South West Pacific Area (command)

South West Pacific Area (command)

South West Pacific Area (SWPA) was the name given to the Allied supreme military command in the South West Pacific Theatre of World War II. It was one of four major Allied commands in the Pacific theatres of World War II, during 1942-45. SWPA included the Philippines, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies (excluding Sumatra), Australia, the Territory of New Guinea (including the Bismarck Archipelago), the western part of the Solomon Islands and some neighbouring territories. The supreme commander, General Douglas MacArthur, was in charge of primarily United States and Australian forces. Dutch, Filipino, British and other Allied forces also served in the SWPA.


The name "South West Pacific Area" appears to have originated in British military circles in 1941, purely in reference to British forces under the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDA). The rapid Japanese advance through the Dutch East Indies effectively divided the "ABDA Area" in two, and in late February 1942, ABDA was wound up at the recommendation of its commander, the British General Archibald Wavell, who — as Commander in Chief in India — retained responsibility for Allied operations in Burma and Sumatra (which fell to the Japanese on 28 March 1942), and against Japanese held Singapore, Malaya and Thailand.

On March 24 1942, the newly-formed British-US Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a directive designating the Pacific theater an area of American strategic responsibility. Six days later the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) divided the Pacific theater into three areas: the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA), the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), and the Southeast Pacific Area. Therefore most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands fell under a separate Allied command, Pacific Ocean Areas, headed by US Admiral Chester Nimitz.


On April 17, the Australian government, led by Prime Minister John Curtin, directed Australian personnel to treat orders from MacArthur as equivalent its own. In fact, for most of 1942 and 1943, MacArthur commanded more Australian than U.S. personnel. He also commanded some Dutch forces which had retreated to Australia. Some British, New Zealand and other national forces also came under MacArthur's command.

One result of the division of the Pacific theatre into two separate Allied/U.S. commands was that each competed for scarce resources in an economy-of-force theater, and each was headed by a commander in chief (CinC) from a different service. In particular, the division of the Solomon Islands caused problems, since the battles of the Solomon Islands campaign in 1942–1943 ranged over the whole region, with the main Japanese bases in SWPA and the main Allied bases in POA.


in April 1945.

The Australian Army CinC, General Sir Thomas Blamey, was appointed Commander, Allied Land Forces. Im practice, however, MacArthur preferred to control land operations himself, through "task forces", the most important of which were New Guinea Force, formed in 1942, and "Alamo Force", formed in 1943, around which was built the U.S. Sixth Army. On the arrival of this formation in SWPA in February 1943, MacArthur revived U.S. Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) as an administrative command. The result was that Blamey did not command of the vast majority of U.S. land forces in the theatre after that time, although his post was not abolished.

Vice Admiral Herbert F. Leary, was appointed Commander, Allied Naval Forces. Leary, was succeeded by Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, who also became commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet when it was formed on March 15, 1943. They were junior in rank to both the Australian Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Sir Guy Royle, and the Dutch naval commander, Vice Admiral Conrad Emil Lambert Helfrich. However, Royle agreed to serve under the Allied Naval Forces as commander of the Southwest Pacific Sea Frontier (Australian coastal waters). MacArthur was not the superior of his U.S. Navy commanders — they were answerable to Admiral Ernest King, the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, and MacArthur was embarrassed when the Navy Department replaced Carpenter with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid without informing him or consulting the Australian government.

In early 1944, MacArthur declined a suggestion, from Australian leaders, that the Australian I Corps be used in the forthcoming campaign to re-take the Philippines, in its own area of responsibility. MacArthur suggested instead that one Australian division be used, but this was not accepted.

In September 1944, MacArthur discarded the task force concept for the land forces, and assumed direct control of the U.S. Sixth Army, U.S. Eighth Army, Australian First Army, Australian I Corps and U.S. XIV Corps.

, was outside Kenney's command. A controversy erupted in May 1943 when Jones removed all RAAF air transport units from Kenney's control. An appeal from MacArthur to Prime Minister Curtin failed to get them back and the result was that Jones, Royle and Blamey were ordered to provide GHQ with detailed lists of units assigned to SWPA, which in the case of the land forces, had often been ambiguous.

Forces from the SWPA were to have made up a significant proportion of the Allied units set aside for the proposed invasion of Japan, scheduled to take place from November 1945.

Major campaigns in the theatre

* Philippines campaign, 1942
* New Guinea campaign, 1942-45
* Philippines campaign, 1944-45
* Borneo campaign, 1945

Command structure (combat units)

"Ranks cited are those on assumption of each position."
General Douglas MacArthur, Philippine Army/U.S. Army, Supreme Commander (1942-45)
* Lieutenant General George Brett, Deputy Commander & Commander of Allied Air Forces (until August 4, 1942; not replaced)
* Staff officers (all U.S. Army)
**Major General Richard K. Sutherland (Chief of Staff)
*** Brigadier General Richard J. Marshall (Deputy Chief of Staff)

US Army Forces Far East (1941-1945)

* Lieutenant General Jonathan M. Wainwright (U.S. Army), Wainwright held the position until the Allied surrender on May 6, 1942, after which it was vacant.

Allied Land Forces (1942-45)

"Australian Army officers, except where stated."
*General Sir Thomas Blamey, Allied Land Forces

New Guinea Force (1942-44)

** Major General Basil Morris (May 19, 1941 to July 31, 1942)
** Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell (August 1, 1942 to September 23, 1942)
** General Sir Thomas Blamey (in direct command) (September 23, 1942 to October 1, 1943)
** Lieutenant General Edmund Herring (October 1, 1942 to January 29, 1943)
** Lieutenant General Sir Iven Mackay (acting) (January 30, 1943 to May 21, 1943)
** Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring (May 23, 1943 to August 28, 1943)
** General Sir Thomas Blamey (in direct command) (August 28, 1943 to September 23, 1943)
** Lieutenant General Sir Iven Mackay, (September 23, 1943 to January 20, 1944)
** Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead (January 20, 1944 to May 5, 1944)
** Lieutenant General Stanley Savige (May 6, 1944 to October 1, 1944)

Australian First Army (1942-45)

** Lieutenant General John Lavarack, (1942 - 1944)
** Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, (1944 - 1945)

Australian Second Army (1942-45)

** Lieutenant General Sir Iven Mackay, (1942 - 1944)
** Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead, (1944 - 1945)
** Major General Herbert Lloyd, (1945)

U.S. Sixth Army (1943-45)

* Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, U.S. Sixth Army (a.k.a. "Alamo Force", in theatre from June 1, 1943 to September, 1944)

U.S. Eighth Army (1944-45)

* Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger, U.S. Eighth Army (formed 1944)

Allied Air Forces

"United States Army Air Forces officers, except where stated."
* Lieutenant General George Brett, Allied Air Forces (until August 4, 1942)
* Lieutenant General George Kenney, Allied Air Forces (from August 4, 1942)


U.S. Fifth Air Force
*"Controlled Allied air operations in the "Northeastern Area" (New Guinea, including islands)
** Lieutenant General C. Kenney

RAAF Command
*"Controlled Allied air operations in the "Northwestern Area" (Australia and the Dutch East Indies).
** Air Vice Marshal William Bostock, Royal Australian Air Force.


U.S. Far East Air Force
"Philippines area and southern islands of Japan."
Lieutenant General George Kenney
*U.S. Fifth Air ForceMajor General Ennis Whitehead
*U.S. Thirteenth Air Force (from Pacific Ocean Areas)Lieutenant General Hubert R. Harmon (1944)
Major General St. Clair Streett (1944-45)
Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith (1945)
*U.S. Seventh Air Force (from POA, mid-1945)Major General Thomas D. White

RAAF Command
"Allied operations in Australia, Dutch East Indies and the Territory of New Guinea."
Air Vice Marshal William Bostock

Allied Naval Forces

"U.S. Navy officers, except where stated."
* Vice Admiral Herbert F. Leary, Allied Naval Forces, April 20, 1942-September 11, 1942
* Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, Allied Naval Forces, February 19, 1943-November 26, 1943; and Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, (from March 15, 1943)
* Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, November 26, 1943-September 2, 1945; and Commander U.S. 7th FleetSouthwest Pacific Sea Frontier
*"Australian coastal waters"
** Admiral Guy Royle (Royal Navy)

ee also

*U.S. I Corps
*Australian I Corps
*Australian II Corps
*Maroubra Force
*Australian First Tactical Air Force

External links

* [ Prof. David Horner, 2002, "The Evolution of Australian Higher Command Arrangements" (Australian Department of Defence)]
* [ U.S. Army in World War II (official history) "Organization and Command of the Pacific" (U.S. Army)]
* [ Maj. Jonathan B. Wills, 1997, "How Southwest Pacific Area Operations in WWII Influenced the Royal Australian Air Force" (U.S. Air Force)]

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