War Plan Orange

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Long before Pearl Harbor, the US Army and Navy drew up War Plan Orange, in case of war with Japan. It consisted of three phases:

  1. Pull US Navy ships back to their home ports, and sacrifice outposts near Japan — the Philippines and Guam.
  2. With superior force, advance toward Japan, seizing Japanese-occupied islands to establish supply routes and overseas bases. The US, with its superior production power, should be able to reclaim the Philippines within two or three years.
  3. Choke Japanese trade and bombard the Japanese home islands without invading them.

Of course, War Plan Orange wasn’t the only war plan. There was also War Plan Red:

In Plan Red, the Atlantic Strategic War Plan, the strategists theorized that there would be a war with Great Britain. They did this because England was locked in a strategic alliance with Japan, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, which was renewed and lasted until the Washington Conference of 1921-22. American planners thought that England’s imperial reach would bring it into conflict with the US.

Another contingency war plan they developed was the Red-Orange Plan, which hypothesized a two-theater war, seeking to win first in the Atlantic, against England, while fighting a holding battle in the Pacific, and then defeating Japan. When World War Two broke out, military and naval planners simply dusted off the old Red-Orange Plan and substituted Germany for England in the Atlantic Theater.

The broader strategy and the resources to carry it out, including defense construction and mobilization of reserves, was essentially the same. The main point to be learned here is that a theoretical planning construct does not make an enemy of a country. England made a strategic policy choice at the Washington Conference, deciding to cast its lot with the United States, and turned out to be a close ally by the late-1930s. But the Red-Orange Plan stayed on the US Joint Army-Navy Board’s agenda through 1939.

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