Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943

By Richard M. Leighton; Robert W. Coakley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
Turning Point in the Pacific

Strategy and Logistics in the Pacific War

With the decision, made in April 1942, to concentrate resources in the British Isles for an early invasion of northwestern Europe, Army planners sought to limit commitments to the Pacific to those absolutely necessary for a defensive strategy, but the dangers of allowing the Japanese to extend and consolidate their conquests could not be ignored. Even after his rebuff in May, General MacArthur continued to ask for a greater concentration of resources in the Southwest Pacific, stressing the disastrous consequences that would result from a Japanese lodgment on the continent of Australia. Admiral King, for all his agreement with the Atlantic-first strategy, did not think it should be permitted to interfere with building defenses in the Pacific capable of withstanding any Japanese assault, or with undertaking limited counteroffensives to keep the Japanese off balance. King continually pressed Marshall for larger numbers of long-range bombers and additional Army air bases along the island chain between Hawaii and Australia, steps that both General Marshall and General Arnold opposed as involving unnecessary diversions of planes, troops, and shipping from the war against Germany. Their solution was to anchor a strong mobile force of bombers at each end of the chain -- in Hawaii and Australia -- to cover the intervening area. The July decision to abandon SLEDGEHAMMER and undertake the invasion of North Africa as the major effort in the Atlantic in 1942 gave added strength to the pressures from MacArthur and the Navy, and the opportunity that presented itself for a limited counteroffensive in the Pacific soon gave them almost irresistible force.

During the spring of 1942 the Japanese, after establishing a major base at Rabaul on New Britain island, moved south into the Solomons and New Guinea. From Lae and Salamaua on the northern coast of New Guinea they threatened the main Australian base at Port Moresby, the key to MacArthur's defense of Australia. In June they began to build airfields on Tulagi and Guadalcanal at the southeastern tip of the Solomons, posing an even more serious threat to the Allied positions in New Caledonia and the Fijis. Meantime, early in June, U.S. military forces gained their first decisive victory in the Pacific war at the Battle of Midway, repulsing the Japanese move to gain control of the Central Pacific. Japanese losses, particularly of aircraft carriers, went far toward restoring the balance of naval power in the Pacific. The Midway victory opened the way for a limited offensive to counter the Japanese threat to Australia and the line of communications. After some controversy over command arrange-

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