World War Two: Philippines (Prewar Part 1-1; 2); Enter MacArthur

By the middle of 1941 international developments had heightened the tension between the United States and Japan and made the defense of the Philippines an urgent problem. The Nazi-Soviet pact, followed by the German Army’s march into Poland in September 1939, had destroyed completely any hope for a peaceful settlement in Europe. The events of the following year made it evident that the United States might soon be involved in war with the Axis in Asia as well as Europe. Denmark and Norway had been invaded by Hitler’s armies in April, Holland and Belgium were conquered in May, and on 21 June France surrendered. Not long after, Japanese troops, with the acquiescence of the Vichy Government, moved into French Indochina. In September, Germany, Italy, and Japan concluded the Tripartite pact, and the following April, Russia and Japan reached agreement and signed a neutrality pact, thus freeing the latter for extension of her empire southward. American efforts to halt Japanese aggression in Asia had met with little success.

On 26 July 1940 Japan was notified that the commercial treaty of 1911 would be abrogated. On the same day Congress granted the President authority to control exports to Japan. Immediately he put the export of oil and scrap iron under government license and banned the shipment of aviation gasoline to that country. By the early part of 1941 shipments of scrap iron, steel, gasoline, and other important war material from the United States to Japan had practically ceased.

While the United States market was being closed to Japan, American economic support to China was increased. In November 1940 Chiang Kai-shek’s government was lent $50,000,000 through the Export-Import Bank; by the end of that year loans to China had reached a total of $170,000,000. Despite these moves, perhaps because of them, Japan continued to exert pressure on the French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia to “co-operate” in economic matters.

The possibility of war in the Far East was too real to be ignored and a reluctant Congress began to loosen the purse strings. But the years of neglect could not be remedied quickly. The demand for planes and weapons was great and the supply was limited. The Philippines was only one of many bases that had to be protected.

Hawaii, Alaska, and Panama-which formed a strategic triangle whose defense was considered essential to the safety of the continental United States-had also been neglected and their needs had to be filled first. “Adequate reinforcements for the Philippines at this time,” wrote General George C. Marshall, “would have left the United States in a position of great peril should there be a break in the defense of Great Britain.”

What the United States needed more than anything else was time. But Japan’s occupation of naval and air bases in southern Indochina on 22 July 1941 gave warning that time was short. The Philippine Islands, already almost entirely surrounded, were now further threatened and America’s position in the Far East rendered precarious. Measures to strengthen the defense of the Philippines could be put off no longer.

The Recall of General MacArthur

The establishment of a new American command in the Far-East and the recall of General MacArthur to active duty in the U.S. Army were already under consideration when Japan moved southward in July A month earlier Joseph Stevenot, a prominent American businessman in Manila and president of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, in an interview with Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson in Washington, had urged a closer relationship between the Military Advisor and the commander of the Philippine Department. Stimson had relayed this suggestion to General Marshall at a meeting during which both men discussed MacArthur’s status and agreed he was the logical man to command in the Far East in the event of an emergency.

By a coincidence, on the same day that Stimson talked with Stevenot, Major General George Grunert, the Philippine Department commander, asked permission from the War Department to include representatives of the Commonwealth Government in conferences then being held in Manila. The purpose of these meetings was to formulate plans, based on the expected use of $52,000,000 in sugar excise funds, for improving the defenses of the Islands. The reason for Grunert’s request was to permit him to work more closely and directly with General MacArthur without going through official government channels. Close contact between the department commander and the Military Advisor, he pointed out, was an obvious necessity in making defense plans. General Marshall approved Grunert’s request without question, adding that “MacArthur’s support will be invaluable to you in the accomplishment of the difficult task with which you are confronted.”

The first direct bid for the recall of General MacArthur came from the former Chief of Staff himself and was contained in a letter to General Marshall. In this letter Frazier Hunt, in his book MacArthur and the War Against Japan (New York, 1944), page 12, states that MacArthur offered his services to President Roosevelt early in the spring of 1941. The author has been unable to find the documentary evidence in the files of the Department of the Army to support this assertion.(Ltr, Marshall to Grunert, 29 May 1941, WPD 3251-49. The author has been unable to find a copy of this letter in the files of the War Department but its contents are summarized in a memorandum written by General Gerow and addressed to the Chief of Staff on 6 June 1941 (WPD 3251-50). From internal evidence it appears that MacArthur on the same day wrote a letter covering the same subjects to the President and the Secretary of War. See also ltr, Marshall to MacArthur, 20 Jun 41,WPD 3251-50.)

MacArthur stated that since the Philippine Army was to be absorbed by the U.S. Army in the near future-a step not yet contemplated by the War Department-he intended to close out the office of Military Advisor. A new American military command embracing all U.S. Army activities in the Far East, comparable to the British command in that area, should be established, he told the Chief of Staff, and he, MacArthur, be named commander.

The idea of creating a high command in the Far East had been broached before, but never by so influential a source. In January 1941 the intelligence officer of the Philippine Department had recommended to his superior in Washington that such a command be established. This proposal differed from MacArthur’s in that the department commander was to be designated commander in chief of such a command, while MacArthur put forward his own nomination. The Philippine Department G-2 continued to urge this move during the first six months of 1941, but there is no evidence that it was ever considered by the General Staff in Washington until June of that year, after General MacArthur’s letter to the Chief of Staff.

MacArthur’s proposal was sent to the War Plans Division of the General Staff for study. On 6 June Brig. General Leonard T. Gerow, acting chief of the division, sent his recommendations to the Chief of Staff. He agreed that the British had created such a command, but pointed out that their situation was quite different from that faced by the Americans. The British had accepted strategic direction of naval forces in the Far East, and their troops were scattered throughout the area. U.S. Army forces were concentrated in the Philippines and had responsibility only for the defense of the Islands. Gerow therefore recommended against the establishment of a new command in the Far East. If MacArthur was called to active service, he wrote, it should be as commander of the Philippine Department.

Despite the recommendations of the chief of War Plans, the official reply to MacArthur’s letter expressed a sentiment entirely favorable to the proposal. This reply was contained in a letter dated 20 June from the Chief of Staff to General MacArthur. In it Marshall told the Military Advisor that the War Department’s plans for the Philippine Army were not as broad as MacArthur believed, but that the decision to close out his office rested with him. All that the U.S. Army planned to do at the present time, he said, was to train about 75,000 Filipinos for a period of from three to nine months, contingent upon the appropriation by Congress of the sugar excise and currency devaluation fund.

Both the Secretary of War and I [Marshall continued] are much concerned about the situation in the Far East. During one of our discussions about three months ago it was decided that your outstanding qualifications and vast experience in the Philippines make you the logical selection for the Army Commander in the Far East should the situation approach a crisis. The Secretary has delayed recommending your appointment as he does not feel the time has arrived for such action. However, he has authorized me to tell you that, at the proper time, he will recommend to the President that you be so appointed. It is my impression that the President will approve his recommendation.

The appointment of General MacArthur as commander of all Army forces in the Far East was part of the larger problem, of mobilization and training of the Philippine Army. By July 1941 it was clear that some decision on the use of the Philippine Army would soon have to be made. On 7 July MacArthur presented his views on the mobilization and training of the Philippine Army in a personal letter to the Chief of Staff, adding that the creation of a high command for the Far East “would result in favorable psychological and morale reactions.”

A week later General Gerow summarized for the Chief of Staff the steps being taken for improving the defenses of the Philippine Islands, and on 17 July made the following specific recommendations:

  1. That the President, by executive order call into the service of the U.S. for the period of the emergency all organized military forces of the Commonwealth.
  2. That General MacArthur be called to active duty in the grade of Major General and assigned as commander of Army Forces in the Far East.
  3. That $10,000,000 of the President’s Emergency Fund be allotted to cover the costs of mobilization and training of the Philippine Army for a period of three months.
  4.  That the training program of the Philippine Army for an additional six to nine months be financed from the sugar excise fund, or from other funds appropriated for this purpose.
  5. That 425 Reserve officers be sent to the Philippines to assist in the mobilization and training of the Philippine Army.

Within a week these recommendations had been approved by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War. The Secretary immediately requested President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue the necessary executive order, already drafted and approved, for calling the military forces of the Commonwealth into active service of the United States. “Due to the situation in the Far East,” Stimson wrote, “all practical steps should be taken to increase the defensive strength of the Philippines Islands.” One of the most effective measures to accomplish this would be to call the Philippine Army into active service for a year’s training.

Such a program, Stimson estimated, would involve about 75,000 men and would cost about $32,000,000, which would be met by the sugar excise fund. Pending appropriation by Congress, the funds to initiate the program could be met from the President’s emergency fund.

Stimson’s recommendations reached the President at a time when he was thoroughly aroused by Japan’s occupation of air and naval bases in Indochina on 22 July. Already he had broken off negotiations with Japan for a settlement of Far Eastern problems and was considering economic reprisals in the form of a freeze on Japanese assets in the United States. On 26 July, the day after Stimson made his recommendations, the President put the freeze into effect and issued the military order which would bring into the service of the United States the armed forces of the Philippines.

The President’s military order did not mention General MacArthur by name; it was carefully worded so as to place the forces in the Philippines under a general officer of the United States Army, “to be designated by the Secretary of War from time to time.” The actual induction of Philippine Army units was to be accomplished by orders issued by that general officer.

The War Department immediately followed up the President’s action by establishing, that same day, a new command in the Philippines, with headquarters in Manila. This command, to be called U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), would consist of the Philippine Department, those military forces of the Commonwealth ordered into active service for the period of the emergency, and such other forces as might be assigned. At the same time, MacArthur was recalled to active duty, effective on 26 July, with the rank of major general, designated as the general officer referred to in the military order [WPD 3251-52], and put in command of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East is With the establishment of USAF FE and the simultaneous induction of the military forces of the Commonwealth Government, the two separate military establishments which had existed in the Philippine Islands since 1935 were placed for the first time under one command.

The recall of Douglas MacArthur to active duty at the age of 61 brought back into the U.S. Army “one of its most able and experienced senior officers. Son of General Arthur MacArthur of Philippine fame, he had graduated from the Military Academy in 1903 as a second lieutenant of engineers.”

Since then his record had been one of rapid advancement and brilliant achievement. His first assignment had been in the Philippines as a construction officer and he had been aide to his father when the senior MacArthur was chief military observer with the Japanese Army in the war against Russia. In 1907 he served as aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt. After various assignments in the United States he was ordered to Washington in 1913 for duty with the Chief of Engineers. The following year he accompanied the Mexican expedition to Vera Cruz as assistant engineer officer.

In World War I Douglas MacArthur’s record was outstanding. Transferring to the infantry, he served as chief of staff of the 42d Division, the Rainbow Division, and as commander of the 84th Brigade of that division. He was wounded twice, served briefly in the occupation and returned to the United States in 1919 as a brigadier general of the National Army. That year, at the age of 39, he was appointed Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point over a number of senior generals. From West Point he went to the Philippines where he commanded in turn the District of Manila and the 23rd Brigade. In January 1925 he was appointed a major general and returned to the United States the following month.

For the next three years General MacArthur commanded a corps area in the United States. In 1928 he returned to Manila as commander of the Philippine Department. Upon completion of this assignment he was brought back to the United States where he commanded the Ninth Corps Area on the west coast for a month and on 1 November 1930 was appointed Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. He held this post five years before going to the Philippines as Military Advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth. On 31 December 1937, after thirty-eight years’ service, eighteen of them as a general officer, MacArthur retired from the Army with the rank of general, to become field marshal in the Philippine Army a short time later. His return to active duty on 26 July 1941 was as a major general, his permanent rank before retirement. The next day action to promote him to the rank of temporary lieutenant general was initiated and approved two days later, effective 27 July.

SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Philippines (Prewar, Part 1-2; 3-4-5); Building the USAFFE


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