Chapter 7: Preliminary Air Plans

The understanding reached by Admiral Ghormley and General MacArthur for the cooperation of the two air forces of their respective areas developed with the situation. The basic agreement was that during the Tulagi-Guadalcanal action the Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area, would provide for the interdiction of enemy air activities westward of the operating area, the dividing line between the South Pacific Area and the Southwest Pacific Area to be the one hundred fifty-ninth meridian from the equator southward. Admiral Ghormley further directed Admiral McCain, commander of the South Pacific Air Forces, (Task Force MIKE) to arrange with General MacArthur fore the coordination of aircraft scouting by the land-based forces of the two areas.

General MacArthur further agreed that until 5 days before the attack his forces would maintain a 48-hour surveillance of the Port Moresby-Lorengau-Kavieng-Bulka-Ontong Java-Tulagi-Samurai area. Thereafter


all Southwest Pacific air operations to the eastward would be limited by longitude 158°15' E. between the equator and latitude 15° S., unless special missions were requested. The Commander Southwest Pacific also agreed to provide the following surveillance: from 5 days before the attack to 4 days afterwards, four daily reconnaissance flights over the area Port Moresby-Madang-Kavieng-Ontong Java-Port Praslin (northwest end of Santa Isabel Island)--easternmost point of New Georgia-Tagula Island. Further planes would be prepared to strike hostile naval targets discovered in this area within a 550-mile range of Port Moresby. On the day of attack and for 4 days thereafter planes under the General's command would interdict hostile air operations in the Rabaul-Kavieng area and deny hostile refueling operations from Buka Island if used; in the same period shorter range planes would attack Lae and Salamaua periodically to prevent reinforcement of Rabaul from that area. He further advised: "All available aviation in this area subject to actual limitations of range will operate in your support on request to COMSOWESPAC," and that "naval support will be given as previously arranged." This last presumably referred to the inclusion of the Australian cruisers in Task Force TARE.

On July 22d Admiral McCain reported to Admiral Ghormley that his planes would begin a search 2 days before attack day so as to insure the detection of any enemy entering the Coral Sea east of 158° E., and to cover the target area to the north as far as the range of the aircraft permitted. As scout planes moved to successive advanced bases, he said, the coverage would increase in extent. He suggested that SOUWESPAC aircraft be requested to cover approaches to Coral Sea and target area by search west of 158° E. to the maximum extent of their ability. His scouted area, he said, overlapped an average of 120 miles west of that meridian for the sake of increased effectiveness.

This suggestion proved satisfactory to General MacArthur, and he agreed that for 2 days preceding the attack and for 4 days afterward the SOUWESPAC air forces would search water areas to the limit of range southeast of line Madang-Kapingamarangi Islands and northwest of the line of Tagula Island-easternmost point of New Georgia Island, thence along 158° E., paying particular attention to entrances to the Coral Sea from the north and east. His aircraft, he said, would be prohibited, beginning 2 days before the attack, from operating east of 158° E.

Admiral McCain, in concurring in this plan, reported to Admiral Ghormley that his B-17s would cover the southeast side of Tagula


Island-New Georgia. This joint search proved completely successful, at least through the approach to and landing on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, since at no time during this period were our ships subjected to attack by enemy ships or planes. It is interesting to note that through this final exchange of dispatches between the two area commanders, the dividing line between their two areas was in effect changed from 159° E. to 158° E.

As the result of the arrangements, the air attack on Tulagi and Guadalcanal actually began a week before our ships sighted the two islands. On July 25th Admiral McCain issued his operation order for the shore-based Navy and Army planes within his command. Task Force MIKE consisted of the following:

At Efate

6 Scouts
18 Fighters
At Noumea

21 Patrol Planes (PBY-5)
1 Patrol Plane (PBY-5A)
3 Scouts
38 Pursuit Planes (P-39)
6 Bombers (Hudson, Royal New Zealand Air Force)4
27 Heavy Bombers (B-17)5
10 Medium Bombers (B-26)
16 Fighters (F4F-3P)6
At Tongatabu

6 Scouts
24 Fighters
In Fijis

9 patrol Planes (PBY-5)
3 Patrol Planes (Singapores, RNZAF)
12 Bombers (Hudsons, RNZAF)
9 Bombers (Vincents, RNZAF)
17 Fighters
12 Medium Bombers (B-26)
8 Heavy Bombers (B-17)
In Samoa

10 Scouts
17 Scout-Bombers
18 Fighters

This force had the responsibility of, first, conducting normal scouting operations and, second, covering the ships' approach to the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area. For these purposes Admiral McCain organized it in the following manner:

Task Group MIKE-ONE--Col. Clyde Rich (AC), USA, Sixty-ninth Bombardment Squadron, New Zealand Hudson Squadron, Sixty-seventh Pursuit Squadron, and two PBY planes. This group was directed to search sectors northwest from Plane Des Gaiacs, in central New Caledonia, to a depth of 400 miles, to conduct antisubmarine patrols and provide antisubmarine protection to incoming and outgoing vessels as might be required.


Task Group MIKE-TWO--Col. L.G. Saunders (AC), USA, Eleventh Bombardment Group. This group was directed to maintain daily search of the southern Solomons and their western waters, track important enemy contacts, and execute air attacks on enemy objectives as directed. This group was to base initially one squadron at Plaine Des Gaiacs, two squadrons in the Efate-Espiritu Santo area, and one squadron in reserve at Nandi in the Fijis. It was to establish group headquarters in the Curtiss.

Task Group MIKE-THREE--Comdr. Maurice E. Browder, USN, U.S.S. Curtiss (flagship) with attached patrol planes. This group was ordered to proceed with the Curtiss to Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, escorted by the McFarland, to arrive 3 days before the attack on the Solomons. In the several days preceding Dog-Day, planes from this group were to operate from Espiritu Santo, Noumea, and Havannah Harbor (Efate), searching sectors south and east of the Solomons.

Task Group MIKE-FOUR--Comdr. Joseph L. Kane, USN, the McFarland, with attached patrol planes. This group was directed to proceed with the Curtiss as far as Espiritu Santo, and then move to Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands, whence it would search a sector north and east of Guadalcanal.

Task Group MIKE-FIVE--Comdr. Norman R. Hitchcock, USN, the Mackinac, with attached patrol planes. This group was directed to proceed 3 days before the attack to Maramasike Estuary on the east coast of Malaita and search a sector to the northeast.

Task Group MIKE-SIX--Maj. Harold W. Bauer, USMC, VMF squadron 212, VS Squadron D-14. This group was directed to provide three observation planes for inshore antisubmarine patrol in the vicinity of Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo. It was further ordered to operate with Task Group MIKE-SEVEN in defense of Efate and Espiritu Santo under the commanding general at Efate.

Task Group MIKE-SEVEN--Lt. Col. John N. Hart, USMC, VMO Squadron 251. This group was ordered to provide all possible service to bombardment aviation temporarily based at Espiritu Santo, and to cooperate with Task Group MIKE-SIX in the defense of the New Hebrides generally.

Patrol planes were ordered to carry a full allowance of machine-gun ammunition and four depth bombs, while bombardment aircraft on reconnaissance flights were to carry full allowances of machine-gun ammunition and such delay fused bombs as were practicable. All planes were


ordered to track enemy surface forces discovered, using radar when available, in accord with rules explained in an annex. Army-Navy joint communication procedure was declared effective, and aircraft were instructed to maintain radio silence except (a) in emergency, (b) to transmit information of the enemy, (c) for tactical purposes over the target area. Aviation gasoline and ammunition were made available in all tenders and at all land plane bases, and by arrangement with the Commander Naval Unit at Efate, about 25,000 gallons of aviation gasoline would be delivered in drums at Graciosa Bay, Ndeni, for Task Group MIKE-FOUR prior to 2 days before the attack, and additional gasoline and provision would be provided later.


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[>4] Additional 12 Hudsons expected from New Zealand.

[>5] Noumea-Espiritu Santo-Efate area.

[6] To Espiritu Santo when landing strip completed.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation