Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville

Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville

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Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville

Admiral Halsey (right) watching American troops embarking on their transport ships before the invasion of Bougainville. In the centre is Lieutenant W. J. Kitchell, on the left is Colonel W. E. Riley, a member of Halsey's staff.

Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville - History

It promptly became apparent that neither side could gain control of the seas, each interrupting the supply lines of the other. As supplies became desperately short, APDs and their Japanese counterparts soon operated in a non-stop disembark-refuel-embark-depart cycle and often found themselves the only nearby help for others in distress. On 23 August, for example, Manley took aboard 99 survivors of destroyer Blue and made Espiritu Santo with only two hours&rsquo fuel on board. Removing all topside weight, her crew painted the ship jungle green and spread camouflage nets. Belching fire and smoke as she and her sisters did in air attacks and shore bombardments, the Marine Raiders soon began calling them &ldquoGreen Dragons&rdquo and formed close bonds with their crews, which last to this day.

Savo Island from Lunga Point.

Such exposed duty was bound to catch up with them. On the afternoon of 30 August, Colhoun was hit and sunk in a daylight air raid. Boats from Guadalcanal rescued some of her crew but 51 men were killed and 18 wounded.

On the night of 4 September, after Gregory and division flagship Little transferred a Marine Raider Battalion to Savo Island, they observed flashes of gunfire which they supposed came from a Japanese submarine. Unfortunately, so did a Navy plane which dropped a string of five flares almost on top of them. Fatal error! Three Japanese destroyers immediately sighted them off Lunga Point and opened fire, sinking both and then strafing swimmers. Admiral Nimitz reflected, &ldquoWith little means, the ships performed duties vital to the success of the campaign.&rdquo


Approach (above) and entrance (below) to Viru Harbor, New Georgia.

On 20 June, he sent Waters and Dent with the 4th Marine Raider Battalion to land at Segi Point, to arrive before the Japanese. Thrills in the predawn night came when two large fires&mdashone astern and one on the port beam of the APDs&mdashwere lighted by friendly natives, their method of communication with each other. The area thus gained the nickname &ldquoBonfire Bay.&rdquo More thrills came as the APDs scraped bottom several times on coral and the only chart available for navigation had the statement &ldquoDo not navigate these waters without intimate local knowledge.&rdquo The last time the pilot, an Australian, had been there was twenty years before.

On 29 June, TransDiv 22&rsquos Schley, Kilty, Ward and Crosby loaded Army troops and stood out from Guadalcanal for Viru Harbor coordinated with the raiders from Segi Point. Reconnaissance the previous week indicated no defensive gun emplacements there but as the column of APDs neared the harbor entrance at dawn, 30 June, machine gun fire and then heavy shellfire commenced from the high bluffs inside the harbor entrance. The APDs quickly moved out of range and returned fire but landed the troops nearby.

Rendova Island from Blanche Channel (top) and Rendova Strait (above). Rice Anchorage from Kula Gulf (below).

Also on 30 June, the main landings took place at Rendova. III &rsquoPhib&rsquos RAdm. Kelly Turner led attack transports, five APDs of TransDiv 12, flush-deck minesweeper Zane, nine LSTs and eleven LCIs plus escorting destroyers of DesRon 12. In heavy rain, the landings were made without opposition Zane ran aground only five miles from Munda but fortunately was pulled free before she was discovered.

On 4 July, Stringham, Talbot, Waters, Dent, Schley, Kilty and Crosby plus flush-deck minesweepers Hopkins and Trever, escorted by five destroyers, transported the 1st Marine Raiders to Rice Anchorage in Kula Gulf. RAdm. Ainsworth&rsquos Task Force 18, covering these landings by penetrating deeper in the gulf to bombard Vila and Bairoko Harbor, lost destroyer Strong.

RAdm. Ainsworth was back the next night for the Battle of Kula Gulf, losing cruiser Helena in the &ldquoSlot&rdquo northeast of Kolombangara. Even after first light, destroyers Nicholas and Radford lingered to rescue almost two thirds of Helena&rsquos men the next night, Gwin and Woodworth picked up almost a hundred more from New Georgia. But not until the Battle of Kolombangara a week later did word arrive that about 150 more had drifted west across enemy-controlled Vella Gulf to Vella Lavella. Determined Admiral Turner told reporters, &ldquoI am sending out all destroyers available to cover the mission, with the APDs to do the actual rescue job. We&rsquove got to get these men off. That&rsquos all there is to it.&rdquo

Vella Lavella from Vella Gulf (above) and from the shore at Barakoma (below).

At noon on 15 July, APDs Waters and Dent stood out for Vella Lavella. Escorted by four destroyers under DesRon 12&rsquos Captain Ryan and covered by four more of Capt. McInerney&rsquos DesRon 21 operating up the Slot, they entered Vella Gulf from the south and closed the island&rsquos uncharted eastern shore. On a night widely remembered as the spookiest of the campaign, destroyer Taylor felt her way inshore with radar and leadline, followed by the APDs. Providentially, their Higgins boats met no opposition but picked up 165 officers and men from two locations&mdashplus nine Chinese, three women, four babies and an American and Japanese pilot.

&ldquoIt was an impudent thing to do,&rdquo said DesRon 12&rsquos Captain Ryan in command, &ldquobut it was damned well worth it.&rdquo

&ldquoThank you for bringing home so much of our bacon. Well done,&rdquo signaled RAdm. Theodore Wilkinson, who had just relieved RAdm. Turner as commander of III &rsquoPhib.

On Sunday 1 August 1943, McKean, Stringham, Talbot, Waters and Kilty departed Guadalcanal with the U.S. Army 27th Combat Team for Onaiavisi escorted by Cdr. Arleigh (later Capt. &ldquo31-knot&rdquo) Burke with destroyers Maury, Craven, Dunlap and Gridley, the first three to become famous under Cdr. Frederick Moosbrugger a week later at the Battle of Vella Gulf.

The decision to bypass Kolombangara having been taken, the next operation was to land troops and a construction battalion at Barakoma, Vella Lavella to build a fighter strip there. McKean, Stringham, Talbot, Waters, Dent, Kilty, Ward and LSTs with six destroyers under Capt. Ryan arrived and commenced disembarking troops and supplies at 0600, Sunday 15 August. Air attacks began two hours later but caused no damage covering American fighters claimed 44 attackers shot down.


Cape Torokina, Bougainville.

On 31 October 1943, nine APDs&mdashMcKean, Stringham, Talbot, Waters, Dent, Kilty, Ward, Crosby and Dickerson&mdashembarked the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal and stood out for the main Bougainville landings with six destroyers of DesRon 22. Pausing at Rendova to pick up stores and a Pathfinder Hydrographic Party, they rendezvoused with other ships and overnight approached Empress Augusta Bay. Their Higgins boats, launched at 0600 on 1 November under cover of shore bombardment from the destroyers and even the full-size attack transports present, hit the beach north of Cape Torokina without opposition. But this large operation required reinforcements. Returning to Purvis Bay on 4 November, they loaded more Marines at Guadalcanal and, less Dickerson, headed back up the Slot to Bougainville for landings on 6 November. After brief R&R, now also less Kilty, they repeated the trip again, departing 16 November.

At 0300 the following morning, twenty miles from their destination, radar detected several &ldquobogies.&rdquo One approached Talbot but turned sharply toward McKean, putting a torpedo into her after magazine and depth charge stowage, which ruptured fuel tanks and set the after part of the ship ablaze. Twenty minutes later, surviving crew and Marines went over the side, shortly before the forward fuel tank and magazine exploded. Sixty-four crew members and 58 Marines were lost.
The Torokina landings were the last offensive operation of the Solomons campaign. APDs continued to operate from Solomon Island bases to Green Island and Emirau, helping isolate Rabaul, but on 25 November, with consolidation of the Solomon Islands complete and on their departure for Australia, Admiral Halsey said good-bye to his APDs:



They also participated in the Marshall Islands operation and supported General MacArthur&rsquos campaign along New Guinea&rsquos north coast.

There followed the invasion of the Marianas and the western Carolines.


    was rammed by Fullam and sank, fortunately without loss of life.
  • After the Leyte landings, Ward was set on fire at Ormoc Bay by a kamikaze hit and scuttled by the new destroyer O&rsquoBrien, skippered by her own commanding officer from Pearl Harbor three years before.
  • Moving north, at Luzon&rsquos Lingayen Gulf, Brooks and Belknap were damaged by suiciders, towed away and decommissioned.



As the Okinawa campaign loomed in 1945, Dent drew training duty on the West Coast but the other 23 started arriving in March 1945. There, most escaped damage and some were released during the campaign with the following exceptions:

  • On 2 April, Dickerson was damaged so badly by a suicide plane that she was towed out to sea and sunk.
  • On 27 April, Rathburne was hit on the port bow at the waterline by a suicide plane, but made Kerama Retto, where repairs were made. Returning to San Diego, she was reclassified DD and undergoing conversion when the war ended. Decommissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard, she was scrapped in 1946.
  • On 25 May, Barry was hit by a suicide plane and abandoned, but reboarded and fires extinguished. Decommissioned 21 June, she was towed to sea by LSM 59, to be used as a decoy for kamikazes. The kamikazes did not wait, however, but sank both her and her escort. ended the war at Okinawa but was one of more than 100 ships driven aground by a typhoon, 9 October 1945. She was found washed up &ldquohigh and dry&rdquo but perfectly upright on a beach at nearby Kutaka Island, where she was stripped of all usable materials and abandoned decommissioned 23 November 1945 and stricken 5 December.


References: Alden, Friedman, Roscoe, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center, The Famed Green Dragons.

Coast Watching in the Solomon Islands : The Bougainville Reports, December 1941-July 1943

The Bougainville Reports--by Jack Read, Paul Mason, and other coast watchers--are vivid accounts of the coast watching activities on Buka and Bougainville Islands in the Solomon Islands chain during World War II and describe in detail one of the most successful intelligence operations of the war. By the time war came to the South Pacific on December 8, 1941, an excellent intra-district communication network had already been established on Bougainville. A daily system of radio reporting was put into effect by Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, who later wrote: Few realized that when the first waves of United States Marines landed on the bitterly contested beaches of Guadalcanal, coast watchers on Bougainville, New Georgia, and other islands were sending warning signals of impending Japanese air raids almost two hours before enemy aircraft formations appeared over the island.

Japanese shipping and aircraft activity was monitored and news of spottings was telegraphed to Guadalcanal Headquarters. Information on shipping was directly responsible for the American victory in November 1942, when 12 Japanese transports, loaded with reinforcements, were intercepted and destroyed. Jack Read summarized his activities as follows: Reviewing the course of our operations, we can see that coast watching on that most northerly peg of the Solomons had fulfilled its mission long before we were driven out--and to a far greater effect than even we realized. During the early and uncertain days of the American struggle to wrest Guadalcanal from the Japanese, the reports and timely warnings from Bougainville were directly responsible for the enemy's defeat. Admiral William Halsey praised the work of the coast watchers and said that the intelligence information from Bougainville saved Guadalcanal and that Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific. These edited reports tell the remarkable story of Read, Mason, and other coast watchers and depict their struggles for survival in the Japanese-patrolled jungles of Bougainville. They provide a fascinating account that will intrigue historians, World War II and espionage buffs, and students.

A Smaller Midway? Fighting Japan In The Solomon Isles Was Critical To Winning World War II

To neutralize the major Japanese base at Rabaul, American troops would need to take Bougainville in the Soloman Islands.

Yamamoto sorely wanted to regain the strategic initiative and, perhaps, win one additional major victory since the lightning campaign of 1941-1942. Such a decisive Japanese victory might yet compel the Allies to seek a negotiated peace and allow the Japanese to keep their new Pacific empire.

Ironically, on April 18, 1943, during a morale-boosting trip to the Northern Solomons, Yamamoto’s personal, twin-engined, Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber was shot down by Guadalcanal-based American Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters over the southern tip of Bougainville. Admiral Mineichi Koga took over the Combined Fleet after Yamamoto’s death.

Halsey continued his Central Solomons campaign with a landing on New Georgia on June 30, 1943, but the capture of Munda airfield took until August 5 and precipitated the evacuation of many Japanese units to Kolombangara three days later. The final cleanup of New Georgia lasted until August 27.

Originally Halsey’s plan called for the attack against Munda to be followed by the seizure of Vila airfield on Kolombangara, but the Japanese were correctly believed to be established on that island in considerable strength, with estimates of a garrison of nearly 10,000 troops. Halsey did not want another protracted campaign to capture Vila.

The American admiral stated, “The undue length of the Munda operation and our casualties made me wary of another slugging match, but I didn’t know how to avoid it.”

His staff came up with a new route to Bougainville bypassing Kolombangara and landing at Vella Lavella, the northernmost island in the New Georgia group. On August 15, the U.S Army’s 35th Regimental Combat Team landed on Vella Lavella. The 14th New Zealand Brigade arrived the following month to complete the occupation by September 24.

Although there was never any substantial ground combat on Vella Lavella because Japanese ground forces were both limited and in the process of withdrawing, the real struggle for Vella Lavella occurred with naval surface action and incessant aerial attacks on American shipping, which included more than 100 hundred enemy air attacks from August 15 to September 3, 1943.

The loss of New Georgia and the bypassing of Kolombangara somehow produced a reversal of the defeatism the Japanese suffered after the loss of Guadalcanal and Papua during the early winter months of 1943. On September 30, 1943, Imperial Headquarters instructed local Japanese commanders to hold the southeastern front as long as possible. Orders came from Tokyo that indicated that Rabaul had to remain the center of this defense line.

Bougainville was to become the staging area for renewed attacks to the south and east. As the troops from Kolombangara and the other Central Solomon islands were brought back to safer Japanese areas, they were concentrated on Bougainville. After the loss of Guadalcanal and New Georgia and the evacuation of Kolombangara, Bougainville was deemed the best option to accomplish the two goals of protecting Rabaul and serving as an eventual springboard to strike southeastward again.

Also, the continued possession of Bougainville was to provide the leaders in Tokyo the necessary time for the IJA to supply and execute land offensives in China and through Burma’s western boundary into India. Victories in these operations might derail Allied war plans in the Pacific Theater.

American tactical planning for the Bougainville assault began in July 1943, when Halsey assigned the I Amphibious Corps Headquarters, under U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandegrift (after the unexpected death in a freak fall of Maj. Gen. Charles Barrett) to command the ground forces.

MacArthur wanted Halsey’s aircraft established within fighter range of Rabaul in time to assist with the neutralization of that major Japanese base as well as to cover the SWPA’s invasion of Cape Gloucester on the southern end of New Britain, which was planned between December 25, 1943, and January 1, 1944.

MacArthur deemed it strategically necessary for Halsey’s South Pacific forces to establish themselves on the mainland of Bougainville on November 1, 1943. MacArthur placed the tactical location for Bougainville’s invasion squarely in Halsey’s hands. The Americans realized that the IJA forces on Bougainville were far more formidable than on Guadalcanal, and this produced a change in Halsey’s plans for the move northward, even as the fighting was continuing on New Georgia in the Central Solomons.

Admiral Halsey and his South Pacific Force staff’s strategic outlook and tactical planning had to evolve to establish a beachhead on Bougainville without a bloodbath. Largely due to the combat exhaustion of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division on New Georgia and the commitment of the 2nd Marine Division to Nimitz’s Central Pacific offensive, Halsey’s South Pacific Force was left with only the unblooded 3rd Marine Division and the Army’s 37th Infantry Division, the latter largely an Ohio National Guard unit that had also seen action on New Georgia.

Halsey’s requirement for a beachhead was to assault a lightly defended area to avoid heavy casualties. Then he needed to possess enough territory to quickly establish a strong perimeter to protect the construction of a coastal fighter airfield since continuous carrier-based air cover would not be available indefinitely to maintain an umbrella over the invasion site. As soon as possible a fighter and medium bomber strip would be built farther inland within a well-defended American perimeter for aircraft there to participate in Operation Cartwheel. The Kieta area on Bougainville’s east coast had the requisite flat plains for airfields as well as good harbors for Allied transports.

However, this locale was near Japanese-occupied Choiseul, which meant that this large Solomon island, too, would have to be secured in advance. Disadvantages to other beaches on Bougainville’s east coast were their proximity to strong Japanese garrisons concentrated on the island’s southern tip at Buin and the poor soil composition for airfield construction.

An alternative site was Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville’s west coast. It was closer to Rabaul than Kieta, and its approach was unimpeded by adjacent enemy-held islands or strong garrisons. A five-mile strip of beach there was deemed suitable for a landing with nearby soil conditions favorable for building airfields.

Given the primitive jungle trails and the harsh mountainous terrain of the Emperor and Crown Prince mountain ranges, the Cape Torokina area was almost isolated from the strong Japanese garrisons in northern and southern Bougainville. Halsey’s staff calculated that it would take the Japanese three to four months to bring enough heavy artillery over the mountains to launch counterattacks once the American invasion force was ashore at Empress Augusta Bay.

On the down side, the bay’s inshore waters were poorly charted and treacherous, with the five-mile strip of beach largely unprotected from monsoons. Also, the coastline was swampy while the anchorage was unsuitable for large vessels. Finally, the Torokina area was no farther than 65 miles from any of the Japanese air bases on Bougainville and only 215 miles from Rabaul’s airdromes to the northwest.

The staff of the IJA’s 17th Army had evaluated the beach areas on Bougainville as potential landing sites for an Allied amphibious invasion and regarded the Cape Torokina locale at Empress Augusta Bay as most unlikely.

Japanese commanders stationed only one company of 270 men from the 2nd Battalion, 23rd IJA Infantry Regiment (Colonel Hamanoue, regimental commander) with a single 75mm artillery piece there as an outpost.

Lieutenant General Masatane Kanda, commander of the IJA 6th Infantry Division on Bougainville, believed that the Allies would land southeast of Cape Torokina where he had about 2,500 troops. General Hitoshi Imamura, stationed at Rabaul, believed that if Halsey were to land at Cape Torokina it would be only a short-lived amphibious assault.

Imamura believed that the Buka Island area, just north of Bougainville, was the main invasion site for Halsey’s South Pacific Force and reinforced Bougainville’s northern tip rather than committing his substantial number of troops to the western coast. Later, despite the South Pacific Force’s continued presence at Cape Torokina after Halsey’s invasion there, Imamura inexplicably continued to build up the defenses at Buin.

On September 22, 1943, Halsey canceled all his earlier invasion plans and assigned the units to constitute Bougainville’s invasion force. The 14,000 men of the newly formed 3rd Marine Division, reinforced by the 2nd and 3rd Raider Battalions and the 3rd Defense Battalion, would lead the assault at Empress Augusta Bay.

In sharp contrast to the assault on New Georgia in the Central Solomons, Halsey would send his troops ashore at the weakly held Cape Torokina, despite having beach and terrain conditions that the admiral pronounced as “worse than anything ever encountered in the South Pacific.”

Halsey informed MacArthur of his landing site at Cape Torokina on October 1 with an invasion via Empress Augusta Bay set for November 1.

On October 27, 1943, Choiseul, southeast of Bougainville and north of Vella Lavella, was attacked by the 2nd Parachute Battalion of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Victor H. Krulak, as a feint to confuse the Japanese about Halsey’s real intention.

The Treasury Islands, lying directly south of both Bougainville and the Shortland Islands, would also need to be occupied by Halsey’s South Pacific Force to serve as advance bases for small craft, including PT boats.

Arleigh A. Burke Dies at 94 Naval Hero of World War II

Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, a battle-decorated Chief of Naval Operations whose combat exploits against Japanese naval forces in the South Pacific made him the Navy's most celebrated destroyer squadron commander of World War II, died yesterday at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 94 and lived in Fairfax, Va.

Admiral Burke, who retired in 1961 after 42 years in the Navy, including a record six-year tenure as the Chief of Naval Operations in the Administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, died of complications of pneumonia, said a Navy spokesman, Lieut. Comdr. Ed Austin.

In a career that took him from Annapolis to Washington via the high seas, Admiral Burke, a stocky pipe smoker with an easy smile, served in battleships and aircraft carriers, was a member of the United Nations truce negotiations team in the Korean War and in Washington became a strong advocate of a powerful nuclear fleet for the Navy, including its missile-launching Polaris submarines.

But he was best known as "31 Knot Burke," a nickname supplied by Admiral William F. Halsey, for his exploits as the commander of Squadron 23, a pack of eight destroyers that staged high-speed torpedo attacks that devastated enemy warships in the Solomon Islands in late 1943 and early 1944.

"Stand aside! Stand aside! I'm coming through at 31 knots," Mr. Burke, then a Captain, radioed darkened American troop transports as his squadron, named Little Beavers for a comic-strip character, steamed up the slot at boiler-bursting speed to attack a Japanese task force off Bougainville on the night of Nov. 1, 1943.

In a widely heralded action, the squadron covered the landing of thousands of American troops while attacking enemy vessels and aircraft. When the battle of Empress Augusta Bay ended the next day, the Japanese toll was horrendous. A cruiser and four destroyers lay on the bottom, and two cruisers and a pair of destroyers had limped away heavily damaged.

Later that month, the squadron engaged another Japanese task force off Cape St. George, New Ireland, and sank three destroyers without taking a hit. In 22 engagements from November 1943 to February 1944, the Navy said, Capt. Burke's squadron was credited with sinking one cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine and nine smaller ships, as well as downing approximately 30 aircraft.

Later, Mr. Burke became a chief of staff to Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, whose carrier task forces attacked the Japanese at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Tokyo. Mr. Burke was aboard the flagship Bunker Hill and later the Enterprise when they were hit by Japanese suicide planes off Okinawa.

In 1949, during interservice disputes that followed the unification of the armed forces, Mr. Burke fell into disfavor with some officials of the Truman Administration by heading a group of high Navy officers that campaigned for supercarriers and against a strategic reliance on the Air Force's B-36 bombers.

His role in what was called the Admiral's revolt seemed to scuttle his chances for promotion. But his name went back on the lists a year later, when he became a rear admiral, and in 1951, he became a member of the allied cease-fire commission in Korea for six months.

In 1955, he was selected by Eisenhower over 92 more senior officers to be Chief of Naval Operations. In that post, he advocated a balanced and versatile fleet, new antisubmarine technology, the development of Polaris submarines and other nuclear systems, and new aircraft designs. He served three two-year terms, but insisted on retiring in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy offered him a fourth term.

Arleigh Albert Burke was born on a farm near Boulder, Colo., on Oct. 19, 1901. His parents were of Swedish and Pennsylvania Dutch stock, his paternal grandfather having changed the name from Bjorkegren. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1923, and after five years of sea duty, earned a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan in 1931.

He was an inspector at a naval gun factory in Washington when World War II broke out. He immediately applied for sea duty, but his application was not granted until 1943, when he was sent to command destroyers in the Solomons. For his ensuing exploits, he was awarded 13 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Silver Star.

In January 1977, he was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by President Gerald R. Ford. In 1984, the Navy named a class of missile-launching destroyers for him. And in 1991, it launched the U.S.S. Arleigh Burke, an $864 million destroyer, and for the first time in Navy history, the man for whom a ship was named was on hand to see her commissioned.

Mr. Burke is survived by his wife, the former Roberta (Bobbie) Gorsuch, to whom he was married for 72 years.

Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville - History

By John Brown

Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, coast watcher Cornelius Page, a plantation manager on Tabar Island 20 miles north of New Ireland in the South Pacific, reported by teleradio that Japanese planes were making reconnaissance flights over New Ireland and New Britain. A month later, Japanese marines and troops landed on both Australian-administered islands and quickly overcame the few Australian defenders.

Page kept up a continuous flow of information on the invasions, and with the help of another planter, Jack Talmadge, he organized a spy network from among the local people and reported on the buildup at Rabaul on New Britain. Rabaul was being transformed into a huge base, and airfields were being constructed there and at Kavieng, New Ireland. Page reported for five months, until he and Talmadge were captured and executed.

A Line in the Sea: 1st Marine Division Captures Tulagi

From the base at Rabaul, Japanese forces moved on to the Australian-administered islands of Buka and Bougainville, and then along the double chain of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, reaching Tulagi in May 1942, where they began building a naval base to complement the excellent anchorage. Coast watchers reported these developments to their headquarters. In late June, coast watchers reported that some Japanese detachments had moved from Tulagi to Guadalcanal and were beginning to construct an airfield on a grassy plain at Lunga Point.

It was then that Allied war planners made the decision to halt Japanese expansion. Tulagi and Guadalcanal must be the limit. The Japanese had to be stopped. Any further advance and their warships and planes would threaten the sea lane between the United States and Australia, where a buildup of American forces and materiel had begun.

Coast watchers provided valuable intelligence on Japanese movements and troop dispositions during the fighting in the South Pacific. Control of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea was vital to Allied plans for a counteroffensive in the region and to safeguard Australia against invasion.

On August 7, 1942, a regiment of the 1st Marine Division landed on Tulagi. With the first Marines ashore were two Englishmen, coast watchers Dick Horton and Henry Josselyn. They knew Tulagi well. Before the war both had been district officers in the British administration of the Solomons, and because of their knowledge of the islands the Australian Coast Watcher Organization had loaned them to the Marines as guides and advisers. They were both awarded the Silver Star for their part in the bitter three-day battle for Tulagi.

“Twenty Two Torpedo Bombers Headed Yours”

That same day, August 7, Marines landed at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal, an island about 80 miles long by 30 miles wide. The Japanese, mostly engineering troops and construction workers, offered little resistance and quickly retreated inland. The American transport ships and Navy escort, crowded around the point with their radios tuned to the emergency frequency, heard a warning: “From STO. Twenty four torpedo bombers headed yours.”

The warning came from coast watcher Paul Mason, who was in a hideout with his teleradio on Malabita Hill at the southern end of Japanese-occupied Bougainville overlooking Buin and the Shortland Islands, 350 miles to the north. Before the Japanese came, he had been a planter on the island. His warning gave the ships at Tulagi and Guadalcanal time to raise anchor and disperse with their antiaircraft guns manned. Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters took off from the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Saratoga to wait aloft for the attackers. Only one of the Japanese bombers made it back to base at Rabaul. The rest were shot down by the fighter pilots and antiaircraft gunners or ran out of fuel.

The next day, another coast watcher, Jack Read, came on the air. Before the war he had been a district officer of the Australian administration of Bougainville. Now he was in a hideout at Porapora, overlooking Buka Passage, the channel between Buka Island and the tip of northern Bougainville. “From JER,” he reported, “forty five dive bombers going southeast.” Southeast was toward Guadalcanal.

Later in the day, Paul Mason was on the air again, warning of more Japanese planes on their way to Guadalcanal. In their positions at the north and south ends of Bougainville, an island 125 miles long by about 40 miles wide, the two coast watchers were able to monitor Japanese flight paths from Rabaul on New Britain and Kavieng on New Ireland to Guadalcanal.

The cooperation of coast watchers Horton, Josselyn, Read, Mason, and others during the long battle for Guadalcanal would, at the end of the battle, earn them a commendation from General Alexander Vandegrift, commander of the 1st Marine Division. He called the coast watchers, “Our small band of devoted allies who have contributed so vastly in proportion to their numbers.”

The Civilians of the Australian Coast Watcher Organization

Coast watchers were civilians of the Australian Coast Watcher Organization, a service that began in the years after World War I when a Navy officer in Western Australia, Captain C.J. Clare, created an organization of unpaid members to report on unusual or suspicious happenings along Australia’s 23,000 miles of mostly isolated coastline. The members were outback police, workers on remote cattle and sheep ranches, post and telegraph operators, seamen, missionaries—people from all walks of life who reported to the Naval Intelligence Division in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, the Coast Watcher Organization was quickly extended to South Pacific islands under Australian control—Papua and New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, the Admiralties, the Trobriands, and by arrangement with the British, to their Solomon Islands Protectorate. Again, members came from all walks of life—district officers and other government officials, planters, trade store owners, missionaries, captains of trading ships and pearling luggers, and gold prospectors.

By the time the Japanese arrived in the South Pacific, the islands in the vast area of sea to Australia’s north and east, both large and small, were dotted with coast watchers. They had no distinguishing badge or insignia and were known only as coast watchers. With the arrival of the Japanese, they were given Australian Navy or military rank or commissioned in the Solomon Islands Defence Force, in the hope that, if captured, their military status would save them from execution as spies.

Coast Watchers’ Eyes on Lunga

Martin Clemens.

At Lunga on Guadalcanal, the Marines worked feverishly on a defensive perimeter around the area while Seabees worked day and night to complete the airfield the Japanese had begun. There were coast watchers at strategic points around Guadalcanal, ready to warn of danger. W.S. Marchant, a former resident commissioner at Tulagi, was now on Malaita with a radio operator named Sexton. Donald Kennedy, a tough, middle-aged New Zealander who had spent most of his life in the islands, was at Segi on the southern coast of New Georgia. Geoffrey Kuper was on Santa Isabel, and W. Forster occupied an outpost on San Cristobal.

On Guadalcanal itself, coast watchers Macfarlan, Hay, and Andresen had reported Japanese progress on the airfield at Lunga and on Japanese ships taking reinforcements and supplies to Tulagi from their position 4,000 feet up on Gold Ridge. They watched the Marines land at Lunga Point and radioed in whatever information they could. “Snowy” Rhoades, a planter who had ridden with an Australian Light Horse regiment in the deserts of the Middle East in World War I, and Schroeder, a frail old man who owned a trade store on Savo Island, who were in hiding at the western end of Guadalcanal, were cut off by Japanese soldiers who had retreated from Lunga in their direction. They began reporting on Japanese activities and movements in their vicinity.

Martin Clemens was at Aola, on the coast 40 miles east of Lunga Point. He rescued the crew of an American bomber that crash-landed nearby, the first of hundreds of aircrew who would be saved by coast watchers. Then, irked by inactivity, he decided he would be of more use at the center of the action and walked though the lines of Japanese retreating from Lunga to join up with the Marines.

In Melbourne, Australia, Lt. Cmdr. Eric Feldt, who headed the Coast Watcher Organization, was convinced the Japanese would counterattack on Guadalcanal. He ordered his deputy, Hugh Mackenzie, to move to Guadalcanal from his station at Noumea, New Caledonia. Mackenzie, a World War I Navy lieutenant and between the wars a captain of schooners and a planter in the islands, was to set up a radio station where messages from coast watchers could be received, decoded, and passed directly to American forces on the spot.

Mackenzie took with him coast watchers Gordon Train Rayman, a native of New Ireland and Mr. Eedie, a professional radio operator who volunteered his expertise to set up the radio station. They landed at Lunga a week after the first of the Marines came ashore, and the following day the radio station was in operation in a Japanese dugout at the northwest end of the airfield with a telephone plugged into the military telephone system. The station gave warnings of air raids and received and transmitted intelligence throughout the long battle for Guadalcanal and the advance along the Solomons that followed. (Train was later killed in a U.S. bomber while guiding it to attack a camouflaged Japanese airstrip on an island on which he and his wife had their plantation.)

Native and American workers rush to complete the airfield the Japanese had begun to build at Lunga on Guadalcanal. Coast watchers had reported on Japanese progress in building the airfield, and from strategic points around the island warned of impending attacks on the area. The airfield was named Henderson Field.

Despite continuous bombing, shelling, and raging tropical diseases among the men, the airfield at Lunga was completed and named Henderson Field. On August 20, 1942, the first dive-bombers and Grumman Wildcats flew in. The following day, warned by Read and Mason on Bougainville of approaching Japanese aircraft, planes took off from the airfield to intercept them. It was the same again the next day, and many more days to come.

The Rescues of the Coast Watchers

Coast watchers Horton and Josselyn moved from Tulagi to Guadalcanal to help out at the radio station and to guide Marines to points on the island where there were Japanese posts to be wiped out and stragglers to be mopped up. By September, Japanese reinforcements were arriving on the northwest coast to begin the long, grueling land battle for Guadalcanal.

These Japanese landings put coast watchers Rhoades and Schroeder in a very dangerous position, and Mackenzie asked for a rescue attempt. Neither the Marines nor the U.S. Navy could spare anyone for it, so Mackenzie, although he had no authority as he and his coast watchers were there only to receive and pass on information, borrowed a launch and sent Dick Horton around the island to find them.

Horton made the run at night through areas of sea where both American and Japanese craft were operating and would shoot without warning. He brought back Rhoades and Schroeder, 13 missionaries, and a shot-down American airman. Schroeder was a very sick man and was evacuated to Australia. Rhoades carried on at Guadalcanal, but, riddled with malaria, he eventually had to leave for treatment. Mackenzie took a tongue-in-cheek tongue lashing from General Vandegrift for taking unauthorized action.

The Japanese were shelling Lunga at night from their warships at sea and, despite heavy losses, were bombing by day. The coast watchers decided to move the radio station to a deeper and safer dugout a short distance from their present location. The move was made just in time, as shells wiped out the position they had vacated. Coast watchers Macfarlan and Andresen also turned up at the newly located radio station. They had left Hay to continue sending information from the position on Gold Ridge, a task he could handle alone, while they came in to volunteer for postings where they would be of more use. However, Macfarlan’s malaria was so severe he had to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, coast watcher Donald Kennedy at Segi on New Georgia was keeping radio silence. He was completely surrounded by Japanese posts and staging points for barges running reinforcements and supplies to Guadalcanal. They had occupied Viru Harbor, 13 miles from him along the coast, Wickham Anchorage to the south, and Munda on the other side of the island where they were building an airfield and supply base. To keep his position secret, Kennedy taught his native scouts how to use captured Japanese weapons, and they used them to kill any Japanese who came too close to his hideout. They killed 54 and captured others who were held in a stockade at Segi.

In one skirmish with the Japanese, Kennedy was hit in the thigh by a bullet, but he removed it and successfully treated the wound. It did not slow him down. His scouts brought in 22 American airmen and 20 Japanese who had bailed out over New Georgia. As did other coast watchers, Kennedy rewarded the scouts with a bag of rice and a can of meat for each aviator brought in.

In a 1943 photo possibly taken by a coast watcher, a formation of Japanese Mitsubishi Betty bombers wings its way over New Guinea toward a distant target.

The land, sea, and air battles for Guadalcanal had been going on for weeks, and early in November the Japanese began extensive reinforcement of their forces on the island in preparation for an all-out assault. Kennedy was asked to come on the air as, from Segi, he could monitor Japanese shipping to Guadalcanal and time Japanese planes radioed in by Read and Mason on Bougainville to within minutes of their arrival over Guadalcanal. He was also able to report on the U.S. and Japanese airmen he had with him and arrange for them to be picked up by seaplanes. In November, when the Japanese moved a larger force into Wickham Anchorage, he reported it and called for air strikes that sank three cargo ships and a destroyer.

The U.S. submarine Grampus landed coast watchers Josselyn and Frith on Vella Lavella and Seton and Nick Waddell on Choiseul, on either side of the channel known as “The Slot” between the eastern and western islands of the Solomons chain, to report on Japanese shipping movements. Japanese ships and barges were using the channel to run supplies and reinforcements to Guadalcanal, the barges holding up to 120 troopers each. The convoys were coming and going at such a rate that American troops referred to them as the “Tokyo Express.” The coast watchers and their scouts rescued 31 bailed-out or shot-down American airmen, who were then taken out by flying boats. They also rescued 22 Japanese aircrew, although 21 of them had to be killed because they would not surrender.

Pursued by the Japanese

Around northern Bougainville and at Buka Passage there was so much Japanese air and sea activity that Jack Read was having difficulty reporting it. The Australian Army in New Guinea sent him a signaler, Private Sly, to help out. At the southern tip of Bougainville, Japanese troops moved in below the ridge on which Paul Mason had his observation post, bringing with them heavy guns and loads of equipment and supplies. At the same time, more and more ships and barges moved into the anchorage area enclosed by the Shortland Islands. Mason’s reports and the reports of other coast watchers confirmed that the Marines on Guadalcanal would soon be on the receiving end of a massive assault.

The Japanese on Bougainville, aware there were “spies” on the island reporting their activities and movements, decided to flush them out. First, they used tracker dogs, which proved unsuccessful. Then, with radio detection equipment, they fixed both coast watcher observation posts. One hundred men were landed at Buin to take Paul Mason, but he moved out ahead of them and kept going farther into the jungle-covered mountains until the Japanese gave up and returned to their base, whereupon he returned to Buin.

A similar number of Japanese troopers went after Jack Read and Private Sly at Buka Passage. They took off for the mountains with the Japanese at their heels. The following day, high on a mountainside, the sun broke through the rain and far out at sea Read and Sly could see a convoy of 12 troop transports heading in the direction of Guadalcanal. Disregarding the Japanese soldiers somewhere behind them, they set up the teleradio and reported the ships. Later in the day, their native scouts let them know that the Japanese soldiers had given up following them, and they returned to their observation post at Buka Passage.

Calling in Strikes on Japanese Ships

Sixty Japanese ships and barges had assembled within sight of Paul Mason at Buin. They were waiting for the troop transports Read had reported off northern Bougainville. When they arrived and the convoy got underway, heading for Guadalcanal, Mason reported it. American planes and ships attacked the convoy, and the Japanese lost some 6,000 reinforcements intended for Guadalcanal.

On Guadalcanal, coast watcher Mackenzie was wounded but was able to continue his work. Ogilvie, however, was so severely wounded he had to be evacuated. Horton and Andresen, who had been sent to set up an observation post on Russell Island, were brought back to help with the radio station.

By January 1943, the long, bloody battle for Guadalcanal was running down. The Japanese, now aware that they could never recapture the island, began a gradual withdrawal. With this running down and withdrawal, the role of some coast watchers changed. Coast watching activities gave way to scouting and advising in anticipation of an offensive to drive the Japanese back the way they had come. Going in by seaplane, PT boat, or submarine, coast watchers led military and naval technical teams onto islands to check tides and terrain for suitable landing beaches and possible airstrips and supply dump sites. Some gave crash courses for Marines and troops on how to move about on enemy-occupied islands, how to stay alive in the jungle, and how to survive the night when darkness played havoc with men’s nerves.

Dick Horton went to Segi on New Georgia to check on what the Japanese were doing on the island. From Segi he went around the island by canoe to Munda, where he set up an observation post in a tree 2,000 feet up on a mountainside. From this perch he had a magnificent view out to sea and over the Japanese base and airfield below.

Arthur Evans landed on the island of Kolombangara to report on the airfield the Japanese were building there. On one occasion, he saw a Japanese destroyer strike a mine and two other destroyers come to its assistance. He called for an air strike, and all three destroyers were sunk. On another occasion, at night, he saw a flash of light out at sea. He reported it and was told that some PT boats had been involved in an action in the vicinity and the flash was probably the exploding fuel tank of one that had been sunk. He sent his scouts to look for survivors. They brought back the surviving crewmen of PT 109, including the skipper, Lieutenant (j.g.) John F. Kennedy. Evans looked after the sailors until a PT boat got them out. Eighteen years later Evans was invited to the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States.

Clearing Russell and New Georgia With the Army and Marines

Campbell and Andresen scouted Russell Island and found the Japanese had moved out. An American Army division occupied the island and used it for jungle training, while an airfield and a base were constructed for an advance farther up the chain of islands. Andresen was relieved by Hooper so that he could move on to scout Santa Isabel, and Hooper and Campbell set up a radio station to intercept reports from coast watchers and pass on anything of interest to the forces on Russell Island.

When the American advance along the chain began, Rhoades landed on Rendova with the first Marines ashore and led them through plantations he knew well, killing several Japanese in the process. Horton joined him, and they led the Marines to fresh water, pointed out tracks, and located sites to be occupied by various units.

An armed guard of native scouts trained and commanded by Captain D.G. Kennedy escorts a captured Japanese pilot into captivity at the Segi coast watchers’ station on New Georgia in March 1943.

Two weeks before the landings on New Georgia, Donald Kennedy was scouting near Segi, where a major landing would take place, when his scouts reported that half a battalion of Japanese troops were advancing on Segi from their base at Viru Harbor 13 miles to the west. With no hope of containing that number of Japanese, Kennedy radioed for help. Marine Raiders were rushed in aboard two destroyer-transports, the scouts guiding the transports through the reefs to Kennedy, who had lit fires on the beach. For some reason, the Japanese troops stopped short of Segi and returned to Viru Harbor. As Viru Harbor was to be the site of another Marine landing, the Raiders were ordered to attack from behind when the Marine landings began. Kennedy led them on a grueling two-day hike through jungle, swamp, and across chest-deep rivers to get them behind Viru in preparation for their attack.

Corrigan met Marines, who landed north of Munda on New Georgia in June, with scouts and a large number of islanders. They helped carry the Marines’ equipment and supplies inland, along tracks cut out by Corrigan and his islanders, toward the rear of the Japanese at Enogai. During the battle for New Georgia, which lasted until early August, Corrigan and his scouts and islanders carried in supplies to Marines in the front lines and then carried out the wounded. Corrigan was subsequently awarded the Legion of Merit.

From Spotters to Guerrillas

With New Georgia cleared, it was decided to leap-frog the 10,000 Japanese on well-fortified Kolombangara and go for Vella Lavella, an island that Henry Josselyn had reconnoitered with American officers. He had shown them a suitable landing beach, which they accepted. More coast watchers arrived with the first troops to set up a radio station and act as guides.

Parties of American officers arrived on Choiseul to reconnoiter, and each party was met by coast watcher Seton, who left Waddell at their post to keep watch while he led the officers over the island for days. It was then decided to bypass the island and go straight for Bougainville, but, as a diversion, a Marine battalion would raid Choiseul.

When the Marines landed, Seton and his scouts led them to the rear of a number of Japanese positions and were involved in the actions that followed. When the Marines withdrew, Seton, Waddell, and Spencer, who had come in to help, were caught up in a small guerrilla war against Japanese troops who were searching for the Marines they thought were still on the island. More than a hundred Japanese were killed. Between engagements, the coast watchers called in bombers on targets around Choiseul Bay and rescued 23 airmen shot down around the island.

Bougainville: The Dramatic Conclusion of the Coast Watchers’ War

In preparation for the landing at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville, two teams of coast watchers and their scouts were landed by the U.S. submarine Guardfish. Robinson, Bridge, Henderson, and scouts were landed at the northern end of the bay, and Keenan, Mackie, McPhee, and scouts at the southern end. Two Marine officers went with the latter team and would meet the troops when they came ashore. When the troops landed, they had with them more coast watchers who set up a radio station to open communication with other coast watchers on Bougainville and nearby islands. More coast watchers came in later to assist in a variety of functions while American forces were on Bougainville.

American forces moved on from Bougainville with the arrival of Australian troops to clear the island of the nearly 40,000 Japanese still there and ready to fight. Paul Mason, who had been hospitalized in Australia, returned to the island to lead local guerrillas against outlying Japanese posts and patrols. They used bows and arrows and spears until he could teach them how to use captured Japanese weapons.

Lt. Cmdr. W.J. “Jack” Read of the Royal Australian Navy Intelligence Division poses (hand on hip) with other personnel, including native scouts, at the Australian Intelligence Bureau Camp at Lunga, Guadalcanal, on March 27, 1945.

With the Bougainville objective attained, the work of coast watchers in this region ended. They were rewarded with medals and praise and went back to their plantations, trade stores, coastal trading ships, and careers as government officials, asking only that credit be given to the many more involved with them. Without the help of their scouts and loyal islanders who carried their supplies and cumbersome teleradios, the crews of ships and submarines, planes and PT boats who took them to Japanese-occupied islands through enemy infested seas and kept them supplied, and the Marines and GIs who were always quick to respond to any call for help, they would not have been able to operate so successfully.

Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, commander of the Guadalcanal operation, paid tribute to the coast watchers of the Solomons, saying, “The coast watchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

John Brown is an expert on the war in the Pacific and a first-time contributor to WWII History. He writes from his home in Minyama, Queensland, Australia.

Admiral Halsey watching troops embark for Bougainville - History

By David Alan Johnson

The first Japanese general officer to suggest abandoning Guadalcanal to the Americans was probably Maj. Gen. Kenryo Sato, the War Ministry’s chief of its Military Affairs Bureau. More important, General Sato was also an adviser to General Hideki Tojo, Japan’s prime minister. At Army headquarters in Tokyo, Sato advised Tojo not to send any more men and supplies to the island and that he should “give up the idea of retaking Guadalcanal.”

“Do you mean withdrawal?” Tojo wanted to know.

“We have no choice,” Sato replied. “Even now it may be too late. If we go on like this, we have no chance of winning the war.”

Tojo listened to what Sato had to say and recognized the truth of his argument. Japan had already overextended itself in men and equipment for the Guadalcanal campaign. But many senior officers, as well as Emperor Hirohito himself, were not yet ready to give up. During a special meeting of his cabinet on December 5, 1942, Tojo agreed to send 95,000 tons of supplies to the starving troops on Guadalcanal. This was in addition to 290,000 tons that had already been agreed upon. The subject of abandoning Guadalcanal had been raised, however. It would come up again in the very near future.

The exchange between General Sato and Tojo had also taken place in early December 1942, when the Japanese War Ministry and the Army General Staff were already beginning to talk about withdrawing from Guadalcanal. It was a subject that would have been unthinkable even a month earlier, but after nearly four months of brutal fighting, the realities of the costly and frustrating campaign were beginning to sink in.

The Three Attempts of the Tokyo Express

Japanese forces had been trying to retake Guadalcanal and its airfield, named Henderson Field by the Americans, since August 7, 1942, when U.S. Marines first landed on the island. During the next several months, Japanese and American forces fought six major naval battles in the waters around Guadalcanal and engaged in almost continual ground fighting. Both sides endured serious losses in men, ships, aircraft, and resources. The major difference was that the Americans could afford the losses the Japanese could not.

The Japanese Army General Staff had never intended to give up even though all its efforts had ended in failure and insisted that the troops on Guadalcanal be resupplied. The Navy came up with an improvised method of delivering food, ammunition, and medical supplies, a system that would employ the use of metal drums. These would be partially filled with whatever they were carrying, leaving enough air inside to keep the drum afloat. They were then sealed and strung together necklace fashion and loaded aboard a destroyer. Destroyers had been used to deliver troops and supplies to Guadalcanal for months. They had made their runs down the channel separating islands of the Solomons archipelago, which had come to be known as the Slot, with such regularity that they had been nicknamed the Tokyo Express. The only new twist was the use of floating drums.

Several destroyers would be dispatched to Guadalcanal to unload their cargoes. The strings of drums were to be unloaded over the side and towed as close to shore as practical. When the destroyer came as close to the beach as possible, the drums were released. While the destroyer headed back to sea, swimmers from shore would pick up one end of the string and pull the drums toward the beach.

The plan looked good enough on paper. Rear Admiral Tamotsu Tanaka was given the job of seeing if it would work. On the night of November 29, Admiral Tanaka’s flagship, the destroyer Naganami, led a column of seven other destroyers toward Guadalcanal. Six of the destroyers were loaded with the supply drums. At about 11 pm, the column steamed past Savo Island and turned southeast toward Tassafaronga Point. The six supply destroyers were preparing to cast off their drums when American warships— actually five cruisers and six destroyers—were sighted. Tanaka ordered the supply destroyers to stop unloading, rejoin the column, and prepare for battle.

In the engagement that followed, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Tassafaronga, the Americans had the advantage of radar. But Admiral Tanaka had the Long Lance torpedo, which turned out to be even more of an advantage. Radar-directed gunfire from the American cruisers smothered the destroyer Takanami with a wall of water splashes and soon turned the destroyer into a flaming wreck. The gun flashes provided a very nice aiming point for Tanaka’s torpedomen, who proceeded to launch their Long Lances at the bursts of light.

Aboard the cruiser USS Minneapolis, the men on deck cheered as they watched Takanami absorb close to a dozen hits and burst into flame, but their cheering stopped abruptly when two torpedoes hit their own ship. In short order, the cruisers New Orleans, Pensacola, and Northampton were also jarred by torpedo hits. Northampton actually took two torpedoes and sank stern first. After launching his torpedoes, Admiral Tanaka reversed course and headed back to base in the Shortland Islands.

Tanaka had certainly gotten the better of the larger American force. In about half an hour and without benefit of radar, his destroyers had sunk one cruiser and badly damaged three others at the cost of just one of his destroyers. As one historian put it, “An inferior, cargo-entangled and partially surprised destroyer squadron had demolished a superior cruiser-destroyer group.” In spite of this success, Tanaka had not done what he had set out to do—deliver supplies to the troops on Guadalcanal. Not a single drum of much-needed food or medicine reached the starving Japanese soldiers.

Admiral Tanaka tried again a few nights later and succeeded in unloading about 1,500 drums at Tassafaronga Point. Only about 300 of the drums were actually hauled onto the beach, however. The others floated out to sea. The third attempt was a total failure. Air strikes and aggressive attacks by U.S. PT boats forced the Japanese destroyers to turn back without delivering any supplies.

Starvation Island

By mid-December, the Japanese Navy was ready to cut its losses and cede Guadalcanal to the Americans. Senior naval officers were not prepared to lose any more ships or men in what had become a totally futile campaign. Also, the drum method of supplying the garrison had turned out to be another waste of time and another drain on their overtaxed resources.

The Army General Staff did not agree. The generals still hoped that a new offensive would dislodge the Americans from the island, although some of the more realistic leaders were trying to concoct a way of withdrawing without making it seem like a defeat.

A communiqué from Lt. Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake, the commander of the Japanese Seventeenth Army on Guadalcanal, seemed to bring the matter to a head. On December 23, Hyakutake informed Tokyo of the desperation on Guadalcanal. “No food available and we can no longer send out scouts. We can do nothing to withstand the enemy’s offensive. Seventeenth Army now requests permission to break into the enemy’s positions and die an honorable death rather than die of hunger in our own dugouts.”

The General Staff finally faced the reality of what the men on Guadalcanal were suffering on a daily basis. Hyakutake’s men had drawn up their own method of determining how long a man might survive on Starvation Island:

“He who can rise to his feet—30 days left to live

He who can sit up—20 days left to live

He who must urinate while lying down—3 days left to live

He who cannot speak—2 days left to live

He who cannot blink his eyes—dead at dawn.”

The Decision to Withdraw

Two days after Hyakutake’s sobering message arrived, senior Army and Navy officers held an emergency meeting at the Imperial Palace to work out the details of the withdrawal from Guadalcanal. The Navy blamed the Army for not making better use of the men and equipment they had been given. The Army blamed the Navy for not supplying enough food and ammunition for the troops.

“You landed the Army without arms and food and then cut off the supply,” one officer complained. “It’s like sending someone on a roof and taking away the ladder.”

The arguing went on for four days, until a staff officer named Colonel Joichiro Sanada arrived from Rabaul with a recommendation regarding Guadalcanal. The recommendation was that all troops should be taken off the island as soon as possible, and it had been endorsed by every Army and Navy officer in the Solomons who had been consulted. To examine the situation even further, war games were held to explore what might happen if an attempt to strengthen the Guadalcanal garrison was carried out. War gaming reached the same conclusion—in the course of the games, American air and naval forces destroyed any convoys attempting to resupply or reinforce Guadalcanal.

The cruiser USS Minneapolis was seriously damaged during an engagement with Japanese destroyers on the night of November 29, 1942. Her bow was blown off by a Japanese torpedo.

The participants were convinced that the island could be recaptured from the Americans only by a miracle. Colonel Sanada’s report, when added to the weight of Hyakutake’s communiqué and the results of the war games, ended the bickering between the Army and the Navy. Both sides jointly decided that Hyakutake’s men should be evacuated from Guadalcanal by the end of January.

Operation KE: The Evacuation of Guadalcanal

Before anything else could be accomplished, Emperor Hirohito would have to be informed of the planned evacuation. An audience with the emperor was arranged for December 31. This was a job that no one relished. His Majesty was not at all happy to hear that his Army and Navy had been unable to drive the detested Americans from Guadalcanal in spite of more than four months of exhausting effort. One item that particularly irked Hirohito was why Japanese construction units needed more than a month to build an airfield while the Americans had completed their unfinished work in just a few days.

It was an especially pertinent question, the emperor thought, because American airpower was largely responsible for the impending Japanese loss of Guadalcanal. The enemy always seemed to have more planes, both carrier based and land based, than the Japanese. The Americans had an advantage, Hirohito was told. They used machines, while their own construction units were forced to use manpower to do the job. The emperor did not seem to be satisfied by this explanation and continued to ask pointed questions for another two hours.

The interview eventually came to an end, to the relief of everyone present. Hirohito concluded the meeting by urging both the Army and Navy to do better in the future. Reluctantly, but realizing that there was not much else he could do, the emperor approved the withdrawal of all Japanese forces from Guadalcanal. It was now official and sanctioned by His Majesty. Guadalcanal would be relinquished to the Americans.

Throughout December, American intelligence was becoming increasingly convinced of one thing: the Japanese were preparing for another major offensive to retake Guadalcanal. On December 1, an analyst at CINCPAC (Commander in Chief Pacific) observed, “It is still indicated that a major attempt to recapture Cactus [Guadalcanal] is making up.”

It certainly looked as though some sort of attack was in the offing. Admiral Tanaka’s attempts to reinforce the Guadalcanal garrison appeared to be strong evidence. Also, Japanese warships and cargo vessels were congregating at Rabaul, a clear sign that an attack was imminent. Seventy ships had anchored in the harbor by late December.

There were other telling signs. On New Year’s Day 1943, Japanese cryptanalysts changed their radio codes, making it difficult for intelligence to gather information regarding enemy intentions—at least until the code was broken again. Also, the volume of radio traffic had increased dramatically. Evidence of an enemy buildup was unmistakable, and it was not taking place just at Rabaul. Truk and the Shortland Islands were also receiving significantly larger numbers of ships and aircraft.

Throughout December and January, intelligence enthusiastically gathered information on Japanese activities, making detailed notes on the increased enemy movements and reaching their conclusions—and the conclusions being reached were absolutely, totally wrong. An intelligence communiqué dated January 26, 1943, informed all Allied forces that Japan was preparing a new assault in either the Solomons or New Guinea. This new campaign would be called Operation KE and would probably begin in the next few weeks.

Following a failed charge against U.S. Marine positions on Guadalcanal, the bodies of Japanese soldiers lie in heaps. When Lieutenant Colonel Kumao Imoto delivered the news to General Hyakutake that his troops would be evacuated from Guadalcanal, Imoto followed a similar “trail of corpses.”

Actually, the communiqué was not totally incorrect. Imperial general headquarters in Tokyo had created an operation code-named KE, but it had nothing to do with recapturing Guadalcanal. In fact, Operation KE was the codename for the evacuation of all Japanese troops from Guadalcanal, which was to take place beginning in mid-January. Allied intelligence analysts had completely misread Tokyo’s intentions.

“A Trail of Corpses”

Basically, Operation KE was divided into two parts. First, an infantry battalion would be landed on Guadalcanal in mid-January. These men would serve as a rearguard unit to keep American forces pinned down while Seventeenth Army escaped. Provisions and supplies for about three weeks were to be landed at about the same time. When the rearguard unit was in place, phase two, the evacuation itself, would begin. Most of the men would be taken off the island by destroyers—the Tokyo Express in reverse. Some of the troops would be transferred to landing craft. Submarines would stand by to pick up anyone left behind.

While all this was taking place, several diversions would keep the Americans guessing as to the Japanese Navy’s real intentions. Port Darwin in Australia was to be bombed in a night air raid, the cruiser Tone and submarines were to shell American bases east of the Marshall Islands, and fake radio traffic in the Marshalls would fool American eavesdroppers into thinking that some sort of action would take place there. The target date for the completion of Operation KE was February 10, 1943.

The Japanese Navy continued its Tokyo Express runs throughout the month of January and had some successes in spite of interference from American aircraft and PT boats. The run of January 3, for instance, landed about five days of supplies that were brought ashore in drums and rubber bags. On January 14, nine destroyers carried the Yano Battalion to Guadalcanal—750 men and a detachment of artillery under the command of Major Keiji Yano to serve as the rear guard.

One of the officers who accompanied the Yano Battalion was Lt. Col. Kumao Imoto. Imoto had also been given an unenviable job—delivering the evacuation orders and plan to General Hyakutake in person. The assignment turned out to be just as distasteful as he had thought. He disembarked near Cape Esperance after dark and found dead bodies throughout the area.

“The trail that led to Seventeenth Army headquarters was a trail of corpses,” Imoto said. At around midnight, after a harrowing walk from the beach, he finally arrived at Hyakutake’s camp.

The two officers whom Imoto first met expected to be given an attack plan, not orders to evacuate, and were surprised when they were told of the command to pull out. At first, they refused to accept the orders, and only grudgingly accepted after being told that they had come from the emperor himself. After this unpleasant exchange, Imoto was taken to see General Hyakutake.

Hyakutake was sitting on a blanket under a large tree when Imoto found him. He stared wordlessly for a minute or so after being given the withdrawal order he had obviously been taken completely by surprise as well and needed time to recover. “The question is very grave. I want to consider the matter quietly and alone for a little while,” he slowly said to Imoto. “Please leave me alone until I call for you.”

For the next several hours, Hyakutake thought about Operation KE and what it meant. He also conferred with General Shigesaburo Miyazaki, one of the officers who met Imoto when he arrived at the camp. Miyazaki did not like the idea of abandoning Guadalcanal and preferred an all-out attack against the Americans instead. Hyakutake had a choice to make: order an attack or obey the emperor’s orders. At around noon, he sent for Imoto to give his reply.

“It is very difficult for the Army to withdraw under existing circumstances,” he said. “However, the orders of the Area Army, based upon orders of the Emperor, must be carried out.” He went on to say that he could not guarantee that the withdrawal “can be completely carried out.” Hyakutake agreed to obey Hirohito’s command but did so reluctantly.

During a nighttime training exercise, the crew of a U.S. PT-boat sharpens its night-fighting skills. These small, agile craft attacked the Japanese resupply effort known as the Tokyo Express, which consisted of destroyers rushing down the Slot with food, ammunition, and reinforcements.

The Capture of Kokumbona

The details of Operation KE were given to the various units of Seventeenth Army on January 18. Many officers and men were almost violent in their opposition to the operation they had no wish to leave wounded and sick comrades behind while they left Guadalcanal for their own safety. But senior commanders realized that the order would have to be obeyed, no matter how they opposed it personally.

According to the directive, the first unit to withdraw was the 38th Division, but the 38th had been fighting an American offensive, ordered by Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, the commander of all forces on Guadalcanal, since January 10. General Patch had resolved to force the enemy off Guadalcanal and drive him into the sea at about the same time that Tokyo had ordered Operation KE. The goal of the attack was to capture Galloping Horse Hill, a position so called because on the map it resembled a running horse, and two other positions called the Sea Horse and Gifu. All of these objectives were south of Point Cruz.

The defenders of Gifu put up the most determined resistance, including a suicide charge at the Americans on January 17. In spite of this, American troops overran the position the next day. The Sea Horse had been taken on the 16th, and Galloping Horse Hill on January 13. General Patch next set his sights on the Japanese base at Kokumbona.

A column of four U.S. destroyers, Radford, DeHaven, Nicholas, and O’Bannon, had been sent to bombard enemy positions near Kokumbona in advance of the attack. Among them, the destroyers fired several hundred rounds of five-inch ammunition throughout the night of January 19, while engineers built a road past Galloping Horse. Units of the 25th Division began advancing toward Kokumbona via the Galloping Horse road, while a composite Army-Marine unit moved along the coastal road.

Japanese defenders did their best to stop the Americans, but the combination of the attacking troops, artillery support, destroyer gunfire, and air bombardment proved to be too much. American troops fought their way through and reached Kokumbona on January 23, but when they arrived they discovered that most of the Japanese had left. None of the Americans, from General Patch to the lowest private, had any idea that the retreating Japanese troops were on their way to Cape Esperance, where they would wait to board destroyers and evacuate Guadalcanal.

Because he feared that a major Japanese attack was in the offing, General Patch would not commit all of his forces in the area to pursuing the retreating Japanese west of Kokumbona. The combined Army-Marine unit ran into the Yano Battalion. The rear-guard unit certainly did its job. Yano and his men stopped the Americans, at least temporarily, and continued to withdraw westward toward Cape Esperance. On January 29, the battalion crossed the Bonegi River and dug in. The defenders held off American troops at the Bonegi for another three days before pulling back. American units cautiously pursued them.

Intercepting the Japanese “Reinforcement Unit”

By this time the Japanese Navy had already begun its evacuation effort. Twenty-one destroyers left their base in the Shortland Islands on January 31 to start their first evacuation run to Guadalcanal. Rear Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto commanded the destroyers, which had been given the misleading name “Reinforcement Unit” in case any American eavesdroppers became aware of them.

Besides Admiral Hashimoto’s destroyers, a support unit made up of the heavy cruisers Chokai and Kumano along with light cruiser Sendai would be standing by. Floatplanes served as a sort of aerial advance guard for Hashimoto’s destroyers, attacking any American ships threatening to interfere during daylight hours. The entire 11th Air Fleet would also be on hand if needed.

After the destroyers sailed, the first non-Japanese who saw them were the coast watchers on the islands north of Guadalcanal. During the early afternoon hours of February 1, word was sent that a column of Japanese destroyers, a dozen or more, was coming south down the Slot at high speed. It looked as though this was the major Japanese attempt to land more troops. Nicknamed the Cactus Air Force, U.S. planes based on Guadalcanal reacted aggressively. A force of 17 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers and seven Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers escorted by 17 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters took off from Henderson Field and headed for the Japanese destroyers.

Japanese fighters shot down four of the attackers, but one of the SBDs put a bomb close alongside Hashimoto’s flagship, Makinami. The near miss did not sink the destroyer, but it did slow her down and put her out of action. Hashimoto transferred his flag to the destroyer Shirayuki and detached Fumikaze and another destroyer to escort Makinami back to base.

The rest of the Reinforcement Unit continued toward Guadalcanal at a steady 30 knots. At about 10:10 pm, two PT boats in the vicinity of Savo Island attacked the destroyers. A short while later, another five PTs came after Hashimoto’s force. With a bit of luck and some help from floatplanes, no damage was done. Three of the torpedo boats were sunk.

At 10:40, the transport destroyers reached their objective. Boats were lowered to ferry troops from the beach to the ships. The ships were filled just before 2:20 am on February 2, and the destroyers set a course for Bougainville with 4,935 men aboard.

Crew members on board the destroyers were horrified by the condition of the evacuees. An officer reported that the men “wore only the remains of clothes … so soiled [that] their physical deterioration was extreme. Probably they were happy but showed no expression. All had dengue or malaria … diarrhea sent them to the heads. Their digestive organs were so completely destroyed [we] couldn’t give them good food, only porridge.” The reason that Guadalcanal was known as Starvation Island was readily apparent.

The first evacuation run had been a success in spite of the fact that one of the destroyers had been struck by either a PT torpedo or mine and had to be scuttled. Thousands of troops remained on Guadalcanal.

The Second Evacuation Run

A second evacuation run set sail from the Shortland Islands at 11:30 pm on February 4. Hashimoto’s Reinforcement Unit consisted of 20 destroyers, including two replacements. Once again, coast watchers warned Guadalcanal of the approaching destroyers and, once again, the Cactus Air Force came out to stop them. Zeros flying defensive cover shot down 11 of the attackers in exchange for one of their own destroyed and three damaged. Admiral Hashimoto also had his flagship shot out from under him for the second time and was forced to transfer his flag. His new flagship was the destroyer Kawakaze.

Abandoned or shot down, the remains of a Japanese Zero fighter lie on the beach at Guadalcanal.

The destroyers reached the coast of Guadalcanal without any interference from American PT boats. Everything seemed to go right, and only two hours were needed to embark 3,921 men aboard the transport destroyers. Among the evacuees were General Hyakutake and his staff. The trip to Bougainville was just as fast and efficient as the loading had been. Hyakutake and the entire Reinforcement Unit reached the safety of Bougainville on February 5 without incident.

So far, Operation KE had not only been successful but was also still a secret. American officers on Guadalcanal were convinced that the Japanese activities in early February were reinforcement actions. In fact, General Patch gave his opinion that the last two Tokyo Express trips had landed a full regiment along with their supplies and equipment. Because he was convinced that the Japanese forces had been strongly reinforced, Patch ordered his troops to proceed cautiously. He had no intention of falling into a trap and was not upset by the fact that his men were advancing only about 900 yards each day.

The 161st Regiment was only about nine miles from Cape Esperance on February 7. If Patch had been aware that Hashimoto was evacuating Japanese troops, he would certainly have ordered a full-scale attack on what was left of Hyakutake’s forces.

The Third and Final Run

While General Patch was worrying that more Japanese troops were being put ashore, Hashimoto was beginning his third evacuation run. Hashimoto had worries of his own as he prepared for this run to Guadalcanal. Even though the second venture had been fairly straightforward and uneventful, Hashimoto decided to set a course along the southern rim of the Solomons instead of steaming directly down the Slot. He did not want to tempt the gods of war or the Cactus Air Force.

The precaution did not prevent harassment by American bombers. Hashimoto’s Reinforcement Unit came under attack by 36 aircraft—SBDs and fighters—but the air strike was once again intercepted by Zeros. The dive bombers did manage to damage one of the destroyers. Isokaze was rattled by two near misses and was escorted out of the area by another destroyer. The other 16 ships reached Guadalcanal without further mishap and began taking aboard the remaining Japanese troops. Embarkation went quickly and efficiently. Just after midnight on February 8, 1943, boarding was completed. A total of 1,972 men were taken aboard the destroyers. Some of the soldiers were too weak to climb the rope ladders and had to be pulled aboard by sailors.

Before departing Guadalcanal, sailors from the destroyers rowed small boats just offshore, shouting and calling out to anyone who might have been left behind. This went on for an hour and a half, until Admiral Hashimoto was satisfied that every Japanese soldier who was able and willing had been evacuated. Finally, at about 1:30 am, all the boats had returned to their mother ships.

Hashimoto ordered the Reinforcement Unit to set course for Bougainville by the most direct route, straight up the Slot at 30 knots. Eight and a half hours later, after a completely uneventful trip, the 16 destroyers arrived at their base. The officer in charge of the rearguard echelon, a Colonel Matsuda, reported the formal end of Operation KE to General Hyakutake.

Over 10,000 Escaped

A total of 10,828 men had been taken off the island in three evacuation runs. This was far more than Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo had expected or even hoped for. Senior officers, both Army and Navy, greeted the news with relief. But the good news was tempered with some misgiving. It was pointed out that the troops were in such poor physical condition that many months of training and rehabilitation would be needed before they would be fit for duty again. Some of them would never be able to return to duty. The physical and mental strain of their time on Guadalcanal would take a permanent toll.

A few hours after Hashimoto left Guadalcanal for the last time, the U.S. 161st Infantry resumed its cautious advance toward Cape Esperance. The GIs met virtually no resistance the Japanese rear guard was already halfway to Bougainville. Only troops who could barely walk, let alone fight, stood between the Americans and Cape Esperance. The officer in command took stock of the situation and reached the conclusion that the enemy had abandoned Guadalcanal.

When reports from western Guadalcanal reached General Patch, the truth finally dawned on him. The Tokyo Express had been removing troops from the island, not replacing them. On the following day, February 9, two units of the 161st met at the village of Tenaro, a few miles southeast of Cape Esperance. If any further proof was needed to show that all able Japanese troops had left the island, this link-up provided it.

Patch informed Admiral William F. Halsey, U.S. Commander in the South Pacific Area, “Total and complete defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal effected 1625 today … ‘Tokyo Express’ no longer has terminus on Guadalcanal.”

“Victory was Ours”

The skill and cleverness with which the Japanese forces had been withdrawn, right under the noses of American troops and naval forces, became the subject of praise even from the Americans. In his official report, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific, was forced to state his admiration for Operation KE.

“Until the last moment, it appeared that the Japanese were attempting a major reinforcement effort,” Nimitz wrote. “Only skill in keeping this plan disguised and bold celerity in carrying it out enabled the Japanese to withdraw the remnants of the Guadalcanal garrison. Not until all organized forces had been evacuated on 8 February did we realize the purpose of their air and naval dispositions.”

Very little criticism was ever leveled at American commanders for allowing Hyakutake and most of his army to escape. Hyakutake was convinced that an attack by Patch’s forces would probably have wiped out Seventeenth Army. Admiral Halsey did receive some criticism for not taking stronger measures to stop Hashimoto and his three sorties with the Reinforcement Unit. The main reason that neither Patch nor Halsey received an official reprimand for letting Operation KE succeed is that Japanese intentions had been so completely misinterpreted. They simply acted on the information they had been given.

The New York Times lead story on February 10, 1943, fairly crowed, “Every American heart must have thrilled yesterday at the news that the battle of Guadalcanal was over and the victory was ours.” After six months of fighting, America had won. The country was in the mood for celebrating, not for placing blame or finding fault.

“Their Mission Had Been Fulfilled”

On the other hand, the Japanese struggled to make the best of a bad situation. The Japanese public was given the story that all troops had been withdrawn from Guadalcanal because “their mission had been fulfilled.” Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal were portrayed as having an indomitable spirit for holding on so long under such adversity. Although this line did keep Japanese civilians from learning the truth, Tokyo was not able to turn Guadalcanal into a great moral victory.

Senior Japanese military officers knew all too well that Guadalcanal had been a military failure of the first order, but they also did their best to look at the positive side of the campaign. The success of Japanese destroyers against American warships in combat and as the main components of the Tokyo Express was seen as a victory. Hashimoto rightly received high praise for the way he managed the evacuation.

Japan never recovered from the losses of men and ships suffered at Guadalcanal. A former Japanese naval officer told author Richard B. Frank, “There were many famous battles in the war—Saipan, Leyte, Okinawa, etc. But after the war we talked about only two, Midway and Guadalcanal.”


From all my reading and study of the Pacific naval war, I feel adm. halsey dropped the ball big time late in the forth quarter f the war. He cost the unneeded loss of two destroyers in a storm and many other bad calls. Unneeded loss of US lives is his post war score…!
Gregory Pischea, USN/USMC Ret.


Yamamoto was born Isoroku Takano ( 高野 五十六 , Takano Isoroku) in Nagaoka, Niigata. His father, Sadayoshi Takano (高野 貞吉), was an intermediate-rank samurai of the Nagaoka Domain. "Isoroku" is an old Japanese term meaning "56" the name referred to his father's age at Isoroku's birth. [5]

In 1916, Isoroku was adopted into the Yamamoto family (another family of former Nagaoka samurai) and took the Yamamoto name. It was a common practice for samurai families lacking sons to adopt suitable young men in this fashion to carry on the family name, the rank and the income that went with it. Isoroku married Reiko Mihashi in 1918 they had two sons and two daughters. [6]

After graduating from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1904, Yamamoto served on the armored cruiser Nisshin during the Russo-Japanese War. He was wounded at the Battle of Tsushima, losing two fingers (the index and middle fingers) on his left hand, as the cruiser was hit repeatedly by the Russian battle line. He returned to the Naval Staff College in 1914, emerging as a lieutenant commander in 1916. In December 1919, he was promoted to commander. [7]

Yamamoto was part of the Japanese Navy establishment, who were rivals of the more aggressive Army establishment, especially the officers of the Kwantung Army. He promoted a policy of a strong fleet to project force through gunboat diplomacy, rather than a fleet used primarily for the transport of invasion land forces, as some of his political opponents in the Army wanted. [8] This stance led him to oppose the invasion of China. He also opposed war against the United States, partly because of his studies at Harvard University (1919–1921) [9] and his two postings as a naval attaché in Washington, D.C., [10] where he learned to speak fluent English. Yamamoto traveled extensively in the United States during his tour of duty there, where he studied American customs and business practices.

He was promoted to captain in 1923. On February 13, 1924, Captain Yamamoto was part of the Japanese delegation visiting the United States Naval War College. [11] Later that year, he changed his specialty from gunnery to naval aviation. His first command was the cruiser Isuzu in 1928, followed by the aircraft carrier Akagi.

He participated in the London Naval Conference 1930 as a rear admiral and the London Naval Conference 1935 as a vice admiral, as the growing military influence on the government at the time deemed that a career military specialist needed to accompany the diplomats to the arms limitations talks. Yamamoto was a strong proponent of naval aviation and served as head of the Aeronautics Department, before accepting a post as commander of the First Carrier Division. Yamamoto opposed the Japanese invasion of northeast China in 1931, the subsequent full-scale land war with China in 1937, and the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in 1940. As Deputy Navy Minister, he apologized to United States Ambassador Joseph C. Grew for the bombing of the gunboat USS Panay in December 1937. These issues made him a target of assassination threats by pro-war militarists.

Throughout 1938, many young army and naval officers began to speak publicly against Yamamoto and certain other Japanese admirals, such as Mitsumasa Yonai and Shigeyoshi Inoue, for their strong opposition to a tripartite pact with Nazi Germany, which the admirals saw as inimical to "Japan's natural interests". [12] : 101 Yamamoto received a steady stream of hate mail and death threats from Japanese nationalists. His reaction to the prospect of death by assassination was passive and accepting. The admiral wrote:

To die for Emperor and Nation is the highest hope of a military man. After a brave hard fight the blossoms are scattered on the fighting field. But if a person wants to take a life instead, still the fighting man will go to eternity for Emperor and country. One man's life or death is a matter of no importance. All that matters is the Empire. As Confucius said, "They may crush cinnabar, yet they do not take away its color one may burn a fragrant herb, yet it will not destroy the scent." They may destroy my body, yet they will not take away my will. [12] : 101–02

The Japanese Army, annoyed at Yamamoto's unflinching opposition to a Rome-Berlin-Tokyo treaty, dispatched military police to "guard" him, a ruse by the Army to keep an eye on him. [12] : 102–03 He was later reassigned from the naval ministry to sea as the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet on August 30, 1939. This was done as one of the last acts of acting Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, under Baron Hiranuma Kiichirō's short-lived administration. It was done partly to make it harder for assassins to target Yamamoto. Yonai was certain that if Yamamoto remained ashore, he would be killed before the year [1939] ended. [12] : 103

Yamamoto was promoted to admiral on November 15, 1940. This, in spite of the fact that when Hideki Tojo was appointed Prime Minister on October 18, 1941, many political observers thought that Yamamoto's career was essentially over. [12] : 114 Tojo had been Yamamoto's old opponent from the time when the latter served as Japan's deputy naval minister and Tōjō was the prime mover behind Japan's takeover of Manchuria. [ according to whom? ] It was believed that Yamamoto would be appointed to command the Yokosuka Naval Base, "a nice safe demotion with a big house and no power at all". [12] : 114 However, after a brief stint in the post, a new Japanese cabinet was announced, and Yamamoto found himself returned to his position of power despite his open conflict with Tojo and other members of the Army's oligarchy who favored war with the European powers and the United States.

Two of the main reasons for Yamamoto's political survival were his immense popularity within the fleet, where he commanded the respect of his men and officers, and his close relations with the imperial family. [12] : 115 He also had the acceptance of Japan's naval hierarchy:

There was no officer more competent to lead the Combined Fleet to victory than Admiral Yamamoto. His daring plan for the Pearl Harbor attack had passed through the crucible of the Japanese naval establishment, and after many expressed misgivings, his fellow admirals had realized that Yamamoto spoke no more than the truth when he said that Japan's hope for victory in this [upcoming] war was limited by time and oil. Every sensible officer of the navy was well aware of the perennial oil problems. Also, it had to be recognized that if the enemy could seriously disturb Japanese merchant shipping, then the fleet would be endangered even more. [12] : 115–16

Consequently, Yamamoto stayed in his post. With Tojo now in charge of Japan's highest political office, it became clear the Army would lead the Navy into a war about which Yamamoto had serious reservations. He wrote to an ultranationalist:

Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians [who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war] have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. [13]

This quote was spread by the militarists, minus the last sentence, where it was interpreted in America as a boast that Japan would conquer the entire continental United States. [13] The omitted sentence showed Yamamoto's counsel of caution towards a war that could cost Japan dearly. Nevertheless, Yamamoto accepted the reality of impending war and planned for a quick victory by destroying the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in a preventive strike, while simultaneously thrusting into the oil- and rubber-rich areas of Southeast Asia, especially the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, and Malaya. In naval matters, Yamamoto opposed the building of the superbattleships Yamato and Musashi as an unwise investment of resources.

Yamamoto was responsible for a number of innovations in Japanese naval aviation. Although remembered for his association with aircraft carriers, Yamamoto did more to influence the development of land-based naval aviation, particularly the Mitsubishi G3M and G4M medium bombers. His demand for great range and the ability to carry a torpedo was intended to conform to Japanese conceptions of bleeding the American fleet as it advanced across the Pacific. The planes did achieve long range, but long-range fighter escorts were not available. These planes were lightly constructed and when fully fueled, they were especially vulnerable to enemy fire. This earned the G4M the sardonic nickname the "flying cigarette lighter". Yamamoto would eventually die in one of these aircraft.

The range of the G3M and G4M contributed to a demand for great range in a fighter aircraft. This partly drove the requirements for the A6M Zero, which was as noteworthy for its range as for its maneuverability. Both qualities were again purchased at the expense of light construction and flammability that later contributed to the A6M's high casualty rates as the war progressed.

As Japan moved toward war during 1940, Yamamoto gradually moved toward strategic as well as tactical innovation, again with mixed results. Prompted by talented young officers such as Lieutenant Commander Minoru Genda, Yamamoto approved the reorganization of Japanese carrier forces into the First Air Fleet, a consolidated striking force that gathered Japan's six largest carriers into one unit. This innovation gave great striking capacity, but also concentrated the vulnerable carriers into a compact target. Yamamoto also oversaw the organization of a similar large land-based organization in the 11th Air Fleet, which would later use the G3M and G4M to neutralize American air forces in the Philippines and sink the British Force Z.

In January 1941, Yamamoto went even further and proposed a radical revision of Japanese naval strategy. For two decades, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred T. Mahan, [14] the Naval General Staff had planned in terms of Japanese light surface forces, submarines, and land-based air units whittling down the American fleet as it advanced across the Pacific until the Japanese Navy engaged it in a climactic Kantai Kessen ("decisive battle") in the northern Philippine Sea (between the Ryukyu Islands and the Marianas), with battleships fighting in traditional battle lines.

Correctly pointing out this plan had never worked even in Japanese war games, and painfully aware of American strategic advantages in military production capacity, Yamamoto proposed instead to seek parity with the Americans by first reducing their forces with a preventive strike, then following up with a "decisive battle" fought offensively, rather than defensively. Yamamoto hoped, but probably did not believe, [ citation needed ] that if the Americans could be dealt terrific blows early in the war, they might be willing to negotiate an end to the conflict. The Naval General Staff proved reluctant to go along, and Yamamoto was eventually driven to capitalize on his popularity in the fleet by threatening to resign to get his way. Admiral Osami Nagano and the Naval General Staff eventually caved in to this pressure, but only insofar as approving the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The First Air Fleet commenced preparations for the Pearl Harbor raid, solving a number of technical problems along the way, including how to launch torpedoes in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor and how to craft armor-piercing bombs by machining down battleship gun projectiles.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Edit

Though the United States and Japan were officially at peace, the First Air Fleet of six carriers attacked on December 7, 1941, launching 353 [15] aircraft against Pearl Harbor and other locations within Honolulu in two waves. The attack was a complete success according to the parameters of the mission, which sought to sink at least four American battleships and prevent the United States from interfering in Japan's southward advance for at least six months. Three American aircraft carriers were also considered a choice target, but these were at sea at the time.

In the end, four American battleships were sunk, four were damaged, and eleven other cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliaries were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 American aircraft were destroyed and 159 others damaged, and 2,403 people were killed and 1,178 others wounded. The Japanese lost 64 servicemen and only 29 aircraft, [16] with 74 others damaged by anti-aircraft fire from the ground. The damaged aircraft were disproportionately dive and torpedo bombers, seriously reducing the ability to exploit the first two waves' success, so the commander of the First Air Fleet, Naval Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, withdrew. Yamamoto later lamented Nagumo's failure to seize the initiative to seek out and destroy the American carriers or further bombard various strategically important facilities on Oahu.

Nagumo had absolutely no idea where the American carriers were, and remaining on station while his forces looked for them ran the risk of his own forces being found first and attacked while his aircraft were absent searching. In any case, insufficient daylight remained after recovering the aircraft from the first two waves for the carriers to launch and recover a third before dark, and Nagumo's escorting destroyers lacked the fuel capacity to loiter long. Much has been made of Yamamoto's hindsight, but in keeping with Japanese military tradition not to criticize the commander on the spot, [17] he did not punish Nagumo for his withdrawal.

On the strategic, moral, and political level, the attack was a disaster for Japan, rousing Americans thirst for revenge due to what is now famously called a "sneak attack". The shock of the attack, coming in an unexpected place with devastating results and without a declaration of war, galvanized the American public's determination to avenge the attack. When asked by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in mid-1941 about the outcome of a possible war with the United States, Yamamoto made a well-known and prophetic statement: If ordered to fight, he said, "I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years." [18] His prediction would be vindicated, as Japan easily conquered territories and islands in Asia and the Pacific for the first six months of the war, before suffering a major defeat at the Battle of Midway on June 4–7, 1942, which ultimately tilted the balance of power in the Pacific towards the United States.

As a strategic blow intended to prevent American interference in the Dutch East Indies for six months, the Pearl Harbor attack was a success, but unbeknownst to Yamamoto, it was a pointless one. In 1935, in keeping with the evolution of War Plan Orange, the United States Navy had abandoned any notion of charging across the Pacific towards the Philippines at the outset of a war with Japan. In 1937, the United States had further determined even fully manning the fleet to wartime levels could not be accomplished in less than six months, and the extensive logistical support required to advance across the Pacific simply did not exist and would require two years to construct.

In 1940, American Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark had penned the Plan Dog memo, which recommended a defensive war in the Pacific while the country concentrated on defeating Nazi Germany first, and consigned Admiral Husband Kimmel's Pacific Fleet to merely keeping the Imperial Japanese Navy out of the eastern Pacific and away from the shipping lanes to Australia. Moreover, it is questionable whether the United States would have gone to war at all had Japan attacked only British and Dutch possessions in the Far East. [19]

With the American fleet largely neutralized at Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto's Combined Fleet turned to the task of executing the larger Japanese war plan devised by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy General Staff. The First Air Fleet made a circuit of the Pacific, striking American, Australian, Dutch, and British installations from Wake Island to Australia to Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. The 11th Air Fleet caught the United States Fifth Air Force on the ground in the Philippines hours after Pearl Harbor, and then sank the British Force Z's battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse at sea.

Under Yamamoto's able subordinates, Vice Admirals Jisaburō Ozawa, Nobutake Kondō, and Ibō Takahashi, the Japanese swept the inadequate remaining American, British, Dutch and Australian naval assets from the Dutch East Indies in a series of amphibious landings and surface naval battles culminating in the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. Along with the occupation of the Dutch East Indies came the fall of Singapore on February 15, and the eventual reduction of the remaining American-Filipino defensive positions in the Philippines on the Bataan peninsula on April 9 and Corregidor Island on May 6. The Japanese had secured their oil- and rubber-rich "southern resources area".

By late-March, having achieved their initial aims with surprising speed and little loss, albeit against enemies ill-prepared to resist them, the Japanese paused to consider their next moves. Yamamoto and a few Japanese military leaders and officials waited, hoping that the United States or Great Britain would negotiate an armistice or a peace treaty to end the war. But when the British, as well as the Americans, expressed no interest in negotiating, Japanese thoughts turned to securing their newly seized territory and acquiring more with an eye to driving one or more of their enemies out of the war.

Competing plans were developed at this stage, including thrusts to the west against British India, south against Australia, and east against the United States. Yamamoto was involved in this debate, supporting different plans at different times with varying degrees of enthusiasm and for varying purposes, including "horse-trading" for support of his own objectives.

Plans included ideas as ambitious as invading India or Australia, or seizing Hawaii. These grandiose ventures were inevitably set aside, as the Army could not spare enough troops from China for the first two, which would require a minimum of 250,000 men, nor shipping to support the latter two (transports were allocated separately to the Navy and Army, and jealously guarded.). [20] Instead, the Imperial General Staff supported an army thrust into Burma in hopes of linking up with Indian nationalists revolting against British rule, and attacks in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands designed to imperil Australia's lines of communication with the United States. Yamamoto argued for a decisive offensive strike in the east to finish off the American fleet, but the more conservative Naval General Staff officers were unwilling to risk it.

On April 18, in the midst of these debates, the Doolittle Raid struck Tokyo and surrounding areas, demonstrating the threat posed by American aircraft carriers, and giving Yamamoto an event he could exploit to get his way, and further debate over military strategy came to a quick end. The Naval General Staff agreed to Yamamoto's Midway Island (MI) Operation, subsequent to the first phase of the operations against Australia's link with America, and concurrent with its plan to invade the Aleutian Islands.

Yamamoto rushed planning for the Midway and Aleutians missions, while dispatching a force under Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi, including the Fifth Carrier Division (the large new carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku), to support the effort to seize the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal for seaplane and airplane bases, and the town of Port Moresby on Papua New Guinea's south coast facing Australia.

The Port Moresby (MO) Operation proved an unwelcome setback. Although Tulagi and Guadalcanal were taken, the Port Moresby invasion fleet was compelled to turn back when Takagi clashed with an American carrier task force in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May. Although the Japanese sank the carrier USS Lexington and damaged the USS Yorktown, the Americans damaged the carrier Shōkaku so badly that she required dockyard repairs, and the Japanese lost the light carrier Shoho. Just as importantly, Japanese operational mishaps and American fighters and anti-aircraft fire devastated the dive bomber and torpedo plane formations of both Shōkaku ' s and Zuikaku ' s air groups. These losses sidelined Zuikaku while she awaited replacement aircraft and aircrews, and saw to tactical integration and training. These two ships would be sorely missed a month later at Midway. [21]

Yamamoto's plan for Midway Island was an extension of his efforts to knock the American Pacific Fleet out of action long enough for Japan to fortify its defensive perimeter in the Pacific island chains. Yamamoto felt it necessary to seek an early, offensive decisive battle.

This plan was long believed to have been to draw American attention—and possibly carrier forces—north from Pearl Harbor by sending his Fifth Fleet (one carrier, one light carrier, four battleships, eight cruisers, 25 destroyers, and four transports) against the Aleutians, raiding Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island and invading the more distant islands of Kiska and Attu. [22] [23]

While Fifth Fleet attacked the Aleutians, First Mobile Force (four carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, and 12 destroyers) would attack Midway and destroy its air force. Once this was neutralized, Second Fleet (one light carrier, two battleships, 10 cruisers, 21 destroyers, and 11 transports) would land 5,000 troops to seize the atoll from the United States Marines.

The seizure of Midway was expected to draw the American carriers west into a trap where the First Mobile Force would engage and destroy them. Afterwards, First Fleet (one light carrier, three battleships, one light cruiser and nine destroyers), in conjunction with elements of Second Fleet, would mop up remaining US surface forces and complete the destruction of the American Pacific Fleet.

To guard against failure, Yamamoto initiated two security measures. The first was an aerial reconnaissance mission (Operation K) over Pearl Harbor to ascertain if the American carriers were there. The second was a picket line of submarines to detect the movement of enemy carriers toward Midway in time for First Mobile Force, First Fleet, and Second Fleet to combine against it. In the event, the first measure was aborted and the second delayed until after the American carriers had already sortied.

The plan was a compromise and hastily prepared, apparently so it could be launched in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima, [24] but appeared well thought out, well organized, and finely timed when viewed from a Japanese viewpoint. Against four carriers, two light carriers, seven battleships, 14 cruisers and 42 destroyers likely to be in the area of the main battle, the United States could field only three carriers, eight cruisers, and 15 destroyers. The disparity appeared crushing. Only in numbers of carrier decks, available aircraft, and submarines was there near parity between the two sides. Despite various mishaps developed in the execution, it appeared that—barring something unforeseen—Yamamoto held all the cards.

Unknown to Yamamoto, the Americans had learned of Japanese plans thanks to the code breaking of Japanese naval code D (known to the US as JN-25). [23] As a result, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Pacific Fleet commander, was able to place his outnumbered forces in a position to conduct their own ambush. By Nimitz's calculation, his three available carrier decks, plus Midway, gave him rough parity with Nagumo's First Mobile Force.

Following a nuisance raid by Japanese flying boats in May, [25] Nimitz dispatched a minesweeper to guard the intended refueling point for Operation K near French Frigate Shoals, causing the reconnaissance mission to be aborted and leaving Yamamoto ignorant of whether the Pacific Fleet carriers were still at Pearl Harbor. It remains unclear why Yamamoto permitted the earlier attack, and why his submarines did not sortie sooner, as reconnaissance was essential to success at Midway. Nimitz also dispatched his carriers toward Midway early, and they passed the Japanese submarines en route to their picket line positions. Nimitz's carriers positioned themselves to ambush the Kidō Butai (striking force) when it struck Midway. A token cruiser and destroyer force was sent toward the Aleutians, but otherwise Nimitz ignored them. On June 4, 1942, days before Yamamoto expected them to interfere in the Midway operation, American carrier-based aircraft destroyed the four carriers of the Kidō Butai, catching the Japanese carriers at especially vulnerable times.

With his air power destroyed and his forces not yet concentrated for a fleet battle, Yamamoto maneuvered his remaining forces, still strong on paper, to trap the American forces. He was unable to do so because his initial dispositions had placed his surface combatants too far from Midway, [26] and because Admiral Raymond Spruance prudently withdrew to the east to further defend Midway Island, believing (based on a mistaken submarine report) the Japanese still intended to invade. [27] Not knowing several battleships, including the powerful Yamato, were in the Japanese order of battle, he did not comprehend the severe risk of a night surface battle, in which his carriers and cruisers would be at a disadvantage. [27] However, his move to the east avoided that possibility. Correctly perceiving he had lost and could not bring surface forces into action, Yamamoto withdrew. The defeat marked the high tide of Japanese expansion.

Yamamoto's plan has been the subject of much criticism. Some historians state it violated the principle of concentration of force and was overly complex. Others point to similarly complex Allied operations, such as Operation MB8, that were successful, and note the extent to which the American intelligence coup derailed the operation before it began. Had Yamamoto's dispositions not denied Nagumo adequate pre-attack reconnaissance assets, both the American cryptanalytic success and the unexpected appearance of the American carriers would have been irrelevant. [26]

The Battle of Midway checked Japanese momentum, but the Japanese Navy was still a powerful force, capable of regaining the initiative. It planned to resume the thrust with Operation FS, aimed at eventually taking Samoa and Fiji to cut the American lifeline to Australia.

Yamamoto remained as commander-in-chief, retained at least partly to avoid diminishing the morale of the Combined Fleet. However, he had lost face as a result of the Midway defeat, and the Naval General Staff were disinclined to indulge in further gambles. This reduced Yamamoto to pursuing the classic defensive "decisive battle strategy" he had attempted to avoid.

Yamamoto committed Combined Fleet units to a series of small attrition actions across the south and central Pacific that stung the Americans, but in return suffered losses he could ill afford. Three major efforts to beat the Americans moving on Guadalcanal precipitated a pair of carrier battles that Yamamoto commanded personally: the Battles of the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands in September and October, respectively, and finally a wild pair of surface engagements in November, all timed to coincide with Japanese Army pushes. The effort was wasted when the Army could not hold up its end of the operation. Yamamoto's naval forces won a few victories and inflicted considerable losses and damage to the American fleet in several battles around Guadalcanal which included the Battles of Savo Island, Cape Esperance, and Tassafaronga, but he could never draw the United States into a decisive fleet action. As a result, Japanese naval strength declined.

Pacific and Philippines

No man must die until he has killed at least ten Americans.

Japanese General Kuribayashi Tadamichi before the battle of Iwo Jima

In June 1942, the US emerged from the Battle of Midway with naval superiority in the Pacific. General MacArthur and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz seized the initiative, launching an 'Island Hopping' campaign. Their strategy was to capture the Pacific islands one by one, advancing towards Japan and bypassing and isolating centres of resistance. Macarthur and Nimitz planned a two pronged attack: MacArthur would push northwest along the New Guinea coast and into the Bismarck Archipelago with the eventual aim of liberating the Philippines Nimitz would cross the central Pacific, 'hopping' through the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline and Marianas islands. The execution of the plan would place Japan within the range of US bombers, and eventually allow the Americans to launch a mainland invasion.

The offensive against the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Archipelago marked the beginning of 'Island Hopping'. The Guadalcanal Campaign, fought between August 1942 and February 1943, eventually succeeded in forcing Japan to relinquish the island. With the great Southwest Pacific offensive firmly underway, Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey landed his troops on New Georgia on 1 July while MacArthur moved his forces to Nassau Bay, New Guinea. In the face of perilous reefs, heavy rains and high winds, and heavily dug-in Japanese troops, MacArthur's men succeeded in taking the Munda Airfield on 5 August, forcing the Japanese into retreat. MacArthur's next strike was against Bougainville on 1 November where the invaders pummelled the occupiers, inflicting heavy casualties. New Britain was attacked on 15 December Halsey's carrier strike against Rabaul inflicted huge damage upon Japanese planes and isolated the port the last Japanese naval forces would eventually withdraw in March 1944.

Meanwhile, in the Central Pacific, Nimitz set out to recapture the Aleutian Islands, defeating the Japanese in a campaign fought between May and August 1943. On 20 November, landings on Makin and Tarawa marked the beginning of the Gilbert Islands offensive. Nimitz's troops secured Makin after four days. Tarawa, with its network of pillboxes, mines and coastal gun emplacements proved more difficult after a bloody landing operation, US troops inched inland, slowly crushing the Japanese defences and receiving some hard lessons in amphibious operations.

The victory paved the way for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. During January and February 1944, the US wrestled control of Kwajelein, Majuro and Einwetok from the Japanese. They also succeeded in neutralising Truk, the formidable Japanese naval base on the Caroline Islands. Now able to move its fleet and air units forward, the US captured Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Marianas in June and July. Crucially, the capture of the Marianas provided a fixed base from which to launch B-29 air attacks on the Japanese home islands. Between September and October 1944, the US Navy crushed the Japanese fleet as it tried to halt the US advance in the First Battle of Philippine Sea the unstoppable island hoppers then took Ulithi in western Caroline Islands and Peleliu in the Palau Islands.

Between October 1944 and February 1945, MacArthur fulfilled his famous promise to return to the Philippines. Between October and December, a fierce naval battle raged in Leyte Gulf. As the US slowly gained control, Manila and Luzon were occupied in February 1945. The next step was the first American landing on Japanese territory, at Iwo Jima. US troops invaded in February 1945, following ten weeks of relentless aerial bombardment. As the Japanese emerged from tunnels and underground bunkers, a bloody 36 day combat began. While the US lost 6381 men, 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished. The invasion of Okinawa followed in April 1945. The Japanese launched massive kamikaze attacks on the US invasion fleet in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. In August 1945, the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan forced the country to surrender, rendering an invasion of the Japanese mainland unnecessary.

Did you know?

When US forces landed on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima in February 1945, the US Military high command predicted that the island could be taken in ten days. In reality, the bloody battle dragged out for 36 days 6,821 marines were killed.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

Posted On November 13, 2020 02:42:17

The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.

The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War.

When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross.

Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.

Lena H. Sutcliffe Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” and the first living woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Three other nurses were awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. Photo courtesy of the US Navy Institute.

“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.

Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.

“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.

During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”

A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.

The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.

“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”

Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.”

Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.

Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.

Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Watch the video: Wrath of God: Halseys Typhoons - Peril on the Sea 2000 (July 2022).


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