Following a year of decisive carrier battles which resulted in severe attrition in ships, aircraft, and people on both sides, there followed a lull in carrier warfare in 1943. U.S. carriers did continue to provide support for the Allied offensive up the Solomons archipelago. A new Allied strategy evolved and a U.S. fleet reorganization took place. The Fifth Fleet, under Vice Adm. Raymond A. Spruance and spearheaded by the Fast Carrier Task Force, would drive westward through the Central Pacific; the Third Fleet, under Adm. William F. Halsey, would constitute the South Pacific Force; and the Seventh Fleet, eventually under Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, would be part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Forces.
The offensive initiatives of 1943 and later would not have been possible without a tremendous influx of new weapons for the war at sea—ships, aircraft, and small craft for the amphibious landings—and trained officers and men to man them. The first of the Essex-class carriers arrived in the Pacific in the spring, followed by Independence-class light carriers. The small escort carriers also began to arrive in significant numbers. The F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair fighters entered combat service and proved to be more than a match for the Japanese Zero. The SB2C Helldiver, supposedly a replacement for the venerable SBD Dauntless dive bomber of Midway fame, arrived on the scene, but was not immediately accepted by hard-line Dauntless advocates.
In the fall of 1943, the Fifth Fleet had 6 heavy carriers, 5 light carriers, and 8 escort carriers. Scores of new battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and other combatant ships were at its disposal. Supported by a growing logistics train that would eventually stretch across the entire Pacific, the Fifth Fleet was finally in a position to project military power across the Pacific to the Philippines by the fall of 1944.