War in the Pacific: The First Year
Operation Watchtower: Assault on the Solomons
On August 7, 1942, U.S. Marines landed in the Florida
Islands, a small group of islands north of Guadalcanal in the Solomon
Islands. These men were the first American troops to invade enemy
territory in World War II, and they were followed shortly by other
Marines who landed on Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The next seven months on
Guadalcanal proved to be one of the major turning points of the war.
Important naval engagements also occurred during this period, including
the Battle of Savo Island, a resounding defeat for the Allies; the
battles of the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands were crucial as
both sides continued to pour men, planes, and ships into the campaign.
The Japanese shipped thousands of reinforcements and supplies to the
island on such a regular schedule that it was dubbed the "Tokyo Express"
by the Americans. Refusing to admit defeat, the Japanese bravely fought
on before finally evacuating Guadalcanal in February, 1943.
A Japanese machine gun crew on
As the Solomon campaign initially proved tenuous,
civilian planters, miners, traders, missionaries, former government
officers, and native Solomon Islanders formed a volunteer network known
as the coastwatchers. The coastwatchers, by communicating information
about Japanese positions, played one of the most important roles of any
volunteer resistance group in the southwest Pacific campaigns during the
war. Organized in and expanded from New Guinea by Eric Feldt, an officer
in the Royal Australian Navy, these men secretly operated behind enemy
lines, provided critical information to the Allies about Japanese troop,
ship, and aircraft movements, evacuated civilians, rescued Allied
aviators, and ambushed Japanese troops. A detachment of Solomon Islands
and Australian coastwatchers courageously rescued Lieutenant(j.g.) John
F. Kennedy and members of his crew off Kolombangara's coast, after their
torpedo boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer.
Two coastwatchers man the KEN control
station near Henderson Field in the Solomon Islands. The coastwatchers
bravely operated behind enemy lines, providing valuable information
about Japanese movements, rescuing downed Allied airmen, and evacuating
civilians. Eric Feldt, an officer an the Royal Australian Navy, was
instrumental in organizing this sometimes forgot ten resistance
Equipped with radio transmitters, the coastwatchers were essentially
human radar, and they helped Allies inflict significant defeats on
Japanese naval and air forces. In the Solomons, coastwatchers were
stationed on Guadalcanal, Buka, Bougainville, New Georgia, Santa Isabel,
and Malaita. Most of the Japanese aircraft that attacked Guadalcanal
from their bases in New Britain had to pass over New Georgia. The
reports from the coastwatchers on that island were especially valuable,
allowing American planes to intercept in coming bombers.The famous
American naval commander, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, remarked of
these men, "The coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved
the South Pacific."
Coastwatcher Eric 'Wobbie' Robertson and
his native scouts served on Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands.
Australian Private G. C. Whittington, in
a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, is being escorted to a base
hospital near Port Moresby by Raphael Oambari. Known as the "Fuzzy Wuzzy
Angels," Papuans served as stretcher bearers, munition haulers, and
fighting soldiers in some of the most hostile terrain in the south
Pacific. The Papuan campaign was the first land defeat of the Japanese
military. Melanesians were instrumental in supporting Allied troops
throughout the South Pacific.