IT IS POSSIBLE to review the Northern Solomons campaign in terms of three aspects from which operations may be observed. High-level planners, such as the joint Chiefs of Staff, study the campaign in terms of strategic considerations. Individuals who were attached to lower levels of the command structure--for example, Corps and Division Commanders and their staffs--are interested in the operations from the standpoint of the overall tactics employed. The third point of view is that seen by the battalion commander, company officer, or the rifleman whose small unit faced numberless individual difficulties and hazards.
Only in light of these three levels can we appraise the Northern Solomons campaign in an honest, all-around perspective; a perspective neither clouded by exaggerated interest in one or two rifle companies, nor, on the other hand, so bound up with strategic theorizing that it is blind to the exertions of slogging riflemen and cannoneers.
From the viewpoint of high-level planners, any undertaking in the Northern Solomons involved manifold risks and perils. To embark on the Bougainville venture not only meant an attack under the guns of a well defined objective--Rabaul, but it also exposed our forces in the South and Southwest Pacific by committing an important segment thereof to a hazardous operation. Only after careful weighing of possible gain and loss, of benefits or disadvantages, could the joint Chiefs order--or South Pacific forces execute--such a stratagem.
An operation in the Northern Solomons involved an expansion of our Solomons front, which, by 25 September 1943, was firmly established along a line running between Choiseul to the north, and Vella Lavella and Santa Isabel to the south. The design predicated an advance deep into enemy-held territory, which would therefore result in further stretching of already considerably extended supply lines. Such lengthening, coupled with an already limited amount of shipping, could conceivably result in disaster, should the ever-present possibility of a major shipping-loss materalize. Only about eight transports and four cargo vessels were available for sea-going supply in the South Pacific. To these could be added a small number of landing craft with lower cargo-carrying capacity. This consideration necessitated establishment of a supply base forward of the main source at Guadalcanal. Operations in the Northern Solomons could not be launched until the new, advanced base was ready to function.
Similarly, an inadequacy of surface forces existed in the South Pacific. Not only would this hinder complete protection of our supply lines, but would also preclude the possibility of complete coverage for our forces ashore.
Balanced against these factors, however, was the realization that the United States enjoyed overwhelming superiority in the air. In addition to providing an umbrella over almost any proposed beachhead, convoy, or task force, our air could strike at enemy bases, shipping, and surface units. The probability of an enemy counterattack from the sea, and surface raids on our supply lines, nevertheless, remained to confront the planners.
Another problem which faced the joint Chiefs and South Pacific planners was how and when to attack in a strongly defended area. Rabaul, southern bastion of Truk--a principal objective during this phase of the war--was well protected by outlying positions at Buka-Bonis and in the Shortland-South Bougainville areas. The immediate goal of a campaign in the Northern Solomons was neutralization of Rabaul. The purpose of an attack in turn was to establish airfields from which this goal could be achieved. Considering the paucity of shipping and the lack of adequate surface forces, success of a venture into such a strongly defended area was uncertain. Further, in the summer of 1943, when planning was underway, it was believed--not without reason--that Japan would spare no effort to defend Rabaul, using for this purpose, if necessary, the Combined Fleet.
The Japanese, moreover, were known to have deployed approximately 50,000 troops in the Northern Solomons, and were capable not only of employing this considerable strength for defense, but also for counter-attack.
Upon conclusion of hostilities, to be sure, it was discovered that Japan had intended to protect the Bougainville area only with local garrisons and naval forces.
The "Z" plan1 had assumed that Rabaul would be a stronghold for defense of the Empire, and that outlying bases thereabout would be strengthened locally as necessary. Due to lack of shipping, however, these aims were never accomplished, and, in September, 1943, it was necessary to modify the "Z" plan, admitting that Rabaul could no longer be considered wholly effective. Because of this, together with the fact that Combined Fleet carrier divisions in the Truk area were not ready for operations (due to the devastating losses suffered at Midway and in the Solomons), the Japanese fleet was not committed.2
Although the Japanese had become convinced by the fall of 1943 that their Rabaul position was untenable, and had withdrawn their outer line of defense from that area, the Allies had, of course no way of knowing this.
Selection of a target for attack, therefore, was based on the premise that Rabaul was still in full activity, and must be neutralized.
Confronting the South Pacific command, accordingly, was the final decision of the exact target (short of Rabaul) to be selected. Many suggestions were propounded, most of which had merit and warranted close study and analysis. All these evolved into two schools of thought--the one favoring a landing on the east coast, following preliminary operations on Choiseul, the other advocating a landing in the vicinity of Empress Augusta Bay following seizure of the Treasury Islands.
A landing on the east coast would have necessitated a major operation in the Choiseul region, which would not in itself contribute to the eventual neutralization of Rabaul, and would result in needless expenditure of troops and matériel. Further, when compared with Empress Augusta Bay, a landing at Kieta, Numa Numa, or Tenakau (on the east coast) would require a necessarily longer line of supply at a time when shipping was at a premium. These facts, coupled with the fact that flying time from the east coast to Rabaul was greater than flying time from the west coast,3 dictated selection of the west coast target.
Tactical considerations likewise dictated that, if a landing were to be made in the Northern Solomons, then it should be made at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville. Compared with positions on the northern and southern extremities of that island, this area was poorly defended,
and further, was so located that pressure could be placed on Rabaul from Torokina airfields. This presented still another problem. If the landing were made at Cape Torokina, then our forces would face almost impenetrable jungle and steaming swamp, either of which would necessitate inclusion of vast amounts of engineer equipment and personnel in the attack force, for the purpose of building roads and landing-strips. Taking into account the amount of shipping available, inclusion of much engineering equipment conversely would reduce the quantity of ammunition and rations that could be carried by assault echelons.
Confronted by all these risks, the Allied high command decided, nevertheless, to undertake the Northern Solomons campaign, for it was even then realized that the advantages to be gained through securing positions on Bougainville by far outweighed the dangers which an attacking force faced.
Of paramount importance in selection of a target area, was the availability of local cover in the form of air and sea support. Cape Torokina was found to be within range of fighters based at Munda and bombers based at Guadalcanal.
Also desirable was an airstrip between the target and the supply source from which Allied planes could intercept enemy air and surface attacks against our shipping. The Treasury Islands appeared to offer suitable sites for an intermediate landing field and small boat refuge. By landing at Cape Torokina, South Pacific Forces assured themselves, therefore, of continuous air cover. Likewise, by landing in the Treasury Islands, adequate air and surface protection of our supply line was obtained.
An additional advantage derived by landing in the Treasury Islands was the capability of erecting and operating, prior to D-day, a long-range radar covering the target area.
In the meantime, as these conclusions were being reached, our operations were so timed that the Japanese were kept unaware of the next point of attack and were continually off balance. This prevented concentration of their forces in any area with definite knowledge that they could be committed. This American strategic policy was made possible by an ever increasing superiority of our air and surface forces over those of the Japanese. It prevented the enemy from supplying by-passed garrisons, which otherwise could have constituted a threat to the rear of our forward areas.4
When we finally made our attack on the Northern Solomons, culminating at Bougainville, the enemy was not surprised; he expected a landing there. He was surprised, however, by the fact that we landed in the swampy area.5
As has been shown, the Bougainville operation, though it was planned, directed, and executed in the South Pacific Area, by South Pacific Forces, was undertaken principally as a flank security measure for Southwest Pacific Forces advancing along New Guinea's northern coast. Rabaul was a hornet's nest to Allied troops in New Guinea, for from this base the enemy could launch counterattacks by land, sea, or air; could cut Allied lines of supply and communications; or could continually harass front line positions to the extent of making them nearly untenable.
The Northern Solomons campaign was designed, therefore, to neutralize Rabaul's effectiveness. Its ultimate success resulted from coordination of effort on the part of individuals, branches of the armed services, and theaters of operations. The effect of this cooperation was the accomplishment of the given purpose--neutralization of Rabaul--with the greatest possible economy of force.
The strategic goal was reached at a cost far below the expected minimum of lives lost and matériel expended.6
Responsibility for carrying out the actual combat operations required in the Northern Solomons was vested in IMAC, and the tactics of the campaign were those of IMAC.
The U.S. advance up the Solomons ladder by progressive steps from Guadalcanal to New Georgia to Vella Lavella, led in normal course to the Treasury Islands and Bougainville. In the original tactical planning for the Northern Solomons, it was early realized that it would be necessary to mislead the enemy in order that he might not be prepared for our assault on Bougainville, the keystone of the campaign.
One of the most astute moves made by IMAC was the diversionary landing on Choiseul, designed to lead the Japanese to believe that our final objective in the Northern Solomons would be the east coast of Bougainville. This operation formed the screen behind which IMAC moved toward its primary objective, Empress Augusta Bay.
Observed from every aspect, therefore, IMAC's Choiseul diversion was well conceived, excellently planned, and skillfully executed. It was the feint which drew the enemy off-balance--the jab which caused him to lower his guard and expose himself to the power-punch at Empress Augusta Bay.
Viewed from the tactical level, seizure of the Treasury Islands was sound. These islands, if held by the Japanese, would be a thorn in our side, requiring a long line of supply and communication between the Southern and Northern Solomons. Conquest of these islands denied this opportunity to the Japanese and, moreover, placed our forces in position to cover the flank of our own supply and communications lines.
A second tactical attainment in the Northern Solomons was the high degree of tactical cooperation demonstrated throughout the campaign. Cooperation evinced by Allied air, sea, and land forces was of a high order, and was thoroughly appreciated by all in command. In closing his operation report, Admiral Wilkinson stated:
All elements of the Attack Force performed splendidly throughout the operation. The landing force was well led by an experienced and able officer. . . . It has been a pleasure to share in an operation so characterized by team work and cooperation between troops, ships and crews.7
Notable among the examples of tactical cooperation evinced down to the lowest echelons, was that displayed by the infantry-artillery team. It was not always necessary to have an artillery forward observer present on the front lines, for it had been demonstrated that infantry officers could, if necessary, adjust the fires of the batteries supporting them. The artillery gave unstintingly of its efforts.
Cooperation of Marine aviation with ground troops was notable. In attacking positions, Marine ground and air cooperated as a team in accordance with the traditional and long established doctrines of Marine Corps close air support.
Effective cooperation enabled field commanders in all Northern Solomons operations to practice another basic principal of war--economy of force. No additional troops, other than those absolutely necessary to accomplish the mission, were requested or used in the Northern Solomons, and at no time while IMAC was in control of the beachhead on Bougainville, were more than two divisions employed.8
From the day of landing, 1 November, to the day that IMAC was relieved by XIV Corps, all troops available to General Geiger were kept constantly at work. For the first month, the perimeter was undergoing progressive expansion in all directions. During early December, the perimeter was being made more secure in the west by the 37th Division, while, in the east, the 3d Division was continuing to push onward and outward to secure dominate hills northeast of its sector, thereby assuring added security for airfields then under construction.
In considering economy of force (not to speak of deception), operations of the 2d Parachute Battalion on Choiseul from 28 October to 3 November 1943, afford us an interesting case for study. Although only a small unit, its maneuvers along a front of some 25 miles caused the Japanese to believe that a much larger force was
established on that island. This battalion enticed a large number of enemy aircraft to the Choiseul area to seek out a suppositious (but non-existent) U.S. invasion fleet. It was not until some time after the landing at Empress Augusta Bay that the enemy finally began to divine our true intentions concerning the Northern Solomons.
There is no doubt that Generals Vandegrift (who had received more than his share of experience in practicing economy of force at Guadalcanal) and Geiger were exponents of such economy and that they used it advantageously at Bougainville. Initially because of lack of shipping only a portion of one division executed the landing. Covering forces were stationed at Guadalcanal and Vella Lavella, from whence they could be summoned at appropriate times to support the original beachhead or establish a new one. Further, they were in such a position that they could be used, if necessary, to exploit sudden or unexpected gains which might be made by our forces in the Treasury Islands or Choiseul.
In a final tactical matter, that is, determination of the landing beaches, IMAC faced a unique problem. It was known that those in Empress Augusta Bay were generally poor, and, prior to 1 November, amphibious patrols had failed to penetrate to the exact beaches finally chosen. Those at Cape Torokina were selected, nevertheless, because Japanese troop concentrations were known to be located in the vicinity of the better landing areas to the south. Nothing suitable appeared to exist to the north. Had it not been for damaging surf, D-day difficulties would have been confined to the limited enemy reaction and the selection of Cape Torokina beaches would have been entirely vindicated.
Conversely, to pick a landing area where turbulent surf edged the shore, and tangled jungle covered murky swamps immediately inland, was a tactical decision which the enemy believed us incapable of making.
In writing the story of the Northern Solomons the main emphasis, of course, has been placed on front-line action. It is, unfortunately, the fate of artillerymen, engineers, pioneers, Seabees, communications and service troops to remain in the background. Yet it is they who carry out the myriad, extremely difficult, and sometimes thankless tasks necessary in every military undertaking.
Of the hundreds of Japanese killed at Bougainville, which, technically speaking, epitomized the problems of the Northern Solomons at their worst, it is estimated that about half died as a direct result of artillery shelling. The reparation fired before the battle for Piva Forks constituted a new high for an artillery bombardment in the South Pacific theater. Miles of torn jungle and pockmarked ground bear testimony to the devastating artillery fires. A total of 72,643 rounds were fired by the 12th Marines alone during the action. General Turnage, in his final report, wrote, the artillery is "probably the most accurate I have ever known."
The engineers also performed their mission efficiently. It will be remembered that many troops of the 19th Marines landed with assault echelons on D-day so that the tremendous job of unloading and engineer construction could begin immediately. The 19th Marines included pioneers, engineers, and Seabees. At first, their main function was to provide a shore party, but, in many cases, personnel, particularly those of the 1st Battalion, served as active reserves or to fill gaps in the front lines at night. As it became apparent, however, that our beachhead was there to stay, the 19th Marines began performing the duties for which they were primarily intended.
Where there had been only a single trail into the interior, knee-deep in slime and impassable for vehicles, a network of roads was built. Literally torn out of the jungle by hand, these roads provided vitally necessary supply routes and made possible rapid movements of reserves to any part of the line. Bridge-building, bomb disposal, water purification, equipment-maintenance--these were only a few of the additional duties performed by the engineers and Seabees.
Had it not been for the amphibian tractors (LVT), supply problems would have been practically insurmountable. Comment is frequent by unit commanders that they proved "invaluable" in the most literal sense. Twenty-nine tractors had landed on D-day; in 15 days more, the number
had increased to 124. Amid swamps through which rifle units advanced, no wheeled vehicle could pass. As amphibian tractor trails were broken, tractors brought up a constant stream of rations, water, ammunition, weapons, engineer equipment, barbed wire, medical supplies, and many other essentials.
The 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion, working in close coordination with supply troops, front-line infantry, and other units, deserves high praise. The commanding officer, 3d Medical Battalion, for example, commended the Amphibian Tractor Battalion for its outstanding performance in evacuation of wounded and delivery of supplies to forward stations. Without the tractors, the division's situation would have been critical in so far as evacuation was concerned. Many a Marine had cause to bless them.9
Without amphibian tractors--a prewar development of the Marine Corps--the campaign might not have accomplished its objective. Extension of the beachhead could have dragged out over months simply because supply and evacuation problems were an insurmountable impediment to advancing troops. Operating a total of 3,832 tractor-days, the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion transported an estimated 22,992 tons of supplies and matériel. Amphibian tractors were the vital link in the all-important supply chain. Napoleon said that an army travels on its stomach; it may be said that the 3d Marine Division, during the Bougainville operation, traveled on a stomach transported by amphibian tractors.
As roads were painfully squeezed up from the surrounding sloughs, however, the amphibians' tasks lessened and, like some giant prehistoric animal, they lost power to survive on land, while
MARINES WERE EXCEEDINGLY GRATEFUL TO SEABEES as this sign attests. Highways, such as that which appears in the background were painfully squeezed up from surrounding sloughs.
ONLY VEHICLE WHICH COULD TRAVERSE THE SWAMP was the amphibian tractor, a pre-war development of the Marine Corps. These tractors were used to supply front line units as well as to evacuate casualties.
tracked and wheeled traffic gradually drove them from the traveled ways. Some were lost in the surf; others broke down under stress of running on a firm foundation. Signal units reviled them for damage to precious wire communications, maintained only with extreme difficulty. Despite efforts of drivers to coax them into running beyond limits of mechanical endurance, all suffered from continuous use without proper opportunity for even the most cursory repairs. Yet withal, the machines and their devoted crews, in the preliminary stages of the Bougainville enterprises, proved themselves to be among the Marines' best friends.10
The 3d Defense Battalion, which had loaded and unloaded Embarkation Group C, one-third of the assault shipping, not only participated in the D-day landings but also was the last unit to be withdrawn from the island--not leaving until 21 June 1944. During this extended period of time the battalion had been responsible for the antiaircraft defense of the beachhead--1 November to 1 February--and had supported infantry units by firing artillery missions. Before being withdrawn to Guadalcanal the battalion had experienced 114 bombing runs, during which it fired 940 tons of ammunition to destroy 12 enemy planes and score probable kills on two others.
The 3d Medical Battalion achieved a magnificent job at Bougainville. Only a short distance behind the lines, aid stations and field hospitals did their work so well that less than one per cent of battle casualties died of wounds. Situated near the beach, the Division Hospital was subjected to daily air raids and twice
to artillery shelling during the first three weeks of the campaign. Company E, for example, proved that delicate work could be carried out even under the most adverse conditions. On 7 November, during the battle of Koromokina Lagoon, the field hospital was attacked by infiltrating enemy riflemen. While surgeons performed operations in water-filled dugouts, small arms fire ripped through protecting tents. Some personnel were wounded. A hasty defensive line was erected by cooks, bakers, drivers, Navy Hospital corpsmen, and ambulatory patients. During the night of 7-8 November the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, established a perimeter around the hospital. Despite the confusion that reigned during that day, not one patient died, although over 50 operations were completed under fire during the attack.
At Bougainville it early became apparent that supplies were rapidly being depleted through inability of troops, under existing conditions, to handle and transport extra rations, ammunition, and clothing. A changing tactical situation requiring frequent and (relatively) rapid redisposition of combat elements, combined with the impassability of thick jungle-swamp, resulted in many units moving inland with only what they could carry (which was little). Before long, beaches were literally smothered with all classes of supplies and equipment.
Matériel continued to pour in, however, with the arrival of each echelon of LST's, although the troops were fighting miles from shore-party dumps and on opposite sides of the beachhead from those on which they had first landed. As a result, the initial regimental shore-party dumps were practically abandoned and became a source of supply on a help-yourself basis to Corps troops, Seabees, engineers, and other elements in the wake of the assault, to the ultimate detriment of Marines in the front lines. In consequence, the 3d Marine Division Supply Officer (D-4)
ENGINEERS MOVE UP ALONG A MUDDY TRAIL. Faced with swamp drainage, road building, airfield construction, and similar tasks, engineers played a vital part in the establishment of the advance base at Cape Torokina.
revised on the spot his entire original supply and evacuation plan. All shore party dumps and all stores, except those actually with the combat teams, reverted to Division control.
Then began an almost endless task of recovering Division matériel from along the entire beach, receiving incoming supplies and distributing them to using troops.
It has been stated that the 3d Amphibian Tractor Battalion transported an estimated 22,992 tons of essentials to the front lines. It is safe to say that the 3d Service Battalion handled those four times. The newly-organized 3d Motor Transport Battalion, employed directly under the Division Quartermaster, obtained daily credits of all classes of supply from the 5th Field Depot. As roads were constructed inland, the 2½ ton 6x6 trucks of the Motor Transport Battalion were employed initially to augment and later to relieve the amphibian tractors in transporting matériel to Division intermediate and advanced dumps or distributing points (DP's) established as the beachhead increased in depth. Amphibians, however, continued to be the last link in the supply chain--moving supplies from advance DP's to the troops--and the first link in the evacuation chain which, of course, operated in the opposite direction.
MOVING ARTILLERY AMMUNITION FROM DUMP TO FIRING BATTERY was a major task.
It is of interest that, at one stage of the operation, a Division dump and distributing point actually was established and operating in one area before that area had been secured. During the movement of the 9th and 21st Marines to the ultimate main line of resistance, a Division dump went into operation at Evansville before the Battle of Hellzapoppin Ridge (See Map 20). Supplies were moved at the outset into this dump by amphibian tractor from an intermediate DP in the vicinity of Piva No. 1.
Thus, in one way or another, Marine service troops met and handled what was probably the most difficult amphibian logistical situation in the Pacific war.
After the operation, a number of units recommended that the shore party set up before the operation consist of personnel not essential to operation duties elsewhere.11 There were many complaints regarding impressment of personnel for shore party duties. It is understandable that each organization should feel it imperative that its equipment should be landed in the first wave, and its personnel employed solely in unloading that particular gear. This would be a splendid plan were it possible to place all equipment simultaneously on an "A" priority, but all supplies must be unloaded as they come ashore, no matter to which organization they have been assigned.
As an over-all matter, furthermore, analysis of the Northern Solomons campaign leads, ultimately, to one salient technical conclusion. Lumped together, the various operations of the campaign were primarily battles of technique--U.S. techniques against nature and the Japanese; enemy techniques against nature and the Americans. In this three-cornered struggle, the superiority of U.S. techniques, matériel, and technical organization inevitably won out.
By 2 November the initial assault phase of Bougainville--major Northern Solomons operation--was completed, and all immediate objectives had been attained. The Japanese naval task force--major threat to the landing itself--had been met, crippled, and routed. Enemy air on Bougainville beyond and to the rear of our Torokina beachhead had been at least temporarily neutralized or weakened to such an extent that his bases held no immediate threat to our landing. U.S. air supremacy made Japanese counter-landings and reinforcement impossible. Reinforcement of the enemy by land from southern Bougainville presented grave difficulties.
In order to exploit the advantages thus achieved, the defensive perimeter of the Bougainville beachhead had to be expanded, airstrips constructed, and a naval base established. The beachhead had to be supplied and reinforced by routes which followed a course within close range of several enemy airfields. Numerous enemy airfields had to be kept neutralized, and a constant guard maintained against enemy surface attack.
The purpose of a campaign in the Northern Solomons was to contain Rabaul. To accomplish this mission the decision to attack Bougainville was an ideal solution. The succeeding and antecedent operations at Treasury, Choiseul, Green and Emirau rounded out the whole entity of a successful campaign.
In March, 1944, Japanese officials stated:
. . . owing to the advance of the enemy sea and air bases, the constant bombardment of our bases from sea and air from enemy airplanes and PT boats and the interception of our rear supply route, supplies by transports were cut off from mid-October last year on. Since the end of December, some urgent matériel has been supplied by submarines. However, the movement and loading of submarines became impossible due to damage inflicted on Rabaul Naval Base by enemy bombing in late February, the sowing of magnetic mines in the neighboring sea, and continuous and persistent enemy air raids. Thus, supply by submarine was practically non-existent this month.12
The Northern Solomons campaign laid the foundations for a U.S. naval and air base deep in enemy territory, athwart Japanese lines of sea and air communications. This base would enlarge the number of available targets far beyond immediate objectives, to include New Britain and New Ireland. In by-passing the heaviest concentration of enemy troops, we had avoided a long ground campaign such as those necessarily fought at Guadalcanal and New Georgia.
Thousands of Japanese troops were left behind in southern Bougainville, the Shortlands and Choiseul, cut off from their sources of supplies.13
Full credit for the success of the boldly conceived and well planned campaign must be given to Admiral Halsey. He alone was ultimately responsible, not only for the conception, but also, with Generals Barrett, Vandegrift and Geiger, for the execution of the attack on Empress Augusta Bay.
The story of Bougainville and the Northern Solomons is perhaps not so arresting nor so stark as those of Tarawa or Iwo Jima, and received comparatively scant attention at the time, being forced to inner pages of the press by more dramatic contemporaneous events in the Gilberts and in Africa. The Northern Solomons was an essential campaign nevertheless, and it was as difficult and hard-fought in its own way as any that had preceded or any of those that followed. For more than two months the Marines fought not only the Japanese, but also swamp and jungle. There was intense opposition to the original landing not only from the Japanese, but even more so from nature.
In terms of the European war, it was a series of skirmishes between forces rarely larger than platoons, with difficulties of terrain and jungle making each advance doubly difficult. Yet, with all due sense of proportion, the principal engagements have the right to be called battles from the fierceness and bravery with which they were fought, and the important benefits gained from their favorable outcome.
Very few successful forces in the long history of warfare have been called upon to exhibit greater endurance and courage or more cohesion of effort. Our troops met and conquered not one but three enemies: Japanese, jungle, and swamp. From start to finish it was a slugging match in which one force was able to concentrate more power at a given point at a given time than another force.
Barring the inevitable derangements of warfare, which no amount of planning can nullify, the campaign was completely successful as an entity and in detail. Things went wrong at times, but situations were never so desperate that they could not be restored by suitable and determined action.
Nothing can be more certain than, once conceived and crystallized, the plan as carried out produced results of utmost importance. Operations on the Treasury Islands, Choiseul, Bougainville, Green, and Emirau, were additional markers on the highway that led to the quarterdeck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
The enemy fought with his customary tenacity and guile; his resistance in defended positions won the grudging admiration of our troops. But the Japanese were outguessed, outfought, and outnumbered at all crucial points in the disputed area.
In an effort to prevent the neutralization of Rabaul and stem our advance through the Northern Solomons, the Japanese had expended in excess of 10,000 lives, a minimum of 863 aircraft, 24 destroyers, two cruisers, one aircraft carrier, and numerous other vessels. On the other hand, to attain their goal, the U.S. forces sustained less than 1,000 killed and 2,834 wounded. Only 148 Allied planes and two destroyers were lost in combat. These figures furthermore, fail to take into account the 30,000 or more enemy who were by-passed by our forces, and allowed to wither on the vine.
In summing up the effects of the Bougainville operation, Admiral Sentaro Omori said:
When considered with the other actions of this campaign it appeared to me to be the climax of your advance up the Solomon Islands. After the battle you were able to establish bases in Bougainville which permitted you to maintain constant air assault on Rabaul, which prevented us from providing support and air cover to our bases on New Guinea and New Britain.14
The general mission assigned forces of the South Pacific Area had been accomplished. From airfields on Bougainville, Rabaul was neutralized, and the air arm of Japan was contained, enabling units of the Southwest Pacific Area to
advance along the northern coast of New Guinea and into the Philippines. In speaking of the overall result of the operation, Admiral Halsey said:
The Bougainville campaign was intended to accomplish the destruction of enemy air strength in the Bismarcks; not only was this accomplished, but the by-products of the campaign were so extensive that the subsequent operations at Green Island and Emirau were accomplished virtually without enemy opposition, and the entire enemy offensive potential in the Bismarcks area was destroyed. In the matter of ultimate achievement and importance in the Pacific War, the Bougainville operation was successful beyond our greatest hopes.15
The campaign for the Northern Solomons virtually ended as the Bougainville operation came to a close. The top of the Solomons ladder had been reached, and a junction of forces of the South and the Southwest Pacific was effected.
With the coming of spring, in 1944, U.S. forces could again begin operations northwestward against undefended and isolated spots with a minimum of exposure. Within a year, Americans would land in the Philippines. Victories of Marines in the Northern Solomons had assured other American troops of easier going elsewhere.
HIS SOUVENIR A JAPANESE FLAG, this Marine has finished his part in the establishment of the perimeter and now heads toward the beach to leave the island. Although some serious fighting took place months later, the work of troops especially trained for amphibious operations was completed.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (4) * Next Chapter (Appendix I)
1. See page 6 for discussion of this plan.
2. Campaigns, 7.
3. Caused by the necessity of flying over or around Bougainville mountains.
4. King, op. cit., 103-104.
5. IMAC Opn Rpt, I, 1-2.
6. IMAC Opn Rpt, I, 2.
7. 3d AmphFor Opn Rpt, 17.
8. This is in itself amazing when it is considered that the Japanese had approximately 50,000 troops in the Northern Solomons, and were not unwilling to use them. The strength of an American division at this time was less than 18,000 men.
9.3d Marines AR, VIIIa.
10. IMAC Opn Rpt, II, 348-388. Many commanders reported on the value of the LVT's, e. g., CO 3d Med Bn Rpt, CO 9th Mar Rpt, et al.
11. 12th Marines Action Report, Bougainville, 2.
12. CIG 87424, 6.
13. Combat Narratives, 71, 75-76; Campaigns, 152.
14. Interrogations, II, 337-338, 566. Vice Admiral Sentaro Omori, I. J. N., was a regular officer of 30 years service. As commander, 5th cruiser division and officer in tactical command, he led the night cruiser action at Empress Augusta Bay, 1-2 November 1943. He was Commander in Chief of the Rabaul assault force from 15 October to 15 November 1943, and as such was thoroughly acquainted with Japanese dispositions in that area.
15. Halsey, SoPac Narrative, 12.
Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation