General MacArthur Arrives in Australia

General MacArthur arrived in Australia on 17 March, after a hazardous trip by motor torpedo boat from Corregidor, and by B-17 flight from Mindanao. His report contains a graphic account of the event:

Departed from Corregidor at dark on the 12th making the trip with four U. S. Navy motor torpedo boats. Air reconnaissance revealed one hostile cruiser and one destroyer off the west coast of Mindoro but we slipped by them in the darkness. The following day was passed in the shelter of an uninhabited island but we risked discovery by air and started several hours before dark in order to approach Mindanao at dawn. Sighted an enemy destroyer at 15,000 yards but escaped unseen, making the scheduled run despite heavy seas and severe buffeting. Upon arrival at Mindanao we learned that of four planes dispatched only one had arrived and that without brakes or superchargers and being unfit for its mission it had already departed. Brett selected three more planes for the trip of which one developed mechanical trouble and two arrived safely taking the entire party out. Safe arrival and departure forced us to pass the latitude of Ambon at dawn but our course was set somewhat to the eastward enabling the party to escape interception. We landed at Batchellor Field while Darwin was under air raid....1


General MacArthur's successful completion of this perilous journey caused enormous popular enthusiasm in the United States and Australia. Expressing his deep appreciation for the cordiality extended to him by the Australians upon his arrival, the General pledged the full co-operation of the United States in the struggle against Japan in an address at Canberra on 26 March:

I am deeply moved by the warmth of the greeting extended to me by all of Australia.... There is a link that binds our countries together which does not depend upon written protocol, upon treaties of alliance or upon diplomatic doctrine.... It is that indescribable consanguinity of race which causes us to have the same aspirations, the same hopes and desires, the same ideals and the same dreams of future destiny.

My presence here is tangible evidence of our unity. I have come as a soldier in a great crusade of personal liberty as opposed to perpetual slavery. My faith in our ultimate victory is invincible and I bring to you tonight the unbreakable spirit of the free man's military code in support of our just cause.... Under its banner the free men of the world are united today. There can be no compromise. We shall win or we shall die, and to this end I pledge you the full resources of all the mighty power of my country and all the blood of my countrymen.

Hailed for his achievements in the Philippines, his safe arrival in Australia was a good omen for the future. The Allied nations acclaimed this new development and looked forward with renewed hope to stemming the Japanese tide. The controlled Japanese press, however, tried to exploit for propagandist ends General MacArthur's transfer to Australia. Although it attempted to hide the true meaning of this important event, it unwittingly expressed what in reality proved to be true-that one name meant so much to the Allied cause in the Southwest Pacific.2

It had taken repeated orders to transfer General MacArthur from the Philippines to Australia. He had been loath to leave because he knew that the Japanese had lost heavily on Bataan and he had planned to organize an early counterattack against them. He was without reinforcements, however, and realized that it would be impossible to get enough supplies through the Japanese blockade to drive them out of Bataan. He was finally convinced that the counteroffensive could not be organized in the Philippines and that he would have to use Australia as his new base of operations. The conviction that he and his staff would find the means for a general counteroffensive in Australia constituted the real reason for his acquiescence in his transfer. With this in mind, he voiced his famous words when he left the Philippines : " I shall return."3

Acting upon instructions from President Roosevelt, General Brett informed Prime Minister John Curtin that General MacArthur had


arrived in Australia to set up his new headquarters. The Australian Government immediately nominated General MacArthur for the post of Supreme Commander in a proposed new Allied command, the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). In this capacity he would have command of all Allied forces in the general region of Australia and New Zealand as far north as the equator and would be responsible to the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff. The governments concerned were in agreement on the main points of the Australian-New Zealand proposals for a unified command in the Southwest Pacific and concurred in the selection of the Commander-in-Chief. Within one month the Southwest Pacific Area was established under General MacArthur's command.

Pending completion of the formal arrangements, steps were taken to integrate the United States and Australian forces and to develop the defensive strength of the continent on a purely co-operative basis.4 The Australian Army was reorganized and regrouped and more intensive efforts were made to train the new recruits. The combined Australian and United States air forces were placed under the command of General Brett and Vice Adm. Herbert F. Leary, USN, assumed command of the naval forces.

The Australian authorities readily adopted suggestions made by General MacArthur. The most complete co-operation existed throughout the war between him and the other nationalities within his command-Australians, Filipinos, Dutch, British, and New Zealanders. Not only was there an almost complete lack of friction and misunderstanding, but the ties of mutual respect, good will, and admiration among the commanders, staffs, and troops might well serve as a model for a mixed international force. General MacArthur's ability to gain and maintain the full confidence of these nations and their forces, of such marked national variance, was an important factor in the success of the Pacific War.

Organization of the Pacific Theater

Revision of the machinery required for the over-all direction of the war in the Pacific progressed rapidly in Washington. By agreement among the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States, the Pacific Theater was designated an area of primary United States strategic responsibility. While the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff retained jurisdiction over the allocation of forces and materials, the Pacific commands were put directly under the United States Joint Chiefs of Staffs.5

The Pacific Theater was reorganized and divided into three separate areas of responsibility, only two of which, the Southwest Pacific Area and the Pacific Ocean Areas, were directly concerned with operations against the Japanese. The Southwest Pacific Area, under


General MacArthur, included the Philippines, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands to 159° East Longitude, Australia, and the Netherlands East Indies less Sumatra. (Plate No. 10) The Pacific Ocean Areas under Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, were subdivided into the North, Central, and South Pacific Areas. Admiral Nimitz was to retain direct command in the first two of these, but was to appoint a Commander, South Pacific Area, who, acting under his authority, would have control of its combined forces.6

The strategic policy approved for the Pacific Theater was initially defensive. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directed General MacArthur to hold the key military regions of Australia as bases for a future offensive and to check the Japanese southward advance by destroying enemy shipping, aircraft, and bases in the Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. General MacArthur was also to attempt to maintain the position in the Philippines, protect communications, route shipping, and support the operations of Allied forces in the South Pacific and Indian Theaters. Economic pressure was to be exerted against the Japanese through attacks on vessels transporting raw materials from the conquered territories back to the Homeland.7

Admiral Nimitz was directed to hold the islands between the United States and the Southwest Pacific which would be necessary to provide security for lines of communication and support for operations against the Japanese. Other tasks assigned his command were to contain the enemy, aid in the defense of North America, protect essential sea and air routes, and "support the operations of SWPA forces." Both General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz were to "prepare for the execution of major amphibious offensives," the initial stages of which would be launched from the South Pacific and Southwest Pacific Areas.8

Establishment of General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area

The Southwest Pacific Area was constituted on 18 April 1942 by agreement among the Governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. On that date General MacArthur assumed command and proceeded to establish his General Headquarters at Melbourne. The forces assigned to him were organized into five subordinate commands designated as Allied Land Forces (ALF), Allied Air Forces (AAF), Allied Naval Forces (ANF), United States Army Forces in Australia (USAFIA), and United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP).9

The principal Staff Officers of General Headquarters included the following:10

Chief of Staff:
Maj. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland

Deputy Chief of Staff:
Brig. Gen. Richard J. Marshall

Asst. Chief of Staff, G-1:
Col. Charles P. Stivers, GSC

Asst. Chief of Staff, G-2:
Col. Charles A. Willoughby, GSC


Plate No. 10, The Boundaries of the Southwest Pacific Area and the Extent of the Japanese Advance

The Boundaries of the Southwest Pacific Area and the Extent of the Japanese Advance


Asst. Chief of Staff, G-3:
Brig. Gen. Stephen J. Chamberlin

Asst. Chief of Staff, G-4:
Col. Lester J. Whitlock, GSC

Chief Signal Officer:
Brig. Gen. Spencer B. Akin

Antiaircraft Officer:
Brig. Gen. William F. Marquat

Chief Engineer:
Brig. Gen. Hugh J. Casey

Adjutant General:
Col. Burdette M. Fitch, AGD

Public Relations Officer:
Col. LeGrande A. Diller, Inf.

The Organization of Forces

The Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific Area were formed into three components for the purposes of operational control. The ground troops, designated Allied Land Forces, were placed under the command of Gen. Sir Thomas A. Blamey, Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Army. They consisted of several territorial divisions in various stages of development and training; the command echelons were represented by the Australian First and Second Armies, and III Corps; the combat elements consisted of the 6th Division (less two brigades diverted to Ceylon), the 7th Division (both divisions having been returned from the Middle East), and the U.S. 41st Division.11 In addition, the 32nd Division was due to reach Australia from the United States in May.12

Command of United States Army Air Forces tactical and service units, together with operational control of the combat elements of the Royal Australian and Netherlands East Indies Army Air Forces, was assigned to Allied Air Forces under General Brett. American air units ultimately to be allotted to the Southwest Pacific Area included 2 heavy bomber groups, 2 medium bomber groups (less 2 squadrons), and 3 fighter groups. The Australian elements totaled 17 squadrons. One partially equipped Dutch bomber squadron was also attached to Allied Air Forces.13

The naval elements of the United States in the Southwest Pacific Area were assigned to Allied Naval Forces under the command of Admiral Leary. Operational control of the combat sections of the Royal Australian and Royal Netherlands Navies was also included within Admiral Leary's command. The principal units of Allied Naval Forces consisted of 2 Australian heavy cruisers, 1 Australian light cruiser and 1 United States heavy cruiser, supplemented by a number of destroy-


ers, submarines, and escort and auxiliary craft.14

Responsibility for the administration and supply of their own units remained with the Australian branches of the services and with the units of the U.S. Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy assigned to General MacArthur's control. The administration of Netherlands Army and Air Force elements was handled through national channels, but logistical support was provided by American agencies. Administration and supply of the U. S. Ground and Air Forces, except for certain activities charged to the Air Force, were the responsibility of United States Army Forces in Australia, operating in accordance with policies set forth by General Headquarters. General Barnes, in command of United States Army Forces in Australia, was responsible for all U.S. Army Forces (other than air corps elements) except for operational control of the units assigned to Allied Land Forces.15

Decision to Take the Offensive

The immediate and imperative problem which confronted General MacArthur was the defense of Australia. The forces available, however, were completely inadequate to cover such an extensive coastline. The Australian Chiefs of Staff would be virtually compelled to yield the northern part of the continent to the Japanese should they attempt an invasion; they recommended that the defense be made in the Brisbane area and had disposed their available forces accordingly. (Plate No. 11) The Second Army, which had approximately two divisions under its control, although primarily a training command, was assigned the tactical mission of providing local protection for Melbourne. The First Army, with an allocation plan of seven training divisions, was directed to defend the coast from Brisbane to the Victoria border, inclusive, and Townsville with a garrison to be built up to one division. Defense by major units north of Townsville was not contemplated because the lack of communication facilities would not permit effective maneuver. Sufficient forces to secure Fremantle and Darwin against determined enemy assault were not available. The principal concentration areas of the air force were Melbourne-Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville-Cloncurry, and the main naval bases at Sydney and Brisbane.16


General MacArthur felt strongly that passive defense was strategically unsound. He decided to move forward more then a thousand miles into eastern Papua and beat the Japanese to the punch. By making the first move, he could force them to fight on his terms-across the barrier of the Owen Stanley Range.

This range of mountains, almost 14,000 feet high, covered with dense jungle, formed a natural barrier which ran the entire length of eastern New Guinea. Winding foot trails were the only means of crossing the range. Port Moresby, to its rear, was well protected and could be used as a supply and air base. The only other feasible approach by which the enemy could attack was the sea route through Milne Bay at the eastern tip of New Guinea. Such an attack might be blocked if adequate air bases could be constructed in time. General MacArthur's problem was to move his center of gravity forward fifteen hundred miles and secure this line before the enemy could seize it. The operation involved almost insuperable obstacles of time and space. It necessitated the construction of airfields for fighter planes and bases for heavy bombers, first within range of Papua and then on Papua itself. It involved provision for supply and reinforcement of advanced areas from rear bases in Australia which were in large part merely ports for the reshipping of materiel from the distant west coast of the United States. It necessitated the exploration and mapping of unfamiliar areas, the charting of unknown waters, and demanded friendly co-operation from the New Guinea natives. It required the training of our forces for combat against an experienced and numerically superior enemy. And it risked carrying out these moves by sea into areas dominated by the unchallenged naval power of the Japanese.

General MacArthur's confidence in the ultimate success of his plan was not shared in all quarters; many believed that the difficulties made it impracticable. It is a credit to the officers and men involved, however, that they justified the confidence placed in them by their Commander and that they successfully overcame these difficulties. The results achieved completely vindicated his judgment. This bold and imaginative decision was one of the most crucial and decisive of the war and the final successful culmination of the Papuan operations undoubtedly saved Australia.17

None of the three elements of his command-naval, air, or ground-was considered by General MacArthur to be adequate to carry out the missions assigned. The naval force


Plate No. 11, The Main Australian Defense Areas

The Main Australian Defense Areas


was small and unbalanced. It lacked direct air support because of the absence of carriers and was therefore suitable "only for operations of a minor and subsidiary nature." The Royal Australian Air Force would require many months for its development. The organization and training of the American air component was below the required standard; months of intensive effort would be needed for it to reach a satisfactory condition.18 The ground troops, too, were considered inadequate for the tremendous task ahead; not only were they too few in number, but they lacked the equipment and the strenuous training necessary for combat.19

The Japanese, on the other hand, had many veteran troops, well supplied and equipped, with which to continue their offensive. They pressed on into the South Pacific in an attempt to disrupt the sea lanes between Australia and the United States. The offensive in the Solomons began on 30 March with landings on Buka Island and on the northern tip of Bougainville Island. A simultaneous landing was made in the Shortland Islands just south of Bougainville. Kieta was occupied the following day and Buin was taken on 7 April, completing the conquest of the island. New Georgia was next in the line of enemy advance and fell to the Japanese on 16 April. Tulagi, on Florida Island, was taken on 3 May.

The continuing struggle on Luzon and at other points in the Philippines, which had forced the Japanese to retain large numbers of troops in those areas, was slowly drawing


to a close. The inevitable fall of Bataan came on 9 April and the stubborn defense of Corregidor, which was maintained for almost another month, ended on 6 May when General Wainwright was forced to surrender his command. With the collapse of major resistance in the Philippines, many of the enemy forces in the islands were released for new drives in other directions.20 General MacArthur analyzed the uses to which the available enemy forces might be put in his radio of 8 May 1942 in reply to a query from President Roosevelt:21

The fall of Corregidor and the collapse of resistance in the Philippines, with the defeat in Burma, brings about a new situation in this theater. At least two enemy divisions and all the air force in the Philippines will be released for other missions. Japanese troops in Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies are susceptible of being regrouped for an offensive effort elsewhere since large garrisons will not be required because of the complacency of the native population. The Japanese Navy is as yet unchallenged and is disposed for further offensive effort. A preliminary move is now under way probably initially against New Guinea and the line of communications between the United States and Australia.22 The series of events releases an enormously dangerous enemy potential in the Western Pacific. That the situation will remain static is most improbable. I am of the opinion that the Japanese will not undertake large operations against India at this time. That area is undoubtedly within the scope of their military ambitions but it would be strategically advisable for them to defer it until a later date. On the other hand, the enemy advance toward the south has been supported by the establishment of a series of bases while his left is covered from the Mandated Islands. He is thus


prepared to continue in that direction. Moreover, operations in these waters will permit the regrouping of his naval and air forces to meet a threat from the East. Such is not the case in a movement towards India. He must thrust into the Indian Ocean without adequate supporting bases, relinquishing the possibility of concentrating his naval strength in either ocean. The military requirements for a decisive Indian campaign are so heavy that it cannot be undertaken under those conditions. On the other hand, a continuation of his southern movement at this time will give added safety for his eventual move to the west. In view of this situation I deem it of the utmost importance to provide adequate security for Australia and the Pacific Area, thus maintaining a constant frontal defense and a flank threat against further movement to the southward. This should be followed at the earliest possible moment by offensive action or at least by a sufficiently dangerous initial threat of offensive action to affect the enemy plans and dispositions....23

The first step in the execution of this conception is the strengthening of the position in this area. At this time there are present all the elements to produce another disaster. If serious enemy pressure were applied against Australia prior to the development of adequate and balanced land, sea, and air forces, the situation would be extremely precarious. The extent of territory to be defended is so vast and the communication facilities are so poor that the enemy, moving freely by water, has a preponderant advantage.... In view of the enemy potentialities I consider it essential for the security of this country that it be reinforced as follows...two aircraft carriers in order to provide a balanced sea force and a reasonable coverage of the adjacent sea areas; an increase from 500 to 1000 front line planes in U. S. Air Forces with an adequate flow of replacement personnel and material to maintain Table of Organization strength; one U. S. Army Corps of three first-class divisions capable of executing a tactical offensive movement. Such a force will give reasonable assurance of a successful defense of Australia and will provide an adequate base for counter offensive action. I cannot too strongly represent that the defensive force here must be built up before hostile direct pressure is applied for it would then be too late. We must anticipate the future or we will find ourselves once more completely outnumbered....24


Prime Minister Curtin, through the Australian representatives in Washington and London, also pressed for increased forces to safeguard his country. The Commonwealth Government had approved a program for expanding the Royal Australian Air Force to seventy-three squadrons, the aircraft for which would have to be provided mainly from American and British resources. The Government agreed that the 9th Division remain temporarily in the Middle East, but urged that two British divisions be sent to Australia until such time as the 9th Division and the two brigades at Ceylon could be returned. The Prime Minister also sought to obtain a British aircraft carrier and other naval support.25

The additional forces requested were not forthcoming. All United States and British carriers were employed elsewhere and for the present no substantial increase in the air forces was assured. No additional United States divisions were allocated, and the British planned to send ground forces to Australia only in case of dire necessity. The execution of the tasks assigned to the Southwest Pacific Area rested with the limited forces at hand.26

The Magnitude of the Task

The magnitude of the Southwest Pacific Theater can best be appreciated against a background of comparative geographical distances. If a map of the United States is superimposed on one of the Southwest Pacific, the continental area of the United States will fit roughly between Australia and the Philippines. (Plate No. 12) The distance from New York to San Francisco is approximately the same as from Rabaul to Java. With Miami located at the coastal city of Townsville in Australia, Hollandia will fall on Milwaukee. Biak will be south of Minneapolis and Morotai will be near Bismarck, North Dakota. Leyte will be across the Canadian border approximately 300 miles northwest of Regina and Manila will fall some 700 miles north of the United States-Canadian border in Alberta Province.

The inherent tactical and strategical problems of a land and sea advance from Australia and Papua, directed from Headquarters at Port Moresby and Brisbane, through New Guinea and the Moluccas to Manila, are comparable to those of a hypothetical American Headquarters stationed in the Caribbean Sea 750 miles southeast of Miami, with its advance echelon in the vicinity of Roanoke, Virginia, charged with air strikes on Boston, New York, and Washington to points west of Denver, and an advance by land and sea from Norfolk (Milne Bay) via Milwaukee (Hollandia), Minneapolis (Biak), Bismarck (Morotai), and northwest across the middle of Saskatchewan, Canada (Leyte) to a point northwest of Lake Claire in northern Alberta (Manila).

Against this geographical background, it is evident that the logistical difficulties of the Southwest Pacific Theater in the conduct of the war were tremendous. Not only was the line of communications from the United States to the scene of operations one of the longest the world has ever seen, but the entire route was by water at a time when the Japanese Navy was undefeated and roaming the Pacific almost at will. The time factor


Plate No. 12, The United States Superimposed on the Southwest Pacific Area

The United States Superimposed on the Southwest Pacific Area


alone demanded more than usual foresight in logistic planning and required the application of methods not taught in any of the American Service Schools.

The shortage of water transportation for supplies and equipment, as well as for troops, was probably the most difficult problem of all. There was not sufficient shipping available to mount operations adequately and then to support the troops in widely dispersed locations. Allowances of supplies and equipment accompanying troops into battle and also the amounts to be sent later for their maintenance had to be curtailed-at times to the danger point. Factors used for the computation of these requirements in the Southwest Pacific were less than those used in any other theater or area in the world; at times they were less than half the usual figure.

Tremendous logistic risks were taken in making decisions for planning and launching operations. These were "forced risks" which had to be taken if the war was to be pursued aggressively and if the Allies were to seize the initiative and hold it. Shortages of every description necessitated "crisis management " to meet the needs of each individual operation. Other important logistic features which adversely affected the campaigns and operations in the Southwest Pacific Area included shortages of combat equipment and insufficient service troops. There was also a scarcity of equipment and troops for construction of ports, bases, and air facilities which often had to be created out of virgin jungle before successive operations could be launched. In certain decisive operations, there was even a lack of critical calibers of ammunition.

In addition to all these difficulties there was New Guinea itself-as tough and tenacious an enemy as the Japanese. Few areas in the world presented such a formidable variety of terrain obstacles to military operations. (Plate No. 13) The great mountain ranges with their high peaks and deep gorges, the dense jungles which cover almost all of the huge island, the reeking nipa and mangrove swamps-"a stinking jumble of twisted, slime-covered roots and muddy 'soup' "-the hazardous jungle trails, the vast patches of kunai grass, with its sharp-edged blades growing to a height of six or seven feet, the swollen streams, the ever-present mud, the dangerous off-shore reefs, most of them uncharted, the poor harbors-these terrain characteristics exerted a constant and adverse influence on troops and military tactics.27

The problems of climate and health were no less severe. The penetrating, energy-sapping heat was accompanied by intense humidity and frequent torrential rains that defy description. Health conditions were among the worst in the world. The incidence of malaria could only be reduced by the most rigid and irksome discipline and even then the dreaded disease took a heavy toll. Dengue fever was common while the deadly blackwater fever, though not so prevalent, was no less an adversary. Bacillary and amoebic dysentery were both forbidding possibilities, and tropical ulcers, easily formed from the slightest scratch, were


difficult to cure. Scrub typhus, ringworm, hookworm, and yaws all awaited the careless soldier. Millions of insects abounded everywhere. Clouds of mosquitoes, flies, leeches, chiggers, ants, fleas, and other parasites pestered man night and day. Disease was an unrelenting foe. New Guinea provided a background in which almost every threat of nature combined with the sudden and unforeseeable dangers of modern war to provide a microcosm of the vast struggle in the Southwest Pacific.

New Guinea was the last obstacle between the Japanese and Australia, and lodgements had already been made by enemy forces at points along the northern New Guinea coast. The Japanese held the initiative and their command of the sea enabled them to concentrate on a particular objective and overwhelm the defenders with superior forces. Countermeasures had to be devised before the Japanese should choose their next point of attack and strike at the vulnerable Allied defenses.






Plate No. 13, Relief Map of New Guinea

Relief Map of New Guinea



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