NAVAL WAR COLLEGE Monterey Program

OPERATIONAL ART: APPROACHES TO MINDANAO IN WORLD WAR II

By

Ian S. Davis Major, USA

A paper submitted to the Faculty of the Naval War College in partial satisfaction of the requirements of the Department of Joint Maritime Operations. The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the Naval War College or the Department of the Navy.

Signature:

/s/ I. S. Davis Ian S. Davis 09 NOV 2009

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Date:

Signature: /s/ D. F. Overton D. F. Overton Associate Professor, JMO

Introduction In May 1943, the Joint Chiefs gained approval from the Combined Allied Staff for a course of action for offensive operations directed against Japan. After ruling out approaches the Aleutians, Southeast Asia, or China, the Combined Chiefs approved the Joint Chiefs¶ plan for the Allied main effort to use the Pacific axis of advance. The plan centered on two approaches within the Pacific axis that converged on the Philippine Islands. The main effort was the Central Pacific approach. It was comprised of naval and amphibious ground forces under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and traversed the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands, and the Palau Islands to the Philippines. The supporting effort was the Southwestern Pacific approach, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur¶s approach concentrated on groundcentric amphibious operations with naval and air support along the north coast of New Guinea, through the islands between the VogelkopPenninsula, to the Philippine island of Mindanao. One year later, the Joint Chiefs issued an updated directive for the Pacific offensive. The operational design for the Pacific offensive was based on analysis and operational design by the Joint Chiefs, General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and their staffs. Their coordinated planning developed an operational design for the Allied offensive strategy in the Pacific Theater synchronizedtwo mutually-supporting lines of operationthat focused on the establishment of a foothold in the Philippines and ultimately the defeat of Japan. The resulting plan issued by the Joint Chiefs in 1944 that employed both the Central Pacific approach and the Southwestern approach plan was the optimal solution that met the desired objectives.1 This essay will use the operational factors to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the Central Pacific and Southwest Pacific approaches to the Philippines during World War

This essay is based on the Joint Maritime Operations Fall Quarter 2010 Operational Art Examination prompt. The base reference is the issued monograph on the approach to the Philippines. See (Smith 1996).

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II.2Furthermore, application of the operational art and designby each of the commanders will show how they exploited the advantages and mitigated the disadvantages of the operational factors as they related to each of their approaches.3 Based on the analysis presented in the essay, the conclusion will present a recommendation to the Joint Chiefs on their 1944 directive for action in the Pacific. Discussion Admiral Nimitz and the Central Pacific Approach The initial concept of the Central Pacific approach was based on pre-existing strategic plans. In the eyes of the Joint Chiefs, the Central Pacific approach applied direct pressure to Japan¶s vulnerable eastern flank, disrupted Japanese maritime freedom of movement, and offered direct access to the Japanese home islands. The approach also supported the plan for large-scale bombing of the Japanese home islands by B-29 bombers. In total, the Central Pacific approach focused not only on the intermediate objective of the Philippines, but ultimately on the ultimate objective of the Japanese home islands.4 After receiving initial guidance from the Joint Chiefs¶ concept in 1943, Admiral Nimitz began his offense by seizing air and naval bases in the Gilbert Islands to set conditions for the occupation of the Marshall Islands in early 1944. After a coordination meeting at Pearl Harbor January 1944 and subsequent guidance in March 1944, he adjusted his initial plan. The Central Pacific approach would invade the eastern and central Marshall Islands on February 1, 1944 and the western Marshall Islands on April 15, 1944. Based on suspected weakness of Japanese forces at Truk, Admiral Nimitz would bypass and use air power to neutralize Truk, Wolei, and

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For further reading on the Operational Factors of Joint Operations, see(M. N. Vego 2007). For further reading on Operational Art and Design, see(United States Joint Chiefs of Staff 2008) 4 (Smith 1996)

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other enemy bases in the Carolines. The Marianas would be occupied by June 15, 1944 and the Palaus starting September 15, 1944. This would secure a foothold in the Philippines and support operations against Mindanao, Formosa, and the China coast.5 Based on the Joint Chiefs¶ 1944 guidance, time became a critical operational factor to Admiral Nimitz¶ plan. Compared to the initial plan based on the 1943 guidance, the timeline was greatly accelerated. In order to compensate for this shortened timeline, Admiral Nimitz applied the principals of objective, mass, economy of force, and maneuver, along the Central Pacific approach and selectively bypassed Japanese strongholds and neutralized them through the application of air power. This allowed Admiral Nimitz to maintain the tempo of the offense and sustain the initiative during the offense. By not getting mired in a sustained ground fight or prolonged maritime engagements, forces can conserve resources for decisive engagements against enemy decisive points. Conservation of men and equipment shortened the post-operation refit increased the tempo, which subsequently unhinged the Japanese ability to reconstitute and reorganize after an engagement. One salient disadvantage to the Central approach related to time was the requirement to seize the Marianas. Although Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur recommended bypassing the islands, the Joint Chief directed their seizure to establish B-29 operating bases to strike the Japanese home islands.6 Due to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the great distance between the targeted island chains, the Pacific naval forces enjoyed the advantage in terms of a large operational space. This advantage allowed the force to maximize the principals of mass, maneuver, surprise, and economy of force. The Joint Chiefs preferred the advantage of the Central Pacific approach because it was shorter, more direct, and therefore less costly. Advanced technology allowed the

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(Smith 1996) (Smith 1996)

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dispersion of forces and greater standoff from potential threats. The advantage of large operational space along the Central Pacific approach contributed to the increase tempo of the offense. The force used carrier based aircraft to maximize the operational reach within the space and set the conditions for the close fight during decisive engagements. This allowed Admiral Nimitz to apply echelons of fire throughout his battle space with organic fire support, from maritime and aerial platforms. Another advantage of the Central Pacific approach in relation to space was the establishment of B-29 operating areas in the Mariana Islands. With an operating range of 5,830 miles, the B-29 could easily strike the Japanese home islands which were only 1,500 miles from Tokyo.7 The vast space favored Admiral Nimitz in terms in relation to the over-extended Japanese lines of communication. The inability of the Japanese to resupply or reinforce their elements at remote locations allowed Admiral Nimitz to bypass isolated packets of resistance and penetrate lightly patrolled security screens. A disadvantage to the Central Pacific approach was the extended logistic trains from ground-based depots.8 Admiral Nimitz¶ 7th Fleet had an overwhelming force advantage over the Japanese because of the depletion of the empire¶s combat power, their over-extended lines of communication and security screens, and their shortage of resources necessary to wage war. An indicator of the diminishing Japanese combat power was found during the aerial attack of Truck in February 1944. Because of the lack of Japanese resistance during the attack, the Allies decided bypass Truk and neutralize it with air assets. This decision maintained the tempo of the offense through that application of all of the principals of war. Superior leadership, technological advances, and the rapidly increasing American naval power of the 7th Fleet favored the Central Pacific approach and the rapid defeat of Japanese ground and naval forces. Admiral

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(Boeing n.d.) (Smith 1996)

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Nimitz capitalized on his ability to maneuver and rapidly penetrate Japanese lines, effectively cutting off forces from reinforcement. Applying the principal of economy of force, the main effort forces could engage in decisive operations on Japanese centers of gravity and key terrain, while supporting efforts could conduct shaping and security operations in support of the main force. A force-related disadvantage for the Central Pacific approach was the Joint Chiefs¶ directive to divide Admiral Nimitz¶ Central Pacific force into two elements: one would continue to the Philippines to meet with General MacArthur¶s Southwestern forces, while the other element would continue to the Marianas to apply direct pressure to the Japanese home islands. While the splitting of the force supported the deception plan and shaped the battle space for the seizure of the Philippines, it allocated combat power to the Marianas, which Admiral Nimitz did not consider a necessary objective for his approach to the Philippines.9 General MacArthur and the Southwestern Approach Since his departure from the Philippines in early 1942, General MacArthur was determined to return to the islands to regain his command. After assuming command of the Southwest Pacific Area, General MacArthur formulated his plan for retaking the Philippines. His initial planning became the concept for what would become the Southwestern approach to the Philippines. The concept consisted of a series of amphibious ground operations that began on the north coast of New Guinea, continued northwest through the island chain, and established a foothold in Mindanao. General MacArthur¶s plan was focused on cutting the Japanese lines of communication to the Indies. But, the arduous, slow-paced jungle fighting, vulnerability of the force to Japanese land-based bombers, vast external support requirements, and inability to disrupt Japanese freedom of movement in the Central Pacific made the Southwestern approach the Joint Chiefs¶ least-desirable course of action. In the eyes of the Joint Chiefs, General
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(Smith 1996)

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MacArthur¶s Southwestern approach lacked the desired tempo and was costly in terms of men and resources and did not directly support their ultimate objective: the allied invasion of the Japanese home islands.10 Based on the Joint Chiefs¶ 1943 guidance, Generals MacArthur began his offensive to the Philippines. At the time of the 1944 directive, he was executing the reduction of Rabual..The latest guidance shortened the timeline with the directive to neutralize Kavieng and Rabual with minimum forces and to speed the development of bases in the Admiralities. Southwestern forces would seize Hollandia by April 15, 1944 to establish bases for striking the Palaus, western New Guinea, and Halmahera. After establishing the bases, the Southwestern forces would conduct decisive operations along the northern coast of New Guinea, Palaus, and Mindanao that culminated with the projected 15 November landing in the Philippines.11 As the supporting effort, time was a critical operational factor and driving force for the prosecution of the Southwestern approach. Thus, time was a disadvantage to the Southwestern approach. In order to achieve mass at the Philippines and support the main effort in the Central Pacific, General MacArthur was tied to a timetable driven by the pace Admiral Nimitz¶ forces. By applying the principals of mass, objective, economy of force, and simplicity at decisive locations, the Southwestern element was able to maintain and steady tempo during the offense and overcome this disadvantage. Some considerations that affected time were the estimated time to drive Japanese forces to culmination during decisive operations, duration of post-operation refit and reconstitution, maintaining the pace of success at intermediate objectives to meet the Joint Chiefs¶ timeline, and the pace of the main effort in Central Pacific.12

(Smith 1996) (Smith 1996) 12 (Smith 1996)
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Due to General MacArthur¶s strategic position in the in the Southwestern Pacific in 1943, the factor of space was an initial advantage when the Joint Chiefs released their initial guidance. Supported by bases in Australia, he had the advantage of short logistical trains and the ability to project air power from land bases to support the defense and conduct shaping operations for the offense. In addition to land-based assets, General McArthur also had naval assets to support power projection and security during the offensive push from New Guinea to the Philippines. As the Southwestern force distanced themselves from the Australian mainland, they became vulnerable to Japanese forces located adjacent to the axis of advance. The offense along the northern coast of New Guinea to the island of Vogelkop was not vulnerable Japanese forces in the Marshall or Caroline Islands. To reinforce the advantage offer by distance, General MacArthur¶s flanks would receive protection from land-based airpower and organic naval assets. BeyondVogelkop, Southwestern forces were vulnerable Palau Islands on the right (north), and the Netherland East Indies on the left (south). Organic, land-based air power would protect the southern flank. Protection of the northern flank relied on the occupation of the Palau Islands by Admiral Nimitz¶ Central Pacific approach. As the Southwestern approach and Central Pacific approach converged on the Philippines, the operational space became smaller and became more contingent of the synchronization of the mutually supporting efforts to set condition for the invasion of the Philippines. While there was greater mass at the decisive point (advantage), freedom of movement and flexibility were reduced because of the reliance on the 7th Fleet to shape the space in order to reach the decisive point (disadvantage).13 Because of General MacArthur¶s prestige and prior experience in the Southwestern Pacific area of operations, he held an intangible advantage as it applied to the factor of force. His well-known determination to return to the Philippines defined a clear objective and unified
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(Smith 1996)

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the command. Filipino resistance organizations strengthened their resolve to fight the Japanese knowing that General MacArthur would fulfill his promise to return.14Furthermore, his perseverance to implement the Southwestern approach gained the support of the Australians who had a vested interest in defeating Japanese forces that could directly affect Australia¶s mainland. Without their support, General MacArthur would lack essential combat power and support bases to conduct his offense to the Philippines. Additionally, MacArthur¶s prestige was an essential to the deception plan for the Pacific axis of advance. The mutually supporting approaches of General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz hampered the Japanese that ability to identify the Allied main effort and prevented massing of Japanese forces at the compromised decisive point- the Philippine Islands. Another force advantage of the Southwestern forces was the experience of the ground forces conducting amphibious operations. This experience allowed a shorter refit and reconstitution time between operations and allowed General MacArthur to maintain the initiative and tempo of the offense. The task organization of the force provided the ability to maneuver and mass on key terrain to conduct decisive operations. General MacArthur exploited his organic naval and ground-based assets to shape the battle space and protect his flanks. The seizure of the Palaus by the Central Pacific approach protected the vulnerable northern flank as the Southwestern approach closed on the Philippine coast and offset this force disadvantage. As General MacArthur¶s and AdmiralNimitz¶ elements converged on the Philippines, their combined relative combat power increased exponentially as the operational space was reduced to a common decisive point.15

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(Morrison 1986) (Smith 1996)

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Conclusion In conclusion, the Joint Chiefs¶ 1944 directive that employed both the Central Pacific approach and the Southwestern approach plan was the appropriate operational design plan to establish a foothold in the Philippines and set conditions to the defeat of Japan. The mutually supporting approaches exploited the advantages and mitigated the disadvantages of the separate lines of operation in relation to the operational factors of time, space, and force. Admiral Nimitz¶ Central Pacific approach maximized the direct route and tempo of the offense to rapidly penetrate the Japanese perimeter, neutralize or bypass threat forces, and cut Japanese lines of communication. The approach directly supported General MacArthur¶s Southwestern approach by protecting his northern flank by neutralizing the enemy threat in the Palaus. Although both Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur preferred to bypass the Marianas, the Joints Chiefs decision to direct the Central Pacific force to size the Marianas and establish bases for B-29 attacks of the Japanese mainland was a sound and directly supported operational objectives. General MacArthur¶s simultaneously executed Southwestern approach leveraged its experienced fighting force to systematically secure key terrain from New Guinea, cut the Japanese East Indies lines of communication, and to poise for decisive operations in the Philippines. Furthermore, the synchronized efforts along two lines of operation prevented the Japanese from massing on either effort and masses overwhelming Allied combat power at the decisive point to seize the Philippine Islands. Based on the analysis presented in this essay, I concur with the Joint Chiefs¶ 1944 directive for Pacific action during World War II..

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Bibliography

Boeing. History B-29 Superfortress. http://www.boeing.com/history/boeing/b29.html (accessed November 2, 2009). Department of the Army. FM 3-0: Operations. Washington, DC: GPO, 2008. Morrison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War III: Leyte June 1944-January 1945. Vol. 12. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company, 1986. Smith, Robert Ross. HyperWar: US Army in WWII: The Approach to the Philippines. United States Army Center for Military History. 1996. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-P-Approach/index.html#index (accessed October 28, 2009). United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joint Publication 3-0: Joint Operations. Washington, DC: GPO, 2008. Vego, Milan N. "Part III: Operational Factors." In Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice, by Milan N. Vego. Rhode Island: Naval War College, 2007. "The Factor of Time." In Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice, by Milan Vego, III19. Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College, 2007.

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