In 1944, MacArthur favored a full invasion of the Philippines, citing a moral obligation to its people. Admiral Nimitz wanted to invade Formosa....
by Donald J. Roberts II and Lawrence C. Schneider
In 1944, following the American victories in the Pacific of operational commanders General Douglas MacArthur in western New Guinea and Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Marianas, American planners considered the next offensive against the inner defenses of Japan’s empire. General MacArthur wanted a full-scale invasion of the Philippines. He did not support any plan that included bypassing his “beloved islands.” Nimitz, on the other hand, thought that certain Philippine islands should be only stepping stones to an invasion of Formosa.
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MacArthur’s Moral Obligation
At a meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt in Hawaii in 1944, Nimitz argued that Formosa, located 200 miles north of the Philippines, would serve as a base to attack the Japanese in China. Nimitz reasoned that with U.S. bases on the mainland, strategic bombers would then be able to bomb the Japanese homeland. At the same time, the capture of Formosa would sever Japan from her sources of oil located to the south.
Nimitz’s arguments were purely military, but MacArthur’s rebuttals were more emotional and political. MacArthur explained that America had a “moral obligation” to the citizenry of the Philippines to liberate them. He went on to add that thousands of Americans were imprisoned and suffering in the Philippines as well. Finally, MacArthur warned that the “Filipinos could forgive us for failing to protect them from the Japanese in the first place; they would even forgive our failing in an attempt to rescue them, but what they would not forgive was our not even trying to free them.”
The final decision to either attack the Philippines or bypass them was made in September when Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet raided the Philippines as part of a series of attacks in preparation for invading the Palau Islands, 550 miles east of Mindanao, which is one of the Philippine Islands. During the raids, Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher’s fast carriers launched their planes against enemy airfields and naval facilities located from the central Philippines south to Mindanao. Pilots from Mitscher’s Task Force 38 reported they had destroyed 478 planes and had sunk 59 ships.
This astonishing victory prompted Halsey to radio Nimitz with the news and suggestions that the plans to invade Mindanao in the south be canceled, because the Japanese were now weakened. He proposed that new plans be made to attack the Philippine island of Leyte. At the same time, Halsey reported that the enemy’s defenses on the Philippines were weak and could be overcome in a timely manner. The Formosa idea was set aside.