MacArthur was one of the most colorful and controversial figures in the US Army in World War II. He had served for several years before the war as an adviser to the Philippine government but in July 1941 was recalled to active duty with orders to mobilize forces in the Philippines and prepare for war. By December he had raised the number of men at arms from 22,000 to 180,000; however these consisted mainly of untrained Filipinos who would desert as soon as the fighting broke out. MacArthur was handicapped in his defense of the islands by lack of naval operations. Within a week of the main Japanese landings, MacArthur had abandoned Manila and withdrawn to the Bataan peninsula. The final battle was protracted with the last US troops surrendering in May 1942. MacArthur left the Philippines at the President’s request on 11 March with the words ‘I shall return.’
MacArthur felt he and the USA had reneged on their word by leaving the Philippines to the Japanese and determined to recapture it as soon as possible. His ambition was fulfilled three years later and these years were spent gradually wearing down Japanese concentrations in the islands to the north of Australia. In the spring of 1942 MacArthur had only 25,000 troops and 260 obsolete aircraft in Australia and he had a tough job persuading the Joint Chiefs of Staff to send reinforcements. The United States’ policy was Germany first and the defeat of Japan was not considered as urgent. Mac Arthur saw the defeat of Japan as an important venture and pressed his views. In this he could count on some support from Admiral KING, Commander in Chief of the Navy, whose main concern was that his Navy win the war in the Pacific. The first operation the Joint Chiefs agreed to undertake was the recapture of Guadalcanal in August 1942 but this first step was allocated to Admiral NIMITZ’s fleet; MacArthur would accomplish the next step in the Solomons campaign and also retake New Guinea.
The fight to take Guadalcanal was hard and costly in casualties. In early 1943 MacArthur presented his Elkton Plan which proposed bypassing the major troop concentrations and taking airfields in the Huon peninsula, New Georgia, New Britain, Bougainville and an attack on Kavieng and Rabaul. MacArthur’s tactic was known as island-hopping by the Army and succeeded because the Japanese troops lost their air cover and were isolated and left to die. By hopping from coastal town to coastal town, New Guinea was eventually secured by mid-1944 and some 44,000 Japanese troops under General ADACHI were bypassed at Wewak. The Solomons campaign was also protracted and Rabaul was bypassed. By mid-1944 the Joint Chiefs were ready to consider the next step. Nimitz thought this should be the capture of Formosa and destruction of Japanese air power, but MacArthur advocated his long-cherished dream of recapturing the Philippines and in September it was finally agreed on. On 9 January 1945 the US troops landed at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon and MacArthur waded ashore accompanied by OSMENA and Romulo and one month later he entered Manila. The fighting in the Philippines continued until the Japanese surrender and MacArthur spread his activities to the Dutch East Indies. He was convinced the Japanese would fight to the last and advised President TRUMAN accordingly. It fell upon MacArthur to accept Japan’s formal surrender on Nimitz’s flagship the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.
MacArthur was a flamboyant character who made sure the people back home knew what he was doing to win the war. He was a great publicist but he made many enemies. Generals MARSHALL and EISENHOWER disliked him and even President ROOSEVELT, resentful of his popularity, did not wish him to have the limelight. After the war he ruled Japan as an all-powerful potentate but he overstepped the mark in Korea which led to his downfall.