TOP OF THE LADDER: Marine Operations in the Northern Solomons
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)
There were, however, two minor land operations to
complete the isolation of Rabaul. The first was at Green Island, just 37
miles north of Bougainville. It was a crusty, eight-mile-long
(four-mile- wide) oval ring, three islands of sand and coral around a
sleepy lagoon, and only 117 miles from Rabaul. To General Douglas
MacArthur, it was the last step of the Solomon Islands campaign.
The task of taking the island fell to the 5,800 men
of the 3d New Zealand Division under Major General H. E. Barrowclough,
less the 8th Brigade which had been used in the Treasuries operation.
There was also a contingent of American soldiers, Seabees, and
engineers, and cover from AirSol Marine planes under Brigadier General Field Harris.
Rear Admiral Wilkinson had Task Force 31, whose warships would wait for
targets (although Green Island would get no preinvasion bombardment).
The atoll ring was too narrow and bombardment would pose a danger to
Heavy, constant artillery support for the riflemen
required a regular flow of ammunition. Here shells are being unloaded
from a LST (Landing Ship, Tank). Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 71180 by PFC
Late in January 1944, 300 men of the 30th New Zealand
Battalion and Seabees and engineer specialists went ashore, measured and
sized up the island's potential, found spots for an airfield, checked
lagoon depths, and sought accommodations for a boat basin.
All of this warned the Japanese, but it was too late
for them to do anything. Then, on 14 February, Japanese scout planes
warned the 102 defenders on Green Island that a large Allied convoy was
on the way, shepherded by destroyers and cruisers. Japanese aircraft
from Rabaul and Kavieng attacked the convoy by moon light, but at 0641,
the landing craft had crossed the line of departure unscathed and were
almost to the beach. Within two hours, all were ashore, unopposed. Then
Japanese dive bombers came roaring in, but the Allied antiaircraft fire
and Marine fighter planes (VMF 212) were enough to prevent hits on the
transports or beach supplies. New Zealand patrols got only slight
resistance, a few brief firefights. By 19 February, the 33d, 37th, and
93d Seabees were laying an airfield on the island.
By 4 March, a heavy B-24 bomber was able to make an
emergency landing on the Green Island strip. Three days later, AirSols
planes were staging there giving the strip the name "Green." Soon B-24s
were there to strike the vast Japanese base at Truk.
The second operation saw the seizure of Emirau
Island. It was well north of Green Island, 75 miles northwest of the New
Ireland enemy fortress of Kavieng. Actually, Kavieng had been considered
as a target to be invaded by the 3d Marine Division, but higher
authorities decided the cost would be too high. Better to let Kavieng
die on the vine. Taking Emirau and setting up air and naval bases there
would effectively cut off the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck
Archipelago from the Japanese. It would be a small investment with big
Emirau is an irregularly shaped island in the St.
Matthias Group, eight miles long, four miles wide, with much jungle and
many hills, but with room for boat basins and airstrips. The natives
said there had been no Japanese there since January, and air
reconnaissance could find none.
The unit selected for the landing bore a famous name
in the lore of the Corps: the 4th Marines. The original regiment had
been the storied "China Marines," and had then been part of the
desperate defense of Bataan and the subsequent surrender at Corregidor
in the Philippines. Now it had been reborn as a new, independent
regiment, composed of the tough and battle-hardened veterans of the
The 4th Marines arrived at Emirau shortly after 0600
on 20 March 1944. The Marines and sailors fired a few shots at nothing;
then the amphibian tractors opened up, wounding one of the Marines. The
Seabees got right to work on the airfields, even before the island was
secured. In no time they laid out a 7,000-foot bomber strip and a
5,000-foot stretch for fighters.
All was secured until attention fell on a little
neighboring island with a Japanese fuel and ration dump. Destroyers blew
it all to debris . . . then spied at sea a large canoe escaping with
some of the enemy. Hardly bloodthirsty after this placid operation, the
destroyer casually pulled in close. The Japanese chose to fire a machine
gun. It was folly. The destroyer was forced to respond. The canoe didn't
sink and was brought alongside with the body of a Japanese officer and
26 living enlisted men who may have privately questioned their