Leadership Characteristics and Considerations in the Pacific War

Guiding Question:

What makes a great leader in war?


Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission, maps, and primary and secondary source analysis, students will determine leadership strategies taught and used during the Pacific Theater of World War II. Cooperative groups will read and discuss excerpts from the 1942 primary source, Leadership for American Army Leaders, to determine preferred leadership techniques during the war. Students will also discuss leadership in the context of a combat scenario involving an amphibious landing at Peleliu. By examining the memoirs of a young officer at Peleliu, Andrew Haldane, they will assess the overall value of tactical leadership at the line officer level.


Historical Context

As in any war, tactical leadership was a critical factor in World War II. Peleliu was crucial in the Palau Islands chain because of its airfield and its strong concentration of Japanese troops. Peleliu was on a geographic flank of the Philippines and the Allies could not allow Japanese forces to interfere with the upcoming invasion of the Philippines. Beginning in September 1944, the Allies invaded this island in an operation expected to require only a few days. Due to an extensive network of tunnels on the island’s rocky terrain and a willingness to fight to the death, Japanese forces were able to hold key portions of the island for over two months and inflict a 40% casualty rate on the Allied forces.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe the role of leadership education in the Pacific Theater of World War II;
  • Evaluate the leadership principles taught to officers headed to the Pacific; and
  • Participate in a simulation that will require students to apply these principles in action.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.11.9-12. Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.
D2.His.13.9-12. Critique the appropriateness of the historical sources used in a secondary interpretation.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Warm-Up (15 minutes)

  • Play the short video, "To lay so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom" for students.
  • Lead a discussion by asking students, What motivates a soldier to “lay a costly sacrifice” in the face of horrendous physical and emotional risk?
    • Teacher Tip: Motivation for fighting through risk is influenced by leadership. This could include leadership of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Consider the personal characteristics of leadership that influence people to achieve a task as part of a team.

Activity Two: Primary Sources on World War II Tactical Leadership (30 minutes)

  • Explain to students that during World War II there was a large need for both commissioned and non-commissioned officers in the U.S. military.
    • Teacher Tip: Officers needed to be taught leadership skills quickly in order to assume their duties on the front lines. Today students will be reading excerpts from Munson’s Leadership for American Army Leaders, a 1942 book used to teach young officers key principles of leadership. Students will also read excerpts from two Combat Lessons, documents created to share lessons learned in combat with officers who did not have this experience. Both were published in 1944.
  • Divide students into groups of two or three students each.
  • Give each group one Leadership Training Packet.
  • Direct students to divide and read their excerpts, share what they have learned, and respond to the Leadership Training Questions as a group.
  • Monitor students and respond to questions as a group.
  • Allow groups time to respond to the questions on the front of the packet.
  • Lead a whole-class discussion using those responses.

Activity Three: Leadership on a Beach Landing - A Combat Scenario (15 minutes)

  • Stack desks in a rectangle to simulate approximate size of amphibious tractor. Cardboard boxes could also be used. The approximate dimensions are:
    • length: 26 feet
    • width: 10 feet
    • height: 10 feet
  • Project World War II: A Visual History. Click “enter,” then “1944,” then the Western Pacific Campaign.
  • Summarize the overview for your class and play the short video clip to set the historical context and setting for this scenario.
  • Divide students into groups of five or six students each.
    • Assign each group to a tractor and have student groups interact from inside the confined space.
    • Teacher Tip: A teacher may choose to use photographs, sound, or video from World War II to enhance the scenario and add noise and confusion to the scenario.
  • Project map, Assault on Peleliu 15-23 September 1944 in front of the room.
  • Offer the following scenario to students, You are a squad leader on an amphibious tractor heading for the reef at beach Orange One at Peleliu. There are explosions, bullets, rockets, fire, smoke, and one of your Marines is vomiting on the tractor floor.
  • Distribute one copy of the Peleliu Leadership Considerations Sheet to each group.
  • Ask each group to discuss how they need to be a leader in this situation. Prompt them to rank their priorities at each of the following points in time:
    • What are your primary considerations at this time?
    • What do you need to do before you land on the beach?
    • What do you need to do when you land on the beach?
    • What do you need to do once you have reached cover at some point off the beach?
  • Allow students to discuss this scenario with their groups and share with the larger class.
  • Lead a debrief, asking students to make connections between their theory of leadership and the leadership documented by officers on Peleliu.

Assessment Materials

  • Distribute one copy of the article, “Dark Places of the Earth, Storming the Pacific” to each student. Ask each student to read the article independently.
  • Ask students:
    • What leadership characteristics did Haldane exhibit?
    • How important were these characteristics to the U.S. Marines at Peleliu?
    • How does Haldane’s experience compare to the Combat Lessons and excerpts from the Munson book we read earlier?
  • Distribute the Leadership Case Study Instructions and Rubric to each student. Ask students to synthesize their learning by responding with an extended paragraph answering the following prompt: Andrew Haldane was a trained military officer who experienced combat. Based on his training and his experience, write an essay addressing the following points:
    • What leadership characteristics did Haldane exhibit?
    • How did these traits manifest themselves at Peleliu?

    Use specific examples from the primary and secondary sources to support your response.

  • The Leadership Case Study Rubric can be used to score this assessment.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with more interest in the role of leadership in World War II may research other leaders in other campaigns across the Pacific.
  • Students may come up with their own ideas of a set of desirable or effective leadership traits in a collaborative digital tool like Padlet and/or Thinglink. These traits may include issues like integrity, drive, self-confidence, intelligence, knowledge, and desire.
  • Students may research an overview of basic leadership styles (e.g. autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, Mouton Grid) and assess for a particular campaign or leader in the Pacific.
  • Students may produce a Google slideshow on their chosen World War II figure that they may share in an oral presentation to the class.
    • Presentations may include who, what, when, where, why of their leader.
    • Presentations may include primary source data like census records, where they are interred, and obituaries.
    • Presentations may include a reflection on how the individual’s specific leadership qualities contributed to the war effort.


  • Teachers may adapt the project to one-on-one coaching with a student during project time, designed around his/her specific challenges.
  • Teachers may assign peer teachers inside cooperative groups with students who need additional help to assist instruction and relate pertinent information.
  • Teachers may allow more time outside classroom block to complete activity for students that need additional help.
  • Activity Two may be completed without any multimedia to limit distractions for some students with special needs.


Return to Activity

Secondary Sources

Other Sources