Solomon Islands Campaign
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Battle of Eastern Solomons
23-25 Aug 1942
The first major carrier battle off the Solomon Islands occurred shortly after the American landings on Guadalcanal. Although Guadalcanal was always a secondary objective for the Japanese, they realized regular reinforcements and supply runs were critical for a continuous campaign on that island to recapture Henderson Field. Consequently, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto put together a powerful expeditionary force whose aim was first to destroy any American fleet units that might be in the area, and then eliminate Henderson Field. This force sortied from Truk on 23 Aug. Simultaneously, several other reinforcement, support, and bombardment groups sortied from both Truk and Rabaul.
The Americans had a maximum of three carriers with which to meet the Japanese force, but Wasp was detached to refuel on 23 Aug, so she was out of the coming action. As a result, the Americans only had two carriers, Saratoga and Enterprise, and their 176 aircraft to meet the two Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku and the light carrier Ryujo. The Japanese had 177 aircraft at their disposal. In his usual tendency to devise complex battle plans, Yamamoto sent the light carrier Ryujo ahead of the rest of the fleet on a bait role, sending her planes to attack Guadalcanal, thus drawing attention from the American pilots; meanwhile, the aircraft from the two fleet carriers would charge in to attack the American counterparts. The bait Ryujo was overwhelmed and was hit by several 1,000-lb bombs then subsequently one hit by aerial torpedo. She eventually sank that night after being abandoned. While Ryujo was being attacked, her larger fleet mates Shokaku and Zuikaku counterattacked. Their aircraft passed the curtain of anti-aircraft fire laid down by North Carolina and other ships, and damaged Enterprise badly with three bomb hits. The bombs passed through several decks aft and exploded deep in the carrier and caused serious fires and casualties. However, effective damage control kept her from being disabled. She was able to restore use of the flight deck briefly while Nagumo's aircraft returned for fuel. Enterprise managed to transfer the majority of her aircraft to Henderson Field before limping away to the southeast to fight another day. During this confrontation, Enterprise's aircraft also disabled the Japanese seaplane carrier Chitose, though she would be saved. The Japanese fleet attempted to Admiral Nobutake Kondo looked to engage the Americans in a night surface fight with his battleships and cruisers, but Fletcher withdrew southward to avoid just such an engagement. After failing to find the American fleet, Kondo turned his force back at 2330, ending the battle.
The next day both fleets "groped for each other like tired wrestlers with smoke in their eyes", said Dan van der Vat. The Japanese launched an air raid on Guadalcanal, causing havoc, while American Marine aircraft engaged Tanaka's convoy headed by the flagship Jintsu near Taivu Point. A Japanese transport was sunk, and the older destroyer Mutsuki was so badly hit that she had to be scuttled. Several other warships were damaged; Tanaka's own Jintsu was hit as well. At this point, Tanaka wisely withdrew and rescheduled the supply run for the night of 28 Aug via destroyers. Meanwhile, the American carrier Wasp positioned herself east of Guadalcanal expecting Japanese movement there, but found none.
Strategically, the Japanese had an opportunity for a decisive victory but failed to achieve it, instead allowing the Americans to step away with a perception of victory, even only with a small margin. Additionally, the reinforcement of Henderson Field of Guadalcanal by Enterprise's aircraft became a precedent, making daylight supply runs to Guadalcanal impossible for Japanese shipping. The Japanese only weeks before had total control of the sea in the region; now they were forced to making supply runs only under the cover of darkness.
Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands
25-27 Oct 1942
Since Battle of Eastern Solomons, Yamamoto's standing order for the navy had always been "to apprehend and annihilate any powerful forces in the Solomons area, as well as any reinforcements." He was sure his Combined Fleet could do just that with an arsenal of 4 carriers, 5 battleships, 14 cruisers, and 44 destroyers; the force greatly outnumbered anything William Halsey, who entered the theater on 15 Oct, had under his disposal.
On 23 Oct 1942, 650 miles north of Espiritu Santo, an American aircraft spotted a Japanese carrier and radioed in the warning. A small group of torpedo bombers took off to search for the ship, and only one pilot was able to find the ship; he launched his torpedo but it missed. On 26 Oct, the scouting aircraft of the two opposing carrier groups found each other. Vice Admiral Nobutake Kondo launched his 65 aircraft first, then Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid launched his aircraft from Enterprise 20 minutes later. Rear Admiral George Murray did not launch his aircraft from carrier Hornet until yet another 30 minutes later. The Americans launched in total 73 aircraft. The Japanese found the American carriers first, but with Enterprise hiding in a squall, Hornet was the only one the Japanese pilots saw, and that was how they reported it back to Kondo. Hornet began to be attacked around 0910 by the entire Japanese force, but Hornet and her anti-aircraft screen laid out a heavy wall of flak. Within minutes of engagement, a bomb hit the starboard side of the flight deck aft, then two near-misses caused minor damage. Next, the Japanese squadron commander crashed his damaged dive bomber into Hornet, glancing off the stack and the two still-attached bombs exploded. Finally, two aerial torpedoes struck Hornet in the engineering spaces, slowing the ship to a stop, becoming an easy target for the three quarter-ton bombs that struck her subsequently. One of these three bombs penetrated four decks before exploding, causing serious fires underneath. Hornet was now completely crippled, but it came at a cost of 25 Japanese aircraft.
Because fuel was not in abundance, American aircraft that were launched first went ahead for the enemy formation without hovering overhead to wait for the later-launched comrades. What resulted was the Enterprise aircraft reaching the Japanese first without a concerted effort of a greater number of different types of bombers. The Enterprise aircraft reached the Shokaku group at 0930 and attacked the Japanese carrier. Japanese combat air patrol Zero fighters attacked the unescorted American SBD dive bombers and shot down or turned back several, but three to six of them still successfully planted their 1,000-lb bombs on the flight decks of Shokaku. The damage Shokaku sustained during this battle was so great that she was to be out of the war for the next nine months. Had the Enterprise dive bombers waited for Hornet's torpedo bombers before launching their strike, a couple of well-placed torpedoes at this time could have finished Shokaku. In fact, Hornet's torpedo bombers failed to find Shokaku completely; instead, they gave up their search for the carrier and launched their torpedo ineffectively at cruiser Suzuya around 0930 and headed home. Another group of aircraft, also from Hornet, failed to find the Japanese carriers, and instead made their dives on cruiser Chikuma, exploding a bomb on the bridge and killing many senior officers.
Kondo was an able commander who very quickly figured out, based on the number of American attackers, that there must be two enemy carriers in the vicinity. While Hornet and her escorting destroyers fought the raging fires on the carrier, Kondo ordered a search and strike on the second carrier. Enterprise was found about 1000. This time it was the Japanese who made the mistake of not attacking in coordination. Dive bombers attacked Enterprise without waiting for the arrival of torpedo bombers. Enterprise and battleship South Dakota fired their anti-aircraft weapons with effectiveness, with the carrier downing 7 aircraft and the battleship 26. Out of the 23 bombs released against Enterprise, only two hits and one near-miss were scored. The first hit exploded 50 feet under the forecastle deck, and the second crashed into the third deck before exploding. Despite damage, Enterprise was not disabled.
During the battle, American destroyer Porter was lost, and destroyer Smith's superstructure was damaged from a suicide attack from a torpedo bomber. A subsequent attack attempted to sink the damaged Hornet, but it was ineffective. Cruiser Northampton attempted to tow her to safety, but it took a while to get going. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Murray transferred his flag from Hornet to cruiser Pensacola. In the early afternoon, Captain Mason of Hornet ordered all wounded and non-essential men to be removed from the ship. Kondo put together a smaller aerial strike force than the morning attack to spearhead a second assault that included surface ships. At 1515, the Japanese aircraft reached Hornet, launching six torpedoes. Northampton cut the towing cables and successfully maneuvered to save herself, but the immobile Hornet was struck by one of them, rapidly flooding the after engine room. At 1540 Japanese dive bombers appeared, but all their bombs missed. At 1550, a formation of six bombers appeared and scored a hit on Hornet's flight deck. At 1702, a small strike force from light carrier Junyo scored a final bomb hit on the carrier's hangar deck. After suffering 111 killed and 108 wounded, she was finally to be scuttled. American destroyer Mustin received the order to launch eight torpedoes at Hornet, and to a great embarrassment, only three hit, and they did not effectively sink the carrier. At 1920, destroyer Anderson fired eight torpedoes as well. Only six of them hit, and Hornet again failed to be sunk. The American ships resorted to using gunfire. After 300 rounds, they failed once again. Hornet finally sank at 0130 on 27 Oct after the arrival of Kondo's fleet at the face of four Japanese 24-inch torpedoes.
After achieving this tactical victory during the fourth major carrier confrontation of the Pacific War, Kondo withdrew his forces to Truk.
Attacks on New Georgia
9 Dec 1942-24 Jan 1943
The New Georgia group of islands was about one hundred miles north of Guadalcanal. The five large islands were originally bypassed by the Japanese in favor of skipping to Guadalcanal, but as the American Marines garrisoned the captured Henderson Field, the strategy was revised as more land-based planes were needed to strike Guadalcanal. On 24 Nov 1942 a large Japanese convoy sailed for a small clearing on the western side of New Georgia island, currently used by a small coconut plantation. Although the convoy attracted American attention as early as 28 Nov, American intelligence saw nothing there based on aerial photographs besides a few scattered small buildings. Finally, on 3 Dec, a sharp-eyed American intelligence expert saw something: the Japanese were building an airfield underneath the neat rows of coconut trees. Whenever a tree needed to be uprooted, overhead wires were laid and dressed with leaves so that the appearance of a tree was maintained in the same location. On 6 Dec, American aircraft from Henderson Field paid a low-level visit to the location and confirmed the existence of the airfield after strafing at the Japanese engineers and troops there.
On 9 Dec, the first major operation against the newly constructed Munda Field was mounted. 18 B-17 bombers began a series of raids by various types of aircraft on Munda. On 13 Dec PBY Catalina aircraft began their occasional night time bombings.
On 4 Jan 1943, while US Army infantry were advancing on Guadalcanal on a planned offensive, Halsey sent a fleet to bombard Munda Field to divert any aerial reinforcement that might be sent to disrupt the Army offensive. The bombardment force consisted of three light cruisers and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Walden Ainsworth; the support group behind them had three light cruisers, one heavy cruiser, and three destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Mahlon Tisdale. Shortly after 0100 in the early morning of 5 Jan, the bombardment commenced. For the next 50 minutes they had deposited nearly 3,000 rounds of 6-in shells and 1,400 rounds of 5-in shells on the Japanese airfield. The next morning, American reconnaissance aircraft visited Munda Field and reported a heavily damaged airfield and no sign of enemy anti-aircraft fire. A retaliatory strike by air came as the ships were steaming home, but it only damaged one of the turrets atop the New Zealand destroyer Achilles that sailed with the support group.
Munda Field was not the only airfield the Japanese constructed in the New Georgia island group. Another field, Vila, was built on the southern tip of Kolombangara. In the evening of 23 Jan, Ainsworth made another trip up the slot to New Georgia. At 0200 on 24 Jan, his bombardment group consisted of two light cruisers and four destroyers began firing. In the following hour the two light cruisers nearly sent 2,000 rounds of 6-in shells at the direction of the airfield, and the destroyers added 1,500 rounds of 5-in. A few return fires came from coastal batteries, but they were generally ineffective. The Japanese then tried to defend from the air, but a convenient squall together with radar-directed anti-aircraft gunnery saved the American ships.
After day break on 24 Jan, 24 SBD, 17 TBF, and 18 F4F aircraft took off from Henderson Field to follow up on the attack. The American aircraft dropped 23 tons of bombs on Vila by 0800.
Although the "Ainsworth Express" runs, augmented with aerial bombardments, were effective in damaging the Japanese airfields, overall the Japanese engineers were as capable in repairing damaged airfields as the American Marine engineers were with Henderson. The attacks achieved short term objectives by disrupting Japanese capabilities to launch land-based aircraft, but in the long run Halsey knew that the only way he could halt the operations from these new fields was to take them from the Japanese. That was something he was not ready to do, yet.
Battle of Rennell Island
29-30 Jan 1943
Some time in the afternoon of 29 Jan 1943, American radar detected a group of unknown aircraft. Since the radar identification system was not very reliable, the American radar operators of Rear Admiral Robert Giffen's Task Force 18 did not know what to relay to the admiral. The aircraft were Japanese, and they were in an exact opposite situation, with friendly submarines stationed near Giffen's force to give them up-to-the-minute status updates. The 31 Japanese torpedo bombers struck Giffen's two escort carriers, three heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers 50 miles north of Rennell Island, the southern-most island of the Solomon Islands. The torpedo bombers circled the southern rim of the task force and attacked from the east in two groups. The first wave of attacks saw at least one torpedo bomber splash into the waves, and the American ships turned hard to avoid the torpedoes. The second wave came some time later after Giffen's sailors had relaxed their guards. To their surprise, white floating flares were dropped from Japanese aircraft to light the path of the ships' movement, so that the Japanese torpedo bombers knew exactly where to strike in the dim lighting conditions of the early night. At 1931, the bombers launched their torpedoes. One hit cruiser Louisville but it failed to detonate and the rest missed; again at least one bomber was downed by the newly equipped Mark-32 anti-aircraft shells. At 1938, another run was made, and this time the Japanese pilots drew blood. Destroyer Walker was hit astern, and cruiser Chicago at port bow. As Chicago slowed, another hit her starboard side at 1945 and crippled her. At 2000, Giffen ordered a change in course. Between the course change and the darkening conditions, the Japanese pilots lost the task force and headed for home by 2015. They had lost 12 of their fellow pilots on this raid.
At 2030, Louisville took station near Chicago, and their crews completed a stunning manual effort to hook up the heavy steel hawser to Chicago's towing tackle. Louisville towed Chicago until day break next day and transferred the tow to tugboat Navajo. As Navajo towed Chicago at four knots and escorted by six destroyers, 12 torpedo bombers of the same "Betty" type struck at 1540 on 30 Jan 1943. The few that got through the combat air patrol launched their torpedoes and fatally wounded Chicago. Captain Ralph Davis of Chicago evacuated his ship in about 20 minutes, and a few moments after the last of the 1,049 survivors left the ship, she sank stern first.
The returning Japanese pilots thought they had gotten a battleship, and reported to their superiors as so. The propaganda machine at Tokyo quickly announced this battle as a great victory. Both William Halsey (in the post-battle report) and Samuel Eliot Morison (in his 1949 book) blamed Giffen's inexperience in the theater for the loss of Chicago; Giffen had just been transferred to the South Pacific only days before this battle from Casablanca.
Landing on the Russell Islands
21 Feb 1943
The Russell Islands immediately northwest to Guadalcanal were captured by the Allied forces without significant Japanese opposition.
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
2-4 Mar 1943
While the Guadalcanal campaign was raging, an equally bitter series of battles was occurring on the island of New Guinea. Under the direction of Japanese war minister Hajime Sugiyama, Japanese troops were sent to seize an airfield near Wau, thirty-two miles from Salamaua. MacArthur's forces were ready for them, routing the Japanese invaders with an Australian brigade. Then Imperial General Headquarters ordered a convoy from Rabaul to land much-needed reinforcements in the Buna-Gona area under the code name of Operation 81. The convoy was consisted of six transports, one old navy supply ship, and one small freighter (carrying a total of 6,600 troops) and was escorted by eight destroyers. The convoy set sail riding on the front of heavy weather to hide their movement, but it was nevertheless discovered hours after their departure from Rabaul, New Britain on 1 Mar 1943. Attacks launched on the same day failed to locate the convoy, but in the following two days the Japanese ships were utterly overwhelmed by Allied air power, leading to the sinking of all eight transport ships and four of the eight destroyers by strafing, bombing, and skip-bombing; additionally, eight Zero fighters and seven Ki-43 fighters were shot down.
The aftermath of the battle was ugly for both sides. On 3 Mar 1943, after shooting down US B-17 bomber "Double Trouble", Japanese fighters strafed at the descending parachutes in frustration. Having observed this act, the Americans lowered themselves to the same level during the subsequent attack waves in which they not only dropped bombs on rescuing barges but also machine gunned survivors floating in the water. These attacks on the helpless Japanese survivors would continue through 5 Mar 1943.
After the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, in which the Japanese suffered more than 3,000 killed, the Japanese would never again attempt to run slow transports into the face of American air power.
When Kenney woke MacArthur to inform him the news of the victory at Bismarck Sea, Kenney commented that "I had never seen him so jubilant". MacArthur, at a press conference that soon followed the Bismarck Sea action, declared that the control of the sea "no longer depends solely or even primarily upon naval power, but upon air power operating from land bases held by ground troops". This offended members of the US Navy, but even the admirals could not deny that airpower was a decisive factor in the Pacific War.
Landings on New Georgia
30 Jun 1943 - 5 Aug 1943
New Georgia lay immediately to the northwest of the Russell Islands, housing Japanese airfields at Munda and Vila. To soften up the defenses there before the landing, flights from Henderson bombed New Georgia, resulting in disabling the two before-mentioned airfields (Japanese would alternatively use Rabaul and Bougainville as launch points of air missions after these two airfields were destroyed). When Japanese submarine RO103 spotted Admiral Turner's amphibious force approaching from the south on 30 Jun, the Japanese commanders were taken by surprise, and were not able to react efficiently to the subsequent landing, though two freighters were sunk by submarines off New Georgia.
New Georgia was invaded from five landing points. When the landings took place, a Japanese air raid was launched in attempt to disrupt the landings. A torpedo damaged (later she was abandoned, then sunk in error by American PT boats) Turner's flagship, transport McCawley, but the air raid was more or less ineffective in the intended disruption. The Allied landing force faced much difficulties from reefs, mud, and intense bombardment, in addition to strong resistance from Major General Noboru Sasaki's 5,000 troops. This obscure island took the American troops a significant amount of time to capture: the major airfield, Munda, fell to the Americans on 5 Aug 1943.
Battle of Kula Gulf
5-6 Jul 1943
On the night of 5 Jul, an American cruiser and destroyer task force was notified of the approach of a Japanese destroyer reinforcement group outbound from Buin. The Americans reversed course and moved to meet them off of Kolombangara. First contact was made at 0106 by Japanese radar (note that the use of radar is rare for the Japanese Navy) aboard Niizuki. The Americans enjoyed an advantage in terms of gunfire, and the Japanese had several ships loaded with combat troops, but as usual the Japanese advantage in torpedoes and tactics made up the difference. Being the keen night warriors as they were, the Japanese launched their newest 24-inch torpedoes against the flashing American guns.
The Americans maintained a line-ahead formation and began firing at 0157. They quickly demolished Niizuki, which drew fire from every American cruiser. Japanese torpedoes were already in the water, however, and at 0203 they hit Helena, which lost her bow back to the No. 2 turret, and then took another two hits which sank her. Meanwhile, the Japanese had several vessels damaged and one destroyer sunk (killing Admiral Akiyama) by gunfire, and Nagatsuki had run aground (she was destroyed by bombing runs on the next day). Both forces began a general retirement.
165 of Helena's survivors were missed by general rescue efforts. They hung on to various floating devices, and eventually made their ways to the island of Vella Lavella. They would be aided by local Australian coast watchers and friendly locals. They were rescued by destroyers on 16 Jul.
As the battle wore on, both sides still had destroyers in the area attempting to rescue survivors; one Japanese and two American. Around 0500 Amagiri and Nicholas exchanged torpedoes and then gunfire. Amagiri was hit and retired, leaving Niizuki's survivors to their fate. The Americans, by contrast succeeded in rescuing many of Helena's survivors. The final casualty was Nagatsuki; abandoned by her crew in the morning after they failed to get her afloat, she was bombed into a sinking state by US planes.
The losses were about even for both sides. Given the disadvantages the Japanese had labored under, the Americans really ought to have done better. This battle is intriguing, too, for the fact that it was the Japanese who used their search radar effectively. However, American radar gunfire control (which the Japanese still did not have) had allowed them to inflict rapid damage to the opposing force.
During the actions at Kula Gulf, the Japanese were successful in landing over 2,000 troops.
Battle of Kolombangara
12-13 Jul 1943
A Tokyo Express led by Rear Admiral Shunji Izaki and his light cruiser Jintsu and four destroyer-transports was met by Ainsworth's Task Group 18. New Zealand light cruiser Leander and other light cruisers and destroyers were targeted by Japanese torpedoes before they opened gunfire against the Japanese. The Japanese were radar-less, but they were eqiuped with radar direction-finding equipment which aided them greatly, including the early clues of American ship locations that allowed them to fire their torpedoes early.
The veteran Jintsu was destroyed by 2,600 rounds of cruiser shells, killing Admiral Izaki himself. The Americans lost a destroyer, Gwin, and sustained heavy damage on light cruisers Honolulu and St. Louis. The Japanese landed 1,200 troops on Kolombangara and withdrew to Buin in Bougainville. This confrontation was another example of Japanese skillfulness with torpedoes; not only that the Japanese torpedoes could travel much further (21 miles!) than their inferior American counterparts, the Japanese could also reload their torpedo tubes twice as quickly than the American sailors.
Battle of Vella Gulf
6-7 Aug 1943
Yet another Japanese destroyer reinforcement group, this time headed for Kolombangara, was intercepted by an American destroyer force near Vella Lavella, under the command of American Commander Frederick Moosbrugger. The Americans used the black backdrop of Kolombangara to hide their ships. They also avoided using their guns until their torpedoes were in the water. By the time Shigure, which was at the tail end of the Japanese column (with Tameichi Hara aboard) spotted the Americans at 2344, the American fish were about a minute away from their targets. As Shigure began launching an eight-fish salvo, the three lead Japanese destroyers were hit within moments of each other. Shigure, too, was hit by a dud torpedo as she turned away. The fish punched a hole in her rudder.
The Americans then closed in to finish the job with gunfire. Practically no resistance came from the crippled Japanese destroyers. Shigure had no choice but to run for her life. In all, the Japanese had lost three ships and over 1,500 men (900 of which were land troops). The Americans suffered not a single casualty, much attributed to the well-drilled American sailors. The Japanese survivors in the water refused rescue from the American destroyers.
This battle is important because for the first time American destroyers had demonstrated that, given the opportunity, they could meet and best their opposite numbers. By being relieved of their normal duties of screening cruisers, and the linear tactics that role had thus far imposed, the American DDs were able to employ innovative torpedo tactics which had worked beautifully. The Japanese Navy had been served notice that its reign of nighttime torpedo supremacy was at an end.
Battle off Horaniu
18 Aug 1943
By mid-July, the situation on Kolombangara was such that the Japanese were making every effort to remove heir troops. American troops were by now overpowering the Japanese, totaling 6,300 men on the island. A Japanese barge convoy, escorted by destroyers, was sent out on 17 Aug to attempt the evacuation mission. An American destroyer force had come north that night to intercept and destroy the barges.
Both forces spotted each other at 0029 on 18 Aug. The Japanese launched torpedoes at very long range, but the Americans had formed up line abreast and thus combed their wakes. After another series of maneuvers, however, the two destroyer forces found themselves line abreast and within long gunfire range. Both groups hammered away at each other, but were generally ineffective. At around 0100 the Isokaze's radar (erroneously) detected another American force closing from the south, at which point the Japanese retired. In the interim, though, most of the Japanese barges had scattered, leaving only two for the Americans to find and sink.
Neither side had been particularly impressive this night. The only redeeming feature for the Americans was the fact that with radar controlled gunfire they had at least scored more near-misses and straddles than their enemy. The other important thing to note is that, once again, the Americans had demonstrated that their destroyers (at least) were beginning to learn how to take the sting out of Japanese torpedo tactics.
On 14 Sep, the Japanese garrison on Kolombangara would fall to American control.
Battle of Vella Lavella
6 Oct 1943
In October, the Japanese ran another destroyer barge force towards Vella Lavella to try and rescue the 600-some soldiers stranded there, in what Dan van der Vat said was "a militarily correct decision... to evacuate it". An American destroyer group was dispatched to block this movement. Interestingly, a relatively large task force was sent to rescue less than one battalion, but for once the Japanese would enjoy a numerical advantage as they outnumbered the American destroyers nine to six (although three of them were converted to troop carriers). This task force was led by Rear Admiral Masuji Ijuin and it came from Rabaul. The American counterpart was led by Captain Frank Walker. Walker decided not to join his two groups of three destroyers before approaching the likely scene of battle. Thus he would bring his three 'tin cans' up against a much superior force.
The Japanese actually spotted the Americans visually a minute before American radar returned the favor, but the Japanese were unsure of their sighting for another several minutes. As luck would have it, their course and speed were such that they stood a good chance of crossing the American 'T'. However, the Japanese commander then engaged his squadron in a complex series of maneuvers which wasted the initial advantage. At 2256, both columns opened up on each other simultaneously.
The American destroyer Chevalier was crippled almost immediately to a torpedo, and the next destroyer in line O'Bannon then proceeded to ram her sister. However, American gunfire was simultaneously tearing Yugumo apart. After a brief exchange of further gunnery between Selfridge, Shigure and Samidare, the Japanese retreated the way the came, apparently fearing larger American forces were approaching the area (by the time Captain Harold Larson's three destroyers came by, the Japanese were already gone). The Japanese barges, however, accomplished their mission and rescued all the remaining Japanese troops on the island. All in all, not an impressive showing for the Americans, who should have waited to join forces before attacking the Japanese.
As usual, both side exaggerated claims of enemy ships sunk, but in conclusion the Japanese scored a small tactical victory here. However, at the end of this night action, Japanese presence would be completely withdrawn from the central Solomons region.
Attack on Bougainville
17 Oct 1943
The next target with the Island Hopping campaign was the island of Bougainville, a former German colony that was mandated to Australia in 1919 after WW1. Nearly the entire 130-mile by 30-mile area was dense jungle, with a exception of a small coastal plain at the southern end. The Japanese Bougainville garrison totalled 60,000 men, deployed on Bougainville, Shortlands, Buka, and Treasury islands. There were a total of five military airfields under Japanese control. To attack Bougainville, Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet and Admiral Fitch's land-based aircraft went into MacArthur's jurisdiction. The amphibious force consisted of Major General Roy Geiger's US Marines.
To soften the landings, American aircraft bombed the five Japanese airfields late in October. Although these bombings confused the Japanese in that they could not determine where the Americans would strike next, the bombings were a bit overrated as over 200 aircraft were still operational for the defenders at the time of the landings. Admiral Koga decided to deploy 173 aircraft, taken away from the precious carriers, to the area in determination to destroy the next wave of American attackers by air power. This defense plan was Operation RO.
Treasury Islands was attacked by New Zealand troops on 17 Oct, with the goal of gaining a logistical base for further Bougainville actions. On the main island of Mono, well dug-in machine gun nests were giving Allied troops a difficult time. Captain Robert Briscoe of the light cruiser Denver recalled how the landing troops took care of this obstacle in a brutal and unorthodox manner:
The Treasury Islands were under Allied control by 6 Nov.
On 1 Nov 1943, the Americans landed a large amphibious force on Bougainville under the command of Major General Turnage of the US Marines. The landing force was counterattacked by two waves of air attacks, but to no significant impact. The Japanese forces at the particular landing site totaled less than 300, therefore posing only a small threat despite the carefully laid machine gun cross fire and artillery. Once the forces headed inland, however, the difficulty began. The Marines soon found out that the naval bombardment "had accomplished nothing", as noted in Marine Corps' official history. The men faced Japanese defenders well entrenched and well hidden in the dense tropical jungles.
With the attack on Bougainville taking place, he Americans expected a vigorous response from the Japanese from the sea, and indeed response was given. Admiral Sentaro Omori sortied from Rabaul at once with a powerful surface force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and six destroyers. The American Task Force 39 was under the command of Rear Admiral Stanton Merrill. Having sent most of their assault transports out of the danger zone before nightfall, Merrill awaited the Japanese with four light cruisers and eight destroyers. The advantage in both gunfire and torpedoes clearly lay with the Japanese.
Fortunately for the Americans, the Japanese force was a 'pick-up' team which hadn't practiced together, and Omori tried playing a game that was a little over his head. Confused by conflicting reports he was receiving from his scout planes as to the composition of the American force to his south, he executed a series of 180-degree turns (in pitch blackness) which were designed to give his aircraft more time to bring him information. Instead, all they did was throw his squadron into disarray, leaving his screening force far out of position, just as the Americans arrived on the scene. The Americans, coming upon the Japanese screen, launched torpedoes first, and then opened with the cruisers' 6-inch guns. The Japanese screening force, upon spotting American destroyers, tried desperately to evade the torpedoes they knew to be in the water, and ended up either colliding with each other or suffering near-misses. Sendai nearly hit Shigure, and Samidare sideswiped Shiratsuyu, staving in her hull and putting her out of the fight. Sendai was then buried in 6-inch gunfire.
Omori tried bringing his main body into the battle. This only succeeded in causing further collisions, as Myoko tore Hatsukaze's bow off, and Haguro nearly hit two other destroyers. A brief, inconclusive fight followed between the two Japanese heavies and the four American lights. Although the Japanese launched a large salvo of torpedoes, they were ineffective. The Americans achieved several gunfire straddles, but failed to hit their targets. At 0229 Omori ordered a general withdrawal. The Americans found the hapless Hatsukaze (Myoko was still wearing her bow when she returned to Rabaul) and sank her with gunfire.
The Japanese had clearly lost this fight, failing to bring their heavy units to bear conclusively, and wiping out most of their own screening destroyers through their own ill-considered maneuvers. The invasion of Bougainville would not be stopped this night. For his defeat, Omori was relieved of his command upon returning to Rabaul.
During the first week of Nov 1943, while the Americans raided Rabaul (see New Guinea-Papua Campaign, Phase 3), Americans reinforced their beachhead on Bougainville, while the Japanese sneaked two convoys by the Americans ships to land more troops on the northern tip of the island. The aircraft Koga ordered to reinforce the area were sent on air raids to disrupt American operations, but no little effect, while wearing away irreplaceable Japanese pilots. However, the usual practice of exaggerating damange reports led to Koga's declaration of Operation RO a success, and received a personal word of thanks from Emperor Showa. American progress on Bougainville slowed during the rest of Nov 1943.
Battle of Empress Augusta Bay
1-2 Nov 1943
On 1 Nov, the US 3rd Marine Division invaded the beaches of Empress Augusta Bay, backed by four light cruisers and eight destroyers. As a response, a powerful naval force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and six destroyers sailed from Rabaul steamed with air cover under the command of Admiral Sentaro Omori. The Americans made radar contact at 0230 in the morning of 2 Nov and immediately launched a destroyer torpedo attack. The Japanese fleet dodged the torpedo run, but in turn the formation was scattered. At 0250, American cruisers opened fire, quickly disabling cruiser Sendai. A series of Japanese mis-maneuvers led to two collisions; it was not until 0313 that the Japanese fleet pulled together and began firing on the American ships. The battle did not last long after that point as the American ships turned and withdrew from the battle. While the battle was rather inconclusive, the Americans achieved their goal in preventing Japanese interference with the operation.
This engagement was also known as Battle of Gazelle Bay, Operation Cherry Blossom, and the Sea Battle of Bougainville Bay Shore.
Battle of Cape St. George
26 Nov 1943
With the Americans now consolidating their hold over Bougainville, the Japanese began beefing up troops and supplies on the island of Buka. On November 25, they put together yet another 'Tokyo Express' of five destroyers, three of them laden with troops, and sent them out of Rabaul. This force was commanded by Captain Kiyoto Kagawa. Waiting for them were six American destroyers. The Japanese succeeded in dropping off their loads at Buka, but trouble began on the way back home.
American Navy Captain Arleigh Burke's radar spotted the Japanese first, allowing the Americans to close and launch torpedoes without being initially detected. Both of the Japanese screening destroyers were hit, sinking the Onami and crippling the Makinami. The Americans then closed in on the destroyer-transports, who scattered and ran for it. Yugiri didn't make it, being pounded by several opponents. The crippled Makinami was also sunk. The American forces tried a stern chase of the other two fleeing Japanese destroyers, but were unable to catch them.
No realized it at the time, but this was the last 'Tokyo Express', and the last surface fight in the Solomon Islands. Freed from screening duties, US destroyers had again held their own against their vaunted Japanese adversaries. There would be no more major naval battles until the invasion of Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
Bruce Gamble, Fortress Rabaul
William Manchester, American Caesar
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Struggle for Guadalcanal
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
Solomon Islands Campaign Interactive Map
Solomon Islands Campaign Timeline
|23 Jan 1942||In the Solomon Islands, the Japanese landed at Kieta, Bougainville.|
|31 Mar 1942||Japanese troops occupied Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.|
|1 Apr 1942||Japanese troops landed at Buka and Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands.|
|6 Apr 1942||Japanese troops landed on Bougainville, Solomon Islands and Lorengau, Admiralty Islands.|
|28 Apr 1942||Coast Watchers reported that a Japanese flying boat base was being built in the upper Solomon Islands.|
|24 Aug 1942||A Japanese force centered around carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku sailed down into the Solomon Islands with light carrier Ryujo near the spearhead as bait to draw out US carriers known to be in the general area. In the ensuing Battle of the Eastern Solomons, Ryujo was promptly discovered and fatally damaged by several 1,000-pound bombs, but this in turn allowed aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku to locate USS Saratoga and USS Enterprise. Enterprise would suffer heavy damage by three bomb hits (70 were killed, 70 were injured). Japanese warships attempted to engage the US fleet after dark, but the force failed to locate the American fleet, and discontinued the search at 2330 hours.|
|25 Aug 1942||Before dawn, Japanese destroyers Kagero, Isokaze, Kawakaze, Mutsuki, and Yayoi bombarded Henderson Field, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, causing little damage. At 0600 hours, six SBD dive bombers from Henderson Field attacked a Japanese convoy 64 miles northeast of Santa Isabel Island, sinking troop transport Kinryu Maru and damaging cruiser Jintsu (24 were killed). Four US Army B-17 bombers arrived shortly after, sinking Japanese destroyer Mutsuki (41 were killed, 11 were injured) as Mutsuki rescued survivors from the Kinryu Maru sinking.|
|1 Sep 1942||US B-17 bombers damaged Japanese flying boat support ship Akitsushima and destroyer Akikaze off Buka Island in the Solomon Islands.|
|2 Sep 1942||US B-17 bombers damaged Japanese minelayer Tsugaru in the northern Solomon Islands; 14 were killed.|
|24 Sep 1942||Dauntless dive bombers of US Marine Corps VMSB-231 squadron and US Navy VS-3 squadron from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands attacked Japanese destroyers Umikaze and Kawakaze in the western Solomon Islands; they heavily damaged Umikaze (8 were killed) and forced the convoy to turn back. On the same day, US Army B-17 bombers attacked the Japanese Navy base on Shortland island, damaging seaplane carrier Sanuki Maru.|
|20 Oct 1942||Japanese submarine I-176 attacked and damaged USS Chester in the Solomon Islands area.|
|26 Oct 1942||At the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, US forces achieved victory but saw USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, USS South Dakota, and USS San Juan damaged. On the Japanese side, carriers Shokaku and Zuiho were damaged by dive bombers from USS Hornet and USS Enterprise, respectively.|
|27 Oct 1942||USS Hornet was lost during the naval Battle of Santa Cruz.|
|13 Nov 1942||Japanese troops arrived at Munda Point, New Georgia, to construct an airfield. Detecting this movement, three squadrons of US B-24 bombers flew to Iron Range airfield in northern Queensland, Australia to stage an attack on the future airfield.|
|14 Nov 1942||Three squadrons of US B-24 bombers moved from Iron Range airfield in northern Queensland, Australia to Port Moresby, Australian Papua and prepared for a strike on the under-construction airfield at Munda Point, Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|15 Nov 1942||US B-24 bombers attacked the Buin-Faisi anchorage near the under-construction Japanese airfield at Munda Point, Bougainville, Solomon Islands; the attack resulted in minimal damage to the Japanese while two US aircraft were lost (1 to battle damage, another in an emergency landing on a beach).|
|17 Dec 1942||The Japanese completed a 4,700-foot long airstrip at Munda Point, New Georgia, Solomon Islands.|
|2 Jan 1943||US Marine Corps and US Army aircraft attacked 10 Japanese destroyer transports west of Rendova, Solomon Islands.|
|4 Jan 1943||American cruisers and destroyers bombarded the Japanese airfield at Munda Point, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands after sundown and into the next day.|
|15 Jan 1943||US Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal and USAAF B-17 bombers attacked a convoy of nine Japanese destroyers northeast of New Georgia, Solomon Islands; four Japanese destroyers were damaged. A lone B-17 bomber attacked the Japanese airfield on Ballale island, Solomon Islands. To the north in the Caroline Islands, three transports escorted by destroyers departed from Truk for Bougainville with Japanese Army troops transferred from China.|
|17 Jan 1943||A Japanese convoy carrying Japanese Army troops transferred from China departed Truk, Caroline Islands for Shortland Islands, Solomon Islands.|
|18 Jan 1943||USAAF B-17 and P-39 aircraft sank Japanese cargo ship Yamafuku Maru off Shortland Islands, Solomon Islands.|
|23 Jan 1943||After sundown and into the following day, American cruisers and destroyers bombarded Kolombangara, New Georgia, Solomon Islands.|
|24 Jan 1943||American destroyers bombarded Japanese fuel and munitions dumps in the Stanmore area, Kolombangara, Solomon Islands. Later on the same day, US Navy carrier aircraft attacked the same targets.|
|29 Jan 1943||The Battle of Rennell Island began with land-based Japanese aircraft attacked US Navy TF 18 ships. USS Chicago was damaged and was taken under tow.|
|30 Jan 1943||Battle of Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands ended with a Japanese victory and the sinking of USS Chicago.|
|15 Feb 1943||The US military established Commander, Aircraft, Solomons in the Solomon Islands with Rear Admiral Charles Mason as its head. It was to oversee all air operations in the region across Army, Navy, and Marine ground-based aircraft.|
|21 Feb 1943||In the Russell Islands, US Marine Corps 3rd Raider Battalion landed at Pepesala Point, Pavavu while US Army 43rd Infantry Division landed on Banika.|
|23 Feb 1943||Japanese Navy Yokosuka 7th Special Naval Landing Force disembarked 1,807 men at Kolombangara, New Georgia.|
|28 Feb 1943||Japanese convoy Operation 81 assembled at Rabaul, New Britain and readied for departure scheduled for the next day. The convoy was consisted of 6 transports (carrying 6,000 troops and supplies), 1 old navy supply ship (carrying 600 Special Naval Landing Force troops), and 1 small freighter (carrying 1,650 drums of aviation gas); it was escorted by 8 destroyers.|
|1 Mar 1943||The Japanese convoy Operation 81 (consisted of 6 transports, 1 old navy supply ship, and 1 small freighter, carrying a total of 6,600 troops) departed Rabaul, New Britain. The convoy was discovered by Lieutenant Walt Higgins' B-24 patrol along the northern coast of New Britain at 1500 hours; 7 B-17 bombers were dispatched to attack, but they failed to locate the convoy.|
|2 Mar 1943||In Battle of the Bismarck Sea, US and Australian fighters and short range bombers attacked Lae, Australian Papua while US B-17 bombers located and attacked the Japanese convoy Operation 81 at 0930 hours. The first attack on the convoy sank Kyokusei Maru. In the afternoon, another wave of bombers attacked the convoy, damaging Teiyo Maru. After dark, a Catalina aircraft of Australian 11 Squadron maintained contact with the convoy.|
|3 Mar 1943||Battle of the Bismarck Sea: In the morning, 7 Australian 100 Squadron Beaufort aircraft took off from an airfield on the coast of Milne Bay, Australian Papua to attack the Japanese convoy Operation 81; only 2 of them would reach the convoy due to poor weather, and the attack would cause no damage. Shortly after, more than 100 aircraft took off from Port Moresby, Milne Bay area, and the new Dobodura airfield, assembled over Cape Ward Hunt, and attacked the convoy beginning at 0955 hours; 7 transports and 3 destroyers were sunk or damaged by a combination of strafing, bombing, and skip-bombing. Rear Admiral Yutaka Kimura and Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi had to be rescued off of damaged destroyers Shikinami and Tokitsukaze, respectively. In the late morning, several waves of bombers attacked the convoy; when one US B-17 bomber, "Double Trouble" was fatally damaged, the crew parachuted, and Japanese fighters shot at the parachutes, which was observed by the other Americans. In the mid-afternoon, B-25 bombers and B-17 bombers attacked the convoy, fatally damaged destroyer Arashio; after expending their bombs, the Americans strafed many Japanese survivors floating in the water.|
|4 Mar 1943||The Battle of the Bismarck Sea continued as US bombers sank already fatally damaged and abandoned destroyer Tokitsukaze and sank 6 landing barges that had arrived to rescue survivors of ships sunk on the previous day. After expending their bomb loads, American air crews strafed Japanese survivors floating in the sea.|
|5 Mar 1943||US B-25 bombers machine gunned a cluster of life rafts occupied by Japanese survivors of ships sunken during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.|
|6 Mar 1943||Japanese aircraft attacked American positions at the Russell Islands in the Solomon Islands for the first time; these positions were manned by the US Marine Corps 11th Defense Battalion. Meanwhile, US warship bombarded the Vila-Munda area in New Georgia.|
|7 Mar 1943||Douglas MacArthur issued a communiqué to USAAF squadrons in the South Pacific to congratulate them for the overwhelming success at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.|
|8 Mar 1943||American forces were attacked by Japanese troops on Hill 700 in Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|9 Mar 1943||The Japanese Navy Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force landed between Bairoko and Enogai and near the Munda airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|13 Mar 1943||In Bougainville, Solomon Islands, Japanese troops ended their assault on American forces at Hill 700.|
|21 Mar 1943||PBY Catalina aircraft delivered a group of US Marine Corps scouts at Segi Plantation, New Georgia for a reconnaissance mission; they would later report that Segi's beaches would not accommodate a large landing force.|
|25 Mar 1943||The Japanese offensive at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands was halted.|
|31 Mar 1943||Vice Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka launched a 2-wave fighter sweep (32 fighters and 25 fighters, respectively) down the Slot in the Solomon Islands to draw out Allied fighters. About 30 Guadalcanal-based US F4F fighters, 8 P-38 fighters, and a few F4U fighters engaged them over the Russell Islands. 9 Japanese Zero fighters, 5 US F4F Wildcat fighters, and 1 US F4U Corsair fighter were shot down in the action.|
|7 Apr 1943||In the morning, at Lakunai field at Rabaul, New Britain, Isoroku Yamamoto personally observed the launch of some of the aircraft that was to form a large aerial offensive (to be consisted of 157 Zero fighters and 67 D3A dive bombers). At Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, this Japanese attack force sank 1 US destroyer, 1 New Zealand corvette, and 1 tanker, while also damaged the oiler that was fueling the New Zealand corvette at the time of the attack. The Japanese aircraft were engaged by US Marine Corps F4F fighters; during the combat, 12 Zero fighters, 9 D3A dive bombers, and 7 F4F fighters were shot down. 3 D3A dive bombers were lost en route back to their bases. Under the cover of the air attack, a reinforcement convoy arrived at Kolombangara, New Georgia.|
|11 Apr 1943||73 Zero fighters and 27 D3A carrier dive bombers attacked Oro Bay near Dobodura, Australian Papua, sinking 1 US cargo ship, sinking 1 US destroyer, damaging 1 transport, and damaging 1 Australian minesweeper.|
|14 Apr 1943||23 Japanese dive bombers, 44 medium bombers, and 129 fighters attacked Milne Bay, Australian Papua; 44 Allied fighters rose in response. In the air, 1 Australian P-40 fighter was shot down and another was damaged, and additional Australian P-38 aircraft was destroyed on landing. Three Allied ships were damaged. For the Japanese 5 G4M bombers, 3 D3A dive bombers, and 1 Zero fighter were lost in combat.|
|16 Apr 1943||A scheduled fighter sweep from Rabaul, New Britain was cancelled as a reconnaissance aircraft failed to return from northeastern New Guinea island region. Despite of this cancellation, Isoroku Yamamoto announced the successful conclusion of the I-Go air offensive.|
|18 Apr 1943||Admiral William Halsey and General Douglas MacArthur met at Brisbane, Australia. They agreed that the tentative date for the New Georgia invasion was to be 15 May, and that a US Marine Corps defense battalion, a US Navy construction battalion, and a US Army regimental combat team should be transferred to the theater to support the invasion.|
|10 May 1943||Japanese aircraft from Rabaul attacked American positions in the Russell Islands, Solomon Islands, but the attack was largely turned back by American fighters.|
|19 May 1943||30 TBF Avenger aircraft of US Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 143 and US Navy Tropedo Squadron 11 mined waters off Buin, Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|3 Jun 1943||Operation Toenails: The Allies invaded New Georgia, Solomon Islands.|
|12 Jun 1943||Aircraft of Japanese 11th Air Fleet from Rabaul were launched to attack American positions in the Russell Islands, Solomon Islands, but this force was turned back by Allied fighters.|
|13 Jun 1943||A contingent of US Army, US Navy, and US Marine Corps officers were landed at Segi, New Georgia to evaluate possible landing locations for an invasion.|
|14 Jun 1943||Admiral John Newton relieved Admiral William Halsey as the commanding officer of the South Pacific area. Combined with this personnel change was the transfer of the Solomon Islands region to the Southwest Pacific command.|
|16 Jun 1943||Major General John Hester announced the date for the New Georgia invasion to be 30 Jun 1943. On the same day, a group of Japanese dive bombers and fighters unsuccessfully attacked American positions in the Russell Islands, Solomon Islands; a large number of the aircraft were destroyed.|
|17 Jun 1943||The US Marine Corps 9th Defense Battalion was relieved of its responsibility in the defense of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands and was ordered to begin training for the upcoming New Georgia invasion.|
|21 Jun 1943||In Operation Toenails, US 4th Marine Raider Battalion was dispatched to Segi, New Georgia to assist coast watchers in the area who were threatened by a Japanese advance.|
|27 Jun 1943||Companies Q and P of the US Marine Corps 4th Raider Battalion arrived at Segi, New Georgia to join the remainder of the battalion which had already landed six days prior. They were immediately deployed to attack the small naval base at Viru Harbor.|
|30 Jun 1943||US occupation troops arrived early at Nono, New Georgia, Solomon Islands and would join the US Marine Corps 4th Raider Battalion on the planned attack on Viru Harbor; nearby on the island of Vangunu, Companies N and Q of the US Marine Corps 4th Raider Battalion and 2nd Battalion of US Army 103rd Infantry Regiment landed unopposed near Oloana Bay; they would capture Wickham Anchorage by the end of the day. On Rendova Island, elements of the US Army 172nd Infantry Regiment, US Army 103nd Infantry Regiment, US Navy 24th Naval Construction Battalion, and US Navy 9th Defense Battalion landed against light resistance; Japanese aircraft attempted to disrupt landing operations, but they were intercepted by aircraft of US Marine Fighter Squadrons 121, 122, 213, and 221.|
|1 Jul 1943||Two platoons from Company P, US Marine Corps 4th Raider Battalion overran the Japanese detachment at the village of Tombe on New Georgia near the Viru Harbor, while the remainder of Company P and Company Q occupied Tetemara on the west side of the harbor. On the same day, just to the south of New Georgia, the US Marine Corps 9th Defense Battalion arrived at Rendova with men, supplies, and 90mm and 150mm guns. Southeast of New Georgia, the US Marine Corps 4th Raider Battalion and Company F of the US Army 103rd Regiment fell back to Vura on the island of Vangunu in preparation of a counterattack to be launched against Kaeruka and Cheke Point in the next few days.|
|2 Jul 1943||Troops of US Army 43rd Division began to move from Rendova to New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, covered by gunfire from US Marines 9th Defense Battalion and US Army 192nd Field Artillery aimed at Munda Airfield; Japanese bombers attempted to interfere by attacking supply dumps on Rendova, causing heavy casualties.|
|3 Jul 1943||Japanese bombers attacked supply dumps on Rendova, Solomon Islands, but failed to cause significant damage. To the north, on New Georgia, troops of the 172nd Infantry Regiment of the US Army 43rd Division were landed on Zanana beach.|
|4 Jul 1943||US Marines and US Army troops secured Kaeruka and Cheke Point on Vangunu Island, just southeast of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. On New Georgia, a 52-man special weapons unit of the US Marine Corps 9th Defense Battalion arrived with four 40mm anti-aircraft guns. To the south of New Georgia, the Japanese attempted attempted the last large daylight air raid on Rendova; 16 bombers were able to break through to drop bombs on the island, but 12 of them would be shot down.|
|4 Jul 1943||USS Helena escorted invasion transports to Kula Gulf west of New Georgia.|
|5 Jul 1943||Before dawn, USS Helena commenced pre-invasion bombardment of New Georgia from Kula Gulf. In the afternoon, she received the order to intercept a Japanese troop convoy would arrive some time after dark.|
|5 Jul 1943||The US Northern Landing Group under Colonel Harry Liversedge landed at Rice Anchorage on the northern coast of New Georgia, Solomon Islands. On the same day, US cruisers and destroyers bombarded Japanese positions at Vila, Kolombangara, and Bairoko Harbor.|
|6 Jul 1943||American and Japanese ships engaged in the Battle of Kula Gulf. The Americans lost one light cruiser and the Japanese two destroyers.|
|6 Jul 1943||During Battle of Kula Gulf northwest of New Georgia, USS Helena ambushed an incoming Japanese convoy at 0157 hours, but the many gun flashes in turn made her an attractive target for Japanese gunners. She was struck by a Japanese Type 93 torpedo at 0203 hours, followed by two more at 0205 hours. She would sink at 0225 hours.|
|7 Jul 1943||The broken-off bow of USS Helena sank in Kula Gulf northwest of New Georgia. A US Navy PB4Y-1 Liberator aircraft dropped lifejackets and four rubber lifeboats to survivors in the area of the bow.|
|8 Jul 1943||Companies N and Q of USMC 4th Raider Battalion were dispatched on a patrol on Gatukai Island in New Georgia, Solomon Islands after reports on the possible presence of a 50-100 men Japanese garrison on the island.|
|9 Jul 1943||In the Solomon Islands, the US New Georgia Occupation Force advanced westward in the Munda-Barike region, toward the airfield at Munda. Nearby, 1st Raider Battalion attacked the island of Enogai. To reinforce New Georgia, the Japanese 13th Regiment began transferring 3,700 men from Kolombangara to Bairoko on the northwestern shore of New Georgia; this reinforcement would be conducted over the following 3 days.|
|10 Jul 1943||Companies N and Q of USMC 4th Raider Battalion completed their patrol of Gatukai Island in New Georgia, Solomon Islands and concluded that there were no Japanese on the island. Also on New Georgia, the US Marine Corps reported that the airfield at Segi was now ready for limited operations, while Companies O and P of the 4th Raider Battalion were slated to be relieved at Viru for transfer to Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Nearby, Marines of the 1st Raider Battalion captured the island of Enogai.|
|11 Jul 1943||Admiral William Halsey issued a directive for an attack in the Bougainville area in the Solomon Islands; Lieutenant General Alexander Vandegrift was to be the head of the invasion force. Elsewhere, the 1st Marine War Dog Platoon arrived in the theater in preparation of the Bougainville operations with the 2nd Marine Raider Regiment. At New Georgia, the US airfield at Segi Point was now fully operational. After sundown, US cruisers and destroyers bombarded Japanese positions at Munda, New Georgia.|
|12 Jul 1943||Companies N and Q of the USMC 4th Raider Battalion departed New Georgia, returning to join the rest of the battalion at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. After dark, a Japanese force consisted of light cruiser Jintsu and destroyer-transports ran into a group of Allied light cruisers; the ensuing Battle of Kolombangara, which lasted into the next morning, saw the sinking of Jintsu and USS Gwin; the Japanese were able to land 1,200 men on New Georgia.|
|14 Jul 1943||US Marine tanks, units of US Army 9th Defense Battalion, and units of US Army 103rd Infantry Battalion arrived at Laiana Beach, New Georgia, Solomon Islands.|
|15 Jul 1943||The Japanese Navy launched 24 G4M bombers, escorted by about 40 to 50 A6M Zero fighters, to attack various targets in the central Solomon Islands; the bulk of the attack force was intercepted by US Army and US Navy fighters in the Rendova Island, New Georgia, Solomon Islands area, and 15 G5M bombers and 30 A6M fighters were shot down at a loss of only 3 American fighters. On land at New Georgia, men of the US Army and US Marine Corps launched an offensive at Laiana Beach.|
|16 Jul 1943||More than 30 B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers of the US Thirteenth Air Force attacked Kahili Airfield on Bougainville, Solomon Islands.|
|17 Jul 1943||The US Army-Marine Corps joint offensive at Laiana Beach, New Georgia, Solomon Islands successfully penetrated the Japanese defensive line near Laiana Beach; Japanese troops of the 13th and the 229th Regiments attempted a counterattack; behind the front lines, 161st Infantry Regiment of the US Army 25th Division arrived as reinforcements. At Bougainville, 192 US aircraft struck the Japanese airfield at Buin.|
|18 Jul 1943||21 USAAF Thirteenth Air Force B-24 bombers escorted by 20 fighters, together with 35 US Navy and US Marine Corps dive bombers escorted by 134 fighters, attacked the Kahili Airfield and surrounding areas on Bougainville Island, Solomon Islands. The Americans claimed destroying or damaging two destroyers, a light vessel, and 12 fighters. 10 American aircraft were lost.|
|19 Jul 1943||During the day, in the Solomon Islands, B-17 and B-25 aircraft attacked Ballale Airfield on Ballale, while B-25, SBD, and TBF aircraft attacked Japanese positions at Bairoko, New Georgia. After sundown, US PBY and TBF aircraft attacked a Japanese task force near Choiseul Island east of Bougainville, sinking a destroyer and damaging a cruiser, but also losing several aircraft.|
|19 Jul 1943||US B-17 aircraft bombed Kahili Airfield on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.|
|20 Jul 1943||In the Solomon Islands, US 13th Air Force launched 18 B-24 bombers against Kahili Airfield, Bougainville Island and other targets on Ballale Island.|
|20 Jul 1943||US Marine and US Navy aircraft sank two Japanese destroyers south of Choiseul Island in the Solomon Islands. On New Georgia, the Northern Landing Group (1st Marine Raider Regiment, 4th Raider Battalion, and 3rd Battalion of the US Marine Corps and the 148th Division of the US Army) attacked Bairoko Harbor.|
|21 Jul 1943||A large number of US Army and US Navy aircraft attacked Japanese positions at Bairoko, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Despite the powerful air strikes, the Northern Landing Group's attack on Bairoko Harbor was repulsed and the Americans fell back to Enogai; the Northern Landing Group was consisted of 1st Marine Raider Regiment, 4th Raider Battalion, and 3rd Battalion of the US Marine Corps and the 148th Division of the US Army. Nearby, a very small contingent of US Army, US Navy, and US Marine Corps officers landed at Barakoma, Vella Lavella to scout the area for a possible landing site.|
|25 Jul 1943||The Americans launched what would be the final offensive against Japanese positions on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|31 Jul 1943||After studying the findings of a small joint US Army, US Navy, and US Marine Corps reconnaissance mission to Vella Lavella between 21 and 22 Jul 1943, it was concluded that a landing in the Barakoma area was feasible.|
|1 Aug 1943||Americans captured the Munda airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|3 Aug 1943||Tanks of the US Marine Corps 9th Battalion joined the American offensive on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|6 Aug 1943||In the Battle of Vella Gulf in the Solomon Islands, three Japanese destroyers were destroyed, killing 600 sailors and 900 Japanese Army passengers.|
|7 Aug 1943||The Munda airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, captured by the Americans from the Japanese on 1 Aug 1943, was declared operational for emergencies.|
|8 Aug 1943||Battery B of the US Marine Corps 9th Defense Battalion was deployed at Kindu Point on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands to defend the southern coast of the island near Munda airfield.|
|9 Aug 1943||The main body of the Japanese Southeast Detached Force was moved to Kolombangara, New Georgia, Solomon Islands. Elsewhere on New Georgia, the two groups of the American New Georgia Occupation Force (Northern Landing Group and Southern Landing Group) made contact at a roadblock southwest of Triri. Also on New Georgia, a light anti-aircraft artillery battery of the US Marine Corps 11th Defense Battalion arrived at Enogai.|
|10 Aug 1943||Operational control of the US Northern Landing Group on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands was passed to the US Army 25th Division, while the US lst Marine Raider Regiment was detached from the Northern Landing Group to join other Marine Corps units at Enogai.|
|11 Aug 1943||Admiral William Halsey received operational orders for the New Georgia region of the Solomon Islands, including the seizure of Vella Lavella island and the elimination of Japanese positions on Kolombangara island. Meanwhile, US Army and US Marine Corps forces continued to engage Japanese troops on New Georgia.|
|12 Aug 1943||24 B-24 bombers attacked Buin, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, destroying 13 A6M fighters, 10 D3A dive bombers, and 1 reconnaissance aircraft on the ground.|
|13 Aug 1943||US Army 43rd Division landed on Vela Cela (and discovered no Japanese positions) and Baanga just off western New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, the Imperial General Headquarters issued Directive No. 267 authorizing the abandonment of the central Solomon Islands region.|
|14 Aug 1943||US Marine Corps Brigadier General Francis Mulcahy moved the headquarters of Aircraft, New Georgia from Rendova island to the Munda Point airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|15 Aug 1943||The US Northern Landing Force attacked Japanese positions on Vella Lavella island in the Barakoma airfield region near New Georgia, Solomon Islands.|
|20 Aug 1943||Baanga island, located just off western New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, was secured by elements of the US Army 43rd Division.|
|24 Aug 1943||US Marine Corps Colonel William Brice moved the headquarters of his Fighter Command to the Munda Point airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. On this date, the responsibility of Commander, Aircraft, New Georgia was also merged under his command.|
|25 Aug 1943||Americans captured Bairoko Harbor on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.|
|27 Aug 1943||The US Army 172nd Infantry Regiment crossed Hathorn Sound from New Geogia to Arundel Island in the Solomon Islands and captured Japanese artillery positions which had been shelling American positions at Munda Point, New Georgia.|
|28 Aug 1943||Two US Corsair fighter squadrons attacked Kahili Airfield in Buin, Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Lieutenant Al Jensen of US Marine Corps squadron VMF-214, flying a Corsair fighter, was credited with destroying 24 Japanese planes on the ground during this mission.|
|15 Sep 1943||B-24 bombers, escorted by Corsair fighters of US Marine Corps squadron VMF-214, flew a photographic reconnaissance mission over Choiseul, Solomon Islands.|
|16 Sep 1943||Gregory Boyington led 24 Corsair fighters of US Marine Corps squadron VMF-214 from Banika, Russell Islands to join 80 other aircraft of other squadrons to attack Ballale fighter base southeast of Bougainville island. 40 A6M fighters rose to defend the base. The Americans were credited with 17 Japanese aircraft shot down and 9 probables (VMF-214 alone was awarded 11 (5 of which were Boyington's) and 8, respectively), but lost pilot Bob Ewing in the action. Post-war Japanese records would reveal that only 6 aircraft were shot down in battle that day, with a further 1 aircraft written off due to heavy damage.|
|7 Oct 1943||The Fletcher-class destroyer USS Chevalier was sunk by a torpedo fired from the USS La Vallette following severe damage inflicted during an engagement with Japanese destroyers fought on the previous day off Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands.|
|27 Oct 1943||New Zealand 8th Brigade captured Mono Island and Stirling Island of Treasury Islands of the Solomon Islands.|
|28 Oct 1943||US 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion landed by sea at Voza on Choiseul Island in Operation Blissful.|
|29 Oct 1943||US Task Force 38 sortied from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides in support of the Bouganville, Solomon Islands invasion.|
|1 Nov 1943||Men of the US 3rd Marine Division landed at Torokina Point on the northern coast of Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Solomon Islands; the beach was defended only by a small 300-strong garrison, but the effective Japanese defense surprised the attackers. In response of the invasion, Japanese aircraft from Rabaul, New Britain, attacked the US fleet, damaging destroyer USS Wadsworth (killing 2), but at the heavy cost of 16 A6M fighters lost. The Japanese dispatched a counter-invasion force consisted of Cruiser Division 4 (Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita) and transports carrying thousands of troops; the fleet was en route to Rabaul when it was detected by a B-24 Liberator bomber (Lieutenant Robert Sylvernale) while heading toward the western approach of Saint George's Channel between New Britain and New Ireland.|
|2 Nov 1943||Four Japanese cruisers and six destroyers sortied out of Rabaul, New Britain to attack the US Marine invasion of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. 75 B-25 bombers escorted by 80 P-38 fighters attacked this fleet just out of Rabaul, damaging cruiser Hajuro, damaging cruiser Myoko, sinking one submarine chaser, destroying 18 aircraft, damaging destroyer Shirasuyu, and damaging a number of smaller vessels; the Americans lost 8 B-25 and 9 P-38 aircraft in combat, plus more to be written off due to battle damage. The Japanese fleet, sailing at a reduced speed, engaged American warships at 0230 hours in Empress Augusta Bay. The Americans struck first, scattering the Japanese formation, but the Japanese were able to regroup and forced the American ships to withdraw. Though the action was inconclusive, the Japanese failed to disrupt American operations on Bougainville.|
|12 Nov 1943||At 0400 hours, 9 G4M and 5 B5N aircraft attacked a convoy of LST and converted destroyer-transport vessels in the Solomon Islands, sinking destroyer-transport USS McKean but also losing 4 B5N aircraft in combat. 1 G4M and 1 B5N aircraft suffered heavy damage but were able to return to Rabaul, New Britain. In the late morning, 10 D3A and 55 A6M aircraft, also from Rabaul, attacked an American convoy in the Solomon Islands. 10 Japanese aircraft were shot down; minimal damage was inflicted to the American vessels.|
|25 Nov 1943||The Battle of Cape St. George took place near Buka Island north of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands; three Japanese destroyers were sunk at the end of what was to be the final surface battle of the Solomon Islands campaign.|
|10 Dec 1943||Torokina Airfield at Bougainville, Solomon Islands was declared fully operational after a short 40-day construction. 17 F4U aircraft of US Marine Corps squadron VMF-216 became the first to officially arrive at the airfield, although the airfield had already received two unscheduled emergency landings on 24 Nov 1943 and 8 Dec 1943.|
|8 Mar 1944||Battle of Hill 700: Japanese troops began a 5-day offensive against US positions at Bougainville.|
|24 Mar 1944||Japanese troops mounted an unsuccessful suicide charge on Bougainville.|
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» Hell in the Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Journey From Guadalcanal to Peleliu
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Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, at Guadalcanal