World War II: Pacific Strategy Conference (July 1944)

Figure 1.-Here American civilan internees are finally on their way home after 3 harrowing years of internment by the Japanese. He and his parents were liberated from camps on Luzon. Because of the horrendous conditions in the camps. Many would not have survived the War had the United Staytes not liberated the Philippines. The Japanese camps were run by the Army. Military authorities in Tokyo had ordered camp commeders to kill the POWs and internees before Allied forces could reach them. The Pacific Strategy Conference thus determined the fate of many of American civilian internees who were mostly held in the Philippines. On the way home the chikldren had plenty of time to make friends with the sailors. The sailor here is teaching the boy to tie knots.

The two American offensives in the Pacific came to a conclusion at the same time. The U.S. Army under Douglas MacArthur in the South Pacific had neutralized Rabaul and defeated or bypassed Japanese forces in the Solomons and northeastern New Guinea. At the same time, the U.S. Navy under Admiral Chester Nimitz after driving through the Central Pacific (the Gliberts and Marshalls) and finally seized the Marianas after the great naval victory in the Philippines Sea. But this brought to the fore the still unanswered question of 'where next?' There were two targets on the table. MacArthur was adamant about the answer--the Philippines. Since departing Corregidor he had repeated his goal, 'I shall return.' His argument was largely political and moral--we owed it to the Filipino people as the Philippines at the time was American territory. Admiral Earnest King believed that Formosa (Taiwan) made more strategic sense, largely because it would more more effectively interdict the delivery of raw materials from the Southern Resource Zone to the Home Islands. A difference of such magnitude between such senior American commanders could only be resolved by President Roosevelt. The President summoned his commanders at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to settle the issue of the direction of the advance on Japan (July 26-27). MacArthur made his and the Army's case. Nimitz made the case for the Navy. The choice would be the Philippines leading to the greatest naval battle in world history--the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Dual American Offensives Concluded (June 1944)

The two American offensives in the Pacific came to a conclusion at the same time (June 1944). The Japanese when they launched the Pacific War by striking Pear Harbor believed that the United States did not have the capacity to launch an offensive operations until mid-1943. In fact by that time five of the carriers that attacked Pearl were sunk and the United States launched not only one offensive, but two. The first in the South Pacific was launched a year before the Japanese had believed possible with the Marine seizure of Guadalcanal (August 1942). The U.S. Army under Douglas MacArthur in the South Pacific had neutralized Rabaul and defeated or bypassed Japanese forces in the Solomons and northeastern New Guinea. At the same time, the U.S. Navy under Admiral Chester Nimitz launched the Central Pacific campaign with the bloody invasion of Tarawa (November 1943). After driving through the Central Pacific (the Gilberts and Marshalls) and finally seized the Marianas after the great naval victory in the Philippines Sea, the Central Pacific campaign was largely concluded.

The South Pacific (1942-44)

After Midway the focus of the War shifted south. America had reduced the Japanese naval advantage, but did not yet have the naval assets needed to challenge the Imperial Fleet in a major fleet action in the Central Pacific. The Japanese with a badly-damaged Fleet Air Arm declined to renew challenge the America Pacific Fleet. Both sides instead began to regroup and rebuild their naval forces for a future show down in the Central Pacific. This was a serious mistake for the Japanese as time was on America's side. The tremendous industrial capacity of the United States could build naval vessels and aircraft at a far more rapid rate than Japan. Japan did renew its offense in the South Pacific which had been put on hold after the Coral Sea Battle. This was a natural development because the Japanese after taking the Dutch East Indies had seized almost all of New Guinea, except for Port Moresby and the island groups to the East, including New Britain, New Ireland, and the Solomons. Unlike the Central Pacific, these were large islands (especially New Guinea) and located close together. Thus the fighting could be supported with air fields rather than carriers. Thus the fighting was largely land operations interspersed with short range amphibious operations. The initial phase of the campaign was Japanese assaults on Australia, bombing runs, and a land offensive crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains to take Port Moresby, and building an air field on Guadalcanal in the southern Solomons. This airfield could be used to support naval operations to cut off Australia from American reinforcements and supplies. The center of the Japanese operations was the vast complex of military installations the Japanese built at Rabaul on New Britain. The Japanese based their best pilots and planes there. The first American offensive of the Pacific War occurred when U,S, Marines seized the airfield the Japanese were building on Guadalcanal (August 1942). What followed was one of the most prolonged campaigns fought by the Marines in the War and a series of pitched battles in in the Slot formed by the Solomon Islands. The subsequent Allied offensive was a two prong movement. The first prong was overseen by the U.S. Navy (Halsey) in the Solomons and other islands east of New Guinea. The Navy decided against a costly assault on Rabaul itself. Rather they established rings around Rabaul, cutting off the powerful base and making it impossible for the Japanese to resupply it. They subjected Rabaul to a whithering air assault. Allied troops on Los Negroes in the Admiralty Islands played a major role in cutting off and neutralizing Rabaul (December 1943). The second prong was overseen by the U.S. Army (MacArthur) with Australian support. The Australians stopped the Japanese short of Port Moresby. American infantry began taking bases along the northern coast of New Guinea. MacArthur's goal from the beginning was to obtain bases from which he could return to Philippine Islands. Bases in New Guinea brought the southern Philippine Islands into range.

The Central Pacific (1943-44)

Japanese Army planners estimated that the United States would not be able to amass the forces for an offensive until mid-1943. Many Japanese were convinced that America would not have the stomach for fight even then. The Japanese war plan had been premised on a German victory over the Soviet Union which would have forced the United States to use most of its limited military strength in Europe. This of course not only did not occur, but America was able to generate military power more quickly and in greater strength than Japanese planners had anticipated. The fact that a cross-channel invasion was put off until 1944 meant that considerable forces could be directed to the Pacific. Japan was shocked with the American invasion of Guadalcanal and naval forces committed to the Solomons campaign. Here the Imperial Navy did not inform the Army of the full extent of the Midway debacle. The Imperial Army and Navy was still attempting to stop the American advances in the South Pacific when Admiral Nimitz strengthen by the new Essex Carriers and Hell Cat fighters opened a new front in the Pacific War--the Central Pacific. MacArthur had opposed this being concerned about diversion of resources. In fact, the Central Pacific campaign aided his operations. From this point of the War, the Japanese were never sure where the Americans would strike next. Thus they were never sure where to deploy their limited resources. The Central Pacific campaign brought 20th century war to the tranquil island of the South Pacific. Americans had never heard of most of these islands. And the local people were unaware of the massive forces being mobilized in far away Japan and America. The Imperial Fleet was withdrawn to recover from losses in the Solomons. They hoped that a well-armed and entrenched island garrison could repel an amphibious landing. The Marines proved at Tarawa that they could not without naval support. The Marines paid a terrible price, but learned from the experiences. Losses at Kwajelin were a fraction of those at Tarawa. Only when the U.S. attacked the Marianas did the Imperial Fleet intervene. The Marianas brought the Home Islands into the range of the new B-29 Superforts. The Imperial fleet intervened, but after the Marianas Turkey Shoot, the rest if the Imperial fleet withdrew. On Saipan the Americans encountered the first Japanese civilians. The Japanese finally decided to throw all of their remaining naval strength to defending the Philippines, leading to the greatest naval battle in history--the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The American victory at Leyte, meant that the liberation of the Philippines could proceed, a long and bloody fight.

Strategy Differences

The conclusion of the Army's South Pacific and the Navy's Central Pacific campaign brought to the fore the still unanswered question of 'where next?' There were two targets on the table for Allied planners. MacArthur was adamant about the answer--the Philippines. Since departing Corregidor he had repeated his goal, 'I shall return.' His argument was largely political and moral--we owed it to the Filipino people as the Philippines at the time was American territory. Admiral Earnest King believed that Formosa (Taiwan) made more strategic sense, largely because it would more more effectively interdict the delivery of raw materials from the a Southern Resource Zone to the Home Islands. This had been the principal reason that Japan had launched the Pacific War in the first place. Both MacArthur and King/Nimitz were right. There were, however, differences involving more strategu and consequences. Some military historians argue that invading the Philippines meant that many Filipinos would be killed in the fighting, although often ignored was that another year of Japanese occupation would have meant more deaths from Japanese occupation policies, especially control of the food supply. King/Nimitz probabky had the better strategic argument. Control of the Philippines would leave a protected route open to the Japnese, along the Chinese coast and through the Taiwn Straits. A difference of such magnitude between such senior American commanders could only be resolved by President Roosevelt.

Japanese Assessment

We are unsure about the Japanese assessment after the Marianas (May-July 1944) as to where the Americanswould strike next. The obvious conclusion from even a rudimentary study of a map was either the Philippines or Formosa (Taiwan). We know that the Japanese had begun to strengthen their Philippines garison as early as 1943. This gave them the ability to more severely establish their occupation of the Islands and seize available food supplies, especially rice. The Japanese had avoided substantial areas producing food in the rice growing area of central Luzon (until 1943). Here the Huckbala guerillas drove off the landlords and managed to stand off the Japanese (until late-1943). With the arrival of Japanese reinforcements this begn to change. The Japanese were able to seize more of the harvest. The price of rice on the Black Market which had already risen, sky rocketed. Workers could no longer aford rice and othrr food and famine began to set in Manila and the other cities. Corpses began to apopear on the streets. [Collingham, p. 343.]

Orders for a Conference

President Roosevelt summoned his commanders at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to settle the issue of the direction of the advance on Japan. General MacArthur did not like the idea for a conference. He wanted his ideas accepted without inconvenient questioning. He dismissed the conference as a 'picture-taking junket', He said that he wanted stay with his troops. He told the press, "In the First War, I never for a moment left my division, even when wounded by gas and ordered to the hospital. I've never before had to turn my back on my assignment." This was the case during World War I, however during the Pacific War, he stayed in comfortable rear-area headquarters, rarely venturing to the front line. On Bataan, the men called him 'Dug out Doug MacArthur'. For security reasons, cables to MacArthur did not state that the president would be there, but he assumed that he would be.

Allied POWs and Civilian Internees

The Pacific War was planned out by military staffs dealing with grand strategy assessing Allied and Japanese capabilities and the strategic importance of various small, virtually unknown strategy. In the midst of the fierce fighting Allied prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian internees were doing their best to survive. The POWs endured brutal treatment and horrendous conditions from the beginning, forced to work under inhuman conditions without adequate food and medical care. Conditions for the civilian internees were at first survivable. After the Japanese Army took over the camps it did not already control (1943), conditions steadily deteriorated. Deaths of both POWs and civilians began to escalate as emaciated bodies fell victim to disease and outright starvation. It became a question of how quickly the Allies could get to them or end the War if any would survive. And if this situation was not bad enough, military officials in Tokyo aware that Japan was losing the War, began instructing camp commanders to murder the POWs and internees before they could be liberated. We are not entirely sure what motivated these orders, but it is likely commanders calculated that survivors would provide damaging testimony at likely war crimes trials. As most American civilian internees and some POWs were held in the Philippines and were now beginning to die in large numbers, the choice of the next Allied target would determine the fate of many.

General MacArthur's Political Preconceptions

General MacArthur was convinced that there was a grand conspiracy against him in Washington. He believed that President Roosevelt was personally involved in the strategic planning . In fact, the President for the most part stayed out of military strategy, relying on his senior commanders,especially Admiral Leahy, Admiral King, and General Marshal. (The President's primarily intervention was to push the Guadalcanal and Torch landings before the military wanted to move.) And by this time of the war his health was just beginning to fail, a development which would begin to sap the enormous energy that had characterized his presidency. MacArthur not only believed that the President was driving strategy , but doing so as part of his electioneering for an unprecedented fourth term in office. Part of the reason MacArthur believed this was that he was allowing military strategy to be dictated by his own political agenda. Some historians argue that his headquarters was more like a political campaign headquarters than a military headquarters. MacArthur hated politicians,in part because if how his father was treated. Despite his distaste for politicians, he hoped to run for president himself after the war. MacArthur incredibly decided to upstage the President by arriving in a long open limousine led by an impressive motorcycle escort generating a boisterous welcome from a cheering crowd. (MacArthur would play the same games with President Truman who was less tolerant.) MacArthur also believed that that Nimitz and the Navy were part of an effort to deny him needed resources and to ensure that the Navy was the premier service of the Pacific War. Admiral Nimitz because he did not have political ambitions after the War had no such misconceptions.

Joint Chiefs

Before the Pacific Strategy Conference, the Joint Chiefs had concluded that Formosa was the most appropriate American target, although no decision had been reached. [Hopkins, p.240.] There were strong strategic advantages for bypassing the heavily defended Philippines and instead seizing Formosa. President Roosevelt was inclined to agree.

The Conference (July 26-27)

General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz met the President in Honolulu and Admiral Leahy joined them for dinner. After dinner they began discussions of the next strep in the Pacific War. No written record was kept at the meeting, but the participants have provided detailed reports. General MacArthur made the Army's case for the Philippines. Admiral Nimitz made the Navy's case for Formosa. The President listened and was a neutral arbiter during the meeting, according to Admiral Leahy, tactfully steering the discussions. [Friedman, p. 14.]. Much of the discussions turned on geography, one of the President's favorite discussions. The meeting ended about midnight.

MacArthur's presentation

MacArthur made his case with characteristic histrionics. He argued that the United States had a constitutional responsibility to the people of the Filipino people. Thus the United States had to proceed to liberate the islands without further delay. He also argued that the liberation of the Philippines made more strategic sense than the Navy's plan to invade Formosa. First, he maintained that the Philippine Islands under Allied control would sever Japan from the Southern Resource Zone it had carved out to the south. This would adversely affect Japanese war industries by cutting off the supply of raw materials. Second, he indicated that the seizure of the Philippines would also isolate the Japanese troops south and west of the islands. There were serious flaws in MacArthur's presentation. By the time that the Conference occurred, the U.S. Navy had largely accomplished both objectives. The American submarine force was well on the way to destroying the Japanese maru fleet. This effectively cut Japan off from the SRZ raw materials and isolated Japanese garrisons. And MacArthur did not address the issue of the substantial losses the Army and Filipino civilians would suffer in a Philippines campaign. Given the number of islands and substantial troop deployment, the campaign would necessarily be long and bloody. We are not sure if MacArthur brought up the issue of POWs and civilian internees.

Nimitz's presentation

Admiral Nimitz made the case for the Navy. Nimitz push for invading Formosa, bypassing and isolating the the Philippine Islands--using MacArthur s isolation thesis against him. He noted that Formosa was closer to the Home Islands and thus American bases there would be better placed to support the planned invasion. Liberating Formosa would be politically beneficial because this was Chinese territory and be a major blow against the Japanese position in China where most of the Japanese army was committed. And bases in Formosa would make possible much expanded support of the Chinese, forcing the Japanese to withdraw from some coastal areas. It would also close the only remaining link between the SRZ and the Home Islands and end the flow of oil to Japan--the coastal sea lanes through the Taiwan Straits.. This was an area where it was dangerous for American submariners to operate. Nimitz's presentation gave a greater role to the Navy and the Marines, which only confirmed MacArthur's conspiratorial thinking. MacArthur is often credited with the idea of isolating Japanese garrisons. In fact, the idea was more Marshal's thinking which MacArthur eventually signed on to after the effectiveness was demonstrated to him. MacArthur was, for example adamant about attacking rather than isolating Rabaul for some time. This mind set surfaced again at the Conference. He questioned whether the Navy's plan would work. Just how to neutralize and contain the 300,000 Japanese troops left in [Nimitz's] rear in the Philippines was never clearly explained to me.' He said privately, "Admiral Nimitz put forth the Navy plan, but I was sure it was [Ernest] King's and not his own." President Roosevelt was aware that the Navy leadership was not in complete agreement. Admiral Raymond Spruance preferred the Philippines as the next step.

The Decision

The President listened and asked questions at the Conference. He did not announce a decision at the meeting. He did meet privately with MacArthur the next morning. No one knows what went own at that meeting. Some historians are convinced that MacArthur and Roosevelt reached a secret agreement. MacArthur would get the go for the Philippine, but would not help Republicans in the November election. There is no definitive evidence of this and we can neither confirm or deny it. There is evidence that MacArthur emerged from the morning meeting sure that he had prevailed. MacArthur is known to have told intimates that he got what he wanted. General MacArthur received a formal letter from the President (August 9). The President stated that as soon as he returned to Washington, he would move on the plan that MacArthur had recommended--meaning the invasion and liberation of the Philippines. MacArthur believed that the President sided with him because of the support he enjoyed with conservative voters in the United States and election year calculations. The 1944 presidential election campaign was in progress. This is possible, but we have never seen a scholarly assessment explaining the President's decision. As far as I know he never explained his decision. What ever the reasons, the decision was that MacArthur was to oversee the landings on the Philippine Islands. He would be supported by the Third Fleet which would be commanded by Admiral William Halsey who alternated with Admiral Spruance in commanding the Fleet. (It would be called the Fifth Fleet under Spruance.) The President's trip was done in secret. The first mention to the public was not made public until the President was safely back in Washington. The Honolulu Advertiser broke the story (August 11). And in the front page story was the announcement that General MacArthur was going back to the Philippines. The choice would lead to the greatest naval battle in world history--the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Had Formosa been chosen there would have also been a great naval battle only around Formosa and not the Philippines. Military historians debate the decision. The general, but certainly not universal consensus is that politically MacArthur was right as the Philippines was American soil and there was a historical connection with the Filipino people. Militarily Formosa probably made more sense. Liberating the Philippines was a vast undertaking,requiring a substantial diversion of men and material. In fact the Japanese were still fighting in Luzon at the time Japan surrendered (August 1945). It would cost 6,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Filipinos, many murdered by the Japanese. The Rape of Manila was one of the most terrible Japanese atrocities of the War. The choice of the Philippines meant that many POWs and civilian internees would survive the War.

Liberating the Philippines (October 1944)

The Filipino people suffered grievously. under Japanese occupation. This helped fuel an effective Resistance campaigns carried out by guerrillas which had achieved control of substantial areas. The Japanese, however, controlled the population centers, especially on Leyte and Luzon. The Navy preferred targeting Formosa (Taiwan), but MacArthur eventually prevailed with his insistence that America must return to the Philippines. He considered his vow to return a pledge to the Filipino people that had to be honored. Some how his vow, "I shall return." seems less appropriate than "We shall return", but it was pure MacArthur and he convinced President Roosevelt. Reports from resistance fighters and American pilots revealed that the Japanese were not heavily defending large areas of the Islands. The invasion of Mindanao was considered unnecessary and the decision was made to strike first further north at Leyte. It was in this engagement that the Kamikazes first appeared, although still in relatively small numbers. MacArthur President Sergio Osmeņa waded ashore with the invasion force at Leyte Gulf (October 20, 1944). The American Army forces advanced steadily. The Japanese resisted, but could not match American fire power. The most serious Japanese resistance occurred at sea. The resulting naval engagement following on Battle of the Philippines Sea is commonly referred to as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was the largest sea battle ever fought and resulted in the destruction of the Japanese fleet as an effective fighting force. This opened the way for the land campaign. Further landings occurred at Ormoc (December 7, 1944).


Collingham, Lizzue. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Press: New York: 2012), 634p.

Friedman, Kenneth I. Afternoon of the Rising Sun: The Battle of Leyte Gulf (Presidio Press: Novato,California, 2001).

Hastings, Max Retribution

Hopkins, William B. The Pacific War: The Strategy,Politics,Players that Won the War (Zenith Press: 2008), 392p.

MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences.

Manchester, William.American Caesar

Van der Vat, Dan.The Pacific Campaign

Honolulu Advertiser (August 11, 1944).


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Pacific War land campaign]
[Return to Main Pacific War naval campaign]
[Return to Main World War II naval campaign page]
[Return to Main Japanese strategic concepts page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 6:32 AM 6/8/2012
Spell checkjed: 12:40 AM 6/9/2012
Last updated: 11:14 PM 4/4/2013