The Solomon Islands campaign was the first major amphibious landing of World War II mounted by America; and was the first major Allied offensive against Imperial Japan. It was the scene of bitter fighting between US and Japanese forces. It was also an campaign of attrition fought on land, on sea, and in the air. This decisive campaign, and as outcome the Allies wore the Japanese down, inflicting irreplaceable losses on Japanese military assets. It lasted from August 1942 until February 1943. However, fighting would continue in the area until 1945.
The Solomon Islands are located north of the Coral Sea and east of New Guinea. There are seven large islands in the chain, including Guadalcanal and Bougainville, as well as over nine hundred smaller islands. The Solomon Islands were the home of the most widely used and important bases that the allies had under their control during the Pacific campaign. If the Japanese had been able to keep Guadalcanal from the allies, the results may have been very different in the outcome of the Pacific war.
The Solomon Islands Campaign cost the Allies approximately 7,100 men, 29 ships and 615 aircraft. The Japanese lost 31,000 men, 38 ships and 683 aircraft. Nevertheless, by the end of the war, the Solomon Islands campaign had cost the Allies more than 10,600 dead, along with 40 ships and 800 aircraft. Yet the Japanese had lost more than 80,000 men, 50 ships and 1500 aircraft.
The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942. The Japanese occupied these locations and began the construction of several naval and air bases (the most important would be in the Guadalcanal Island off the Solomon’s) with the goals of protecting the flank of the Japanese offensive in New Guinea, establishing a security barrier for the major Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain, and providing bases for interdicting supply lines between the Allied powers of the United States and Australia and New Zealand.
The Allies, to defend their communication and supply lines in the South Pacific, supported a counteroffensive in New Guinea, isolated the Japanese base at Rabaul, and counterattacked the Japanese in the Solomons with landings on Guadalcanal and small neighboring islands on 7 August 1942. It was the first major amphibious landing of World War II mounted by America. It would be the home of American victories that changed the tides of the Pacific War.
These landings initiated a series of combined-arms battles between the two adversaries, beginning with the Guadalcanal landing and continuing with several battles in the central and northern Solomons, on and around New Georgia Island, and Bougainville Island.
The invasion ignited a ferocious struggle marked by seven major naval battles, numerous clashes ashore, and almost continuous air combat. For six long months US forces fought to hold the island. In the end they prevailed, and the Allies took the first vital step in driving the Japanese back in the Pacific theater. US Marine and Army troops with little combat experience faced an enemy which hid in the jungle, launched attacks at the dead of night and obeyed a strict code of honour in which death was preferable to surrender.
The Allies retook some of the Solomon Islands, and they also isolated and neutralized some Japanese positions, which were then bypassed. The Solomon Islands campaign then converged with the New Guinea campaign. However, fighting would continue in the area until 1945.
Four Japanese transports, hit by both U.S. surface vessels and aircraft, beached and burning at Tassafaronga, west of positions on Guadalcanal, on November 16, 1942. They were part of the huge force of auxiliary and combat vessels the enemy attempted to bring down from the north on November 13th and 14th. Only these four reached Guadalcanal. They were completely destroyed by aircraft, artillery and surface vessel guns. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
Following in the cover of a tank, American infantrymen secure an area on Bougainville, Solomon Islands, in March 1944, after Japanese forces infiltrated their lines during the night. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
Japanese soldiers killed while manning a mortar on the beach are shown partially buried in the sand at Guadalcanal on the Solomon Islands following attack by U.S. Marines in August 1942. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
On August 24, 1942, while operating off the coast of the Solomon Islands, the USS Enterprise suffered heavy attacks by Japanese bombers. Several direct hits on the flight deck killed 74 men; the photographer of this picture was reportedly among the dead. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
A breeches buoy is put into service to transfer from a U.S. destroyer to a cruiser survivors of a ship, November 14, 1942 which had been sunk in naval action against the Japanese off the Santa Cruz Islands in the South pacific on October 26. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
These Japanese prisoners were among those captured by U.S. forces on Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Islands, shown November 5, 1942. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
Infantrymen of Company "I" await the word to advance in pursuit of retreating Japanese forces on the Vella Lavella Island Front, in the Solomon Islands, on September 13, 1943. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
Small Japanese craft flee from larger vessels during an American aerial attack on Tonolei Harbor, Japanese base on Bougainville Island, in the Central Solomon Islands on October 9, 1943. (Photography via AP Photo on The Atlantic)
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) burning and listing after she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-19, on 15 September 1942, while operating in the Southwestern Pacific in support of forces on Guadalcanal. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
Guadalcanal-Tulagi Landings, 7-9 August 1942 - A U.S. Marine Corps M2A4 "Stuart" light tank is hoisted from the U.S. Navy transport USS Alchiba (AK-23) into a LCM(2) landing craft, off the Guadalcanal invasion beaches on the first day of landings there, 7 August 1942. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Marines rest in the field on Guadalcanal, circa August-December 1942. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
A wounded soldier is being assisted down a steep jungle hillside, then through the jungle to the river and by boat and ambulance to a nearby hospital. Guadalcanal, 1/15/43. Soldier of 25th Division, 35th Infantry. Down Matanikan River. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
The High Command assembled on Guadalcanal in August 1943, during the planning for the Northern Solomons campaign, this group includes many officers who played important roles in the operations to come. In the front row, left to right, are: Brigadier General A. F. Howard, Rear Admiral Theodore Wilkinson, USN, Major General Charles D..Barrett, and Major General Robert S. Beightler, USA. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
Litter bearers give first aid to two men wounded by grenades while on patrol on Guadalcanal. Even when under direct fire of the enemy the bearers continue to care for and carry out the wounded. They are commanded by Major General Alexander M. Patch, Jr. 25th Medical BN., 25th Division. 10 January 1945. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Navy or Marine Corps Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers from Allied Air Solomons (AirSols, also known as "Cactus Air Force") head out on a bombing mission in the Solomon Islands in early 1943. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
GIs during Bougainville campaign to take Solomons Islands in 1943. (Photography via Milsurps)
New Zealand troops land on Vella Lavella, in the Solomon Islands. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) under aerial attack during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (Photography via Wikimedia Commons)
US troops land on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands group. Guadalcanal was the focus of crucial battles in 1942–1943. American victory in the Solomons halted the Japanese advance in the South Pacific. Guadalcanal, August 1942. (Photography via National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md. - USHMM)
US troops land on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands groups. Guadalcanal was the focus of crucial battles in 1942–1943. American victory in the Solomons halted the Japanese advance in the South Pacific. Guadalcanal, date uncertain. (Photography via National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md. - USHMM)
Still on land, the jungles are still littered with the wrecks of aircraft, artillery, vehicles and thousands of unfired and unexploded grenades, bombs and shells. Underwater, the haunting remnants of fighter planes shot down during the battles, still stand. There are so many war ships at the bottom of the sea that separates the island of Guadalcanal from Savo and Florida Islands, that its name was changed from Savo Sound to Iron Bottom Sound.
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