After Midway the focus of the War shifted south. America had reduced the Japanese naval advantage, but did not yet have the naval assetts needed to chalenge the Imperal Fleet in a major fleet action in the Central Pacific. The Japanese with a badly-damaged Fleet Air Arm declined to renew challenge the America Pacific Fleet. Both sides instead began to regroup and rebuild their naval forces for a future show down in the Central Pacific. This was a serious mistake for the Japanese as time was on America's side. The tremendous industrial capacity of the United States could build naval vessels and aircraft at a far more rapid rate than Japan. Japan did renew its offense in the South Pacific which had been put on hold after the Coral Sea Battle. This was a natural development because the Japanese after taking the Dutch East Indies had seized almost all of New Guinea, except for Port Moresby and the island groups to the East, including Nre Britain, New Ireland, and the Solomons. Unlike the Central Pacific, these were large islands (especially New Guinnea) and lcated close together. Thus the fighting could be suported with air fields rather than carriers. Thus the fighting was largelky land operations intersperced with short range amphibious operations. The inintial phase of the campaign was Japanese assaults on Australia, bombing runs, a land offensive crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains to take Port Moresby, and building an air field on Guadacanal in the southern Solomons. This airfield could be used to support naval opertions to cut off Australia from American reinforcements and supplies. The center of the Japanese operations was the vast complex of military instalations the Japanese built at Rabaul on New Britains. The Japanese based their best pilots and planes there. The first American offensive of the Pacific War occurred when U,S, Marines seized the airfield the Japanese were building on Guadacanal (August 1942). What followed was one of the most prolonged campaigns foughht by the Marines in the War and a series of pitched battles in in the Slot formed by the Solomon Islands. The subsequent Allied offensive was a two prong movement. The first prong was overseen by the U.S. Navy (Halsey) in the Solomons and other islands east of New Guinea. The Navy decided against a costly assault on Rabaul itself. Rather they established rings around Rabaul, cutting off the powerful base and making it impossible for the Japanese to resupply it. They subjected Rabaul to a whithering air assault. Allied troops on Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands played a major role in cutting off and neutralizing Rabaul (December 1943). The second prong was overseen by the U.S. Army (MacArthur) with Australian support. The Australians stopped the Japanese short of Port Moresby. American infantry began taking bases along the northern coast of New Guinea. MacArthur's goal from the beginning was to obtain bases from which he could return to Philippine Islands. Bases in New Zealand brought the southern Philippine Islands into range.
The Japanese after the Perl Harbor attack, launched a 6-moth offensive south, carving out a vast empire in the South Pavific and Southest Asiam, the Southrn Resource Zone they so coveted. taking the Dutch East Indies had seized almost all of New Guinea, except for Port Moresby. The Japanese landed along the northern coast of New Guinea. The Japanese also seized the island groups to the East, including New Britain, New Ireland. The imnobilization of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Peatl Harbor and the destruction of the destruction of the Dutch, Australian, and American vessels in the fighting for the Dutch East Indies meant that there was little organized resistance. Thus the Japanese were apprpaching Australia. The only treat to sucess was the American carriers. And Admiral Yamanot begam planning Operation MI, a massive operation designed to mbush and destoy the a,erivan carriesat Midway. Then the effort yo seize Austrlia which along with Nez Zealand would have given them control of the South Pacific and theycould begin bracing for an expected Amerivan offensive in 1943.
The center of Japanese operations in the South Pacific became the vast complex of military instalations the Japanese built at Rabaul on New Britain. Rabaul's Simpson Harbour provided a magificent anchorage for the Japanese fleet. The harbor was surrounded by several active volcanoes. The eruption of Vulcan had largely destroyed Rabaul (1937). The Japanese reached Rabaul only a few months after Pear Harbor (February 1942). It was largely undefended. The Australian Navy withdrew south to Australian waters. The citizens' New Guinea Volunteer Rifles were uable to resist the powerful landing force. They were loaded aboard the Montivideo Maru for forced labor in Japan, but tragically killed when the ship was sunk by an American submarine. The Japanese targeted Rabaul's Chinese community. They were left in the Chinatown, but were constantly attacked, especially the women. The Tolai natives were also brutalized by the Japanese.
<! a simple Catholic catechist, Peter ToRot, who continued to profess his faith in the face of Japanese intimidation, has already been beatified and is likely to become Papua New Guinea first saint. >
The Japanese built airfields to protect the fleet anchorage.
The Japanese based their best pilots and planes there. Rabaul became the largest Imperial Army garrison in the South Pacific. It was from Rabaul that troops were deployed to retake Guadacanal and defend positions on New Guinea.
Lieutenant General Adachi Hataso who had commanded Japan's 18th
The first important Allied effort to stop the Japanese sweep through the Pacific occurred in the Coral Sea. The Japanese planned to seize Port Moreseby, completing their conquest of New Guinea and a smaller operation in the Solomons at Tulagi. Port Moresby would have provided a launching pad for an invasion of Australia itself. (At the time, most of the Australian Army was in North Afric fighting Rommel's Afrika Korps.) The Japanese landing force was escorted by the front-line carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Japanese naval task force en route to seize Port Moresby was intercepted by an American carrier force, alerted by American code breakers. It was the first carrirer to carrier engagement in history. The Japanese launched an attack on the Americans, but found only a destroyer and oiler. In the meantime the Americans sank the Japanese light carrier Shoho (May 7). The next day the two carrier forces fought a major engagement. The Japanese succeeded in sinking Lexington and heavily damaging Yorktown (May 8). The Americans heavily damaged Shokaku and devestated the air crew of Zuikaku. The substantial Japanese pilot casualties was very signigicant. Despite the American losses, the Japanese invasion force turned back, the first major Japanese reversal of the War. The Japanese assessment of the battle was that not only was Lexington sunk, but that Yorktown was either sunk or so badly damaged that it could no longer be deployed. This affected planning for the Miday operation. The engagement appears to have convinced Japanese naval planners that the American carriers were no mach for the Japanese carriers. The Japanese failed to preceive that the American carriers effectively fought the battle or that the surprise appearance of the American carrier in the Coral Sea to oppose the invasion of Port Moresby resulted from American code breaking. It also meant that they had lost a carrier, and large numbers of planes and pilots. This effectively removed two front line carriers from the Japanese order of battle. This reduced the available carriers for the Midway operation. Combined with the British damage to the First Air Fleet in the Indian Ocean, Admiral Yamamoto had allowed their carrier forces to be significantlseriously weakened in operations of marginal importance. This was critical because if Japan was to win the War it had to be done in 1942 when they had overwealming superiority in the Pacific. If the War developed into a war of attrition, the far greater indusstrial resources of the United States would prevail.
The American victory at Midway bought the time the United States needed to build the dleet it needed to win the War. America had reduced the Japanese naval advantage, but did not yet have the naval assetts needed to chalenge the Imperal Fleet in a major fleet action in the Central Pacific. The Japanese with a badly-damaged Fleet Air Arm declined to renew challenge the America Pacific Fleet. Both sides instead began to regroup and rebuild their naval forces for a future show down in the Central Pacific. This was a serious mistake for the Japanese as time was on America's side. The tremendous industrial capacity of the United States could build naval vessels and aircraft at a far more rapid rate than Japan.
After Midway the focus of the War shifted south. Japan renewed its offense in the South Pacific which had been put on hold after the Coral Sea Battle. This was a natural development as it along with India was the only remaining point of contact with the Allies. The Japanese amphibious operation to take Port Moresby had been blocked by American carriers at the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942). The Japanese renewed their effort with a land campaign. This involved a grueling campaign over the Own Stanley Mountains. They were blocked by Australian troops a few miles short of Port Moresby. This was the first land victory over the Japanese of the War.
Operation FS was part of the Imperial Japanese plan to subsue Australia, the ultimate object to secure and safeguard the Southern Resourse Zone (SRZ). The Japanwse assessment was tht they did not have the men and logistical capability to invade Australia, especially the United States had begun to pour men and equipment into the country. The first step was this to cut the sea lanes betwen the United states and Australia. Once cut off, Austrlia which did have the industry capable of building heavy weapons could be pounded into submission. The interdiction was to be done by the Imperial Fleet which would seize the island groups east of Austrlia (Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia). The Fleet and and air assetts operating from those islands would have made it very difficult for the United States to build up forces in Australia. FS was to follow MO (New Guinea-Port Moresby), RY (Nauru and Ocean Island), and MI (Midway). FS was sceduled to follow MI where Admiral Yamamoto planned to destroy what was left of the U.S. Pacific Fleet--its precious carriers. The Japanese scheduled FS for July and August and expected with the American carriers gone, it could be easily completed. The Japanese were, however, unable to execute FS. American code breakers learned of MO and Adm Nimitz position his carriers in the Coral Sea. The resulting naval battle forced the Japanese to cancel MO and postpone FS. Yamamoto pinned his hopes on MO. Only rather than destoying the American carriers, those carriers tore the heart out of the First Air Fleet--sinking four fleet carriers. After Midway the Japanese no longer had the naval capacity to execute FS and it had to be cancelled. The Japanese did have the naval capacity to seize the island groups, but they did have the assetts to threaten both Australia the sea lanes. They strengthened the 17th Army which was ordered to attack Port Moresby overland. Air bases around Port Moresby could be used to bomb Australia. The Japanese also began building an air base in the Southern Solomons (Guadalcanal) from which American shippong could be attacked. This would be supported by submarine operations. Japan had a substantial submarine fleet.
from Allied offensives.
Australia was the last important prize in the South Pacific. The inintial phase of the campaign was Japanese assaults on Australia beginning with bombing runs. After the American caariers in the Coral Sea blockd the amphibious assault on Port Moresby, the Japanese Army planned a land offensive crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains to take Port Moresby. Once Port Moresby had been seized, a major air assault on Australia could begin. Japanese Naval planners evolved the FS Operation. This involved naval amphibious operations to seize the French islads east of Australia (the Samoans, New Caledonia, and Fiji). Possession of these islands would cut Australia's Pacific life-line to America. With the Australian Army in thewestern Desert fighting the Afrika Korps, the Japanese believed tht Australia would be forced to surrender. Coming up with the forces for FS would prove difficult in part because of the demands to garrison and supply what had already been seized. After Midway, the Imperail Navy had to postpone FS. Instead, air operations from the Solomons (Guadalcanal), submarine operations, and fleet operations were planned to attack the sea lanes conndcting America and Australia. The air field on Guadacanal in the southern Solomons. This airfield could be used to support naval opertions to cut off Australia from American reinforcements and supplies. Neither the Army or Navy expected an American offensive until mid-1943.
Unlike the Central Pacific, the South Pacific islands were large islands (especially New Guinea) and located close together. Thus the fighting could be suported with air fields rather than carriers. Thus the fighting was largely land operations intersperced with short range amphibious operations. The first American offensive of the Pacific War occurred when U,S, Marines seized the airfield the Japanese were building on Guadacanal (August 1942). What followed was one of the most prolonged campaigns foughht by the Marines in the War and a series of pitched battles in in the Slot formed by the Solomon Islands.
The subsequent Allied offensive was a two prong movement. The first prong was overseen by the U.S. Navy (Halsey) in the Solomons and other islands east of New Guinea. The Navy decided against a costly assault on Rabaul itself. Rather they established rings around Rabaul, cutting off the powerful base and making it impossible for the Japanese to resupply it. They subjected Rabaul to a whithering air assault. Allied troops on Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands played a major role in cutting off and neutralizing Rabaul (December 1943). The second prong was overseen by the U.S. Army (MacArthur) with Australian support.
The initial important naval battles were carrier battles. It was in the Solomon Islands that the U.S. Navy surface fleet first came to grips with the Imperial Navy. The Pacific Fleet with its battleships devestated at Pearl Harbor faced a far superior naval force. The Japanese after seizing the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) took the Solomon Islands (mid-1942). Allied inteligence detected the construction of an airbase on Guadalcanal. This was a step of considerable importance as an airbase on Guadacanal would assist the Japanese in cutting off American troops and supplies fromn reaching Australia. Unlike the Americans, Japanese construction methods were slow, giving time for the Americans to prepare its first major offensive action of the Pacific War. The First Marine Division still training in New Zealand under Alexander Van der Grip dispatched in great secrecy. They reacged Guadalcnal undected by the Japanese. The Marines took Tulagi, a small island off Guadalcanal on Augut 7. They also landed on Guadalcanal and quickly seized the unfinished Japanese airfield, naning it Henderson Field after an aviator killed during the Battle of Midway. The surprised Japanese on Guadalcanal reorganized inland and counter attacked. The Japanese sent a force of seven cruisers and one destroyer from their base ar Rabal. The route traveled was "The Slot", a slot-like channel formed by the parallel configuration of the Solomons. In a night action off Savo Island they destroyed the Allied cruisers covering the landing (August 9). The Allied landing force was forced to withdraw without unloading all of the Marines' supplies and snuck into the waters. This left the Japanese with air and naval supperority over the Marines that had landed. The Japanese came down the Slot daily to bomb and shell the Marines. Their main target was the airstrip which the Marines rushed into operation. Despite the American victory at Midway, the Japanese still had superior carrier and naval forces. The Japanese did not at first appreciate the importance of the American action. Henderson Field thus played a major role in proecting the Marines from Japanese air strikes and naval bombardment. American fighters fought off Japaneseplanses and made it impossible for the Japanse Navy to direct intense naval bombardment. American bombers launched strikes on Japanese bases in the northern Solomons. The Marines were helped by friendly Melanisian natives which the Japanese had uickly alienated when they arrived. Continuing Japanese pressure began to ground down the Marines. Nimitz transferred overall command to Admiral Bull Halsey who pledged the Navy would intensify support. This was a dangerous commitment at a time when the Japanese still had superior carrier and naval forces. The Japanese launched a major force to destroy American naval forces supporting the Marines. The Battle of Santa Cruz occured when the Japoanese found Hornet which was badly damaged (October 26). Hornet was left dead in the water and had to be scuttled. Santa Cruz was a victory for the Japanese, but they did not press their victory. The Americans on Guadalcanal relieved the hard-pressed Marines with fresh Army units. The Japanese had managed to buildup a sizeable force on the island, but were unable to keep them supplied because of the American fighters on Henderson Field. Finally Guadalcanal was declared secure (February 9, 1943). The Americans had retaken the first island on the long road to Japan.
Perhaps the most unlikely battlefield of World War II was New Guinea one of the most remote and primitive places on earth. Not only was New Guinea a major battlefield, but the battle lasted more than 2 years. Many Pacific islands that became caught up in World War II were small islands some like Iwo Jima were not even populated. This was not the case of New Guinea. The island was a huge island with a substantial, albeit primitive population. It was perhaps the most isolated corner of the world, virtually unknown to the rest of the world. This changed suddenly after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lunched an offensive that swept over the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Allies suffered one stunning defeat after another. It was on New Zealand that the Allies first succeeded in stopping the Japanese. This set up a 2-year struggle for the island. The Japanese Army succeeded in taking the western and northern sides of the island. The rugged Owen Stanley Mountains prevented the Japanese from striking south to seize the southern part of the island around Port Morsesby defended by a small Australian garrison. Instead a naval task force was dispatched to mount an amphibious operation. This task force was stopped and tuned back by U.S. carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea (April 1942). Further amphibious operations were rendered impossible by the subsequent American victory at Midway (June 1942). Instead the Japanese mounted a land offensive over the Owen Stanleys. They were stopped by the Australians only a few miles short of Port Moresby and forced back. It was at this time that the American marines landed on Guadalcanal (August 1942). The Japanese Army, unaware of the losses at Midway and fully committed on New Guinea, failed to fully appreciate the importance of Guadalcanal. The Allied offensive in the Solomons soon was joined by Allied (American and Australian) landings along the northeastern coast of the island and gradually moving up the coast in a series of amphibious operations. The New Guinea campaign was overseen by General MacArthur. The Allies succeeded in cutting off and isolating several Japanese garrisons. American infantry began taking bases along the northern coast of New Guinea. MacArthur's goal from the beginning was to obtain bases from which he could return to Philippine Islands. After the American victory at Guadacanal, MacArthur launched a series of attacks along the northern coast of New Guinea, bypassing and isolating many Japanese bases. The Japanese made a najor stand in New Guinea. It proved aap, largely because the the Japanese did not have the logistical capability of feeding the men they committed to New Guinea. Buna was the first New Guinea base taken (January 2, 1943). This was the southern prong of a dual Allied offensive (1943-44). The northern prong was the Navy's drive led by Admiral Nimitz across the Central Pacific. Bases in New Guinea brought the southern Philippine Islands into range. Finally the Allies secured New Guinea and the two prongs converged on the Philippines (October 1944).
The Japanese built Rabaul into a powerful base, the most important in the South Pacific. It was their primary forward operating base. From an early point in the South Pacific campaign, Rabaul became the primary target of General MacArthur. The naval facilities anbd air bases there played a central role in the Japanese effort to retake Guadacanal. After the Americans suceeded on Guadacanal and began offensive operations on New Guinea, Rabal became the linch-pin of a South Pacific barrier protecting thir conquests in the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, The Allied effort to take Rabaul was code named Operation Cartwheel. General MacArhur launced Cartwheel (June 30, 1943). Cartwheel was a multi-pronged assault on Rabaul.
The Americans began targetting the Japanese facilities at Rabaul once the Marines had secured the American beachead at Guadacanal, Rabaul became a prime target. General George C. Kenney's 5th U.S. Air Force using B25 bombers and other aircraft regularly attacked the Japanese instalations. And by 1943, American flyers had high performance aircraft that outclassed the Japanese planes. These attacks escalated as the Americans drew rings around Rabaul by seizing more islands and constructing more air bases. Every step up the Solomons ladder put additional pressue on the Japanese in Rabal. And islands to the east, north, and west of Rabal were also seized. Because the Japanese were never sure where the next blow would fall, found it difficult to counter the Allied blows. In addition, growing Allied naval supremecy made it impossible to supply or reinforce Rabaul. The Japanese could not heavily garrison all the islands. And even if they did, growing Allied air and naval power could simply isolate latge garrisons. As the Pacific Fleet grew in sdtrength, there were also American carrier strikes on Rabaul. Gradually American planners began to reconsider an invasion. The goal gradually became to isolate Rabal and allow it to whiter on the vine. By 1943 the Japanese were no longer able to supply Rabaul. After Truk in the Caerolines was smashed, the Japanese were no longer able to reach Rabaul as the Ameruican air raids reduced the bastion. Eventually the once forbidable bastion was reduced to impotence. The primary occupation of the troops cut off therecwas to find food and satave off starvation.
The Allies never asaulted Rabal. The Japanese surrendered after the Emperor had announced the end of the War and his country's defeat. The Allies decided Rabaul should be the site of the trials for most of the Japanese accused of war crimes in the Southwest Pacific. The Allied conducted 188 trials at Rabaul trying 390 accused war criminals. The Allied military tribunal convicted 266 and as a result 84 were hanged and 3 shot.
Navigate the CIH World War II Sectiomn:
[Return to Main World War II naval campaign page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]