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General MacArthur; Admiral Helfrich

June 4 2010 at 9:35 PM
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Nelson  (no login)

Response to The Enigma Of Helfrich


To respond to your earlier posting, I don't think it's a matter of whether a ranking officer is loved or liked, but rather how effective he is in instilling obedience in his subordinates. Whether done out of fondness for the Old Man or respect for the commanding officer's sternness, his orders must be fully carried out if he is to be an effective leader. I think that neither MacArthur nor Helfrich was widely adored, so that factor is not relevant to our discussion on the effectiveness of these flag officers. We must judge their worth by other standards.

Before we leave Mac, I must again ask those in this forum who think little of his generalship why that is so. If you think that his performance and behavior while commanding USAFFE in the Philippines put him beyond exoneration, such that no matter what he did thereafter was not sufficiently redeeming, fair enough. I acknowledge that the only high point in his P.I. campaign, the brilliantly concerted retrograde movement of both Luzon Forces into Bataan, was much diminished by dispersing throughout the island the necessary military stores originally cached there for the defense of the peninsula. Certainly there were soldiers (and sailors) close to the fire who either became prisoners of war for long duration or got run out of the P.I. with their tails between their legs, as well losing friends back on Luzon or Mindanao, who understandably were/are a lot less forgiving of him. But the President of the United States did believe that MacArthur should be kept on and given another chance, and retained confidence enough that Mac served to war's end, took the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, and headed the Allied occupation forces there. Implicit in this decision, shared by the majority of the American public, is that Mac deserved redemption by his later WWII service. IF the naysayers can put aside the Philippine misadventure, however difficult and justified that may be, can you say that Mac's war performance is still lackluster? If so, please provide the names of commanders of approximately equivalent rank and position whose standards we can hold MacArthur to in comparison. If Chester Nimitz is an obvious choice, then we must put Buna against Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Peleliu as long grinding combat or sharply acute affrays, heavy in blood and materiel expended. Otherwise put, if MacArthur didn't do that well, all things considered, then WHO DID and should be deserving of our admiration?

Moving on to the NEI and Singapore/Malaya, I throw this question out for general consideration. While every navy had its black shoe admirals, to be sure, could these men have achieved flag rank while being nearly oblivious to air power? Was it really that they did not appreciate what damage aircraft could inflict on capital ships, or was it simply, as in the case of Adm. Tom Phillips, that they knew full well but just didn't have friendly aircraft at their disposal, accepted that bitter pill, and sailed out regardless?

While I agree with you that Helfrich demonstrated a near fanatical fixation to defending the NEI, I would point out that that fanaticism did not prevent his evacuation from the islands toward the end of things. And I don't agree with your assessment of Helfrich vis-a-vis Hart. I think Hart was a realist, far more sanguine about what the combined Allied naval forces could do--very little in fact--against the might of the IJN, and was thus content to play a waiting game, replete with hit and run raids. Helfrich (and IMO Doorman, too) had little sophistication, engaging too often in unimaginative tactics. It puzzles me what Helfrich thought the two surviving Allied warships--heavy cruiser HOUSTON, with one third of her main armament out of action, and light cruiser PERTH--could have done against the many CAs of the IJN deployed against them. Continue to make frontal attacks reminiscent of the charge at Balaclava "until the enemy is destroyed"?

I've said it before in this forum, but again, Helfrich appears not to have appreciated that the NEI were just another line of defense in the Malay barrier, to be fought and defended until sufficient time had been bought and casualties suffered that it became necessary to drop back to the next line. Trouble is that sufficient Allied naval forces had to survive so as not to have been forced all the way back to Oz, and clearly they did not. And yes, the CSF should have been formed and trained together LONG before it was, simply to iron out the inevitable difficulties that would arise. Hart's fault or Helfrich's? Or both? Melmoth is right on in regard to the performance of the USN's submarine force, but the fault likely lay not with Hart, but with the prewar ultraconservatism in tactics practiced and the older officers in command of the American subs (not to mention their older NCOs). Read Clay Blair's SILENT VICTORY (Lippincott, 1975) to view all the dirty linen.


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  • Helfrich - Felix on Jul 28, 2010, 5:27 AM
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