Noah's ARKives

(Archive - Week of November 19, 2005)

What is it like to be on the battlefield of war on Thanksgiving Day?
It becomes a Turkey shoot and I don't mean shooting at birds. The cooked Turkey will not be on the dinning room table.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2005, we have 150,000 men and women in Iraq with no front line and several of our best are killed each week. The good and bad Iraqi people look much like the same and the Americans are not sure who to shoot. We also have tens of thousands of our other armed forces on foreign soil defending freedom for people who don't like us.     

All Americans should be allowed to catch the next ships leaving Iraq and be returned to the states. It was a big mistake for Bush to send them there. The Iraq government will never enjoy democracy. We have no need to keep troops in Korea, Japan, Germany and many other nations.     

I know what it's like to be on a battlefield of war on Thanksgiving Day. It's nothing to write home about. On this Thanksgiving Day, we are thankful to those in the American military who are carrying the heavy load for us here at home. May God keep you safe and we are looking for you to return to your families in good health.  

The Battle of Bougainville
By JO1 Lorraine Ramsdell, USNR


     The Solomon Islands campaign began with the taking of
Guadalcanal in December 1942.  In February 1943 the Russell
Islands fell, and the New Georgia group followed in August 1943.
At the end of 1943, the campaign reached its goal when American
troops gained a solid foothold on the island of Bougainville.
The Russells, New Georgia and Bougainville were objectives
because of their value as air bases.

Objective:  Isolate Rabaul
     The objective of the Solomon Islands campaign was to cut off
Japan's major forward air and naval base at Rabaul, on the island
of New Britain.  Rabaul was the hub of Japanese air power in the
south Pacific--a stopping point for planes coming from New Guinea
in the southwest and Truk, the home of the Japanese Combined
Fleet, in the south central Pacific.  Bougainville was key to
neutralizing Rabaul.

Preliminary Attacks
     The first attack on Bougainville occurred Aug. 15, 1943.
Eight Corsairs from Marine Fighter Squadron 214 (later known as
the Black Sheep) flew up from the Russell Islands to strafe the
Kahili airfield during American amphibious landings on the island
of Vella Lavella.  The lightning strike--a surprise so complete
the Japanese did not have time to shoot back--damaged aircraft
and refueling equipment on the ground and forestalled a night
attack on the American amphibious force.

     The Solomon Islands air defenses (AirSols), including units
from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Royal New Zealand Air
Force, made many air strikes in October on Bougainville and
nearby islands.  Although some strikes were designed to keep the
enemy guessing as to the Marines' intended landing point, most
were planned to reduce air opposition to the Bougainville
landings when they finally occurred.

Diversions
     Two diversionary amphibious landings were made the night of
Oct. 27-28: the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion landed on
Choiseul; and New Zealand's 8th Brigade, together with Navy
Seabees (U.S. Naval Construction Battalions), made an unopposed
landing on the Treasury Islands on Oct. 27.  Both operations
served their primary purpose of drawing Japanese troops away from
Bougainville, but the positions gained in the Treasuries,
including valuable Blanche Harbor, were held and strengthened to
provide staging for the landings on Bougainville.  The Marines
left Choiseul by landing craft after a week of harassing Japanese
troops and damaging barge and supply bases.

D-Day:  Nov. 1, 1943
     Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander South Pacific, ordered
Task Force 39 (which included four cruisers and the eight
destroyers of Captain Arleigh Burke's Destroyer Squadron 23),
under Rear Admiral A.S. Merrill, to bombard airfields on Buka and
Bonis northwest of Bougainville. He intended the bombardments to
keep the enemy off-balance and prevent air harassment of the
landing force.  The task force then steamed more than 200 miles
to strike at the Shortland Islands, while Rear Admiral F.C.
Sherman's Task Force 38 took over the bombardment of Buka,
eliminating the threat from those airfields.

     The actual landing by the 3rd Marine Division at Empress
Augusta Bay took place at dawn Nov. 1.  The bay, located at some
distance from the heavily defended airfields at either end of the
island, had what appeared to be the most suitable beaches for a
landing.  The plan was to establish a beachhead, then bring in
supplies and equipment to build a landing strip for fighters. 
Invasion forces consisted of 14,321 troops (including the 1st
Marine Dog Platoon with their 24 Dobermans and German shepherds)
in 12 transports, preceded by a minesweeper group. Destroyer
Squadron 45, four minelayers and two salvage tugs provided
further support.

     The landing met with several obstacles.  The Japanese
defense of the beaches was stronger than anticipated.  The 40,000
troops on the island had been reported stationed mainly around
the airfields, and aerial reconnaissance photos did not reveal
the extensive system of bunkers in the jungles above the beaches.
The Marines who landed west of the mouth of the Koromokina River
encountered steep slopes and shoals on which more than 80 of
their amphibious craft foundered.  Those landing east of the
Koromokina were caught in crossfire from machine guns on the
offshore islet of Puruata and on Cape Torokina east of the beach.
A small contingent of Marines knocked out the gun emplacement on
the cape after it had destroyed or damaged 14 landing craft; the
3d Marine Raiders captured Puruata. 

     The landing force drove away the rest of the Japanese
defenders, while the dog platoon, moving ahead of the main body,
sniffed out snipers along the trails of the bog-ridden jungle.

     In spite of the resistance, and two Japanese air assaults
launched from Rabaul bases during the day (which were driven off
by AirSols fighters), the Marines succeeded.  By nightfall, all
14,000 troops, together with 6,200 tons of fuel, rations, and
ammunition, were landed along a 200-yard perimeter.

Battle of Empress Augusta Bay
     The evening of the landing, Army reconnaissance aircraft
reported that a large Japanese surface force was heading for
Bougainville.  Task Force 39 intercepted it about 2:30 the
following morning 45 miles west of Empress Augusta Bay.  The
American ships, executing maneuvers at breakneck speeds in the
darkness to avoid Japanese long-range torpedoes, sank two enemy
ships after three hours of heavy fire.  With two other ships
damaged in collisions while trying to avoid American torpedoes,
the scattered Japanese chose to retreat.  The American force had
only two ships hit, both of which sustained moderate damage.

The Japanese Response
     The initial Japanese reaction to the Bougainville landing
was to send a force of 19 ships to strengthen Rabaul.  However, a
Nov. 5 air attack from Task Force 38 heavily damaged seven
cruisers and two destroyers, prompting the withdrawal of the
cruisers and eliminating worries about surface attacks on the
Bougainville amphibious forces. 

     Even so, the night of Nov. 6-7, four Japanese destroyers
eluded the Americans and landed 475 troops west of the Marine
beachhead.  The Japanese hoped to catch the Marines between them
and the other troops on the island, but the enemy forces never
coordinated their actions.  The Marines routed out the
counter-landing detachment after two days of artillery barrages.

     Fewer than 100 Japanese escaped into the jungle; the rest
were killed.  The Marines sustained under 50 casualties.
Another punishing attack from Task Force 38 on Rabaul Nov. 11
cost the Japanese 68 fighters and three ships.  Nevertheless,
Japanese carrier air groups from Rabaul made repeated attacks on
the American landing force and the U.S. Navy ships, which
continued to ferry in reinforcements, supplies and munitions.
The strikes did little damage to the American forces, but the
Japanese lost so many planes--121 out of 173--that the remaining
carrier-based squadrons were withdrawn Nov. 13. 

     By that time, the Americans had landed nearly 34,000 troops
and over 23,000 tons of cargo on Bougainville, widened the
beachhead 7,000 yards, and moved 5,000 yards inland through
dense, difficult mangrove swamps.

     Even though two airfields were under construction and the
Marines were expanding their perimeter in search of a site to
build a bomber strip, the Japanese army commander on Bougainville
still believed that the landing was a feint.  He continued to
think that the primary targets were Buka to the north and the
Buin section of the island to the southeast.  Thus, no Japanese
forces were withdrawn from either end of the island to root out
the American invasion, and the Americans had the opportunity to
solidify their positions.

Holidays in the Solomons
     On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, Burke's DesRon 23 fought the
Battle of Cape St. George, sinking three Japanese vessels out of
five sent with troops to reinforce Buka.  The American ships
suffered no hits at all.  The same day, the Marines pushing
inland along the Piva River virtually destroyed the 23rd Imperial
Infantry in the Battle of Piva Forks.  This was the last major
Japanese ground resistance on Bougainville.

     On Christmas Day, the Army's Americal Division arrived on
Bougainville to relieve the 3rd Marine Division.  Marine Major
General R.J. Mitchell, ComAirSols, moved his headquarters to
Bougainville to direct the final air campaign against Rabaul,
only 220 miles away.  Within a month, the base at Rabaul was of
no further use to the Japanese. 

     American troops continued to occupy Bougainville, and
contain dwindling Japanese troops, until relieved by Australian
II Corps troops in late 1944.  The Australians attempted to clear
the entire island of Japanese, incurring heavy casualties.  The
end of the Pacific war brought and end to action on Bougainville.

Campaign Results
     The Bougainville campaign remains one of the most resounding
successes of the war in the Pacific in terms of the smooth
coordination between the Navy and Marine Corps.

     The capture of Bougainville successfully isolated Rabaul.
In the fight for Bougainville, the Japanese expended more of
their air units than they could afford to lose.  The Bougainville
airstrips constructed at Torokina and Piva by Seabees and
engineers made possible fighter-escorted bomber attacks against
Rabaul, and other Japanese bases on New Ireland and New Britain.

     In December 1943, AirSols began a massive attack on Rabaul.
The ensuing two months of constant air strikes, made possible by
the possession of Bougain-ville, caused the Japanese to withdraw.
The capture of Bougainville caused Marine casualties of 423 dead
and 1,418 wounded.


Sources
Gailey, Harry A.  Bougainville.  Lexington:  The University Press
of Kentucky, 1991.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History of United States Naval Operations
in World War II. Vol. VI.  Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier.
Boston:  Little, Brown & Co., 1950.

Simmons, Brig. Gen. Edwin H., USMC (Ret.).  The United States
Marines:  The First Two Hundred Years.  New York:  Viking Press,
Inc., 1976.

Shaw, Henry  I., Jr., and Major Douglas T. Kane.  History of U.S.
Marine Operations in World War II.  Vol. I.  Isolation of Rabaul.
Historical Branch, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1963.

Van der Vat, Dan.  The Pacific Campaign:  World War II, the U.S.-
Japanese Naval War, 1941 - 1945.  New York:  Simon & Schuster,
1991.


    Navy & Marine Corps World War II Commemorative Committee
Navy Office of Information (CHINFO)
The Pentagon, Room 2E352
Washington, DC  20350-1200

 

 

Noah@SemperFidelisNoah.com


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