Map 1: Combat and support area
Tanambogo after bombardment of 7 August.
East of the two major islands of New Guinea and Australia lies a barrier of smaller islands which extends from the Bismarck Archipelago to New Caledonia. As a series of potential air and sea bases, these islands offered the Japanese in the spring of 1942 the attractive possibility of cutting deep into the South Pacific and of severing Australia's and New Zealand's life line to America's west coast. Conversely, the islands provided a ladder by which we might climb northward to the enemy bases in the Carolines, bypassing the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and possibly extend our sway west to the southern Philippines. Here, also, lay the opportunity for waging a punishing war of attrition on our economically inferior enemy.
Chapter 1: Landing in the Solomons
Japan, however, was the first to attempt to exploit this strategic route. As early as January her fleet invaded and established bases in New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago and in the northern Solomons, both then under Australian mandate. In April she moved farther south to Tulagi in the southern Solomons, a British possession, where a month later our fleet fought the first phase of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Although that encounter may have halted an immediate, large-scale Japanese attack on New Zealand or Australia, it did not prevent a slower, piecemeal advance by the enemy in the same direction.
A campaign to rid Australia and New Zealand of the menace of Japanese invasion and to shield our tenuous lines of communication to those all-important bases was envisaged as early as April 1942 by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. For some time it amounted to little more than paper strategy. But with the gradual repair of the ravages done to our fleet by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and with the consolidation and reinforcement of United Nations forces in the Southwest Pacific, the project began to attain feasibility.
The decision to make Tulagi our principal objective in the Solomons was reached in April. Tulagi had been the seat of the resident commissioner of the British Solomon Islands. In addition to his residence, it contained several public buildings, including a hospital and prison, and was also the location of a radio station, a golf course, and several other
accessories of western civilization. The nearby island of Gavutu served as the headquarters of Lever Pacific Plantations, Ltd., which had extensive coconut groves throughout the islands. On Gavutu were the company's offices and stores and also machine shops for the repair and upkeep of its small fleet of schooners and motorboats.
The Japanese overran Tulagi and its environs early in April and soon put its various facilities to use. On May 4th our carrier-borne planes bombed the harbor. An appraisal1 indicates that one enemy destroyer, one cargo ship, and two minesweepers were sunk.
On July 4th the enemy landed a considerable force of soldiers and laborers on Guadalcanal Island, just south of Tulagi and Florida Islands, and a few days later our reconnaissance planes observed that a landing field was being built on the north coast of the island not far from Lunga Point. As the operation of land-based planes from Guadalcanal would immediately imperil our control of the New Hebrides and New Caledonia area, the necessity of our regaining that island became increasingly apparent.
In order to activate what was to become our first major offensive in the Pacific, a new command was created in April under Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, with the approval of the United Nations concerned. The Admiral, who had recently returned from London, where he had served as special naval observer, left Washington on the first of May, passed through Pearl Harbor, where he saw Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, and arrived in New Zealand on the 8th. It was an auspicious occasion, for the last phase of the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought to a victorious conclusion on that day.
Soon Admiral Ghormley had established his headquarters in the U.S.S. Rigel at Auckland. He then proceeded to Wellington, where he conferred with the civil and military leaders of the Dominion. Subsequently, he was recognized as the commander of all the United Nations' land, sea, and air forces in the South Pacific Area, with the exception of the land forces specifically assigned to the defense of New Zealand. He also held frequent conferences with Maj. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, who was to lead our occupation force as commander of the First Marine Division. The first echelon of the division (consisting chiefly of the Fifth Marines) reached New Zealand on June 14th. The second echelon (First Marines and Eleventh Marines) did not arrive until July 11th.
Our victory in the Coral Sea and our greater success off Midway during the first week of June accelerated preparations. On June 25th, Admiral Ghormley received orders to initiate the attack as soon as practicable. On the next day he informed General Vandegrift of the operation, for which the First Marine Division would be reinforced by the Second Marines, the First Raider Battalion, and the Third Defense Battalion.
D-Day was set for August 1st. The brevity of the period allowed for plans and logistical preparations was appreciated by all, but everyone turned to in the realization that the national interest required quick action. Strictest secrecy was enforced, the Marines making their preparations under the guise of getting ready for a period of amphibious training.
Planning proceeded in close association with the Supreme Commander of the Southwest Area. On July 7th Admiral Ghormley flew to Australia for a 2-day meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, during which time a close working agreement was reached for the effective cooperative use of all forces available to the two commanders. On his return to Auckland, the Admiral received orders to proceed, with instructions that the first phase of the operation, the capture of Florida and Guadalcanal Islands, be undertaken, if not on August 1st, as near that date as possible.
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 Made since publication of Combat Narrative, "The Battle of the Coral Sea."