6th June 1943, Reuters.
China in Peril?
Japanese air units have suddenly decided that the air space over the Chinese city of Changsha is prime estate. Oscars and Lilys have been contesting the air space and bombing the airfield respectively. CAF units reinforced by several USAAF squadrons from Burma, have been fighting back. Recon of the nearby area suggests that the IJA is also on the move West. Yesterday Kuomintang units holding the river to the East of Hengyang reported coming into contact with advanced elements of a Japanese division. Reinforcements are on their way and it is now clear that the Japanese summer offensive plans revolve around the capture of Changsha whose industries are vital for the war effort in China. The Generalissimo has been reassured by allied commanders that China will not be left alone and that moves to support her have already started and two very far flung theatres of war. For now the USAAF stands shoulder to shoulder with their brave Chinese allies in the face of continued Japanese aggression. The Japs may find a different Chinese army to that they started fighting in 1937 as Uncle Sam is now arming these brave soldiers wanting to rid their homeland of all traces of Japanese occupation!
May 1943 Submarine Warfare Summary
Another lean month for the Silent Service with barely 100,000 tons of enemy shipping damaged or sunk. There has been a marked increase in aerial ASW patrols off the Timor and Ambon areas of operation and also around the entrances to the Sea of Japan. Several new convoy routes have been discovered but targets have run dry in the previous happy hunting grounds in the approaches to Tokyo. The aim for June 1943 is to seek and destroy his tankers and oilers. If I can stop or hinder the flow of fuel his heavy and carrier units lose some of their mobility. Somewhat unlucky in that there has been a large percentage of dud hits this month. Top scorer is the SS Cisco with 22,500 tons spread over 4 ships. 4 boats were also lost the American Seawolf and Grampus and the Dutch KX and KIX. God speed brave mariners.
31st May 1943 Part One
USAAF fighter pilots now have an airplane capable to defeat the cream of Japan’s naval aviation and one that can compare with the Navy’s ugly Corsair, though the Thunderbolt (as so christened by its crews) was also one ugly ‘son o’bitch’ as so colourfully put by 1LT Ward from Texas flying the P-47D2 (its official nomenclature) in the 341st Fighter Squadron from Lunga. The order to scramble had come early. Lunga was now a strong forward base and its radars now command the approaches from the Japanese bases to the North. With the taking of Tulagi and Tassafaronga and the build up of Rennell and Rossel Islands Admiral Nimitz had his eye on Russell Islands to further build another air base to accommodate the massive build up of strength coming in from the States. Bereft of carriers he needed bases that could not be sunk. The Southern Solomons provided them aplenty. Mutually supporting they could act a powerful counter measure to the enemy’s carriers and could provide cover for the USN’s still powerful and almost intact battle line.
The scramble order had come over the airwaves and both the 341st and VMF-214 were soon bolstering the aerial patrol over the transports unloading at Russell. 25 enemy fighters escorted 9 Betty bombers carrying torpedoes. The Corsairs had the high station and they immediately bounced the Zeroes rapidly shooting down two. The Thunderbolt claimed its first air-air kill three minutes into the action. The aforementioned 1LT Ward claimed an A6M3a after blowing out of the sky. The P-47 proved durable and rugged in combat, indeed Ward’s plane was seen to have received 15 hits from enemy machine guns on the tail section alone with no detrimental effect on performance.
1LT Ward makes his kill
Yet the operational bow was meant with sadness as despite the loss of 5 enemy bombers, two intrepid pilots sank their torpedoes into the transport vessel Peisander. She sank later in the day taking a large chunk of the vehicles of the 1st USN Naval Construction Regiment. A second raid later in the day (15 Zeroes and 6 Betties) was completely annihilated by the Corsairs and Thunderbolts. Over 30 enemy planes had been shot down for no loss to the P-47’s. A new and powerful weapon now bristled in the Allied arsenal.
Further good news also landed on Admiral Nimitz’s desk from Australia Command. General Blamey was pleased to report that the 1st Australian Division had ejected all Japanese troops from Buna. Allied troops were back on the Eastern shore of the Solomon Sea for the first time since 1941.
27th May 1943
1st Marine Regiment supported by three tank battalions had finally fought their way past the jungle and Japanese rearguards to the small settlement at Tassafaronga on the Northern end of Guadalcanal. The remnants of the Lunga garrison had retreated here and intell had also identified a further Japanese Naval Guard unit. Since Lunga and Kira Kira had secured their planes had been daily bombing the Japanese positions around Tassafaronga and recon planes had kept a careful watch over any and all movement that had been spotted. In all honesty the dense jungle had been the Marine’s worst enemy but by the 25th May the 1st Marines reported that they were in position ready to commit to the assault. A preliminary bombardment was ordered for the 26th May but disturbing news was brought back by the daily recon photographs recorded on the 26th May. Japanese units had seemed to abandoned their positions en mass and had melted away. Submarines did not come into contact with any fast moving transport vessels nor had radio intelligence picked up any inkling of a withdrawal. Commanders on the ground suspected some sort of charge on the Marine line during the night of the 26th/27th May. As such they prepared for said eventuality. Stuart and Sherman tanks were spread out along the line with their 75 and 37mm guns facing the tree line. Between the tanks fire teams dug in around 30 and 50 cal machine gun positions that encased the main marine bivouac in a wall of fire and steel. The hours after sundown were tense and nerve racking. Many a Marine wished the Japs to charge just to break the monotony. They had their wish granted at 1:45 am when a swarm of Japanese soldiers with drawn bayonets and their officers brandishing their wickedly curved swords broke through the tree line in an almighty roar and charge. Bravery and elan however are no match for hot lead and steel as first the Marine machine gunners began to reap a terrible toll on the Japanese attack only to be joined by the boom of the 75mm guns on the Shermans firing at point blank range. Three human waves broke their backs against the withering fire the Marines were able to call upon. Mortars and regimental field guns added to the slaughter. No mercy was given and when the sun rose and the dense clouds of cordite and gun smoke lifted nearly 3,000 ton Japanese bodies lay in front of the Marine position. The killing ground between the first fox holes and the tree line was covered in heaps of mangled, bloody bodies torn about by shot and shell alike. Here and there a wounded man moaned or still crawled stubbornly towards the American guns. The shock on the faces of the Marines, already veterans of Lunga and Tarawa was plain to see. What had the Japs wanted to achieve? What was clear was that Japanese presence on Guadalcanal was destroyed in one night of destruction. Mopping operations would begin as soon as the Marines had replenished their ammunition. Was Tassafaronga just a herald of what awaited them further to the North???
Marine tankers pose in front of their tank on the morning of the 27th May
Ground combat at Tassafaronga (113,137)
Japanese Shock attack
Attacking force 4167 troops, 40 guns, 0 vehicles, Assault Value = 161
Defending force 5273 troops, 94 guns, 370 vehicles, Assault Value = 299
Japanese adjusted assault: 20
Allied adjusted defense: 406
Japanese assault odds: 1 to 20
Defender: terrain(+), preparation(-), fatigue(-)
Japanese ground losses:
2894 casualties reported
Squads: 109 destroyed, 64 disabled
Non Combat: 75 destroyed, 23 disabled
Engineers: 0 destroyed, 0 disabled
Guns lost 15 (8 destroyed, 7 disabled)
Units destroyed 1
Apologies for lack of posts but family and Easter took priority.
Rusell Island, Coral Sea. With Tulagi and Lunga secured Allied commanders see the setting up of a base here as crucial to further advances North. Port Moresby already dominates the Western Solomon Sea, Rusell is intended to anchor the center and provided aerial support. A small unit of Australian commandos occupied the empty island via submarine insertion and were swiftly followed by Australian support troops redeployed from New Caledonia. The absence of IJN warships had emboldened the RAN that only sent two small minesweepers as escorts. Hindsight is wonderful when one has it and it dictates in this particular event that such a valuable asset as a new LSI ship should have been heavily escorted. The sinking of the HMS Victorious and the damaging of the USS Wasp changed all the well laid plans.
Stealing in from the North four viscous sharks in the guise of Japanese destroyers mercilessly savaged the convoy being unloading the 9th RAAF Support Unit. Torpedoes and shell fire sink all ships at Russell Island drowning over two thousand men, Australia’s largest tragedy in the war to date. Four deadly destroyers that have been the only enemy ships sighted in the theatre for a long while. Nimitz’s warning of complacency still rings in the ears of Allied commanders in the theatre. One Australian Vice Admiral has a lot of blood on his conscience. For the average grunt on the ground it is another two thousand deaths that need to be avenged. Japan will reap her whirlwind!
One submarine, 5 of its torpedoes cause a massive strategic rethink for the Allied Command.
HMS Victoriuos sinks, USS Wasp takes one amidships. Fortune is indeed a fickle mistress.
19th May 1943
Something was definitely up at Ponape. SS Rasher reported that she had torpedoed a transport in the anchorage near the atoll. Her skipper also included the sighting of many other ships in his report. He was given immediate orders to shadow the enemy convoy at Ponape and to attack any targets of opportunity that arose.
These orders were later rescinded and the Rasher was immediately ordered to a position to the South West of Ponape where enemy aircraft carriers had been spotted. The source of those Zeroes yesterday had been found and the Rasher along with a brace of other submarines were to shadow and attack the enemy carriers. A quartet of Fletcher Class destroyers were also making a high speed approach of Ponape in order to get at the task force unloading there, unfortunately they arrived too late as their nocturnal sweep brought no returns to their radar screens. With enemy carriers pinpointed at close range they got out of Dodge fairly rapidly and headed back to base. Post haste. Sun up on the 19th May found Ponape anchorage empty but recon photos clearly showed many vehicle tracks leading from the beach to the tree line, a clear indication that the Japs had reinforced Ponape. An opportunity had been missed by the Fletcher’s! The enemy carriers were once again found by VP-14, this time steaming solidly North West, Truk mayhaps?
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.
12th May 1943
Admiral Nimitz was not a happy man. The source of his melancholy was the sudden reappearance of Japanese carrier forces to the north of Nauru Island. Unexpectedly they had launched an attack on the small forward base there. Heavy damage was sustained by the air strip but credit has to be given to the P-39’s of the 70th Fighter Squadron that put up a spirited defence against the Zero swarm. Luckily enough only three planes were destroyed on the ground, the nine pilots the 70th lost today gave their lives to protect the bombers on the ground. Nimitz was livid. The lull that had fallen over the Southern Solomons had lured the USN into a false sense of security and now a substantial Japanese carrier force lay poised on its flank. Livid was perhaps too nice a word, he was well and truly pissed! It was also interesting to note that a new type of carrier borne bomber had been identified in the attack on Nauru.
Furthermore a reinforcement task force steaming towards the Southern Solomons and carrying the 94th Coastal AA Regiment was caught without air cover by B5N2s just to the North of Reef Islands. An unacceptable mistake that prompted Nimitz to cable the following Order of the Day to all commands in SOPAC:
*** COMPLACENCY COSTS LIVES***FULL ALERT ALWAYS***
10th May 1943
Marine Bomber Squadron 231 today carried out the first bombing raid from the air strips at Lunga. Having conquered Lunga Point, then weathered the storm of aerial and naval bombardment, US Army and USMC units have been establish a strong position on the southern half of Guadalcanal. Fighters from Lunga had already carried out sweep missions over Munda but today saw a new twist in the Solomons Campaign.
SBD-3’s spotted and engaged a Japanese fast transport Task Force at Vella Lavella. 18 SBD-3’s were escorted by several F4F-4 fighters as they sped north. Three enemy ships were seen docked at Vella Lavella, seemingly taking troops aboard. The squadron divided into four, four plane vics and they all followed the brace of Dauntlesses that led the dive down from 12,000 feet. They screamed down as their escorting fighters circeld above keeping a watchful eye for any A6M3’s that were operating in the vicinity of Shortlands and Buka. The first two bombers scored near misses on a wildly twisting and turning APD. It avoided the first two bombs but its luck run out soon after. It took three consecutive direct hits that saw it split in two and sink beneath the waves in record time!
A light cruiser (later identified as the Natori) was also hit by a brace of 1000lbers, leaving it aflame and gushing dark oily smoke that made the descent of the last group of dive bombers difficult. The last vics concentrated on another APD that was using the pall of smoke as cover to escape to the north. It took two more bombs that left its stern section in tatters and as it slewed to a crawl the enemy vessel began to leaving a snaking trail of oil behind it. The SBD’s rejoined their escorts and headed back to Lunga where jubilant ground crews set to maintenance duties while the crews headed to the debriefing tents. The fighter jocks were somewhat disappointed that the Japanese did not have any fighters in the immediate area of Vella Lavella for them to engage. PBY-4 Liberators bombing Buka, however did meet enemy fighters in the form of A6M3a’s