.

    3) Liason Aircraft. These were used quite extensively to support guerilla logistics in the Philippines, for artillery spotting, for logistical support of the 11th Airborne Division in Leyte, and most especially liaison aircraft use for photo reconnaissance.

    All of that was key to Mac’s fighting style in the SWPA and their lack, particularly liason aircraft photo reconnaissance, was key factor in the surprise collapse of the 8th Army & 10th Corps in Korea when the Chinese PLA attacked in front of the Yalu.

  7. “… their lack, particularly liason aircraft photo reconnaissance, was key factor in the surprise collapse of the 8th Army & 10th Corps in Korea when the Chinese PLA attacked in front of the Yalu.”

    Trent, this is all fascinating.

  8. Lex,

    MacArthur was far more trusting of photos than he was of any other form of intelligence. It was a pretty consistent pattern for him across his WW2 and Korean campaigns.

    Starting in the Biak landing in the Western New Guinea campaign, Liason planes provided MacArthur’s command close range oblique photographs to identify cave positions for systematic elimination.

    In the latter stages of the Luzon campaign, US Army artillery L-5 liason planes with USAAF Tac-R cameras were providing infantry regiments and battalions photos twice a day. The service pattern was one sortie in the morning and one in the late afternoon with photo requests being delivered about 12 hours after being made.

    Between WW2 and Korea the creation of the independent air force destroyed this capability _AND_ saw the draw down of WW2 levels of tactical photographic aircraft resources.

    In Korea MacArthur was lucky to get a requested photo sortie from the USAF after 4-days from very high altitude with a significant delay (days) in receipt.

    If MacArthur had his WW2 level of photo intelligence, his approach to the Yalu would have been far different, all other things being the equal.

  9. The creation of the independent Air Force was a tragic mistake. Aircraft should have been assigned to the existing services as needed.

  10. The Russians got this right with their “Strategic Rocket Service” and the US got it wrong. There are a series of excellent WEB Griffin novels about this, written in the early 80s. He was at Fort Rucker early in the game and tells a lot of stories. You can figure out who some of the characters are from later history. That series ends with Korea but Griffin (Butterworth) was also in Korea. From his books, it sounds like MacA got some of his recce flights from the Marines and most of the CAS.

  11. Mike K,

    You will want to read this and go to the book review at the link:

    New in *MiWSR* —

    A review of Kenneth W. Estes, “Into the Breach at Pusan: The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Korean War

    By: David Glenn Williams (US Army Logistics University)

    Historians and students of the Korean War know the story of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, the so-called “Fire Brigade.” Staffed by World War II veterans and experienced in air-ground combat, it arrived in Pusan in late August 1950 to save the fledgling US Eighth Army from imminent destruction at the hands of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA). Thus the Marine Corps describes this mission in the Pusan perimeter defense in its official history, an account many books on the Korean War have accepted uncritically (171nn2–6). Into the Breach at Pusan, by historian and Marine Corps veteran Kenneth W. Estes, provides a needed corrective by debunking…


  12. >>The creation of the independent Air Force was a
    >>tragic mistake. Aircraft should have been assigned
    >>to the existing services as needed.


    I disagree simply because LeMay’s Strategic Air Command could not have come into existance without a seperate air force.

    The Soviets looking at LeMay’s SAC, and deciding every day was “NOT Today”, through out the Cold War is why we never had a US-Soviet WW3.

    LeMay without an independent air force would have been marginalized out of his career in a unified post-WW2 US Army the way General Leslie Richard Groves was out of the Mahattan Project after VJ-Day.

  13. OK, Trent. I have to agree with that. LeMay and SAC did keep the peace.

    But the Army should have kept its own aircraft for Army-specific purposes, as the Marines have their own CAS.

  14. “LeMay without an independent air force would have been marginalized out of his career in a unified post-WW2 US Army the way General Leslie Richard Groves was out of the Mahattan Project after VJ-Day.”

    That was my point about the Soviets’ better idea of “Strategic Rocket Forces.” We could have had a strategic air command but left the tactical air forces with the army. The Key West agreement was open warfare for years between army and air force. Korea showed how bad it was. Patton had ferried a whole battalion over the Rhine in L-4s, two at a time. After Key West, the AF refused to cooperate and even demanded the total airlift capacity of the country’s military. The Navy lost its NATS and MATS was lost to the air force. The AF charged the army for flying passengers about what the private air lines did.

  15. Michael Kennedy,

    The American Civil-military politics of the late 1940’s was not going to support a SAC without an independent air force. The merger of the Departments of War & Navy into the Defense Department made an independent airforce under DoD inevitable.

    As it was, Truman was already facing a “revolt of the Admirals” regards budget cuts and the cancellation of the carrier USS United States. Adding a “Bomber Mafia Revolt” on top of it was just not in the cards, for good or ill.


  16. “The American Civil-military politics of the late 1940′s was not going to support a SAC without an independent air force. ”

    I know but it was done stupidly and that continued until Kennedy decided that nuclear war was not an option. He was the father of special forces which, to this day, are defending us all over the world. Had they been left alone in Afghanistan, for example, about 4,000 more Americans would be alive.

    Iraq was not doable with SF and that was done right except for the Turks and the aftermath. The Marines are now going back to Big War training although I hope they are building cadres since Obama will have us back to 1938 by the time the next one blows up.

    The Air Force was not interested in CAS since wars were going to be fought with nukes from 30,000 feet. Truman nearly closed down the Marines. Had he done so, Korea would have been a mass bugout. The Marines saved the Pusan perimeter.

  17. Michael Kennedy,

    The USAF and US Navy versions of the Pilot’s union has been against CAS from the beginning.

    Only the USMC and US Army “rotorheads” have been any different.

    As long as pilots think of their planes as the “Knight’s Mounted Stead,” vice something like a truck or a tank, you are going to get that.

    It is very much a culture thing.

  18. THe pilots I know, and I do know some with long combat records, are Marines so I can’t really comment on AF pilot mentality. The A 10 pilots had the right focus but the Air Force has rather quickly retired that plane and the concept. The drones lack (so far) the psychology of the pilot and Air Force folks are now advising youngsters that, if they want to fly, they had best join the Army. Funny how things turn out.

    A friend who is a retired Marine combat pilot (Gulf War I) told me how a father at one of his son’s soccer games left after the game to go to work at Davis Monthan AFB to fly a drone in Afghanistan. He was a LT Colonel, as was my friend. It does beat deployment.

  19. A given culture in the military is driven by who is calling the shots.

    If it is an independent Air Force, they will largely fight the air battle in a theater of operations. Any close air support will come only from purpose built platforms, forced on them by DOD or higher, until they achieve absolute air superiority. If it is the ground forces commander who controls/owns the air assets, close air ground support will have first priority with air defense and air assets allocated to air space control to achieve a minimum of parity.

    Beyond the allocation of effort and assets, the higher the control the less responsive the close air support will be. Even in WW II the Army CAS was held at such high levels that it was seldom very effective save pre-planned large scale operations. Marine CAS operations are generally far more responsive than anything the Air Force provides the Army or even that the Army provided for itself in WW II.

    The Air Force has fought every attempt to give the Army fixed wing CAS organizations and is quite good at fending off things like the A-10 for their own roll in CAS. Those were shoved into the reserves as soon as they could get that done. On the other hand they fought against the Army getting them or anything like them. The Apache was the Army’s answer for responsive CAS which were fielded as organic squadrons in the heavy divisions as well as creating larger Apache units controlled at corps level. The follow-on to the Apache was killed by a number of things, but it included the fact that it had stubby winglets upon which to mount ordinance that the Air Force considered “fixed wings”. I don’t know it they actually provided any aerodynamic effect (other than drag), but I believe they had no control surfaces. I thought the horizontally mounted rotor should have cleared the issue up, but I don’t think the AF ever got over those “fixed wings”.


  20. The ONLY reason the Air Force has kept from retiring and junking the A-10 was the fact the Army told them if the AF retired the Warthog, the Army would immediately pick it up.

  21. Joe,

    The Congress has been funding the A-10 for years despite USAF cut proposals, largly on the strength of a quiet US Army lobbying effort on the A-10’s behalf.

    One of the talking points of which is the one you just made.

    Other talking points include the point that the air bases near Army bases are much more likely to stay open with an A-10 squadron or two located there to train with Army troops.

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