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A map of the Pacific Theater.

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.

General Douglas MacArthur and Australian Prime Minister John Curtin.

The Allied commander in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur was elevated to the post of Supreme Commander Southwest Pacific Area, although he preferred to use the more conventional title of Commander in Chief (CinC). As the Japanese surrounded US and Filipino forces in the Philippines, MacArthur was ordered by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to leave his headquarters on Corregidor, and to relocate to Melbourne, Australia.

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.


The Allied land forces commander SWPA, General Sir Thomas Blamey (left), MacArthur and Curtin.

Although MacArthur had been ordered by Roosevelt to appoint as many Australian and Dutch officers to senior positions as possible, most of his immediate staff was made up of US Army officers who had served under him in the Philippines. In July, MacArthur moved his general headquarters (GHQ) north, to Brisbane, Australia. GHQ subsequently moved to Hollandia in August 1944, Leyte in October 1944, and Manila in April 1945.

The Australian Army CinC, General Sir Thomas Blamey, was appointed Commander, Allied Land Forces. In 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.

Allied naval forces commander SWPA, Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid (center left) with MacArthur (center) on February 28, 1944 on USS Phoenix during the bomardment of Los Negros Island, at the commencement of the Admiralty Islands campaign.

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.

Royal Australian Air Force chief, Air Vice Marshal George Jones (left) meeting the Allied air forces commander in the SWPA, Lieutenant General George Kenney (right) in mid-1945, in Manila.

Lieutenant General George Kenney commanded the Allied Air Forces. Initially, he combined this with command of the U.S. Fifth Air Force. When the U.S. Thirteenth Air Force was transferred from the South Pacific Area in 1944, he created the U.S. Far East Air Force to control them both. Kenney consolidated Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) units under his command into the RAAF Command under Air Vice Marshal William Bostock. The RAAF Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal George Jones, 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

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)


US Army Forces Far East (1941-1945)

Allied Land Forces (1942-45)

Australian Army officers, except where stated.

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)

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)

U.S. Eighth Army (1944-45)

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


U.S. Far East Air Force
Philippines area and southern islands of Japan.
Lieutenant General George Kenney

  • U.S. Fifth Air Force

Major General Ennis Whitehead

Lieutenant General Hubert R. Harmon (1944)
Major General St. Clair Streett (1944-45)
Major General Paul Wurtsmith (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 Fleet

Southwest Pacific Sea Frontier

See also

External links


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