The first week in October marked the end of the TOENAILS operation. After a strenuous three-month campaign, South Pacific forces were firmly entrenched in the Central Solomons. To what end had this campaign been fought? What had the Allies gained? What had been the cost?
Stated simply, Admiral Halsey had undertaken the operation to advance U.S. air power toward Rabaul. It was necessarily a step-by-step project at this stage of the war because of the lack of aircraft carriers. In seizing the Central Solomons the United States acquired a series of unsinkable carriers. From two fields in the Russells, Allied planes not only covered Admiral Halsey's northward advance but also intercepted Japanese air strikes against the Guadalcanal-Tulagi base. At Segi Point, Seabees constructed a fighter strip within ten days of the 4th Raider Battalion's landing. Initially this field provided a haven for crippled planes returning from strikes in the north; later it harbored a small brood of fighter aircraft on which the New Georgia Occupation Force could call for immediate support. Once seized, Munda Field likewise became quickly operational; while infantry units fought for possession of Kokengolo and Bibilo Hills, Seabees and engineers began repairing the runway's eastern extremity, and by 14 August, only nine days after capture, had completed enough work to receive the first American planes. On 27 September another group of Seabees put the airfield at Barakoma into business.
Throttling the Tokyo Express was equally important with advancement of the bomber line toward Rabaul. Allied aircraft in cooperation with PT boats operating from the Russells, or Rendova or from Lever Harbor, and with other combatant surface vessels operating out of Tulagi, struck the Express time after time. Finally, the Japanese were forced to adopt the expedient of replacing the destroyers of the Express with barges. When this occurred, PT's working closely with night-flying Black Cats sortied into the Slot on barge-killer hunts and achieved a high degree of success. Thus Japanese troops in the Central Solomons were denied badly needed supplies, reinforcements and evacuation. By the same token, as a result of this campaign Allied surface forces roamed with greater freedom of action farther and farther up the road to Rabaul.1
The campaign also increased the steady pressure on Rabaul, thus prohibiting General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka from grouping to launch a strong counteroffensive elsewhere in the South or Southwest Pacific areas. This pressure required the enemy commanders to concentrate in considerable strength in front of
the Allied advance, slow as it was, and expend planes, ships, men and matériel in an abortive effort to turn the tide. With the fall of Munda, Barakoma, Lae and Salamaua, coupled with their defeat in the North Pacific, Imperial General Headquarters realized that Rabaul no longer was an effective position. Before the end of September, therefore, the Japanese shortened their front line of defense from the trace Aleutians-Wake-Marshalls-Gilberts-Nauru-Ocean-Bismarcks-northern New Guinea-Timor-Java-Sumatra-Nicobar-Andamans, to the trace Kuriles-Marianas-Carolines-northwestern New Guinea-Timor-Java-Sumatra.2
Although Imperial Headquarters had drawn a new line, local commanders in "abandoned" areas did not always follow that policy. No troops on the old front lines were withdrawn, and in some instances reinforcements were sent in despite the new policy. Even Admiral Koga made major departures from it, the most notable of which was when he sent carrier planes from Truk to Rabaul as late as November 1943.3
The most immediate beneficial effects of the TOENAILS operation, of course, were the tremendous losses inflicted on Japanese aircraft, naval vessels and matériel. But not to be discounted is the fact that the Allies were now firmly entrenched in forward positions that covered their defensive deployment in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas. Then too, these same positions soon became strong, well-supplied bases, whose excellent location provided sites from which to launch the successful offensive of the southern arm of the Allies great sweep across the Pacific.4
From the Allied point of view the Central Solomons campaign ended in far from a Pyrrhic victory. All these major advantages had been gained at a cost of only 1136 casualties,5 the McCawley, Helena, Strong, Gwin, Chevalier and three LST's sunk, and 141 planes lost (including both combat and operational losses). Japanese losses cannot be determined exactly.
ADMIRAL HALSEY AND GENERAL GRISWOLD return to Rendova from an inspection of positions on New Georgia made during a visit the Admiral paid to the forward area in September. It was during this trip that Halsey briefed Griswold on the coming Bougainville operation. (Army Photo.)
They expended 19 vessels and approximately 728 planes in attempting to hold the Central Solomons. Their losses in men and matériel, including losses at sea in abortive sorties down the gantlet of the slot, reached tremendous proportions.6
Yet withal, great credit for an excellent defense of the Central Solomons must be given to General Sasaki. With a relatively small force and little effective support by Japanese sea and air power, he had contained the advance of three reinforced and strongly supported U.S. Divisions;7 moreover, he had evacuated the bulk of his troops when the position
MAJOR GENERAL NOBORU SASAKI, commander of the Japanese Southeast Detached Force, whose brilliant defense of the Central Solomons materially delayed Admiral Halsey's march toward Rabaul. (Morison Project.)
became untenable, thereby enabling them to fight again.8
The Big Lesson
In the various Solomon Islands campaigns true and workable unification of the services reached a pinnacle unmatched previously. And in the TOENAILS operation Admiral Halsey demanded it. Admiral Turner went a step further and wrote into his operation plan:
Under the principle of unity of command, the commander NEW GEORGIA Occupation Force will command all land, sea and air units assigned to that Force. Similarly, Army Commanding Officers of each occupied position will command land, sea, and air units assigned to that position. Administrative responsibility is direct to the usual duly constituted administrative authorities of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Allied Services. Command of the NEW GEORGIA Occupation Force will pass from Commander Task Force 31 to other military authorities when so directed by the Commander Third Fleet.9
Throughout the operation, therefore, inter-service bickering and petty argument were nearly unknown. All hands were in New Georgia to do a job, not to discuss service politics or to propagandize by making insidious remarks or grandiose claims. New Georgia demonstrated that the Army, Navy and Marine Corps could work together. The three services were a team, and as a team they accomplished their mutual mission.
The Marine Corps portion of the team, itself the embodiment of unification, moulded itself into the team concept without the slightest difficulty. Marine aviators proved that the uniform worn by the commander had no influence on the effectiveness of Marine air. Marine tankmen, artillerymen and antiaircraft gunners of the defense battalions, interested only in doing a good job, gave equal support to Army and Navy as to Marine troops.
The interdependence of the services was the most obvious of the lessons redemonstrated in the Central Solomons. Planes themselves cannot seize and hold a ground target; this must be accomplished by ground troops. Ground troops need surface transportation, which, in turn, requires air cover. Furthermore, amphibious operations should have both air and naval gunfire support. The amphibious operation is essential to seize and hold a forward airstrip. Thus, each service depends upon the support of each of the others.
TOENAILS vs. WATCHTOWER
Allied operations in the Munda area were strikingly similar to the Japanese attempts to retake Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. In 1942 the Japanese landed on two sides of their objective and, after an extended overland movement, built up strength on one front to strike the Henderson Field perimeter in October with a two-pronged assault. In 1943 the United States adopted precisely the same tactics at Munda. In 1942 the Japanese enjoyed air and sea superiority during the initial stages of their attack; through exercise of this superiority they denied
a steady flow of supplies and reinforcements to Marines beseiged on Guadalcanal. In 1943 the Allies enjoyed that superiority and with it effectively throttled the activities of the Tokyo Express; moreover, continuous harassment of the enemy (a tactic employed by the Japanese the preceding year) was possible. In 1942 Japanese ships leisurely bombarded American positions; in 1943 the situation was reversed. Therein, however, the similarity ends.
At Guadalcanal the Japanese used the airstrip (Henderson Field) as the sole objective, and expended most of their efforts in vain attempts to retake it. In New Georgia, the Allies attacked not only the Munda strip but also the vulnerable enemy supply lines.
Equally worthy of consideration is another important difference between the Guadalcanal and New Georgia campaigns: The separate attitudes of the opposing forces in evaluation of enemy potential. In 1942 the Japanese with their propensity for underestimation felt that very few American troops held Guadalcanal; a graver error was their failure to take into account the tenacity and courage of the Marine defenders. In 1943, Admiral Turner, who had learned his Guadalcanal lessons well, insisted on overwhelming superiority in men, planes, and ships, before undertaking a campaign against a stubborn enemy. The inelasticity of Japanese plans, permitting no deviation, obviated the possibility of coordination when elements involved in an attack failed or were retarded in ther respective missions. More imaginative Americans, on the other hand, modified their plans to suit a situation. Thus, higher American commanders, in order to insure success, postponed attack dates and altered dispositions in
LOOKING EASTWARD, OVER MUNDA FIELD, TOWARD THE SCENE OF BATTLE, this post-war picture shows how the jungle has already begun to encroach on what was the busiest Allied airstrip in the Solomons. Within a year dense vegetation had already obscured Bibilo Hill, while once bare Kokengolo (to the center left of the photograph) sprouts a thick growth. (Army Photo.)
the drives on Munda and Bairoko even after the landings. At Guadalcanal higher Japanese commanders, with a stubborness that defies explanation, refused to change their original plans even though such refusal meant utter failure or destruction of their forces.
As far as the Marines were concerned, the outcome of TOENAILS vindicated the doctrines they had formulated during the two decades following World War I. The Corps felt amply rewarded for its years of intensive study when it watched sister and Allied services successfully applying those concepts and techniques of amphibious warfare it had developed. It could point with pride to the accomplishments of the LVT and the Higgins boat, both developed under the Corps' aegis.
The experiences acquired by Marines in Latin American countries during the 1920's and early 1930's proved of limitless value. Lessons learned in Nicaragua's jungles were applied with vigor and effectiveness on New Georgia. On the foundation of those lessons the Marine Corps had formed the lightly equipped, fast-moving Raider Battalions that figured so prominently in the TOENAILS operation. From these battalions came the amphibious scouts who moved with speed and stealth behind enemy lines to gather information on which to base operational planning.
In the Central Solomons, the Marine defense battalions, operating directly under Army command, demonstrated beyond doubt the versatility and adaptability of Marines. As evidence members of these battalions could present the rapid transition of the 9th Defense Battalion's
MARINE LVT'S SOMETIMES BROKE DOWN after grueling hours of fighting mud. This Alligator is parked beside a Rendova "road". Without these vehicles however, the minimum supply level could not have been maintained on front lines or outlying positions. (Navy Photo.)
TANK-INFANTRY PATROLS BULLED THEIR WAY through the thick jungle to seek and destroy the enemy. The frequency with which the lumbering Marine tanks bogged down in viscid mud finally led one Army division commander to abandon use of the vehicles on extended patrols. Here a wire party pushes forward past a stuck machine. (Army Photo.)
Seacoast Artillery Group from a coast defense to a field artillery unit. Or they could cite the accomplishments of the various specialists within these units who effectively performed purely infantry duties, justifying the Corps' stand that every Marine is primarily an infantryman.
Afterwards, American commanders declared that they could not have succeeded without the assistance of the LVT. Designed to operate on land as well as on water, the LVT proved just the thing to negotiate those muddy roads that thwarted all wheeled vehicles. The Marines made extensive use of amphibian tractors in logistic support of positions isolated because of mud.
The 9th Defense Battalion originally had been assigned three of the two-ton Alligators, but when these proved their value, a nine-tractor platoon of the 3d Marine Division also was attached. Without this reinforcement, the battalion never could have established and maintained positions on the various offshore islands. And at Vella Lavella, the 4th Defense Battalion also found LVT's invaluable.10
The work of the Marine 13-ton tanks (M-5) of the 9th, 10th and 11th Defense Battalions, during the drive on Munda and in later operations demonstrated that aggressiveness
combined with thorough training pays dividends. Army commanders agreed that the fearlessness and efficiency of Marine tankmen was instrumental in saving the lives of many infantrymen. The enemy commander, General Sasaki, complained that the Marine tanks effectively stopped or neutralized his fires.11
In the Central Solomons the Marines proved that, although difficult of accomplishment, their light tanks could operate in mud and jungle. They pointed up the soundness of the established truth that tank-infantry coordination was necessary to success. Their experiments in combat led to the recommendation that a field telephone (EE-8) be strapped to the rear of each tank to facilitate tank-infantry communication, and that both the tank leader and the accompanying infantry leader be equipped with handy-talkie (SCR-536) radios.
An innovation resulting from this campaign was the development of flame-throwing tanks, by the simple expedient of mounting an infantry flame thrower in the bow of an M-5.
The tank-infantry tactics, improvised by General Griswold during the advance on Munda and improved by the 27th Infantry on Arundel, were considered most unorthodox in mid-1943. At that time, it must be remembered, armored employment in jungle terrain was believed impracticable, that tank warfare could be waged only in open country. But the successes achieved by XIV Corps and the Marines tanks in New Georgia's fetid jungle led to the development of a new concept. And Griswold's "unorthodox" tactics were accepted, written into new Field Manuals, and taught as doctrine.12
At New Georgia, the Navy medical personnel attached to the Marine units faced and solved some particularly trying problems. These doctors, dentists and corpsmen worked a 24-hour day, drenched by rain, knee-deep in mud, with little shelter or adequate equipment. Heedless of enemy fire or primitive conditions, they performed delicate operations to save countless lives.
In the 1st Raider Regiment, a high incidence of recurrent malaria and a large number of cases of sheer, utter physical exhaustion complicated the problem. On 11 August the doctors reported that of the 956 Marines then remaining on the rolls, only 436 were fit for duty.
Personnel and Tonnage Transported to the New Georgia Area for TOENAILS 30Jun-31Aug43 Rendova-
Vella Lavella Segi Enogai-Rice Wickham Viru Lever Bay Personnel: Army 32,171 3,804 4,816 1,780 1,266 358 51 Navy 2,907 1,357 1,360 15 490 263 --- Marine 1,723 1,344 (*) 1,682 368 350 --- Total 36,795 6,505 6,176 3,477 2,124 971 51 Tonnage: Rations 9,442 1,097 1,193 733 437 324 40 Fuel 7,388 843 3,200 195 318 725 516 Ammunition 11,966 2,247 883 277 454 34 --- Vehicles 10,552 2,528 2,271 21 350 85 --- Other Freight 10,006 1,911 3,666 82 885 348 50 Total 49,354 8,626 11,213 1,308 2,444 1,516 606 * Marine personnel began to land at Segi on 21 June.
Although there were only 38 doctors and corpsmen in the regiment, all patients received adequate care in the makeshift jungle hospitals, only a handful dying of wounds.
Fortunately for the Navy medical men, combat fatigue was almost unknown among Marines. This kept the patient census down and enabled the doctors to devote their full attention to wounds and disease.
Evacuation of casualties from New Georgia was especially effective and rapid. Although jungle and mud made movement between front lines and beaches most difficult, LST's serving as floating hospitals and PBY's working as flying ambulances got the casualties to base hospitals in the rearward areas without delay.
Motor Torpedo boats (PT's) supported Marine units throughout the campaign. Even before the initial combat landings, these speedy little craft transported amphibious scouts through enemy-held waters to beaches deep in Japanese territory. Some of these patrols sought and found bases from which PT's could operate effectively. Other patrols landed at Vella Lavella, Kolombangara, Vangunu, and Segi Point on scouting missions. Later in the campaign, PT's screened larger ships carrying Marines to various landings in the Central Solomons. While the 1st Raider Regiment was fighting on Dragons Peninsula, PT's on several occasions brought in supplies and evacuated casualties. At other times the raiders hid-out the boats in Enogai's little harbor. Such cooperation between the Marines and the PT-men emphasized the high degree of interdependence that marks the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Destroyer-transports (APD's participated in each of the several Marine landings. Making innumerable trips, Transdiv 12 (Commander John D. Sweeney) and Transdiv 22 (Lieutenant Commander Robert H. Wilkinson) carried troops and supplies on a 'round-the-clock basis to keep the operation progressing smoothly.
MEDICAL OFFICERS AND CORPSMEN worked 'round the clock, performing miracles under the most unsatisfactory conditions. Many serious casualties owe their lives to the excellent service and prompt treatment they received in primitive field hospitals. (Navy Photo.)
Despite enemy air and surface attacks and shore battery fire, the APD's safely delivered all of their human cargoes at or near the designated objective.
The landing ship tank (LST) made its first combat appearance at New Georga: This odd-looking craft, designed primarily to carry heavy equipment and place it on the beach with great rapidity, eventually became a principal means by which Marines were transported on amphibious landings.14
Mine sweepers, cruisers, tugs and destroyers all contributed to defeating the enemy, but seldom directly in support of the Marines.
In their final reports, all commander's spoke of the high quality of air support given during the campaign. Although the failure to receive air support was the principal reason why Liversedge had to turn back at Bairoko on 20 July, generally requests for such support received prompt, accurate and dependable attention.
Japanese Vessels Sunk in the New Georgia Area Name Type Tons Date Agent Area Kuroshio DD 1,900 8May Mine Blackett Strait Oyashio DD 1,900 8May Mine Blackett Strait Kagero DD 1,900 8May Mine Blackett Strait RO-101 SS 525 1Jul Surface (DD) Blanche Channel Kashi Maru AK 654 2Jul Army Air Kula Gulf Nagatsuki DD 1,500 6Jul Surface (CL&DD) Kula Gulf Niizuki DD 2,450 6Jul Surface (CL&DD) Kula Gulf I-25 SS 2,212 11Jul Surface (DD) Kula Gulf Jintsu CL 5,900 13Jul Surface (CL) E of Vella Kiyonami DD 2,100 20Jul Combined Army, Navy, Marine Air N of Vella Yugure DD 1,600 20Jul Combined Army, Navy, Marine Air N of Vella Arashi DD 1,900 6Aug Surface (DD) Vella Gulf Hagikaze DD 1,900 6Aug Surface (DD) Vella Gulf Kawakaze DD 1,580 6Aug Surface (DD) Vella Gulf Special Sub-Chaser #15 SC 100 18Aug Surface (DD) S of Choiseul Special Sub-Chaser #12 SC 100 18Aug Surface (DD) S of Choiseul I-20 SS 2,180 1Oct Surface (DD) N of Kolom Yugumo DD 1,900 6Oct Surface (DD) N of Vella
Seldom did enemy fighters and bombers penetrate the combat air patrol. Only adverse weather interrupted continuous protection.
Whenever possible, ComAirSols furnished planes for artillery spotting, aerial photography, or reconnassance. The 9th Defense Battalion for example, found the effectiveness of their 155mm guns vastly increased when an aerial observer controlled the fire. Patrol planes (PBY's) ranged far and wide to observe enemy activity, rescue downed aviators, drop or bring in supplies and evacuate wounded.
It might be said that the modern Navy-Marine Corps technique of close air support had its beginnings in the Central Solomons campaign. True, ground controllers operating under General Rupertus on Tulagi in August 1942 had first applied the Navy-Marine Corps theory in actual combat. But it remained for the men involved in the TOENAILS operation to develop a more efficient, easily worked solution of the close air support concept. The organization and techniques used in the Central Solomons eventually evolved--with modifications and refinements--into those employed in future operations where air support was controlled by the Navy.15 Before the operation General Mulcahy formed seven special units, called air support parties (ASP's). Each party consisted of an officer and two highly trained enlisted communicators, provided with a command car, an SCR 193 radio, an Aldis lamp and panel signal equipment. In theory, these parties would control air strikes from positions on the ground, close to the front line command posts.
According to the concept of close air support then extant, missions were planned in some detail the day prior to execution. Requests passed through General Mulcahy's headquarters and, if approved, back to base fields on Guadalcanal, in the Russells, or--later in the campaign--at Segi Point. Upon receiving the approved request, Strike Command detailed planes and pilots to the mission, and the next day these reported on station to the designated ASP. The men on the ground would then signal the orbiting planes, mark the target with smoke shells, and finally turn the mission over to the flight commander.
At this stage in the war, air strikes were never made very close to the lines. Difficulties of
communication in the jungle, with less than satisfactory radio sets, made it expedient that pilots be well briefed on the ground before they took off on a strike. On New Georgia, however, the ASP's learned that they could talk a plane into a target area without the pre-strike briefing and, when the target itself was marked, the planes could attack most effectively.16
The Central Solomons campaign revealed a number of gross inadequacies and inefficiencies. But these are by far overshadowed by the gains achieved and the lesson of unification learned.
This campaign was over, but ahead lay Bougainville, another barrier on the road to Rabaul that must be taken before the Allies could approach the Far East. And at Bougainville, as in succeeding campaigns, the lessons of the Central Solomons would be applied.
In speaking of the Marines who served with him in the Central Solomons, General Griswold said, "Without exception, they were brave and gallant, and it was an honor and privilege to serve with them. . . . "
1. FltAdm E. J. King, First Official Report to SecNav, 1Mar44 (543-544 in War Reports).
2. Campaigns, 7-8.
3. Army Cofs ltr to CMC, 21Mar52.
4. Adm R. K. Turner ltr to CMC, 19Mar52.
5. These figures are incomplete and include Army and Navy statistics only. For Marine Corps casualty figures, see Appendix III. Cf. Morison, Bismarcks, 224.
6. Southeast Area Naval Operations, II; JANAC, Japanese Shipping Losses; USSBS, Allied Campaign Against Rabaul; ComSoPac, Weekly Air Combat Intelligence Reports.
7. 25th, 37th and 43rd InfDivs supported by 3d NZ Div, 1st Marine Raider Regiment, and 4th, 9th, 10th and 11th DefBns, FMF, plus other Army, Navy and Marine Corps units.
8. Troops of the Kure 6th and Yokosuka 7th SNLF, and the 13th Infantry fought later at Bougainville.
9. TF-31 OpnPlan A8-43, 10.
10. 9thDefBn, Informal Combat Report; Col W. O. Thompson ltr to CMC, 21Feb52; 4thDefBn Combat Report.
11. Griswold ltr, Aug43; MajGen J. L. Collins ltr of 17Sep43; MajGen Sasaki ltr of Aug43 to 17th Army CofS.
12. Ryneska 20Mar52 ltr; Gen Griswold ltr to Gen McNair, 29Aug43.
13. Only that naval support directly affecting Marine operations on shore is discussed here. For a more complete treatment of naval activities in the Central Solomons see one or more of the following: Morison, Bismarcks; Combat Narratives, IX, X and XI; Karig, op. cit.
14. LST's seldom were the sole means of moving troops; but even in the Central Pacific, where some students believed the distances prohibitive for such movement (Cf Morison, volume VII, 108), LST's--filled to capacity with assault troops--were used in nearly every operation. (Turner 19Mar52 ltr.)
15. Turner 19Mar52 ltr.
16. Gabbert report; Sherrod op. cit.