South West Pacific theatre of World War II

The South West Pacific theatre, during World War II, was a major theatre of the war between the Allies and the Axis. It included the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (except for Sumatra), Borneo, Australia and its mandate Territory of New Guinea (including the Bismarck Archipelago) and the western part of the Solomon Islands. This area was defined by the Allied powers' South West Pacific Area (SWPA) command.

In the South West Pacific theatre, Japanese forces fought primarily against the forces of the United States and Australia. New Zealand, the Netherlands (mainly the Dutch East Indies), the Philippines, United Kingdom, and other Allied nations also contributed forces.

The South Pacific became a major theatre of the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Initially, US warplans called for a counteroffensive across the Central Pacific, but this was disrupted by the loss of battleships at Pearl Harbor. During the First South Pacific Campaign, US forces sought to establish a defensive perimeter against additional Japanese attacks. This was followed by the Second South Pacific Campaign, which began with the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Southwest Pacific Area
The South West Pacific Area, as defined by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff
HMAS Canberra (D33) underway off Tulagi, circa 7 August 1942
Australian cruiser Canberra (center left) protects three Allied transport ships (background and center right) unloading troops and supplies at Tulagi.
Australian troops at Milne Bay
Australian troops at Milne Bay, New Guinea. The Australian army was the first to inflict defeat on the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II at the Battle of Milne Bay of August–September 1942.
Japanese troops load onto a warship in preparation for a Tokyo Express run sometime in 1942.
A U.S. A-20G bomber of the 3rd Attack Group bombs a Japanese merchant ship off New Guinea during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, March 1943.
Douglas MacArthur lands Leyte1
Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, 20 October 1944.
Balikpapan landing (AWM 018812)
U.S.-manned Alligators transport Australian troops during the Battle of Balikpapan, Borneo, 1 July 1945.

Allied command

The U.S. General Douglas MacArthur had been in command of the American forces in the Philippines in what was to become the South West Pacific theatre, but was then part of a larger theatre that encompassed the South West Pacific, the Southeast Asian mainland (including Indochina and Malaya) and the North of Australia, under the short lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM). Shortly after the collapse of ABDACOM, supreme command of the South West Pacific theatre passed to MacArthur who was appointed Supreme Commander, South West Pacific Area on 30 March 1942.[1][2][a] However, MacArthur preferred to use the title "Commander-in-Chief." The other major theatre in the Pacific, Pacific Ocean Areas, was commanded by U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was also Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet. Both MacArthur and Nimitz were overseen by the US Joint Chiefs and the Western Allies Combined Chiefs of Staff.

Japanese command

Most Japanese forces in the theatre were part of the Southern Expeditionary Army (南方軍 Nanpo gun), which was formed on November 6, 1941, under General Hisaichi Terauchi (also known as Count Terauchi). The Nanpo gun was responsible for Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) ground and air units in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. The Combined Fleet (聯合艦隊 Rengō Kantai) of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was responsible for all Japanese warships, naval aviation units and marine infantry units. As the Japanese military did not formally utilize joint/combined staff at the operational level, the command structures/geographical areas of operations of the Nanpo gun and Rengō Kantai overlapped each other and those of the Allies.

Major campaigns

See also


  1. ^ Command of the South-East Asian theatre passed initially to British India Command and then in August 1943 to the joint Allied command known as South East Asia Command (SEAC).
  1. ^ Cressman 2000, p. 84.
  2. ^ Milner 1957, p. 22.
  3. ^ Dull 1978, p. 61.
  4. ^ a b c Silverstone 1968, pp. 9–11.
  5. ^ Dull 1978, p. 75.
  6. ^ Dull 1978, p. 91.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Potter & Nimitz 1960, p. 732.
  8. ^ a b c d Potter & Nimitz 1960, p. 759.
  9. ^ a b c d Sulzberger 1966, pp. 332–333.


  • Cressman, Robert J. (2000). The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-149-1.
  • Dull, Paul S. (1978). A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941–1945). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.
  • Potter, E.B.; Nimitz, Chester W. (1960). Sea Power. Prentice-Hall.
  • Silverstone, Paul H. (1968). U.S. Warships of World War II. Doubleday and Company.
  • Sulzberger, C.L. (1966). The American Heritage Picture History of World War II. Crown Publishers.

Further reading

  • Drea, Edward J. (1998). In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1708-0.
  • Eichelberger, Robert (1989). Our Jungle Road to Tokyo (reissue ed.). New York: Battery Press. ISBN 0-89839-132-6.
  • Griffith, Thomas E., Jr. (1998). MacArthur's Airman : General George C. Kenney and the War in the Southwest Pacific. Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A.: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0909-1.
  • Krueger, Walter (1979). From Down Under to Nippon: Story of the 6th Army in World War II. Zenger. ISBN 0-89201-046-0.
  • United States Army Center of Military History. "Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, Volume II – Part I". Reports of General MacArthur. Retrieved 2006-12-08.- Translation of the official record by the Japanese Demobilization Bureaux detailing the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy's participation in the Southwest Pacific area of the Pacific War.
Battle for Australia

The Battle for Australia is a contested historiographical term used to claim a coordinated link between a series of battles near Australia during the Pacific War of the Second World War alleged to be in preparation for a Japanese invasion of the continent. Since 2008 these battles have been commemorated by Battle for Australia Day, which falls on the first Wednesday in September.

Battle of Sansapor

The Battle of Sansapor (Operation Globetrotter) was an amphibious landing and subsequent operations around Sansapor, Dutch New Guinea on the Vogelkop Peninsula during World War II.

Battle of Wakde

The Battle of Wakde (Operation Straight Line) was part of the New Guinea campaign of World War II. It was fought between the United States and Japan from 18 May 1944 to 21 May 1944.

Wakde is located about 225 miles east of Biak Island and 200 miles west of Hollandia.

End of World War II in Asia

The end of World War II in Asia occurred on 2 September 1945, when armed forces of the Empire of Japan surrendered to the forces of the Allies. The surrender came almost four months after the surrender of the Axis forces in Europe and brought an end to World War II.

Hansa Bay

Hansa Bay is a bay located on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, in Madang Province, between Madang and Wewak, north east of Bogia.

Invasion of Lingayen Gulf

The Invasion of Lingayen Gulf (Filipino: Paglusob sa Golfo ng Lingayen), 6–9 January 1945, was an Allied amphibious operation in the Philippines during World War II. In the early morning of 6 January 1945, a large Allied force commanded by Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf began approaching the shores of Lingayen. U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships began bombarding suspected Japanese positions along the coast of Lingayen from their position in Lingayen Gulf for three days. On 9 January, the U.S. 6th Army landed on a 20 mi (32 km) beachhead between the towns of Lingayen and San Fabian.

Kornasoren Airport

Kornasoren (Noemfoor) Airport is a civil airport in Noemfoor, Schouten Islands, Indonesia. (IATA: FOO). Commercial service is provided by Susi Air to Manokwari and Biak from this Airport.

Landing at Aitape

The Landing at Aitape (Operation Persecution) was a battle of the Western New Guinea campaign of World War II. American and Allied forces undertook an amphibious landing on 22 April 1944 at Aitape on northern coast of Papua New Guinea. The amphibious landing was undertaken simultaneously with the amphibious landings of Battle of Hollandia at Hollandia to isolate the Japanese 18th Army at Wewak.

Leo Wattimena Airport

Leo Wattimena Airport, formerly known as Pitu Airport (IATA: OTI, ICAO: WAMR (formerly WAEW)) is a private airport located on the southern coast of Morotai Island, North Maluku, Indonesia.

Operation Adder

Operation Adder was a military operation conducted by Australia's Services Reconnaissance Department in Timor during World War Two in August 1944. A party consisting of two Australian soldiers, Captain John Grimson and signaller Ernest Gregg, and three Portuguese Timorese, was dropped on Timor.

Japanese intelligence knew of the operation and ambushed the team on the morning of 24 August at Cape lie Hoi, during which Gregg and one of the Timorese was killed. There was another skirmish later that day after which Captain Grimson was found dead through self-inflicted wounds. The two surviving Timorese were later killed.

Operation Groper

Operation Groper was an operation by Australian special forces immediately after World War Two to discover the fate of missing Australian soldiers on Timor.

Operation Locust

Operation Locust was an operation by M Special Unit in New Guinea during World War II. It was held in conjunction with the better known Operation Whiting.

Operation Starfish (World War Two)

Operation Starfish was an operation by Australian special forces in World War Two on the island of Lombok.

Operation Transom

Operation Transom was a bombing raid on Japanese targets at Surabaya, Java by American and British aircraft on 17 May 1944 during World War II.

Operations Reckless and Persecution

Operations Reckless and Persecution were the Allied amphibious landings at Hollandia and Aitape, respectively, which commenced the Western New Guinea campaign. Both operations commenced on 22 April 1944.

In Operation Reckless the U.S. 24th and the 41st Infantry Divisions—under Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger—landed at Tanahmerah and Humboldt bays near Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea (later known as Jayapura, Indonesia).

In Operation Persecution, the 163rd Regimental Combat Team—detached from the U.S. 41st Infantry Division—and the No. 62 Works Wing of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) simultaneously landed at Aitape, in the Australian Territory of New Guinea (later Papua New Guinea) about 140 mi (230 km) east of Hollandia.

Raid on Mubo (1942)

The Raid on Mubo was a raid by Australian commandos on the Japanese base at Mubo in New Guinea in World War II conducted on 1 October 1942. A party of 60 soldiers from the 2/5th Commando Squadron (Australia) under Norman Winning attacked the Japanese base. It was estimated up to 50 Japanese were killed.

SS Bantam (1930)

SS Bantam was built by N.V. Machinefabriek & Scheepswerf van P. Smit Jr. of Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1930 of 3322 gross weight and operated by Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij. Bantam, under charter, became a part of the initial United States Army local fleet in Australia, was severely damaged 28 March 1943 in New Guinea and eventually scuttled off Sydney.

Western New Guinea campaign

The Western New Guinea campaign was a series of actions in the New Guinea campaign of World War II. Dutch East Indies KNIL, United States and Australian forces assaulted Japanese bases and positions in the northwest coastal areas of Netherlands New Guinea and adjoining parts of the Australian Territory of New Guinea. The campaign began with Operations Reckless and Persecution, which were amphibious landings by the U.S. I Corps at Hollandia and Aitape on 22 April 1944. Fighting in western New Guinea continued until the end of the war.

XXIV Corps (United States)

XXIV Corps (24th Corps) was a U.S. Army Corps-level command during World War II and the Vietnam War.

Campaigns of World War II
South West Pacific theatre of World War II


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