Saturday, September 22, 2007

Weekend History Post, September 23, 2007

If the average person were asked to name the largest campaigns of the 1941-45 Pacific War the list would probably resemble the coverage of the forthcoming Steven Spielberg mini-series, The Pacific. The counterpart to the well known Band of Brothers mini-series will cover five campaigns: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa through the eyes of three historical persons, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone. Listed below are the total losses for the US and the Japanese in each of the campaigns to be covered by Spielberg's The Pacific. With the exception of Peleliu they are all household names. The British have their own memory map of the Pacific campaign. In their recollection for example, one battle in the India/Burma theater stands out: the Battle of Kohima, in which 4,600 British and 5,800 Japanese were lost. It is remembered as the "Stalingrad of the East".

US Japanese
Guadalcanal 1,800 26,000
Tarawa 1,000 4,700
Peleliu 2,340 10,700
Iwo Jima 8,226 20,703
Okinawa 12,500 66,000
25,866 128,103


What's missing from this coverage of the Pacific War?

The biggest American campaign in the Pacific of all. All the campaigns listed above, including the massive battle for Okinawa, are dwarfed by the Sixth and Eighth Army's Philippine Campaign of 1944-45. The raw statistics are astonishing. The Philippine Campaign was the graveyard of the Imperial Japanese Army: IJA KIA exceeded the estimated (300,000) German and Axis dead at Stalingrad. In terms of raw effort, Wikipedia notes that "in all, ten U.S. divisions and five independent regiments battled on Luzon, making it the largest campaign of the Pacific war, involving more troops than the United States had used in North Africa, Italy, or southern France." It also included the largest urban battle of the Pacific War, the Battle of Manila, in which 100,000 civilians were killed. Two of the most famous divisions in the US Army, the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry, participated in the Philippine Campaign. And yet it is nearly forgotten. It will not even be remembered in Spielberg's sequel to the Band of Brothers.

Philippine Campaign KIA
US Japanese
Leyte 3,593 80,557
Luzon 8,310 205,535
Central and Southern 2,070 50,260
Total 13,973 336,352



What is even more striking is the phenomenal economy with which the US Sixth and Eighth armies inflicted these losses on the Imperial Japanese Army. Here are tables calculating the ratio of US to Japanese KIA in each campaign. Yet these remarkable ratios were inflicted in terrain that included urban battlefields, the dense jungles of Leyte and the rugged mountains of Luzon's Cordilleras against a first rate Japanese commander -- Tomoyuki Yamashita, the famed "Tiger of Malaya".

Guadalcanal 14.4
Tarawa 4.7
Peleliu 4.6
Iwo Jima 2.5
Okinawa 5.3
Philippine Campaign  
Leyte 22.4
Luzon 24.7
Central and Southern 24.3


Much of the credit for these accomplishments must go to a man nearly as forgotten as his campaign: General Walter Krueger. A book recently published by the University Press of Kansas, General Walter Krueger: Unsung Hero of the Pacific War, asserts that Krueger never got nearly as much credit as he deserved.

He made his name in the jungles of the Pacific theater, was featured on the cover of Time magazine, was tapped by Douglas MacArthur to lead the invasion of Japan, and made crucial contributions to the army's tactical and operational doctrine. Yet General Walter Krueger is still one of the least-known army commanders of World War II. Kevin Holzimmer's book resurrects the brilliant career of this great military leader while deepening our understanding of the Pacific War.

As head of the Sixth U.S. Army, Krueger exemplified the art of command at the operational level of war and played a pivotal role in the defeat of Japan that until now has not been fully recognized. To the public he was a "mystery man," and his abrasive personality may have sometimes caused problems for MacArthur, but his commander credited him as "swift and sure in attack, tenacious and determined in defense, modest and restrained in victory." And although Krueger left no diaries or memoirs-and stubbornly refused to record many of his personal views-Kevin Holzimmer has mined military archives on Krueger and his Sixth Army to produce a compelling biography that finally acknowledges his importance.

We are accustomed to regarding history as an accurate picture of the past. But like any picture, it is vulnerable to distortion from the choice of perspective. And our memory of the Pacific is nothing but distorted. It is truly amazing to discover in the familiar terrain of the history of the Second World War an omission of such scope, caused perhaps by contemporaneous media coverage and the emphasis of post-war Hollywood. Many Americans are now familiar with the saga of Stalingrad, thanks perhaps to the movie Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law and Ed Harris. But spare a thought for the Sixth and Eighth Armies and the Campaign they fought, which alone accounted for two and half times more Japanese KIA than all the campaigns combined that will be depicted in The Pacific.


Blogger Doug said...

Not one of the biggest, but important, was Midway.
The Kaplan Interview Transcript And Podcast
Posted by: Hugh Hewitt

"I have received many e-mails marveling at Robert Kaplan's efforts to chronicle the efforts of the American military in the long war in his new book Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military In The Air, At Sea, And On The Ground. "

The transcript of today's interview is here.

The audio of hour one is here.

Hour two here.

And hour three here .

9/22/2007 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Kaplan reports things are going very well in the Southern Philippine Islands.
Well ahead of the benchmarks they set for themselves at the outset.
Good to know, yet good that it is mostly below MSM scrutiny, which is a big element in the success of any military endeavor.

9/22/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

WW II Casualties

Deaths as % of population 

Portuguese Timor 11.00%
Philippines 0.92%

China 3.78%
Germany 10.77%
Japan 3.67% (!)
Poland 18.51%
USSR 13.44%
United Kingdom 0.94%
United States 0.32%
Yugoslavia 6.67%
Latvia 11.38%
Lithuania 13.71%

Romania 4.22%
Singapore 6.87%
France 1.35%
French Indo-China 4.07%
Pacific Islands 3.00%
Indonesia 5.76%
Australia 0.58%
Finland 2.62%
Spain 0.02%
Mexico 0.00%
World Total 3.70%

More important than any of the above, of course, is that Ken Burns didn't highlight enough Hispanics.
One critic claims "as many as 500,000 may have served"
which would be a surprise to me, if true.

9/22/2007 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

If memory serves me correctly, there was a great deal of infighting within the US government over whether American forces ought to have focused so many resources on liberating the Philippines. Perhaps historiography is a means to fight this domestic battle from sixty-five years ago. Moreover, the Philippines obtained their independence in 1946, so any victory in the Philippines may not have seemed like an American triumph, especially after the embarrassment of having American territory under prolonged occupation by Japanese forces.

9/22/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Yet these remarkable ratios were inflicted in terrain that included urban battlefields, the dense jungles of Leyte and the rugged mountains of Luzon's Cordilleras against a first rate Japanese commander "

Kaplan notes a very disproportionate number of rural farm boys in the Special Forces, and laments their eventual loss as the supply peters out.

That was always one of my hunches for the performance of US Forces in WWII:
The All-American Farmboy.
Many useful abilities, skills, attitudes, perspectives, and habits prior to signing up.
...and no deficit of physical conditioning.

9/22/2007 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I believe you are correct, Alexis:
Did MacArthur bear the brunt of that criticism?

A whole lotta enemy would have had to have been dealt with somewhere, sometime, most likely at greater cost.

I would imagine another factor in our efficiancy there was our Filipino Allies.

9/22/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Neal Stephenson used the Battle of Manilla as a setting in his book Cryptonomicon. That is definitely one of my favorite books. If you haven't read it, Wretchard, you really should. Codebreaking, computers, geek culture, military exploits, tech startups, a little moral philosophy... A good 1000 pages!

9/22/2007 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The Allies lost around 61 million people, and the Axis lost 11 million.

9/22/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger chris said...

i guess you count the russians as allies.

9/22/2007 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger AB said...

This is a list of land battles. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is justly famous and overshadows the land battles of the Philipines.

It the fleet that sealed the fate of the Japanaese in the Philipines. The rest was a diversion from the Island-Hopping strategy.

After Leyte Gulf, other than from national pride, there was no need to secure the whole of the Philipines. That in itslef made it something of a sideshow.

9/22/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

One reason was our obligation to our steadfast allies, during, and long after the war.
Basing rights alone were a strategic factor for 50 years.
Presently, our relationship is crucial in the War with Islamists.

9/22/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Dear Prof. Wretchard,

Do the people in the Philippines today remember it any better?

A lot of Americans do not remember the 1990's, let alone any foreign countries.

There was no need to free the PI except for common humanity and loyalty, is that what one poster is suggesting?

9/22/2007 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger tnmartin said...

A number of years ago I had the honor to meet an elderly gentleman of Phillipine origin, just outside of Ft. Smith, AR. He fought against the Japanese invaders in WW2. Meeting him and his family was a great honor, and I consider him to be one of the finest men I've ever met. There others like him, all quite advanced in years. Someone should be getting their stories.
Unfortunately, many had to come here to avoid the successive evils of the Communists and the Islamic heathens. Seems to me the blood that he and his friends shed should be more honored, and have bought more.

9/22/2007 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Mannning said...

To me, the most important battle was the air campaign against Japan proper, culminating with the use of atomic bombs. Japanese casualties reached over 100,000 I believe, when combined with the fire bombing of Tokyo.

Interesting that this series of war-ending events are not on the list.

9/22/2007 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

Wretchard, this is something I've always wondered: was the Phillipine campaign necessary? Could we have bypassed them and not killed so many people? It seems to me that MacArthur's ego may have been a bigger factor than winning the war.

The Phillipine campaign was something to do for the SW pacific command, under MacArthur. MacArthur really wanted to avenge his own defeat there in 1942.

It seems to me that the Central Pacific campaign was more important in getting us closer to Japan. That allowed the strateguc bombing campaign that ultimately ended the war. Even if we'd had to invade, simply pinning the Japanese down in the Phillipines would have server the same purpose.

I'd be happy to wrong about this.

9/22/2007 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger stephanos said...

There were 336,000 Japanese that needed killin' in the Philippines.

9/22/2007 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

John Lynch,

Wretchard, this is something I've always wondered: was the Phillipine campaign necessary?

This is the core issue. In hindsight, I believe that the Philippine Campaign was probably unnecessary. But in part, that's because we know now that the Atomic Bomb existed, that the submarine fleet would succeed in blockading Japan and that the Central Pacific campaign would succeed. Looking back, the Central Pacific campaign probably would have been enough.

But in 1944 much of that was unappreciated, I think, by planners. Received wisdom often persists even after new knowledge has been acquired. It was not even clear in 1944 that the B-29 would be a successful weapons system. So the Pacific conservatively was fought on two axes, the offensive switching between both. One across the Central Pacific and the other one up the chain to Formosa, designed to chop off Japan from its sources of oil and raw materials.

But even in terms of the Philippine Campaign itself I've often wondered why Krueger had to reduce the Shobu Group in Northern Luzon when he could have bottled it up with a three division force and made them wait out the war. But ah again, that's retrospective knowledge. Nobody knew the Pacific war would end in 1945. The invasion of Japan was slated to go into 1946 and if things went badly, God knows how long. We can declare the Luzon campaign redundant in retrospect, but at the time it may have seemed like a good idea. One of the worries was that Japan would transfer air strength from China and Formosa to airfields in Northern Luzon. So I guess in the interests of safeguarding the plans for Downfall, the invasion of Japan, planners believed Northern Luzon had to be secured.

Unlike the British which was fighting to preserve its Empire, the US was campaigning on territory which it had already decided to give up. The Philippines was slated for independence under the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1944; the Pacific War delayed that to 1946. Many members of the Filipino elite, especially those who cooperated with the Japanese, were very much put out by the campaign. They would rather the US had left them the premises in good condition. This was especially true in the capital city. The Japanese decided to make a stand in the high-income, business district and built up areas of the city. So the urban battle was fought in the living rooms of the local elite. The war touched comparatively lightly on the poor districts but devastated the upscale parts of the city.

But to the main subject, I hope to learn more about the Imperial Japanese Army, about which comparatively little has been written. The IJA, due to the industrial poverty of 1940s Japan, was a force optimized for mobility in rough terrain. It had developed its doctrine based on experience in road-poor China.

As a consequence, the IJA was tremendously superior to the British Army on the Malayan peninusla, able to execute flanking movements through road-sparse terrain. The IJA had very mobile artillery pieces and a very small logistical tail. Nor was British Army firepower much superior under the circumstances. From what I can discover, Japanese infantry units had an amazingly large amount of organic firepower, despite their bolt action rifles stemming from automatic rifles and their 50 mm "knee mortar" which was really a grenade launcher. They had the M-79 before there was an M-79. An IJA rifle company had 150 x rifles, 9 x light machine guns, 12 x 50 mm launchers, 2 x 7.7 mm "heavy" machineguns. During the Luzon campaign, IJA units supplemented this organic TOE with all kinds of scrounged stuff so the automatic weapon count could be higher. It's easy to understand how the IJA went through General Perceval's Malaya defense like it almost wasn't there. But it really does make me wonder how Krueger and 6th Army did so well against them in the rough mountains of Luzon.

9/22/2007 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

It's really amazing how retrospective knowledge changes the way we view things. It has been argued that America could not have won World War 2 without Russia. Of course we know now that with or without the Eastern front the US would have had atomic weapons in 1945 and that the Germans weren't even close to building one. Clearly the US would have "won" the war with nukes against Germany and Japan if it came to that. But it was the received wisdom back then that America was in a race with the Nazis for the Bomb. The Nazi WMD program was one the reasons Roosevelt built the A-bomb and invaded Germany. I wonder how the NYT of today would have treated Roosevelt after it became clear that Hitler had no WMD program. "Roosevelt lied, and people died!" may be one headline.

9/22/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Do you think that Bataan might have had something to do with MacArthur's desire and Gen Krueger's assignment?

9/22/2007 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The decision to mount the Philippine campaign was FDR's. But the choice FDR faced at the command conference in Hawaii attended by Nimitz and MacArthur was not between the Central and Western Pacific campaigns, as we might imagine, but between Luzon and Formosa. The question of Western Pacific versus Central Pacific remained unresolved throughout. Although it is often forgotten, one of the prime goals of the Pacific strategy was to re-establish communications with that other Great Power, Chiang Kai Shek's China. At one point the idea was to base the B-29s in China where they were supplied over the "Hump" -- the Himalayan mountains. So the Western Pacific drive had a strategic justification that often escapes people today. In that regard:

the Joint Chiefs and their subordinate advisory committees concluded that Formosa constituted the most important single objective in the target area. The island possessed so many obvious advantages and was located in such a strategically important position that most planners in Washington believed the Allies would have to seize it no matter what other operations they conducted in the western Pacific. Until they seized Formosa, the Allies would be unable to establish and secure an overwater supply route to China. Formosa, therefore, seemed a necessary steppingstone to the China coast. Moreover, Allied air and naval forces could sever the Japanese lines of communication to the south much more effectively from Formosa than from either Luzon or the south China coast alone. Furthermore, from fields in northern Formosa, the Army Air Forces' new B-29's could carry heavier bomb loads against Japan than from more distant Luzon.

By early 1944 there doubts the Formosa route would be necessary. But this amounted to a choice between Western Pacific and Central Pacific. And as we know today in the War on Terror, some things never get decided on. Apparently there was never any closure on the issue.

At any rate, on 13 June [1944], seeking ways and means to accelerate the pace of operations in the Pacific, and feeling that the time might be ripe for acceleration, the Joint Chiefs asked Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur to consider the possibilities of bypassing all objectives already selected in the western Pacific, including both the Philippines and Formosa. ...

Meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a conference at Pearl Harbor in late July 1944, both MacArthur and Nimitz again emphasized that MacArthur's forces would have to be firmly established in the southern or central Philippines before any advance to either Formosa or Luzon could take place-on this point almost everyone was agreed. MacArthur then argued persuasively that it was both necessary and proper to take Luzon before going on to Formosa, while Nimitz expounded a plan for striking straight across the western Pacific to Formosa, bypassing Luzon. Apparently, no decisions on strategy were reached at the Pearl Harbor conferences. The Formosa versus Luzon debate continued without let-up at the highest planning levels for over two months, and even the question of bypassing the Philippines entirely in favor of a direct move on Formosa again came up for serious discussion. The net result of the debate through July 1944 was reaffirmation of the decision to strike into the southern or central Philippines before advancing to either Formosa or Luzon. The Joint Chiefs still had to decide whether to seize Luzon or Formosa, or both, before executing any other major attacks against Japan.

The failure to choose between the Western Pacific and the Central Pacific advances occurred at a level higher than MacArthur's. It was a failure at the JCS and Presidential level and the entire Pacific Campaign was fought with a divided command, with the Army roughly in charge of the West and the Navy in the Central Pacific.

Although we tend to remember World War 2 as the "Good War" and one cannot argue with the result of victory, it was filled with doubtful strategic decisions. Market Garden, North Africa, Italy, Formosa, Luzon are only some of the controversial moves which will be debated until doomsday. The failure to anticipate the Battle of the Bulge, for example, would today be a fiasco of such magnitude that one shudders to think how many NYT editorials, blue ribbon committees, lawsuits, etc would have resulted. I'm not even going to mention the firebombing of German and Japanese cities or the employment of the A-bomb. By World War 2 standards, OIF is a practically error-free campaign.

Luzon may have been a totally unnecessary campaign. But remember, the alternative was Formosa.

9/22/2007 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

My dad was under Kruger's command in the mountains of Luzon when the war ended with the bomb. He was then transferred to Japan.

9/22/2007 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

At the close of hostilities Yamashita's command had been compressed into a pocket east of the town of Kiangan centered round 16.722864°, 120.957026°. The last stand area was a 12 x 2 mile position along dog-legged valley about 5,000 feet high, along whose ridges, towering some 1,000 feet higher, the Tiger of Malaya was going to meet his end. Closing in from the Southwest was 32nd Infantry, the "Red Arrows". From the East, the 6th US Infantry drew near, while to the Northeast, a divisional-sized Filipino unit (USAFIP-NL)under US command (Russell Volckmann) closed in. This was where news of the surrender found the last remnants of the Imperial Japanese Army in Luzon. Of the nearly 350,000 Japanese only 12,000 survived. Though the IJA was a bitter enemy one cannot help but feel admiration for those men, who ready to die for the Emperor in a place so far from home.

9/22/2007 11:40:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Yeah, my dad always spoke well of the Japanese. He said the first waves of soldiers who came to the Japanese home islands treated the Japanese well. But over the next year or two Americans arrived who had not fought in any of the island campaigns. These were men who had come from basic training to occupation duty. They reflected poorly on the USA. On the other hand my father had no problem with the A bomb. He was of the opinion like most who were familiar with the Japanese conflict--that the bomb saved many lives. Without the bomb and Hirohito's conscious as to his duty to his people--many many more Japanese would have immolated themselves -- and taken Americans with them.

Attitudes have a way of going this way and that. The Japanese official who was famous for saying "just say no to America" back in the 80's and early 90's -- is now getting a reputation in Japan for saying the same thing about the Chinese.

9/23/2007 12:05:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Chinese oil supply concerns today map very similarly over onto those of the Japanese during WWII.

9/23/2007 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...


9/23/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Subsunk said...


Excellent story, sir. I have always believed Gen MacArthur received less recognition for his efforts on the Marines left flank in the Pacific. Gen Krueger did an outstanding job.

Well done focusing attention on this story.


9/23/2007 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger DWPittelli said...

wretchard: "with or without the Eastern front... the US would have "won" the war with nukes against Germany and Japan..."

Perhaps. But...

1) I believe we were only capable of making two such bombs per year for some time.

2) As it was, strategic bombing of Germany had become fairly unpopular even in England. This is testimony to British humaneness, yes, but such morale issues would have made sitting back and nuking a German city every 6 months (or 12 months, if Japan got half the bombs) rather difficult.

3) The bomb also wouldn't have helped a Normandy invasion much (would we bomb occupied countries?) and would in fact have made D-Day politically almost impossible for us (e.g., "Why are our troops dying in Normandy when we have Germany bottled up?").

4) Without an Eastern Front, Germany would have had a much stronger presence in France. Amphibious invasion might have been completely impossible.

5) But not invading Europe would have allowed Germany to continue to engage in genocide. Indeed, the nuking of German cities would probably have lead Germans to self-righteously step up genocide against races considered less inferior than the Jews and Gypsies, maybe including the French. The Germans were no strangers to mass reprisals as it was. How would we have dealt with such a hostage situation?

9/23/2007 05:41:00 AM  
Blogger Cincinatus said...

Great blog Wretchard.
I would like to add my two cents.

Generals Krueger and Eichelberger were unknown because Mac was a prima donna who hogged all the command glory in the SW Pacific.

9/23/2007 05:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You should probably give up on the New York Times Schtick.

Everything George Bush does is wrong because he is trying to create a free and prosperous world via capitalism.

Everything FDR did was good because he was taking on Hitler who attacked the NYT's friend - Stalin.

Concerns such as tactics, decision making, the death of innocents are not important to the Times. They just use those things to push their own goals. Such concerns are really just weapons in the battle to create their version of utopia.

George Bush - capitalism - bad. FDR - socialism - good. Got it?

Great article though!


9/23/2007 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I believe that Wretchard is correct in that U.S. nuclear weapons would have won WWII in Europe without the aid of the Soviets. Utter destruction of the Fatherland and its production facilities would have left German forces in the occupied countries in dire straights at best and probably would have inspired a high level German revolt against Hitler. And don’t be too sure about our reluctance to use nukes in France, although not against cities; look up Operation Cobra and what preceded it.

The reverse argument applies as well. Soviet cooperation, even lacking their outright aid, in the Pacific would have made things rather easier in our war with Japan. Shuttle missions to Siberia and back by our bombers would have improved our air attacks against Japan.

Interestingly enough, while the Germans made some basic theoretical errors and were never in danger of developing atomic bombs, the Japanese did not make that same error and essentially duplicated the Manhattan Project, although quite poorly.

Viewed in the larger strategic sense, the key campaign of WWII was one that was all but not fought: India. A Japanese occupation of India would have encouraged the Germans to abandon the Italian adventure in North Africa, to strike through a very weakly defended Iraq (with its largely anti-British population) and link up with the Japanese. Aside from capture of the oil fields, which would have pretty much solved their oil problems, the link up through India would have enabled German access to the mineral riches of the far east (making the Me-262 jet fighter a viable option), knocked China out of the war, and allowed the German and Japanese nuclear physicists to have some very interesting conversations.

9/23/2007 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

This is a great post, but I would have added a section on the naval battles around the Philippines -- the "Battle[s] of Leyte Gulf."

Despite Admiral Kurita's fleeting opportunity off of Samar to get among MacArthur's transports -- the result of the Leyte Gulf campaign was essentially foreordained. The Japanese had squandered their naval aviation assets in the Marianas campaign (the "Battle of the Philippine Sea" dooming whatever chances they might have had when MacArthur had shown up.

I have often wondered if the US return to the Philippines might have proceeded differently had the Japanese not ruined their naval aviation on an unfavorable battlefield for them -- the Marianas -- and conserved it for the Philippines, where the geography was more favorable to the type of battle their navy needed to fight, and where land based air could have been more useful to them.

In any case, the outcome of Leyte Gulf ensured that the land campaigns proceeded as they did: except for the early shuffle of a couple of Japanese infantry divisions to Leyte, the Japanese were unable to move their army around among the islands to the degree the Americans could.

As well as being the grave of the Imperial Japanese Army (including some of its best formations), the Philippines were also the grave of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

9/23/2007 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

Wretchard -

Thank you for this excellent item.

I think it is also important to remind people that the PI had a very similar legal status as Hawaii then (not identical, and as you note, the PI was already scheduled for independence in a few years).

My grandfather came back with 7 combat stars on his Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon. This is an area I need to read more about - can anyone here recommend any good books on the Pacific War?

9/23/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The average Filipino would not have looked very favorably upon the US if we hadn't helped liberate them from the Japanese. Not only national prestige was at stake here, but the entire post-war American position. Thus, our association with Chiang was disasterous.

9/23/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

After Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war was what is probably the least-known important battle in American history -- Saipan.

On 15 June 1944, nine days after Normandy, the US (alone) landed 71,000 troops on Saipan. The airfields in the Marianas were the essential base of operations for the B-29s used to bomb Japan.

In the course of that invaasion, which the Japs were desperate to defeat, came the last great aircraft carrier battle of the war, and perhaps of all history. Fifteen US carriers and 950 planes took on five Jap carriers and 550 planes. It was called the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and more or less destroyed what remained of Japanese naval aviation.

On Saipan the US suffered 3,100 KIA, and the Japanese about 30,000.

By comparison, Eisenhower landed 70,000 men at Normandy. The Brits had two beaches out of five, the Canadians had one, and the US had two.

More importantly for the long term, by mounting two amphibious invasions of such incredible magnitude --within nine days of each other and on opposite sides of the world-- the US demonstrated conclusively that it had supplanted Britain as the world's great power.

It required a treasonous transfer of atomic secrets to Stalin to change that dynamic, but the US remains the only nation on earth with the capacity to project power on such a scale if it wishes.

At that time the US had a population of 130 million. Today, if we chose to arm its former military members, FEDEX has a greater ability to project force and power than all but a handful of nations.

Saipan is what should have made that clear to all who would listen.

9/23/2007 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

dts said...

The average Filipino would not have looked very favorably upon the US if we hadn't helped liberate them from the Japanese. Not only national prestige was at stake here, but the entire post-war American position. Thus, our association with Chiang was disasterous.
If you're referring to Chiang Kai-shek -- then the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

Just so you understand, it is not clear in the West as to whether the PLA is going to play the same role with the CCP as the Japanese generals did prior to WWII. Time will tell.

9/23/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

When you say "what is missing", it looks like they are doing this from the viewpoint of the Marines. In addition to what you noted, there is also nothing on New Guinea, China, the Aleutians, the various naval battles, or the bombing and submarine campaigns. (FYI, one of my uncles is buried in the cemetery in Manila.)

9/23/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

John Lynch,
I believe that a lot of the reason for the Philippines was that MacArthur wanted to do it, and pushed the issue. He and Nimitz never agreed on the best way to wage the Pacific war; there were basically two different campaigns going on.

9/23/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

I cannot see that a choice not to invade the Philippines (or even not to invade Luzon) would have saved any lives except perhaps Americans. The analogy I would draw is Northern Holland in 1944-5. An isolated IJA in the Philippines would not have been able to withdraw to the Home Islands. A US submarine blockade would have ensured a famine worse than India in 1943.

I agree that "we" the Americans would not have directly killed so many people. But my baranguay in Leyte and Samar would have lost more to early deaths in the spring of 1945 than during the entire war up to that point.

9/23/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Maybe history will eventually show that the Pacific theater of operations, not the ETO, the more important of the two. The growth of economies on the Pacific Rim, India and China suggest the area will be at least as important as the Old World going into the 21st century. And America's position in the Pacific was largely established in those four critical years between 1941-45.

The European empires in the region completely collapsed after the 1945 but America was able to perform the role of "system administrator", imperfectly perhaps, but adequately. The region did not collapse into chaos. Countries found their footing. Japan is now a major ally. China is surly, but a trading partner and not openly hostile. It may yet be our friend. Yet Taiwan remains uninvaded. India is now a Great Power and a major ally. Australia sit in the Southern Seas still inviolate. And the Filipinos are still happy in their merry chaos.

The men who crossed the Pacific under the flag achieved more perhaps than they can ever know.

9/23/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Military history is key to understanding how things got this way. This discussion is an excellent diversion on a sunday afternoon.

Subsunk and exhelodrvr beat me to it, but the Marines captured the public's imagination with John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima and now land combat in the Pacific brings Marine campaigns to mind.

The Marines owe their existance to good PR.

There was a great documentary series called Victory At Sea that used to come on television that raised awareness of the Navy's role, and most people who know anything at all about WWII know what a B-29 is, but the Army's contribution to victory over Japan never got near as much post-war attention.

wretchard, how 'bout a post on the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts?

9/23/2007 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


You must be referring to delaying actions by 26th Cavalry (Philippine Scouts) as MacArthur's forces evaded the pincers of the Japanese Army as it withdrew to positions in Bataan. MacArthur avoided the fate suffered by the British in Malaya, when they were cut off by enveloping Japanese flankers.

One of the keys to his success was his rearguard. In one colorful incident Lt Edwin Ramsey led what may be the last horse-mounted cavalry charge in history against IJA forces in Morong, Bataan, .45 caliber pistols blazing. The 26th was in a race to reach the town. It speaks volumes about the mobility of the IJA that Japanese advance guard actually beat the 26th into the town. But Ramsey's cavalry was also an advance guard, scouting ahead of the First Philippine Division. So it became a case of which advance guard would hold Morong. Ramsey charged.

The charge succeeded. And if only we could end the movie there. But if you continue the story the 26th had to eat its horses, including its gallant charges, after food ran low in Bataan. And they were probably put on the Death March. But the Last Mounted Attack was a crazy, almost bizarre small unit action. It is also made for Hollywood; and what they need to complete the scene is a fictional grinning, Filipino bugler to sound the Charge, both during the attack and when he pulls it out again in 1945 as the First Cavalry thunders down from Central Luzon to rescue the internees at the Santo Tomas concentration camp.

9/23/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Great pic at that link.

Philippine Scouts Heritage Society

9/23/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

I recently read of a remarkable mission that occurred before the U.S. invasion of the Philippines. On MacArthur’s orders a large group of USAAF P-38’s flew from New Guinea, refueled on a tiny island enroute, and then buzzed the Philippine islands. The only purpose of that demanding mission was to send the message to the people there “We are coming.”

War is primarily a psychological conflict, and MacArthur had that part down pat.

9/23/2007 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

My father still has in his possession a pack of airdropped Lucky Strike cigarettes marked "I shall return", kept these sixty years. In the immediate period before the Liberation of Manila, US intelligence officers, many of whom had lived and had family in the city before the war, entered the city in mufti. They appeared before their astonished nephews and nieces, confident they would not be betrayed, and spied out the city. Those "in the know" were sure, in the period after the Lingayen landings, that MacArthur was near.

Then the First Cavalry began its dash for Manila. The air was electric with rumor. First Cav came through pre-scouted back roads around Japanese positions. But some how rumor tracked them. They were 100, 80, 60 kilometers away! Then they reached Balintawak, just on the outskirts, where they met their first substantial check: the Balintawak Beer Brewery. There they were delayed by the need to drink a helmetful of ice-cold beer directly from the bottler. Then they pressed on.

As I recalled in an earlier post, my mother, still a child, heard the First Cav smash through the gates of the concentration camp of Santo Tomas, where Americans were interned. She lived a few hundred yards away on a street called Santa Mesa. Imagine the scene. That afternoon, a Japanese Catholic chaplain who had befriended the family came for the last time to give them a bolt of silk, striped cloth which had been saving for his mother. Then night fell. Nothing could be heard but the peculiar hobnailed tramp of Japanese split-toed boots as they retreated. Then nothing but silence. Every civilian house was dark and shuttered. And then came the growl of Sherman tank engines, followed by a tremendous smash as the steel gates of Santo Tomas were run down. And then, as my mother recalls, the sound of thousands of men cheering.

It was as dramatic as a Hollywood movie. And MacArthur knew how to enhance drama. When he waded ashore on Leyte, one of his first acts was to give a radio speech from a transmitter ashore. Think of how it must have sounded to the veterans of Bataan, to guerillas, and to all those who had awaited the redemption of his pledge.

People of the Philippines, I have returned. ... At my side is your President, Sergio Osmena, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re- established on Philippine soil. ...

Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

Pure corn and pure gold. Just like the cigarettes my father still has sixty years later.

9/23/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger MacPhisto said...

This post and its subsequent comments are the best I've ever stumbled across on a Sunday evening. I just finished watching Part I of Ken Burns' "The War" and hope to see more comments from Wretchard as the series continues (assuming you can get a PBS broadcast Down Under).

Thanks again for your excellent weblog.

9/23/2007 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger overkill said...

Thanks to my brother for pointing me to this site. Well worth the read.

In the Army we used to cynically wonder how many photograhpers were TOE in a Marine rifle squad. That is the secret to the relative obscurity of the Army's operations in the SW Pacific theater, including the PI. Simply, the success of the Marine PR effort.

Some one asked for a recommend of a book on Army ops in the Pacific. I would point you to Eric Bergerud's Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific.

9/23/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger overkill said...

Uh oh ... I ended my comment before I pointed out another book in my collection, one which has a very different perspective on WWII in the PI. If you can find it (a bid IF) I highly recommend "South From Corregidor" by LCdr John Morrill and Pete Martin, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1943.

LCdr Morrill was CO of USS Quail, a mine sweeper. He and his crew went through those tragic days in the PI in 1942. But then he departs from the usual. He and those of his crew who were willing escaped to Australia in a Navy utility boat. Can't do their story justice here, but I can say that they would NOT have made it without the help of a lot of filipinos.

9/23/2007 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Skinner too said...

Captain Robert Lapham, a Davenport, Iowa native, somehow escaped from the Bataan Death March surviving disease and injury sustained in the mountains and jungle with the help of loyal Philippino scouts until he reached the base of a guerilla group of which he became the leader. He functioned as a commander of the guerillas and was a major player in the raid on the Cabanatuan Prisoner Camp. He was refused the leadership of the raiding party on Cabanatuan and was even forbidden to be a member of it because his superiors feared he could be captured and be forced to give knowledge only he knew about other guerilla groups. He survived the war, receiving the DSC for his bravery. He died recently in Arizona. His book "Lapham's Raiders: Guerrillas in the Philippines, 1942-1945, written with Bernard Norling is a classic and still available from Amazon.

9/23/2007 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


I think the Marines were right to have their combat cameramen. Even today, what battle out of Iraq will likely be remembered? Fallujah, and Bing and Owen West have made sure that it is memorialized.

As the Japanese were smashing down Malaya one of their aims was to destroy the idea of British superiority before the natives. No one felt the effects more acutely than the British themselves. One officer noted, as the beaten army rushed over the causeway into Singapore that he was watching 'the humiliation of the ruling race; which can never be lived down; old men will remember and young children will be taught' that the British were no better, and possible inferior to the Japanese. The Japanese knew enough to target not only their enemy but the myth of their enemy. If you destroy the myth of an Empire, you destroy the Empire.

You can't help but contrast that scene at Singapore with that of the Death March from Bataan, along which thousands of civilians stood, many weeping; others silent with rage. Many left cans of water or cakes of coconut and sugar for the marching men to snatch up often at the risk of their own lives, for it was as much as your life was worth to help a USAFFE soldier dying on the road. In later years, as you might expect in Catholic country, the Death March was represented as the modern counterpart of the Via Dolorosa. And it was quite common in the early postwar years for a siren to sound on Bataan Day, during which all traffic would stop and men would bow their heads. Unlike Yamashita in Malaya, Homma did not succeed in destroying the myth of Battling Bastards of Bataan. And I'm only sorry that the Army didn't have the same talent for publicity as the Marines did for that memorable scene.

One of the unappreciated aspects of MacArthur's "I shall return" propaganda strategy is that he was shrewd enough to take possession of the myth, although I'm sure many of the Death March survivors would have resented it. MacArthur may have had many failings, but underrating the power of myth was not one of them. Implicit in his pledge of "I shall return" was that he would return to Them. He would come for Them. He would avenge Them. It became more than a statement of policy; and at any rate he had no authority to make that policy. It was myth. But for many who waited under the Japanese occupation the myth became transformed into an article of faith.

As I said, it was pure corn. But corn is often what works in a situation like that.

9/23/2007 11:36:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Pacific Timeline

Battle for Leyte

VE Day

9/24/2007 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/24/2007 05:53:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Events in the Philippines offer the most dramatic example of what can be achieved with the low-key approach Kaplan advocates.

There a U.S. advisory effort built around a small special operations task force has helped the Philippine military make major gains against Islamist guerrillas. Kaplan is one of the few writers to have identified the U.S. role there for what it represents.
"The Philippines, perhaps more than any other place in the world since 9/11, was a success for the American military," he writes. The importance of this success cannot be understated. Not only does it let the world know that Islamist insurgencies can be beaten back with U.S. help, but it speaks to the value of Special Forces as advisers, rather than as the direct-action killing machines into which they are in danger of morphing.

Kaplan is at his best when he highlights the vital yet unsung role of troops like these."

Plan Seeks More Elite Forces to Fortify Military

9/24/2007 05:54:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

I often wondered if McArthur's primary reason was to go back and get his men, Philipino and American.

9/24/2007 05:55:00 AM  
Blogger The Duck said...

As usual the branch that won the war in the Pacific remains the Silent Service. Though some mentioned it in passing, it has not gotten the attention it deserves, either here or in history. This is particularly ironic in light of the recent passing of one of its greatest heroes, Gene Fluckey, whose proudest accomplishment is to never have had a crew mwmber of the Barb awarded the Purple Heart.

9/24/2007 06:34:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff Burton said...

Eugene Sledge! I highly recommend "With the Old Breed" - great book. Too bad he's not around to see this.

9/24/2007 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

"Viewed in the larger strategic sense, the key campaign of WWII was one that was all but not fought: India...."

Some say that the China Burma India theatre was the forgotton war. They also say it was the longest war from 1941 to 1945.

The Japanese reached into India but were repulsed. While Indian Nationalists fought on the Japanese side far more Indians fought on the Alies side.

The Allies efforts kept one Japanese army in the theatre.

9/24/2007 06:47:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

The courage of the US Navy during the The Naval Battles off Guadalcanal.

The Destroyer Laffey closed to within 20 feet of the battleship Hiei and fired everything it had including rifles at the superstructure. This killed Admiral Abe's staff and changed the course of the battle.

Can you imagine being on a little destroyer looking up at the immense steel beast of the Hiei and shooting at it? being justt 20 feet away?

9/24/2007 08:06:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

A friend of mine stationed in Japan in the late 1950's said that even then the Japanese remembered MacArthur's occupation fondly.

When the general left for his headquarters each the morning he was proceeded and followed by MP's on motorcycles with sirens screaming.

Most people would have resented such a display. But the Japanese simply loved it! This, was by God, how a conquering general was supposed to act! If they were going to be beaten, then they wanted to be beaten by someone who looked and acted the part.

Pure corn indeed. An absurd scene out of an overdone movie to be sure. And it worked.

But you have to take the whole package, good and bad. You can't have Falstaff and have him thin.

9/24/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger MacPhisto said...

Red River:

The Battle of Savo Island and the other engagements around Guadalcanal did indeed prove that the U.S. Navy could hold its own against any other. I get goosebumps when I think about what it must have been like to be aboard the Laffey when it opened up on the Hiei.

There must be something about ships named "Laffey." While the original Laffey (which you referenced) today lies on Iron Bottom Sound as a result of its heroic effort, the second destroyer called Laffey is moored at Patriot's Point in Charleston, SC. I've been aboard the Laffey II, and it has been questioned whether another ship ever survived the same intensity of attack as the Laffey did at Okinawa. Destroyers weren't supposed to survive four bombs and six kamikazes, but the Laffey II did just that. It took out nine Japanese aircraft in the process, too.

You probably already know all of this, but it's good to reflect. Keeps the brain sharp, and reminds me of the noble sacrifices that others have made on my behalf.

9/24/2007 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

This is obviously racism and outright bigotry on the part of Mr. Spielberg! Filipinos and soldiers in the Philippine campaign from around the world should DEMAND an extra 48 minutes of film to cover this conflict!! If the Hispanics can scare Ken Burns, we can surely scare that pansy Spielberg!

9/24/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...


The first step, I think, would be for someone to write a book. That will provide the legs for a screenplay and a series. The main literary problem an author would face is which aspect of this complex and vanished world he wants to capture. If one had unlimited resources you could follow the action through three viewpoints. A Japanese intelligence officer (about which I will post about later. I've discovered a fascinating historical figure); Jose Calugas, and an American general officer, maybe Krueger.

More on this later, perhaps in a future history post.

9/24/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

A book that presents a surpisingly lucid and complete description of the campaign around "The 'Canal" is "The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal: Exploring the Ghost Fleet of the South Pacific." Its focus is on a deep sea expedition to visit the sunken ships there, but it does the best job I have found of describing the flow of the battles.

As for lauding the heroism of the U.S. Navy, there is no better book than "Last Stand of the Tin can Sailors" about the battle between Taffy 3 and the IJN off Smar.

I plan to write a magazine article in the near future around the experiences of an WWII A-20 pilot who lives near me. He was shot down and spent some time with guerilla forces in the Phillipines. As part of the prepartion for that article I recently acquired a book "MacArthur's Undercover War: Spies Guerrillas and Secret Missions." It states on the overleaf that "The covert war Gen MacArthur waged against Japanese forces in the Pacific area was the largest undercover operation ever undertaken." Not quite his usual image!

9/24/2007 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

"Last Stand" is an excellent book. I read it recently. For fiction, I also recommend "Battle Cry" by Leon Uris.

9/24/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

A Commenter who shall remain nameless for his protection had this response:
"I hate to kill a good rant, but the Battle of Savo Island was a complete disaster, due to incompetence and faulty patrolling.
A Japanese taskforce snuck into the harbor and we lost 4 heavy cruisers (including the Australian Canberra I think), for pretty much zero losses. CA Chicago also lost her bow to a torpedo.

Later battles in the slot came out somewhat better though."

9/24/2007 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

The War, Ken Burns

9/24/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Just making light over the uproar over Ken Burns documentary, Wretchard. I feel bad for the guy, being accused of racism by the Hispanic versions of Al Sharpton.

I don't particularly like Michael Moore and his work either, but I wouldn't force him to change his films just to appease my sensibilities. Freedom of expression and all that you know.

Also, I find it interesting that amongst all of the dozens, if not hundreds, of WWII documentaries out there, it's Ken Burns' film that gets criticized.

9/25/2007 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger juandos said...

"Tomoyuki Yamashita, the famed "Tiger of Malaya""...

Oh Yamashita was a pathological murdering tiger alright...

9/26/2007 08:00:00 PM  

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