War in the Pacific: The First Year
A Guide to
the War in
the Pacific
The Rising Sun

The Fall of the Philippines

Midway and the Aleutians

Japanese Occupation of Guam

Papua and New Guinea

Assault on the Solomons

Internment Camps


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.

Japanese machine gun crew
A Japanese machine gun crew on Guadalcanal.

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 unit.

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."

Robertson and his native scouts
Coastwatcher Eric 'Wobbie' Robertson and his native scouts served on Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands.

Whittington and Oambari
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.