Bougainville was the last major obstacle on the road to Rabaul. It is the largest of the Solomon Islands — •150 miles long, fiddle-shaped, and split down the back by the Crown Prince Range, which features two active volcanoes. In the twenty‑one months that the Japanese had occupied it, they had made it a formidable fortress. They had built a seaplane base and four airfields; a fifth was on Ballale, a small island a few miles southward; a sixth was under construction. Their ground forces were estimated at 35,000 and included the infamous 6th Division, which had raped Nanking in December, 1937.
Our first plan for invading Bougainville called for a direct assault on its southern coast, including Ballale and the near‑by Shortland Islands. However, there was evidence that the defenses of these areas were being strengthened; and with the successful by‑pass of Kolombangara fresh in our minds, we decided to by‑pass again — to establish a beachhead where opposition would be weak and difficult of reinforcement, and to carve out our airfield.
Submarines, seaplanes, and PT boats put combat reconnaissance teams ashore at several likely points. These teams reported that Cape Torokina, in Empress Augusta Bay, about halfway up the southwestern coast, offered the best possibilities. Strategically, it would bring all the Bougainville airfields within a radius of •65 miles and Rabaul itself within •215 miles — a range that our fighters could easily cover; it would also put behind us the three main airfields to the south. Tactically, Torokina appeared to be a natural defense region •about 7 miles square; it was held by a mere 1,000 troops; and once we had denied them access to the sea, their problem p174 of supply would be acute, since they could be reached overland only by narrow trails. (We figured it would take the Japs four months to bring up heavy equipment from their nearest forward base; this proved correct almost to the week.)
Torokina had its disadvantages too. It faced the breadth of the Solomon Sea and therefore was open to the probability of heavy surf; our knowledge of the terrain was derived from missionaries and traders, who are not expert topographers; and there was a chance that the sites of our fighter and bomber strips would be dangerously swampy. The question was debated back and forth, day after day. Talk took the place of action. The South Pacific was suffering from the inertia of consolidation; the natural tendency was to snug down in Vella Lavella and catch a breath, instead of pushing forward again so soon. MacArthur wanted Bougainville secured by the end of December, to anchor his right flank before his left moved forward, yet the arguments went on: should we land at Torokina, or on the east coast at Kieta, or where?
I became impatient. One morning at a conference in Nouméa, I announced flatly, "It's Torokina. Now get on your horses!"
The operation was christened CHERRYBLOSSOM, and November 1 was set as L Day. Certain phases of CHERRYBLOSSOM were cursed with luck as bad as the opening phases of ELKTON. The hoodoo struck first on October 20. Maj. Gen. Charles D. Barrett of the Marines, who was slated as over‑all commander of the operation, fell from the window of his quarters in Nouméa and was killed. This was a double blow, since we had no one to replace him. The only Marine officer in SOPAC who could have done so, Archie Vandergrift, had recently left for Washington to become Commandant of the Corps. I sent a dispatch requesting his return and meanwhile I discussed a substitute with my War Plans officer, Brig. Gen. William E. Riley of the Marines. Bill said he would go to his room and think it over. I said I'd do the same. In a very few minutes, the name of the ideal man popped into my mind, and I headed for Bill's room. He and I met halfway.
His first words were, "I have the very man!'
As casually as I could manage, I said, "You mean Roy Geiger, of course."
p175 Bill was flabbergasted. "Right! How did you know?"
After Roy's magnificent performance on Guadalcanal, he had gone back to Washington as Chief of Marine Aviation. We requested him at once, the request was approved, and although Archie led the troops ashore, Roy arrived to relieve him on L‑plus‑8.
The landing force was composed of the 3rd Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Allen Hal Turnage commanding, and the 37th Army Division, Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler commanding. The 37th were veterans of New Georgia, but the 3rd Marines had not yet seen action. After the beachhead was secured, they would be relieved by another Army division, and an Army officer would take over command from Roy. The Marines are trained to capture a position, but they are not equipped to hold it, as the Army is. (None the less — thank God! — they held at Guadalcanal and at other critical spots across the Pacific.)
CHERRYBLOSSOM also called for two small preliminary landings, both on October 27, L‑minus‑5. Transported by Rear Adm. George H. Fort, Brig. R. A. Row's 8th New Zealand Brigade Group, veterans of North Africa, Greece, and Crete, would occupy Treasury Island, midway between Torokina and Barakoma, our airstrip on Vella. Treasury was lightly defended, and we needed it both as protection for our flank and as a location for a fighter strip, a radar station, and a small-boat base.
The other landing would be made on Choiseul Island by the 2d Marine Parachute Battalion, Lt. Col. Victor Krulak commanding. (Krulak is small and light — he had coxed the Naval Academy crew — but his nickname, "Brute," was not bestowed in irony; he has guts and muscle enough for half a dozen men.) In Roy Geiger's description, this was to be "a series of short right jabs to throw the enemy off balance and to conceal the real power of our left hook to his belly at Empress Augusta Bay." We expected it to deceive him into rushing reinforcements across to an area which we would abandon as soon as they arrived.
A more elaborate deception was staged at the Shortlands. Our combat patrols deliberately left evidence of their visit, and almost every day our photo planes made leisurely, low‑level flights across the area, followed by or following our bombers. The Japs fell for it. p176 They began to move troops, artillery, and heavy equipment over from Bougainville, as we were hoping, and we learned from their officers after the war that they firmly believed this would be the scene of our landing.
At the same time, beginning on October 15, we started softening up the enemy's airfields. General Kenney's Fifth Air Force was making helpful attacks on Rabaul every now and then, and although SOPAC planes took part in them, we reserved our major efforts for the fields on Bougainville. The Kieta seaplane base was little more than a nuisance, and the Kieta fighter strip was not yet operational. The fields that counted were Buka, Bonis, Kahili, Kara, and Ballale.
Buka and Bonis were near the northern end of the island; they were twin fields, •a mile apart, separated by Buka Passage. The others were in the south; Kahili, the strongest of all, was on the coast, with Kara •7 miles inland, and Ballale •13 miles offshore. These three lay between Barakoma and Torokina, so we hit them hardest and oftenest. During the two weeks before the landing, we sent against them an average of four strikes a day. On L‑minus‑1, we dropped 148 tons of bombs on Kara alone.
I flew up to Espiritu on L‑minus‑8 and spent the night on the flagship of the Commander of the Transport Group, Commo. Lawrence F. Reifsnider. I have said that our charts of the northern Solomons were sketchy and far from reliable; hundreds of square miles of the interior were dismissed with "Unexplored." But our worries were nothing to those of Reif, on whose pin‑point navigation the success of the landing depended. Long stretches of coast line around Torokina were dotted, indicating mere guesses at the contour; southern Bougainville was marked "Abnormal magnetic variation reported here"; and an aerial survey showed the whole island to be 8 to 10 miles northeast of its charted position. Moreover, a last-minute reconnaissance by the submarine Guardfish discovered two uncharted shoals of less than •4 fathoms, close to Reif's run‑in point, and he was afraid that other shoals even shallower might exist. (They did, too.)
Reif is usually cool, but he admitted that his aplomb was being gnawed by the prospect of taking an invasion force through such waters, in total darkness, toward a beach that might be •10 miles off base.
p177 I laughed and told him, "You won't have any trouble, Reif. You're too good a sailorman. Beside, it's a simple job!"
He didn't believe a word I said, and I didn't either. Fortunately we were able to supply him with accurate air maps just before he sailed.
August-November, 1943: Bougainville
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Our landing on Treasury was opposed from the beach and attacked from the air, but was completed without undue casualties. That night Krulak's 800 Marines plunged into Choiseul at Voza and began their twelve‑day raid, during which they lost twelve men but killed 143 and prevented the enemy from giving his whole attention to Torokina. The marines not only planted the usual booby traps along their trail, but whenever they came to a particularly tall tree from which Jap snipers might harass their retirement, they studded its trunk with old razor blades. The rear guard told Krulak that the trick paid off in screams and curses.
When L Day came, we were hitting the enemy on five fronts, some of them •200 miles apart — Treasury, Choiseul, Torokina, Buka-Bonis, and the Shortlands. The first strike at Buka-Bonis began soon after midnight of October 31, when Tip Merrill took four light cruisers and eight destroyers close inshore and plastered the two fields with 300 rounds of 6‑inch and 2,400 rounds of 5‑inch. The only damage his force received was from a shall fragment that nicked his flagship, the Montpelier, and wrecked Tip's own typewriter. He now headed southeast at 30 knots to conduct — for the first time in the SOPAC area — a broad-daylight bombardment of enemy positions. The sun rose at 0614 that morning, and at 0631 Tip opened fire on the Shortlands and Ballale. Return fire was heavy, but again he was lucky; only five of his men were wounded, and one destroyer received minor damage.
Two bombardments in seven hours will exhaust the toughest crews, so Tip was directed to steam south for his base at Purvis Bay. His ships could have arrived that night. Before they actually arrived, two days later, they had fought a savage surface battle and had stood off an air attack.
While Tip was bombarding the Shortlands, planes from the Saratoga and the light carrier Princeton were churning up the wreckage he had left at Buka-Bonis. This was the Sara's first action in more than a year and only the third altogether that she had fought. She was a hard-luck ship. When war broke out, she was at p179 San Diego, and she rushed to Pearl and on toward Wake only to be called back without having fired a shot. A week later, she was torpedoed by a submarine, so she missed Midway. She came to the South Pacific that summer and was torpedoed again, and although she returned in November, she was restricted to minor operations. The fleet had already nicknamed her "the Reluctant Dragon" and "the Sara Maru" and "the Pond Lily." This recent year of swinging round the hook won her still another name, "the Model Housing Project."
Now she had a chance to prove her worth. Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman, commanding her task group, closed the northeast coast of Bougainville and struck Buka-Bonis twice on L Day and twice more on L‑plus‑1, destroying twenty‑one planes and damaging ships and installations. The enemy knew the location of Ted's force and even its composition, because Radiotokyo later reported that they had sunk one large and one medium carrier; but for some reason, he was not attacked. We now withdrew him to refuel in the vicinity of Rennel Island, •about 100 miles south of Guadalcanal — a position which, while reasonably safe from air attack, yet was far enough forward to permit his being rushed into the line again. This precaution proved our salvation.
The landing at Torokina began on schedule. Mine sweepers led the way to anchorage, and after the transports and escorting destroyers had bombarded the beaches, thirty‑one TBF's from Munda bombed and strafed for five minutes. At 0726, exactly as the air cover lifted its fire, the first boatloads of Marines waded ashore. The Japanese garrison in the immediate vicinity numbered about 300. Half of them were killed, and the survivors fled inland. Our loss of seventy men tells only part of the story. The beach and terrain conditions were worse than any we had previously encountered. A strong onshore wind made the surf so high that eighty‑six landing craft broached and were stranded, ruining much of their cargo and overburdening the rest of the boat pool, with a consequent delay in the delivery of supporting troops. Moreover, many of the beaches bordered so closely on a vast swamp and were so narrow themselves that they became piled with tons of gear, vehicles, and machinery which should have been dispersed and put to use.
The slowness of the unloading was aggravated by two air p180 attacks which broke through our fighter screen, and further by a transport's grounding on an uncharted shoal. As a result, this ship and three others were unable to empty, and although they stood out with the retiring convoy at nightfall, they were ordered to return at dawn next morning. Meanwhile, they had to be protected from possible attack by a force that the enemy had concentrated at Rabaul. Tip Merrill's ships were the only ones available. These are their names — the light cruiser Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia, and Denver, and the destroyers Charles Ausburne, Dyson, Claxton, Spence, Thatcher, Converse, Foote, and Stanly. Weary as they were, we sent them north, into the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.
The enemy came down in three groups, totaling three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and six destroyers. Tip met him in darkness and rain at 0245 on November 2, •about 50 miles northwest of our beachhead, in a furious torpedo- and gun‑fight that lasted until 0536. Each force had three ships damaged, but whereas the enemy lost a light cruiser and a destroyer, Tip did not lose a ship. Later that morning, as he was trudging home in pace with his cripples, they were struck by sixty-five bombers from Rabaul, and shot down seventeen of them at the cheap price of two hits on the Montpelier's catapult. Purvis Bay welcomed them the following afternoon with the conventional signal, "What do you require?"
The captain of the Denver answered simply, "Sleep."
Following is Radiotokyo's account of this battle:
"Our naval surface units on the night of November 1 encountered and engaged with enemy cruiser and destroyer squadrons off Gazelle Bay, Bougainville Island. The enemy suffered these losses: one large cruiser and two large destroyers instantaneously sunk, two large cruisers and one large cruiser or destroyer sunk, while one or two large cruisers and two destroyers were heavily damaged. In addition one destroyer was set ablaze by the enemy's own shells. Our losses were one destroyer sunk and one cruiser slightly damaged."
On the fourth, our scouts reported that another enemy force was standing in to Rabaul from Truk — eight heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eight destroyers. Presumably they would fuel, then run down to Torokina the following night and sink our transports and bombard our precarious positions. This was the most desperate p181 emergency that confronted me in my entire term as COMSOPAC. Even if Tip Merrill had been within reach, and fresh, he would not have had a prayer of stopping such an armada, yet CHERRYBLOSSOM's success — perhaps the success of the South Pacific War — hung upon its being stopped.
The Operations staff had flown up to Guadalcanal late in October, to be closer at hand for CHERRYBLOSSOM. We were all at Camp Crocodile there when we got the news of this force. Doug Moulton and I worked over the operations chart and found that it was possible for the Sara and Princeton task groups to make a high-speed run northward and get in the first blow. We wrote a dispatch ordering the strike and assigning priority of targets — cruisers first, destroyers next — checked it with "Mick" Carney, and took it into the Admiral's Quonset hut for his official approval.
Before he read it, he asked us, "You're not going to send Merrill to Rabaul, are you?"
We said, "No, sir. This is Ted Sherman again."
November, 1943: Battle of New Britain
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I sincerely expected both air groups to be cut to pieces and both carriers to be stricken, if not lost (I tried not to remember that my son Bill was aboard one of them); but we could not let the men at Torokina be wiped out while we stood by and wrung our hands.
Every one of us knew what was going through the Admiral's mind. It showed in his face, which suddenly looked 150 years old. He studied the dispatch for a few seconds, then handed it back. All he said was, "Let 'er go!"
This strike of Sherman's was extraordinarily heavy — ninety-seven planes. He was able to send in that many because he did not have to withhold fighters for his own protection; his launching position, southwest of Bougainville, permitted us to furnish him Navy fighter cover from Barakoma. The weather was foul that day, the AA fire at Rabaul was intense, and the interception was determined. (The Japs had Navy pilots there, and damned good they were — far better than their Army pilots.) But the carrier planes bored through, shooting down twenty-five enemy fighters for five of their own, and damaging six cruisers and two destroyers. p183 The Japs changed their plans abruptly. The Tokyo Express canceled its run that night, and next morning only one cruiser and a few destroyers were left in Rabaul's Simpson Harbor; the rest had fled for Truk and the Empire. I took a deep breath; so did the men at Torokina; so did Ted Sherman.
Incidentally, General Kenney had promised a simultaneous attack in strength by his heavy bombers and had assured us that they could lay Rabaul flat. The last thing our pilots saw as they ducked back into the clouds — the same clouds that hid our carriers — was Kenney's bombers, eight of them. I have always resented the feebleness of his support at this critical time, and I told General MacArthur as much the next time I saw him.
Following is an extract from Radiotokyo's account of this strike:
"In an air raid against Rabaul, the much vaunted reinforced enemy air force suffered the loss of 200 planes out of 230. . . . The shooting down of 90 per cent of the enemy total air strength represents a new world record. . . . A Japanese torpedo-plane formation took off from its base in the evening of November 5 and carried out a frontal attack against the enemy carrier striking force southeast of Bougainville Island [note that our force was actually southwest], sinking two carriers as well as four cruisers."
Now the strain relaxed. CINCPAC lent us three new light cruisers to supplement Tip Merrill's ships; and we were also lent a carrier task force built around the Essex and Bunker Hill and the light cruiser Independence, under Rear Adm. Alfred E. Montgomery, for a warm‑up operation before their appointment at Tarawa on November 21.
Five air groups, we figured, ought to change the name of Rabaul to Rubble. We threw them in on the eleventh, as an ironic memorial to Armistice Day — Sherman's group striking from northeastward of Bougainville, and Montgomery's from southwestward. Although the weather again shut down tight, screening the targets and preventing a co‑ordinated attack, they sank a destroyer, damaged other ships, and destroyed twenty-four planes for seven. Sherman's group escaped detection for the second time. Montgomery's planes were trailed home by some sixty to seventy Japs, but the fighter cover we had sent from Barakoma, as on the fifth, helped them shoot p184 down more than fifty at a cost of only three, and his ships were not touched.
Simpson Harbor was empty next morning. Where had those crippled ships gone? Our guess was to Truk as before, under concealment of the heavy weather front. Truk was •700 miles due north, an easy jaunt for our carriers. If our five air groups caught all those cripples there, they might finish off enough of them to put the Imperial Fleet in acute distress, and thereby shorten the war. It looked like a God‑sent opportunity, but authority to exploit it was not received.
We knew at the time of these carrier strikes that they had solved an urgent local problem, but I did not appreciate their full effect until after Japan's surrender, when I read a transcript of the interrogation of Capt. Toshikazu Ohmae, of the Japanese Naval General Staff, conducted by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Here, in part, is Tomae's statement:
"The specific plan to counter an American invasion of the Gilberts was as follows: . . . Aircraft from the Bismarcks would attack the invasion forces and then land at fields in the Marshalls-Gilberts area. . . . Warships at Truk would . . . move to the Gilberts. . . . Two factors radically changed these planes. The first was the serious damage received by several Second Fleet cruisers at Rabaul by carrier air attack on 5 November 1943. . . . The second was the intensified air war in the Solomons . . . which absorbed our air forces already in the western Solomons and also required employment of the short-range planes which were being held at Truk for defense of the Marshalls-Gilberts.
"Consequently, the original plans for the defense of those islands could not be carried out when American forces invaded in November, because there was insufficient surface and air strength available to make effective resistance."
On November 3 I crossed from Guadalcanal to Purvis Bay, to get a firsthand account of the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay from Tip Merrill and also to hear the personal experience of my new flag secretary, Lt. Comdr. Harold E. Stassen, who had been an eyewitness on Tip's flagship.
As soon as the staff saw how well Stass fitted in, we began kidding him.
p185 "Of course," we said, "we all expect White House sinecures when you're elected."
Stass told us, "I wouldn't have a chance to fix you up. If I'm elected, I'll have the shortest term in history. I'll be inaugurated one day, I'll announce my cabinet the next day, I'll give a SOPAC party the third day, and on the fourth day I'll be impeached for it."
From Purvis Bay I flew north to Bougainville. By then, November 10, our lines contained enough territory for the airstrips, and construction had begun, despite sniping and shellfire that ranged from sporadic to continual. Living was still rather primitive, but once the swamps were drained and huts were built, Bougainville became an extremely comfortable camp (except along the combat perimeter). It had the best climate of any of the Solomons, in my opinion. The soil was volcanic sand, so it absorbed even the most furious cloudburst, instead of turning to knee-deep mud as on New Georgia. The underbrush was trimmed out, but the trees were left for shade, and a pleasant breeze blew steadily. Best of all, there was a minimum of malaria, thanks to the increasing efficiency of our malaria-control squads.
Bougainville, 1943. The man in the jungle suit is Frank Tremaine, of the United Press
I was told about a surprise inspection they made at the movies one night, to see that every man was wearing shoes and socks, as required. One man wasn't. When they hauled him into the light, they found he was a Jap. He had deserted his command, he said, and had been hiding out in a foxhole in no man's land. After dark, he would sneak through our lines and help himself to chow from the officers' galley, then attend the movies. He hadn't missed a show for a week!
The end of November produced a destroyer action, the Battle of Cape St. George, that was as smart as Moosbrugger's Battle of Vella Gulf, which it closely resembled. The opposing forces were evenly matched: five veteran ships of Capt. Arleigh A. Burke's famous DESRON 23 — the Charles F. Ausburne, Claxton, Dyson, Converse, and Spence — against five Jap ships. Again they met at night, on November 24/25. Again the Japs were evacuating troops, 700 of them, to Rabaul from Buka. Again at no cost in casualties or damage, the Americans sank three enemy destroyers and damaged a fourth. Moreover, "31‑Knot" Burke clinched his victory by chasing the two survivors almost into Simpson Harbor.
p186 I do not detract from his courage when I say that planes from our fields on New Georgia and Vella Lavella were keeping the Japs at Rabaul not only off‑balance but groggy. A few weeks later, when the fields at Treasury and Empress Augusta also became operational, we were able to redouble our blows and neutralize Rabaul completely. These strikes were commanded by Maj. Gen. Ralph J. Mitchell, of the Marines, who had succeeded Nate Twining as my COMAIRSOLS. (I had sent Nate home on leave, expecting him to return, but "Hap" Arnold had kidnaped him and ordered him to Italy in command of the Fifteenth Air Force.) Whenever I hear blather about interservice friction, I like to recall that our Army, Navy, and Marine airmen in the Solomons fought with equal enthusiasm and excellence under rear admirals, then under a major general of the Army, and finally under a major general of Marines.
In December, I received orders to proceed to Pearl for a conference with Nimitz, from there to Los Angeles, to attend a meeting of industrialists, and on to Washington for a conference with Ernie King. First I flew across to Brisbane, to take leave of General MacArthur. We were chatting along when he suddenly said, "I'll tell you something you may not know: they're going to send me a big piece of the fleet — put it absolutely at my disposal. And I'll tell you something else: the British are going to do the same."
He paused a moment. "I want my naval operations to be in charge of an American. Whoever he is, he'll have to be senior enough to outrank the Britisher, or at least equal him."
He paused again, then shot at me, "How about you, Bill? If you come with me, I'll make you a greater man than Nelson ever dreamed of being!"
I said that I was flattered, but in no position to commit myself; however, I'd certainly tell King and Nimitz about his offer. I did, and that's the last I heard of it.
Bill Riley, Doug Moulton, and Bill Kitchell went with me on my Stateside trip. We reached Pearl on December 26, and I spent 4 days with Nimitz, reviewing the South Pacific campaigns and discussing future moves. San Francisco showed me two brand‑new sights — an East-West football game, and a lady Marine; and two other sights that I hadn't seen in much too long — my wife Fan, who p187 flew out from Wilmington to meet me, and young Bill, whose ship happened to be in port. It was my first meeting with Fan in sixteen months and my first with Bill since he had been a castaway.
Next morning my staff came up to our hotel room. I broke in on some story that Fan was telling them and got from her a firm "Shut up!" for my interruption.
Bill Riley laughed until he cried. "I never would have believed it," he said, "but there is somebody who dares tell him to shut up!" (Little did he know!)
After the meeting at Los Angeles, I reported to Washington for temporary duty.
On January 12, Secretary Knox awarded Admiral Halsey a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal, with the following citation:
"For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service to the Government of the United States in a position of great responsibility as Commander South Pacific Force and South Pacific Area from October 19, 1942, to December 7, 1943. In command of Naval Forces and certain Army ground and air forces during this critical period, Admiral Halsey conducted a brilliantly planned and consistently sustained offensive, driving the enemy steadily northward and occupying strategic positions through the Solomons, thereby securing the South Pacific Area for the United Nations. A forceful and inspiring leader, Admiral Halsey indoctrinated his command with his own fighting spirit and an invincible determination to destroy the enemy. His daring initiative and superb tactical skill have been responsible for the continued success of the South Pacific Campaign and have contributed vitally toward breaking down Japanese resistance."
I had several long talks with Ernie King. Since we were about ready to ring down the curtain in the South Pacific theater, the chief question was where we should play the final scenes. I said that I saw no need to storm Rabaul or the secondary base of Kavieng, on the northwestern end of New Ireland. Both of them had been hit repeatedly from the air in December and early January (we had celebrated the holidays by striking Kavieng on Christmas and again on New Year's), but although their offensive value was nearing zero, they could still put up a strong defense. Further, p188 the geography of the area begged for another by‑pass. Commanding the eastern approach to Rabaul was Green Island, •120 miles away; commanding the northern approach to Kavieng was Emirau, •90 miles away; and commanding the western approaches to both Rabaul and Kavieng was Manus, •220 miles from Kavieng. All three islands were push-overs, and when they fell, Japan's South Pacific campaign would fall with them.
By the time I left Washington, toward the end of January, I think I had carried my point with Ernie. Now I had to convince MacArthur and Nimitz. A conference had already been arranged at Pearl. MacArthur could not attend, but he was sending his Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, with authority to make decisions in his name. The others present would be General Kenney, Nimitz and key members of his staff, myself and Mick Carney.
My plane was grounded at Fort Worth and again at San Francisco, and the conference had adjourned when I finally arrived, but Mick briefed me on what had happened. MacArthur had accepted our programs for the occupation of Green and Manus and had set the respective L Days for February 15 and 29. On the other hand, he had rejected the program for Emirau and still stood by his determination to storm Kavieng, not on May 1, as he had originally proposed, but on April 1.
Mick had already sent dispatches to start the wheels turning, and they were gathering speed when we reached Nouméa, early in February. The Green operation went through as planned, against only cursory resistance. So did the Manus operation. Elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, under Brig. Gen. William C. Chase, soon occupied the entire island, except for a small corner. This, I am told, the Army deliberately did not clear, but kept as a sort of game preserve, an area where new troops could practise scouting and patrolling. Food was left where the Japs would find it, so that they would stay in good physical condition, and each patrol was given a bag limit of two. I don't know how long the supply lasted; I imagine the game wardens weren't too harsh on an overenthusiastic sportsman.
Fighter strips were built on both Manus and Green, and work was started to make Manus an advanced naval base as well, with full facilities for repairing and supplying the fleet. This work had p189 hardly begun when I received a dispatch from my representative on MacArthur's staff, Capt. Felix L. Johnson, urgently requesting me to come to Brisbane at once. Mick, Bill Riley, Doug Moulton, and Ham Dow flew over with me. We went from the plane straight to MacArthur's office, where Felix met us. MacArthur was waiting for us, with his top staff officers and Vice Adm. Tom Kinkaid, commanding the Seventh Fleet. (Incidentally, there was an unusual bond between our two staffs: my Chief of Staff's son, Capt. Robert B. Carney, Jr., of the Marines, had married MacArthur's Chief of Staff's daughter, Miss Natalie Sutherland.)
Before even a word of greeting was spoken, I saw that MacArthur was fighting to keep his temper. What galled him, it soon appeared, was this: Nimitz, knowing that I not only had planned the layout for the base at Manus but had furnished naval forces to construct it, had sent a dispatch to COMINCH, with a copy to MacArthur, suggesting that the boundary of my area be extended to include Manus. I had had no hand in originating the dispatch; I did not even hear of it until after it had been sent; but MacArthur lumped me, Nimitz, King, and the whole Navy in a vicious conspiracy to pare away his authority.
Unlike myself, strong emotion did not make him profane. He did not need to be; profanity would have merely discolored his eloquence. It continued for about a quarter of an hour, illuminating two main themes: he had no intention of tamely submitting to such interference; and he had given orders that, until the jurisdiction of Manus was established, work should be restricted to facilities for ships under his direct command — the Seventh Fleet and British units.
When he had finished, he pointed his pipestem at me and demand, "Am I not right, Bill?"
Tom Kinkaid, Mick, Felix and I answered with one voice, "No, sir!"
MacArthur smiled and said pleasantly, "Well, if so many fine gentlemen disagree with me, we'd better examine the proposition once more. Bill, what's your opinion?"
"General," I said, "I disagree with you entirely. Not only that, but I am going one step further and tell you that if you stick to this order of yours, you'll be hampering the war effort!"
p190 His staff gasped. I imagine they never expected to hear anyone address him in those terms this side of the Judgment Throne, if then. I told him that the command of Manus didn't matter a whit to me. What did matter was the quick construction of the base. Kenney or an Australian or an enlisted cavalryman could boss it for all I cared, as long as it was ready to handle the fleet when we moved up New Guinea and on toward the Philippines.
The argument had begun at 1700. By 1800, when we broke up, I thought I had won him around, but next morning at 1000 he asked us to come back to his office. (He kept unusual hours — from 1000 until 1400, and from 1600 until 2100 or later.) It seemed that during the night he had become mad all over again, and again was dead set on restricting the work. We went through the same arguments as the afternoon before, almost word for word, and at the end of an hour we reached the same conclusion: the work would proceed. I was about to tell him good‑by and fly back to Nouméa when he suddenly asked if we would return at 1700. I'll be damned if we didn't run the course a third time! This time, though, it was really final. He gave me a charming smile and said, "You win, Bill!" and to General Sutherland, "Dick, go ahead with the job."
We returned to Nouméa on March 11. On the fourteenth, another surprise exploded in my face: a dispatch from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to MacArthur and myself directed that the seizure of Emirau be substituted for the seizure of Kavieng. MacArthur must have been as astonished as I was. When we parted in Brisbane, both of us understood that the Kavieng operation was still on the cards. The new directive did not set a date for L Day, but ordered us to make it as soon as possible. This entailed no more than dusting off our original plan, picking the landing force, and notifying Ping Wilkinson and Roy Geiger to load them in. The best troops available on such short notice were the 4th Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division, then at Guadalcanal. They began embarking at once, despite creams of rage from my old friend Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, commanding the Fleet Marine Force. "Howling Mad" was knee-deep in plans for the occupation of Guam in July and had earmarked this regiment for part of his forces. When he quieted down, I explained that (1) I had no other troops at the moment; (2) I couldn't wait for them to arrive, because this was a rush job; p191 (3) Intelligence had informed us that Emirau was held very lightly, if at all; and (4) I would relieve his precious regiment promptly and hand it back to him. Howling Mad subsided to a grumble, and the occupation went forward.
Commanded by Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Noble, the landing force left Guadalcanal on March 18 and took over Emirau on the twentieth, thereby establishing a record of six days between "Stand by to shove off!" and "Well done!" Although the convoy sailed •more than 800 miles through waters recently dominated by enemy sea and air power, not a plane rose from Rabaul, Kavieng, or Truk to intercept it, and not a destroyer or even a submarine appeared. Further, the island was ours at the price of one casualty: a Seabee fell off a bulldozer and broke his leg. The 1st Marine Division, meanwhile, and units of the Sixth Army had landed on New Britain under MacArthur's direction and had cut off the only overland escape from Rabaul. The encirclement was complete. Some 50,000 Japs were sealed into New Britain and New Ireland, and some 30,000 more into Bougainville and Choiseul. Control of the land, the sea, and the air was ours. The South Pacific campaign was finished.
Correction: It was not quite finished. At the beginning of this chapter, I said that we estimated the Japs would need four months to supply and reinforce the troops we had pushed back from Torokina on November 1. On March 7 they began their expected counterattack. They had brought up heavy artillery by tractors and man power, and shells by man power alone. Prisoners told us later that every 100‑pound shell required two men to make a four‑day trip.
I had flown up to Guadalcanal to discuss the Emirau operation with Ping and Roy, so I continued on to Bougainville to watch the fighting. I particularly wanted to visit the western sector of our perimeter, where the 37th Division had beat off a heavy assault the day before I arrived, and the sector where the Americal Division had just retaken a critical area overlooking the Piva air strip. I was striding along the lines, as usual paying no attention to where I stepped, when I tripped and fell flat. I thought it was a root, but it wasn't. Private Watanabe or Corporal Yamatoya, or whoever he p192 had been, had a rare distinction: he was the only Jap who brought me to my knees.
That afternoon, Bill Kitchell and I went down to the Torokina River for a swim. A lot of troops were there, splashing and scrubbing, when we got out of our jeep. A Negro soldier was the first to spot my insignia. He shouted, "Fo' Gawd! Fo' stars!" and stood up, mother-naked, and gave me a smart salute.
The counterattack lasted eighteen days. It cost the enemy about 10,000 dead and ourselves fewer than 1,000. On March 25, organized resistance in the Solomons ended forever.
April passed quietly. Early in May I was directed to proceed to San Francisco for a conference with King and Nimitz, who told me that my present dual command — of the South Pacific and the Third Fleet — would be split up in June; I would be relieved as COMSOPAC and would go to sea as COMTHIRDLFEET. I returned to Nouméa in time to make a farewell swing around my old territory. My first stop was New Zealand. In the middle of a luncheon given for me by the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, I received a note from the Governor General, Sir Cyril Newall, informing me that the King had appointed me an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. I wasn't quite sure what this meant, but I could hardly believe that it entitled my impertinent staff to begin addressing me as "Sir Butch."
From New Zealand I flew north to Espiritu, and on up the chain to Emirau, stopping at each of our bases to take leave of my friends. The old battlefields were already disappearing into the jungle or under neat, new buildings. Where 500 men had lost their lives in a naval attack a few months before, eighteen men were now playing baseball. Where a Jap pillbox had crouched, a movie projector stood. Where a hand grenade had wiped out a foxhole, a storekeeper was serving cokes. Only the cemeteries were left.
Back in Nouméa, Miff Harmon generously gave me the Army's Distinguished Service Medal.
General Harmon prefaced the award by saying, "The esteem and respect in which Halsey is held by the Army, and particularly by the Army of the SOPAC forces, can hardly be expressed by me here and now, or by the phraseology of a citation. . . ."
p193 The citation follows:
"For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility from December 8, 1943, to May 1, 1944. Having created and integrated a well-knit combat force through his superior leadership, personal guidance, and strict adherence to the sound principles of unity of command, Admiral Halsey used this powerful striking force with such vigor and determination as to crush the Japanese garrison on certain South Pacific island groups and isolate enemy forces in others. As a result of Admiral Halsey's conduct of command, the Army forces in the South Pacific area were splendidly cared for and were able to accomplish the combat and logistic missions assigned in the most effective manner."
On the morning of June 15, I turned over my command to Vice Adm. John Henry Newton, who had been Deputy COMSOPAC for eight months. Next morning I took off for Pearl. Troops lined the way to the fleet landing. Their cheers and the bands and the flags stung my eyes. I never saw Nouméa again.
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