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
Are the happy times coming back?
8th May 1943
The lull continues as the Japanese fleet seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet after the dud hit on the Hiryu. Yet there are still small pockets of action to remind us that there is a war going on.
Japanese destroyers and fast transports are making regular runs from Munda/Shortlands to Rabaul and have attracted the attention of both USN submarines and aircraft in the Santa Cruz islands. Shuttles of APD’s and DD’s led by CL’s have either been reinforcing the aforementioned places, redeploying troops or bringing in supplies. The SS Sailfish was able to sink the APD Tade just off Shortlands on the night of the 7th May and several unique photographs were taken through the periscope viewing port.
(The photos are of the real life Tade also sunk by submarine action)
Not only that an AO was also sunk by the SS Barb near Manus, could the Japanese carriers still be around. Enemy activity was also spotted at Gasmata. Heavy bombers had already targeted the airfield there and regular enemy presence had been recorded, mainly destroyers and light cruisers. VMSB-243 (Port Moresby) had been hoping to strike at enemy vessels in the Coral Sea since their redeployment to New Guinea and had been thwarted by the weather on several occasions, not today. 17 SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers took of early from Port Moresby and caught a small task force of a brace of destroyers led by a light cruiser on the hop at Gasmata. Surprise was total as the first plane to dive dropped a 1000lber right amidships on the Japanese destroyer Ushio. The bomb must have gone off in the main magazine as the ship virtually disappeared in a massive fireball. The rest of the squadron followed on down and the light cruiser was hit by three bombs while a second destroyer (Fubuki) was also hit. One plane was lost to flak as it came out of its dive but the remaining 16 planes returned home bombless but with squadron morale sky high. Allied planes could also sink enemy ships!
5th May 1943
Somewhat of a lull falls over the battle zones. The redeployment of the Japanese fleet away from the Southern Solomons has been confirmed today by the SS Blackfish. Her skipper reported attacking and hitting the enemy carrier Hiryu near the Caroline Islands. Alas the Blackfish was carrying the older type torpedoes that had so plagued the submarine fleet with duds earlier in the war. Her sonar man detected to definite hits on the hull of the enemy aircraft carrier but no subsequent explosion. The last heard of the Blackfish was that she was continuing to shadow the enemy.
Similar news from the SS Tullibee on station just off Tokyo. She reported two sightings of a large enemy task force on a south easterly heading. She initially engaged and missed a heavy cruiser. She was not detected and continued to prowl. Her skipper’s perseverance paid off however as he second target sailed into her sights. A new type of small carrier was hit by a dud. Her last report stated she had been attacked by depth charge but had received no damage of note. She was proceeding with patrol and following the enemy task force.
3rd May 1943
Message from SS Steelhead to COMSUBPAC
***ENGAGED ENEMY BATTLESHIP***IDENTIFIED AS HIJMS YAMATO***NO HITS***YAMATO HEADING NW***
Message from SS Haddock to COMSUBPAC
***ENGAGED ENEMY BATTLESHIP***DUD HIT***ENEMY CONVOY HEADING NW***SUBJECTED TO HEAVY DEPTH CHARGE ATTACK***LIGHT DAMAGE***WILL PRESS ON WITH PATROL***