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Edward S. Miller: War Plan Orange

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  • Edward S. Miller: War Plan Orange

    Edward S. Miller: War Plan Orange first published in 1991

    “On 6 December 1941, a Saturday, the war plans officer of the United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor took note of the location of the fleet’s big warships. He then updated a document that was to govern their response if war erupted in the next twenty-four hours. The document, the current U.S. war plan, was the latest of a long series crafted in utmost secrecy over several decades. It rested on the foundations laid down by its earliest progenitors.

    Miller, Edward S.”

    If you are interested in the background of the US (lack of) immediate reactions to the Japanese aggression in the Pacific in December 1941, you should read this book. At least you shall understand why it could not be more efficient than it was.

    The pre-dominant subject names in the book are War Plan Orange and Rainbow. The colour scales refer to the US planners identifying eventual potential enemies (or friends) by colour code. In all, 23 colours were used – Germany was “Black”, “Orange” was Japan and “Rainbow” a common denominator for all the countries, the British being “Red” - own forces were identified as “Blue”. The Rainbow Plan series was global. With “Rainbow (no.) 5” in May 1941, the old War Plan Orange was officially cancelled but still lived on as a general reference for US military leaders on various levels. As it turned out many aspects of it were fulfilled, if not intentionally.

    The first War Plan Orange was finished in 1906, only a few years after the United States had acquired the Philippines. Immediately US Navy set out to prepare for the defense of the new colony and the Japanese were identified as the primary competitor in Theatre. Miller goes through the frequent developments and changes in the plans that followed the constant changes in the world situation – before, during and after WW1, the naval restriction agreements, the Japanese leaving the League of Nations and her aggressions in China and the entrance into the Axis, and the start of the war in Europe in 1939.

    The US Navy, as opposed to the Army, was always in the forefront when it came to the planning concerning the Pacific, the Navy craved a distinct monopoly which rarely was challenged by the Army even after the Philippines was declared a mainly army responsibility. The naval plans after the start of a war were offensive, almost always centred around obtaining a solid naval base between Hawaii and Japan – Phase I - to facilitate Phase II, that of a blockade of Japan which eventually should bring that nation to its knees, to apply for peace negotiations, usually after its battle fleet had been destroyed in combat. The relief of an eventually occupied Philippines was rarely considered possible before the US forces garrisoning the islands had been beaten down by the enemy and therefore not considered important in the planning. They were used more as an excuse for venturing out in the Pacific with the US Navy battle fleet to crush the enemy ditto. Only in one short period was the relief of an invaded Philippines, by using a southern route through, and assisted by, the British Commonwealth area of Australia and its mandates, put above the “Ticket Through” plan, and then only as far as Mindanao.

    The rare version, of 1932, where two carrier groups should assist in delaying a Japanese occupation of the Malay Barrier, the east-west line of Dutch East Indies’ islands, was dropped in the beginning of 1941 and was never meant to give any practical support to the US forces on the Philippines but merely assist Dutch and British forces. With the approval of “Rainbow 5” in May 1941 any early relief of the Philippines, or major westward US offensives from Hawaii, were effectively vetoed.

    Reading through the book I have not been able to find the least inclination in the plans as to a possible major expansion of the Philippine defense to the effect that the Japanese would get second thoughts about invading the islands. This is rather strange as the Philippines were often quoted as the ultimate destination for the US relief expedition venturing out of Hawaii even if not expected to be reached in time to save the garrison. Manila was also not considered good enough as a permanent base for capital ships by the Navy. As the Navy’s analysts show that they had a clear impression of what to expect from the Japanese in a war situation, why did the Navy not plan to contribute more to the defense of Luzon? Why did the plans not consider the fast improvements in the Philippine defense with the rapid expansion of the new Philippine Army as advised by General MacArthur and Army reinforcements sent there in 1940 and 1941? Was this because the Philippines was an Army responsibility. Did the Navy implore the Army to increase the security for the naval bases there? There is no sign of it in the plans.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the author’s description of the various US military leaders connected with the Orange and Rainbow plans and the roller-coaster changes that followed each change of commander at the various levels. That an important matter such as a nation’s defense plans could be that dependent on personal impressions and opinions, almost at a yearly level, is rather disturbing. With this followed feuds and incriminations of various cliques and opponents. Not only in the Navy internally but also between the Navy, Army and the politicians.

    For those who have studied the Pacific War it is difficult to understand that the official US war plan (Rainbow 5) against Japan in 1941 was originally to sit tight in the eastern part of the Pacific with some carrier raids against Japanese bases in the western Pacific to hopefully divert Japanese forces from their expected occupation of the Dutch East Indies, Borneo and Malaya. That was all, except that the Asiatic Fleet, based in Manila, had been promised away to the British in the case of Japanese aggression, only the submarine part of that fleet was released to act offensively against the enemy.

    This could have stayed the US strategy if the Japanese had restrained themselves to start their attacks only in the area they intended to invade. Even an attack on the Philippines might have been tolerated under Rainbow 5 as the Philippines, in the US Navy’'s books, anyway, was a lost case. The background for this was, of course, the “Germany-first”-policy agreed upon with the British during various conferences in 1940/41.

    Admiral Stark, Chief Naval Operations, was an anglophile and a dedicated supporter of that policy and to that effect the Pacific Fleet was, in 1941, decimated to the advantage of the Atlantic Fleet. President Roosevelt agreed to this policy. However, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor everything was turned upside down. This attack was such an affront to US pride that it rocked the premises of the Germany-first strategy, Roosevelt simply had to follow the opinion that Japan should be taken down, and fast. Even if Churchill, in December 1941, hastened to Washington to ensure that his favoured strategy was still actual, he could not avert the fact that while the strategy was still on in principle, in practice, for the Americans, the Pacific should have priority, at least for a period. This is shown by the fact that of three US Army divisions originally planned for Europe only one went there and ship transport for 21.000 soldiers was immediately diverted from Europe to the Pacific. Statistics also show that up until 1944 at least as much resources were used in the Pacific as in Europe.

    Even then Admiral Stark, in the first stage of the war, was able to brake any hope of relief for the hard-pressed US forces on the Philippines in that dozens of transports with US Army supplies and personnel on their way, or about to leave the West Coast for the Philippines and the South-West Pacific, were re-called, diverted or stopped. The Navy refused Army-chartered transports to sail and would not detach warships for escort. Generals Marshall and MacArthur begged that he should use his carriers, if for nothing else, to transport army fighters to the Philippines, to no avail - they were booked for some “special ops”. Actually, a couple of incursions into Japanese base waters in February which, as Morison put it, “didn’t bother the Japanese more than flyshit”. In the mean-time Bataan bled. Getting reinforcements to Wake was also botched.

    With the Army’s and Roosevelt’s insistence that MacArthur should get help, and Admiral King taking over for Admiral Stark who was side-tracked to London, this soon changed to a gradual build-up which wasn’t unlike the original War Plan Orange.

    The book contains 26 maps and many graphs and lists, some of them illustrating in detail complete build-up of specific campaigns, men, materiel, ships, time needed, etc. covering 35 years. The author rounds it all up with a detailed comparison of War Plan Orange and the actual proceedings of the Pacific War – did it still have any relevance? According to him it had.

    A somewhat frustrating book but very readable. Just my opinion.



    “Some historians argue that Plan Orange was a failure since it did not prevent the Japanese seizure of the Philippines. Mr. Miller demonstrates, however, that this contention fails to comprehend the major objectives in the minds of naval strategists. For those officers, the plan was not a defensive measure designed to hold territory. Instead, it represented an offensive means of defeating an aggressive Japan, the source of America’s security problem in the Far East.”

    Dean C. Allard
    Director of Naval History
    Department of the Navy
    Last edited by leandros; 09 Jun 19, 07:17.
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