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What if Macarthur's escape from the Philippines failed?

Discussion in 'What If - Pacific and CBI' started by Falcon Jun, Jul 23, 2008.

  1. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Macarthur was ordered to leave Corregidor and proceed to Australia. He used PT boats to break the Japanese blockade. He bounced back from his defeat in Bataan and went on to lead part of the US campaign in the PTO.
    Now the question: what if Macarthur's PT boats were sunk and his escape failed?
    Who would be the next general likely to replace a person such as Mac?
    And how would this commander conduct his part of the Pacific campaign?
    Mac's experience in Buna led him to accept the island-hopping strategy.
    Without Mac, what could have been used instead?
    Personally, I feel the loss of such a forceful personality would catapult the US Navy to the forefront of Pacific Theater operations. What I have in mind would be that most operations would be dictated by the Navy, i.e., the Navy would outline its operational needs to defeat Japan and the other services would follow suit to meet the strategic requirements. Army or Marine officers would still be used to command local campaigns but the overall strategic concept would be naval in nature.

    In the ETO, I think it was the reverse.
    If the Navy had lead without Mac, I personally think that Guadalcanal might not have been pushed through. Buna would still have happened, though.
    I think fewer islands would have been attacked and the islands targeted would be converted to bases to support the Navy's logistical needs. The emphasis would be like Germany's U-boat campaign, and such a strategy could lead to fewer casualties and probably, a swifter strangulation and earlier isolation of much of Japan's defensive perimeter. Such a strategy would probably lead to the use of a better type of submarine and maybe improved wolf pack tactics. Japan is highly vulnerable to this because their navy didn't really have an efficient convoy system.
    With Japan's outlying forces denied supplies, the US would be in a better position to choose where to strike next, leading to maybe a faster campaign. Large concentrations of Japanese forces would be left impotent and they would just wither on the vine without adequate supplies.
    I know the priority was Europe first but I think the above might be a good compromise.
    Mac had a tendency to go for the dramatic because of his ego. Without Mac, the US would've bypassed the Philippines. As for the commander I have in mind, Nimitz is the first in my mind. Is there another US officer that could step up aside from Nimitz?
     
  2. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    MacArthur was originally ordered to leave the Philippines by sub, but it seems he suffered from claustrophobia because he considered that course "too dangerous". He could have very easily been intercepted and either killed or captured by Japanese naval patrols while embarked on the PT boat that took him to Leyte. Either way, it would have been a major propaganda
    victory for the Japanese, but both Roosevelt and Marshall would have been able to breathe a very private sigh of relief.

    Initially, the US did not plan to launch a major offensive from Australia, and it's questionable that the JCS would have seen any urgent necessity of naming an overall commander in Mac's place. Eventually, the policy of building up the defenses of Australia and using that country as a base to stop the southward advance of the Japanese, would have required some sort of overall command structure, but the person named might easily have been a naval officer or even a British or Australian military commander.

    Several names come to mind; Joe Stilwell, Albert Wedemeyer, Ghormelely, Hart (although he retired during the war, due supposedly to poor health), Blamey, Mountbatten, or even Esienhower (who had been Mac's Chief of Staff in the PI). It would really depend on how important the JCS thought Australia was as a base for offensives against the Japanese, and, suffice it to say, neither Marshall nor Roosevelt would have seen it as important as Mac did.

    As for th "island hopping" strategy that eventuated in the Pacific, that was not Mac's idea and it would have happened with or without him. The pre-war plan was for a single powerful drive, led by the USN, through the Central Pacific and that would have been carried out. We tend to forget that MacArthur had a tendency to pump up the importance of any theater in which he happened to be, and that was certainly the case with Australia. That is not to say that Australia would not have been defended, or that it was not important to stop the Japanese advance in the South Pacific, but it wouldn't have taken on the nature of a holy crusade with with Mac imbued it.

    Much of what happened in the South Pacific during WW II was dictated by the public pressure on Washington generated by Mac's orchestration of publicity in the conservative US newspapers which slavishly reported everything he did. I agree with you that the JCS would have been free to prosecute the war in the Pacific without regard to MacArthur's personal agenda and that it probably would have been a more efficient process. Roosevelt kept Mac in Australia because he didn't want him in the US stirring up political trouble. A significant portion of the US public supported Mac, but he was in essence just another complicating factor in the global war strategy for Washington, Roosevelt, and the JCS.
     
  3. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

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    Personally, I do not think MacArthur was all that great of a general. I get the impression that he was more of a liability hindering sound military strategy. I would put his performance on par with Mark Clark's. At least with Patton, you can see what he accomplished. Just my opinion though.
     
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  4. Lost Watchdog

    Lost Watchdog Member

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    No MacArthur would mean much less fighting in the SW Pacific area and resources diverted to the Central Pacific thrust. That could mean a very different road to Tokyo. The Navy-led drive might by-pass the Philippines and head for Taiwan (Formosa) and even mainland China. Even if the Philippines were retaken, there would be no battle of Manila (caused by MacArthur's ego) and no need to retake every island, freeing up resources for the drive to Tokyo.
    Another interesting departure would be how Australia conducted its war. With less fighting in New Guinea and the SWP islands Australia might have resources -navy, airforce and army - to spare. I'm sure Churchill would push for the jungle-hardened Diggers to fight in Burma but politically Aussie PM John Curtin would not allow this. One option would be to send them back to the Med to fight alongside the New Zealanders in Italy. Another prospect would be for Australia to use its resources locally, raiding Japanese held-islands in the Dutch East Indies, maybe even taking Timor as a forward operating base.
     
  5. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Worst case is that MacAurthur lets slip how many of the Japanese radio codes have been compromised. The submarine evacuation also took the radio techs and crypyanalysts from the Phillipines CAST station. Mac, Breaton, and maybe a couple others were the only commanders present who understood the role of the CAST unit and how far the Japanese radio codes had been penetrated. Where the Japanese to overhaul their radio codes & encryption methods it would have been a major setback in 1942.
     
  6. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    I think that the SWPA would have become a backwater theater for the US much as Burma under Stillwell was. There still would have been a considerable US presence but not sufficent to undertake a major offensive as originally occured.
    The other significant change would occur late in the war when the US Navy reached the Eastern Pacific. The Philippines would likely have been bypassed in favor of a more direct attack on the Japanese homeland.
     
  7. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    At best, MacArthur's knowledge of current US code-breaking activities in 1942 was very minimal. Summaries of CAST's intelligence bulletins went directly to MacArthur's intelligence staff in Manila, but neither they, nor MacArthur, were ever told any of the details as to the source or the methods involved. The Army Signals Intelligence Service (SIS) detachment that operated in the Philippines mainly were involved in interception and decryption of diplomatic radio traffic and seldom, if ever, provided any intelligence data directly to MacArthur's staff. It was standard procedure throughout the US armed forces prior to, and during WW II, to divulge, even to theater commanders, only the minimum necessary intelligence data, never how it was obtained. Though it's very doubtful, MacArthur may have had some general knowledge of US code-breaking activities in the early 1930's as a result of his service as Army Chief of Staff, but this service, and any contact he might have had with signals intelligence activities, ended in 1935. MacArthur simply didn't have any useful knowledge of US signals intelligence that could have aided the Japanese in 1942.

    The Japanese did understand the role of CAST in the Philippines and spent days interrogating the only member of that unit they managed to capture when Corregidor fell. Unfortunately for the Japanese the man they captured was the unit's cook and had no knowledge of code-breaking or signals intelligence.

    Source; John Prados, "Combined Fleet Decoded"
     
  8. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I think you may have a point there. However, if the SWPA becomes a backwater theater like Burma, then wouldn't that imply that this would allow the Japanese time to consolidate in this area and perhaps improve their logistical shipping chain?
    And where would the US thrust to break the Japanese Pacific defense begin?
    Macarthur's overwhelming personality helped a lot in getting his way of thinking approved many times. If Mac wasn't in the cards, I've always wondered where the US Pacific offensive would take place and in what form.
     
  9. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    No matter what the US strategy ultimately was in the SWPA, it would have been necessary to contain the Japanese advances into the Solomons, New Guinea, and beyond in order to assure the lines of supply and communication between the US and Australia. So, if at all, the SWPA would have become a "backwater" only after this had been achieved.

    As it was, the Japanese were badly over extended in the entire Pacific, and any attempt to keep their forces properly supplied in the SWPA, or form a solid defensive line there would still have severely strained their logistical resources, not to mention the military assets needed to form adequate defensive lines elsewhere.

    For something like 30 years, the US war plan for a war against the Japanese Empire envisioned a naval offensive through the islands of the Central Pacific. It was this plan that Nimitz was executing when he attacked the Ellices, Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas beginning in 1943. The Central Pacific drive held several advantages over the drive in the SWPA, especially from the US Navy's point of view. It also would have avoided the split command forced on the US forces in the Pacific by MacArthur's insistence on the SWPA remaining an active theater.

    On the other hand, conducting a dual offensive from both the SWPA and Central Pacific, while costly in terms of military assets, especially shipping, held the benefit of keeping the Japanese off balance and guessing as to where the next blow would fall, and largely negated the potential Japanese advantage of fighting on interior lines. It also exaggerated the US material superiority by forcing the Japanese into attritional warfare on two fronts rather than just one. This effect was particularly apparent in aircraft and destroyers. Two offensives in the Pacific also had the effect of threatening to successively outflank the Japanese defenses in each theater; Truk, at one point considered "the Gibraltar of the Pacific", was a perfect example of this.
     
  10. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Hmm, thanks for your explanation. It cleared up a few things for me. Personally, I ascribe to the strategy Nimitz used. I think it's a better and potentially less costly approach.
    The way you described things, the image that came to my mind was boxing. The US was the boxer who had a solid right jab and a devastating left hook that left the Japanese boxer punch drunk. He didn't know where to turn because the US hook or jab is always in the way.
     
  11. mega007

    mega007 recruit

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    In my Forty year study of MacArthur I have found that he was by far a much better General than most historians have stated. If the Navy had had control of the Pacific War , Losses would have been much higher.
    The number of Marines killed would have been far to large. There were a number of reasons that JCOS selected the Philippines and not Formosa.
    But the Army would have not given up the command to the Navy anyway. General Stillwell would have benn selected to command in the South West Pacific. And the Philippines would have been selected over Formosa anyway!

    I base this on information from the people who were in the Army and Navy. But, of course, it's only my opinion.

    Mega007
     
  12. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    That MacArthur was a "better general than most historians have stated" is certainly a minority view as indicated by the phrase "most historians", but if you've studied Mac for forty years, presumably you can elaborate on your statement, and cite evidence to support your assertion.

    Personally, I doubt it. In my opinion Mac was a decent divisional commander, but should have been entrusted with no higher command. The frequent claims of his supporters that he managed the SWPA offensive with far fewer casualties really does not stand up to scrutiny; overall, his losses were no lighter than comparable fighting in the Central Pacific. It must be remembered that the Marines often had no choice other than to make frontal attacks across heavily defended beaches where no possibility of maneuver warfare existed; this was seldom, if ever, the case in Mac's area.

    As for the choice between Formosa and Luzon, there were good reasons for selecting Luzon over Formosa, including more favorable logistics and the potential for encountering a hostile civilian population on Formosa, but the US Navy was not opposed to the most logical choice. Nimitz actually concurred with Mac on Luzon, and only King held out for Formosa to the bitter end. It's interesting to note that the decision on Luzon was not made by the JCS, who were deliberately excluded from the meeting.

    Stilwell may well have been selected to command in Australia in Mac's absence, but "Vinegar Joe" didn't have all the baggage that Mac carried with him. In all likelihood, Stilwell, who was a soldier first and a politician second, would not have insisted on the divided command in the Pacific that Mac's presence demanded, and which led to several American missteps during the war.
     
  13. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Well, then. I'm with the minority view that believes Mac is a better general that he is credited for.
    Examining Mac's generalship should not be limited to just his record in World War II. It extends to the Korean War.
    To cite evidence to support this assertion, I would readily cite the Inchon landing.
    Most of the commanders who learned of Macarthur's proposal disagreed with undertaking such an amphibious assault and backed their disagreement with several reasons.
    Mac then told them that it was those very reasons that made landing at Inchon feasible. Mac explained that if the US commanders thought that landing in Inchon would be too risky, then the North Korean commanders would also think the same and thus not expect the UN to attempt such a landing.
    Mac's plan was approved and when the landing was made, it took the North Koreans by surprise. Put simply, that operation cut the North Koreans surrounding Pusan from their supplies, thus making it easier for the UN command to break out.
    I admit Mac also made horrible mistakes, including the one about Task Force Smith in Korea.
    In World War II, I believe his ego rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. That I think is a trait shared by many fighting generals, like Patton. Of course, there are several fighting generals, like Bradley, who didn't have such an ego.
    In his defense of the Philippines, the Orange plan he used made sense. It was essentially a delaying action, similar to an airborne unit waiting for the main body of forces to be relieved. Unfortunately, the Orange plan relied on receiving reinforcements and being resupplied. This was compounded when the US lost much of its airpower in the first few days of the war. If I remember correctly, before the Japanese attack, the US had more than a hundred fighters (P-40s) and the largest concentration of B-17 bombers outside the US. Had this force not been crippled in the first few days, Mac would probably had gained the luxury of time to move his supplies properly into Bataan.
    With Singapore falling quickly and made worse with the loss of US airpower, it was deemed too risky to send further reinforcements to the Philippines. So, in a way, Mac was forced to fight with had he had, and certainly he gave the Japanese a bloody nose because with Bataan holding out for as long as it did, the Japanese timetable was wrecked and Japanese units that were earmarked for other operations had to be sent to the Philippines, thus giving time for the US and its allies to consolidate their remaining strength.
    I think these are two examples of Mac's generalship. His ego, though, is a real problem.
     
  14. ozjohn39

    ozjohn39 Member

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    If the SWPA had been allowed to become a "backwater" then Australia would certainly have continued the fight.

    The 9th Division would have come back immediately, along with the 6th and 7th Divisions, and Battle of el Alamein would have possibly been lost given the 9th major contribution to victory there.

    PNG would NOT have fallen, given that most of the fighting on that island was Australian anyway.

    Not sure about Guadalcanal, given that the supply lines to Australia could have been adjusted south simply by a change of course for any shipping.

    As pointed out, the japs were almost at the end of their tether by late 1942.


    John.
     
  15. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Hmmm... I hadn't considered that. What you pointed out about Australia moving its divisions back to the Pacific from North Africa would seem to me the logical thing to do if the SWPA became a backwater. One question comes to mind, though. Would the British agree to having all three divisions leave North Africa for the Pacific considering that at around this time frame, the British were already having a hard time there?
     
  16. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    The South Pacific would not become a backwater in 1942. The US had no proof the Japanese could or would not stop in the spring or summer of 1942 and cease expansion of their outlying bases, or not try to take control of Australia. So, there was a strong imperative to fight there. Even without MacAurthur the attritional battles of the South Pacific would have still be fought in the Summer and Autum of 1942. They would not have played out exactly the same way without Mac. ,but New Guniea and the Solomons were where the Japanese were still advancing, so thats the likely place to fight them.

    A advance into the Central Pacific was something of a non starter in 1942. The USN lacked the aircraft carriers, cargo ships, aircraft, supply reserves, and most important confidence, for a robust offence like it begain a year later in Autum 1943.

    MacAurther made poor use of the Australians. Is possible a different US leader would have had better relations with the Australians and thus the Allied forces in the South Pacific may have operated a bit more effciently.
     
  17. mega007

    mega007 recruit

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    I was talking to a Death Marcher the other day, and he does not think much of Mac. as a commander. Understandably so. But, Who would have taken his place if not Stillwell? For sure, the Army would have their own man take command. Devilsadvocate is right about Stillwell. But who could have taken that job? It would have to be an American Army General.



    Mega007
     
  18. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    I disagree that Mac's performance as a W II general should be judged by his performance in Korea. he got lucky at Inchon, but it must be remembered he was gambling with the lives of thousands of GI's. That didn't bother him; only his reputation as a commander of troops mattered. The many other mistakes he made in Korea, and generally being wrong about what the enemy could or would do doesn't really add any luster to his star either.

    In WW II, Mac made many mistakes which he was usually able to blame on others. He did not initially embrace Rainbow 5 (The last incarnation of WP Orange) in the defense of the Philippines until it was almost too late. The early loss of his airpower was largely his fault, and he failed to heed the warnings of Admiral Hart that the Navy could not stem the Japanese advance, nor resupply Mac''s forces, with the tiny fleet available. When he finally withdrew to the Bataan peninsula as he was supposed to do in the beginning of the Japanese attack, the withdrawal was too little and too late. No defensive positions had been prepared, as Mac was supposed to do according to the war plan, and no supplies of food, ammo, and medicine, had been accumulated. Had these things been done, as called for in the summer of 1941, Mac's forces might have held out much longer and cost the Japanese much more in blood and treasure.

    It wasn't just Mac's ego that rubbed people the wrong way, it was his penchant for self-promotion at the cost of other's careers, and his flat out lying about his accomplishments that has emerged as one of his most salient vices over the years. His misuse of Australian troops and theft of much of the credit that should go to them for stemming the Japanese offensive in the SWPA is a shameless example of Mac's determination to promote his own career. That is what has caused some historians to criticize his leadership and his achievments, and justifiably so. Some people see him as a hero, I do not. I will grant that he did accomplish one great feat after the end of the war, but it was an administrative accomplishment rather than military; the occupation of Japan.
     
  19. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    I generally agree. Australia was vital to the defense of the Pacific, if only as an anchor to the Allied defense perimeter. But there would have still been intense fighting in 1942. I think you are correct about Guadalcanal. The Guadalcanal campaign grew out of Mac Arthur's ludicrous claim that, if the Navy would only support him properly, he could take Rabaul in a matter of months. Admiral King disputed that and proposed the Guadalcanal offensive instead.

    I'm not sure if PNG might have fallen or not, because while Australians did most of the fighting, US support, particularly at Coral Sea, was critical to the overall defense. But it matters not, because the Japanese were very over-extended and could not have exploited their capture of Port Moresby in any significant way.

    Australia might, and probably should have, recalled all their divisions from the Middle-east, but I believe there would still have been at least two US divisions, plus a US Air Force, in the SWPA. Japan did not have to be pushed back in the South Pacific to win the Pacific War, but it had to be contained short of Australia.
     
  20. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    The British would have had no choice, Australia had the final say in where her divisions were committed. As it was, the Australians wanted to pull their divisions out of North Africa, and were only persuaded to keep them there because the US promised to send combat divisions to defend Australia.
     

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