World War II: The South Pacific

Figure 1.--Here boys on an unidentied South Pacific Island pile into an Ameican jeep. One of the interesting aspects of the fighting for the south Pacific is what the natives made of it. New Guinea and the solomonswere perhaps the most isolate places on earth. Many of the people had nver seen Europens let alone Japanese. And suddenly the most destrctive warin history was being fought on their islands. Now these people knew about war, but they could not understnd why the americans and Japnese cme to their islnds to fight the war. Mny of these people were leading very primitive, stone ge lives. And suddenly, along with the americans came plnesm ships, jeeps, taks nd incredible outpouring of moden technology and food, including lrgely unknown canned food. It could have not been more amazing than if aliens had landed on time square. A single American soldier carred more modern eqipment than whole villages had ever seen.

The fighting in the South Pacific began after the American Naval victory at Midway. It meant that America could deploy and supply supply infantry forces on Pacific islands to stop and then push back the Japanese. The 1st Marine Division began the campaign on Guadalcanal. Army divisions would join the Marines. The close-quaters fighting in the South Pacific after Guadalcanal is one of the most neglected campaign of the Pacific War. The battles for Buna, Shaggy Ridge, and the Duriniumor River were as hard fought as many better known Pacific battlefields. Other hazzards included the Japanese sunmarines operating around New Georgia, as well as the Zeros protecting Rabaul and Wewak. [Rems] The intense fighting on Guadalcanal was accompanied with naval and air battles and at first against numerically superior, but badly led Japanese ground forces. The rest of the South Pacific campaign were different. The Japanese withdrew their fleet and new Ameican aircraft won aerial dominance as well. The various island campaigns were fought by Allied forces which not only outnumbered the Japanese, but were better equipped and supplied. While Japanese commanders on Guadalcanal showed astonishing incompetence. Their defensively tactics on the other islands was more competently conducted. Even though casualties because of their fight to the dath ethnic were much heavier than thise suffered by the Allied assault forces. Normally attacking forces suffer more casulties then fighting behind prepared defenses. The Australians participated in the fighting, especially on New Guinea, but America would be largely on its own when the fighting moved morth to the Central Pacific.

New Guinea (1942-45)

New Guinea was the longest campaign of the Pacific War. The Japanese took Western News Guina and much of the northern coast without seriou opposition. The Japanese were twarted in their effort to complete the conquest of New Guinea by American carriers in the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942). The Japanese landed along the northern coast of New Guinea. After seizing Buna, Gona, and Sananda (July 21-29, 1942) they controlled the northern coast. As an an amphibious operation was no longer possible after the Miday losses (June). Still attmpting to take Port Moresby, the Japanese embarkened on one of the most incredible offensives of the war. They launched an attack of over 1,000 miles over the Kokoda Trail (July 30).. Major General Tomitaro Horii led a force of 8,500 men from the 144th Regiment of the South Seas Detachment. The Japanese achieved the impossible in 4 week epic trek. This meant that by the time the Japanese reached Port Moresby tey were exhausted, low on supplies and lightlyv armed. They were stopped 30 miles from Port Moresby by the well supplied. Incresiby despit the fact that the Japanese were near starvation and no expecting to dind Australian opposition, they made a fight of it. Eventually they had to fall bac (September 24). This proved to be the first land victory over the Japanese of the War. Before that the Japanese landed at Milne Bay at the eastern tip of New Guinea (August 25), but were forced to withdraw when the Australians held and thr Japanese withdrew (September 5). The Japanese Army's focus on New Guinea was one reason they did not react more immediately to the American landings on Guadacanal. After the American victory in the Solomons, MacArthur launched a series of attacks along the northern coast of New Guinea, bypassing and isolating many Japanese bases. Buna was the first New Guinea base taken (January 2, 1943).

Guadalcanal (August 1942)

The first America land offensive in the Pacific occurred on the virtually unknown island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. The Japanese built aeaplane base atvTulagi. Allied coast watchers reported the Japanese were building an air strip on Guadacanal which was cinfirmed by aerial reconisabnce. From that base, the Japanese could threaten the sea lanes to Australia. A marine invasion force was rapidly assembled. It was a risky operation from the onset. Although dealt a serious blow at Midway, the Imperial Navy still was thecstringer if no longer dominantb naval force in the Pacific and outnumbered the American Pacfic fleet in virtually every class of warship--including carriers. The Japanese did not expect an American iffensuve until mid-1943. Given Japanese naval superority and air power, the Japanese should have won the battle, especially as they managed to land more men on the Island than the Americans had. An almost incredible lack of military competence on the part of the Japanese commanders led to their defeat. Incredibly, the entire Pacific War would turn on this virtually unknown island. Americans and Japanese would fight both on the island and in a series of ferocious sea battles around the island.

Yamamoto Shoot Down (April 1943)

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, was for Americans only below Tojo znd the Emperor on the list of villans responsible for the war. Yamaoto had planned the Pearl Harbor attack. He actually had been against going to war with the United States, understanding more than most of his colleague America's vast indistrial power. Once the decesion was taken, he threw his considerable energy into planning and execuring Japan's war policy. After the First Air Fleet was devestated at Midway, however, there was little he could do to reverse America's application of its the military power generated by its industrial and technological superiority. When code breakers picked up transmissions about a fact-finding tour of front-line bases, Admiral Nimitz ordered a shoot down. The chances were slim of sctully encountering his plane, but long range P-38 lightings from Guadacanal did just that. They shot down just before it landed at Kahili airfield at the southern tip of Bougainville (April 18, 1943). This of course was another clue that JN-25 had been broken, but the Japanese did not conclude that their codes had been penetrated. The Japanese cintinued to use JN-25 with only minor changes throughout the War. His death ws a shock to the Japanese people who continued to be told that their country was winning the War.

Bougenville (November 1943)

After securing Gudalcanal and notheaster New Guinea, the Marines began hearing about astrange sounding new iland--Bougenville. The primary Allied objective became the Japnese stronghold at Rabaul. Gen. MacArthur at forsr intended to assault Rabaul itself--Operation Cartwheel. Gradually it became clear the same objective could be recived by isolating rather than actualy asalting the sprawling Japanese base. The first target as the Americans moved up the Slot was Bouginville. On Bouginville the Americans first faced the strong defensive positions they would have to assault as they fought their way across the Pacific. One historian writes anout the fighting on Bouginville, "Robert A Owens, a sergeant in A Company, resolved to silence the 75mm gun. While others brought fire on two machine guns protecting the weapon, Owns charged through the bunker's fire port, chasing the occupants out the rear door where they were shot down. Killed by fire from supporting enmy trenches as he emerged from the bunker, Owns eared th campaign;s first Medal of Honor. The other pillboxes were all knocked out by afternoon using a technique developed from earlier experince. BR fire was poured into pillbox embrasures, enabling troops to close in and drop grenades into the ventikators or attack th pillboxes from the rear. Some of the most brutal action occurred durung hand-to-hand fighting in the supporting trenches." [Rems]

Rabaul (1942-45)

After Guadallcanal and Bougenville, many more islands were taken as the Allies began to buld rings around Rabaul to both cut off supplies and to launch air strikes from multiple new air fields on the islands surrounding Rabaul.


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Created: 1:31 PM 9/29/2015
Last updated: 6:02 PM 3/22/2018