MacArthur and the Admiralties

Page 287

Chapter 11

MacArthur and the Admiralties

by John Miller, jr.
(Information on author appended to end of this file)

On 29 February 1944 one thousand American soldiers landed on a small Japanese-held island in the Pacific. They were accompanied by a famous American general whose youthful appearance and physical vigor belied his sixty-four years. At the day's end they had killed a few Japanese, lost two killed and three wounded themselves, and captured an airfield. How many more Japanese opposed them was not clear, but in the afternoon the general told them to stay and defend their ground until reinforcements arrived.

The thousand soldiers came from the 1st Cavalry Division; the island was Los Negros in the Admiralties group of the Bismarck Archipelago; the general was Douglas MacArthur, commander in chief of all Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific Area. Behind his decision to go to the Admiralties with the thousand men, and to keep them there, lay a complex series of decisions and operations. From these decisions blossomed a complex series of events which materially aided the Allied cause. [1]

The Background: Rabaul and the Central Pacific

Seizure of the Admiralties was an integral part of two major Allied offensives: the campaign against the great Japanese air and naval bases at Rabaul, New Britain, in the Bismarck Archipelago, which

[1] This study is based on John Miller, jr., CARTWHEEL: The Reduction of 

Rabaul, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington 1959).

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occupied the Allied forces of the South and Southwest Pacific Areas for nearly two years; and the Allied westward advance along the north coast of New Guinea and into the Philippines. (See Map IX, inside back cover.) When President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the U.S.-British Combined Chiefs of Staff met at Casablanca in January 1943 to determine Allied courses of action for 1943, they approved, among other projects, a westward advance through the Central Pacific and a continuation of the campaigns against Rabaul, which had begun in 1942 with the seizure of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and the Japanese base at Buna in the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea. Plans of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the theater commanders called for the Guadalcanal and Papuan operations to be followed by two co-ordinated advances involving Allied land, sea, and air forces. Admiral William F. Halsey's South Pacific forces would drive northward through the Solomons to Bougainville while MacArthur's Southwest Pacific forces advanced up the northeast New Guinea coast, crossed the Vitiaz and Dampier Straits, landed on New Britain, and seized the Admiralties to cut the Japanese line of communications to Rabaul. Once Rabaul was isolated by land, sea, and air action, both forces were to converge and capture the base. All operations against Rabaul by South and Southwest Pacific forces after the Guadalcanal campaign were under MacArthur's strategic direction, with Halsey in direct command of the Allied land, sea, and air forces in the South Pacific Area. [2]

Capture of Rabaul, as envisaged in early 1943, would advance the Allied cause in several respects. Initial operations in the great series of campaigns were defensive in purpose. They were designed to protect the Allied sea and air lines of communication from the United States to New Zealand and Australia which the Japanese had threatened by moving southward from Rabaul. Offensively, possession of Rabaul would give the Allies a great air and naval base to support MacArthur's projected, but not yet approved, advance along the north coast of New Guinea to the Philippines. [3]

[2] Save those assigned to the land defense of New Zealand, which were 

under the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff. Most of the Solomon Islands were 

in the Southwest Pacific Area. 

[3] These campaigns are treated in the following volumes of UNITED 

STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II: John Miller, jr., Guadalcanal: The First 

Offensive (Washington, 1949); Samuel Milner, Victory in Papua 

(Washington, 1957); Robert Ross Smith, The Approach to the Philippines 

(Washington, 1953). CARTWHEEL: The Reduction of Rabaul treats the 

campaigns from 30 June 1943 through March 1944 and includes the 

Admiralities operations. In the AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION series, by the 

Historical Division, War Department Special Staff, The Admiralities: 

Operations of the 1st Cavalry Division (29 February-18 May 1944) 

(Washington, 1946), treats the Admiralties fighting in detail. General 

Walter Krueger devotes Chapter V of his From Down Under to Nippon: The 

Story of Sixth Army in World War II (Washington, 1953) to the 


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The Joint Chiefs were hardly home from Casablanca when it became obvious that not enough planes and ships could be provided to complete the capture of Rabaul in 1943. In March, therefore, they postponed plans to seize it and its sister base, Kavieng, at the north end of New Ireland until 1944. Deciding on more limited objectives for 1943, they directed MacArthur to advance via the Lae-Salamaua-Finschhafen-Madang area of New Guinea and occupy western New Britain while Halsey moved up as far as southern Bougainville. MacArthur and Halsey executed these missions with efficiency, and by October 1943 New Georgia in the Solomons and Lae, Salamaua, Finschhafen, and Nadzab in New Guinea were in Allied hands. The Allies controlled the air and the sea forward from their advanced bases, and bombers were attacking Rabaul.

But now the Joint Chiefs were considering another change in plans. Whereas in 1942 there had been general agreement that Rabaul should be captured, in June of 1943 members of various Washington planning committees who served the Joint Chiefs were more inclined to bypass Rabaul and neutralize it by air action. They argued that assaulting Rabaul directly was merely a reversal of Japanese strategy and would not gain, for the Allies, objectives worthy of the high price Rabaul's strong and well-equipped garrison would surely exact. [4]

At the same time the Joint Chiefs, preparing to mount amphibious offensives in the Central Pacific beginning with the Gilberts in November 1943, decided to transfer the 1st Marine Division from MacArthur's area, and the 2d Marine Division from Halsey's, to the Central Pacific. They also determined to use all of Halsey's assault transports and cargo ships as well as most of his Third Fleet warships. On 15 June they informed MacArthur of these decisions, but not of their doubts concerning the capture of Rabaul, and asked him for specific information regarding target dates and organization of forces for future offensives so that they could effectively co-ordinate his moves with those of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of all Allied forces in the Pacific Ocean Area, and immediate commander of the Central Pacific subarea. [5] Thus faced with the possibility of a rival offensive that would use divisions and ships he had planned to employ against Rabaul, MacArthur hurled back a vigorous reply. Arguing against the Central Pacific offensive-calling it a "diversionary attack"-he expounded on one of his favorite themes, the virtues of advancing through New Guinea to the Philippines. Withdrawal of

[4] See for example Encl B, JWPC 58/D, 24 Jun 43, Memo for RAINBOW Team, 

in Operations Division (OPD) File 384 Marshall Islands Sec. 1 (10 June 


[5] JCS Min, 92d Mtg, 15 Jun 43; Rad, JCS to MacArthur, CM-OUT 6093, 15 

Jun 43, in Gen Marshall's OUT Log.

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the two Marine divisions, he argued, would prevent the ultimate assault against Rabaul. Halsey joined MacArthur to protest removal of the 2d Marine Division and most of his ships. [6]

The problem was resolved by compromise. Halsey kept part of his transports-enough to move one reinforced division-and some of his warships throughout November 1943. The 1st Marine Division stayed with MacArthur, and the 2d Marine Division went to the Central Pacific to make its bloody, valorous assault on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943. [7]

By 21 July the arguments against assaulting Rabaul had so impressed General Marshall that he suggested to MacArthur that he seize Kavieng, and Manus in the Admiralties, to isolate Rabaul, and capture the Japanese base at Wewak in New Guinea. MacArthur saw it otherwise. Marshall's plan, he asserted, involved too many hazards. Wewak was too strong for direct assault and should be isolated by seizing a base farther west. Rabaul would have to be captured rather than neutralized, he insisted, because its strategic location and excellent harbor made it ideal to support a westward advance along New Guinea's north coast. [8] His logic is not easy to follow here, as Rabaul was a more powerful base than Wewak. On the other hand, it was an excellent naval base and Wewak was not.

MacArthur's argument failed to convince Marshall, and when the Combined Chiefs met with the President and Prime Minister at Quebec in August they all agreed that Rabaul should be neutralized and bypassed, that MacArthur and Halsey should neutralize New Guinea as far west as Wewak and capture Manus and Kavieng to use as naval bases, and that MacArthur should then advance along the New Guinea coast to the Vogelkop Peninsula in 1944. Marshall indicated that Mindanao would be the next objective. [9]

Then followed, in October, November, and December 1943, and January 1944, the continuous bombings of Rabaul and other Japa-

[6] Rad, MacArthur to Marshall, CM-IN 13149, 20 June 43; Rad, MacArthur 

to Marshall, CM-OUT 13605, 22 Jun 43, both in Gen Marshall's IN Log. 

Halsey sent his views to MacArthur who relayed them to the JCS.

[7] JCS Min, 20 Jul 43; JCS 386/1, 19 Jul 43, Strategy in the Pacific, 

JPS 205/3, 10 Jul 43, Opns Against Marshall Islands; Draft Memo, JPS for 

JCS, 12Jul 43, sub: Strategy in the Pacific, and OPD Draft Memo, 14 Jul 

43, both in OPD File 381 Security 195; JPS Draft, 19 Jul 43, sub: 

Strategy in the Pacific, and attached papers, with JPS 219/D in OPD File 

ABC 384 Pacific (28 Jun 43); OPD Brief, Notes on JWPC 58/2, in OPD File 

384 Marshall Islands Sec. 1 (10 Jun 43).

[8] Rads, Marshall to MacArthur, No. 8604, 21 Jun 43, and MacArthur to 

Marshall, No. 16419, 23 Jun 43, in Gen Marshall's IN and OUT Logs.

[9] Smith, Approach to the Philippines, Ch. I; CCS 319/5, 24 Aug 43, 

Final Rpt to the President and Prime Minister; CCS 301/3, 27 Aug 43, 

Specific Opns in Pacific and Far East, 1943-44; Rad, Marshall to 

MacArthur. No. 8679, 2 Oct 43, in Gen Marshall's OUT Log.

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nese bases in the area, and the invasions of the Treasury Islands, the Empress Augusta Bay region of Bougainville, Arawe and Cape Gloucester in western New Britain, and Saidor on the Huon Peninsula of New Guinea.

Decision To Expand Into the Bismarck Archipelago

The Joint Chiefs and the area commanders now turned to preparing specific plans to carry out the general missions agreed on at Quebec. Actually operations in the Bismarck Archipelago, in addition to those at Arawe and Cape Gloucester, had been contemplated for nearly two years as part of the campaign against Rabaul. The Joint Chiefs' orders which launched the campaigns called for other operations in the archipelago, while MacArthur's early plans called for the capture of Kavieng and of Manus in the Admiralties as well as Rabaul. In late 1943, MacArthur's plans called for the invasion of Hansa Bay, New Guinea, on 1 February 1944 to establish a light naval and air base, and Manus as well as Kavieng (by South Pacific forces) on March. [10]

The Admiralties, lying 260 miles west of Kavieng and 200 miles northeast of Wewak, were admirably situated to assist in isolating Rabaul. (See Map 8.) They also provided excellent facilities to support the approach to the Philippines. Responsibility for base construction at Kavieng and at Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralties was to be Halsey's. Kavieng was to be a minor fleet base, a PT boat base, and a major air base with six airfields. In the Admiralties, where the Japanese had already built two airfields, Manus would serve as an air base and Seeadler Harbor, 6 miles wide, 20 miles long, and 120 feet deep, was to be a major fleet base with complete repair facilities including drydocks. It would serve Admiral Nimitz' naval forces as well as Halsey's and MacArthur's. [11]

Halsey, who conferred with MacArthur in Brisbane in late 1943 before departing on a trip to Hawaii and continental United States, opposed seizing Kavieng. He wanted to bypass Kavieng and occupy Emirau in the Saint Matthias Islands about ninety miles northwest of Kavieng, which had never been taken by the Japanese. Kavieng, on the other hand, was a major air and naval base and was reported to be strongly defended. In December MacArthur told members of Halsey's staflf that an attack against Emirau or Kavieng would serve equally well in the isolation of Rabaul. [12]

[10] GHQ Warning Instructions 3, 23 Nov 43, in ALAMO FORCE ANCHORAGE 

Jnl, 1, 23 Nov 43-12 Feb 44.

[11] File on Manus-Kavieng Base Development in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 


[12] Memo, SJC [Maj Gen Stephen J. Chamberlin, ACofS G 3, GHQ SWPA] for 

Jnl, 21 Dec 43, sub: Conf at GHQ, 20 Dec 43, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 21 Dec 


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[Map 8.]

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Halsey spent four days with Nimitz at Pearl Harbor and then, in early January 1944, flew to San Francisco where he and Nimitz conferred with Admiral King. Here, and later in Washington, the South Pacific commander made known his views on Kavieng and Emirau. [13]

Halsey was not able to carry his point at this time. He did, however, discuss timing and naval support for Manus and Kavieng-important questions requiring close co-ordination now that the Central Pacific offensives were under way. [14] Kavieng, almost 400 miles from the newly built Allied airfield at Empress Augusta Bay, in Bougainville, lay beyond the range of land-based fighter planes from Halsey's most advanced air base. Thus aircraft carriers would have to provide cover for the Kavieng invasion forces, and Nimitz agreed to furnish them. General MacArthur, who had no carriers at this time, also wanted them for the invasion of Manus, in case bad weather kept his planes grounded in New Guinea and at Cape Gloucester. Nimitz warned that bad weather would limit carrier operations too. [15]

But now another problem involving ships had to be settled. Rear Adm. Robert B. Carney, Halsey's chief of staff, had visited Pearl Harbor in December and reported that the ships for Kavieng would not be available until 1 May. This would certainly postpone the Admiralties operations. [16] Nimitz then suggested that by delaying his second Marshalls invasion (Eniwetok) until 1 May he could provide support for Manus and Kavieng about 1 April. MacArthur was ready and willing to invade Manus and Kavieng in March before moving to Hansa Bay in New Guinea, but the Joint Chiefs ordered Nimitz to deliver a strong carrier strike, employing nearly every fast carrier that was operational in the Pacific, against Truk in the Carolines during March to support and cover the Eniwetok invasion. Naval supporting forces would therefore not be available for Manus and Kavieng until April at the earliest. Nimitz proposed that representatives of all

[13] Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey and Lt. Comdr. J. Bryan, III, 

Admiral Halsey's Story (New York: Whittlesey House, 1947), pp. 186-87; 

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King and Walter Muir Whitehill, Fleet Admiral 

King, A Naval Record (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1952), pp. 


[14] Nimitz' forces, having invaded the Gilberts in November 1943, were 

planning their initial move into the Marshalls (Kwajalein and Roi-Namur) 

in late January. See Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the 

Gilberts and Marshalls (Washington, 1955), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 


[15] Rad, CINCPOA (Nimitz) to CINCSWPA (MacArthur), CNO (King),COMSOPAC 

(Halsey), 7 Jan 44, CM-IN 8330, in Gen Marshall's IN Log.

[16] Memo, Carney for Halsey, 12 Dec 43, sub: CINCPOA-SOPAC Stf Conf, 9-

12 Dec 43, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 21 Dec 43; Memo, B. F. [Brig Gen Bonner 

Fellers, G-3 Sec GHQ SWPA], no addressee, 22 Dec 43, sub: Conf G-3 Plng 

Sec, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 22 Dec 43.

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the Pacific commands meet in Pearl Harbor to co-ordinate details and timing. [17]

The Joint Chiefs, reviewing plans for Pacific operations, ordered extension of operations in the Bismarck Archipelago, and directed Nimitz to provide fleet support and cover for the Manus-Kavieng operations but to keep his fleet units under his direct control. At the same time he was to attach some additional warships and assault shipping to MacArthur and Halsey. The exact amounts were to be determined at the forthcoming Pearl Harbor conference, which would make recommendations to Washington. MacArthur was to continue his strategic control over Halsey's South Pacific forces. [18]

The conference at Pearl Harbor convened on 27 January 1944. Halsey, flying out from Washington, had been grounded by bad weather at Fort Worth and again at San Francisco, and so was not present. Carney represented him along with Lt. Gen. Millard F. Harmon, who commanded all Army forces in the South Pacific. Representing MacArthur were his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, and his commanders of Allied air and naval forces, Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney and Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid.

Sutherland made it clear that MacArthur wanted Halsey to take, not Emirau, but Kavieng, for use as an air base. Besides discussing operations in the Bismarck Archipelago, the conference covered a wide range of other subjects-the value of the Marianas, B-29's, the possibility of bypassing Truk, and the comparative merits of the Central and Southwest Pacific routes to the Philippines. All agreed that whether Truk was bypassed or taken, Seeadler Harbor was essential as a fleet base for the approach to the Philippines.

Nimitz proposed giving long-range support to the Manus-Kavieng invasions with a two-day strike against Truk starting about 26 March. In addition he agreed to send two divisions of fast carriers to operate under Halsey's command during the invasions, while other carriers and fast battleships operated in covering positions. [19] Forces involved were large. Ironically, they were neither needed nor used, for the operations were not conducted in accordance with these plans.

[17] Rad, CINCPAC (Nimitz) to COMINCH (King), 22 Dec 43, in GHQ SWPA G 3 

Jnl, 24 Dec 43; Rad, Halsey to MacArthur, 5 Jan 44, Rad, MacArthur to 

Marshall and Halsey, 6 Jan 44, Rad, COMSOPAC to COMSOPAC ADMIN, 9 Jan 

44, Rad, CINCPAC to CINCSWPA, CNO, and COMSOPAC, 7 Jan 44, CM-IN 8330, 

all in Gen Marshall's IN Log.

[18] JCS 679, 24 Jan 44, Dirs for Seizure of Bismarck Archipelago; Rads, 

JCS to CINCPAC and CINCSWPA, 23 Jan 44, with JCS 679.

[19] Forces involved were: 3 CVs, 3 CVLs, 7 CRUs, and 18 DDs. In 

addition 4 OBBs, 7 CRUs, 4 CVEs, 1 AGC, 19 APAs, 3 LSDs, 5 DMSs, 36 

LSTs, and 36 LCIs would be assigned to Halsey's Third Fleet for Kavieng, 

while for Manus Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet was to receive 3 CLs, 4 CVEs, 35 

DDs, 8PFs, 1 AGC, 1 APA, 1 AKA, 2 DMSs, 1 LSD, 13 APDs, 30 LSTs, 30 

LCIs, 70 LCTs, and 30 SS. Halsey and Bryan, Admiral Halsey's Story, p. 

188; George C. Kenney, General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the 

Pacific War (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce 1949), p. 346; Smith, 

Approach to the Philippines, pp. 7-8; Halsey, Narrative Account of the 

South Pacific Campaign, copy in OCMH; Rad, CINCPAC to COMINCH-CNO, 29 

Jan 44, in GHQ SVVPA G-3 Jnl, 30 Jan 44; Ltr, CINCPOA to COMINCH, 30 Jan 

44, sub: Assignment Naval Forces and Assault Shipping to Third and 

Seventh Fleets for Opns Bismarck Archipelago, ABC 384 Pac (17 Jan 44) 

Sec. 3-A.

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Japanese Decisions

The advancing Allies now had the initiative, but Japanese decisions and actions, which were forced on the enemy by the Allied offensives, must be understood to grasp the significance of the Allied decisions and actions. Continuous bombardments of Rabaul, and to a lesser degree of Kavieng, reduced Japanese strength so much that on 19 February there were no warships at Rabaul, and after that date no fighter planes rose to attack the Allied bombers. Such impotence was brought about largely by the South and Southwest Pacific air and naval campaigns, but it was also brought about by Nimitz' naval forces. The Central Pacific Forces invading Kwajalein and Roi-Namur on 31 January had encountered no resistance from the Japanese Combined Fleet, which had suffered crippling losses when it sent most of its planes to Rabaul in late 1943 and lost them. The Kwajalein and Roi-Namur operations came off so well that Allied reserve and garrison forces were not committed.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff told Nimitz they were willing to delay the Manus-Kavieng invasions in order to proceed directly to Eniwetok with the uncommitted troops. Nimitz decided to go there at once and invaded Eniwetok on 17 February. In support of this move he sent the main body of the Pacific Fleet to attack Truk on 16 and 17 February, over one month ahead of schedule. The strike was an outstanding success. The Combined Fleet had already escaped toward safer waters, but the naval pilots destroyed 250-275 planes as well as thousands of tons of shipping. The commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, almost bereft of planes, immediately ordered all naval aircraft out of the Southeast Area-the Japanese area which included eastern New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the Solomon Islands. Army aircraft had already been sent to Wewak. Rabaul, though strong in ground troops (about 100,000 in early 1944), artillery, and machines guns, was "compelled to face the enemy with ground resources alone and completely isolated...." [20]

Decision To Send a Reconnaissance Force to the Admiralties

When Halsey discovered that Nimitz' December plans would postpone invasion of Manus and Kavieng, he decided to use what forces

[20] Southeast Area Naval Operations, III, Japanese Monograph 50, OCMH 

p. 6.

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he could spare to seize a base within fighter range of Kavieng, a decision which culminated in the invasion of the Green Islands, 117 miles east of Rabaul and 220 miles southeast of Kavieng. This was accomplished by New Zealand troops between 15 and 20 February, and by 4 March a fighter field was in operation, followed before the end of the month by a bomber field.

By the time Halsey invaded the Green Islands, Southwest Pacific plans for the invasions of the Admiralties and Hansa Bay were well developed. Target date for Manus and Kavieng was 1 April. Assigned to the Admiralties were 45,110 men, with the 1st Cavalry Division providing the assaulting troops. All troops were to concentrate at Oro Bay and Cape Cretin, New Guinea. The 6th Division was designated as GHQ reserve. Hansa Bay, with 26 April as D Day, was to be taken by the 24th and 32d Divisions. [21]

As was customary in MacArthur's area, GHQ prepared general plans which assigned forces, missions, and target dates. Operational plans were prepared by the ground, air, and naval commanders and their staffs. To Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, commanding the U.S. Sixth Army and ALAMO Force [22] MacArthur gave responsibility for coordination of this planning. Krueger's responsibility gave him a preeminent position; he was primus inter pares.

During January and the first two weeks of February General Kenney's planes bombed the Admiralties and Kavieng, and also continued earlier attacks against the Wewak airfields. By 6 February Momote and Lorengau airfields in the Admiralties were unserviceable, and no planes were based at either field. Antiaircraft fire had stopped completely, but not because the guns were destroyed. Col. Yoshio Ezaki, commanding in the Admiralties, had ordered his troops neither to fire nor to wander about in daylight in order to conceal his positions from the Allies.

At this time Kenney and Maj. Gen. Ennis C. Whitehead, commanding the Fifth Air Force's Advanced Echelon, were eagerly seeking methods by which the whole advance could be speeded. Whitehead wanted to get the Admiralties out of the way soon so that he could concentrate on Wewak and Hollandia in the west. Kenney, having had experience in New Guinea with quick seizures of airfields by light forces, had another such operation in mind. Some time before 23 Feb-

[21] GHQ SWPA Warning Instructions 3, 23 Nov 43, in ALAMO ANCHORAGE Jnl, 

1, 23 Nov 43-12 Feb 44: Memo, Chamberlin for CINC, 9 Feb 44, sub: 

Outline Plan-Hansa Bay, and Memo, Chamberlin for Comdrs, 9 Feb 44, sub: 

Hansa Bay, SWPA Forces, both in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 9 Feb 44; Note SJC to 

CINC, 12 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 13 Feb 44.

[22] ALAMO, actually the Sixth Army, was theoretically a task force 

directly under GHQ.

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ruary he told Whitehead to hit Momote airfield on Los Negros hard but not to crater the runway. Hoping to force the Japanese to evacuate Los Negros and retire to Manus, he ordered frequent low-altitude photo reconnaissance missions. [23]

The Allies were not aware that Japanese air resistance in the Southeast Area was a thing of the past and that they had won the air battle. They knew, however, that the enemy was weakening. The runways at Rabaul were usually cratered. On 21 February Allied intelligence reasoned that Japanese aircraft were "absconding" from Rabaul, probably to Truk and other bases in the Carolines. [24]

On 23 February-shortly after the great Truk raid and the withdrawal of Japanese aircraft from the Southeast Area, and after the Joint Chiefs and Nimitz had postponed Nimitz' fleet support for Manus and Kavieng by deciding on Eniwetok first-Whitehead forwarded to Kenney a reconnaissance report from three B-25's that had just spent ninety minutes at low altitudes over the Admiralties. They had not been fired on, saw no Japanese, no vehicles, and no laundry hung out to dry. The airfields were pitted and overgrown with grass. The whole area looked "completely washed out." Whitehead recommended that a ground reconnaissance party go in at once to check. [25]

During the year 1943 the Allies had won a resounding series of victories in the Southwest Pacific, and GHQ was now a headquarters wherein optimism prevailed. When Kenney, who even in GHQ was conspicuous for optimism, received Whitehead's message, he was at his office in Brisbane. Concluding that Whitehead was right and "Los Negros was ripe for the plucking," he hurried to MacArthur's office and proposed to MacArthur, Kinkaid, and part of MacArthur's staff that a few hundred troops go to Los Negros on APD's, seize it, and repair Momote airfield at once rather than capture Seeadler Harbor. They could be reinforced and resupplied by air. This should be a reconnaissance in force. If resistance proved too strong the invaders could withdraw. A quick seizure of the Admiralties, Kenney reasoned, would make possible the bypassing of Kavieng and Hansa Bay. [26]

MacArthur made his decision almost at once. Always a man of faith, self-confidence, and buoyant optimism, he saw opportunities

[23] Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate (eds.), The Army Air Forces 

in World War II, IV, The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan (Chicago: The 

University of Chicago Press, 1950), p. 559; Kenney, General Kenney 

Reports, p. 358.

[24] GHQ SWPA G-2 Daily Summary of Enemy Intl, and GHQ SWPA G-2 Est 

Enemy Sit 700, 20-21 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G 3 Jnl, 21 Feb 44.

[25] Rad, Comdr AdVon Fifth AF to Comdr Allied Air Forces SWPA, 23 Feb 

44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 23 Feb 44.

[26] Kenney, General Kenney Reports, p. 359.

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where other men saw problems and difficulties. He bought Kenney's proposal. Next day he radioed orders to his subordinates to prepare for the reconnaissance at once. He directed that 800 men of the 1st Cavalry Division, a force he shortly increased to 1,000, board two destroyer transports (APD's) at Oro Bay and sail to Los Negros by 29 February. [27]

This decision, obviously made in great haste without benefit of much staff study, but by a general of great experience, deserves examination. MacArthur was sending a thousand men against an enemy island group approximately one month ahead of the time that his schedule had originally called for a whole division to make the invasion. Kenney's recommendation was based on aerial reconnaissance. Whitehead had said no Japanese troops were in sight, and on 26 February he estimated, but without indicating the basis for his conclusion, that no more than 300 Japanese were holding the Admiralties. [28]

MacArthur's own G-2 section had made a completely different estimate. Brig. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, his G-2, kept close track of enemy strength and dispositions at all bases, and especially those slated for invasion. MacArthur and Kenney might be optimists, but a G-2 must be at least half skeptic. Willoughby had to base his conclusions on evidence and logic, not faith. On 25 February he estimated that there were 4,050 Japanese troops in the Admiralties. [29] The 1st Cavalry Division, which would have to pay the price of any faulty intelligence estimates, put enemy strength at 4,900, although its field order for the reconnaissance dutifully stated, "Recent air reconnaissance ... results in no enemy action and no signs of enemy occupation." [30]

In actual fact, Colonel Ezaki's garrison consisted of the 51st Transport Regiment; the 2d Battalion, 1st Independent Mixed Regiment; the 1st Battalion 229th Infantry; and elements of the 14th Naval Base Force. Willoughby's estimate correctly identified these units as present. Al-

[27] Rad, MacArthur to Comdr ALAMO, CG AdVon Fifth AF, and Comdr VII

Amphib Force, 24 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 24 Feb 44; Rad, MacArthur 

to same addressees, 25 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 25 Feb 44.

[28] Rad, Comdr AdVon Fifth AF to Comdr Allied Air Forces SWPA, 26 Feb 

44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl. 26 Feb 44.

[29] Note, G-2 to G-3, 25 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 25 Feb 44; GHQ 

SWPA Monthly Summary of Enemy Dispositions, 29 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 

Jnl, 29 Feb 44. In a book published ten years after these events, 

General Willoughby stated that 3,250 Japanese were estimated as holding 

the Admiralties. See Charles A. Willoughby and John Chamberlin, 

MacArthur: 1941-1951 (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1954), 

p. 151.

[30] Cf. par. 1a (2) of BREWER TF FO 2, 25 Feb 44, with Annex I, Intel, 

in ALAMO ANCHORAGE Jnl, 3, 24-26 Feb 44. ALAMO FO 9 and BREWER TF FO 1 

are orders prepared for the one-division invasion of the Admiralties 

scheduled for 1 April.

Page 299

though no exact figure for enemy strength can be given today, his figure of 4,050 seems about right. The airmen had not seen troops in the open because Ezaki had ordered them to lie low during daylight hours. [31]

Almost inevitable is the question whether General MacArthur actually accepted Whitehead's figure of 300 and rejected his own G-2's careful estimate. While no categorical answer can be given, the answer would seem to be in the negative. Willoughby's previous estimates of Japanese strength and dispositions in the area had been quite close to the mark. The fact that Willoughby served as MacArthur's G-2 from 1941 through 1951, leaving the post voluntarily and only when President Truman relieved MacArthur of his commands, indicates MacArthur's continued confidence in him. Further, MacArthur ordered the 1st Cavalry Division to prepare a support force-1,500 ground combat troops and 428 Seabees-to land on D plus 2 if the reconnaissance force stayed. He also alerted the rest of the division to get ready to follow if needed as soon as shipping became available. Sending such a force in to handle only 300 Japanese was surely overdoing the principle of concentration. In making his decision MacArthur apparently accepted the bold Kenney-Whitehead method without accepting their intelligence estimate.

The Decision To Remain

MacArthur decided to accompany the thousand-man reconnaissance force himself to judge from his own observation whether to evacuate or hold. He invited Kinkaid to go along, whereupon the admiral added two cruisers and four destroyers to the four destroyers initially scheduled to escort the APD's. The additions were necessary because a destroyer had neither accommodations nor communications equipment suitable for a man of MacArthur's position. A single cruiser would have served, but it was poor practice to send but one ship of any type on a tactical mission. Kinkaid therefore sent two cruisers, and the two cruisers required four additional destroyers as escorts. [32]

General Krueger had originally planned to send a preliminary scouting party to the western tip of Manus, but he now canceled this

[31] 8th Area Army Operations, Japanese Monograph 110, p. 133, OCMH; 

Southeast Area Naval Operations, III, Japanese Monograph 50, pp. 35-36, 

OCMH. The 1st Cavalry Division, losing 326 men killed, 1,189 wounded, 

and 4 missing, reported that it buried a total counted dead of 3,280, 

and captured 75. Krueger estimated that the Japanese had disposed of 

1,100 additional bodies. ALAMO Rpt BREWER Opn, p. 26.

[32] Admiral Kinkaid's statement to author, 16 Nov 53.

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plan in favor of Los Negros. As plans called for the thousand-man reconnaissance force to slip in through Hyane Harbor, the back door to Los Negros, Krueger did not wish to risk betraying the point of landing by scouting Hyane Harbor and Momote. He therefore sent six scouts by PBY and rubber boat to a point one mile south of the harbor on the night of 27 February. They found a large Japanese bivouac area on southeastern Los Negros, and reported by radio that the area between the coast and Momote was "lousy with Japs." But when the report reached GHQ Kenney discounted it. He argued, and with some reason, that twenty-five of the enemy "in the woods at night" might give that impression. [33]

The reconnaissance force, supported by air and naval bombardment, landed successfully starting at 0755 on 29 February. By 0950 Momote airfield was in American hands; little enemy resistance had been encountered save some shelling by coastal guns at the entrance to Hyane Harbor that gave the landing craft a hard time. By 1250-H plus 4 hours, 55 minutes-the thousand men were ashore. Two soldiers had been killed, three wounded; sailors of the landing craft crews lost an identical number. Five Japanese were reported slain. The force commander, Brig. Gen. William C. Chase, reported "enemy situation undetermined" at 0900. [34]

Few Japanese had been seen, but by afternoon it was clear that the island was occupied. Patrols found three kitchens and a warehouse full of rations, and a captured document indicated that some two hundred antiaircraft artillerymen were camped nearby.

General MacArthur and Admiral Kinkaid came ashore at 1600. The general pinned a Distinguished Service Cross on the jacket of the first man ashore, 2d Lt. Marvin J. Henshaw, toured the front, received reports, and quickly made his decision. He directed Chase to "remain here and hold the airstrip at any cost." [35] Having "ignored sniper fire ... wet, cold, and dirty with mud up to the ears," he and Kinkaid returned to the cruiser Phoenix, whence MacArthur radioed orders to send more troops, supplies, and equipment to the Admiralties at the earliest possible moment. [36] The cruisers and six destroyers departed for New Guinea at 1729, leaving behind two destroyers to support the cavalrymen.

[33] Kenney, General Kenney Reports, p. 361.

[34] Rad, Chase to Krueger, Serial 7, 0900, 1st Cav Brig Jnl, 29 Feb 44, 

Vol. III of 1st Cav Brig Hist Rpt Admiralty Islands Campaign. (The 1st 

Cavalry Division, which fought as infantry in World War II, was square

at that time.)

[35] Quoted in 1st Cav Brig Hist Rpt Admiralty Islands Campaign, I, 3. 

There are other versions of MacArthur's statement in existence, all to 

the same effect.

[36] Comment by the force G-2, Lt Col Julio Chiaramonte, attached to 

Ltr, Chase to the Chief of Military History, 6 Nov 53, OCMH files; Rad, 

CINCSWPA to CTF 76, CGs ALAMO and Fifth AF, 29 Feb 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 

Jnl, 1 Mar 44.

Page 301

In ordering the force to stay, MacArthur was obviously confident that it could hold out against the Japanese until supporting forces arrived. He did not say so, but it seems probable that he knew from previous experience that the Japanese would deliver piecemeal counterattacks. If so, he was right. Colonel Ezaki, who did not survive the campaign, received explicit orders from his superior at Rabaul to counterattack with his entire strength. [37] But instead, starting that very night, he launched a series of very resolute, but piecemeal, un-coordinated attacks that failed. The support forces arrived in time, cleared Los Negros hastily, then took Lorengau airfield and cleared the rest of Manus in more leisurely fashion.

Momote airfield, first used by Allied aircraft in March, was ready for heavy bombers by 18 May. Lorengau airfield proved unusable, but Army aviation engineers and Seabees finished another one on 21 April. Seabees installed two runways for carrier aircraft on the outlying islands, and developed Seeadler Harbor into one of the largest naval bases in the Pacific. [38] As planned, the naval base serviced the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Fleets in later operations, and the airfields supported the drives along the New Guinea coast and through the Central Pacific.

MacArthur's bold decisions had repercussions that made themselves manifest far beyond the confines of Hyane Harbor. He and his staff for some time had been convinced that the invasion of Hansa Bay in New Guinea was not a worthwhile move. On 3 March, just after the reconnaissance force had landed in the Admiralties, his staff agreed that since Rabaul and Kavieng were now so much weaker it might be possible to bypass Hansa Bay and advance beyond Wewak in a long leap forward beyond the range of land-based fighter planes if carrier aviation could be provided. [39] MacArthur took up the question with the Joint Chiefs of Staff by radio two days later. Explaining that complete occupation of the Admiralties would soon follow, he urged that the success of the reconnaissance provided an excellent opportunity to speed up the war and advance west along the north coast of New Guinea. He suggested that his forces seize Kavieng at once, bypass Hansa Bay, and advance beyond Wewak all the way to Hollandia in Netherlands New Guinea if Admiral Nimitz' carriers could provide fighter cover. This would bypass the main strength of

[37] 8th Area Army Opns, Japanese Monograph 110, p. 135, OCMH.

[38] Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of 

Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Vol. II 

(Washington, 1947), 295-302; Office of the Chief Engineer, GHQ, AFPAC, 

Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1945, VI, Airfield and Base 

Development (Washington, 1951), 208-22, and VIII, Critique (Washington, 

1951), 145-53.

[39] Min of Conf; 1700, 3 Mar 44, at GHQ SWPA, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 3 

Mar 44; Smith, Approach to the Philippines, p. 9.

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the Japanese 18th Army, then at Madang and Wewak, and speed the advance to the Vogelkop by several months. [40]

The Joint Chiefs, undoubtedly influenced by Halsey's arguments against Kavieng, as well as by MacArthur's proposals, told MacArthur on 12 March that his cherished dream of returning to the Philippines would come true. They ordered that the Kavieng plan be canceled, that Emirau be seized instead, that Kavieng and Rabaul be isolated with minimum forces, and authorized bypassing Hansa Bay in favor of the invasion of Hollandia which Nimitz' aircraft carriers would support. The latter would be the first direct move in MacArthur's long-hoped-for advance to the Philippines. [41]

As a result, MacArthur's forces invaded Hollandia on 22 April, just a little later than the time the Manus-Kavieng operations might have been executed had he not made the decisions in February to go to the Admiralties to reconnoiter, and to stay there. These decisions, as they turned out, had the very great virtue of hastening victory while reducing the number of dead and wounded. Along with the decisions of Admirals Nimitz and Halsey, they shortened the war by at least one month, rendered several scheduled invasions unnecessary, and thus saved precious lives.

[40] MacArthur to CofS USA for JCS, 5 Mar 44, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 5 Mar


[41] JCS 713/4, Future Opns in Pac, 12 Mar 44; Rad, JCS to MacArthur, 12 

Mar 44 in Gen Marshall's OUT Log.

JOHN MILLER, JR., Historian with OCMH since 1945. Ph.D., University of Iowa. Taught: University of Omaha; University of Iowa; Graduate School, U.S. Department of Agriculture; American University. U.S. Marine Corps, Pacific Theater, in World War II. Author: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive (Washington, 1949) and CARTWHEEL: The Reduction of Rabaul (Washington, 1959), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. Coauthor: Korea 1951-1953 (Washinton, 1956); Combat in Korea, Volume II, to be published in UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR.