Last week was the most successful week of the war in the Southwest Pacific. With the Japs all but cleaned out of the Papuan sector of New Guinea, with the crushing of a Japanese attempt to land new reinforcements, General Douglas MacArthur left the screened veranda of his New Guinea cottage, where he had been since November, and returned to his headquarters in Australia.
His first act was to heap honors on his high command: Distinguished Service Crosses to twelve of his ranking officers (six Americans, six Australians). One of them, Lieut. General Robert L. Eichelberger, was revealed as the U.S. field commander in the Papuan campaign. In an outpouring of long-kept secrets, General MacArthur also revealed the identity of his ground forces in the campaign: parts of the 6th and 7th Australian divisions, and of the American 41st (Oregon, Washington, Montana National Guard) and 32nd (from Wisconsin and Michigan).
Said General MacArthur: "The magnificent conduct of the troops and elements of this command, operating under difficulties rarely if ever surpassed in a campaign, has earned my highest praise and commendation. . . . To the American Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force no commendation could be too great. . . . They have set new horizons for the air conduct of the war.
"To Almighty God," concluded General MacArthur, "I give thanks for that guidance which has brought us to this success in our great crusade. His is the honor, the power and the glory, forever, Amen."
Hammer the Hammer. But last week belonged to the airmen. The center of the week's action focused first on a drab sedan which lurched over the pocked and pitted track that winds from Jackson airdrome to Port Moresby. The thick red dust of New Guinea blurred its windows, but not the three white stars on its license plate. Spying the stars, half-naked troops, Australian and American, grinned and threw casual salutes. One of their favorite brass hats was home again: Lieut. General George Churchill Kenney, Commanding General of Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, and commander, Fifth U.S. Air Force.
The grins would have become cheers had the troops known what scrub-headed General Kenney was saying at that moment: "Good, Whitey! Let's smear 'em tomorrow."
"Whitey" was his deputy commander, Brigadier General Ennis C. Whitehead. "Em" was the Japanese concentration at Rabaul. Rabaul Peninsula lies at the northern tip of New Britain, 480 air miles from Moresby. It looks not unlike the cocked hammer of a pistol, and like a pistol the Japanese have pointed it at the Allies in the Southwest Pacific. Kenney's planes had hit it before, but not in the strength he wanted. Now Whitehead had met him at the airdrome with the news that his strength was mustered: two squadrons of Flying Fortresses, one of B-24 Liberators. At last Kenney was ready to hammer the hammer.
For exactly 25 years George Kenney has carried in his fob pocket a small pair of wooden dice. They are the oracle he invariably consults before embarking on momentous projects. In the rocking, dusty sedan he plucked them out at random. They showed six-one, a natural. He faced them toward his aide, able, beady-eyed Captain Clarence "Kip" Chase.