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What if the US Navy sends Army Aircraft to Mindanao in early 42?


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#1 John Dudek

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Posted 14 December 2008 - 09:59 PM

Okay, another interminable "what if" for you. The timeline is January-February 1942. General MacArthur's USAFFE Airforce on Luzon, Philippine Islands is down to it's last dozen aircraft. The US has promised further military aid and actually makes good on its promise.

While Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's Task Force is making diversionary hit and run raiding attacks on Japanese island bases throughout the Central Pacific with the Carriers Yorktown and Saratoga, Admiral's Halsey and Newton aboard the Carriers USS Enterprise and Lexington are making a secret resupply run of 40 US Army P-40 fighterplanes to Mindanao, PI via the southerly route and then north from Darwin, Australia. This is done in the same manner that the USS Wasp did while resupplying Malta with Spitfire fighterplanes on two occasions at about the same time.

100 miles south of Mindanao, the US Carriers launch their aircraft that will land at the USAFFE Airbase at Del Monte before being refueled, serviced and sent through to the two USAFFE Airfields on Bataan. With their Army Aircraft launched and on their way, the two carriers get the hell out of Dodge at 30+ knots and with their normal combat air patrols aloft providing security.

What effect would the welcome infusion of 40 fresh fighterplanes and pilots have on the defenders of Bataan? Sure, I know. The end results are inevitable and would only prolong the same, but what say you guys and gals?.

Would Halsey and Newton's Task Force get away scot-free?. Remember, the situation throughout the whole Southwest Pacific area was fluid to say the least during this time and the Japanese would not be expecting two US Carriers to be in their back yards either.

#2 syscom3

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 01:08 AM

The results will be the same. Overwhelming Japanese air superiority dictates the events on the ground and at sea.

#3 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 15 December 2008 - 04:40 AM

Okay, another interminable "what if" for you. The timeline is January-February 1942. General MacArthur's USAFFE Airforce on Luzon, Philippine Islands is down to it's last dozen aircraft. The US has promised further military aid and actually makes good on its promise.

While Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's Task Force is making diversionary hit and run raiding attacks on Japanese island bases throughout the Central Pacific with the Carriers Yorktown and Saratoga, Admiral's Halsey and Newton aboard the Carriers USS Enterprise and Lexington are making a secret resupply run of 40 US Army P-40 fighterplanes to Mindanao, PI via the southerly route and then north from Darwin, Australia. This is done in the same manner that the USS Wasp did while resupplying Malta with Spitfire fighterplanes on two occasions at about the same time.

100 miles south of Mindanao, the US Carriers launch their aircraft that will land at the USAFFE Airbase at Del Monte before being refueled, serviced and sent through to the two USAFFE Airfields on Bataan. With their Army Aircraft launched and on their way, the two carriers get the hell out of Dodge at 30+ knots and with their normal combat air patrols aloft providing security.

What effect would the welcome infusion of 40 fresh fighterplanes and pilots have on the defenders of Bataan? Sure, I know. The end results are inevitable and would only prolong the same, but what say you guys and gals?.

Would Halsey and Newton's Task Force get away scot-free?. Remember, the situation throughout the whole Southwest Pacific area was fluid to say the least during this time and the Japanese would not be expecting two US Carriers to be in their back yards either.


In January/February, 1942, Nimitz had four carriers (Saratoga, Lexington, Enterprise, Yorktown) in the Pacific, and these four ships were the only thing standing between the IJN and strategically crucial Hawaii. Nimitz was tasked with defending the "Strategic Triangle" of Alaska, Hawaii, Panama Canal, securing the sea lanes of communication to Australia, and raiding Japanese bases in the Central Pacific (per War Plan 46, AKA Rainbow 5).

The only real offensive tools Nimitz had to accomplish these tasks were these four carriers, and on January 11, Saratoga was damaged by a submarine torpedo and forced to go to the West Coast for extended repairs. That left just three carriers available to Nimitz.

Why would Nimitz even think of risking two of these three carriers to do nothing more than prolong by a few weeks, or at most a couple of months, the hopeless defense of the Philippines? MacArthur didn't have the resources to support even a small air force for a significant amount of time, which meant that any planes flown into the Philippines would have to inevitably be written off. This was at a time when any aircraft were badly needed in Australia, and the island bases between Hawaii and Noumea.

Such a course makes no military sense, and, in fact, would imperil the chance of successfully holding onto what the JCS had deemed the minimum defensive position in the Pacific.

#4 Falcon Jun

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 12:35 PM

Hmmm... okay, let's assume that this scenario actually took place and the aircraft and their pilots got through and landed in Bataan.
I agree that such an infusion would've augmented US air power but would it be enough to tip the balance? I don't think so because there were not enough supplies to to keep them operational for long.

It's true that Japan had the initiative in the Pacific in this period but their carriers and their other strong surface forces cannot be everywhere. So I have to agree that there's a strong chance for such a US carrier group to make it Mindanao, especially when this group's movements are guided with information gleaned from intercepts of Japanese naval movements.
I propose to expand this scenario.
I'd say this operation would stand a better chance of improving the situation in Bataan if the US had elected to devote the same passion and dedication they exhibited when the US went into Guadalcanal.
Transform the airfield in Mindanao into a major base while the Japanese is still busy with the garrison in Luzon.
With bombers operating in Mindanao, coupled with strong support from the Navy, the US would be in a better position to support the Bataan garrison.
The few fighters sent to Bataan could then be supported from Mindanao, and Mindanao supported from Australia.
Now another question crops up. Does the US have the forces to do this at this point of the Pacific war?
I think so. The remaining B-17s wouldn't be sent to Australia but remain in Mindanao. Plus the other reinforcements that failed to arrive in Luzon diverted to Mindanao as well. Additional bombers and fighters arrive as well.
The key point here is that the US must be willing to take the inevitable hits in supporting such an operation. And in the course of doing so, opportunities to inflict losses on the Japanese would also crop up. Additionally, aircraft and ships based in Mindanao would also be in position to harass Japanese movement in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Looking at this situation from the other side of the coin, the cons are also apparent. If the US can harass Japanese movement in the areas mentioned above, the Japanese can also do this to US forces in Mindanao and hinder whatever support the US intends for Bataan.
Assuming that the Battle of Midway hasn't happened yet, then it means the Japanese have more carrier forces to deploy to stop the Mindanao operation.

Now, faced with these cons, is the Mindanao operation to support Bataan still worth the risk?
Note I say that such a situation stands a chance of improving the situation in Bataan, not winning it. I say this because I can't say exactly how the Japanese would react to such a bold US action. One of you guys might have a better feel for the most probable Japanese response. Keep in mind, though that the Americans do hold a powerful card, and that card is Magic. With this, I don't think that Bataan would be deemed a definite lost cause now. Others here would certainly have a different view and I look forward to reading your thoughts.
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#5 syscom3

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 12:44 AM

......... I'd say this operation would stand a better chance of improving the situation in Bataan if the US had elected to devote the same passion and dedication they exhibited when the US went into Guadalcanal. ............


There was a huge difference between what the allies had available (and in position) in August 1942 as compared with Dec 1941.

#6 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 02:23 AM

Hmmm... okay, let's assume that this scenario actually took place and the aircraft and their pilots got through and landed in Bataan.
I agree that such an infusion would've augmented US air power but would it be enough to tip the balance? I don't think so because there were not enough supplies to to keep them operational for long.


This, I think, is an important point. Suppose, by some miracle, a carrier task force catches the IJN flat-footed and manages to get close enough to Mindanao to fly off seventy or eighty P-40's which arrive in the southern Philippines. How much av-gas does MacArthur have? How many spare P-40 engines and other spare parts? How many maintenance personnel? How much .50 caliber ammo, and the hundreds of other necessities to keep these planes operating? How about an early warning system so the Japanese won't catch them on on their airfield the next day?

I don't think there was much, if any, support infrastructure available anywhere in the Philippines to keep these planes operating for more than a week or two. The Japanese, in early 1942, could move planes in and out of the Philippines at will; The US couldn't

It's true that Japan had the initiative in the Pacific in this period but their carriers and their other strong surface forces cannot be everywhere. So I have to agree that there's a strong chance for such a US carrier group to make it Mindanao, especially when this group's movements are guided with information gleaned from intercepts of Japanese naval movements.


But historically, the IJN did have it's heavy forces deployed exactly where the US task force would have to transit. The odds are very good that a US carrier task force would be spotted by Japanese air patrols. If that happened, the only choice it would have would be to jettison the deck loads of P-40's and run for Australia.

In early 1942, The US intelligence service was not reading the Japanese naval codes, and had only fragmentary information on where Japanese naval units were. The first break (by the CAST code breakers on Corregidor) into JN25b didn't take place until late February, 1942, and it was another month before USN signals intelligence was reading the Japanese code well enough to be tracking fleet units with any confidence.

I propose to expand this scenario.
I'd say this operation would stand a better chance of improving the situation in Bataan if the US had elected to devote the same passion and dedication they exhibited when the US went into Guadalcanal.


It wasn't a matter of "passion and dedication". Several things had to happen before the limited Allied offensive in the Solomons could take place.

First, the USN had to reduce the Japanese superiority in carrier strength. This didn't happen until the Midway battle in June when Kido Butai lost four carriers in one day. Then Admiral King had to convince the American JCS that the Guadalcanal offensive could be conducted without completely revamping the entire Allied strategic masterplan. Third, the US had to scrape together a minimum number of ships and aircraft to allow an offensive to proceed. As it eventuated, there were none too many logistical or warships, and the operation was unofficially dubbed, "Operation Shoestring" for good reason. None of these conditions could have been met six months earlier.

Transform the airfield in Mindanao into a major base while the Japanese is still busy with the garrison in Luzon.
With bombers operating in Mindanao, coupled with strong support from the Navy, the US would be in a better position to support the Bataan garrison.


Nice idea, but with what? Where do you get the airfield engineering units and equipment? Where do you get the spare parts, the av-gas, bombs, maintenance tools, and personnel. The Japanese were already interdicting shipments to the Philippines by January. All of that would have to be shipped in through a very efficient naval blockade. The USN would have had to fight a series of major naval battles just to break that blockade

The few fighters sent to Bataan could then be supported from Mindanao, and Mindanao supported from Australia.
Now another question crops up. Does the US have the forces to do this at this point of the Pacific war?


The answer is yes, but they were nowhere near the Philippines and the US did not have the logistical shipping to get them there in any kind of reasonable time frame.

I think so. The remaining B-17s wouldn't be sent to Australia but remain in Mindanao. Plus the other reinforcements that failed to arrive in Luzon diverted to Mindanao as well. Additional bombers and fighters arrive as well.
The key point here is that the US must be willing to take the inevitable hits in supporting such an operation. And in the course of doing so, opportunities to inflict losses on the Japanese would also crop up. Additionally, aircraft and ships based in Mindanao would also be in position to harass Japanese movement in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.


It's not as easy as all that. The Philippines was just one point in the world where things were going to hell in a hand basket in early 1942, and the US, alng with it's Allies, had made the very difficult decision that it was not one of the more strategically important areas that had to be defended. Even if the US could have spared the resources, none of them were in a position to counter the Japanese and wouldn't be for many months to come.

Unlike the Axis, the Allies wisely made a decision early in the war that not all areas could, or should, be defended, some had to be written off, in order that the war could eventually be won.

Looking at this situation from the other side of the coin, the cons are also apparent. If the US can harass Japanese movement in the areas mentioned above, the Japanese can also do this to US forces in Mindanao and hinder whatever support the US intends for Bataan.
Assuming that the Battle of Midway hasn't happened yet, then it means the Japanese have more carrier forces to deploy to stop the Mindanao operation.

Now, faced with these cons, is the Mindanao operation to support Bataan still worth the risk?


Not in my opinion. It's extremely risky, would not have a high probability of stopping the Japanese, and would be nearly impossible to support on an on-going basis.

Note I say that such a situation stands a chance of improving the situation in Bataan, not winning it. I say this because I can't say exactly how the Japanese would react to such a bold US action. One of you guys might have a better feel for the most probable Japanese response. Keep in mind, though that the Americans do hold a powerful card, and that card is Magic. With this, I don't think that Bataan would be deemed a definite lost cause now. Others here would certainly have a different view and I look forward to reading your thoughts.


The US did not hold the "Magic" card in January-February, 1942, and only a very few of the code breakers themselves could imagine the extent to which sigint would be available just a few moths hence. It wasn't until just before the Coral Sea battle that the US began reading the Japanese naval codes with any facility, and then they lost that capability for a period starting just prior to Midway. Magic was a very iffy thing in 1942 and no one could predict with any confidence when it might or might not be available to help in planning operations. It would have been very foolhardy to base a strategy on the continued availability of accurate sigint in early 1942.

#7 Falcon Jun

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 09:07 AM

Good point for point response, DA.
You highlighted the risks the US faced and the difficulties of this hypothetical Mindanao operation.
You're right that the US Navy must fight a series of battles in order to get what was needed to Mindanao and eventually Bataan.
It's also true that the US had to reduce Japanese carrier strength and that didn't happen until Midway.
I'll make another assumption.
Let's say that Midway didn't happen. Instead of Midway, the US Navy takes the risk of meeting the Japanese on its way to the Philippines and in doing so, cripples Japanese carrier strength. If this happens, then one can reasonably say the chances of developing Mindanao into a base increases.
However, as you've pointed out, such an operation is a very big risk. What if instead of crippling Japanese carrier strength, it was the US who suffered the major defeat. It would be a crippling blow and such an outcome would make it impossible for the US to even attempt to develop Mindanao. Another factor to consider is that a defeat of both the US Navy in its effort to reinforce the Philippines, compounded by the fall of the Bataan and Corregidor garrison would be very damaging to US morale, especially after what the Japanese did to Pearl Harbor. The US suffered a double whammy with Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and I don't think the US public would accept a triple whammy.

Faced with this, I understand why you say that it's not worth the risk. Prudence is the better part of valor.
Another factor that discourages such a Mindanao operation would be the Allied decision to support Europe first. There was still very little troops, supplies and equipment to spare for the Pacific theater so what little there was had to be pooled for an operation which even if the Japanese defeats such an op, the US and its allies can still do something later on.
The expanded Mindanao operation I proposed smacks of betting everything the US had in the Pacific on a pair of fives. And if the US failed, there would be very little to counter whatever the Japanese does in the interim until those losses could be made good by US production. But by then, the Japanese would most probably be in a better position and thus extend the war in the Pacific by maybe at least a year and a half.
That's about it,
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#8 T. A. Gardner

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 12:59 PM

I might point out that the US actually did exactly what you are proposing. They sent the USS Langley with a destroyer escort carrying 40 P-40E fighters aboard to fly them off as reinforcements. The Langley was diverted to Indonesia due to the war situation but, was intercepted by the IJN enroute and promptly sunk.
I doubt that it would have been any different.

#9 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 06:24 PM

I might point out that the US actually did exactly what you are proposing. They sent the USS Langley with a destroyer escort carrying 40 P-40E fighters aboard to fly them off as reinforcements. The Langley was diverted to Indonesia due to the war situation but, was intercepted by the IJN enroute and promptly sunk.
I doubt that it would have been any different.


No, that is not quite the same thing as the "what-if" scenario.

The Langley, in 1937, had been modified and was no longer an aircraft carrier with an operational flight deck. Langley was classified as a sea plane tender, had only a partial flight deck, and could not fly off a deck load of P-40's, it had to dock and have the aircraft lifted off by a crane.

See this link for pictures of Sea Plane Tender Langley; USN Ships--USS Langley (CV-1, later AV-3)

If memory serves, most, or all, of Langley's P-40's when she was sunk, were crated. The 32 crated P-40's that Langley had earlier delivered to Tjilatjap, Java had to be destroyed because there were no tools or personnel to assemble them.

See;USS Langley - First Aircraft Carrier USS Langley - CV-1 USS Langley - Seaplane Tender USS Langley - USS Langley USS Jupiter

#10 Carl W Schwamberger

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 11:40 PM

And, the Langleys transport mission to Indonesia suggesta WI to this WI. Suspose the Langleys aircraft had been delivered, and it wwas decided to dispatch other reinforcements to Java.

What would have been avaialbe to send, what would have been practical in terms of transport avaialble, and how much would it take to make a difference?
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#11 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 01:01 AM

And, the Langleys transport mission to Indonesia suggesta WI to this WI. Suspose the Langleys aircraft had been delivered, and it wwas decided to dispatch other reinforcements to Java.

What would have been avaialbe to send, what would have been practical in terms of transport avaialble, and how much would it take to make a difference?


A good point.

The whole issue of what could have been sent to MacArthur's command in the Philippines is closely connected to the questions of Lend-lease and the agreements that the Roosevelt Administration had made with the British, Canadians, and Australians for the prosecution of the war against the Axis. The US government clearly recognized that it's immediately available resources were not sufficient to supply all of the forces that would be required to defeat the Axis. It was therefore necessary to set overall strategic priorities. For the Pacific Theater, these priorities were embodied in Rainbow 5 (also known as WP 46).

The first and most important consideration was the defense of the Western Hemisphere which meant, essentially, keeping Axis forces out. The next most important consideration was the defeat of Nazi Germany and Italy. For this reason, the intention was to secure certain areas of the Pacific, but to otherwise remain on the strategic defensive there until such time as Germany was defeated. Once Germany was no longer a threat, the plan was to launch an overwhelming offensive against Japan, destroy her navy, blockade the Home Islands, and force her surrender.

Until that time the minimum defensive position in the Pacific was to be the "Strategic Triangle" of Alaska, Hawaii, Panama Canal, the sea lanes of communication to Australia, and Australia itself. These objectives would have first call on the United States' resources which could be spared from the main task of defeating Germany.

The limiting factors were 1. production of aircraft, warships, military equipment and material, and 2. the logistical resources required to position the required troops, equipment and materials where they would be most effective. Due to Lend-lease and the "Europe First" strategy, there was an acute shortage of equipment and material required just to fulfill the minimum defensive objectives set fourth for the PTO. Since US troops could not be immediately effectively used in the ETO except in places like Iceland, there was no real shortage of troops to garrison places like Hawaii, Samoa and New Zealand. But the real need was for military equipment of all desciptions. For this reason, the defense of the Philippines, Malaya, Borneo, and the Malay Barrier, as well as many of the Central Pacific Islands had to be written off.

#12 T. A. Gardner

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 01:15 AM

A maxim of warfare from ages immortal has been "Never reinforce defeat." I think that applies here.

#13 Falcon Jun

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 07:22 AM

A maxim of warfare from ages immortal has been "Never reinforce defeat." I think that applies here.


Well said! I also agree with this idea but once in a while there's no harm in exploring other possibilities. Okay, more than once in a while when it's about the Philippines. ;)
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#14 KMDjr

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 05:34 PM

Hello,

The correct answer is NO way could or would the Navy have risked their carriers for Mac's doomed command.

Wavell in ABDA had it in his head that we might offer him a carrier for that theater (ABDA) but of course we weren't about to do it. LANGLEY was a sacrifical offering, in lieu of that, in effect. And actually 27 P-40Es were delivered to Tjilatjap aboard SEA WITCH, and unloaded there, not destroyed; most were apparently shipped to different areas to be assembled & flown if possible. Some were captured by the Japanese. But these planes would not have made any difference to the defense of Java ultimately, and of that there is no question.
(EDSALL was lost in the "boneheaded" choice to try to return the P-40 fighter crews to Java to fly those planes that did make it in successfully. This high-risk, politically-motivated mission--for the sake of our Dutch allies--cost us LANGLEY, PECOS, and EDSALL in the end, and almost 700 lives. An absurd waste, as it turned out.)

#15 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 06:37 PM

Hello,

The correct answer is NO way could or would the Navy have risked their carriers for Mac's doomed command.

Wavell in ABDA had it in his head that we might offer him a carrier for that theater (ABDA) but of course we weren't about to do it. LANGLEY was a sacrifical offering, in lieu of that, in effect. And actually 27 P-40Es were delivered to Tjilatjap aboard SEA WITCH, and unloaded there, not destroyed; most were apparently shipped to different areas to be assembled & flown if possible. Some were captured by the Japanese. But these planes would not have made any difference to the defense of Java ultimately, and of that there is no question.
(EDSALL was lost in the "boneheaded" choice to try to return the P-40 fighter crews to Java to fly those planes that did make it in successfully. This high-risk, politically-motivated mission--for the sake of our Dutch allies--cost us LANGLEY, PECOS, and EDSALL in the end, and almost 700 lives. An absurd waste, as it turned out.)


I would generally agree with this assessment. However, I remember reading in one source, which I am having trouble locating at the moment, that crated P-40's on the docks at Tjilatjap were shoved into the harbor to keep them from falling into Japanese hands when that port fell.

Another, thing I remember was that Langley's skipper, Cmdr. R. P. McConnell, was accused by his superior officer, who wasn't there, of failure to do enough to save his ship. Admiral King, intervened personally and quashed the charges.

#16 KMDjr

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 04:59 PM

Hello,

It may be in Winslow or Morison; I can't recall either. The official US account of the Java Campaign says they were destroyed at Tjilatjap--They were not. That's why I posted this info. Extensive research by Jos Heyman and Gordon Birkett has shown the final disposition of these P-40Es, and other planes in the NEI as well.

The planes reached Tjilatjap on SEA WITCH on February 28th, so another week or more went by before the island capitulated, and there would have been ample time to move them--which was done, by rail, to other locations. IIRC some went to Andir.

And yes, McConnell was accused by Glassford of abandoning the ship prematurely, but Ernie King would have none of it. His was, of course, the right decision. Our losses were too heavy--thanks largely to Glassford & Helfrich--as it was...

#17 Falcon Jun

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 09:24 AM

In reviewing the responses to this thread, the general conclusion is that it would be foolhardy to reinforce the US garrison in the Philippines.
During that period, the Japanese military was at its height. Almost everywhere that the Japanese touched, Allied positions were collapsing. The US public was reeling from successes enjoyed by the Japanese. Morale was low but there was an underlying hope that by pulling together, the Axis could be defeated.

In a Time Magazine article dated March 2, 1942, that gloom was written about. A reporter asked President Roosevelt if the Navy and Air Corps were strong enough to defend the US. The President's reply was: "Certainly not."

So faced with the situation of little equipment, few troops, and scattered fleet, what else could the US have done in those early days that stood a better chance of hampering the Japanese in the Philippines. Sending more planes probably wouldn't work as pointed out in the thread. My suggestion had big drawbacks. One of you out there might have a sensible idea that has more pros than cons. I certainly understand that what the US historically did was the best it could at that moment in time. Now my question is, what could be the next best thing?
Any ideas, guys?

Edited by Falcon Jun, 23 December 2008 - 09:31 AM.
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#18 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 08:32 PM

In reviewing the responses to this thread, the general conclusion is that it would be foolhardy to reinforce the US garrison in the Philippines.
During that period, the Japanese military was at its height. Almost everywhere that the Japanese touched, Allied positions were collapsing. The US public was reeling from successes enjoyed by the Japanese. Morale was low but there was an underlying hope that by pulling together, the Axis could be defeated.


I would agree with this assessment; Americans were worried but most were determined, so I'm not sure it's accurate to say morale was low. My parents lived through this period and told me that, while the situation seemed very grim, most people had little doubt that the Japanese would eventually be pushed back. My father, at that time, was a USN carrier pilot in the Pacific. He said that he and most of his fellow pilots just wanted a chance to come to grips with the Japanese Navy. Despite what they were hearing about the superiority of the Zero and the smashing victories of the Japanese military, they were certain they could stop them. Interestingly, my father said he hardly gave the Germans a thought at the time, while my mother, whose first husband was still alive and in training as a B-17 pilot, worried that the Japanese would attack the West Coast, but also considered the Germans more dangerous.

In a Time Magazine article dated March 2, 1942, that gloom was written about. A reporter asked President Roosevelt if the Navy and Air Corps were strong enough to defend the US. The President's reply was: "Certainly not."


An interesting statement, but one which I think must be qualified. Roosevelt almost certainly knew better by March, 1942, because his military advisers were confident that Hawaii could be held and were telling him so. This ruled out anything but a hit and run raid on the US West Coast or landings around the periphery of Alaska, neither of which were strategically critical. I think Roosevelt probably wanted to create an impression in the public's mind that great efforts had to be made to make the US safe. I don't believe that anyone in the Roosevelt administration, even in March, 1942, had any doubt of eventual victory over the Axis although what that would take was still an unknown.

So faced with the situation of little equipment, few troops, and scattered fleet, what else could the US have done in those early days that stood a better chance of hampering the Japanese in the Philippines. Sending more planes probably wouldn't work as pointed out in the thread. My suggestion had big drawbacks. One of you out there might have a sensible idea that has more pros than cons. I certainly understand that what the US historically did was the best it could at that moment in time. Now my question is, what could be the next best thing?
Any ideas, guys?


When the Japanese launched their offensive drive into the Pacific, they were essentially moving into a military vacuum. Only two positions in the entire Pacific, short of Hawaii and Australia, held any possibility, marginal though it was, of stopping, or even slowing, the Japanese offensive. These were Malaya/Singapore and Luzon. In the event, both positions were forfeited through poor leadership and poor defensive planning. The United States had enough military power to stop the Japanese cold, but most of it was out of position and/or still being marshaled in the continental US.

Furthermore, the US was hampered by an agreement with the UK to commit the bulk of it's manpower, material, and equipment to defeating the Axis in Europe before turning it's attention to the Pacific. Thus, what could be done to stabilize the situation in the Pacific was constrained by serious geographic/logistical considerations, as well as strategical judgments as to the relative danger posed by the various Axis members.

This not to say that the US could do nothing; for example, Churchill requested the US to make some sort of naval demonstration in the Pacific early in April, 1942, to draw off the Japanese forces then raiding into the Indian Ocean. Fortuitously, the USN had just then launched a two-carrier task force bent on striking the Japanese Home islands with Army bombers. As it turned out, the IJN withdrew it's forces from the Indian Ocean just a few days before the Doolittle raiders struck Tokyo. The timing of events was such that it must have given Yamamoto and the Imperial Naval General Staff nightmares, and resulted in the Japanese stationing significant defensive air assets in Japan, and a grand naval operation destined to result in a disaster for the Japanese.

But, in early 1942, the best moves the US could make in the Pacific involved making Hawaii and Australia impregnable and securing the sea lanes of communication to these positions. That, inevitably, took time and eventually some hard fighting in the Southwest Pacific area. I would argue that the defensive preparations which led to Coral Sea, Midway, and the Guadalcanal campaign were the best use of Allied assets in the Pacific. It's difficult to imagine that any alternative course would have produced better results while entailing the same amount of risk. In retrospect, the Pacific battles of 1942 broke the back of Japanese military power, and put the IJN in an inferior defensive position from which it was never able to extricate itself. It's very difficult to argue against success.

#19 Falcon Jun

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Posted 24 December 2008 - 06:15 AM

True, DA. It's very difficult to argue with success. What the US basically did in the Pacific was trading space for time.
The Pacific had plenty of empty oceans and small islands that the japanese could take but there was one line that should not be breached and that's where the available US forces had to be concentrated. Until that is deemed sufficient, any other endeavor would just be a waste of resources. That's the prudent thing to do.

A US effort to hit Japan through the Aleutians had been discussed and taken apart.
Since you mentioned Singapore, I had proposed in another thread that had Singapore been able to last longer, the chances of the US garrison in the Philippines would've been better. I again reiterate that. Had Singapore held, then the Mindanao operation would, I think, be feasible and could've have been pulled off.
Unfortunately, with Singapore out of the way, the US garrison in the Philippines was essentially outflanked.
That's about it,
Fil

#20 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 24 December 2008 - 07:09 PM

True, DA. It's very difficult to argue with success. What the US basically did in the Pacific was trading space for time.
The Pacific had plenty of empty oceans and small islands that the japanese could take but there was one line that should not be breached and that's where the available US forces had to be concentrated. Until that is deemed sufficient, any other endeavor would just be a waste of resources. That's the prudent thing to do.

A US effort to hit Japan through the Aleutians had been discussed and taken apart.
Since you mentioned Singapore, I had proposed in another thread that had Singapore been able to last longer, the chances of the US garrison in the Philippines would've been better. I again reiterate that. Had Singapore held, then the Mindanao operation would, I think, be feasible and could've have been pulled off.
Unfortunately, with Singapore out of the way, the US garrison in the Philippines was essentially outflanked.


It is true that the Japanese "drive South" was largely into empty and poorly, or completely, undefended space. Except for the raw materials to be fond there, there was nothing of strategic importance and trading space for time was a natural tactic.

From the Japanese perspective, Singapore was the key to the whole exercise because if the enemy were able to establish a strong defensive position at Singapore, the entire effort to seize the NEI would be flanked and threatened by any forces there. It was necessary to secure the Philippines only because they represented a chokepoint on Japan's sea lanes which could not be left in enemy hands.

The US was not in a position to guarantee Singapore because it was British territory and the US had no bases closer than Manila. Securing and defending sea lanes to Singapore would have strained US logistics beyond the breaking point in 1941-42; only the British had that capability through India and the Mid-east, and their interest was focused on making sure India remained under British control. Singapore was, essentially, written off, much as the US wrote off the Philippines.

Having said that, I do agree that had Singapore been able to hold out, it should have been possible to stem the Japanese tide in the NEI, hold the Malay Barrier, and possibly keep New Guinea (at least the southern and eastern portions) from being invaded. But this clearly would have required the same kind of buildup in Australia, the same securing of sea lanes between Hawaii and Australia, and the same reinforcement of Hawaii that took place historically. Britain was in no position to do more than hold defensive positions at Singapore and even that would have strained their resources; everything else in the Pacific would have to be done by the US.

And that would take time, as it did historically. The only question in my mind would be, how long can MacArthur hold out on Luzon under these circumstances? It would have been July/August, or probably even later before any real aid could reach him from the US. That's assuming the Japanese forces are attrited, as historically, by wasting battles such as Midway.

#21 Falcon Jun

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 07:29 AM

And that would take time, as it did historically. The only question in my mind would be, how long can MacArthur hold out on Luzon under these circumstances? It would have been July/August, or probably even later before any real aid could reach him from the US. That's assuming the Japanese forces are attrited, as historically, by wasting battles such as Midway.


If the US garrison in the Philippines made it into July or August, that would have been very bad news for the Japanese because those months tend to be very rainy months in the PI.
It's true, though, that such adverse weather wouldn't really be a hindrance to the Japanese Army but it would make things a lot more difficult for their Navy and merchant fleet. The Japanese in the Philippines would have to scale down their operations because the inflow of their supply chain would be slower than usual.
As for the defending garrison, the coming of the rainy months would allow for a little respite. However, the garrison's position would not have improved because they still wouldn't receive a fresh infusion of replacements or supplies. Still, the weather could mask the movement of small groups of men, allowing them to breakthrough the perimeter and perhaps establish a guerrilla network behind Japanese lines.

What essentially happened historically was that Singapore and the PI fulfilled the role of being speed bumps for the onrushing Japanese. The longer the garrisons held out, the more time the Allies gained to organize, consolidate and build up.

It's been several days since I last responded to this thread because I just came back from a vacation. A belated happy new year to all.
That's about it,
Fil

#22 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 06:02 PM

...What essentially happened historically was that Singapore and the PI fulfilled the role of being speed bumps for the onrushing Japanese. The longer the garrisons held out, the more time the Allies gained to organize, consolidate and build up...


Yes, although neither Singapore, nor the Philippines held out as long as hoped for by the Allies. But the interesting thing is that, from the American perspective, the minimum defensive positions in the Pacific had already been decided long before the outcome in the Philippines was determined. I don't think the ultimate shape of the Pacific War would have been much changed, had either of both positions been able to delay the Japanese longer.

The US had it's war plan (Rainbow 5, AKA WP 46) and it was going to fight the war as specified regardless of what Japan did. To do anything different would have upset delicate compromises between the British and Americans in areas from Africa to the Arctic and affected strategic decisions all over the globe




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