18th May 1943
Operation Flanker has commenced with the landings on Tulagi by the 27th Infantry Regiment supported by the 112th Cavalry Regiment and the occupation of Rossel Island by an Australian commando unit transported by submarine to its target. This latter operation went off without a hitch as Rossel Island was unoccupied by the Japanese. The landings on Tulagi were another matter altogether. Though isolated for all intents and purposes since the fall of Lunga the Japanese still held this small island off Guadalcanal. Once aerial superiority had been achieved over the Souther Solomons the idea was to mop up and consolidate the position before moving on. Small surface action forces were attached to support the operation and Tulagi was bombarded by a brace of destroyers. It was estimated that a small sized, maybe of upto battalion strength, Naval Guard unit made up the garrison on Tulagi.
Both amphibious task forces approached Tualgi without a hitch and as the small boats ferried the troops ashore, guns mounted on the attack transports shelled the Japanese troops that were responding with light and sporadic machine gun and mortar fire. Both US Army units were relatively green and the Tulagi operation would be a good blooding for what is surely to come further North.
Substantial aerial support has also supported the operation. From mediums in the Santa Cruz Islands to the heavies further south. However it was the Avengers of VT-37 of the USS Sangamon. Fully repaired from its torpedo strike off Kwajalein the other month the Sangamon was acting as flag ship for the operation. It fighter component (VF-37 flying the F4F-4) maintained close CAP sorties. Army close support aircraft in the form of A-24’s of the 8th Bomber Squadron also flew their first combat missions after being in the theatre for almost 12 months now!
Despite suffering from severe disruption upon hitting the beaches both units were set safely ashore and looking to consolidate their beachead over night with a view to launch an attack on the morrow. The Japanese did not show themselves other than a small mortar attack that hit the 112th Cavalry’s landing zone causing no real damage. As a matter of fact several 105mm howitzers of the 27th Infantry were able to conduct counter battery fire onto Japanese positions beyond the tree line, such are the benefits of aerial supremacy!
Further to the North two Catalina’s of VP-14 brought back news that was later confirmed by B-17’s attacking Ponape. A cluster of enemy carriers and battlewagons had been spotted by VP-14 some 500 miles to the North of Onotong Java. Indeed one of the Catalina’s failed to return to base, its last garbled message indicates that it was shot down over the enemy ships. The presence of enemy carriers was also confirmed by B-17s of the 98th Bomber Squadron that reported being attacked by A6M2’s over Ponape, hitherto a milk run of a mission. The enemy fighters were seen to be carrying the markings prviously seen on the squadrons belonging to the Soryu, the Hiryu and the Zuikaku.