Fresh assessments of one of America’a most controversial generals.
What did the British see?
The author of a recent book on Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke at the Army War College AHEC this month. His book MacArthur at War presents a balanced and nuanced assessment of MacArthur’s WWII campaigns.
At the end of his talk, he was asked a question that has long intrigued me: Why did the British hold MacArthur in such high esteem? (1:00:00 mark)
Field Marshall Alan Brooke, Churchill’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was clear in his assessment. His biographer Arthur Bryant writes that “Brooke regarded MacArthur as the greatest strategists of the war and his campaign in the Southwest Pacific as a masterpiece"
The Field Marshall himself wrote that “I have often wondered since the war how different matters might have been if I had had MacArthur instead of Marshall to deal with. From everything I saw of him I put him down as the greatest general of the last war. He certainly showed a far greater strategic grasp than Marshall”
Maybe, as Borneman theorized, Brooke was just being peevish. Or, maybe MacArthur looked good to him because he was far away while Brooke butted heads with Ike and Marshall and King on a regular basis.
There, are, however, other reasons why Alan Brooke might have reached this conclusion.
1. MacArthur and the British high command were both more attuned to the post-war consequences of wartime strategic decisions. Marshall and his European commanders were very much of the Prussian school: Generals make decisions based on military necessity and then, after the war is won, politicians and diplomats takeover.
Churchill and his generals believed that to draw such a stark dividing line was absurd. The post-war settlement was bound to reflect, in part, the military dispositions at the time of the armistice and the campaigns that led up to it. MacArthur shared this view as shown by his insistence that the Philippines not be by-passed on the road to Tokyo clearly.
To Brooke, this meant that MacArthur grasped alevel of strategy that Marshall and his protégés were oblivious to.
2. MacArthur and his commanders also were more innovative and more willing to adjust their operational plans than the commanders Marshall sent to Europe.
When Operation COBRA smashed the German defenses in Normandy, Bradley and Eisenhower were slow to recognize the great opportunity in front of them. They held fast to the existing plans and timetables even as an epic opportunity was in their grasp.
The one marked weakness among the top Allied officers lay in the commander of American ground forces, General Omar Bradley. Bradley was an unimaginative and uninspiring commander, who had already proven to possess a streak of jealousy for subordinates more competent than he was...
Even worse, Bradley, who had no experience with amphibious landings, did not take advice from officers who had seen service in the Pacific. Moreover, he disliked the Navy and was uninterested in their work on fire support and ship to shore movements under enemy fire. At Tarawa the Marines learned that amphibian tractors were worth their weight in gold. Bradley left 300 amtracs in England. Nor did Bradley see the value in the specialized engineering vehicles developed by Gen. Sir Percy Hobart to overcome the extraordinary challenges presented by the German beach defenses
Lacey and Murray, Moment of Battle
MacArthur’s forces, in contrast, revised plans on the fly to take advantages of opportunities when they presented themselves. (The capture of Hollandia, which Borneman cites as perhaps MacArthur’s greatest triumph, is just one example of this opportunistic improvisation).
2 (a) The Brits and MacArthur shared a blindspot. They both had a tenuous grasp of the industrial planning that was required for the type of war America waged in WWII.
The British Chiefs, especially Sir Alan Brooke, never could seem to understand why the Americans had to have commitments well in advance. They accused us of being rigid and inflexible, not realizing the terrific job of procurement, shipbuilding, troop training and supply necessary to place a million and a half troops in England, with armor, tanks and troop-lift, ready to invade the Continent.
S. E. Morison