War in the Pacific: The Pacific Offensive
Across the Pacific: South & Central Pacific
The second full year of two-hemisphere war ended with
the Allies on the offensive in every theater of operation. Newspaper
headlines and radio reports in 1943 told of the yard-by-yard Allied
advances in the South Pacific on once little-known islands of New
Guinea, New Georgia, Bougainville, New Britain, Tarawa, and Makin; the
heroic efforts of British marauders and their fraternal Chindits, hidden
deep in the Burmese jungles, boosted morale. But the victories on these
far-off battlegrounds were costly.
The United States strategy was to establish a line of
overlapping island bases, as well as air control. Led by MacArthur and
Halsey, the northwest movement from the Southwest Pacific was
coordinated with Nimitz' island-hopping deployments across the vast
Central Pacific, beginning in the Gilbert Islands (today the western
portion of the Republic of Kiribati).
Admiral William "Bull" Halsey commanded
the U.S. Third Fleet.
New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
At Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the U.S.
Marines forged the tactics that would win the Pacific: landing elite
troops, supported by ground-attack aircraft and naval gunfire, in
amphibious assaults. The Japanese, overextended and undersupplied,
resisted suicidally on Guadalcanal until their reluctant February 9,
1943, evacuation of 12,000, all who survived of the tens of thousands
sacrificed in the struggle for that island. The volcanic island proved
invaluable to the Americans. Renovated by SeabeesUS. Navy
construction battalionsGuadalcanal's Henderson Field, along with
new strips at Koli Point, served as staging areas for Allied air power
as the counteroffensive began.
As MacArthur's troops gained a foothold in the
Solomons and forged ahead in New Guinea, there was a build-up of Allied
troops and supplies for "Operation Cartwheel," the Pacific offensive
that helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Allies. Wool and food
were supplied for some of the 157,000 New Zealand troops, including
17,000 Maori volunteers. American troop strength dramatically increased
with the deployment of the 43rd Infantry Division for the assault on New
Guinea. The date was June 30, 1943.
Marines assault a Japanese stronghold on
Bougainville in November, 1943.
Halsey landed troops on New Georgia while MacArthur's
troops moved to Nassau Bay, New Guinea. On New Georgia, American troops
advanced at the rate of 100 yards per day until the island was declared
secured. MacArthur, meanwhile, was intent on eliminating the Japanese
from coastal New Guinea; the commander's next objectives were Lae and
Salamaua. The 9th Australian Division landed (along with 1,500 American
paratroopers) in early September. By the middle of that month, New
Georgia and New Guinea's Markham River Valley, as well as Lae and
Salamaua on the Gulf of Huon coast, were secured after fierce
With these areas in Allied control, Halsey's next
objective up "The Slot" was Bougainville. On November 1, 1943, the
Allies attacked, going ashore at Empress Augusta Bay. The 60,000
Japanese troops, concentrated in the southern half of the island, did
not want a repeat of Guadalcanal. Although the western part of
Bougainville was left relatively undefended by the Japanese, the Allies
concentrated on attacking from the sea and the sky. The Japanese
responded with a naval and air flotilla from Rabaul, but were repulsed
with heavy casualties. Four days later, on November 5, Halsey sent a
carrier air strike against Rabaul, destroying many Japanese planes and
forcing the naval forces to flee to the open ocean. By November 12,
Halsey's 3rd Marine Division, soon to be reinforced by the 37th Infantry
Division, had secured the beachhead. Bougainville, however, would be the
site of some of the fiercest battles of the Second World War before the
Japanese ceased counterattacking in March 1944.
Seven weeks after the Bougainville landing,
MacArthur's 1st Marine Division stormed ashore at Cape Gloucester, New
Britain, on December 26, 1943. The general's advance into New Britain,
coupled with Halsey's mauling of Japanese air and naval power at Rabaul,
allowed the Allies to bypass that fabled Japanese stronghold and,
following the seizure of the Admiralty Islands in February 1944,
continue his advance from base to base along the north coast of New
Guinea, aimed at an early return to the Philippine Islands and a step
closer to the Japanese home islands.
Allied air assaults destroy Rabaul, a
strategic port for the Japanese in Melanesia.
Tarawa and Makin
Controversy surrounded the Allied Pacific campaign to
regain the Central Pacific perimeter. As MacArthur and Halsey drove
toward their respective objectives in the Southwest Pacific, the
island-hopping strategy outlined in Plan Orange of the 1930s was
implemented by Admiral Nimitz, backed by Admiral Ernest J. King, the
Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, of whom it was said he shaved with
a blowtorch. If the majority of Japanese-held islands was by-passed, and
only selected targets were taken, the Japanese defense perimeter would
collapse. Captured islands would be turned into forward American air and
naval bases. The ultimate objective would be to seize islands close
enough for America's newest long-range bomber, the B-29 Superfortress,
to make massive raids on the Japanese home islands.
American and Japanese naval tactics changed during
the course of the Pacific campaign. Although the Japanese revolutionized
aircraft carrier strategy, they also made use of battleships, whereas
the United States turned the aircraft carrier into its primary attack
Amtracs on the beach at Tarawa,
November, 1943. Tarawa proved to be a valuable, although very costly,
lesson in amphibious warfare.