Archive for the 'Solomon Islands Campaign Blog Project' Tag

Though a later shot, this picture gives an ida of the relationship of El#2 to the landing area.

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.

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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.

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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 155mm “Long Tom” guns of the Marine 3d Defense Battalion could range out to appx. 20,000 yards, and could thus cover all parts of the perimeter with their 100 lb. shells.

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.

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Today — part 2 of CINCLAX’s articles on the Bougainville Campaign…

"The Little Beavers" - Destroyer Squadron 23 - November 1943 Led by Admiral Arleigh A. ("31-knot") Burke, DESRON 23 was part of Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill's Task Force 39 during the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, November 1943, when four of the squadron's destroyers helped sink a Japanese cruiser and two destroyers. Ordered by Admiral "Bull" Halsey to scout the Buka-Rabaul evacuation route, on 25 November 1943, during the Battle of Cape St. George, The Little Beavers sank two new 2000 ton Japanese destroyers with their torpedoes and, after an hour long chase, a high speed transport by gunfire.

"The Little Beavers" - Destroyer Squadron 23 - November 1943

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.

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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


Solomon Islands


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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On its face, it was innocuous enough – simple administrative traffic providing notification of an inspection by a senior officer of some outposts:



Further details on uniforms, places to be inspected and the like were provided. To the recipients in the war zone, it undoubtedly was met with mixtures of resignation and anticipation. Across the broad Pacific, however, it was met with a sharp intake of breath by CDR Ed Layton, CINCPAC’s chief intelligence officer. For some time now, since before Midway, the US Navy had been able to read Japanese message traffic with increasing veracity, translating gathered intelligence into degrees of operational success. The implications of this message, however were far reaching – for it literally delivered the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor into the hands of the Americans. How so? This was the itinerary of an upcoming inspection in the Solomon’s area by none other than the commander of the Combined Fleet himself.

The question, two actually, was whether to act upon it and if so, how to carry it out? Because, without question, this was the death warrant of Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto.

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Thus far, and not surprisingly so, the conversation has focused on the naval forces – afloat and ashore, at work in the Solomons. Today we go a wee bit joint and talk about land-based air and its contribution.

We are all (or should be) pretty familiar with the inter-service rivalry that sprung up pre-war between the Navy and the (upstart) Army Air Corps. Claims and assumptions flew thick and heavy in the open press and behind War Department doors over what each service could do and the relative utility of the (then) fragile motorized kites called aircraft. Mitchell’s demonstration off Vacapes in 1921 served to fan the inter-service flames – but the facts are that it did force Navy to look harder at aircraft in an anti-ship role. On the Army Air Corps side, there was a push on for long-range bombers, leading to the B-17 and later the B-24, and several medium bombers (notables of which were the Douglas A-20 Havoc, the North American B-25 Mitchell and Martin’s B-26 Marauder) which at the time, fell into a “what do we do with these?” train of thought. As the war opened, the record of land-based bombers was, well, spotty. There were isolated instances of note – Doolittle’s raid being the most visible (technically, not land-based), but for the most part, the heavy bombers were still almost a year away from making their presence felt in Europe and in the Pacific, had been more noted for being caught and destroyed on the ground in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor was attacked. While present in the opening stages of Midway, the heavy bombers tried mightily to sink ships from high altitude and only succeeded in destroying lots of plankton and fish(and this, by the way, despite the use of what was then precision targeting via the Norden bombsight, developed originally to attack ships from high altitude), while the B-26’s and other Midway-based aircraft were pretty well decimated, like most of their carrier counterparts, by Japanese carrier-based air and AAA.

As was the case throughout the theater, though, there was some innovative thinking taking place and the sting of Allied land-based air would soon be felt… – SJS

It’s early 1942 and you are inbound to Douglas MacArthur’s staff as his new air commander, commanding the Fifth Air Force and the Allied Airforces in the South West Pacific. The dilemma you are faced with is that the allies have been in retreat in the face of the Japanese onslaught which has seen great swaths of Asia fall into their possession. You, in turn, are to meet that formidable force with a rag-tag group of survivors gathered from around the Philippines and the rest of the theater, now based in Australia. Your counterpart over in the Navy is exceptionally busy as well, struggling to meet the threat with what was still afloat from Pearl Harbor and subsequent attacks (fortunately the carriers survived) and some land-based air. Most of it, however, is out of your territory and besides, controlled by the Navy.

You think about where and how to hit the enemy to effect the most damage, and like your Navy counterparts, deduce that the Achilles heel in the Empire’s far-flung lines of support is shipping, merchant shipping. The thousands of island garrisons, from the biggest at Rabaul to the smallest outcrop of coral and volcanic rock were all heavily dependent on supply from the sea. In later parlance, it would be “a target rich environment.” Problem is, pre-war tactics have proven abysmal when applied in the real world. High altitude precision bombing wasn’t working against a maneuvering target and attempts to replicate at lower altitudes ran into swarms of fighters and heavy flak from escorts. What do you do?

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Assassin’s mace (English adaptation of the Chinese phrase ‘shashou jiang’) — one periodically hears of the term used, usually in combination with advocacy for avoiding the same through transformational (forces)(TTP)(platforms)(weapons)(networks) – pick any, none, or all. Most recently, the ASBM the Chinese are purported to be developing has served as the poster child for Assassin’s Mace, but ’twasn’t always so. In the opening stages of the Pacific War, especially the period 1942-44, US forces were on the receiving end of a true assassin’s mace – the Long Lance torpedo. How was that? Well, let guest author, Chuck Hill (who will be bringing us the writeup on the 13/14 Nov 42 Guadalcanal action in the near future) explain… – SJS
P.S. Of course we are well aware of the irony in using a Chinese phrase to describe a Japanese weapon.

Type93torpedoProblems with American torpedoes are well documented. As a result of false economies and the arrogance of personnel charged with designing them, America’s new standard torpedoes, the Mk 13 air launch (also used by PT boats), the submarine launched Mk 14, and surface launched Mk 15, were never realistically tested before the war. They had problems which included the magnetic exploder, the contact exploder, and the depth keeping mechanism. But even if they had worked perfectly, American torpedoes were significantly inferior to Japanese surface and submarine launched torpedoes, as were every other torpedo in the world.

The giant 24 inch Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes in particular, were a secret weapon, expected to level the field with the numerically superior American Navy. Japanese pre-war planning had included special formations, the Night Battle Force (Yasen long-lanceButai) or Advanced Force, designed to exploit these torpedoes using night attacks. It was primarily the ships of the Advanced Force that would fight the night battles of the Solomons Campaign.

Like most of the torpedoes of the period, the most common Japanese surface vessel and submarine torpedoes were steam driven. In the case of the Japanese torpedoes, they burned Kerosene. Unlike virtually every other torpedo, they used pure oxygen rather than natural air to support combustion. Pure oxygen eliminated 77% of the gases of natural air that took up a great part of the volume of the torpedo, contributed nothing to the combustion process, but added considerably to the wake of the torpedo. This gave the torpedoes longer range at higher speeds with very little wake. Here is a statistical comparison of the respective surface launched torpedoes (from Campbell):

US Japanese
Mk 15 Type 93, Model 1, Mod 1,2
Diameter 21” 24”
Length oa 24’0” 29’6.3”
Total Weight 3841 lbs 5952 lbs
Charge 825 lbs 1080 lbs
Range 6,000yds/45 kts 21,900 yds/48-50 kts
10,000 yds/33.5 kts 35,000 yds/40-42 kts
15,000/26.5 kts 43,700 yds/36/38 kts

Not only were the torpedoes unique in their range and lethality. The supporting systems that employed the torpedoes were also unique. Oxygen generating systems were provided for topping up the pressure inside the torpedoes. Generally there was a reload torpedo for each tube and a system that allowed it to be reloaded in about 20 minutes. A notable exception was the torpedo cruiser conversions, Kitakami and Oi, equipped with no less than 40 torpedo tubes. Cruisers typically carried 16 to 24 torpedoes and destroyers 16 to 18.

To take advantage of the increased range, in some installations, the Japanese used a firecontrol computer comparable to that used for controlling guns in an anti-surface mode, worked by five crewmembers, that was good to ranges of 40,000 meters. They also took extra care to insure that their torpedoes ran straight and true.

While the Zero fighter came as a nasty shock; it should not have been, because it had been employed before Pearl Harbor, and an American Naval Attache had sat in one at an air show outside Tokyo in 1940. At least its qualities were quickly recognized and tactics were changed in an attempt to neutralize its advantages relatively quickly. In the case of the Japanese torpedoes, American commanders made tactical errors throughout virtually the entire Solomons Campaign because the range of these torpedoes went unrecognized. It did not have to have been that way, “in a rare occurrence, a volunteer agent brought the American Naval Attache in Tokyo detailed information about the Type 93 Torpedo. … But in 1940, when the American Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) offered this information to its customers, insisting that it came from an ‘impeccable’ source, the Navy’s Bureau of Ordinance declared such a weapon to be impossible. Neither the British nor the Americans had yet mastered oxygen technology, so it was inconceivable that the Japanese had done so.” (Aldrich, p 64) Later, a type 93 torpedo was recovered, but no one seemed in any hurry to let the people who were actually fighting the war know about its exceptional performance. (Crenshaw)

(crossposted at

Aldrich, Richard James, Intelligence and the War Against Japan, Cambridge Press, 2000
Campbell, John, Naval Weapons of World War Two, Conway Maritime Press Ltd, 1985
Chesneau, Roger, ed., Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922-1946, Conway Maritime Press Ltd, 1980
Crenshaw, Russell Sydnor, Jr., South Pacific Destroyer, Naval Institute Press, 1998
Dull, Paul S., A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945), Naval Institute Press, 1978
Lacroix, Eric and Linton, Wells II, Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War, Naval Institute Press, 1997

USS Minneapolis (CA-36) after bow loss due to torpedo strike

USS Minneapolis (CA-36) after bow loss due to torpedo strike

Today’s post examines the first major response at sea, to the invasion by Allied forces on Guadalcanal a couple of days earlier. Our guest author for this article is CDR Bill Bullard, USN. CDR Bullard has just completed his CO tour as the 70th Commanding Officer of Old Ironsides, where Age of Sail history dominated his studies for the last two years. This is effort marks his return to the Age of Steam and, in his words, this is his first real attempt at a major blog posting. – SJS

Arkansas’ “Old Sparky”

08 August, 1942, 1200 EST. Herbert Haupt, Edward Kerling, Hermann Neubauer, Werner Thiel, Heinrich Heinck, and Richard Quirin – six Nazi saboteurs of Operation Pastorius have just been electrocuted in Washington, DC. It is the largest mass electrocution in the history of the United States.

What nobody in Washington knew was that the Pacific Fleet had just undergone an “electrocution” of its own. Ten minutes earlier and nearly half a world away, about three nautical miles due east of Savo Island, Captain Frederick Reifkohl, USN entered the water and swam away from the superstructure deck of USS VINCENNES as she rolled over and went down by the head. VINCENNES sank in 500 fathoms of water at 0250 09 August 1942, just 15 minutes after her sister ship USS QUINCY went down. Within ten hours two more cruisers, HMAS CANBERRA and USS ASTORIA, would join them as the first warships to inhabit Ironbottom Sound. (continued…)

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solomons-002 4120940

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.

923041 savo-island_from _Guadalcanalhenderson-field

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.

21140188 rabaul

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


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