Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Joint Operations in the Southwest Pacific, 1943-1945

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Joint Operations in the Southwest Pacific, 1943-1945

Article excerpt

In the last strategically significant amphibious landing in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) during World War II, the Armed Forces landed 175,000 men--organized into I and XIV Corps--on a 20-mile stretch of beach on the Philippine island of Luzon. The operation capped a 2-year campaign that spanned thousands of miles of ocean and included 73 amphibious assaults. While difficult, all of these landings and subsequent actions succeeded. Indeed, U.S. joint operations in SWPA--involving Army, Navy, and air assets--contributed significantly to Japan's defeat.

The few historians who have treated joint operations in SWPA-most prefer the Marine Corps in the Central Pacific--fall into two schools. The larger and more traditional school argues that these operations succeeded because the area had an overall commander, General Douglas MacArthur, USA, who unified the services. The smaller and more recent school pins success on General Walter Krueger, USA, who not only helped develop joint operations doctrine in the interwar era but also executed it as commander of U.S. Sixth Army. However, neither explanation is sufficient by itself. This article examines joint operations prior to World War II and offers an explanation for the success of joint operations in SWPA despite the lack of joint doctrine and command.

Reserved and Fastidious versus the Frontier Type

The Army and Navy first seriously considered joint operations in the wake of the Spanish-American War. The campaign against Santiago de Cuba, in particular, starkly showed the two services that planning and executing joint operations required substantial investment. Army and Navy commanders were subordinate to their own chains of command instead of unifying under a joint campaign commander. With no way to develop or coordinate a single plan, the services conceived their campaigns independently. With the Spanish squadron bottled up in Santiago Bay, for example, Rear Admiral William Sampson of the North Atlantic Squadron-described as a reserved and fastidious technician--suggested that the Army, under Major General William Shafter, take out the fortifications guarding the mouth of the bay so his ships could engage the Spanish fleet. Overweight, often profane, and called the "frontier type" by his biographer, Paul Carlson, Shafter wanted his V Corps to focus on capturing Santiago itself.

These divergent views and personalities led to poor coordination and likely prolonged the campaign. A short time later, even after the Spanish fleet had been sunk or grounded while attempting to escape, Sampson refused another request from the V Corps commander to bombard Santiago de Cuba and its fortifications on the grounds that the Army had not yet cleared the entrance of the bay so his ships could safely pass.

Assessing the two commanders' roles in the ineffective joint operations, Carlson concluded that:

[Shafter and Sampson] could not cooperate. Too often Shafter thought in terms of a frontier command where he alone held authority and did not, could not, share responsibility for success or failure of an expedition. Conditioned by such narrow thinking and piqued by the difficulties with Sampson, Shafler refused to recognize the equal role the Navy shared in the war. His position wrecked chances for a smooth campaign, but Shafter was not alone at fault. Sampson, too, possessed a short temper as well as a desire to claim the major honors for success in war. (1)

Just as the joint military operation lacked an overall coherent strategy, the landing operations reflected a lack of prewar consideration. Ships were loaded in haphazard fashion, assembled from a wide variety of sources, and approached the landing sites without a standard operating procedure. Chaos marked the actual landing as the Army lacked adequate command and control procedures and enough boats. As William Atwater suggested:

In sharp contrast to the relatively efficient Navy/Marine Corps landing at Guantanamo, the Army and Navy in a slipshod operation barely managed to put ashore an expeditionary force at Daiquiri, about 15 miles east of Santiago. …

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