By late 1943,
Rabaul stood as a seemingly impregnable naval and air base, a
haven for a large contingent of Japanese ships, troups, along with Rapopo.
Keravat, Vunakanau, Tobera, and Lukunai air fields filled with fighters and bombers.
Fortress Rabaul was fully equipped to supply the forces needed to take full control of the Solomon Islands.
When Japan's offensives began a decade earlier, in September, 1931,
they first invaded Manchuria from the north, moving further south
throughout China in 1937. By 1941, Japan had invaded Burma, and in quick
succession, southern Thailand, Dutch East Indies, Borneo, New Guinea,
Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines. In early 1942, Burma, Rabaul and
Bougainville fall to the Japanese. They were poised to take Australia
and New Zealand by capturing and controlling the Solomon Islands and
effectively cut off all shipping from the U.S. and their allies. But
with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration of war
on Japan, the U.S. and its Allies committed themselves to stop the
Japanese advances at the Solomons.
In July, 1942, the Japanese began to finalize
their foothold throughout the Solomon Islands by constructing an
airfield on Guadalcana near the eastern end of the Solomon Islands.
Blostered by their recent naval victores at Midway and Battle
of the Coral Sea, the U.S. quickly devised a plan to draw a defensive
line at Guadalcanal, secure it, and use the new Japanese airfield
as a staging point that would lead to Rabaul. In August, 1942,
Operation Watchtower was launched to take Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
For the next five months, the Japanese sent massive numbers of soldiers,
ships and planes from their stronghold at Rabaul in an attempt to
throw back allied forces. This result in intensive air and sea
battles on and around Guadalcanal, but U.S. and allied forces on
land, sea, and air held fast, and forced the Japanese to abandon the
eastern Solomons on 7February1943. The former Japanese airfield was
then named for Marine Major Lofton Henderson, C.O. of VMSB-241,
killed at the Battle of Midway, 14Jan1942. When Henderson Field was
finally won and Japanese forces left Guadalcanal, allied forces
quickly established a firm foothold, but Rabaul was still nearly 600
nautical miles away; a convenient distance for allied bombers to
reach, but not for any of their fighter escorts. Therein began the march up the Solomon Island's "ladder" with allies seizing control or completely isolating Japanese bases along the way. Although allies had Rabaul under regular bombing attacks attacks from early 1942, Rabaul's fortifications, ships, planes, and personnel only grew larger, putting the invasions of Australia and New Zealand more eminent. This was the allies last push to neutralize the Japanese, a battle lasting 44 months and the longest of WWII.**
- (23Feb1943) - Russell Islands just west of
Guadalcanal with its Japanese Banika airfield
Operation Chronicle (30June43) - Woodlark Island and
Kiriwina (Trobriand Islands),
Toenails, (15Aug1943) - New Georgia Islands, Rendova, Vella
Operation Goodtime (27Oct1943) -
Treasury Islands (including Sterling Island) ,
Operation Blissful (28Oct1943) - Choiseul Island and the
last major objective, Torokina area of Bougainville.
Operation Cherry Blossom (1Nov1943) -
Put allied forces just 220 nautical miles from Rabaul, easily within
range of allied fighter escort squadrons.
On 1Nov43, the 3rd Marines
and Seabees from the 25th, 53rd, and 71st Naval Construction
Battalions landed and immediately began construction of the Torokina air
strip. For the next eight weeks, Seabees, often under fire from the
defending Japanese at Empress Augusta Bay, cleared the dense jungle
and constructed the fina ldetails of the airstrip, even after the
airstrip was operational on 10Dec43. Two additional
strips were completed--Piva No. 1 and 2
as Piva Uncle and Piva Yoke) were built inland, about 2 miles north of
Torokina, to handle bombers and fighter. The new bomber strip, Piva 1 (Uncle), began flight operations on 19Dec43 and the new fighter strip, Piva 2 (Yoke) began operations on 3Jan44.
When VMF-216 deployed to the Solomon Islands in November, 1943 allied land, sea, and air
forces were poised for the final push to Rabaul's front door. By this time, much of Rabaul's strength had
been diminished by air and sea power beginning in January, 1942, but Rabaul was still a threat.
Here's the story, as we know it so far, of
Marine Corps Fighting
Squadron Two Sixteen.