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Monday, January 02, 2006

MacArthur and Nimitz Receive Promotions, January 3, 2006

Today in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz both received promotions. Although both already wore five stars on their lapel (the highest rank achievable in any branch of the US military), their acceptance of increased responsibilities helped to remake disparate naval, ground and air forces into one focused machine intent on winning a victory in the Pacific Theatre of Operations.

By the beginning of 1945, defeat of the Japanese Empire was only a matter of time. What remained of the Imperial Navy had tried to stop the Allied landings at Luzon in the Philippines in October, 1944, but overwhelming force and good timing had destroyed the bulk of the Japanese surface fleet. The Home Islands were slowing being cut off from supplies critical for continuation of the war.

This progress had been achieved at great cost and after more than three years of struggle. In the Southwest Pacific, General MacArthur had begun a leap-frog campaign up the New Guinea coast that was followed by the liberation of the Philippines. In the Central Pacific, Admiral Nimitz lead a series of island invasions at places previously unknown to most Americans: Kwajalein, Tarawa, Truk and others.

The next phase of the war would include invasions of Iwo Jima Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands. The forces of MacArthur and Nimitz were now ready to be merged. Previous to this joining, Nimitz’s forces had been comprised of naval and marine forces, while MacArthur commanded mostly Army forces and had his own naval fleet. After today in 1945, the Admiral would be in command of all naval forces in the Pacific and the General would be in command of all ground forces in the Pacific. This meant the end of the unified command structure, in which one commander was responsible for all forces in his area of responsibility.

This move in responsibilities was made as a precursor to the invasion of Japan, which was then scheduled for November, 1945. As we’ve discussed here before, the operation, had it occurred, would have been the largest invasion in the history of man. The Allied planners did not think it wise to put one man in charge of the entire operation for two reasons. First, unlike the war in Europe where the Battle of the Atlantic was far removed from the battlefield, the sea battles around Japan would have a direct effect on the inland battles. Second, the conquest of Japan was projected to take as long as two years, nearly twice as long as it took Allied forces to move from Normandy to the outskirts of Berlin. Clear, concise thinking would be needed during that entire time, so two commanders of equal rank would act as a counter-balance to the stress of the operation.

With the cessation of hostilities in August, 1945, Douglas MacArthur turned his sites to the occupation of Japan. Chester Nimitz went back to the States to oversee the dismantling of the world’s largest navy. Fortunately for the world, their new command structure did not have to be used for very long.

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