As early as March 1942, three months before the U.S. Navy inflicted a devastating defeat on a Japanese carrier force at the Battle of Midway, and when American prospects in the Pacific still looked darker than a starless night, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King laid out the future trajectory of the Pacific War with extraordinary prescience.
The “concept of operations,” wrote King, “is not only to protect the line of communications with Australia,” then under dire threat by Japanese army and navy forces deployed just to its east. The Allies must establish a series of “strongpoints from which a step-by-step, general advance can be made” through the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, the Philippines, the Marianas, and on to Japan itself. “It is expected that such an… advance will draw Japanese forces to oppose it, thus relieving pressure in other parts of the Pacific.”
When King wrote those words, neither the Japanese high command nor the leading strategists of the U.S. Army believed an American offensive in the Pacific before the summer of 1943 was anything more than a pipe dream. The United States had just suffered a series of humiliating defeats at Pearl Harbor, Wake, and Bataan; its forces in the Pacific were weak and in disarray; and President Franklin Roosevelt had agreed to pursue a “Germany first” grand strategy with the British.