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

Allied Pacific Counteroffensives

South & Central Pacific

China-Burma-India, Aleutians

Marines & Rikusentai

Submarines in the Pacific


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).

Adm. Halsey
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 Seabees—US. Navy construction battalions—Guadalcanal'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 fighting.

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.

bombing of Rabaul
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 vessel.

Amtracs on the beach at Tarawa, November, 1943. Tarawa proved to be a valuable, although very costly, lesson in amphibious warfare.