The Bougainville campaign was a campaign of World War II that occurred from November 1 1943 to August 21 1945, on and around Bougainville Island in the South Pacific between the Empire of Japan and Allied forces. Bougainville, at that time, was part of the Australian territory of New Guinea, although geographically part of the Solomon Islands chain. The Bougainville campaign was, therefore, part of both the Allied New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns. Bougainville was occupied in 1942 by Japanese forces, who constructed naval air bases at Buka in the north and Buin in the south, as well as a naval ship base in the nearby Shortland Islands. The Japanese bases provided security for their major base at Rabaul, New Britain and supported their forces operating at other locations in the Solomon Islands.
As part of the latter stages of Operation Cartwheel, Allied forces intended to establish air bases on Bougainville to assist in the isolation and neutralization of Rabaul. Thus, in November 1943 United States Marine forces landed at Cape Torokina on Bougainville and established a beachhead within which the Allies constructed three airfields. The Marines were later replaced by U.S. Army soldiers in January 1944. The U.S. Army was replaced by Australian Militia troops in October 1944. The campaign ended with the surrender of Japanese forces in August 1945.
November 1943 – November 1944
Allied operations to retake Bougainville from the Japanese 17th Army
began with Landings at Cape Torokina
by the U.S. Marine 3rd Division
on November 1 1943
. The Allies intended to establish a beachhead around Cape Torokina, within which an airfield would be built. Allied forces did not plan, at this time, to try to capture the entire island of Bougainville from Japanese forces. An attempt by the Imperial Japanese Navy
to attack the U.S. landing forces was defeated by the US Navy
in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay
, on 1 November
and 2 November
. A subsequent attempt by Japanese land forces to attack the Allied beachhead was defeated in the Battle of Koromokina Lagoon
Protracted and often bitter jungle warfare followed, with many casualties resulting from malaria and other tropical diseases. U.S. Marine operations to expand the Allied beachhead resulted in the Battle for Piva Trail, Battle of the Coconut Grove, Battle of Piva Forks, and the Battle of Hellzapoppin Ridge and Hill 600A. The Marines were eventually replaced by the U.S. Army's Americal Division and other Army units.
The U.S. Army defended the beachhead against a major Japanese counterattack from 9 March 1944 to 17 March 1944, at Hill 700, Cannon Hill, and Hill 260. The counterattack was defeated with heavy losses for the Japanese army, which then withdrew the majority of its force into the deep interior and to the north and south ends of Bougainville.
The Japanese, isolated and cut off from outside assistance, primarily concentrated on survival, including the development of farms throughout the island. The Americans were reinforced by the 93rd Infantry Division, the first African American infantry unit to see action in World War II. The Allies concentrated on constructing multiple airfields in the beachhead, from which they conducted fighter and bomber operations over Rabaul, Kavieng and other Japanese-held bases in the South Pacific area. Air support over Bougainville was provided largely by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the US Marine Corps aviation squadrons, and the USAAF, under the control of an organization called "AIRSOLS" - Air Solomons - Vice Admiral Aubrey Fitch, US Navy.
November 1944 – August 1945
Between October and December 1944, the U.S. ground forces handed over operations on the island to the main body of the Australian II Corps
, a Militia
formation. The Australian 3rd Division
and the 11th Brigade
were on Bougainville, reinforced by the Fiji Infantry Regiment
. The Australian 23rd Brigade
garrisoned neighbouring islands.
The second phase of the Allied campaign developed into three separate drives: in the north, it was planned that Japanese forces would be forced into the narrow Bonis Peninsula and contained; in the centre the seizure of Pearl Ridge would give the Australians control of the east-west thoroughfares and protection against further counterattacks, while also opening the way for a drive to the east coast; and the main campaign in the south, where the bulk of the Japanese forces were concentrated.
Major battles for the Australians included the Battle of Genga River (in the north) and the Battles of Slater's Knoll and Hongorai River (in the south).
Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu of Fiji was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) for his bravery at Mawaraka on June 23 1944. During 1945, Corporal Reg Rattey (at Slater's Knoll) and Private Frank Partridge (at Ratsua) won Australia's last VCs of World War II and the only VCs awarded to militia soldiers.
Combat operations on Bougainville ended with the surrender of Japanese forces on Bougainville on 21 August 1945. The Empire surrendered in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.
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