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The Solomons and the
Offensive Against Rabaul

Introduction | Features

Introduction to the Solomons and the Offensive Against Rabaul

After the Battle of Midway, the Allies were able to launch a limited offensive to protect their line of communications and to prevent the Japanese from consolidating their gains.

On July 2, 1942 the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff issued orders specifying that Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, would be taken. Rabaul was the main base in the Japanese Southeast Area and was well situated to support Japanese advances southward. JCS specified that Rabaul would be taken in three stages: first, the seizure of bases in the southern Solomons; second, the reoccupation of the remainder of the Solomons and the north coast of New Guinea as far as Lae and Salamaua; and third, the recapture of Rabaul itself and the rest of the Bismarck Archipelago.

The JCS gave the commander of the South Pacific Area, Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley (after October 1942, Admiral William F. Halsey), control over the first stage of the offensive. Strategic direction of the second and third phases of the offensive was given to General MacArthur of the Southwest Pacific Area.

On August 7, 1942 the first stage of the offensive against Rabaul began with landings by a Marine division on Guadalcanal and nearby islands.

The Japanese reacted vigorously. They inflicted a serious defeat on Ghormley's naval forces in the Battle of Savo Island (August 8, 1942), landed large numbers of reinforcements on Guadalcanal, and ultimately lost strong ground, air and naval forces in a desperate effort to hold Guadalcanal.

Six major naval engagements were fought off the island. Air battles raged almost daily until the end of October 1942. On shore the issue was in doubt for almost three months. Before the island was finally secured in February 1943, the United States had committed two Marine divisions, two Army divisions, and an additional Army regiment to the fight.

Late in February 1943 an Army division was unopposed in taking the Russell Islands, 35 miles northwest of Guadalcanal. The Allies thus firmly established themselves in the Solomons.

The second stage of the offensive against Rabaul began in late June 1943. The purpose of this operation was to reoccupy the remainder of the Solomons and the northern coast of New Guinea as far as Lae and Salamaua.

MacArthur's forces landed on islands off eastern New Guinea and on the New Guinea coast northwest of Buna where they were to mike contact with an Australian division which was already fighting near Salamaua. The ground combat forces of MacArthur's command were by this time largely assigned to the U.S. Sixth Army, which had been activated on January 25, 1943 and which began operations in the Southwest Pacific Area in February 1943 under the command of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger.

About the same time Sixth Army troops began their June offensive, Admiral Halsey's South Pacific forces, operating under MacArthur's strategic direction, landed on the island of New Georgia in the central Solomons. The object of these operations was to secure air bases to support further advances in a two-pronged drive up the Solomons and the New Guinea coast toward Rabaul.

Solomons: Features

Heroes of the Solomons

Fascinating, inspiring stories and details about American heroes of the Solomons who were recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Also see Heroes of Savo Island, Heroes of Guadalcanal, Heroes of New Georgia, and Heroes of Bougainville.

[The primary source for this text is the U.S. Army Center for Military History. For a more general overview of the war see the Brief History of WWII e-text."]

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