Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Planning the Operation
Diversionary Landings
Battle at Sea
Action Ashore: Koromokina
The Battle for Piva Trail
The Coconut Grove Battle
Piva Forks Battle
Hand Grenade Hill
The Koiari Raid
Hellzapoppin Ridge
Bougainville Finale
Major General Allen H. Turnage
Special Subjects
3d Marine Division
The Coatwatchers
37th Infantry Division
War Dogs
Navajo Code Talkers

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 island inhabitants.

unloading shells from LVT
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 Philip Scheer

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 results.

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 raider battalions.

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 officer's judgement.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division