Operation Watchtower Analysis

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Operation Watchtower provides an exceptional reference to illustrate American commanders’ application of operational art in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) during World War II. This paper analyzes the roles of Admiral Earnest J. King and Major General Alexander Vandegrift as operational artists during planning and execution of Operation Watchtower. Their understanding of the link among lines of operation, decisive points, operational reach, culmination, and risk directly contributed to overall success of the Guadalcanal campaign. Analysis of their actions through a lens of current doctrine benefits current practitioners by providing historical examples of operational art in action.
This paper will discuss doctrinal concepts displayed during the planning and execution of Operation Watchtower. The current joint definition of operational art will provide the baseline reference
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Victories at the Battles of the Coral Sea (4-8 May) and Midway (4-7 June) changed the operational and strategic picture. These continued Japanese aggressive actions led to the development of Operation Pestilence, the campaign for the Solomon Islands targeting the enemy base at Rabaul. Pestilence initiated phase two of the Pacific Ocean Campaign Plan. The seizure and occupation of the Santa Cruz Islands and Tulagi were the objectives of the first major operation within Pestilence. Guadalcanal soon replaced Santa Cruz when intelligence verified that the Japanese were constructing an airfield here adjacent the seaport at Tulagi. This operation was code named Operation Watchtower. King’s initial vision and directions established conditions in the Pacific to permit transitioning to the second phase of the overall campaign plan and exploit the successes at Coral Sea and

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