Pacific War: McArthur vs Nimitz: Who Was Right?

AS rge war against Japan was winding down, there was a big disafgreement between Gen. McArthur and Admirals King and Nimitz. Basically, after the defeat of the Japanese in New Guinea and the S. Pacific, McArthur wanted to invade Luzon in the Philippines, and retake Manila. The Navy wanted to bypass the Philippines, and launch an invasion of Taiwan. Now, I don’t know how well defended Taiwan was, but I suspect that McArthur (with his trmendous ego) wanted to reconquer the Philippines , to erase the stain of his defeat there in 1941. To my mind, Nimitz was a far better strategist and leader-he was very calm and cool, while McArthur was given tograndiosity and histrionics. However, Nimitz was an admiral-and ultimately, the Army would have to do the fighting.
I ask this bcause I caught a bit of the movie McArthure (played by Gregary Peck) on AMC-it was not one of Peck’s better roles…but he did project McArthur’s huge ego!
So who was right? McArthur or Nimitz? Again, I see Adm. Nimitz as a much better thinker, and much more concerned with saving his men’s lives. I got the impression that McArthur thought like a WWI general-he was willing to take massive casualties. His later performance in Korea wasnot very good-his invasion of N. Korea was a near-disaster.

My entire post wil be IMHO. Just warning you.

Nimitz was right. he was also a better planer because he could see the big picture. There was no need to retake every single place that the Japanese took control of. All the US had to do was get close enough to enable them to bomb Japanese cities with savage regularity. The island hopping campaign did this just fine.

There were other considerations, too though. The US showed support to her allies by engaging in battles outside the island hopping. The China/Burma/India Theatre and the defense of the Austrailian region are two huge areas that come to mind. So, the US couldn’t just island hop to get bomber bases. This shows some of the complexity that an overall strategist needs to consider.

By the time the US engaged Japan at the Philipines, the outcome of the overall Pacific Campaign was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Between the Fast Task Forces with Spruance and the Marines with their new tactics such as close air support, the Japanese military had no real chance by 1944.

MacArthur (I’ll be back!) wasted resources and time, imho, that could’ve been used elsewhere in the Pacific or even in the ETO. In fact, the US almost had a disaster on their hands. The Japanese heavy cruisers and battleships came within mere minutes of stopping the invasion. A lucky rain squall and the tenacity of the Jeep Carriers were the US’ saving grace.

As I said, all this IMHO. I am not a historian but I do enjoy WWII history. Feel free to correct or add to my points as you see fit.

Of course, the end result, such as the Marianas Turkey Shoot and the sinking of several IJN ships of the line make this argument rather moot.

Battle of Leyte Gulf, I mean. Sorry.

The MTS was a couple of months earlier at Saipan/Guam/Tinian.

My bad.

Neither strategy was precisely right from an overall U.S. strategic perspective. Nimitz’s approach had resulted in some of the hardest fighting of the war, with the greatest casualty rates. McArthur’s “leapfrog” approach was suited to the route along which he was moving, and was relatively less expensive in terms of lives.

It is arguable what big-picture strategic advantage Taiwan would have given us over the Philippines. (Obviously, anything taken by us and closer to Japan has some strategic benefit, but weighing which was the more valuable real estate in strategic terms becomes difficult.)

But there were certainly political concerns, far beyond McArthur’s ego-salving, mitigating the Philippines. They had been U.S. territory since 1898, with a populace friendly to us and in a position to sabotage any Japanese defense, which we were committed to defend, protect, and give independence to once a stable government was reestablished. And they lie athwart the critical Japanese supply pipeline for resources such as oil and rubber from Indonesia, so that recovering them would enable us to put a stranglehold on Japan’s warmaking capacity. While honoring McArthur’s promise to return may have been important to McArthur’s strategic conceptions, Roosevelt’s perspective was founded in what would most benefit the American war effort and postwar strategic considerations, and he approved what was essentially a modification on McArthur’s plan for those reasons.

Still, I don’t think Mac Arthur had a real grasp of what Naval power was doing to the entire PTO. His plan was to jump from the Philipines to Formosa to China, then to use China as a base for the eventual invasion of Japan. What he was doing was failing to consider how the USN had basically turned the PTO into their private landing field.

Even without retaking the Philipines, the Japanese would not have been able to counteract the growing USN presence.

The combination of a virtual Pacific blockade of Japan and the continuous bombing of the home islands, in addition to the promised Soviet declaration of war would have won anyways. Both Nimitz and MacArhthur considered Formosa to be important in their strategies, but Nimitz had a growing fleet with men like Spruance and Halsey taking the war to the IJN as virtual hunter/seekers by this time. Without air or sea power, the Japanese military was doomed.

Yes, the postwar political situation may indeed have been what FDR was looking at in choosing the compromise plan that we see in hindsight, but as far as the war picture itself was unfolding, Nimitz and Co had a more realistic grasp of service cooperation and importance of naval and air power.

Still, neither Nimitz, nor MacArthur, nor Roosevelt had a perfect PTO plan. Look at what happened at Peleilu. Two months, 12,000 men, and millions of dollars of destroyed weaponry for a campaign that many today feel was a completely useless effort. Yes, it had an airfeild, yes it seemed to be strategically positioned. But what good is an airfeild if you can’t get supplies to it? Look at how ineffectual Wake was for the remainder of the war.

It all goes to show that even the best plans can be ruined, or at least delayed and damaged.

What would the current political picture look like if the Bomb had never been dropped and the USA and USSR did indeed invade the home islands with either plan or yet another compromise plan? Let’s get inside my WayBack™ machine! :wink:

But does anybody KNOW why the Japanese were still on the offensive in Burma? As I recall, the battle of Imphal=Kohima wasfought in 1944-when the japanese leadership knew the whole thing was hopeless. Fortunately, they were opposed by the finest British general of the was (General Slim). Slim is one of the forgotten heroes of WWII-he was an excellent field commander and tactician, and a very decent human being. He was (IMOP) a far better commander that either McArthur or Montgomery.
As for Nimitz-although primarily a carrier admiral, he had a keen appreciation of what the US Navy submarine fleet was doing to Japan-had the war gone on a few more months, there would have been a massive famine in Japan (the submarines had sunk the entire Japanese merchant fleet). I’m sure that Nimitz and King knew that Japan already had been defeated-it was just a matter of time.

A couple of possible reasons.

The invasions of 1937 were to open up territory for expansion and to procure raw materials.

Burma was a thorn in Japan’s China strategy, because thru the Burma highway on the ground, and what pitifully little air supply was coming thru that region, Ciang’s army stayed alive to thwart Japan’s plans for China. If the Japanese had been able to disable this supply route, they might have been able to secure (mostly) China, thus freeing up troops and machinary for elsewhere in the PTO.

Surely there are more WWII buffs here than us three?

A Burma Road link

Some more Burma reading - OSS101
Even tho Stillwell had to leave Burma in 1942, the Allies were not entirely out of the fight. There was no real battle line in most of the C/B/I theatre, and Allied backed/led/supplied guerillas kept the invading Japanese occupied thru out the war. So, even tho Japan had control over the Burma Highway from about 1942 to 44, they still couldn’t leave, as diminishing their forces there would lead to an Allied takeover. And the air battle raged constantly. The Allies barely maintained the air supply to China at times.

The Allies finally did reopen the BH in 45 but the conditions they worked in hadn’t changed much. A forcible Japanese push could’ve retaken it. Just play out this scenario several times in your head and you’ll see why both the Allies and Japan stayed in Burma. Japan needed it to secure that region, the USA needed it so they help China (which they hoped to be a major player in the US postwar scheme of things), the British wanted their stuff back, and the local people were in no position to effectively fight anyone interested in the area. (Apparantly, the locals liked using the Allied aid, tho, and indeed were a major part of the guerilla forces.)

The C/B/I theatre is one of the most misunderstood areas of WWII, and it rarely gets much of a detailed look here in our fine country. I had the oppotunity to interview a US Army Lt who spent several tours there for a book I was researching (unwritten still) who coloured in a very disturbing mental picture of what the war was like for those guys. They always seemed to just barely get by with the meager supplies and other support they had. The living conditions could not really be described as living to our pampered asses. Imagine having giant bugs biting on you while lying in the muck listening to an enemy advanced scout speaking in hushed tones to an unseen platoon while you’ve been underfed for months and aren’t even sure if your gun is going to work to kill him.

Everyone in C/B/I deserves a salute, imho, just for surviving.

But this is about the PTO and boats! Ask me about the ETO and airplanes cuz all i can do here is read and learn.

Damn, if y’all are learnin from me, then I weep for our future.


I was always more interested in the PTO for some reason. I would really love to hear some UK or Aussie centric views of the WWII PTO. I’ve got plenty of websites viewed, but some anecdotes would be cool.

I am amused that you are using a US Navy screw-up to defend the brilliance of the Navy plan for the war. There was no reason for Leyte Gulf to have been as close as it was except that Halsey was eager to get the (now empty) Japanese carriers. And there is no reason to believe that had we invaded Taiwan and not Leyte that the Japanese would not have tried the same tactic (and with more open seas, there would be no Surigao Strait, no narrow channels slowing down Kurita, and the possibility that the overall attack might have succeeded).

I don’t have a strong opinion as to whether we were “better” following MacArthur’s political choice or Nimitz’s military choice, but you cannot use Leyte Gulf to criticize MacArthur.

Any number of naval officers both in the field, and in Washington, were well aware of the supply situation in Japan because of the submarine blockade. Rear Admiral Daniel Gallery mentions in his autobiography that he’d been involved, in a very junior level, with planning for the invasion of the Japanese main islands, and became very unpopular when he asked at a strategy session: Why invade at all? The Army, and the politicians couldn’t see that Japan was in the situation that Britain had been in in 1942-43, when the Kriegsmarine nearly cut off that island from outside supplies. Certainly it’s ironic that for all the vehemence that the US spent complaining about unrestricted submarine warfare as practiced by the Germans, that’s exactly the strategy used by the US Navy during WWII.

I can’t really say which of the two flag officers were right with the OP’s original question. Certainly part of MacArthur’s insistence on the retaking of the Philipines was ego, but that doesn’t negate the moral obligation. As Polycarp already pointed out. (I’m about as negative on MacArthur as anyone can be, but not for his insistance on retaking the Phillipines.)

BTW, I would like to point out, the invasion force was saved, just as much by the DE’s as the jeep carriers. (And the squall.) Kurita was horrified to see that his rounds were apparantly duds, and doing no damage to the ships he was firing on, so he broke contact - AIUI the Japanese took that to mean that these were a new class of battleships, not destroyers. What he didn’t realize was that the AP rounds were going through the DE’s and exploding on the other side.

Good point. It was almost a comedy of errors. But what I was trying to highlight with that little snippet was the knife’s edge that was walked with regards to that part of the campaign. We can guess all we want as to how any alternative battles may have gone down.

I don’t believe anyone had a great plan, which I pointed out in post 7. But, I stand by my opinion that Nimitz hada better overall grasp of the entire theatre.

I think you’re right there, NCB. But in part that’s because the Navy was able to consider the logistics situation that the Japanese faced, where the Army couldn’t.

One more BTW, it is possible that there would have been no Soviet support for an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Certainly in the time from May to August there had been damned little by way of support or even troop movement by Soviet forces to move toward the Pacific theatre. I honestly believe that had the US invaded it would have been alone, or with the dregs of the ANZAC forces, and certainly not with the support of the USSR.

I worked a guy in Tokyo that was interesting as hell. Japanese raised in the US until 16, then back to Japan and became a member of the Emporer’s elite imperial guards military unit. He witnessed Dolittle’s raid. Anyhoo, he spent years in Burma. Described a battle against the British that went on for days, the British finally gave up and retreated, and there were only 3 survivors on the Japanese side. My colleague looted the bodies and still wore an Omega watch he took off of a British officer.

He and his unit walked from Burma to Thailand to surrender at the end of the war. He was the last Japanese out of Burma repatriated back to japan because of his English skills he was kept in Thailand to translate.

He was such a dapper gentleman speaking an archaic formal American English. A helluva survivor…those of his unit that survived were still around and kicking 10 years ago. When my father visited, we all had lunch together. My father the WW2 pacific theater (Philipines) and Korea war combat vet and a man proud to have served the emperor sat down and had a great lunch together. Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of Ito-san and haven’t seen him since my wedding.

Not really pertinent but thought I’d share.

Let’s be clear: Nimitz, the carrier’s, the submarines and the Marines won the war in the Pacific.
McArthur was a side show of no relevance Only served to get good men killed and waste war materiel.

Overall I have to agree with this post. MacArthur overall slowed down the efforts to defeat the Japanese. It is stronger than I would’ve gone but pretty accurate.