The Bougainville campaign was a series of land and naval battles of the Pacific campaign of World War II between Allied forces and the Empire of Japan. It was part of Operation Cartwheel, the Allied grand strategy in the South Pacific. The campaign took place in the Northern Solomons in two phases. The first phase, in which American troops landed and held the perimeter around the beachhead at Torokina, lasted from November 1943 through November 1944. The second phase, in which primarily Australian troops went on the offensive, mopping up pockets of starving, isolated but still-determined Japanese, lasted from November 1944 until August 1945, when the last Japanese soldiers on the island surrendered. Operations during the final phase of the campaign saw the Australian forces advance north towards the Bonis Peninsula and south towards the main Japanese stronghold around Buin, although the war ended before these two enclaves were completely destroyed.
|Bougainville campaign (1943–45)|
|Part of the Pacific Theatre of World War II|
United States Army soldiers hunt Japanese infiltrators on Bougainville in March 1944.
Colony of Fiji
|Commanders and leaders|
William F. Halsey
Theodore S. Wilkinson
Alexander A. Vandegrift
Robert Amos Row
Allen H. Turnage
Robert S. Beightler
Roy S. Geiger
Oscar W. Griswold
H. E. Barrowclough
Kiyoto Kagawa †
144,000 American troops|
30,000 Australian troops
|Casualties and losses|
|18,500–21,500 dead[Note 1]|
Before the war, Bougainville had been administered as part of the Australian Territory of New Guinea, even though, geographically, Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands chain. As a result, within the various accounts of the campaign it is referred to as part of both the New Guinea and the Solomon Islands campaigns.
During their occupation the Japanese constructed naval aircraft bases in the north, east, and south of the island; but none in the west. They developed a naval anchorage at Tonolei Harbor near Buin, their largest base, on the southern coastal plain of Bougainville. On the nearby Treasury and Shortland Islands they built airfields, naval bases and anchorages. These bases helped protect Rabaul, the major Japanese garrison and naval base in Papua New Guinea, while allowing continued expansion to the south-east, down the Solomon Islands chain, to Guadalcanal and New Guinea and beyond. To the Allies, Bougainville would later also be considered vital for neutralizing the Japanese base around Rabaul.
In March–April 1942, the Japanese landed on Bougainville as part of their advance into the South Pacific. At the time, there was only a small Australian garrison on the island which consisted of about 20 soldiers from the 1st Independent Company and some coastwatchers. Shortly after the Japanese arrived, the bulk of the Australian force was evacuated by the Allies, although some of the coastwatchers remained behind to provide intelligence. Once secured, the Japanese began constructing a number of airfields across the island. The main airfields were on Buka Island, the Bonis Peninsula in the north, at Kahili and Kara, in the south, and Kieta on the east coast, while a naval anchorage was constructed at Tonolei Harbor near Buin on the southern coastal plain, along with anchorages on the Shortland Islands group.
The airfield at Kahili was known by the Japanese as Buin Airfield, and to its south was an airfield on Ballale Island in the Shortland Islands. These bases allowed the Japanese to conduct operations in the southern Solomon Islands and to attack the Allied lines of communication between the United States, Australia and the Southwest Pacific Area.
At the opening of the Allied offensives, their estimates of Japanese strength on Bougainville varied widely, ranging between 45,000 and 65,000 Army, Navy, and labour personnel.[Note 2] These forces constituted the Japanese 17th Army, commanded by General Harukichi Hyakutake. Hyukatake reported to General Hitoshi Imamura, commander of the Japanese Eighth Area Army, headquartered at Rabaul on New Britain Island. Naval command at Rabaul was the responsibility of Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka, commander Southeast Area Fleet. The level of cooperation between these two officers was greater than that usually found between the branches of the Japanese armed forces. On Bougainville, the Japanese forces consisted of the following formations: the 17th Infantry Group – consisting of the 81st Infantry Regiment and the III Battalion, 53rd Infantry Regiment under Major General Kesao Kijima, and elements of the 6th Division. The 17th Infantry occupied northern Bougainville, while the 6th had responsibility for the island south of Tarina.
Reduction of the main Japanese base at Rabaul was the ultimate goal of the Allied offensive in the Solomons. To achieve this, Allied planners formulated Operation Cartwheel. By 1943 Rabaul was already within range of Allied heavy bombers, but a closer airfield was needed for light bombers and escort fighters. Thus, the entire island of Bougainville did not need to be occupied; only enough relatively flat land to support an airbase was required. According to Morison this "was the one and only reason why the JCS authorized Halsey to seize a section of Bougainville: to establish forward airfields for strikes on Rabaul."
The area around Cape Torokina was settled on since, among other things, the Japanese were not there in force and had no airfield there. Also, Empress Augusta Bay had a somewhat protected anchorage, and the physical barriers to the east of the cape – for instance the mountain ranges and thick jungle – meant that mounting a counterattack would be beyond the capabilities of the Japanese for weeks, if not months, which would allow the US forces to consolidate after landing and give them enough time to establish a strong perimeter.
Bougainville lay within the Southwest Pacific Area, so operations were nominally under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, whose headquarters were in Brisbane, Australia. Although MacArthur had to approve all major moves, he gave planning and operational control to Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander U.S. Third Fleet, headquartered at Nouméa on New Caledonia. In mid-October, Halsey set 1 November as the date for the invasion of Bougainville.
By early October, it was clear to the Japanese that the Allies were planning a follow-up offensive to the Allied capture of the New Georgias, although the target was uncertain. The commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Mineichi Koga, flying his flag aboard the battleship Musashi from Truk Lagoon, sent all of his carrier aircraft to Rabaul. These planes would combine with the land-based air force already there and bomb Allied bases and supply routes as part of a plan the Japanese called Operation RO. In the event, this plan achieved very little besides further attrition to the Japanese air arm as the Japanese aircraft suffered heavy losses, which later prevented the Japanese aircraft from intervening against the US landings in the Gilbert and Marshal Islands.
To confuse the Japanese as to the Allies' real target, two other invasions were carried out. The Treasury Islands, just southwest of the Shortlands, were occupied 27 October by the 8th Brigade Group, 3rd New Zealand Division under the command of Brigadier Robert Row, and a temporary landing was effected on Choiseul, one of the major islands in the Solomons chain. Unlike on Guadalcanal and the New Georgias, Allied planners were unable to gain valuable intelligence from coastwatchers or small Australian Army detachments as the Japanese had driven them off the island long before plans for Operation Cherry Blossom began.
Rear Admiral Theodore Wilkinson, Commander Third Fleet Amphibious Forces, was assigned by Halsey to direct the landings at Cape Torokina from aboard his flagship, the attack transport George Clymer. The ships under Wilkinson's command would disembark the I Marine Amphibious Corps, commanded by Major General Alexander Vandegrift, victor of the land campaign on Guadalcanal. Vandegrift's force, a total of 14,321 men, consisted of the 3rd Marine Division (reinforced), under Maj. Gen. Allen H. Turnage, the U.S. Army's 37th Infantry Division, under Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler, and the Advance Naval Base Unit No. 7.
Three groups of transports converged in Empress Augusta Bay on the morning of 1 November. The existing maps of the Bougainville coast that the Allies possessed were highly unreliable German Admiralty charts from about 1890. A few corrections had been made by reconnaissance flights and submarine scouting, but some longitudes were still wrong. Indeed, Morison recounts that "near the end of the approach, when the navigating officer of a transport was asked by the captain for his ship's position, he replied, 'About three miles inland, sir!'" Morison further recounts the scene of the landing in the following passage:
To the forces, as they approached, Empress Augusta Bay presented a magnificent but somewhat terrifying spectacle. Behind the curved sweep of the shore line, a heavy, dark green jungle...swept up over foothills and crumpled ridges to the cordillera which was crowned by a smoking volcano, Mount Baranga, 8,650 feet above sea level...It was wilder and more majestic scenery than anyone had yet witnessed in the South Pacific...
From the difficult landings at Guadalcanal and the New Georgias, Admiral Wilkinson had learned a significant lesson about the necessity of rapid unloading and getting his slow, vulnerable transports away from the landing area. To this end, he only loaded his transports half full and his cargo ships one-quarter full, and made sure that 30% of the troops on the beach assisted in unloading. The Japanese, having been taken by surprise, were unable to mount an air assault on the invasion fleet. Admiral Wilkinson, grateful that his transports were able to land almost the entire troop contingent and a large amount of materiel unmolested by air attack, ordered them out of the area around sundown.
Japanese forces around the landing area were limited to no more than platoon strength, as they had not expected a landing in the area and their logistics system was unable to support greater numbers. When word of the landings reached Rabaul, Vice Admiral Tomoshige Samejima, Commander Japanese Eighth Fleet, immediately embarked a thousand troops from the II Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment onto five destroyer-transports at Rabaul and sent them to Cape Torokina to effect a counterlanding. Escorting the transports was a force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers led by Vice Admiral Sentaro Omori. During the night voyage to Torokina, the Japanese ships were spotted by an American submarine and possibly by a search plane. Concerned that he had lost the element of surprise, Omori radioed Samejima to ask permission to send the slow-moving transports back to Rabaul, but to continue with the combat ships to attack the American transports that he assumed were still in Empress Augusta Bay. Samejima concurred, and Omori pressed ahead with his cruisers and destroyers.
At the same time, Rear Admiral Stanton Merrill was steaming toward the Bay with four light cruisers and eight destroyers. The two forces met in the early morning hours of 2 November in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, in which the Japanese lost light cruiser Sendai and destroyer Hatsukaze.
Admiral Koga was unwilling to risk his precious aircraft carriers, but decided to dispatch seven heavy cruisers to Rabaul. These arrived on 3 November. News of the cruisers' arrival in the area of operations greatly concerned Admiral Halsey: the Bougainville beachhead was still quite vulnerable and he had no heavy cruisers at all to oppose a bombardment. Taking a huge gamble, he ordered the only carrier force under his immediate command, Task Force 38 under Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, to cripple or sink as much of the combat shipping in Simpson Harbor as possible. The resulting air strike, launched from Sherman's fleet carrier Saratoga and light carrier Princeton on 5 November, with fighter escorts being provided by land-based aircraft from Air Solomons command and followed up by land-based aircraft from the Fifth Air Force, sank no ships but inflicted enough damage to convince Koga to withdraw the heavy cruisers, without having been able to attack the beachhead. A second raid was launched on 11 November with aircraft from the Essex, Bunker Hill and Independence, along with a sizeable force of land-based B-24 bombers. The use of land-based heavy bombers against the Japanese ships proved ineffective, but the carrier-based aircraft achieved a degree of success, sinking a destroyer and damaging three destroyers and two cruisers.
Defense and expansion of the US lodgment at Cape Torokina involved protracted and often bitter jungle warfare, with many casualties resulting from malaria and other tropical diseases. Except for patrol skirmishes, all of the major combat to expand the beachhead occurred in the Marine sector. From 6 to 19 November, the remaining regiment of the 3rd Marine Division and the US Army 37th Infantry Division were landed and the beachhead gradually expanded. On their third attempt, the Japanese successfully landed four destroyer-loads of men just beyond the eastern limit of the American beachhead before dawn on 7 November. Despite the presence of US PT boats operating out of Puruata Island, the Japanese effected this landing completely undetected by the Americans. Nevertheless, the Marines annihilated this force the next day in the Battle of Koromokina Lagoon. In conjunction with the landing forces, the Japanese 23rd Infantry Regiment, which was assigned to the 6th Division, also began attacking the US forces, with some success on 7 November, before being beaten back the following day.
While escorting one of the invasion echelons to the Torokina beachhead on 9 November, Morison recounts that some of Admiral Merrill's sailors witnessed an extraordinary incident that highlighted some of the extreme cultural differences at play in the Pacific:
On their way north, the bluejackets topside in destroyer Spence were goggle-eyed at an exhibition of Japanese bushido. Ordered to investigate a life raft, they observed what appeared to be seven bodies in it. The seven bodies suddenly sat up and started talking. One of them, apparently the officer, broke out a 7.7-mm machine gun, which each man in succession placed in his mouth, while the officer fired a round which shot the back of the man's head off. After six had been bumped off, the officer stood up, addressed a short speech in Japanese to Spence's commanding officer on the bridge, and then shot himself.
Parts of two Marine raider battalions drove away Japanese who were blocking the Piva branch of the Numa Numa Trail in the 8–9 November Battle for Piva Trail. The Marines then selected sites in the area for two airstrips (the fighter strip at the beach was already being built). Also on 9 November, Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, took over command of the I Marine Amphibious Corps from General Vandegrift. Four days later, he assumed command of the entire Torokina beachhead area from Admiral Wilkinson. By this time, the Perimeter, as it was called, covered about 7,000 yards of beach front and had a circumference of about 16,000 yards. The trails to new airstrip sites had to be cleared, and General Turnage assigned this task to the 21st Marine Regiment. A Japanese ambush in the area resulted in the 13–14 November Battle of the Coconut Grove, which ended with the Marines gaining control of the point where the Numa Numa and East West Trails crossed.
Throughout early November, the Japanese carried out air raids against the US forces around Torokina; however, by 17 November losses were such that the Japanese 1st Carrier Division, which had begun with 370 planes on 1 November, was withdrawn back to Truk. The US forces were thereby able to gradually expand their perimeter out to 5.0–6.2 miles (8–10 km), eventually capturing two airfields with which they could subsequently launch their own attacks against Rabaul. Following this, the Japanese troops on Bougainville essentially became isolated.
At Rabaul, General Imamura was still convinced that the Allies did not mean to stay long at Torokina—he was sure it was just a stepping stone. He thus had no interest in mounting a decisive counterattack on the Allied beachhead using the substantial number of troops he already had in the southern part of Bougainville. Instead, he reinforced the Buka Island area, just off the north coast of the larger island, believing it to be the Allies' real target. Thus, the Japanese Army repeated the error of Guadalcanal, while the Navy could not convince Imamura of the Americans' real intentions.
The 18–25 November Battle of Piva Forks effectively wiped out an entire Japanese infantry regiment. Even so, the beachhead was still not an entirely safe place. The day after the end of the Piva Forks action, as the sixth echelon of the invasion force was unloading at the beachhead, Japanese artillery fired on the landing ships, inflicting casualties. The Marines silenced these guns the following day.
On 25 November, as the Battle of Piva Forks was ending, the Battle of Cape St. George took place in the waters between Buka and New Ireland. Three destroyer transports full of troops, escorted by two destroyers, all under the command of Captain Kiyoto Kagawa, were on their way to reinforce Buka. Admiral Halsey directed five destroyers under Captain Arleigh Burke to intercept. The encounter resulted in the sinking of destroyers Onami, Makinami and Yugumo, as well as the death of Captain Kagawa. No hits were scored on Burke's vessels.
The battle was not completely one sided, though. On 28–29 November, in an effort to block reinforcements from the Japanese 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion carried out a raid on Koiari, about 9.3 miles (15 km) east of Torokina. After landing unopposed, the Japanese counterattacked heavily and the Marines, facing being overrun, had to be rescued by landing craft, which took three attempts to get ashore.
Under extremely difficult conditions, the Naval Construction Battalions (CBs or Seabees) and a group of New Zealand engineers carried out work on the three airstrips. The fighter strip at the beach was the first to begin full-time operations with the first flights taking place on 10 December. The Japanese Army command at Rabaul was certain that the Allies would be moving on from Torokina; Imamura ordered a build-up of the defenses at Buin, on the southern tip of Bougainville.
In November and December the Japanese emplaced field artillery on the high ground around the beachhead, concentrated in a group of hills along the Torokina River overlooking the eastern perimeter. They shelled the beachhead, targeting the airstrips and the supply dumps. The 3rd Marine Division extended its lines to include the hills in a series of operations that lasted from 9–27 December. One hill, dubbed "Hellzapoppin Ridge", was a natural fortress. Overlooking the beachhead, it was 300 feet (91 m) long, with steep slopes and a narrow crest. The Japanese constructed extensive positions on the reverse slopes using natural and artificial camouflage. The 21st Marines attacked Hellzapoppin Ridge but were driven off on 12 December. Several air strikes missed the narrow ridge completely. Finally, co-ordinated air, artillery, and infantry attacks resulted in the capture of the ridge on 18 December. In the days that followed, the 21st Marines were also involved in fighting around Hill 600A, which was captured by 24 December 1943.
On 15 December, the I Marine Amphibious Corps and General Geiger were replaced by the US Army's XIV Corps, led by Major General Oscar W. Griswold, the victor of the land campaign on New Georgia. On 28 December, the 3rd Marine Division, exhausted because most of the fighting had taken place in its sector, was replaced by the Army's Americal Division under Major General John R. Hodge. The 37th Division (Army), was then placed under Griswold's XIV Corps.
Rabaul had already been raided multiple times between 12 October and 2 November by the heavy bombers of General George C. Kenney's Allied Air Forces Southwest Pacific Area. Significant damage was done to ground installations, although the Japanese adapted by moving aircraft facilities underground. Only low-flying techniques such as dive bombing and glide bombing could achieve the accuracy required to pinpoint these installations, as well as neutralising anti-aircraft weapons and attacking vessels in the harbor. To achieve this, the Allies began constructing several airstrips on Bougainville that would allow them to use their smaller, more manoeuvrable, aircraft against Rabaul. The fighter strip on the beach at Torokina began operations on 10 December, while the inland bomber strip "Piva Uncle" followed on Christmas Day, and the inland fighter strip "Piva Yoke" on 22 January.
General Ralph J. Mitchell, USMC, took over the command of all land-based planes in the theater, called Air Command, Solomons (Airsols), on 20 November. Once the three airstrips in the Torokina Perimeter became fully functional, Mitchell moved Airsols headquarters there from Munda on New Georgia Island. The first raids by Airsols aircraft had limited success. Japanese anti-aircraft fire, especially from ships, had improved greatly since Kenney's raids, and inflicted significant damage on the raiders. The Americans developed new formations and tactics that brought about increasing attrition among the Japanese fighter arm. The Japanese Navy could no longer risk exposing its ships to the relentless air attacks, and by late January, Admiral Kusaka had banned all shipping except barges from Simpson Harbor, which removed any remaining naval threat to the Torokina beachhead.
By mid-February, when the Allies captured the Green Islands, the Japanese base was no longer able to project air power to interfere. From 8 March, while the Battle for the Perimeter was beginning on Bougainville, Air Solomons bombers began flying unescorted to Rabaul. In describing the effect, Morison writes: "it is significant that the splendid harbor which in October 1943 had held some 300,000 tons of enemy shipping, and had sheltered powerful task forces of the Japanese Navy, was reduced to a third-rate barge depot."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff had determined that Rabaul was to be encircled, with invasions of the Admiralty Islands and Kavieng on the north tip of the island of New Ireland, to begin 1 April at the earliest. Admiral Halsey, anxious to maintain offensive momentum, was unwilling to leave his forces idle until then. To that end, and to provide yet another airfield close to Rabaul, Halsey ordered his amphibious forces to invade the Green Islands, a group of small coral atolls about 115 miles east of Rabaul. Reconnaissance missions determined that the native Melanesians there were well-disposed toward the Europeans, and had been alienated by the Japanese. As a result, Allied planners determined that no preliminary bombing or shelling would be carried out.
On February 15, Admiral Wilkinson landed a contingent of New Zealanders from the 3rd Division under Major General Harold E. Barrowclough. Experience gained from previous landings, coupled with detailed staff work, meant that the landings were completed with relative efficiency. In addition, interference from Japanese planes was minimal. Morison attributed this to previous losses inflicted against the Japanese air arm, writing that the fact such a large fleet "could set thousands of troops ashore with impunity only 115 miles from Rabaul proved what good work AirSols had already accomplished."
The Greens provided a site for a PT boat base, and during the night of 1 March, PT-319 entered Simpson Harbor and went undetected by the Japanese. This would have been inconceivable just two months earlier. In addition, a detachment of Seabees constructed an airfield, putting the Japanese base at Kavieng in range of AirSols planes for the first time.
General Hyakutake, commander of the 17th Army, commanded about 40,000 men. In addition, there were also about 20,000 naval personnel in the southern part of the island under Vice Admiral Tomoshige Samejima. One of the units in Hyakutake's command, the 6th Infantry Division under Lieutenant General Masatane Kanda, was reputed to be the toughest in the Imperial Japanese Army. Initially, Hyakutake was convinced of the Allied intent to remain permanently at Torokina and as a result remained on a defensive posture. The resulting delay in Japanese offensive action gave Griswold plenty of time to deploy his men in suitable defensive positions.
In December 1943, Hyakutake resolved to launch an attack on the US forces around the perimeter and throughout the early months of 1944 his staff made the necessary preparations and plans. Hyakutake's attack would employ the 12,000 men of the 6th Infantry plus 3,000 reserves. His faith in the ultimate victory was such that he planned on taking Griswold's surrender at the Torokina airstrip on 17 March. The Japanese dragged the greatest concentration of field artillery they had yet assembled onto the ridges overlooking the perimeter. Griswold knew that allowing the Japanese to hold these ridges was better than stretching his own lines thin by occupying them himself.
On the American side, Hodge's Americal Division and Beightler's 37th Infantry Division manned the Perimeter, while the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion and the US Army 49th Coast Artillery Battalion protected the beachhead. Griswold had learned on New Georgia that waiting for the Japanese to attack was a much surer way to victory than undertaking his own offensive operations in a jungle.
As far as the press and the American public were concerned, the war had moved on from Bougainville. As Morison writes, "the struggle for the Perimeter went almost unnoticed outside the Pacific." Hyakutake opened his all-out effort to throw the Americans off Bougainville, which came to be known simply as The Counterattack, on 9 March, and his men succeeded in capturing Hill 700 and Cannon Hill; General Beightler's 37th Division recaptured these positions on the afternoon of 12 March. Griswold gave credit to the destroyers that provided bombardment of the Japanese positions, suppressing their attempts at reinforcement.
Hyakutake's second thrust was delayed until 12 March. The Japanese advanced through a deep ravine to approach the Piva Yoke fighter strip, and succeeded in penetrating the Perimeter at one point. General Beightler responded by sending combined tanks and infantry to drive them back. Also, Japanese artillery that had been bombarding all three American airstrips was silenced by AirSols bombers. This action ended on 13 March. Hyakutake attempted twice more to penetrate the perimeter, on 15 and 17 March, but was driven back both times. The Japanese mounted a final attack on the night of 23–24 March, which made some progress but was then thrown back. On 27 March, General Hodge's Americal Division drove the Japanese off of Hill 260, and the battle came to a close.
During the Battle of the Perimeter, Air Solomons aircraft continued bombing Rabaul completely reducing its offensive capability. According to Morison, "...AirSols delivered at least one strike on Rabaul every day that weather permitted. An average of 85 tons of bombs was dropped on the area daily from 20 February to 15 May – a total of 7,410 tons by almost 9,400 sorties."
The Japanese army, having taken heavy losses during these operations, withdrew the majority of its force into the deep interior and to the north and south ends of Bougainville. On 5 April 1944, the Americal Division's 132nd Infantry Regiment, after establishing patrol sweeps along Empress Augusta Bay, successfully launched an attack to capture the Japanese-held village of Mavavia. Two days later, while continuing a sweep for enemy forces, the regiment encountered prepared enemy defences, where they destroyed about 20 Japanese pillboxes using pole charges and bazookas. Later, the 132nd, together with elements of the Fiji Defence Force, was tasked with securing the heights west of Saua River. The Allied troops captured Hills 155, 165, 500, and 501 in fierce fighting that lasted until 18 April, when the last of the Japanese defenders were killed or driven off.
The Americans were reinforced by the 93rd Infantry Division, the first African American infantry unit to see action in World War II. The Japanese, isolated and cut off from outside assistance, primarily concentrated on survival, including the development of farms throughout the island. According to Morison, amongst the Japanese troops "morale fell deplorably ... after the loss of the Battle of the Perimeter; Admiral Takeda, in his narrative, notes robberies, insubordination and even mutiny. Hundreds of soldiers deserted and wandered through the jungle, living on anything they could find, even on snakes, rats and crocodiles."
The supply situation became so bad for the Japanese that, according to Gailey, "the normal rice ration of 750 grams of rice for each soldier was cut in April 1944 to 250 grams, and beginning in September there was no rice ration. A large portion of the available army and naval personnel had to be put to work growing food. Allied pilots took delight in dropping napalm on these garden plots whenever possible."
Australian intelligence officers, after studying records, estimated that 8,200 Japanese troops had been killed in combat during the American phase of operations, while a further 16,600 had died of disease or malnutrition. Of those killed or wounded in combat, the large majority had come during the attack on the US-held perimeter around Torokina, with Japanese losses amounting to 5,400 killed and 7,100 wounded before Imamura cancelled the attack.
The invasion of the Philippines had been scheduled for January 1945 but the rapid pace of Allied victories in the Pacific caused General MacArthur to bring forward the Philippines operation to October 1944. MacArthur would need all the ground troops he could get for the Leyte landings, so by mid-July MacArthur had decided to withdraw Griswold's XIV Corps from Bougainville for rest and refit, to be replaced by the Australian II Corps.
The Australian Government and military chose to conduct aggressive operations on Bougainville with the goal of destroying the Japanese garrison. This decision was motivated by a desire to bring the campaign to a conclusion and so free up troops to be used elsewhere, liberate Australian territory and the inhabitants of the island from Japanese rule, and demonstrate that Australian forces were playing an active role in the war.
Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Savige's Australian II Corps was a force of just over 30,000 men. It consisted of the Australian 3rd Division (7th, 15th and 29th Brigades) under the command of Major General William Bridgeford, as well as the 11th Brigade and the 23rd Brigade.
On 6 October, the first elements of the headquarters detachment of the 3rd Division landed. By mid-November, the 7th Brigade had relieved the U.S. 129th and 145th Infantry Regiments. On 22 November, Savige formally took command of Allied operations on Bougainville from Griswold. By 12 December, the replacement of frontline American troops by Australians was complete, and with the exception of a few service troops, all American service personnel had departed by 1 February 1945. The 3rd Division and 11th Brigade, reinforced by the Fiji Infantry Regiment, were posted to Bougainville. The 23rd Brigade garrisoned the neighbouring islands.
The Australians determined that Japanese forces on Bougainville, now numbering approximately 40,000, still had approximately 20 percent of their personnel in forward positions and that although understrength, were organized in combat-capable formations, including the 38th Independent Mixed Brigade and General Kanda's tough 6th Division. Savige issued his instructions on 23 December. Offensive operations would consist of three separate drives:
The Battle of Pearl Ridge (30–31 December) revealed how far Japanese morale and stamina had fallen. The ridge was taken by a single battalion of Australians, suffering few casualties in the process. It was afterwards discovered that the position had been held by 500 defenders rather than the 80–90 that had originally been estimated. Activity in the central sector was from that point on confined to patrols along the Numa Numa Trail.
Pursuant to General Savige's 31 December order to begin operations in the northwestern sector at the first opportunity, General J.R. Stevensons's 11th Brigade advanced along the coast, reaching the village of Rukussia by mid-January 1945. However, since the coastal plain was dominated by Tsimba Ridge, the Genga River could not be crossed in force until the Japanese had been dislodged from the crest of that ridge. In the resulting Battle of Tsimba Ridge, the Australians encountered determined resistance in heavily fortified positions, and it was not until 9 February that the last Japanese dug in on the western edge of the ridge were rooted out.
During the remainder of February and March the Australians drove the Japanese north past Soraken Plantation. Eventually, the approximately 1,800 Japanese fell back to a strong defensive line across the neck of the Bonis Peninsula. Because the 11th Brigade was exhausted from three weeks of jungle combat, frontal assaults were ruled out and an attempt was made to outflank the Japanese positions with an amphibious landing on 8 June. However, the landing force found itself pinned down and on the verge of being exterminated. Although Japanese losses were probably higher in the resulting Battle of Porton Plantation, the defenders received a boost in morale and the Australian command called off offensive operations in this sector for the time being. It was instead decided to contain the Japanese along the Ratsua front while resources were diverted to the southern sector for the drive towards Buin.
On 28 December, General Savige issued orders to the 29th Brigade to begin the drive toward the principal Japanese concentration around Buin. After a month's fighting, the Australians were in control of an area extending twelve miles south of the Perimeter and six miles inland. Employing barges to outflank the Japanese, they entered the village of Mosigetta by 11 February 1945 and Barara by 20 February. The Australians then cleared an area near Mawaraka for an airstrip.
By 5 March, the Japanese had been driven off a small knoll overlooking the Buin Road; the Australians named this promontory after Private C.R. Slater who had been wounded during the fighting. During the 28 March – 6 April Battle of Slater's Knoll, the Japanese launched a strong counterattack during which several determined Japanese attacks against this position were repulsed with heavy losses. In Gailey's words, "General Kanda's offensive was a disaster ... Indeed, the entire series of attacks by the Japanese is as inexplicable as the Australians' desire to conquer all the island." Having learned a costly lesson about the ineffectiveness of banzai charges, Kanda pulled his men back to a defensive perimeter around Buin and reinforced them with the garrisons from the Shortlands and the Fauros. The concentration was not complete until July.
Savige took two weeks to allow his forces to recuperate and resupply before restarting the drive on Buin. After repelling more futile Japanese attacks in the 17 April – 22 May Battle of the Hongorai River, his men crossed the Hari and Mobai Rivers. However, shortly after reaching the Mivo River their advance came to a halt as torrential rain and flooding washed away many of the bridges and roads upon which the Australian line of communications depended. This rendered large scale infantry operations impossible for almost a month and it was not until late July and into early August that the Australians were able to resume patrolling across the Mivo River. Before Savige could mount a substantial assault, news arrived of the dropping of the atomic bombs, after which the Australian forces mainly only conducted limited patrolling actions.
Combat operations on Bougainville ended with the surrender of Japanese forces on Bougainville on 21 August 1945. The Empire surrendered in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. The last phase of the campaign saw 516 Australians killed and another 1,572 wounded. 8,500 Japanese were killed at the same time, while disease and malnutrition killed another 9,800 and some 23,500 troops and labourers surrendered at the end of the war. Of the casualties suffered during the second phase of the campaign, historian Harry Gailey wrote: "it was a terrible toll for an island whose possession after March 1944 was of no consequence in bringing the war to a close ... That the Australian soldiers performed so well when they had to know that what they were doing was in the larger sphere unnecessary and unappreciated at home says much for the courage and the discipline of the ordinary Australian infantryman". In contrast, Australian historian Karl James has argued that the 1944–45 Bougainville campaign was justifiable given that it could not be known at the time that Japan would surrender in August 1945, and there was a need to both free up Australian forces for operations elsewhere and liberate the island's civilian population. Of the civilian population, according to James it is estimated that potentially up to 13,000 of the pre-war population of 52,000 died during the war. Hank Nelson estimated that 25 percent of the civilian population died during the war, with most deaths occurring after 1943.
Three Victoria Crosses were awarded during the campaign, one to a Fijian and two to Australians. Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu of Fiji received the award posthumously for his bravery at Mawaraka on 23 June 1944; he was the first, and is currently only Fijian to have received the award. Corporal Reg Rattey received the award for his actions during the fighting around Slater's Knoll on 22 March 1945, while Private Frank Partridge earned his in one of the final actions of the campaign on 24 July 1945 during fighting along the Ratsua front. Partridge was the only member of the Militia to receive the VC which was the last of the war awarded to an Australian.
The 129th Infantry Regiment is a United States military unit of the Illinois National Guard. The 129th served in World War I and World War II.
Initially part of the 33rd Infantry Division during World War I, the 129th Infantry Regiment was detached on 31 July 1943, sent as the Espiritu Santo garrison force and later attached to the 37th Infantry Division on Bougainville during the Bougainville campaign on 13 November.
The 129th Infantry Regiment participated during the Philippines campaign and was detached and attached to the 33rd Infantry Division between 26 March and 10 April 1945, before rejoining the 37th Infantry Division.
The regiment is now known as the 129th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), providing training.
129th Infantry Drive in Joliet, Illinois is named in honor of the regiment.15th Brigade (Australia)
The 15th Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Australian Army. Originally raised in 1912 as a Militia formation, the brigade was later re-raised in 1916 as part of the First Australian Imperial Force during World War I. The brigade took part in the fighting on the Western Front in France and Belgium during 1916–1918 before being disbanded in 1919. After this it was re-raised as a part-time unit of the Citizens Force in 1921 in Victoria. During World War II the brigade undertook defensive duties and training in Victoria and Queensland, before being deployed to New Guinea in 1943. Over the course of 1943 and 1944, it took part in the Salamaua–Lae, Markham–Ramu campaigns before returning to Australia in late 1944. In mid-1945, the brigade was committed to the Bougainville campaign, before being disbanded following the end of hostilities.2/8th Commando Squadron (Australia)
The 2/8th Commando Squadron was one of 12 independent companies or commando squadrons raised by the Australian Army during the Second World War. Raised in July 1942 as the 2/8th Independent Company, the 2/8th spent the early years of the war performing garrison duties in the Northern Territory. In July 1944, the 2/8th sailed to Lae, in New Guinea from where they launched a clandestine reconnaissance operation on the island of New Britain. Later, attached to the II Corps, it participated in the Bougainville campaign, during which it was in action continuously for a period of nine months right up until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. Following the end of hostilities, the 2/8th returned to Australia, and was disbanded at Liverpool, New South Wales in early January 1946.25th Battalion (Australia)
The 25th Battalion was an infantry unit of the Australian Army. Raised in early 1915 as part of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War, the battalion fought at Gallipoli and in the trenches along the Western Front, before being disbanded in early 1919. In mid-1921, it was re-formed as a part-time unit based in the state of Queensland. Throughout the 1930s, the battalion was merged briefly with the 49th Battalion as a result of manpower shortages, but was later re-raised in its own right. During the Second World War, the 25th deployed to New Guinea where they fought the Battle of Milne Bay in August and September 1942. Later in the war, the 25th took part in the Bougainville Campaign. During the post-war period, the 25th Battalion became part of the Royal Queensland Regiment, variously forming battalion or company-sized elements, before being merged with the 49th Battalion to form the 25th/49th Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment.29th Brigade (Australia)
The 29th Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Australian Army that was raised for service during World War II. Formed in late 1941 as part of the Militia, the brigade was initially formed for home defence in response to Japan's entry into the war. Composed of three Queensland-based infantry battalions and various supporting elements, the brigade initially undertook defensive duties around Townsville in 1941–1942 before deploying to New Guinea in 1943. There, the brigade undertook garrison duties before taking part in the Salamaua–Lae campaign. After a period of almost 18 months overseas, the brigade's elements were returned to Australia for a period of rest and reorganisation before later being assigned to the Bougainville campaign in 1944–1945. After the war, the brigade was disbanded in December 1945, along with its component units.8th Battalion (Australia)
The 8th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Initially raised in 1914 for the First Australian Imperial Force during the First World War the battalion was completely recruited from Victoria and formed part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division. During the war it fought at Gallipoli and in France and Belgium on the Western Front. It was disbanded in 1919, before being re-raised as a Militia battalion in 1921. During the Second World War the 8th Battalion was used primarily as a garrison unit before taking part in the Bougainville campaign late in the war. It was disbanded again in 1946 during the demobilisation process, although it was reformed again in 1948 when it was amalgamated with the 7th Battalion. Today, its honours and traditions are perpetuated by the 8th/7th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment.Battle of Empress Augusta Bay
The Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, on 1–2 November 1943 – also known as the Battle of Gazelle Bay, Operation Cherry Blossom, and in Japanese sources as the Sea Battle off Bougainville Island (ブーゲンビル島沖海戦) – was a naval battle fought near the island of Bougainville in Empress Augusta Bay. The naval battle was a result of Allied landings on nearby Bougainville in the first action in the Bougainville campaign of World War II and may also be considered as part of the Solomons and New Guinea campaigns. The battle was significant as part of a broader Allied strategy—known as Operation Cartwheel—aimed at isolating and surrounding the major Japanese base at Rabaul. The intention was to establish a beachhead on Bougainville, within which an airfield would be built.
The naval battle took place at the end of the first day of the landings around Cape Torokina, as the Japanese sortied a large force from Rabaul in an effort to replicate the success they had achieved at Savo Island in August 1942, in response to Allied amphibious landings in the eastern Solomon Islands. Ultimately, the covering force of US warships was able to turn back the Japanese force and the landings around Cape Torokina were successful.Battle of Pearl Ridge
The Battle of Pearl Ridge (30–31 December 1944) was an engagement of the Second World War fought between Australian and Japanese forces on Bougainville Island. Part of the wider Bougainville Campaign, the battle took place in the central sector of the island, shortly after the Australians had taken over responsibility from the Americans. Believing that the ridge was held by less than a company of Japanese, on 30 December the Australian 25th Infantry Battalion launched a four-pronged attacked the ridge. The defending force, however, had been greatly reinforced by elements of the 38th Independent Mixed Brigade and was closer to a battalion in strength. After being held up on the right of their advance, the Australians dug-in overnight and repulsed a strong Japanese counterattack before resuming the attack on 31 December. By late in the afternoon, the Japanese had been swept off the ridge. The Australians later established an observation post on the ridge, which had commanding views of the whole island, and throughout the remainder of the campaign used it to control artillery fire as they advanced towards Japanese enclaves in the north and south of the island.Battle of Slater's Knoll
The Battle of Slater's Knoll (28 March – 6 April 1945) was a battle fought between Australian and Japanese forces on Bougainville Island during the Second World War. Part of the Bougainville campaign, the battle occurred as a force of about 3,300 Japanese from the Japanese 6th Division supported by a sizeable concentration of artillery launched a counterattack against the main Australian offensive which had been pushing south towards Buin, concentrating their attacks on Slater's Knoll near the Puriata River. The Australian troops belonged to the 7th Brigade, with the 25th Infantry Battalion being the most heavily engaged, although the 9th Infantry Battalion and the 61st Infantry Battalion also took part in the fighting.
Against Japanese tactics that included massed attacks, the Australians utilised armour and artillery, and in the end these proved decisive. Commencing in late March, after the Australian advance had been halted by wet weather, over the course of several days the Japanese launched several probing raids followed by heavy attacks against the Australians. The final assault on the knoll came on the night of 4/5 April when 129 men from 'B' Company, 25th Infantry Battalion repulsed an attack by a force of about 1,100 Japanese, killing 292. This proved to be the 7th Brigade's final involvement in the campaign as they were relieved by the 15th Brigade shortly afterwards. Overall, 620 Japanese were killed in the battle with another 1,000 estimated to have been wounded, while the Australians suffered 189 casualties.Donald Dunstan (governor)
Lieutenant General Sir Donald Beaumont Dunstan (18 February 1923 – 15 October 2011) was an Australian Army officer who was Governor of South Australia from 23 April 1982 until 5 February 1991. A career officer, after joining the Army in 1940 during the Second World War, Dunstan graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1942 and served as an infantry officer, seeing combat against the Japanese during the Bougainville Campaign in 1945. After the war, he served in a variety of appointments, including as commander of the 1st Australian Task Force during the Vietnam War. From 1977 to 1982 he held the appointment of Chief of the General Staff, before retiring from the Army having overseen a large-scale re-organisation. Afterwards, he became the longest-serving governor of South Australia. He died in 2011, at the age of 88.Lance Collins
Lance Kitchener Collins (19 June 1916 – 3 January 1988) was a leading Australian rules footballer of the 1940s, playing for Carlton Football Club in the Victorian Football League (VFL).
Born in Beulah, Victoria, Collins joined Victorian Football Association (VFA) club Coburg in 1935 and played 98 games for them, kicking 432 goals (including 116 goals in 1936), a club goal kicking record.Called "a fine athlete with a big leap and strong hands... a precise kick for goal, and a deadly snapshot on the run", Collins spurned offers from numerous VFL clubs and was appointed captain-coach of Coburg in 1940. He led Coburg to the 1941 VFA Grand Final where they lost to Port Melbourne by 19 points.Coburg went into recess in 1942 due to World War II and Carlton recruited Collins. Wearing guernsey number four, Collins made his VFL debut in Round three 1942 against Essendon at Windy Hill, kicking one goal.Collins played nine games in 1942, kicking 13 goals, and had played a further seven games, kicking 16 goals in 1943 before enlisting in the Australian Army on 22 June 1943. Collins was posted to 53 Australian Bulk Issues Petroleum and Oil Depot Platoon, gaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. Initially based in Buna, Papua New Guinea the 53rd BIPOD Platoon was part of the 4th Base Sub Area, supporting the Bougainville campaign.
Returning to Australia in 1945, Collins sought to continue playing for Carlton in the 1945 VFL season rather than return to Coburg, which Coburg initially refused and it was not until well into the season, after intense negotiations, that Coburg granted a transfer, and Collins was immediately named in the centre in Carlton's league side.Collins kicked six goals in their Round 10 match against North Melbourne, which was said to "galvanise the side" and led ultimately to the 1945 premiership. Collins continued to play well throughout the season in either the forward line or on the ball and, known as a big game player, Collins was particularly important for Carlton in the 1945 finals series. He kicked eight goals in the first Semi-Final against North Melbourne (garnering the praise "His pace and anticipation in the final was electric") and four goals in the Preliminary Final against Collingwood.Collins lined up on a half forward flank for Carlton's victory in the 1945 VFL Grand Final but unfortunately tore tendons in his ankle early in the first quarter and, although he remained on the ground with his ankle strapped, played little further part in the match before being replaced at half-time.Club leading goalkicker in 1945 with 49 goals, Collins retired from VFL football to accept a coaching position with Tasmanian Football League side Sandy Bay, which he took to a premiership in 1946. He later accepted a coaching position with Ballarat Football League side Golden Point Football Club. At Golden Point there is evidence that Collins invented the checkside punt during the late 1940s, two decades before it was first used in the VFL.Collins was named vice-captain in Coburg's Team of the Century.Marine Raiders (film)
Marine Raiders is a 1944 RKO war film showing a fictional depiction of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Parachute Battalion on Guadalcanal, R&R in Australia, retraining in Camp Elliott (where much of the film was made) and a fictional attack in the Solomon Islands. Produced by Robert Fellows, and directed by Harold D. Schuster, it stars Pat O'Brien, Robert Ryan, and Ruth Hussey.
The film depicts fictionalized accounts of the Guadalcanal Campaign (1942-1943), the Battle of Edson's Ridge (1942), and the Bougainville Campaign (1943-1945). The Western Desert Campaign (1940-1943) is mentioned as a concurrent event, but not actually depicted on-screen.No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit RAAF
No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit was a Royal Australian Air Force air transport unit of World War II.
No. 84 (Army Cooperation) Wing was formed on 11 September 1944 in Cairns, Queensland. Commanded by Group Captain Bill Hely, it comprised No. 5 (Tactical Reconnaissance) Squadron, No. 17 Air Observation Post (AOP) Flight, No. 10 Communication Unit, and No. 39 Operational Base Unit. The wing arrived at Torokina in October to begin supporting Australian troops during the Bougainville Campaign. 10 Communications Unit flew Avro Ansons and Bristol Beauforts on courier, reconnaissance, supply, and anti-malarial spraying missions; it was renamed No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit RAAF in March 1945.
The Unit was also formed at Aitape, New Guinea on 18 April 1945 to undertake the local air supply of Australian Army units in New Guinea. The Unit here was equipped with a mix of Avro Anson, Bristol Beaufort and Tiger Moth aircraft and conducted supply and casualty evacuation flights until the end of the war. When the Pacific War ended in August 1945, No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit was tasked with dropping leaflets announcing the news over Japanese positions. Following the war No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit conducted courier flights to various locations in New Guinea until it was disbanded on 6 March 1946. 17 AOP Flight was disbanded on Bougainville in December, followed a month later by the Bougainville flight of No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit.No. 17 Air Observation Post Flight RAAF
No. 17 Air Observation Post Flight (No. 17 AOP Flight) was a Royal Australian Air Force artillery-spotting and liaison unit which saw action as part of the Bougainville campaign and New Britain campaign in World War II. The flight was established in October 1944 and disbanded in December the next year.Raid on Koiari
The Raid on Koiari was a battle that occurred between 28–29 November 1943 in the Pacific theater of World War II between American and Japanese forces. Part of the Bougainville campaign, the raid involved a landing by a battalion-sized force of United States Marines to harass Imperial Japanese Army troops on Bougainville Island. The raid was a failure for the Americans as they were attacked by a larger-than-expected Japanese force and as a result the Marines were withdrawn from the beachhead without having achieved any of their objectives.Reg Rattey
Reginald Roy Rattey, VC (28 March 1918 – 10 January 1986) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" that can be awarded to members of the British or Commonwealth armed forces. He was one of 20 Australians to receive the award for their actions during the Second World War, doing so while serving with the 25th Battalion during the Bougainville Campaign in 1945. After the war, Rattey ran a farm near West Wyalong, New South Wales. He died in 1986 at the age of 67.VMA-144
Marine Attack Squadron 144 (VMA-144) was a reserve Douglas A-4 Skyhawk attack squadron in the United States Marine Corps. Originally known as VMSB-144, the squadron saw its first combat in World War II as part of the Cactus Air Force during the Battle of Guadalcanal and also provided close air support during the Bougainville campaign (1943-45). Following the war the squadron was deactivated but later became part of the Marine Air Reserve and was based out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville and then Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida.VMF-236
Marine Fighting Squadron 236 (VMF-236) was a fighter squadron in the United States Marine Corps. The squadron, also known as the “Black Panthers”, was part of the Marine Forces Reserve for a short time following World War II and were based at Naval Air Station Denver, Colorado until their disestablishment. Originally established during World War II, they fought in the Pacific War most notably during the Bougainville Campaign and the campaign to liberate the Philippines. The squadron conducted the first dive bombing attack against Bougainville and was credited with downing 4 Japanese aircraft during the course of the war. VMSB-236 was disestablished on August 1, 1945 at Mindanao, Philippines two weeks before the surrender of Japan They were reactivated as part of the Reserves but were again deactivated in the late 1960s and remain in an inactive status today.William Bridgeford
Lieutenant General Sir William Bridgeford, (28 July 1894 – 21 September 1971) was a senior officer in the Australian Army. He began his military career in 1913 and fought on the Western Front during the First World War, before rising to command the 3rd Infantry Division during the Bougainville campaign in the Second World War. Later he served as the Commander in Chief of British Commonwealth Forces Korea during the Korean War. He retired from the military in 1953 and worked on the organising committee of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, as well as being the director of several companies and treasurer of a returned services organisation.