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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The American Command built up an impressive array of naval, military, and air forces in the Solomons for the attack on Bougainville. Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson, USN, was placed in command of the whole operation and directly commanded the naval task force responsible for the attack on Torokina. The force detailed to seize the Treasury Islands was commanded by Rear Admiral George H. Fort, USN. The land forces at Torokina comprised the 3rd Marine Division under Major-General Allen H. Turnage, and the Treasury Islands operation was assigned to 8 New Zealand Brigade Group commanded by Brigadier R. A. Row, with supporting detachments of American units. The force for the Choiseul diversion was the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Victor H. Krulak. Land-based air support of the operations was to be provided by Task Force 33 under the command of Major-General Mitchell, USMC, who had at his disposal some 660 operational aircraft based at Barakoma, Munda, Ondonga, Segi, the Russells and Guadalcanal.

Against these the enemy was estimated to have just over 400 aircraft based at Santa Cruz, in the Solomons and Bismarcks, and on the north coast of British New Guinea. On land the Japanese strength was estimated to be 35,000 troops on Bougainville and the Shortlands, 2000 on Choiseul, 56,000 in the Rabaul area of New Britain and 5500 on New Ireland. Enemy naval strength in the Rabaul-Solomons area in the middle of October was estimated to be one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser, eight to ten destroyers, twelve submarines, twenty-one patrol craft, numerous barges and some PT boats. Japanese airfields in the Solomons were at Kahili, Kara, Kieta, and Bonis on Bougainville, Buka on Buka Island to the north, and Ballale on Ballale Island to the south. During October it became increasingly evident that under severe punishment by Allied aircraft the enemy was displaying less confidence in his ability to protect his air bases in southern Bougainville. The strength of aircraft at Buka remained high but concentrations at Kahili, Ballale, and Kara began to dwindle.

The campaign to neutralise the Japanese airfields, especially those in southern Bougainville, was intensified from the middle of Octo- page 204 ber. For the next two and a half weeks planes based in the New Georgia area under COMAIRNORSOLS, Brigadier-General Field Harris, USMC, carried out an average of approximately four attacks a day, ranging in strength from a hundred planes down to strafing attacks by a few fighters. Kahili was attacked eighteen times during the period, Kara seventeen, Ballale six, Buka seven, and Kieta two. On an average day of four attacks, 59 tons of bombs were dropped on Kara and 68 tons on Kahili. Japanese air activity in the South Pacific was greatly reduced during the month. Sorties declined from 801 in September to 495 in October, while Allied aircraft of the South Pacific Command flew 3259 sorties in October.

At the same time as the South Pacific Command was softening up the Bougainville area, the 5th Army Air Force of the South-West Pacific Command, under Lieutenant-General George C. Kenney, intensified the heavy air offensive which had started against the enemy in mid-August. A large part of this offensive was against the Japanese base at Rabaul, where large numbers of enemy aircraft and a considerable amount of shipping were destroyed.

The RNZAF fighter squadrons, first operating from Guadalcanal and staging through New Georgia, and later operating from Ondonga, continued to act as close cover on American bombing strikes throughout the month.