Let’s get this list going.
As an observation and a nod, not a criticism (of course) of our Vice President Joe Biden – who observed that, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”
Because this will be a list, compiled into one blog post, whatever you put in the comments (respectfully and to the point of the post) we will incorporate into the post – then delete. Please submit your comments to us here or via firstname.lastname@example.org or give us your submissions via Twitter or Facebook . And when the first 500 hits it, [UPDATE]: WE WILL MAKE A BRACKET COMPETITION.
Give us your best of the best who were audacious – winners or losers – those who dared. We will update the list daily, no repeats – so dig deep when your favorite has already been mentioned.
Listed in order of submission and raw commentary (and without attribution and to protect the innocent):
500. SEAL mission per Vice President Joe Biden: Audacious on the part of our Commander in Chief, President Obama.
499. Japanese attack on Pearl was an Orange/Blue war-gamer exercise 6 or 7 years before 1941.
498. Entebbe, anyone? Or one might even argue that the raid on Bin Laden’s compound would not have been possible without the lessons learned from the even more audacious (if ultimately unsuccessful) plan of Operation Eagle Claw.
497. Lets start early. 1519 Hernan Cortez landed 600 Spaniards and about a dozen horses at Cozumel. He BURNED HIS SHIPS so there was no way to escape, and he and his men had to fight to the death. He led his men to destroy the entire Aztec Empire something that no invader had done in over 6 centuries. In the process he actually convinced the Aztecs that he was THEIR GOD.
496. Henry V at Agincourt – Nope, too early.
496. (Do-over) ”Kedging“- How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
Dare I say George Washington before the Battle of Trenton? Christmas Day 1776.
George Washington Crosses the Delaware in the dark of night to attack the British in Trenton.
For me there is one and only one #1. Without it an army driffs away, an idea dies, a piece of paper signed at the greatest personal risk becomes meaningless. General George Washington’s decision to attack Trenton on the morning after Christmas 1776 with a night march of impossible proportions couples not only audaciousness, but the greatest risk. For me it is the single most important moment without even a close second in American history, and for the idea of freedom as the world knows it today, possibly. My own telling here: http://
494, Eben Emael and the raid to free Mussolini
493. CDR “Red” Ramage, USS Parche, Pacific, 1944: as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Parche http://
492. Col Robin Olds, Operation BOLO Mig Sweep, North Vietnam, 1967 http://user.icx.net/
491. Doolittle Raid Doolittle Raid, 1942…(while a japanese radio broadcast stated, almost to the moment of the attack, how Japan would never be attacked, with air raid sirens suddenly going off-a “baghdad bob” moment)…which in turn, caused grave consternation, and thus triggered rash action by the Imperial Japanese Navy, resulting in catastrophic loss at Midway, with which they would lose their offensive initiative for the remainder of the war…despite efforts to regain it at Guadalcanal and others.
490. Admiral David Farragut leads his ships into Mobile Bay, 1864. Approaching the mine field laid by the Confederates the USS Tecumseh (first in the battle line) hit a mine and exploded, shocking the entire fleet. The USS Brooklyn stopped dead in the water, and the Captain asked the Admiral for instructions. Farragut ordered his ship, the Hartford, to steam around the Brooklyn and take the lead, signaling his forces “Damn the Torpedoes…Full speed ahead!” The entire column of 14 ships passed safely through the mine field and took Mobile.
489. April 22, 1778. At 11 p.m. on this day in 1778, Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored.
488. Captain Charles Stewart of USS Constitution taking on two warships simultaneously in February 1815.
487. Though unsuccessful, Desert One was audacious.
486. How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
485. Berlin Airlift
482. Market Garden (for a not-so-successful example)
481.Camp Century Greenland, 1959-1966.http://
480. Manstein Plan, France 1940 (replaced the original von Schlieffen plan), bait the allies into the low countries, cut them in half, and take the entire region in 6 weeks.
479. 1588, english channel, England vs Spain. English ships, more maneuverable, chipped away at the snds of the Spanish Armada’s ships (arranged in an arcing format) instead of taking them head-on. Forced the Spanish ships into disorder, and over a few days, whittled them down to near-insignificance…forc
Audacious to say the least.
478. 1970, USAF and Army Special operations crash land an HH-3 helicopter in the middle of the Son Tay prison complex in North Vietnam in an attempt to rescue 65 American POWs. The operation is carried out perfectly, but the prisoners were moved a few months earlier to different accommodations.
477. Operation Dynamo, the “miracle of Dunkirk” in WW2
476. Battle of the River Plate, 1939. One of the greatest psyche-outs in naval annals. Spee literally pulverized UK’s Ajax, Achillies(NZ), and Exeter. One’s fire control was out, another’s main gunnery was out, the third was mauled but intact. GS was also damaged, and thinking the UKs 3 were still coming after him (most would’ve broke off by then), he made for Montevideo…where he was told to leave within 72hours. GS was relatively intact, despite some damage, and could have re-engaged. Thinking there were more heavies coming (via the radio traffic of the 3, who remained, even though they would have been cut to pieces had the GS came out to face them), Capt Langsdorf scuttled the Graf Spee without a battle. 3 days later he shot himself. Sheer audacity, and well executed…using nothing but guile.(the truly genius strategist finds ways to war without battle-Sun Tzu)
475. The bayonet charge of Joshua Chamberlain on July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top during the Gettysburg battle.
474. Bridge at Dong Ha
473. 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood
472. June 1995 rescue of Scott O’Grady
471. Battle of the Bulge, with the Germans scraping up enough armor, soldiers and fuel to give the US and Allied Armies a real good scare
470. USS ENGLAND taking the bull by the horns, and sinking 6 Japanese subs in less than 2 weeks.
Has there ever been a month in the long history of Man’s wars that was as decisive as that of the thirty days of November, 1942? It was during this month that, in every theater in the Second World War, the tide turned decisively against the Axis.
The collection of “turning points” that are commonly offered when examining the Second World War in Europe, the Pacific, and on the Eastern Front, have the most familiar of rings to them. The Battle of Britain and the failure of the Luftwaffe in 1940 to subdue Fighter Command and set the conditions for SEELOWE. The failure of Army Group Center on the Eastern Front to take Moscow in the autumn of 1941. The carrier clash at Midway in June of 1942 which wrested the initiative from the Japanese in the Pacific. Without doubt, all these events were momentous. But it is only with hindsight certainty of all that followed that we might point to them and call them “turning points”.
The British, for example, would lose their Far East strongholds of Hong Kong and Singapore in the early months of 1942, and see her crude oil reserves drop to only 60 days’ supply during that summer as German U-Boats slowly strangled her Atlantic lifelines. The abortive Dieppe raid in August of that year did not portend well for regaining a foothold on the Continent of what would become Festung Europa.
In the East, the Wehrmacht shook off the disappointment of its failures before Moscow, and the effects of the brutal winter of 1941-42, to drive their forces ever more deeply into the Soviet Union, albeit against a Red Army that had saved its critical heavy industry with a miraculous evacuation from the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space” into the safety of the Ural Mountains.
In the Pacific, the surrender of almost 13,000 US troops at Corregidor just a month before Midway, and the uncertain success of the Solomons offensive, meant that the initiative was not in firm possession of either the US or Japanese forces, instead up for grabs like a spinning football. Any significant setback for the thinly-stretched US Navy and Marine Corps might have had disastrous consequences.
In context, the Battle of Britain, Moscow, and Midway, represent not decision, but entry of each respective theater of war into a period of indecision. The course of the war to that point had gone almost entirely in the favor of the Axis, except for temporary and somewhat trifling Allied successes. With the above events, the war reached a juncture in which the needle of the compass stopped pointing toward the Axis, and was wandering. The great happenings around the world in the month of November 1942 would ensure that the needle settled in the Allies’ direction, never to spin back to its original heading. The war, which had to this point gone almost universally badly, turned decisively for the Allies.
By November of 1942, The United States had been at war with the Axis for eleven months; the Soviet Union, for sixteen months; Britain, for more than three years during which she had stood alone (and suffered alone) for an entire year. What occurred during those thirty days of November in 1942 constitutes one of the most remarkable months in all of Western military history.
During the last week of October, 1942, in the Western Desert of North Africa, the savage Second Battle of Alamein raged between the German and Italian forces of Deutsches-Italienische Panzerarmee and Montgomery’s 8th Army. On 2 November, Montgomery’s armor slashed its way through the German-Italian defenses (at heavy cost to both sides) and turned Alamein into a rout and a decisive Allied victory. Though Rommel made good his escape (returning from illness to re-assume command on 25 October), the forces at his disposal were no longer combat effective.
Also during that last week of October 1942, an Allied invasion force gathered for the purposes of putting 65,000 American and British troops ashore on the northwest coast of Africa. The purpose of Operation TORCH was to engage the Germans wherever practical and theoretically relieve the hard-pressed Soviets in the East. On 8 November, 1942, those forces landed and overcame Vichy resistance. This would be the first instance in which US industrial and manpower would be brought to bear directly against the Germans. While the green Americans learned a great many costly and difficult tactical lessons against the veteran German formations, the invasion was there to stay, and the clock was ticking on the remaining life of Rommel’s once-magnificent Panzerarmee Afrika.
In the Solomons, the US effort to seize the initiative from the Japanese, to decide whether Midway was a temporary or permanent halt to Imperial momentum, hung in the balance through the summer and autumn of 1942. When at last the Japanese made their most serious effort to eject the Marines from Guadalcanal and the US Navy from the adjacent waters, a number of savage naval engagements sometimes collectively known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, were fought over the days and nights of 12-15 November. These battles were bloody and costly affairs for both sides, but they resulted in the destruction of the relief force from the 17th Army and the blunting of the IJN, and ultimately, the Japanese decision to evacuate Guadalcanal.
In the titanic struggle in the East, throughout August, September, and October of 1942 the exhausted and gaunt survivors of Chuikov’s 62nd Army clung desperately to the remaining acres of rubble inside the city of Stalingrad. Their story is one of the great tales of heroism in any theater of that war. The consequence of their fanatical defense was the necessity to weaken the flanks of the German 6th Army by pouring additional formations into the city, leaving the northern and southern lines largely in the hands of poorly-led and ill-equipped Hungarian and Rumanian units. When Operation URANUS was launched by the Soviet Don Army Front on 19 November, the 5th Tank Army and 21st Army blasted into the Hungarians and Rumanians north of Stalingrad, shattering those units, and driving deep into the rear of the German 6th Army. A day later, the southern flank was smashed by 64th, 51st, and 57th Armies, and when the Soviet forces met at Kalach on 22 November, Stalingrad was encircled and the fate of more than 300,000 Axis troops was sealed. It was a blow from which the Wehrmacht would never quite recover.
In the waters of the Atlantic, November 1942 would seem to be an exception to the above events. Indeed, Allied shipping losses in vessels and tonnage reached a wartime high. But the factors that had caused those losses, the CVEs and escort vessels pulled from convoy duty for Operation TORCH in North Africa, and the changing of the U-Boat code machines, were rectified during November 1942. The CVEs and escorts, in ever-increasing numbers, closed the air gaps, and the capture of a cipher book in late-October 1942 allowed for Allied deciphering of U-Boat signal traffic to begin again in the last days of November. Newer SONAR and air-search radar technology began to be felt, as well. As a result, Allied losses dropped sharply, and soon U-Boat sinkings rose to unsustainable levels, the fuel oil and supply crisis in Britain came to an end.
As much as anything on the battlefields and oceans of the theaters of war, it was the industrial and manpower might of the Allies that came increasingly to bear in November of 1942. Merchant shipping construction would enter full swing during that month, as would aircraft, tank, and warship production. The crushing weight of Allied industry would increasingly dwarf German and Japanese efforts, and carry the war to the heart of the Axis.
The war had gone on for not yet half its ultimate duration. It would last for thirty more months in Europe, and thirty-three more in the Pacific. And the bloodiest campaigns were yet to come. The Soviet Union would call the year 1943 their “year of deep war”. In Occupied Europe, too, the long nightmare betrayed no end. Other than the abject failure at Dieppe, not a single Allied force had set foot in Western Europe since the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940. Across in the Pacific, the savage fight for the Pacific islands had barely begun, and the Kamikaze was as yet unknown to the US Navy. Yet, the victories across the globe in November 1942 began the inexorable Allied march to victory against Germany and Japan.
For the Allies everywhere, Churchill’s words after El Alamein are descriptive of the significance of those decisive thirty days that were November of 1942.
“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that we tend to stress our mistakes and shortcomings instead of focusing on the great feats of arms that should be carved into the decks of our haze gray hulls.
Naval aviation, submariners and special warrior rightfully have staked out their places in modern history.
The surface warrior? Well, not so much.
Part of that is, of course, the U.S. Navy has been so dominant on the oceans of the world for so long that there have been few surface actions involving the fleet since – well, since World War II.
Shooting up some offshore oil rigs – it just isn’t all that much.
And even when talking about WWII, it’s the carrier battles that usually pop up – Coral Sea, Midway, the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot . . .
Sure, there were WWII surface battles that come to mind, like the Battle of Surigao Strait – the last great “all surface” battle- or the Battle of Samar, where a handful of destroyers, a few Navy pilots and some escort carriers took on a much superior Japanese force and, well, you can read all about it in James Hornfischer’s Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.
Then there is the story of the great naval battles fought in the waters off Guadalcanal – a tale that begins with the near disaster of the Battle of Savo Island (at look at which you can find here) and with the seemingly eternal grudge of Marines toward the Navy that “abandoned” them on Guadalcanal.
Well, now, wouldn’t it be nice if Mr. Hornfischer had written a book on that topic? Try this: Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal:
Neptune’s Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America’s first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. This grim, protracted campaign has long been heralded as a Marine victory. Now, with his powerful portrait of the Navy’s sacrifice—three sailors died at sea for every man lost ashore—Hornfischer tells for the first time the full story of the men who fought in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships in the narrow, deadly waters of “Ironbottom Sound.” Here, in brilliant cinematic detail, are the seven major naval actions that began in August of 1942, a time when the war seemed unwinnable and America fought on a shoestring, with the outcome always in doubt.
And wouldn’t it be great to discuss his books with Mr.Hornfischer?
Well, this Sunday 5pm Eastern, Mr. Hornfischer visits us at Midrats on Episode 84 James D. Hornfischer which my co-host CDR Salamander has described as:
When you mention books on naval history, there are but a few authors whose work immediately come to mind, and our guest is one of them.
Unquestionably one of the finest writers of naval history of the last half-century; James D. Hornfischer.
We have talked about his books on a regular basis both on Midrats and over at our homeblogs; The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts. He has a new book out, one that will be required reading for his fans – Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal.
We will have him for the full hour, so don’t miss the discussion of the U.S. Navy in the opening of WWII, the lessons we should take from history, and the importance of the study of naval history for both the professional and amateur.
Please join us. Here the link again: Episode 84 James D. Hornfischer
Staggered, Bloodied but Unbowed
After the morning’s attacks Enterprise had suffered significant damage, but still able to put up a fight defensively and conduct air ops. The number two elevator, aft most on the flightdeck, was temporarily stuck in the down position, leaving a large, square hole just forward of the arresting gear. Forward, just aft of the forward elevator, the forward hangar bay was a riot of flame, smoke and destroyed aircraft. Burning avgas was siphoning down into the forward elevator pit. Two decks below that was more smoke, fire, severed electrical cables, sprung hatches and a grotesquely sweet smelling mixture of oil, seawater and blood, camouflaging decks scattered with jagged metal and shattered bodies. Smoldering storerooms were separated from avgas and bomb bunkers by watertight bulkheads that had, thus far, remained intact.
OK — entering the homestretch of the Solomons Campaign. Before we get to the final sea battles of that campaign, we need to go back and capture the Battle of Santa Cruz for the pivotal impact it had on the campaign. Part I is presented here with II and III to follow in the coming week. – SJS
. . . And then there was one.
At 1025, Enterprise emerging from a rainsquall turned east to begin recovery of her search aircraft. Topside, flightdeck crews beheld a sight that made their hearts sink. There was Hornet, off to the southwest, dead in the water. Rising above her, like an accusing finger, was a huge column of of thick, black smoke, marking her position to the enemy. One needn’t be up in the flag plot or bridge to grasp the implications — with Wasp lost to Japanese torpedoes earlier in the month and Saratoga out of action with her own torpedo damage, there was just one carrier left in the southwest Pacific to hold the line.
And the Japanese knew it…
The situation at Guadalcanal had become unbearable for the Japanese and over the course of the late summer and early fall forces were gradually landed with a view to remove the Allied presence and reclaim the airfield. On 13 Oct, a Japanese force of two battleships, a light cruiser and eight destroyers began shelling Henderson field near midnight. The following night was a repeat. While there was little in the way of personnel casualties, most of the aircraft on the field were destroyed. As a result, a subsequent landing by Japanese land forces was only lightly opposed by a single SBD from Henderson and even though SBDs from nearby Espiritu Santo and supporting B-17’s sank three transports, the majority of Japanese forces were able to put ashore.
Over the next two weeks, the Japanese forces pressed their way across Guadalcanal towards the objective at Henderson. Bereft of most of their heavy gear, they could rely on artillery support from the ships of Yamamoto’s force which held local supremacy over the seas. In their minds, any other shortfalls would be more than made up by their own warrior spirit in the face of the American defenders whom they knew to be hanging by a slim lifeline of support.
Between the 23rd and 24th of October, Japanese land forces deployed around Henderson Field, looking for one final, overwhelming push to retake the field. At sea, Japanese naval forces were gathered, centered again around the carriers and in numbers not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just as the forces ashore would rid the island of the American invaders, Yamamoto’s naval forces would engage the numerically inferior American Navy and eliminate it as a threat
The time for confrontation was drawing nigh –
With this submission, CINCLAX’s in-depth review of this part of the Solomons campaign is complete. I think you will agree with me that considerable thought and work went into these articles and join me as a hearty “BZ” is passed his way. On the horizon – in the next couple of weeks we will wrap up the action at sea and then give each of the authors a chance to (briefly) state their analysis as to the relative importance of Midway vs. The Solomon Islands campaign. – SJS
Completing the Cartwheel – the Final Encirclement of Rabaul
Meanwhile at Cape Gloucester and Manus…
Almost contemporaneous with the 3rd Marines departure from Bougainville, the now well-rested 1st Marine Division of Guadalcanal fame was loaned to RADM Dan Barbey’s 7th ‘Phib for a December 26, 1943 landing at Cape Gloucester on the western tip of New Britain. This followed an insignificant diversionary Army landing 10 days earlier at Arawe on the southwestern coast. While the Cape Gloucester Marines succeeded in capturing an airstrip, this field never became a significant factor in the continuing reduction of Rabaul, and turned out to be a rather wasteful operation that cost some 248 lives. The Japanese force at Cape Gloucester had no artillery with which to close Dampier Strait, so it had been no threat to Allied operations. It was monsoon season, and daily rainfall could reach 16 inches; thus the 1st Marine veterans opined the terrain and weather conditions were as big an obstacle as the Japanese, and the mud even worse than Guadalcanal.
On February 29, 1944, MacArthur’s 1st Cavalry Division landed on Los Negros Island in the Admiralties (north of New Guinea), then a week later on Manus Island to seize the magnificent Seeadler Harbor. Later in the year, this would be an invaluable staging place for operations on Palau and Leyte.
Such was the work of the weaker of the two arms of the South Pacific campaign to “Break the Bismarcks Barrier.” Now it was up to the stronger arm, Halsey’s, to complete the reduction of Rabaul.
We resume the quite comprehensive articles provided by CINCLAX as part of the ongoing Solomon Islands Campaign blog project. With the exception of some noteworthy battles at sea and on land, the Solomons campaign slogged on in near anonymity, except for those doing the fighting. We would learn much in the process – about joint operations, supporting forces ashore, the flexibility of carrier- and shore-based air, logistics and the like that would be applied in the coming campaigns through the Southwest and Central Pacific that would break the back of the Japanese military and lead the way to ending the war in the Pacific. That, however, lays still in the future. In the meantime, Bougainville continues…
Expansion of the Torokina Beachhead
The first—or 3rd Marines—part of the Bougainville campaign had cost the Marines 423 killed and 1,418 wounded. Japanese dead were counted at 2,458; only 23 were taken prisoner. It had been a remarkably smooth operation.
On December 15, 1943 command of the Torokina beachhead Area had passed from IMAC (MG Roy Geiger) to XIV Corps (MG Oscar Griswold). Almost all of the 3rd Marines were withdrawn by the end of the month, and the Americal Division (MG John R. Hodge) and 37th Division (MG Robert Beightler) moved in to take their places. In fact elements of the 37th had already been in place, and initially Geiger had assigned them to the comparatively “peaceful” western part of the perimeter. Of the Marines, only the 3rd Defense Battalion would remain. Their 155mm guns would prove invaluable in defense of the perimeter.
Meanwhile the airfields were being readied to reduce Rabaul and its environs. Since December 10th, F4U Corsairs of VMF 216 had been based on the new Torokina strip, and they would initially be the key to the successful AirSols bombing offensive against Rabaul. Before the Piva strips became operational on January 9th, Allied bombers would lift off from more distant fields and be joined by the Torokina fighters, so as bomber escorts they made feasible large-scale raids from elsewhere.
During the initial period of the landings, air activity in support of the beachhead, consisted of daily flights over the Torokina area, in close air support (CAS), as well as regular strikes on southern Japanese bases like Kahili, Kieta, Kara and Ballale, and as visits to Buka and Bonis in the north.
Meanwhile the Marines were perfecting their CAS techniques, and on ten occasions in November-December ground troops requested it. Each of these required that the strike be run within 500 yards or less from American front lines; three at 500 yards, three at 200 yards, one at 120 yards, one at 100 yards, and two at only 75 yards. Marine spotter aircraft used colored smoke to mark front line positions and white smoke to mark the target areas, setting up a solid liaison between air and ground units. Techniques developed here would form the doctrinal basis for later Marine campaigns.
Very occasionally Japanese aircraft from Rabaul would score hits on command posts, supply dumps, ships, or small craft in Puruata Harbor (between Puruata Island and Cape Torokina), and on airfields which were under construction within the American perimeter. The net effect of these raids was minimal, and as enemy air strength diminished on Rabaul, raids dwindled to virtually nothing by the end of February 1944.
In time, most of AirSols assets would move to Bougainville, and it would become AirNorSols in June 1944.
The Americal Division was somewhat unusual in that it had never been given a number designation. In fact it was so-named because it had been formed up in May, 1942 in New Caledonia (representing the “Cal” part of the name). The Americal was also the first Army Division to take offensive action against the Japanese, and had fought with some with some distinction in the latter phases of the Guadalcanal campaign.
Like many other early Army divisions, the Americal was formed from National Guard Regiments, in this case 132nd (Massachusetts), the 164th (North Dakota), and 182nd (Illinois).
The 37th, or “Buckeye Division,” also had National Guard roots—only from Ohio. It had originally been formed in Fiji, then moved to Guadalcanal for training in March 1943. Four battalions had assisted the initially hapless 43rd Division on New Georgia, and learned their trade the hard way in the attack on Munda. It was at Munda that XIV commander Griswold had “cut his teeth” as he straightened out the faltering Army effort.
Today — part 2 of CINCLAX’s articles on the Bougainville Campaign…
Battle of Empress Augusta Bay (the “short version”)
While the 3rd Marines were settling for their first night ashore, a critical sea battle was brewing offshore. As they had immediately responded in the air, the IJN was quick to counter attack by sea. In Rabaul, ADM Samejima (8th Fleet) ordered newly arrived ADM Omori (CO Crudiv 5, Nachi & Haguro) to sea with every other fighting ship he could conscript from Simpson Harbor with orders to attack the American transports
It was a bad decision. Omori had never exercised with any of the other ships in his scratch force (two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers), while “Tip” Merrill’s force, TF 39 (4 light cruisers, eight destroyers), were by now old hands at night actions.
The next four posts will cover the invasion of Bougainville and are provided via guest author CINCLAX.- SJS
The Last Spoke in the Cartwheel
Before the Guadalcanal operation (Watchtower) even began in August 1942, it had been decided to neutralize the Japanese bastion of Rabaul by moving up the Solomons one step at a time until Rabaul could be pounded from the air on a daily basis. Operation Cartwheel—as it was to be called—had begun inauspiciously with strong Japanese responses by sea and air, and by the early fall of the year some people were even calling for a strategic retreat and the evacuation of Gen. Vandegrift’s First Marines. The Navy was having great trouble stopping IJN surface attacks on Henderson Field, and the “Tokyo Express” reinforcement runs from Rabaul could not be effectively stopped. Japanese night surface tactics and superior torpedoes were not yet understood by American commanders, and the soon-to-be-famous “Cactus Air Force” was often reduced to a handful of operational aircraft left to handle the daily Japanese air raids.
Rabaul continually haunted Allied leaders. No operation in the Solomons or New Guinea could be considered complete as long as Rabaul remained strong and served as a hub for aggressive Japanese troops to attempt the re-conquest of Guadalcanal or even eastern New Guinea.
Then the always aggressive VADM Halsey took over SOWESPAC and things slowly began to change for the better. By the summer of 1943 the Allies had moved into the Central Solomons, eventually capturing the Russell Islands, New Georgia, Rendova and finally Vella Lavella. Along with each conquest had come new air bases ever closer to Rabaul, relentlessly hacked out of the jungle by the seemingly tireless Seabees. Henderson Field had been some 560 miles from Rabaul; Munda (New Georgia) was some 200 miles closer, while Barakoma on Vella Lavella was only 320 miles from Rabaul. The ring was closing.
Moreover, Halsey’s campaigns had also worn down Japanese air and naval forces to the extent that they no longer had the upper hand in the Slot. Their surface warships had been sorely depleted, and many of their veteran IJN pilots had been lost in combat and operational accidents. The Cactus Air Force on Henderson Field had now grown into AirSols, one of the best small air forces in the world and a true “joint” command of Navy, Marine, USAAF and New Zealand planes operating out of multiple strips all over the Central Solomons. Masters of improvisation and scrounging since the dark days of Operation Watchtower, AirSols would take the unsuccessful P-39 and P-40 fighters (rejected for European service) and make them effective low-level fighter bombers. When they needed floatplanes, they snatched them off of damaged cruisers heading home for repair. Similarly, the vulnerable Lockheed Ventura patrol bomber was turned into a night fighter. Meanwhile new arrivals like the P-38, the F4U Corsair and F6F Hellcat would rule the higher altitudes against the Zero. Now AirSols “Black Cat” PBYs patrolled the nights over water and their “Dumbos” rescued hundreds of downed flyers who lived to fly and fight again.
Meanwhile Gen. Mac Arthur’s forces in New Guinea had slogged their way from Port Moresby to Buna and beyond, establishing a large air base at Dobodura (near Buna). There, Gen. George Kenny’s Fifth Air Force had established itself as the terror of the Bismarck Sea. On the last day of February 1943, Gen. Imamura (8th Area Army CO in Rabaul), sent out some 6900 troops to reinforce his garrison at Lae; eight destroyers and eight transports carried the load. Kenny attacked the convoy with 335 aircraft, and in two days the Japanese lost all eight transports, four destroyers and about 3500 soldiers. With the disaster of the Bismarck Sea battle, Imamura and his Rabaul Navy cohort Adm. Kusaka (11th Air Fleet) would dare no further reinforcement attempts in New Guinea.
So Bougainville would be the next—and virtually last—target of the Allied Solomons campaign. In the summer of 1943, Halsey’s staff in Noumea joined with VADM Aubrey Fitch from the New Hebrides, LTG Alexander Vandegrift, and RADM Theodore “Ping” Wilkinson at Camp Crocodile on Guadalcanal to complete their planning. If Bougainville was to be the logical target, the question remained as to where? It was estimated there were about 40,000 Japanese Army troops, plus 20,000 Navy personnel on Bougainville and its adjacent islands. Most of these were in the south: Kahili, Buin, and the Shortlands; there were also 6000 in the north on or around the Buka Passage. All these locations featured airfields which the Japanese could be expected to defend tooth and nail—as they had at Munda.
What the Allies needed was a relatively lightly defended location where they could build their own airstrips, and one far enough away from existing Japanese strongholds so that speedy overland reinforcement would be difficult if not impossible. After deliberating, they decided on Empress Augusta Bay, in the middle of Bougainville’s west coast and equidistant (about 50 miles) from Japanese strongholds. About 16 miles wide from Cape Torokina to Mutupina Point in the south, the Bay was not a well-protected anchorage from westerly storms, but it would have to do.
In many respects, Bougainville would be a repeat of Guadalcanal: establish a perimeter against initially weak resistance, construct several airstrips and defend them against counter-attacks, then go about the business of continuing to reduce the stronghold of Rabaul—only 220 miles distant. Unlike New Georgia or Vella Lavella, there would be no need to occupy the entire island.
The next offering comes via CINCLAX – and is a truly detailed review of the ground action in New Georgia as we begin to move – slowly, hesitantly and with great inefficiency (at first) from the precarious foothold established at Guadalcanal. The Japanese will come to learn, as did the Germans on the other side of the world, that once the Americans establish a beachhead, there was no going back – they would relentlessly press their advantage.
And so – the New Georgia Campaign…
The Right Place to Go but the Wrong Way to Get There
In 1950 Samuel Eliot Morison concluded his final evaluation of the New Georgia Campaign:
The strategy and tactics of the New Georgia campaign were among the least successful of any Allied campaign in the Pacific.
As most of the American planners and commanders were still alive at this time, perhaps Morison was being intentionally soft on them, as his writing excoriates the planners at several other points.
Before 1942 hardly anybody had ever heard of New Georgia, and after 1943 few people would ever hear of it again. Nothing important had ever happened there before, and nothing important afterwards. But for an intense five-month period from June through November 1943, the New Georgia Group of islands would see fierce fighting on land, sea and in the air—and some of the worst American strategic and tactical planning of the war.
The needless complexity of the operation was bewilderingly wasteful, and was often poorly led by Army officers at all levels who had little or no foreknowledge of the terrain and whose troops were woefully inexperienced and physically unprepared. These Americans also had the misfortune of facing one of the most wily and resolute Japanese generals of the Pacific War, Minorou Sasaki.
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