Solomon Islands Campaign, August 7, 1942 – December 25, 1943

Editor: Michael Spilling and Consultant Editor: Chris McNab

The Solomon Islands Campaign

By April 1942, the Japanese line extended from the Burma–India border, east to the Philippines, New Britain and the Solomon Islands. Air and naval bases at Bougainville and New Georgia supported their campaign on New Guinea. To check and isolate Japanese air and naval power, the Allies planned a counter-offensive, beginning with the amphibious conquests of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. By 9 February 1943, the Japanese were expelled from both places at tremendous cost.  More than 7000 Allied and 30,000 Japanese lives has been lost.

Solomon Islands Campaign

Solomon Islands Campaign. Image is taken from the book American Battles and Campaigns

The naval battles nearby were equally costly, with so many ships sunk in the passage north of Guadalcanal that it earned the sobriquet ‘Iron Bottom Sound’. Countering Japanese naval power in the region became a central challenge throughout the campaign. Adm Yamamoto’s powerful fleet outnumbered that of Adm Halsey.

While often tactically successful, however, the Japanese ultimately suffered from attrition, unable to replace lost ships, aircraft and experienced personnel. Both sides suffered setbacks, including the loss of the carriers Ryujo and USS Hornet. The American industrial base could absorb these losses; the Japanese, increasingly, could not.

Operation Cartwheel

The second phase of the campaign, Operation Cartwheel, included the conquest of Bougainville, the largest island in the archipelago. By Christmas 1943, US Destroyer Squadron 23 had sunk more than half the Japanese resupply effort, in the battle of Cape St George. Ashore, US Marines had wiped out the Japanese 23rd Infantry at the battle of Piva Forks. Soon the heart of Japanese power in the region, the base at Rabaul, New Britain, was surrounded and isolated. However, fighting would continue in the area until 1945.

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.

Dr. Chris McNab is the editor of AMERICAN BATTLES & CAMPAIGNS: A Chronicle, from 1622-Present and is an experienced specialist in wilderness and urban survival techniques. He has published over 20 books including: How to Survive Anything, Anywhere. An encyclopedia of military and civilian survival techniques for all environments. Special Forces Endurance Techniques, First Aid Survival Manual, and The Handbook of Urban Survival.

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