Tags: history lessons, Solomon Islands Campaign Blog Project
” In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. Until 1019 on the morning of 4/5 June 1942, things had gone badly for the US and its allies. With few exceptions, the Allies were fighting a losing battle in the Pacific. Indeed, as events unfolded that morning, it appeared as of the rout was on. The attacks by land-based air forces from Midway had utterly failed culminating in the loss of many aircraft. The strikes by the torpedo aircraft were decimated – an entire squadron of TBDs shot down with only a sole survivor to claim witness. An entire airgroup missed the Japanese carriers and the battle altogether and of the remaining forces, they were scattered and disorganized. The future was looking grim. At 1019, Hiryu’s senior lookout shouted he had spotted dive bombers attacking Kaga from overhead. Despite being thrown into a hard turn, Kaga was struck by a 500 lb bomb and then successive strikes utterly crushed her…
At 1024 Soryu was struck a mighty series of blows…
At 1026, LT Dick Best led a flight of two other SBDs away from Kaga in an attack on Akagi. Attacking in a “V” formation from a right-hand turn, history held its breath as the first bomb missed and the third narrowly missed the carrier. But the second bomb, a 1,000 pounder from LT Best’s aircraft bore through the aft edge of the elevator and exploded in the upper reaches of the Akagi’s hangar bay, in the midst of the refueled/rearming aircraft parked there. In the blink of an eye, fate turned and three carriers lay burning.
To be sure the battle was not over and a dreadful price remained to be extracted from the American carriers. Likewise, Kido Butai had not seen the last of the Americans either and would pay the final price later in that day.
Across a seaborne canvass that stretched over 176,000 sq nm, larger than the country of Sweden, the battle see-sawed back and forth. No other naval engagement has seen such breath-taking distances involved and few, short of a Trafalgar, have seen such a decisive turn of events. We honor today those who fought and gave their all in this signatory battle.”
Across the expanses of the Pacific that now marked the final resting spot of four of the Combined Fleet’s carriers and another of the dwindling American fleet; across those waters whose perceived placidity formed the basis of its, by now, ironically given name, men on both sides gathered to ponder, to plan, to act. On one side, it was a two pronged effort to hide the shame of the recent losses from the divine being occupying the throne while still trying to consolidate the spoils of what, six months previously, seemed to be an unstoppable force. In the east, in the capitol of a nation roughly a century and a half removed from the shackles of an empire, men, civilian and military paused in their brief celebration of the previous day’s events and turned over a question common in mind – ‘now what’? The unexpected opportunity presented at Midway opened new avenues and forced thought about where emphasis should lie in the war effort. Europe first? That’s where the President’s heart lay and Churchill and Stalin were in desperate straits against the Nazi foe despite recent setbacks… Put the Pacific on ice now that Japan’s eastward and southern thrusts have been blunted? Or take advantage of the change in strategic conditions? Was it time to press Nimitz’s central Pacific strategy? And what about MacArthur ? Couldn’t keep him quiet in Australia forever.
In June 1942, a Japanese seaplane base commander was surveying the areas in a chain of volcanic- and coral-reef islands that stretched across the north-eastern approaches to Australia – the Solomon Islands. While loitering about one, he noticed a wide, flat plain – perfect for constructing a long runway for land-based patrol bombers to extend their reach over land and sea. And so, acting on his initiative, construction began on this heretofore, little noticed, overgrown outcropping of rock, stuck like an appendix to this chain of islands.
This rock named Guadalcanal.
In doing so, he touched off a series of events, of battles great and small, nation against nation, man against the elements – even man against himself that no one in those far-distant capitols had reckoned for.
Beginning here (and here) next week, we will bring you the story of the Solomons campaign. A cast of writers have been assembled from a variety of communities – some well known from their own blog efforts, some new to the blog ‘verse but well experienced in the ‘real world,’ others you have only seen in the comments. All will bring their knowledge and perspective to elements of the Campaign in the tradition established by the Countdown to Midway series. In the process, while hoping to shed new light on a campaign that, with a few exceptions, has pretty much remained elusively darkened to most except for the dedicated naval and military historian, we also hope to highlight lessons for the current age – lessons form an operational, planning and leadership perspective.