Contents - Hirohito's War
23 The Isolation of Rabaul and the Starvation of Bougainville
[November 1943–August 1945]
[Maps: 23.1, 23.2, 23.3, 23.4]
The Planning of the Bougainville Campaign (p 646) The Bombing of Bougainville and Rabaul (p 648) Bougainville Invaded (p 649) Strategic Considerations and Other Challenges on Bougainville (p 652) The Battle of Empress Augusta Bay (p 652) US Carrier Raids on Rabaul (p 654) The Battle of Cape St. George (p 657) The Battles for the Airfield Perimeters (p 657) Foot Rot and Ulcers (p 661) Lieutenant-General Hyakutake’s Counter-Attack (p 663) Black Soldiers of the 93rd Division (p 667) The Starvation of the Japanese on Bougainville (p 669) The Battle of Porton Plantation: The Nasty Business of ‘Mopping Up’ (p 671) Reflections on Bougainville and Rabaul (p 673)
The Planning of the Bougainville Campaign: [Map: 23.1] The western hook of Operation CARTWHEEL, which had started with the Huon Peninsula, was completed with the capture of the Admiralty Islands in March 1944. While MacArthur was operating in the west, Vice-Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey was working the eastern channel of Operation CARTWHEEL. Having secured New Georgia and Kolumbangara by the first week of October 1943, the next island on the advance toward Rabaul was Bougainville, the largest island of the Solomons group. As Halsey developed his plans for the subjugation of Bougainville in November 1943, he found his strategy very much moulded by the disposition of Japanese forces on the island. Following their original March 1942 invasion, they developed airfields across the island, with the aim of providing cover for their intended advance into the southern Solomons and then on to the island chains east of Australia. Their main Bougainville airfield was in the north at Buka Island; others were in the south at Buin (Kahili) and Ballalae Island situated between Bougainville and Shortland Island, and on the east coast of Bougainville at Kieta.
The Japanese occupation barely touched the dense jungle of Bougainville’s mountainous terrain. Its climate and topography was arguably the most challenging of any battleground in the entire Pacific War. The majority of the estimated 40,000 native population lived on the eastern plains or the southern or northern tips. In general they resented the Japanese invaders and co-operated enthusiastically with the Australian coastal watchers located around the island. As means of communication and supply the interior tracks had been largely neglected and supply to Japanese garrisons and their airfields from Rabaul was largely done by air or barge. Air power was such that Japan’s military strategists understood that airfields were the advance guard of military action. This was not so much because of the damage that Japanese aircraft could do to the enemy in the field. Albeit psychologically important, Japanese air power against enemy infantry in the jungle conditions was diminished. However, Japanese planes could disrupt or destroy amphibious landings, and even more importantly air attack on enemy shipping could prevent supply and reinforcement. When roles were reversed and it was MacArthur and his commanders who had the momentum of attack in the South Pacific, they did not need to invent a new strategic formula for success. They merely copied the Japanese.