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Royal New Zealand Air Force

situation in bismarcks-solomons

situation in bismarcks-solomons

The major concentrations of Japanese troops trapped in the Bismarcks and Solomons were on Bougainville, where they occupied the whole island except the Empress Augusta Bay region; on New Britain, where they had been squeezed into the north-eastern part of the island; and on New Ireland. In addition there were small groups on Buka, Choiseul, Fauro, Shortland, and other islands throughout the area. Altogether they numbered about 125,000 men.

Land operations in the middle six months of 1944 were largely static. The American forces were not prepared to take the offensive, and the Japanese in both New Britain and Bougainville had been page 263 defeated earlier in the year and were obliged to withdraw and reorganise. Without naval or air support, and with no hope of reinforcement, they were in no position to resume the offensive themselves, although from October onwards there were persistent rumours on Bougainville that they were preparing to do so before the end of the year.

In spite of the Allied blockade, the physical condition and morale of the Japanese remained good. Reports came in from time to time that they were short of food and low in spirits, but the reports applied in general only to isolated units and labour troops. The main body of their forces remained intact and in good condition and were a potential threat to the Allied positions.

A matter of increasing concern to the enemy was the attitude of the natives in both Bougainville and New Britain. While the Japanese were in complete control, the islanders had little choice but to side with them. But when it became apparent that the new conquerors were being defeated they became openly hostile, and carried on a guerrilla warfare wherever they could do it without too much fear of retribution. The looting of their gardens and the carrying off of their women had not endeared the Japanese to them.

At sea enemy activity was limited to nightly barge traffic carrying supplies along the coasts of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, and an occasional submarine sent down from Truk. On the Allied side naval operations consisted of nightly patrols and occasional landings by reconnaissance parties on enemy-held coasts.

Allied air operations were carried on continuously, and were aimed at softening up the enemy against the day when he could be attacked by ground forces and exterminated. The campaign was designed:


To reduce the strength of the enemy forces, to disrupt their organisation and weaken their morale.


To destroy or damage their means of living: camps and bivouacs, supply dumps, vegetable gardens and livestock.


To eliminate or disrupt their transport system by destroying or damaging barges, motor vehicles, jetties, bridges and roads.


To eliminate or reduce their capacity for defensive action by destroying or damaging coastal and anti-aircraft artillery positions, airfields and ammunition dumps.

During the latter part of October and the first week of November a few Japanese aircraft reappeared in the Bismarcks area. Several radar contacts were made of unidentified planes, and some apparently serviceable machines were seen on the Rabaul airfields, page 264 which the Japanese had succeeded in putting into working order. On 3 November an enemy float plane was seen and identified by PT boats off New Ireland.

On 9 November the Allied Command was surprised and perturbed to find that the Japanese were still capable of offensive air operations. In the afternoon three Zekes from Rabaul flew over Los Negros and bombed and strafed Momote airfield. The raid had only a nuisance value and did little damage; but from the Japanese viewpoint it was a complete success. The aircraft approached in clear weather, and the audacity of the operation took the defences completely by surprise. The enemy had been picked up by radar when still 80 miles away but had been mistaken for three friendly planes. After the attack they retired to Rabaul, unavailingly pursued by two RAAF Spitfires.