Seventy years ago, Admiral William F. Halsey’s South Pacific forces followed up six months of land, sea, and air combat that secured Guadalcanal by taking the first major step in their conquest of the remainder of the Solomon Islands.
Unfortunately, Halsey’s Upper Solomons drive toward the Japanese bastion of Rabaul has been overshadowed by other Pacific war operations—such as the grueling Guadalcanal struggle and the dramatic Central Pacific battles between which it’s sandwiched. History buffs may recall some of the campaign’s destroyer fights. But historians have generally given short shrift to other aspects of the campaign, including the struggles of Marines and soldiers on New Georgia and Bougainville and the pivotal air battles.
Hopefully this special gatefold issue of Naval History that focuses on the post-’Canal campaign as well as related operations in the Southwest Pacific will help bring some balance. Richard Frank covers the course of Halsey’s drive in his article “North from Guadalcanal.” Along the way, he points out how the campaign featured the first true joint command in U.S. military history and the first example of a strategy that proved a key to defeating Japan: island-hopping.
“Defeat into Victory,” Frank’s follow-up article, recounts how the U.S. Navy reversed its dismal early war record in destroyer-versus-destroyer battles during the Solomons drive. While technical problems, such as faulty torpedoes, were partially to blame for U.S. “tin can” defeats, the author notes that operational and tactical changes played critical roles in turning the tide.
Arleigh Burke, one of the great Navy heroes to emerge from the campaign, devised the innovative destroyer tactics and put them to use at the Battle of Cape St. George. In “Capitalizing on an ‘Ideal Order,’” Burke recounts in blow-by-blow fashion the course of the 25 November 1943 fight. His story is adapted from the transcript of a narrative then-Commodore Burke recorded on 1 August 1945. The transcript is now in the National Archives’ collection.
Perhaps Admiral Halsey’s greatest gamble during the campaign had come earlier that November, when a powerful Japanese task force was poised to attack the beachhead Marines had recently carved out on Bougainville. In “‘Pearl Harbor in Reverse,’” Alan Rems describes carrier air strikes the admiral ordered against the warships while they were refueling at Rabaul, Japan’s heavily defended regional base.
Although Halsey was South Pacific Area commander, his campaign took place in General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area. The admiral operated under the strategic direction of that imperious commander, whose own forces simultaneously were advancing against Rabaul. This issue’s gatefold, “Operation Cartwheel—Allied Advances in the Southwest Pacific,” examines the progress of both campaigns as well as some of the U.S. weapons and innovations used in them. Chief credit for the foldout goes to Kelly Erlinger, Naval History’s design director, and graphic artist James M. Caiella.
The gatefold is made possible through a grant provided by retired Naval Reserve Rear Admiral David A. Janes. A longtime generous Naval Institute benefactor, Admiral Janes has been a proud supporter of Naval History since his days on the Institute’s Board of Control and Editorial Board. Finally, please consider using this issue’s Naval Institute Foundation gift form and postage-paid envelope to support the organization’s endeavors, which include publication of this magazine. Your tax-deductible gift will be greatly appreciated.