Polishing Skills in the Russells
Moving Up the Solomons
The first real move north was to Rendova Island in the New Georgia Group about 180 miles northwest of Lunga Point, but this most worthwhile step was preceded by an advance a stone's throw away to the Russell Islands lying only 30 miles northwest of Guadalcanal Island.
It was more than several months after Rear Admiral Turner arrived at Noumea from Guadalcanal for the first time, on 13 August 1942, before he started to think about, and his staff started to plan, the first offensive step forward from Guadalcanal to Rabaul.
The Amphibians had learned a good deal from the August landings at Tulagi and Guadalcanal, and they continued to learn a great deal during the long, hard five months' struggle to maintain logistic support for these two important toe holds in the Southern Solomons. By January 1943, marked changes had occurred in their thinking about the techniques of support through and over a beachhead, and new amphibious craft were just becoming available. They were anxious to test these changes and the new craft on a strange shore.
Ten days after the 13th of August arrival at Noumea, recommendations for improvement in the logistic area of the landing phases of amphibious operations had been sought from all commands in TF 62 by Rear Admiral Turner. It was on the basis of the recommendations received, that Commander Amphibious Forces SOPAC made proposals for revisions in Fleet Training Publication (FTP) 167, the Amphibians' Bible, and it was on the basis of these recommendations and those coming in from the Atlantic
Note: With the close of Chapter XII, Admiral Turner disappears, with very minor exceptions duly noted, as a direct source of information, comment and opinions not only of this work, but of the events related.
The author, due to Admiral Turner's sudden death, did not have the opportunity to discuss with him, in detail, any of the later operations of the World War II amphibious campaigns of the Pacific.
Fleet after the North African Landings that COMINCH issued on 18 January 1943, Ship to Shore Movement U.S. Fleet FTP 211.
This new publication brought into step the differing procedures used by amphibious ships trained separately in the Atlantic and the Pacific Fleet. It expanded markedly the Naval Platoon of the Shore Party, and more clearly defined its duties during the crucial early hours of logistic support of an assault landing.1
The last of the Japanese troops evacuated Guadalcanal on 7-8 February 1943, at which time WATCHTOWER could be marked in the books as completed. The pressure was immediately on the amphibians to get moving.
Thirteen days later the amphibious forces of the South Pacific Area landed in major strength on the Russell Islands.
This landing, on 21 February 1943, if it did not do anything else, fulfilled Major General Vandegrift's requirement that
. . . landings should not be attempted in the face of organized resistance if, by any combination of march or maneuver, it is possible to land unopposed and undetected. . . .2
The Russell Islands landings were made unopposed and undetected. Since there was no blood and gore associated with the operation, it has been brushed off lightly in most historical accounts of the period.
The Planning Stage
Admiral Nimitz visited the South Pacific in late January 1943 in company with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. At a COMSOPAC conference of principal commanders and their planning officers on 23 January 1943, COMSOPAC had Brigadier General Peck of his staff present to Admiral Nimitz a concept for a Russell Islands operation. COMSOPAC received from CINCPAC a tentative and unofficial approval, tempered by a cautionary "No
decision will be reached" which really meant "go ahead with the planning while my staff back in Pearl takes a hard look at the proposition."3
In this connection, the memory of the COMPHIBFORSOPAC's Chief of Staff at the time is that:
Admiral Turner conceived the idea of taking over the Russell Islands, some 60 or 70 miles N.W. of Henderson Field, and up towards 'The Slot.' Admiral Halsey was lukewarm on the idea, he wanted something on a larger scale. However, he said 'go ahead, as some kind of action is better than none.'4
Shortly thereafter, on 28 January, COMSOPAC informed CINCPAC that if the reconnaissance then underway indicated the Russell Islands were undefended, he planned immediate occupation. After CINCPAC gave his formal approval (29 January) and despite somewhat misleading information received from the coast-watcher intelligence organization about "enemy activity Russell Islands increasing," COMSOPAC issued his preliminary operational warning order to the prospective commanders involved on 7 February 1943. COMSOPAC issued his despatch Operation Order first and then his Plan
The Staff Allowance, Commander Amphibious Force South Pacific: Rear Admiral Kelly Turner in center with Colonel Henry D. Linscott, USMC, Assistant Chief of Staff, on his right and Captain James H. Doyle, USN, Operations Officer, on his left.
5-43 for the landings, code named CLEANSLATE, on 12 and 15 February 1942.5
The Russell Islands are 60 miles west-northwest of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The two main islands of the Russells are Pavuvu and Banika, the former being about twice the size of the latter which is nearest Guadalcanal. The first named island, mainly a 1,500-foot jungled foothill in 1943, is fanged in shape and about eight miles north and south by seven miles east and west. The latter island is about eight miles by two miles and is slotted by two comfortable inlets, one on its east coast, the other on its west coast. While there is a 400-foot high knob in the southern part of Banika, the rest of the island is low and in 1943 was clear of jungle although with many beautiful coconut trees. It was judged suitable for an airfield.
These two main islands, separated by Sunlight Channel half a mile wide, are surrounded by dozens of small islands extending to ten to twelve miles off shore, particularly to the eastward. The most vivid remembrances of those who touched stays with the Russells were of "rain, mud, and magnificent coconuts."
When Commander South Pacific Area issued his final CLEANSLATE Operation Plan, he initiated an action with a major resemblance to its predecessor, the WATCHTOWER Operation, in that there was to be no long planning period available to Rear Admiral Turner's staff prior to the actual landing just nine days away.
The major purposes assigned by COMSOPAC for the operation were:
- to strengthen the defense of Guadalcanal, and
- to establish a staging point for landing craft preliminary to further forward movement.
The mission also included establishing an advanced motor torpedo base, an advanced air base, and radar installations.6
Rear Admiral Turner, COMPHIBSOPAC, was named as the Commander of the Joint Force designated Task Force 61, with the Commanding General 43rd Division, Major General John H. Hester, U.S. Army, being the Commander Landing Force.
Despite the fact that in February 1943 none of the Landing Force troops were in the Guadalcanal area except the Army Regiment designated as Troop Reserve, and the anti-aircraft contingent of the 11th Marine Defense Battalion, Task Force 61 was tailored for a "shore to shore" amphibious task.
Movement Chart, CLEANSLATE.
In the language of the amphibians this meant that the assault movement of personnel and material would move direct from a shore staging area to the landing beaches of the assault objective, involving no further transfers between types of landing craft or into landing boats during the assault movement. The shore staging area designated for CLEANSLATE was Koli Point, Guadalcanal. Gavutu Island in Purvis Bay would handle the overflow.
Such a "shore to shore movement" meant that the long distance over-water movement to Guadalcanal of the amphibious troops participating in the D-Day initial landings of the CLEANSLATE Operation had to be carried out prior to the final embarkation at Guadalcanal for the assault.
A desire to effect complete surprise if the Japanese were still in the Russells, or if they were not, a desire to deny the Japanese knowledge of the occupation of the Russells for as long as possible, prompted the decision to carry out a shore-to-shore-type operation.7
The TF 61 organization for CLEANSLATE was as follows:
CLEANSLATE Organization--TF 61
TG 61.1. Transport Group--Rear Admiral Turner (1908)
TU 61.1.1 TRANSDIV Twelve--Commander John D.l Sweeney (1926)
Stringham (APD-6) Lieutenant Commander Adolphe Wildner (1932)
Manley (APD-1) Lieutenant Otto C. Schatz (1934)
Humphreys (APD-14) Lieutenant Commander Maurice J. Carley, USNR
Sands (APD-13) Lieutenant Commander John J. Branson (1927)
Each with 4 LCP(L) and 15 LCR(L) on board.
TU 61.1.2 Mine Group--Commander Stanley Leith (1923)
Hopkins (DMS-13) Lieutenant Commander Francis M. Peters, Jr. (1931)
Trever (DMS-16) Lieutenant Commander Joseph C. Wylie (1932)
Southard (DMS-10) Lieutenant Commander John G. Tennent, III (1932)
Maury (DD-401) Commander Gelzer L. Sims (1925)
McCall (DD-400) Commander William S. Veeder (1925)
TU 61.1.3 TRANSDIV Dog--Commander Wilfrid Nyquist (1921)
Saufley (DD-465) Commander Bert F. Brown (1926)
Craven (DD-382) Lieutenant Commander Francis T. Williamson (1931
Hovey (DMS-11) Lieutenant Commander Edwin A. McDonald (1931)
*Gridley (DD-380) Commander Fred R. Stickney (1925)
Zane (DMS-14) Lieutenant Commander Peyton L. Wirtz (1931)
TU 61.1.4 TRANSDIV Easy--Commander Thomas J. Ryan (1921)
Wilson (DD-408)Lieutenant Commander Walter H. Price (1927)
Landsdowne (DD-486) Lieutenant Commander Francis J. Foley (1931)
LCT-158 Lieutenant Edgar M. Jaeger, USNR, LCT-58, LCT-60
LCT-159 Lieutenant (jg) Frank M. Wiseman, USNCR, LCT-156, LCT-369
LCT-181 Lieutenant Ashton L. Jones, USNR, LCT-62, LCT-322
LCT-63 Lieutenant (jg) Ameel Z. Kouri, USNR, LCT-323, LCT-367
Each destroyer types except Hopkins, Wilson, and Landsdowne towing 1 LCM, 1 LCV and 2 LCP.
TU 61.1.5 Service Group--Lieutenant James L. Foley (1929)
Bobolink (AT-131) with 1000-ton flat top lighter in tow.
TG 61.2 Attack Group--Lieutenant Allen H. Harris, USNR
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron TWO (THREE) PT-36
8 of the 11 boats in the Squadron were to be picked for the operation.
TG 61.1 Occupation Force--Major General Hester
TU 61.3.1 Landing Force--Major General Hester
43rd Infantry Division (less 172nd Combat Team)
3rd Marine Raider Battalion (temporarily attached)
one-third 11th Marine Defense Battalion
one platoon of COmpany B, 579th Aircraft Warning Battalion (Radar)
one regiment from CACTUS Force (when assigned)
TU 61.3.2 Naval Base--Commander Charles E. Olsen (1919)
Naval Advance Base Force
one-half 35th Construction Battalion
Naval Communication Units
CLEANSLATE Boat Pool (50 boats)
* Gridley substituted for Hovey in initial movement.
At the Landing Craft Level
The Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) of 1942-43 was 112 feet over-all, had a 32-foot beam, and a draft of a little over three feet. It was normally expected to carry four 40-ton tanks or to load 150 to 180 tons or about 5,760 cubic feet of cargo. Its actual speed, loaded and in a smooth sea, was a bit more than six knots, although it had a designed speed of ten knots. These large tank landing craft, which shipyards in the United States started to deliver in large numbers in September and October of 1942, were the first of their kind to be used offensively in the South Pacific.
The LCT had but one commissioned officer and 12 to 14 men aboard them when they arrived in the South Pacific. The LCT's were not commissioned ships of the Navy, the one officer being designated as the Officer in Charge. They had insufficient personnel to keep a ship's log, much less a war diary, and by and large they passed in and out of their service in the Navy leaving no individual record, except in the memories of those who served in them or had some service performed by them. Presumably, the LCT Flotilla and LCT Group Commanders kept a log and a war diary, but if they did so, by and large they have not survived to reach the normal repositories of such documents.
The first mention of the LCT in Rear Admiral Turner's Staff Log occurs on 19 December 1942, when 6 LCT (5) were reported at Noumea loading for Guadalcanal. Presumably the LCT arrived on station earlier that month.
Through the leadership efforts of Rear Admiral George H. Fort (1912), his Chief of Staff, Captain Benton W. Decker (1920), and after arrival in SOPAC his senior landing craft subordinate, Captain Grayson B. Carter (1919), the Landing Craft Flotillas, PHIBFORSOPAC, were trained under forced draft. After only 12 months of war, the landing craft were manned to a marked extent with officers and men who had entered the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. To assist in the training, Commander Landing Craft Flotillas in due time issued a comprehensive Doctrine full of instructions and information for the dozens of landing craft moving into the SOPAC command during the January to June period in 1943.8 The LCT "Veterans" of CLEANSLATE became the nuclei for this massive training effort.
As a matter of record, the first 12 LCT's to get their bottoms crinkled in war operations in the South Pacific were LCT-58, 60, 62, 63, 156, 158, 159, 181, 322, 323, 367, 369, organized administratively as follows:
LCT Flotilla Five--Lieutenant Edgar M. Jaeger, USNR
LCT Group 13--Lieutenant Ashton L. Jones, USNR
LCT Division 25--Lieutenant Ashton L. Jones, USNRLCT Group 14--Lieutenant Decatur Jones, USNR
LCT-58--Ensign Edward H. Burtt, USNRLCT Division 26--Lieutenant (jg) Ameel Z. Kouri, USNR
LCT-60--Ensign Austin H. Volk, USNR
LCT-156--Ensign Richard T. Eastin, Jr., USNR
LCT-158--Ensign Edward J. Ruschmann, USNR
LCT-159--Ensign John A. McNiel
LCT-62--Ensign Robert T. Capeless, USNR
LCT-63--Ensign Lunsford L. Shelton, USNR
LCT Division 27--Lieutenant Decatur Jones, USNRLCT Group 15--Lieutenant Laurence C. Lisle, USNR
LCT-322--Ensign Carl M. Barrett, USNRLCT Division 28--
LCT-323--Ensign Carl T. Geisler, USNR
LCT-367--Ensign Robert Carr, USNR
LCT-369--Ensign Walter B. Gillette, USNR
LCT Division 29--Lieutenant Laurence C. Lisle, USNR
LCT-181--Ensign Herbert D. SolomonLCT Division 30--Lieutenant (jg) Frank M. Wiseman, USNR
Most of the senior officers in this organization (Jaeger, A.L. Jones, Kouri, and Wiseman) participated in CLEANSLATE. They got the LCT's off to a good start in the South Pacific.
The largest landing craft carried by the amphibious transports and cargo ships was the Landing Craft, Medium (LCM). The LCM could carry 30 tons or 2,200 cubic feet of cargo. Amongst the smaller shipborne landing craft, both the Higgins Landing Craft, Personnel (LCP) and the ramp LCV could transport 36 men or one medium tank. The destroyers which had been converted into fast transports could carry 200 troops and limited amounts of these troops' equipment. The converted fast minesweepers could carry somewhat fewer troops.
The Spit Kit Expeditionary Force
Task Force 61, in effect the Joint Expeditionary Force, consisted of the Army troops and Marines in the 9,000 Landing Force, seven destroyers (Craven, Gridley, Landsdowne, Maury, McCall, Saufley, Wilson), four fast destroyer-type transports (Stringham, Manley, Humphreys, Sands), four fast minesweepers, the logistic service ship Bobolink, eight motor torpedo boats
(PTs) of Torpedo Boat Squadron Two, and twelve LCT's of Landing Craft Tank Flotilla Five.
The TF 61 Operation order for CLEANSLATE indicates that the 12 LCT's were from LCT Group 13, but as a matter of fact there were seven LCT's from Group 13, four LCT's from Group 14, and one from Group 15, all temporarily assigned to LCT Group 13 for operational control.
Of the 16 ships, 108 large and small landing craft and 8 motor torpedo boats in the spit kit amphibious force and CLEANSLATE, only the fast minesweepers Hopkins, Trever, Southward, and Zane, and the destroyer Wilson of the ships in the original WATCHTOWER invasion task force shared with Rear Admiral Turner the satisfaction of participating in the initial phase of the first forward island jumping movement of the South Pacific Area. The Hovey (DMS-11) lost out on this high honor when she did not arrive at Guadalcanal in time to load and the Gridley (DD-380) was substituted for her in the initial phase of CLEANSLATE.
In addition to the 43rd Infantry Division (less its 172nd Regimental Combat Team) the major units named to participate in the operation were the Marine 3rd Raider Battalion, anti-aircraft elements of the Marine 11th Defense Battalion, half of the 35th Naval Construction Battalion and ACORN Three, and the naval unit designated to construct, operate, and maintain the planned aircraft facilities on Banika Island. An ACORN was an airfield assembly designed to construct, operate, and maintain an advanced land plane and seaplane base and provide facilities for operation. Marine Air Group 21 and the 10th Marine Defense Battalion were enroute to the South Pacific Area and were to be assigned to the Russells upon arrival.
CLEANSLATE was the first major amphibious island jumping operation where radar-equipped planes, "Black Cats," were used to cover all of the night movements of our own ship and craft against the approach of enemy surface and air forces.
CTF 63, COMAIRSOPACFOR, Vice Admiral Fitch, was ordered to provide long-range air search, anti-aircraft cover, anti-submarine screen and air strikes. If needed, he would supply direct air support during the landing and advance from the beaches.
Cruiser Division 12, at the moment commanded by Captain Aaron S. (Tip) Merrill, about to be elevated to Flag rank, was ordered to provide immediate
support to TF 61, and the fast carrier task forces were ordered to be within supporting distance of the Russells on D-Day to deal with any major Japanese Naval Forces entering the lower Solomons.
When COMSOPAC issued his despatch Operation Order for CLEANSLATE on Lincoln's birthday, 1943, the 43rd Division troops, ACORN Three, and the naval base personnel were in New Caledonia 840 miles south of Guadalcanal, while the Marine raiders and the construction battalion were in Espiritu Santo 560 miles to the south.
By the time the unanticipated needs and expressed desires of the Commander Landing Force, who doubled as Commander Occupation Force, had been met, the Landing Force totaled over 15,000. CINCPAC's Staff, after receiving COMSOPAC's list of CLEANSLATE participating forces, noted in their Daily Command Summary:
The forces planned for this operation are greatly in excess of those mentioned in the recent conference between Admirals Nimitz and Halsey. [i.e. one Raider Battalion and part of a Defense Battalion.]9
The staging movement of Army troops and Marines, Seabees, and other naval personnel into Guadalcanal and Gavutu was accomplished in large transports and cargo ships, six echelons arriving before D-Day, 21 February, and four follow-up echelons moving through after the 21st.
During the nine-day period between the issuance of COMSOPAC's CLEANSLATE Operation Order and the actual landing, two groups of observers from TF 61 visited the Russells and reported that the islands had recently been evacuated by the Japanese. These parties obtained detailed information in regard to landing beaches and selected camp locations and anti-aircraft gun sites. The second group remained to welcome the Task Force, and marked the landing beaches to be used. This was a task later to be taken over under more difficult and dangerous conditions by the Underwater Demolition Teams.
The main movement of the amphibians from the staging areas to the Russells was planned and completed in four major echelons. Over 4,000 of these were landed in the Russells from the first echelon ships and craft on the first day.
The over-water movement from Koli Point, Guadalcanal, to the Russells for the initial landings was planned and largely carried out as shown on the accompanying movement chart.
During the preliminary movement when the first echelon of the 43rd Division was being staged the 840 miles from New Caledonia to Koli Point, Rear Admiral Turner moved with them in the McCawley which carried part of the amphibian troops. On 16 February 1943, he shifted his operational staff ashore to Koli Point from the McCawley. During the first phase of the CLEANSLATE landing operations he flew his flag in the fast mine-sweeper Hopkins, and commanded the Transport Group, TG 61.1.
On 19 February 1943, one task group (4 APA, 1 AO, 6 DD) carrying the second echelon of the amphibians and their logistic support from Noumea to the Koli staging area on Guadalcanal was subjected to a seven aircraft Japanese torpedo plane attack when about 20 miles east of the southern tip of San Cristobal Island. By radical maneuver, the transports and their destroyer escorts escaped damage, and by spirited anti-aircraft fire accounted for five Japanese aircraft lost. Otherwise, the ten-day preparation period was largely unhampered by the Japanese.
Rear Admiral Turner's (CTF 61) and Commander Landing Force's orders called for three simultaneous landing at dawn on 21 February 1943. These were (1) on the north of Pavuvu Island at Pepesala Bay, (2) at Renard Sound on the east coast of Banika Island, and (3) at Wernham Cove on the southwest coast of Banika Island. According to Rear Admiral Turner's Operation Order:
The landing beaches in the Russells are bad, with much coral. Every precaution will be taken to prevent damage to boats, particularly propellers.10
For the initial landings totaling 4,030 officers and enlisted11 on Pavuvu and Banika, more than 200 men were ferried on each of the seven destroyers, four destroyer transports, and four fast minesweepers. Additionally, all the destroyers except the Wilson (DD-408) and the Lansdowne (DD-486), which were designated for anti-submarine patrolling around the task units, and all the fast minesweepers (less the Hopkins, designated both as Flagship
The CLEANSLATE Objective.
and for anti-submarine patrolling) towed four landing craft: two Landing Craft, Personnel (LCP) and two Landing Craft, Vehicle (1 LCV and LCM). The four fast transports each carried, in addition to troops, four LCVPs and 15 rubber landing boats. The mighty Bobolink (AT-121) towed a 1,000-ton flat top lighter for use at Wernham Cove.
For the initial landings:
The plan was for destroyers carrying a naval base unit and certain number of troops to tow LCVs and LCVPs from naval bases at Guadalcanal and Gavutu (near Tulagi). I can remember the Operations Officer, Captain Doyle, designing towing bridles for these small craft and ordering several of our vessels to make up a number of them.12
* * * * *During three nights prior to the first movement, special pains were taken to obtain radar information as to the detailed night movement of enemy planes near GUADALCANAL and especially along the route from there to the RUSSELLS. The radar showed enemy planes were operating every night in areas to the westward of SAVO ISLAND from shortly after dark until about an hour before midnight. Consequently, movements of the CLEANSLATE force to the westward of SAVO were withheld until after that hour on
CLEANSLATE went off with precision, but without fanfare or publicity since it was believed that the Japanese were unaware of the preparations for the operation or its execution. So besides radio silence, there was press and public relations silence. All the ships and landing craft, except one LCT with engine trouble, departed for their return passages to Guadalcanal by 1230 on D-Day.
February 20th, and [after final] decision was made to effect the first landing at daybreak the 21st.13
The 800 men of the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion, which had missed out on the WATCHTOWER Operation, were loaded onto four destroyer transports at Koli Point and at 0600 on 21 February landed on Beach Red in Pepesala (Paddy) Bay, Pavuvu Island, where the Japanese formerly had their main strength and where Major General Hester, Commander Landing Force, in his Operation Order expressed the opinion "definite possibilities exist that enemy patrols and small units may be located."
Rear Admiral Turner, Major General Hester, and their operational staffs went ashore from the Hopkins onto Beach Yellow in Wernham Cove, Banika Island. They landed just after 800 troops from two DDs and two DMSs and additional troops ferried in by eight LCT's had landed. The Naval Base Headquarters was established on the north side of Wernham Cove.
Another 800 troops from three DDs and one DMS and additional troops aboard four LCT's landed at Beach Blue, Renard South. Most of the Banika Island troops came from the 103rd Regimental Combat Team of the 43rd Infantry Division.
A follow-up landing of 800 troops from the 169th Infantry Regiment of the 43rd Division, U.S. Army, took place on the sandy beaches of Pepesala (Paddy) Bay in northern Pavuvu Island, early on the morning of 22 February, the day after the Marines had landed in this area. At the same time 1,400 more troops landed at Beach Yellow in Wernham Cove.
The second to fourth follow-up echelons moved on D plus 2, D plus 3, and D plus 4. The ships and craft continued to make most all their movements between Guadalcanal and the Russells at night, so as not to alert the Japanese to the operation. The destroyer-types made a complete round trip at night, while the LCT's largely made one-way passage each night. No public disclosure of the landing was immediately made and the base at CLEANSLATE maintained radio silence.
In two days 7,000 troops were landed. By 15 March, 15,500 troops were in the Russells and by 18 April when, at long last, command passed to the Commanding General, Guadalcanal, 16,000 men were busy there and no less than 48,517 tons of supplies had arrived there by amphibious effort. The Japanese did not react to the occupation for 15 days. On 6 March 1943, they made the first of a series of air raids.
Commander Charles Eugene Olsen (1919), who had successfully skippered the early base building efforts at Tongatabu, and who had impressed Rear Admiral Turner when he had flown through the Tonga Islands in July 1942, was brought down and given the task of building the Advanced Naval Base in the Russell Islands. By the end of March, on Banika Island, there was a good airfield with three fighter squadrons on Marine Air Group 21, a motor torpedo base (at Renard Sound) and a growing supply activity.
Old Man Weather and his twin, navigational hazard, unhappily put three destroyer-types (Lansdowne, Stringham, Sands) on the beach on February 26th. The landing craft had a normal ration of unintentional groundings and breakdowns, but none of the destroyer-types became permanent additions to the Russells.
Airfield on Banika Island in the Russells.(NH 69103)
COMPHIBFORSOPAC report of the operation stated that:
As soon as all forces had landed, the airfield constructed, and stocks of ten units of fire and sixty days supplies built up, command was to pass to the Commanding General at Guadalcanal.
Long before this blessed event occurred, Rear Admiral George H. Fort relieved Rear Admiral Turner as Commander Task Force 61 (on 3 March 1943) and Rear Admiral Turner returned to Noumea to continue his favorite chore of planning the next operation.
This CLEANSLATE Operation, with its most appropriate code name for the Southern Solomons, has been both praised and superciliously sneered at. Time Magazine, for example, said the
operation went more smoothly [than Guadalcanal]. The Japs had evacuated.14
A week after the initial landings in the Russells, CTF 61 (Turner) sent out a routine logistical support despatch report to his superiors. Rear Admiral Turner listed the considerable number of troops and quantities of material already in the Russells and the extensive logistic support movements planned for the Russells during the next weeks. The sending of the despatch was prompted by COMSOPAC's urgent desires to begin to get ready to move further up the Solomon Islands chain toward Rabaul, and by the desire of one of his subordinates (Turner) to give him some heartening news of logistic readiness.15
This despatch came into COMINCH's Headquarters at a time when the question of Phase Two operations following Phase One of PESTILENCE operations was under daily review. Admiral King, as always, was against diversionary use of limited resources. So he reacted sharply. And while he very possibly set COMSOPAC and CINCPAC back on their heels for an instant, he also gave them an opportunity to enlighten the big boss on what they were hoping and planning to do reasonably soon.16
Although it has been inferred by several authors that Admiral King questioned the worth of the CLEANSLATE Operation by this despatch, this is
not so.17 What Admiral King questioned was the extent and purpose of the build-up in the Russell Islands following CLEANSLATE. His despatch contained these questioning words:
. . . What useful purpose is being served by operations on scale indicated by CTF 61's 270628? . . .
Admiral Nimitz and Vice Admiral Halsey supplied these satisfying answers to Admiral King:
Halsey is planning to take Vila-Munda with target date April 10.
Troops and material [are] headed in proper direction and thus completing first stage of next movement.
In June 1943, Rear Admiral Turner made a simple exposition to newspaper correspondents as to why we needed the Russells, before moving into the central Solomons:
. . . It was simply because we must have fighter coverage for Rendova. We couldn't have fighters from Guadal[canal]. It's that extra little distance west that makes coverage possible for Rendova [from the Russells].
* * * * *From Rendova to the Russells is 125 miles, from Guadal to the Russells 60 miles.18
When the Russell Islands logistical support movements were completed, COMSOPAC took note of this and smartly changed the code name of the Russells to EMERITUS.
From the point of view of both COMSOPAC and COMPHIBFORSOPAC, the Russells had two great advantages over any and all other immediately possible objectives necessary to carry out the 2 July 1942 Joint Chiefs of Staff directive. The Russells (1) were on the direct line from Guadalcanal to Rabaul and (2) they lay within COMSOPAC's command area, so that high level arrangements in regard to command did not have to be negotiated, a process taking weeks or months. It is merely a guess but the latter reason surely carried the greater weight with COMSOPAC in choosing a spot where a quick operation could be carried out when WATCHTOWER was completed.
A complementary benefit, however, was operational. The amphibians had an excellent opportunity to put together the dozens of suggestions arising out of WATCHTOWER for the improvement of amphibious operations and test them under conditions far more rugged than any rear area rehearsal could provide. The Russells added not only skill but confidence to the amphibians. As Rear Admiral Turner pointed out:
During the course of the operation a technique was developed for the movement of troops and cargo from a forward base to a nearby objective without the use of APAs and AKAs. It is expected that the experience of this operation will prove useful in planning future offensives.
The CLEANSLATE Operation again demonstrated that the overwater movement and landing of the first echelon of troops is only the initial step in a continuous amphibious series, all of which are integral parts of the same venture. Success of the venture depends upon the ability to deliver safely not only the first, but also the succeeding echelons of troops, engineers, ancillary units, equipment and operating and upkeep supplies and replacements. The aggregate of personnel and cargo for the later movements is far greater than that carried initially. Each movement requires protection, and losses in transit from the logistic bases to the combat position must be kept low enough to be acceptable. It is particularly when small vessels are used that an uninterrupted stream of them must be maintained.
The first movement for the seizure of a position; the exploitation on shore of that position; the long series of succeeding movements of troops and material, together form a single operation. All parts must be accomplished, under satisfactory security conditions if the whole operation is to be successful.19
From the period of its activation in July 1942 to the completion of its first major tasks in January 1943, the Amphibious Force, South Pacific had about the same number of ships and landing craft assigned with replacements being supplied for ships sunk or worn out in war service. But there was a steadily growing prospect of a real increase in size when the coastal transports and larger landing craft, building or training on the East and West Coasts of the United States, were finally cut loose and sailed to the South Pacific to fulfill their war assignment.
By late January 1943, the ships and landing craft assigned to the Amphibious Force South Pacific had grown sufficiently so that a new organization was established as follows:
USS MCCawley (APA-4) FORCE FLAGSHIP
Commander R.H. Rodgers (1923)
TRANSPORT GROUP, SOUTH PACIFIC AMPHIBIOUS FORCE
Captain L.F. Reifsnider (1910)
COMTRANSDIV Two Captain I.N. Kiland (1917)
APA-18 President Jackson (F) Commander C.W. Weitzel (1917)COMTRANSDIV Eight Captain G.B. Ashe (1911)
APA-20 President Hayes Commander F.W. Benson (1917)
APA-19 President Adams Captain Frank H. Dean (1917)
AKA-8 Algorab Captain J.R. Lannon (1919)
APA-17 American Legion (F) Commander R.C. Welles (1919)COMTRANSDIV Ten Captain Lawrence F. Reifsnider (1910)
APA-27 George Clymer Captain A.T. Moen (1918)
APA-21 Crescent City Captain J.R. Sullivan (1918)
AKA-12 Libra Commander W.B. Fletcher (1920)
AKA-6 Alchiba Commander H.R. Shaw (1929)
APA-14 Hunter Liggett (F) Captain L.W. Perkins, USCGCOMTRANSDIV 12 Commander John D. Sweeney (1926)
APA-23 John Penn Captain Harry W. Need (1918)
AKA-9 Alhena Commander Howard W. Bradbury (1920)
AKA-5 Fomalhaut Commander Henry C. Flanagan (1919)
APD-6 Strinham (F) Lieutenant Commander Adolphe Wildner (1932)
APD-1 Manley Lieutenant Otto C. Schatz (1934)
APD-5 McKean Lieutenant Ralph L. Ramey (1935)
APD-7 Talbot Lieutenant Commander Charles C. Morgan, USNRCOMTRANSDIV 14 Captain Paul S. Theiss (1912)
APD-8 Waters Lieutenant Charles J. McWhinnie, USNR
APD-9 Dent Lieutenant Commander Ralph A. Wilhelm, USNR
APA-15 Henry T. Allen (F) Captain Paul A. Stevens (1913)COMTRANSDIV 16 Lieutenant Commander James S. Willis (1927)
APA-7 Fuller Captain Henry E. Thornhill (1921)
APA-4 McCawley (FF) Commander Robert H. Rodgers (1923)
AKA-13 Titania Commander Victor C. Barringer (1918)
APD-10 Brooks (F) Lieutenant Commander John W. Ramey (1932)
APD-11 Gilmer Lieutenant Commander John S. Horner, USNR
APD-14 Humphreys Lieutenant Commander Maurice J. Carley, USNR
APD-13 Sands Lieutenant Commander John J. Branson (1927)
LANDING CRAFT FLOTILLAS
Rear Admiral George H. Fort (1912)
LST Flotilla Five Captain Grayson B. Carter (1919)
LST Groups 13, 14, 15
LST GROUP 13
Commander Roger W. Cutler, USNR
LST Division 25
LST-446 Lieutenant William A. SmallLST Division 26
LST-447 (FF) Lieutenant Frank H. Storms, USNR
LST-448 Ensign Charles E. Roeschke
LST-449 Lieutenant Carlton Livingston
LST-460 Lieutenant Everett Weire
LST-472 Lieutenant William O. Talley
LST-339 Lieutenant John H. Fulweiller, USNR
LST-340 (FF) Lieutenant William Villella
LST-395 Lieutenant Alexander C. Forbes, USNR
LST-396 Lieutenant Eric W. White
LST-397 Lieutenant Nathaniel L. Lewis, USNR
LST-398 (F) Lieutenant Boyd E. Blanchard, USNR
LST GROUP 14
Commander Paul S. Slawson (1920)
LST Division 27
LST Division 28
LCI Flotilla Five Commander Chester L. Walton (1920)
LCI Groups 13, 14, 15
LCI GROUP 13 (LCI-67 Flag)
Lieutenant Commander Marion M. Byrd (1927)
LCI Division 25
LCI-61 (F) Lieutenant John P. Moore, USNR
LST-62 Lieutenant (jg) William C.Lyons (12570)
LST-63 Lieutenant (jg) John H.l McCarthy, USNR
LST-64 Lieutenant Herbert L. Kelley, USNR
LST-65 Lieutenant (jg) Christopher R. Tompkins, USNR
LST-66 Lieutenant Charles F. Houston, Jr., USNR
LCI Division 26
LCI(L)-21 Ensign Marshall M. Cook, USNR
LCI(L)-22 Lieutenant (jg) Spencer V. Hinckley,USNR
LCI-67 (F) Lieutenant (jg) Ernest E. Tucker, USNR
LCI-68 Lieutenant Clifford D.Older, USNR
LCI-69 Lieutenant Frazier L. O'Leary,USNR
LCI-70 Lieutenant (jg) Harry W. Frey, USNR
LCI GROUP 14 (LCI-327 Flag)
Lieutenant Commander Alfred V. Janotta, USNR
LCI Division 27
LCI-327 (F) Lieutenant (jg) North H. Newton, USNR
LCI-328 Lieutenant Joseph D. Kerr, USNR
LCI-329 Lieutenant William A. Illing, USNR
LCI-330 Lieutenant (jg) Homer G. Maxey,USNR
LCI-331 Lieutenant RIchard O. Shelton, USNR
LCI-332 Lieutenant William A. Neilson, USNR
LCI Division 28
LCI(L)-23 Lieutenant Ben A. Thirkfield, USNR
LCI(L)-24 Lieutenant (jg) Raymond E. Ward (12444)
LCI-333 Lieutenant Horace Townsend, USNR
LCI-334 Lieutenant (jg) Alfred J. Ormston, USNR
LCI-335 Lieutenant (jg) John R. Powers, USNR
LCI-336 Lieutenant (jg) Thomas A. McCoy, USNR
LCI GROUP 15
Commander J. McDonald Smith (1925)
LCI Division 29
LCI-222 Ensign Clarence M. Reese, USNR
LCI-223 Lieutenant Frank P. Stone, USNR
LCI Division 30
LCT Flotilla Five Lieutenant Edgar Jaeger, USN
LCT Groups 13, 14, 15
LCT GROUP 13LCT Division 25 Lieutenant A.L. Jones, USNR
Lieutenant Ashton L. Jones, USNR
LCT Division 26 Lieutenant (jg) Ameel Z. Kouri, USNR
LCT GROUP 14LCT Division 27 Lieutenant Decatur Jones, USNR
Lieutenant Decatur Jones, USNR
LCT Division 28 Lieutenant (jg) Thomas B. Willard, USNR
LCT GROUP 15LCT Division 29 Lieutenant Laurence C. Lisle, USNR
Lieutenant Laurence C. Lisle, USNR
LCT Division 30 Lieutenant (jg) Frank M. Wiseman, USNR
LCT Flotilla Six
LCT Groups 16, 17, 18
By counting on one's fingers, it is obvious that among the large work horses of PHIBFORSOPAC there were now 18 ships (11 APAs and 7 AKAs) against 19 ships (14 APAs and 5 AKAs) six months earlier. However, there were 11 destroyer transports versus four at the earlier date and a definite promise of 127 landing ships and craft versus none at the earlier date.
Eventually, it was planned that the Landing Craft Flotillas, SOPAC, would include 127 large landing ships and craft, i.e. 37 LST's, 36 LCI's, and 54
LCT's. However, in late January 1943, only a few of the early birds had been formed up organizationally in the United States, much less trained in amphibious operations and pushed at speeds of eight knots or less across the wide spaces of the Central Pacific to the South Pacific.
Additional to the ships and craft listed above, four more APDs and 50 coastal transports (APCs) were under order to report to COMPHIBFORSOPAC, but they had not even reached the stage of paper organization into divisions and squadrons. When they reported, the force would consist of more than 200 ships and large landing craft.20
It is interesting to note from this roster list that the fast learning officers of the Naval Reserve had learned enough by January 1943 to take over command of some of the destroyer transports. And it is a commentary on how slowly the sky rocketing wartime promotion system spread to the Amphibious Force SOPAC, to note that a year after the Pacific War started, a fair number of the captains of the large and important transports of PHIBFORSOPAC had 23- 25 years of commissioned service but were still wearing the three stripes of a commander.
Table of Contents * Previous Chapter (12) * Next Chapter (14)
1. (a) Staff Interviews; (b) CTF 62 letter, Ser 029 of 23 Aug. 1942, and replies thereto; (c) COMSOPAC, letter, A16-3/(00) Ser 00936 of 4 Dec. 1942; (d) TU 66.3 Op Orders H-1, J-1, K-1, K-2.
2. COMGENFIRSTMARDIV, Final Report on Guadalcanal Operation, Phase V, 1 Jul. 1943, p. 6.
3. (a) Staff Interviews; (b) CINCPAC, Command Summary, Book Three, 23 Jan. 1943, p. 1342.
5. COMSOPAC, 282239 Jan. 060636, 070506, 112230, 150247, Feb. 1943.
6. COMSOPAC, 070506, 112230 Feb. 1943.
7. Staff Interviews.
8. Commander Landing Craft Flotillas, PHIBFORSOPAC Doctrine, May 1943.
9. CINCPAC, Command Summary, Book Three, 8 Feb. 1943, p. 1390.
10. CTF 61 Op Order Plan A4-43, 15 Feb. 1943, p. 6.
11. CTF 61 to COMSOPAC, 210551 Feb. 1943.
13. COMPHIBFORSOPAC, Report of Occupation of Russell Islands (CLEANSLATE Operation), 21 Apr. 1943, para. 19. Hereafter CLEANSLATE Report.
14. Time Magazine, 31 Jan. 1944.
15. Staff Interviews.
16. CTF 61, 270628 Feb. 1943, and related COMINCH, CINCPAC, and COMSOPAC despatches.
17. (a) Morison, Breaking the Bismarcks Barriers Vol. V), p. 98; (b) Henry I. Shaw and Douglas T. Kane, Isolation of Rabaul, Vol. II of HISTORY OF U.S. MARINE CORPS OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1963), p. 26.
18. Joseph Driscoll, Pacific Victory 1945 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1944), p. 66.
19. COMPHIBFORSOPAC CLEANSLATE Report, 21 Apr. 1943, p. 14.
20. COMPHIBFORSOPAC Letter, FE25/A3-1/Ser 007 of 20 Jan 1943, subj: Organization and Staff of Amphibious Force, South Pacific, FE25/A3-1/Ser of 20 Jan. 1943, and CINCPAC's Organizational Roster dated 29 Jan. 1943.