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Like a broken strand of pearls, the Solomon Islands form an open and extended chain from the Santa Cruz Islands in the south-east to the larger islands of Bougainville and New Britain in the west. Further to the south-east lie the New Hebrides. The islands, primarily volcanic in origin with outer coral barriers, are lushly populated with rain forests and mangrove swamps. Prominent, wide-open and level terrain is rare. What little there is, is densely vegetated. Temperatures tend to the steamy with a prolonged wet season and drier months and “cooler” temperatures in the June through August period. Rainfall on average, is about 120 inches per year.

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Human habitation is generally ascribed to have begun around 30,000 years ago with Papuan-speakers arriving from the islands of current day New Guinea. Later settlers arrived from the Austronesian areas (present day Indonesia and environs) via outrigger around 2500 – 3000 years ago. But it wasn’t until the 16th century that the first European explorer, a Spaniard navigator by the name of Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, discovered and charted the islands. Settlement by Europeans in the Solomons was scattered and consisted mostly of missionary work beginning the middle of the 19th century. Because of a surge in violence against settlers in Australia and Fiji (a reaction to the colonists’ labor practices that relied on kidnapping and trickery), the British epanded a protectorate over the southern Solomon islands in 1893. More islands were added in 1898 and 1899 with the entirety incorporated by 1900, most of that consisting of islands formerly claimed by the Germans, save Buka and Bougainville which remained Germany’s until the outbreak of WW1 when Australia occupied them.

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Positioned across the strategic approaches to Australaisa (including Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea) the islands provide an ideal means of either insulating the lands to the south, or, alternately, the best point to invade or exercise control over the sea and air approaches, isolating those lands from distant allies. Early in the 20th century, a survey of the area for naval basing purposes was undertaken by the Royal Navy with a deep water harbor in Tulagi (across from Guadalcanal) receiving particular attention. Little came of it though as the British viewed the enterprise as being too costly. Further to the west, on the island of Rabaul (present day New Britain), where volcanic activity at the north end had formed a deep, protected harbor , the Germans Slide1solomons-001sought to establish a significant presence, but lost the territory to Australia following WWI. Following the war, Australia continued the expansion of the facilities as part of the British Commonwealth, until a devastating earthquake in 1937, killed 507 people and destroyed the city, forcing reconsideration of the whole endeavor (note that even today, volcanic activity in the region continues to exact a major toll on life and property). Rather than re-build there, the Australians moved the territorial capitol to a safer location on Lae. In the interim, Rabaul remained pretty much uninhabited until the advent of WWII when the Japanese invaded and occupied the island, turning it into a major naval and air-base to secure and extend their position in the region. Underscoring the challenges of operating forces in the Pacific, the Solomons lie over 3100 nm from Pearl Harbor and 2900 nm from Tokyo. Allied presence in Port Moresby and northern Australia was an aid, but at this point of the war, forces would have to come from the west coast of the US or from Hawaii.

Next week we pick up with the post-Midway review of US forces, as provided by AT1 Charles Berlemann, Jr. then UltimaRatioRegis weighs in with a series that will cover the rationale for WATCHTOWER, the status of the IJN Combined Fleet and the first part of the invasion of Guadalcanal over subsequent weeks. – SJS


Posted by SteelJaw in Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Byron

    First, I’m back 🙂 My PC (which was very old anyway) got fried two weeks ago during a very bad storm. I just got a new one, and am in the process of building everything back up. Should take the remainder of my vacation (which was very nice, tour of Anteitam battlefield was Monday).

    SJS, this is going to be a “fun” ride. Guadacanal doesn’t take the place in the annals of the War in the Pacific that it should, but next to Midway, was the pivotal battlefield of the Pacific war. For the first time, in a series of grueling battles in the air, at sea, and on the ground, American forces shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility. As the Scribe has noted, there were a multitude of disting naval actions (including the only battleship vs. battleship enagagement of the war!), hundreds of aircraft fought daily for air supremacy, and the Marines of the First Division fought for control of the vital speck of ground called Guadacanal.

    I’d ramble along more, but I still have things to do, like set up the email accounts and see how much I’ve got backlogged on the servers 😉

  • So Byron — welcome back; Mac or PC? 😉

  • Byron

    PC…too old a dog to learn new tricks; I already know where the bones are buried 🙂

  • Chuck Hill

    SJS, Nicely done. Loved the Map.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Welcome back, Byron. I was afraid that SWMBO had done you in because we agreed too much…

  • Byron

    Nah, I’m a tough old bird to kill 🙂

    Shoot me an email so I can save the addy, please? And anyone else on my “former” list. I’m still working towards a HD hot swap and retrieval, there’s lots of black…ah, information I’d like to hang on to.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    Byron is back! (When did he leave? I thought he was just sulk, er, carefully considering his next illuminating post.) Welcome back.

  • Byron

    Nope, Grampa, was just on vacation. Didn’t want internet, could have taken a laptop but didn’t. Sometimes you just got to get away. Wife on the other hand… 😉 I AM glad to see the Randies have left the building (thank you, SWMBO!). Signal to noise ratio went WAY up!

  • John Burtis

    Running throughout the Solomons Campaign, like the thin wire which holds the pearls together, was the limitless bravery shown the allied Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen by the native contingents who served alongside them, who carried their wounded, who aissisted the coast watchers, who provided the allies with critical intelligence, and who willingly gave their lives on ocassions too numerous to mention for the final victory in the Pacific.

    Sgt. Major Jacob Vouza, an honorary member of the USMC, is but one example of the incredible bravery shown by these native contingents.

    Taken from the Solomon Times, September 22, 2008:

    “Born in Papagu Village in Koli, West of Guadalcanal Province in the 1900’s, Vouza served with the Solomon Islands Protectorate Armed Constabulary in 1916, and retired at the rank of Sergeant Major in 1941.

    Vouza volunteered to become a scout for the Americans after he rescued an American Pilot shot down by the Japanese.

    On one of his missions to locate enemy camps, he was captured by Colonel Ichiki Kiyonao and his men. After discovering an American Flag Vouza was carrying, he was tortured to reveal information following the American hide outs from which he received brutal wounds to his leg, chest and face.

    Despite being tortured severely, the Japanese could not get information from him, so they left him in the jungle to die.

    Sir Jacob Vouza then chewed through the vines he was tied with and stumbled through mountainous terrains to reach the American camp, from where he received medical treatment and had enough strength to utter the plans of the Japanese.

    The victorious ‘Battle of Tenaru’ by the Americans was said to have been the result of information given by Sir Vouza.

    Sir Jacob Vouza received a number of awards in recognition of his service to the War. The Silver Star was awarded to him by Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, for refusing to give information under Japanese torture. He also was awarded the Legion of Merit for outstanding service with the 2nd Raider Battalion during November and December 1942, and the British George Medal for gallant conduct and exceptional devotion to duty. He later received the Police Long Service Medal and, in 1957, and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his long and faithful government service. In 1979 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

    Sir Jacob Vouza passed away in 1984.”

    His story is but one of many from men of similar mettle who served the allies with the same distinction.

    Luckily for the allied powers engaged against the forces of Dai Nippon, the colonial officers assigned to the Solomons, those tireless British and Australians, treated the indigenous peoples as they themselves would have have been treated. Had they not, the tide of war in this rain soaked theater, in some areas inhabited by real headhunters, might have proceeded in a far different fashion than it did.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    SgtMaj Jacob Vouza remains a legend on the Marine Corps.

    Legend has it that he would say about the Marines at the end of every USMC commemoration event, “You tell them. Me love them all.”