World War Two: North Africa (1-1); Setting the Stage; The Axis 1940-42

American soldiers began striding through the surf to the beaches of Northwest Africa before dawn on 8 November 1942. They were the first of more than one million Americans to see service in the Mediterranean area during World War II-men of the II Army Corps in Tunisia, the Seventh Army in Sicily, the Fifth Army in Italy from Salerno to the Alps, and an elaborate theater organization.[N-1] The stream of American military strength which was to pour into that part of the world during the next two and one half years would include the Twelfth, Ninth, and Fifteenth Air Forces; the U.S. Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters; the Eighth Fleet; and a considerable American contribution to Allied Force Headquarters.

[N-1: At the time of the attack, French North Africa was within the boundaries of the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army. On 4 February 1943, a separate North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army was established. On 1 November 1944, this area (with modified boundaries) was renamed the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, U.S. Army.]

These first Americans to arrive in Northwest Africa were part of an Allied expeditionary force which linked ground, sea, and air units from both the United States and the British Commonwealth. They were participants in the first large-scale offensive in which the Allies engaged as partners in a common enterprise, an operation which transformed the Mediterranean from a British to an Allied theater of war. Occupying French North Africa was actually to be the first of a considerable series of undertakings adopted, planned, mounted, and executed under the authority of the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff. [N-2] Succeeding operations in the Mediterranean area proved far more extensive than intended. One undertaking was to lead to the next, each based upon reasons deemed compelling at the time, until at the end of hostilities Allied forces dominated the Mediterranean Sea and controlled most of its coastal region.

[N-2: The Combined Chiefs of Staff was an agency created in response to decisions reached at the ARCADIA Conference of American and British leaders in Washington in January 1942. The agency’s headquarters was in Washington, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with the British Joint Staff Mission (representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee), but a large number of its sessions took place at special conferences attended by the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Combined Chiefs of Staff acquired a structure of subordinate planners and a secretariat.]

After liberating French North Africa and clearing the enemy from the Italian colonies, the Allies sought to bring the entire French empire effectively into the war against the Axis powers. They reopened the Mediterranean route to the Middle East. They went on from Africa to liberate Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. They caused Mussolini to topple from power, and they brought his successors to abject surrender.

They drew more and more German military resources into a stubborn defense of the Italian peninsula, and helped the Yugoslavs to pin down within their spirited country thousands of Axis troops. Eventually, the Allies delivered a solid blow from southern France against the German forces which were opposing the Allied drive from the beaches of Normandy! They made Marseilles available for Allied use and they occupied northern Italy and Greece. In Italy they forced the first unconditional surrender by a large German force in Europe. The events following the invasion of French North Africa thus made of the Mediterranean a major theater in World War II’s titanic struggle. The momentous first step though not timorous, was hesitant, and somewhat reluctant; like the first step of a child it was more a response to an urge for action than a decision to reach some specific destination. The responsibility for this beginning rested more with the civilian than with the professional military leaders of the two countries. Whether the decision was wise or not, the critical factors affecting success, like those inviting the attempt, were largely political rather than military.

Axis involvement in the Mediterranean theater of war likewise mounted from small beginnings and after periodic inventories of the general military situation. Since the German Führer, Adolf Hitler, had precipitated the war much earlier than the Duce Benito Mussolini, had agreed to be ready; Italy remained a nonbelligerent until June 1940, and participated then very briefly in the attacks which led to French surrender.

The Mediterranean escaped major hostilities during this period of Italian preparations. Italian forces were assembled in eastern Cyrenaica for an eventual attack on Egypt in conjunction with an attack from the south to be launched from Ethiopia, while British forces were gathered to defend Egypt. But actual conflict was deferred.

After France’s capitulation in June 1940, and after the British Government refused to make peace by negotiation, Hitler reluctantly concluded that the war must be carried to British soil. His project for invading the United Kingdom was frustrated at an early stage by the failure of Reichsmarschall Hermann Gӧring’s Luftwaffe to eliminate the Royal Air Force and by the irreconcilable discrepancies between what the German Army required and what the German Navy could furnish for transport and escort shipping. He repeatedly postponed a decision to attack across the English Channel and eventually abandoned the idea. If he could not strike his enemy at home, he proposed instead to inflict a vital injury by seizing Gibraltar in co-operation with Spain and Italy and by supporting the Italians in their drive toward Egypt and the Suez Canal. He tried, mainly in this connection, to construct an anti-British alliance of Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, thus gaining for the Axis the French fleet along with French and Spanish strategic areas. His efforts failed.

Marshal Henri Petain engaged in an endless, elastic contest with the Nazis to hold fast to all things that were French. His government, ever under threat of military occupation of all of France at the Führer’s signal, served Hitler’s purpose by preventing the creation in the French colonies of an independent anti-Nazi French government.

Whatever concessions beyond the armistice agreements Petain might make at Nazi insistence and in return for the release of German held French prisoners, for example, the old Marshal would never commit French forces to fight beside the Germans. The French Navy, bitter as it was toward the British, would have scuttled its warships before allowing them to be used to advance Hitler’s aspirations. France, therefore, was not available for an alliance against the British and was left in control of its Northwest African colonies under pledge to defend them against attack from whatever side.

Francisco Franco set such an exorbitant territorial price upon a partnership with Germany as to make impossible an alliance which included Spain and France, and he engaged in such elaborate and effective procrastination as to render any genuine military contribution to the seizure of Gibraltar a matter for Nazi despair. When Hitler went to meet the Caudillo at Hendaye, France, on 29 October 1940, the Spanish dictator subjected him to the unusual experience of being a listener for hours. Rather than undergo such pain again, Hitler told Mussolini he would prefer to have several teeth pulled.

The fact that a new alliance of the four governments could not be attained became evident at a time when even the existing arrangement between Germany and Italy was somewhat strained. Although the two dictators had a friendly personal relationship, the Italians intended to wage a separate and parallel war in the Mediterranean. Hitler had always accepted the principle that the Mediterranean was an area of paramount Italian interest just as, farther north, German interests were exclusive.

He received in the autumn of 1940 clear indication that the Italians wished to proceed independently. Initially the Italians refused a German offer of an armored unit for use in the planned Italian campaign from Libya against Egypt. It was only after the campaign, begun on 12 September under the command of Maresciallo d’Italia Rudolfo Graziani, had bogged down that the Italians reluctantly accepted the German offer. On 28 October, moreover, although knowing Hitler’s opposition, and therefore dissembling their intentions, the Italians attacked Greece from Albania.

Hitler’s disgust at the opening of this new front in the Balkans by the Italians led him to withdraw temporarily his offer of German armored support for the Italian forces in Libya. This decision was confirmed during the Innsbruck conference of 4 and 5 November between Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht-OKW) and Maresciallo d’Italia Pietro Badoglio, the Chief of the Supreme General Staff (Stato Maggiore Generale). When both these adventures became engulfed in failure, the Italians on 19 December abandoned their reluctance to accept German reinforcements which Hitler, despite his irritation with Italian behavior, had again offered to supply for reasons of high military policy.

Hitler was already planning a Blitzkrieg against Russia to be executed during the summer of 1941. For that attack his Balkan flank had to be secure. He believed that the free use of the Mediterranean route by the British was equivalent to a large extra tonnage of transport shipping and the release of naval warships for other operations, an advantage to his major enemy which might make a complete Axis victory unattainable. He also wished to prevent the detrimental effect upon Italian morale and the severe loss of prestige for the Axis which would result from the loss of Libya and the related possibility of a separate Italian peace.

One large aviation unit (X. Fliegerkorps) received orders to shift to southern Italy in December 1940 and a small armored force began crossing from Naples to Tripoli in February, There it was to be combined with Italian mobile units under the command of Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel in an aggressive rather than a static defense. Rommel was subordinated to the Italian Commander in Chief Libya (Commandante del Comando Superiore Forze Armate Libia), Generale d’Armata Italo Gariboldi, who replaced Graziani in early February 1941. Rommel’s command, the German Africa Corps (Deutsches Afrika Korps), shortly reinforced by the addition of an armored division, received general directives from Hitler only after Mussolini had approved them, for the German forces were considered as agents of Italian military policy within the Axis partnership.[N-3]

[N-3: Hitler’s Order, 10 Dec 40, and Dir, 11 Jan 41 OKW/WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 33400/40 and OKW/ WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 44018/41; Orders signed by Keitel, 13 Jan and 3 Apr 41, OKW/WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 00 94/41; Order signed by Col Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of OKW/WFSt, 19 Feb 41, OKW/WFSt/Abt L (I Op), Nr. 44189/41. All in ONI, Führer Directives, 1939–1941.]

The German Africa Corps prepared for its eastward thrust toward Egypt while other German troops extended their hold over the Balkans and prepared to subjugate Greece. Some of the limited British forces in northern Africa were diverted to Greece to aid its defenders, but not enough to prevent the Peloponnesus from being swiftly overrun in April 1941, while almost simultaneously Rommel’s force swept across Libya with surprising speed to the Egyptian border. Only the port of Tobruk remained in British possession in the rear of the Axis units, where it was a continual threat to their long line of supply. The British Eighth Army, which was formed during the next few months of 1941, was not ready for another offensive to the westward before November, but Rommel also was obliged to pause. If these Axis thrusts in the Balkans and northern Africa were, on the one hand, followed by the dramatically successful airborne assault on Crete in May, they were, on the other hand, somewhat offset shortly afterward by the British and Gaullist-French seizure of Syria and by the British military occupation of Iraq. Turkey remained resolutely neutral.

All Axis operations in 1941 were overshadowed by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June. The requirements and preparations for this colossal effort precluded any extensive German commitments in the Mediterranean. Franco’s delays dragged out negotiations over German seizure of Gibraltar beyond the time when anything could be done about it without detriment to the impending attack against Russia. Throughout most of the year; therefore, the principal feature of the war in the Mediterranean was the battle over supply lines. German naval units were drawn into this struggle, like the ground troops, in a role at least nominally subordinate to the Italian Supreme Command.[N-4]

 [N-4: (1) The Italian Supreme General Staff was reorganized in June 1941. Its powers were greatly increased and it became the most important organ of command. Thereafter it was known as the Comando Supremo (Supreme Command). See Howard McGaw Smyth, “The Command of the Italian Armed Forces in World War II,” Military Affairs, XV, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 38. (2) Hitler’s Order, 29 Oct 41, WFSt/Abt L (I Op), Nr. 441794/41, in ONI, Führer Directives, 1939–1941. (3) Vice Admiral. Eberhard Weichold (German Admiral, Rome), The War at Sea in the Mediterranean. U.S. Navy Press Release 26 Feb 47.]

German aviation harassed British shipping. German submarines joined Italian naval units in policing the waters of the Sicilian straits. The occupation of Crete, costly as it was, improved the Axis position greatly in the violent effort to strangle the connection between Malta and the eastern Mediterranean. The British island of Malta, between the Sicilian straits and Crete, was a base for aircraft, destroyers, and submarines which severely curtailed the flow of supplies and reinforcements from Italy to Tripoli. The fortunes of Rommel’s command seemed almost directly proportional to Axis success in neutralizing Malta.

If the Soviet Union had succumbed to the gigantic attack which began in June 1941, Hitler would presumably have undertaken in November an elaborate attack upon the Near East and have forced Spain to allow an attack against Gibraltar. Concentric drives by Rommel through Egypt, by a second force from Bulgaria through Turkey, and, if necessary, by a third element from Transcaucasia through Iran were also contemplated.

Success in these operations would have broken the British hold on the Middle East. But when, despite the heightened German need for petroleum from the Middle East for operations in 1942, the attack against the Russians fell short of success, the program scheduled for November was necessarily delayed. The British began a counteroffensive in northern Africa at that point which relieved the garrison cut off in Tobruk and drove Rommel’s forces back on EI Agheila. This advantage was abruptly canceled in January 1942, when Rommel made a second advance to the east which regained much of the lost ground. His command was renamed Panzerarmee Afrika, and received reinforcements and additional equipment to resume the attack against the British Eighth Army. From the EI Gazala Line he was expected to gain Tobruk and the coast directly east of it. [N-5]

[N-5: A panzer group headquarters (Panzergruppe Afrika) was created for Rommel in August 1941 with command over the German Africa Corps, Italian XXX Corps, and some small miscellaneous units. Rommel was promoted to General der Panzertruppen 1 July 1941 and to Generaloberst on 1 February 1942. (1) OKW, Kriegstagebuch (hereafter cited as OKW, KTB), I.IV.-3/’VI.42, Entries 21, 30 Apr, and 1, 7 May 42. Great Britain, Exhibit 227, USC, Rg 238. This document appears to be the only one of those comprising the text of the OKW war diary that was not destroyed. The OKW war diary, prepared by Hitler’s Plenipotentiary for Military History, Oberst Walter Scherff, was to be the basis for a history of the war as seen from the highest German level. (2) Rommel, Krieg ohne Hass, pp. 111-26. (3) MS # T- 3-PI (Kesselring), Pt. I.]]

Rommel’s success and the capture of Malta [The planned operation for Malta was Operation HERKULES] were interdependent, a fact which produced a decision to undertake seizure of the island. Heavy air attacks would be made upon it in April 1942 to cover the shipment to Tripoli, Bengasi, and Derna of the means required for the first phase of Rommel’s offensive. After he had seized Tobruk and pushed to Marsa Matriih, thus holding the area from which Malta might be helped by British land-based airplanes, he was to pause while mixed German and Italian forces, partly airborne and partly seaborne, gained possession of the island.

Supplies to Rommel could thereafter go forward from Italy to the African ports in sufficient volume and his offensive would be resumed. While these plans were maturing, more German forces reached the Mediterranean basin.

The German X. Fliegerkorps was replaced, beginning late in 1941, by the Second Air Force (Luftflotte 2) over which Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring exercised command as Commander in Chief South (Oberbefehlshaber Sued) from a new headquarters at Frascati, near Rome.

Kesselring, subordinated to the Duce, was expected to employ his aviation in conformity with directives issued or approved by Mussolini, and to have a relationship as air commander to the Italian Supreme Command similar to that of Rommel as ground commander to the Italian Commander in Chief in Libya. Kesselring as senior German officer also assisted Generalleutnant Enno von Rintelen, Commanding General, Headquarters, German General at the Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces (Deutscher General bei dem Hauptquartier der italienischen WehrmachtGerman General, Rome) in conveying German views to the Italians. If the action of the Italian Supreme Command was influenced by a spirit of deference to German military enlightenment, the Italians nonetheless insisted that the Germans at all times adhere strictly to the form of Italian control, and Hitler supported this arrangement.

Axis operations in 1942 began with marked successes and brought the coalition to the zenith of its fortunes in World War II. Rommel’s late May attack went much more rapidly than had been expected and succeeded in taking Tobruk in June almost immediately instead of being delayed by the kind of stubborn defense which had kept that port from the Germans in early 1941.

British losses of men and materiel were great, but the loss of Tobruk’s port was equally serious. Rommel believed he could continue to Cairo before meeting effective resistance. At that juncture, Hitler was lured into a serious blunder. He had been unable to quiet his misgivings over the projected seizure of Malta, for he felt that the assault was inadequately planned and subsequent support perilously undependable. He therefore proposed to Mussolini that Operation HERKULES, the seizure of Malta, be postponed in favor of a continued drive into Egypt, and Mussolini, despite the demurrer of some of his military advisers, consented.

A new line of supply to Rommel was to run via Crete to Tobruk. Malta was allowed to recover. In July 1942, Rommel’s army got as far inside Egypt as the El Alamein position, some sixty miles southwest of Alexandria, before being held up by lack of supplies and the opposition of the British Eighth Army. On the Eastern Front, the German attacks on the southern sector pressed speedily toward the Don River, heading beyond it toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

The Allied Decision To Occupy French North Africa

The Allies were drawn to the Mediterranean by the fact that the British Eighth Army was arrayed against Panzer Army Africa near Egypt and by the military potentialities of the French colonies in northwestern Africa either as friend or foe. These potentialities had been considered well before the United States became a belligerent. American military planners studied the requirements of operations designed to prevent enemy use of air or naval bases on the Atlantic African coast as far south as Dakar.

At the end of 1940, when the British had defeated Graziani’s army, they held six divisions in readiness to join the French in defending Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in case Petain agreed to resume the war against the Axis. After that opportunity failed to materialize, the British planned in October 1941, in case of a success against Rommel in Cyrenaica, to capture Tripoli and, subsequently, to support French North Africa in a renewal of hostilities. Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill brought to the ARCADIA Conference in Washington in December, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, his own strategic analysis for 1942 and 1943 containing strong arguments for giving the liberation of French North Africa the highest priority in the Atlantic area. President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed marked interest in the project.

The guiding principle of Allied strategy in 1942 in the Atlantic and European areas was to close and tighten the ring around Germany, while achieving readiness for an invasion to destroy her military power. Anglo-American leaders hoped that by 1943 the way would be clear for an Allied return to the Continent, either across the Mediterranean, or via the Aegean and the Balkans, or by landings in western Europe. A friendly occupation in 1942 of French North Africa was recognized to be “of the first strategical importance in the Atlantic area,” and plans to achieve this were in preparation for several weeks following the conference. Influences attracting the Allies toward the Mediterranean, strong as they were in January 1942, were for a time counterbalanced by other factors of greater strength. The competing claims upon Allied resources were numerous and very powerful.

The line of communications through the Hawaiian Islands to Australia had to be maintained, and in the face of continued Japanese successes in their drive southward, various points along the line had to be reinforced. China could not be abandoned while it absorbed so large a number of Japanese troops and persevered in the war which it had waged since 1931. Russia was engaging by far the largest proportion of the German strength for the second year, and required the shipment of munitions over long and expensive routes. Iceland and the British Isles were to receive American garrison forces in order to release British units for service elsewhere. The Battle of the Atlantic ran in favor of the German U-boats, which achieved appalling successes close to the eastern coast of the United States.

The Americas had to be defended. A large portion of the munitions and men prepared for combat in the United States had to be devoted to the expansion program of all the armed services. Lack of shipping precluded any operation in French North Africa until still more pressing demands elsewhere were met.

Before the shipping situation eased, the Allies in April revised the program outlined at the ARCADIA Conference, adopting as the new major objective the concentration of forces in the British Isles for a cross-Channel attack in 1943 against the heart of Germany through France and the Low Countries.

Frequent Commando raids against the French coast would be made during the period of preparations; the heavy bombers of the U. S. Eighth Air Force being organized in the United Kingdom were to supplement those of the Royal Air Force in striking German industrial targets with increasing severity; but the main effort of the American forces in the Atlantic area in 1942 would be to transfer units and materiel from the United States to the United Kingdom, there to complete training for the ultimate assault during the following year. Measured by the reasoning underlying these plans, an expedition to French North Africa would be a diversionary undertaking, inevitably weakening the projected main effort.

Militating against the program of concentration which the Allies adopted in April were several strong influences. The main attack in 1943 could not succeed unless the Soviet Union were still engaging on the Eastern Front much of the German strength. The ability and the determination of the Russians to maintain resistance to the Axis forces might not survive the German offensive of 1942. A preliminary attack across the English Channel in 1942, had to gain a continental bridgehead for subsequent expansion in 1943 was contemplated by the Allies as a means of aiding the Russians without forfeiting the ability to make the main attack on schedule. If the Germans should fall suddenly into internal political convulsion, the same plan could be used to grasp that advantageous opportunity. But the measure of relief for the hard-pressed Russians would be determined by the size of the German forces diverted to western France from the Eastern Front to oppose the Anglo-American landings, so that genuine assistance to Russia was tantamount to inviting defeat.

The forces available would be preponderantly British. The British were unwilling to make a sacrifice attack for such a purpose. In view of the President’s encouragement to Molotov in May 1942 to expect a “second front” before too long, some Anglo-American offensive in 1942 seemed imperative in order to sustain Russian faith in the western Allies. The President was determined that American units go into combat against the Germans before the end of the year, presumably for the effect such a situation would have on American morale. The Prime Minister was ready for an Anglo-American operation in Norway in conjunction with the Russians, and eager for an invasion of northwestern Africa, but on 8 July notified the President that the British saw no possibility of making a preliminary attack in 1942 to gain a beachhead across the Channel. The British decision against Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was based not only on the undue risk of defeat in such an undertaking, but also on doubt whether there were enough resources, particularly the craft and crews required for the amphibious phase of the attack.

It may also have found some support in the Prime Minister’s determination, as he has written in his memoirs, to bring about an Allied occupation of French North Africa and perhaps of Norway. After the British refusal to proceed with Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was received, the Joint Chiefs of Staff contemplated adherence to the principle of concentration of force against a major adversary by switching the main American effort to that in the Pacific against Japan: The President rejected this proposal, particularly because no large-scale beginnings could be made there before 1943, but also because of his conviction that Allied strategy was sound and should not be abandoned.


He did, however, make a final effort to reconcile the British authorities to the course of action urged upon him by his own military advisers. On 18 July he sent Mr. Harry Hopkins, George C. Marshall, and Admiral Ernest J. King to London with instructions to make certain that every means would be considered for a small-scale attack on the Continent in 1942. If convinced that such an operation could not be mounted with any reasonable chance of “diverting German air forces from the annihilation of Russia,” they were to proceed with the consideration of other projects involving combat with German ground forces in 1942, either in North Africa or the Middle East. It was understood that preparations for ROUNDUP (a full-scale continental attack) in 1943 were to continue without interruption.

The President Commits the United States to Operation TORCH

The Allied military chiefs in London failed to reconcile their disagreement over the feasibility of SLEDGEHAMMER in 1942, a fact which was then reported to the President.

The operation could not be undertaken without agreement and was therefore abandoned, except that, mainly for appearance’s sake, planning operations and some preparations were continued.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff had been unable to agree and had divided along national lines. Here then was a critical test of the Anglo-American capacity to function as a military coalition. Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt broke the deadlock. The President, as Mr. Churchill had discovered, was more favorably inclined toward an operation in Northwest Africa than his military advisers, especially General Marshall. The President on 23 July sent supplementary instructions to the American members of the Combined Chiefs directing them to arrive at an agreement on some operation to be launched in 1942, and listing possibilities among which the occupation of French North Africa was given the top priority.

Bound by these instructions, the American chiefs agreed that using American forces in Northwest Africa was preferable to sending them to the Middle East. Thereupon, on 25 July, the Combined Chiefs reached a compromise. The U. S. members agreed to accept Operation TORCH on condition that a final decision by the Combined Chiefs be postponed.

According to this agreement, planning would start at once in London, but final decision to mount the invasion would be reserved until 15 September. If it then appeared likely that the Russians could actively resist German military power in the spring of 1943, the ROUNDUP operation would retain its priority over any other undertaking. If the Russians, on 15 September, seemed about to collapse, the invasion of North Africa would be mounted in time for landings before 1 December. Some of the heavy bomber groups and other air units previously destined for action in 1942-1943 over Europe would be shifted to North Africa, and others, to the Pacific where they were greatly needed.

On 25 July the Combined Chiefs of Staff named the prospective operation TORCH and agreed to a system of command to be in effect in one phase during the planning, and in another, “after the decision to mount.” But the President disregarded the conditional nature of the Combined Chiefs’ decision, and on the same day informed Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Admiral William D. Leahy, Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, and Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, when they met him at the White House, that he had already committed the United States unconditionally to the North African operation.

After General Marshall and Admiral King returned from London, the former apparently still believing that the final decision to mount the North African invasion was to be reached on 15 September, the President repeated “very definitely” to a special conference of representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House “that he, as Commander-in-Chief, had made the decision that TORCH should be undertaken at the earliest possible date, He considered that this operation was now our principal objective, and the assembling of means to carry it out should take precedence over other operations. . . .”

President Roosevelt’s action amounted to a modification of the Combined Chiefs of Staff’s recommendation so drastic as to be almost a rejection. He did not then realize, as he came to appreciate later, that a campaign to seize French North Africa would preclude an attack across the English Channel toward the heart of Germany in 1943, and that he had made a choice in favor of the strategy of encirclement rather than that of a direct and central thrust. But he could indeed have pointed out that the decision to penetrate the Mediterranean conformed to the grand strategy formulated in January at the ARCADIA Conference if not to the modification of April. The Allies would be closing the ring around Germany, tightening it, and achieving readiness for an invasion to destroy her military power.

Such was the situation in the Mediterranean when the Allies faced the question where to attack in 1942.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West by George F. Howe

World War Two: North Africa (2); Strategic Planning; Operation TORCH


World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Isolation of Java Completed

Timor, the largest and Most southeasterly of the Lesser Sunda Islands, belonged partly to Portugal and partly to the Dutch. The Portuguese capital was Dili, and the Dutch capital was Kupang. Most of the population was primitive, and Timor contained little in the way of needed resources; but, just as Bali had been a staging area for large ABDA plane reinforcements to Java, Timor was the only staging area for short range ANDA fighter planes. Although a flight from Timor to Java was longer than one from Bali, Timor was the only place in the Lesser Sunda Islands within fighter-plane range of Australia. That marked it for invasion by the Japanese, because it’s possession would destroy the fighter-plane support for Java’s defenders.

The troops carried in fourteen transports, one carrying paratroopers, landed on 20 February. The paratroopers were landed, and after the airfield was captured, they were picked up by landing planes and dropped over Kupand. Both jurisdictions of the island were fully under Japanese control by 24 February, despite fierce resistance by ABDA forces. The Portuguese had some troops en route to defend Dili, but the Japanese arrived before them. Cut off effectively from Australia at all points, Java was about to be forced to fight alone for it’s existence–the eastern pincer on Java had been established.

Dutch Borneo

Simultaneously with the Eastern Force’s southward sweep Admiral Takahashi sent his Central Invasion Force from Davao to capture Dutch Borneo, to assist his Eastern Force if necessary, and then to wait to invade east Java–the invasion timed to take place when Admiral Ozawa would be able to cover the invasion of west Java.

Tarakan Island is isolated on the east coast of Borneo, just south of what was British Borneo. The Japanese wanted it because of it’s rich oil fields, and because its capture would provide a base and airfield from which Japanese forces could be covered in their next advance. Tarakan was defended by a Dutch garrison of 1,300 men.

The Tarakan Invasion Force sailed from Davao on 7 January 1942. En route, it was bombed without result by three of Air ANDA’s B-17’s based in Java. The speed of Japanese operations had made it impossible for ANDA Command to position intercepting submarines. By the after noon of 10 January the convoy, with fourteen transports carring Army and Marine troops, was just off Tarakan Island. The Dutch garrison commander, on his on initiative, immediately set fire to the Tarakan’s oil fields and sabotaged it’s airfield. At 2400, the landing troops began a double envelopment, and on the morning of 12 January the small Dutch garrison at Tarakan surrendered, facing overwhelming odds, without any hope of reinforcements. Dutch planes attacked the invaders on 13 and 14 January, further damaging Tarakan’s airfield. But by 17 January, Japanese Navy’s 23rd Air Flotilla was using a repaired Tarakan airfield as its headquarters.


The next targets, which would put all of Borneo in Japanese hands, were the port of Balikpapan and the island settlement of Banjarmasin, both of which had oil fields. The Japanese had begun gathering a Balikpapan Occupation Force at Tarakan, and had ordered the Balikpapan authorities to surrender their oil fields, and installations un-sabotaged. The invasion ships had only intermittent air cover because foul weather; however, because of the weather, and scarcity of ABDA planes, they were not attacked until they arrived off Balipapan. As fifteen transports prepared to anchor 23 January, great columns of fire and smoke covered the Balikpapan oil fields. The local Dutch commander had not heeded the Japanese order.

Admiral Shoji Nishimura, the escort commander, was to have a busy afternoon and night. First, beginning at 5125, the convoy was attacked by three B-17’s flying from Surabaja; the transports Tatsugami Maru and Nana Maru were hit and damaged. Nevertheless, anchorage was made at 1945 on 23 January, and the troops were landed, screened by the light cruiser Naka and he squadron of destroyer’s. Despite Nishimura’s screen, the Dutch submarine K-XVIII torpedoed and sank the transport Tsuruga Maru, around 2400. The night was dark with thunderclouds, and Nishimura’s primary concern was additional submarine attacks; he certainly was not expecting an attack by ABDA surface ships.

Naval Battle off Balikpapan 

The threat to Balikpapan, however, had caused considerable anxiety at ABDA Command. The American naval force at Timor under Vice Admiral W. A. Glassford, was available to contest the landings. It consisted of the light cruisers Boise, Marblehead, and the destroyers Pope (flagship), Parrott, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones. When ABDA Command first heard of the convoy headed south 20January, it ordered the American ships to sail at once to intercept and destroy the transports. But on the next day, Boise hit an uncharted reef and had to retire, while the Marblehead developed engine trouble and could only make 15 knots; she continued north, however in order to provide a rendezvous point for the returning destroyers. The four destroyers making 27 knots, headed for Balikpapan on a course which would bring them into the area at about 0000hrs, on a north-northwesterly course. The burning oil fields would silhouette a relatively unguarded transport force.

The American force, holding course in column, mad a parallel attacking run. In the first attack, from 0316 to 0325, three destroyers fired ten torpedoes at close range. None found a mark, or did not explode. The Americans had attacked quickly and boldly, and a more stealthy and calculated approach would probably have yielded better results. They were unaware, however of the precise location of Nishimura’s protecting force.

The destroyers reversed course to the south in a second more deliberate attack. At 0330, the Pope torpedoed the Sumanoura Maru, which immediately exploded and sank. The John D. Ford used main batteries at close range on the transports, and at 0345 she torpedoed and sank the Kuretake Maru. The last two destroyers in column, torpedoed and sank the Tatsugami Maru at 0335, and continuing south, they exchanged fire with two patrol boats. The Battle of Balikapapan was over at 0350.

With the first intimation of enemy action, Admiral Nishimura in the Naka had taken his destroyers even father away from the transports, to the east in an antisubmarine sweep. Such amove was understandable, for it must have seemed inconceivable to him that a hard-pressed ABDA navy would attack his large force with surface ships. His transports had already been attacked by at least two submarines, and he knew that ABDA had about forty, so his movement to the east was a proper antisubmarine tactic. This course, however, allowed the American force to slip in between Nishimura’s force and the transports. Such are the gambles of war.

The Japanese landed at Balikpapan in the early morning of 24 January. They were resisted by the Dutch garrison until the Dutch commanding officer received permission to withdraw his 200 men to an airfield at Ulin, 120 miles west of Samarinda. Realizing the Japanese would soon discover the new Dutch position, the Dutch commanding officer had already destroyed the nearby oil fields on 20 January, with drawn his troops, this time to Muaranmuntai. The Balikapan garrison was finally trapped there by the Japanese Army, and it surrendered 8 March.

The Japanese Troops, taken by barges from Balikpapan, disembarked 50 miles south-southeast of Bandjarmasin. From this point they marched overland to Bandjarmasin. Another column marched 160 miles overland, directly from Balikpapan. Bandjarmasin was captured on 16 February; by 28 January Air Flotilla 23 was operating from the Balikpapan airfield and by 23 February also from the Bandjarmasin airfield. The arc of air protection available to the Japanese Navy had been expanded by occupation of Borneo. The sea lanes for the Japanese attack on Singapore, Sumatra, and west Java were now protected by the occupation of Borneo and Malaya. The line of advance for the attack on east Java was secured by the seizure of the Celebes and the key islands in the Molucca Sea and Flores Sea.

SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Fall of Singapore, Bangka, Palembang, Southeast Sumatra

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy: Battle of Badung Strait 19-20 February 1942

World War Two: Guadalcanal (7); Decision at Sea

On 18 October Admiral Ghormley was relieved and the South Pacific Area received a new commander—Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Admiral Halsey, then fifty-nine years of age, was one of the most experienced officers of the U. S. Navy. Graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1904 as a passed midshipman, Halsey was commissioned as an ensign in 1906. During World War I he commanded destroyers in British waters. He attended the Navy and Army War Colleges in 1933 and 1934, and then successfully completed the naval aviator’s course at Pensacola.

His career thereafter had been chiefly concerned with aircraft and aircraft carriers. From 1935 to 1937 he commanded the carrier Saratoga. After serving for a year as commanding officer at Pensacola, he took command, as a rear admiral, of Carrier Division 2 (Yorktown and Enterprise) in 1938. The next year he led Carrier Division 1 (Saratoga and Lexington), and in 1940, a vice admiral, he led the Aircraft Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet. Halsey had been on the high seas with a carrier task force at the time the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and his undamaged task force was fortunately available for a series of raids against the Gilbert, Marshall, Wake, and Marcus Islands in the spring of 1942. He also commanded the task force which took Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle’s medium bombers to within striking distance of Tokyo in April 1942. Illness had kept him out of the Battle of Midway. But the aggressive admiral had now returned to active service, and his audacious spirit was to have a dynamic effect upon the South Pacific.

Although he was unable to visit Guadalcanal until 8 November, Admiral Halsey was well aware of the difficulties which faced him. He had at once to decide whether Guadalcanal should be evacuated or held. On 20 October, following the heavy bombardments and the landings of Hyakutake’s troops, General Vandegrift had reported in person to Admiral Halsey aboard the flagship Argonne in Noumea Harbor. Present at the meeting were Lieutenant General Thomas H. Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was on a tour of inspection, General Harmon, Admiral Turner, and Major General Alexander M. Patch, who commanded the Americal Division. Vandegrift informed Halsey that he could hold Guadalcanal if he was given stronger support. The Admiral knew that Guadalcanal must be held, and promised the support of all his available forces. One of his first orders sent Kinkaid’s force to the Santa Cruz Islands where it engaged the Japanese on 26 October.

The South Pacific Area was soon to receive additional means by which the aggressive spirit could be transformed into action. President Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recognized that the situation on Guadalcanal was extremely serious. On 21 October Admiral King, after an urgent request from the South Pacific for more forces, notified Admiral Nimitz that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved a much stronger air establishment for the South Pacific, to be based there by 1 January 1943. On 24 October President Roosevelt, in a memorandum for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed a desire that the Joint Chiefs send every possible weapon to Guadalcanal and North Africa even if additional shipments meant reducing commitments elsewhere. In reply, Admiral King stated that a considerable force would be diverted, including one battleship, six cruisers, two destroyers, and twenty-four submarines., plus torpedo boats, seventy-five fighter aircraft, forty-one dive and fifteen torpedo bombers. Thirty transports had been allocated to the South Pacific for November, and twenty additional 7,000-ton ships would be diverted later.

In his reply to the President, General Marshall stated that the situation in the South Pacific depended upon the outcome of the battle then in progress for Guadalcanal. The ground forces in the South Pacific were sufficient for security against the Japanese, he felt, and he pointed out that the effectiveness of ground troops depended upon the ability to transport them to and maintain them in the combat areas. Total Army air strength in the South Pacific then consisted of 46 heavy bombers, 27 medium bombers, and 133 fighters; 23 heavy bombers were being flown and 53 fighters shipped from Hawaii to meet the emergency. MacArthur had been directed to furnish bomber reinforcements and P-38 replacement parts to the South Pacific. General Marshall had taken the only additional measures which, besides the possible diversion of the 25th Division from MacArthur’s area to the South Pacific, were possible—the temporary diversion of three heavy bombardment squadrons from Australia to New Caledonia, and the release of P-40’s and P-39’s from Hawaii and Christmas Island.

Reinforcements; Air Power

In October the Japanese had come perilously close to destroying American air strength on Guadalcanal. Despite their utmost efforts the airfield remained in American hands and recovered from the heavy blows, although Guadalcanal’s air strength, impaired by operational losses and Japanese bombardment, remained low during the rest of October. Only thirty-four aircraft were fit to fly on 16 October, but were reinforced on that date by the arrival of twenty F4F’s and twelve SBD’s. By 26 October, after a series of bombing raids and shelling’s, there were but twenty-nine operational aircraft at Henderson Field—twelve F4F’s, eleven SBD’s, three P-400’s, and three P-39’s.

By the end of November, with the lessening of Japanese attacks against the Lunga area and the increase of Allied strength in the South Pacific, the Guadalcanal air force had increased in size although as late as 10 November the shortage of fuel prevented heavy bombers from using Henderson Field. General MacArthur on 14 November promised to send eight P-38’s to the South Pacific.

By the middle of November a total of 1,748 men in the aviation units were operating at the Lunga airfields—1,261 of Marine Air Group 14; 294 of Marine Air Group 14; 33 naval pilots; 144 of the 347th (Army) Fighter Group, and 16 of the 37th (Army) Fighter Squadron.9 By 21 November the entire 5th (Army) Heavy Bombardment Group, which like the 11th had participated in the Battle of Midway, had reached the South Pacific to operate from Espiritu Santo. P-38’s had reached Guadalcanal to be based there permanently, and B-17’s were using the field regularly although the fuel shortage still limited operations. On 24 November 94 aircraft on Guadalcanal were operational, including 15 P-39’s, 1 P-40, 8 B-17’s, 11 P-38’s, 9 TBF’s, 6 New Zealand Hudsons, 29 F4F’s, and 15 SBD’s, and by 30 November additional reinforcements had increased the total to 188 planes of all types.

Aola Bay

By November plans for building an additional airfield on Guadalcanal were ready to be put into effect. Prior to Admiral Halsey’s assumption of command, the 1st Battalion of the 147th Infantry, a separate regiment, had sailed from Tongatabu with the mission of occupying Ndeni. General Harmon had not changed his conviction that the occupation of Ndeni would be a needless waste of effort. He presented his opinions to Halsey, who, after conferring with his subordinates, accepted Harmon’s views. On 20 October he directed the 147th Infantry to Guadalcanal. The Ndeni operation was never carried out.

Halsey decided to send the 147th Infantry to Guadalcanal to cover the construction of an air strip at a point far enough east of the Lunga to give fighter planes at Lunga Point enough time to rise to the attack if the Japanese attacked the eastern field. Aola Bay, lying about thirty-three miles east-southeast of Lunga Point, was selected by Admiral Turner as the landing and airfield site. The Aola Bay landing force, as finally constituted, was under command of Colonel W. B. Tuttle and included 1,700 men of the 1st Battalion, 147th Infantry; two companies of the 2nd (Marine) Raider Battalion; a detachment of the 5th Defense Battalion; Provisional Battery K of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion of the Americal Division, which was equipped with British 25-pounders; and 500 naval construction troops.

While the practicality of taking Ndeni was being considered, Halsey’s headquarters had completed plans for moving strong reinforcements to Lunga Point. On 29 October Admiral Turner informed General Vandegrift that his requests for more ammunition, materiel, and support were being seriously considered.

The admiral planned to have two ships land stores, ammunition, and two batteries of 155-mm. guns on 2 November. Provision for the movement of the 8th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to Guadalcanal was being given the highest priority, and that regiment was to land on 3 November. Turner expressed the desire, somewhat gratuitously, that Vandegrift take the offensive after the arrival of the 8th Marines. Another Army regiment and the 1st (Marine) Aviation Engineer Battalion, Turner announced, were to arrive about 10 November, and the 2nd Raider Battalion might possibly land at Beaufort Bay on the south coast about the same time. A task force commanded by Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan was constituted to transport the 8th Marines and the Aola Force to Guadalcanal.

The Aola Force, carried on three transports and two destroyer-transports, landed unopposed at Aola Bay on 4 November. It established a 600-yard-long beachhead a short distance east of the Aola River. When the beachhead had been established, command of Colonel Tuttle’s landing force passed from Admiral Callaghan to General Vandegrift. The transports unloaded continuously until 0200, 6 November, and then withdrew. Admiral Halsey directed the raider companies to remain at Aola Bay, instead of leaving with the transports as originally planned.

The troops established a perimeter defense, and on 29 November four transports landed the 3rd Battalion of the 147th Infantry, additional elements of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 9th (Marine) Defense Battalion, and more Seabees.

The Seabees had begun work on an airfield immediately after the landing on 4 November, but the entire area proved to be unsatisfactory. The earth was swampy, and tree stumps with deep, tangled roots slowed the process of clearing the ground. On 22 November Vandegrift, who from the first had opposed the selection of Aola Bay, recommended to Turner that the area be abandoned. Admiral Fitch, the commander of South Pacific land-based aircraft, also disapproved of the Aola Bay site; Halsey assented to its abandonment, and the Aola Force, less the 2nd Raider Battalion, was later removed to Volinavua at Koli Point to build an airfield on a grassy plain. The movement to Koli Point was completed by 3 December, and there the force was joined by the 18th Naval Construction Battalion and the rest of the 9th Defense Battalion.

Reinforcement of the Lunga Garrison, 2-4 November

While the initial landings at Aola Bay were being effected on 4 November, more American troops and weapons were strengthening Lunga Point. The Alchiba and the Fuller landed stores and ammunition, together with one Army and one Marine Corps 155-mm. gun battery at Lunga Point on 2 November. These batteries—F Battery of the 244th Coast Artillery Battalion, and another battery of the 5th Defense Battalion—brought in the heaviest American artillery which had been sent to Guadalcanal up to that time, the first suitable for effective counterbattery fire.

After the landing of a Japanese force east of Koli Point on the night of 2-3 November, Vandegrift asked Halsey to hurry the arrival of the 8th Marines. Callaghan’s task force, which had been delayed by the proximity of enemy forces, sailed into Sealark Channel on 4 November to debark the reinforced 8th Marines, including the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, and the Aola Force as shown above. The regular noon Japanese air attack forced the transports to disperse, and the Lunga Point section of Callaghan’s task force withdrew to the southeast for the night. It returned the next morning to complete the unloading before sailing for Noumea.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal; Japanese Plans

Following their defeat in the night battles of 23-26 October, the Japanese began preparing for a second major counteroffensive. Staff representatives from the Combined Fleet hurried to Guadalcanal by destroyer to help complete the plans. On 26 October General Hyakutake decided to send the 38th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Tadayoshi Sano, and its heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal on transports instead of aboard the Tokyo Express. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commanding the Combined Fleet, approved of these plans.

The Japanese organized four naval task forces for the November operation. Two bombardment forces were to neutralize Henderson Field; a third was to transport the 38th Division and heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, while a fourth force from the Combined Fleet gave general support. The 17th Army had first decided to land the 38th Division at Koli Point, whereupon the entire 17th Army was to attack the Lunga area from the east and west. But Imperial General Headquarters, disapproving of the dispersion of forces, directed that the 38th Division deliver its attack from the Matanikau area, where it could receive the maximum support from 17th Army artillery.

The 17th Army, however, did land a small force at Koli Point in early November to deliver supplies to some of Shoji’s troops who had retreated there after the October disaster. Orders directing these forces to build an airfield on the flat plain south of Koli Point were also issued. A part of the 230th Infantry of the 38th Division had already landed on Guadalcanal in October and on 2-3 November, and the Tokyo Express landed elements of the 228th Infantry along the beaches from Kokumbona to Cape Esperance between 28 October and 8 November.

Japanese naval units assembled in the harbors between Buin and Rabaul during the first days of November. By 12 November Allied reconnaissance planes reported that two aircraft carriers, four battleships., five heavy cruisers, and thirty destroyers, besides transports and cargo ships, had been assembled. There were sixty vessels in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolei anchorages alone. But there was to be one vital difference between the October and November Counteroffensives. The Japanese, who had previously been using their aircraft carriers with some success, did not commit them to action in November.

American Plans

American naval forces, though still inferior in number to those of the Japanese, were again to prove their effectiveness. Twenty-four submarines had been patrolling the Tokyo Express routes, and had destroyed or damaged a number of Japanese ships. Besides the submarines, the naval forces under Halsey’s command included the aircraft carrier Enterprise, two battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, one light antiaircraft cruiser, twenty-two destroyers, and seven transports and cargo ships, organized into two task forces.

Because the lack of gasoline at Henderson Field was limiting the operations of B-17’s, Admiral Halsey requested the Southwest Pacific Air Forces to bomb shipping around Buin, Tonolei, and Faisi between 11 and 14 November, as well as to reconnoiter the approaches to Guadalcanal. Beginning on 10 November, South Pacific land-based aircraft, including those at Henderson Field, were to cover the northern and western approaches and to protect the Lunga area. The plans for the land-based aircraft of the South Pacific did not assign to them new missions, but restated their continuing missions in specific terms. On Guadalcanal the situation was more hopeful than it had been in October.

Pistol Pete could no longer shell the airfields with impunity. The arrival on 2 November of the 155-mm. guns of F Battery, 244th Coast Artillery Battalion, and the battery of the 5th Defense Battalion had provided effective counterbattery artillery. Less than four hours after it had begun debarkation at Lunga Point, F Battery of the 244th was in action against Pistol Pete. Troop strength had increased with the addition of the 8th Marines on 4 November, and still more reinforcements were expected soon.

The addition of more New Zealand troops and of the first elements of the 43rd (U. S.) Division to the South Pacific force had made it possible to relieve the Americal Division of its mission of defending New Caledonia. The complete division was to be committed to Guadalcanal, where one of its regiments, the 164th Infantry, was already engaged.

Reinforcement by the 182nd Infantry

The next Americal Division unit to be shipped to Guadalcanal was the 182nd Regimental Combat Team, less the 3rd Battalion which was still in the New Hebrides. The movement of this unit to Guadalcanal by Turner’s task force was to be a larger operation than the dispatch of the Aola Bay Force and the 8th Marines.

One of the two South Pacific naval task forces, under command of Admiral Turner, was charged with the dual responsibility of defending Guadalcanal and of transporting troops and supplies to the island. Admiral Kinkaid’s carrier task force at Noumea was available to support Turner’s force. These forces, though limited in numbers, had to stop the Japanese unless the U. S. Navy was to be driven out of the Solomon’s.

Turner’s task force was organized into three groups. Three transports, one cruiser, and four destroyers under Admiral Scott constituted one group. Scott’s ships were to carry marines, ammunition, and rations from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Admiral Callaghan commanded the second group of five cruisers and ten destroyers which were to operate out of Espiritu Santo and cover the movement of the third group from Noumea to Guadalcanal. Admiral Turner assumed direct command of the third group, consisting of four transports which were to transfer the 182nd Regimental Combat Team (less the 3rd Battalion), Marine replacements, naval personnel, and ammunition from Noumea to Guadalcanal.

Admiral Kinkaid’s force at Noumea, consisting of the carrier Enterprise, two battleships, two cruisers, and eight destroyers, was to support Turner’s force. In addition all aircraft in the South Pacific were to cover the movement of Turner’s ships and to strike at any approaching Japanese vessels. Turner expected that a Japanese invasion fleet would soon be approaching Guadalcanal.

He planned to land the 182nd Infantry at Lunga Point and move the transports out of danger before the enemy could arrive. The ships under his direct command sailed from Noumea at 1500, 8 November. The next day Scott’s group left Espiritu Santo; Callaghan’s warships followed on 10 November. Callaghan’s and Turner’s groups rendezvoused off San Cristobal the next morning.

Scott’s group arrived off Guadalcanal at 0530 on 11 November. The Zeilin, Libra, and Betelgeuse began unloading but were interrupted twice during the day by enemy bombers which damaged all three ships. At 1800 the group withdrew to Indispensable Strait. Damage to the Zeilin was found to be serious, and with one destroyer as escort she returned to Espiritu Santo. Scott’s warships, at 2200, joined Callaghan’s group, which had been preceding the advance of Turner’s transports. The Libra and Betelgeuse later joined Turner’s group. The warships, under Callaghan’s command, then swept the waters around Savo Island, and remained in Sealark Channel for the rest of the night of 11-12 November.

The transports anchored off Lunga Point at 0530,12 November. Covered by the warships, they began discharging troops and cargo. A Japanese shore battery in the vicinity of Kokumbona opened fire on the Betelgeuse and Libra at 0718 but missed; it ceased firing when one cruiser, two destroyers, and counterbattery artillery on shore replied. About twenty-five enemy torpedo bombers attacked in the afternoon, and forced the ships to cease unloading and get under way. The cruiser San Francisco, which was Callaghan’s flagship, and the destroyer Buchanan were damaged but the transports were not hit, and all but one bomber were shot down. The transports re-anchored at 1525, having been forced to halt unloading for two hours.

At 1035 on the same morning American planes patrolling north of Malaita sighted a Japanese force, including two battleships, sailing south toward Guadalcanal. A convoy of transports carrying the 38th Division troops, replacements, and naval troops followed farther to the north. By late afternoon Admiral Turner had concluded that 90 percent of the supplies carried by the ships under his direct command could be unloaded that day, but that several more days would be required to unload the Betelgeuse and Libra. To avoid destruction by the enemy battleships, he decided to withdraw all the cargo ships and transports. The warships were to remain to engage the approaching enemy.

The cargo ships and transports, escorted by destroyers, withdrew at 1815, 12 November. Callaghan’s and Scott’s warships preceded them to Indispensable Strait, then reversed their course and returned to protect Guadalcanal. The McCawley and the President Jackson had been completely unloaded; percent of the President Adams’ cargo had been landed, 50 percent of the Crescent City’s, 40 percent of the Betelgeuse’s. and 20 percent of the Libra’s. All the troops, numbering about 6,000 men, had debarked.31 The forces which had been landed by Scott’s group consisted of the 1st (Marine) Aviation Engineer Battalion, ground crews of the 1st Marine Air Wing, and marine replacements.

Turner’s ships had landed 1,300 marine replacements, 372 naval personnel, L Battery, 11th Marines (155-mm. howitzers), some 164th Infantry casuals, and the 182nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. The combat team was made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 182nd Infantry; the 245th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers), plus engineer, medical, quartermaster, and ordnance personnel—3,358 men.

Cruisers Versus Battleships, 12-13 November

The Japanese force which had been sighted consisted of the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, one light cruiser, and fifteen destroyers. This force had orders to enter Sealark Channel and neutralize the airfields on Guadalcanal by bombardment. Once enough aircraft and supplies had been destroyed, and the airfield pitted, Japanese troops could be transported to Guadalcanal in safety. The fact that the battleships carried high explosive ammunition for bombarding the airfield instead of armor-piercing shells reduced the margin of superiority of their 14-inch guns in the ensuing battle, for the battleships’ shells did not always penetrate the cruisers’ armor plate. This was fortunate, for to withstand the enemy force Admiral Callaghan had only two 8-inch gun cruisers, one 6-inch gun cruiser, two light antiaircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers. Callaghan led his light forces toward Savo after dark to engage the battleships.

At 0124 on 13 November Helenas radar located Japanese ships 27,000 yards away, between Savo and Cape Esperance. A warning was immediately transmitted to the flagship San Francisco, but the cruiser’s search radar was inadequate. As a result Admiral Callaghan, like Admiral Scott at Cape Esperance one month earlier, did not know the exact location of either his own or the enemy ships.

The American destroyers closed to short range to fire torpedoes. The vans of the opposing forces intermingled, and the American column penetrated the Japanese formation. The Japanese illuminated the American cruisers, then opened fire at 0148. The outnumbered Americans replied, firing to port and starboard. The American column became disorganized as destroyers maneuvered to fire torpedoes, and both cruisers and destroyers swerved off their courses to avoid collisions. The engagement became a melee in which the desperate American ships engaged the enemy individually. In the confusion both sides occasionally fired on their own vessels. As far as they could, the American ships concentrated their fire on the battleship Hiei.

 Admiral Scott, aboard the Atlanta, was killed by fire from a cruiser. Later a salvo from the Hiei struck the San Francisco and killed, among others, Admiral Callaghan, and mortally wounded her commanding officer, Capt. Cassin Young. The San Francisco continued to engage the Hiei as long as her main battery would bear. The Hiei fired several salvos, then ceased. The San Francisco, having received fifteen major hits from heavy guns, withdrew. The Atlanta caught fire, and several American destroyers blew up, but about 0300 the Japanese abandoned their attempt to break through the tenacious American force, and retired northward. Two Japanese destroyers had been sunk, and four were damaged.

The gallantry of the light American forces in this desperate action had saved Henderson Field from a battleship bombardment, but the cost was heavy. Of the thirteen American ships, twelve had been either sunk or damaged. The antiaircraft cruisers Atlanta and Juneau, and the destroyers Barton, Gushing, Laffey, and Monssen sank in the channel. The heavy cruisers San Francisco and Portland and the destroyers Aaron Ward, O’Bannon, and Sterrett, which all had suffered serious damage, retired with the two other surviving ships toward Espiritu Santo during the morning of 13 November.

The battleship Kirishima had escaped, but at daylight on 13 November American air forces located the battleship Hiei near Savo. Crippled and on fire, she was cruising slowly in circles. The Hiei, the principal American target, had been struck eighty-five times in the battle, and was out of control. Planes from Henderson Field attacked her steadily all day, and on the night of 14 November she was scuttled by her crew.

Bombing the Japanese Transports, 14 November

Meanwhile Admiral Kinkaid had led his carrier task force from Noumea toward Guadalcanal. At daylight on 14 November search planes from the Enterprise sighted a group of Japanese cruisers near New Georgia. These ships belonged to a second Japanese force which, consisting of three heavy and two light cruisers and four destroyers from the Outer South Seas Supporting Unit of the 8th Fleet, had entered Sealark Channel early on the morning of 14 November.

When American motor torpedo boats sortied from Tulagi, the Japanese retired without having inflicted much damage to Henderson Field. Later, when the search planes found this force, aircraft from Guadalcanal and from the carrier attacked it and sank one heavy cruiser and damaged one heavy and one light cruiser and a destroyer.

After these attacks the planes from the Enterprise flew to Guadalcanal to operate temporarily from Henderson Field. This permitted the Enterprise, the only remaining carrier in the South Pacific, to withdraw to the south out of range of hostile aircraft.

Disregarding the fact that the American airfields on Guadalcanal were still in operation, the Japanese determined to bring the troop convoy to Guadalcanal. On 14 November it left the waters near northern New Georgia, where it had been standing by since 13 November, to sail southward down the Slot. Consisting of eleven transports and cargo ships and twelve escorting destroyers, this convoy was the largest the Japanese had yet employed in the Solomon’s. The ships carried about 10,000 troops of the 229th and 230th Regiments of the 38th Division, artillerymen, engineers, replacement units, a naval force of between 1,000 and 3,500 men, weapons, and 10,000 tons of supplies. The Japanese had not committed aircraft carriers to close support of operations, and the convoy’s air cover was weak.

A Southwest Pacific patrol plane, lending support to the South Pacific, discovered the convoy at 0830, 14 November, about 150 miles from Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal aircraft and the Enterprise air group made ready to attack with torpedoes, bombs, and machine guns. Ground crews servicing the planes rolled bombs across the muddy runways, lifted them into the bays, and fueled the planes entirely by hand. The planes took off and struck the transports continuously throughout the day with outstanding success. They hit nine transports. Seven sank at sea, and the four remaining afloat sailed on toward Guadalcanal under cover of darkness.

Night Battleship Action, 14-15 November

Strengthened and reorganized, the heavy bombardment force which had fought the American cruisers on the night of 12-13 November turned back toward Guadalcanal to cover the approach of the transports. It consisted of the battleship Kirishima, two heavy and two light cruisers, and nine destroyers. To combat this force and to attack any surviving transports, Admiral Halsey sent the battleships Washington and South Dakota and four destroyers from Kinkaid’s force to the north. Under the command of Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., the two battleships and four destroyers passed the southeastern tip of Guadalcanal about noon on 14 November. Shortly before midnight, they entered the channel. As the Washington neared Savo in the darkness at 0001, 15 November, her radar located an enemy ship. The Washington opened fire at 0016, at a range of 18,500 yards, and the South Dakota and the destroyers entered the action immediately thereafter. The Japanese fought back vigorously, but by 0142 the long-range gun fight in the narrow waters had ended. It was one of the few engagements between battleships of the entire war. The Japanese retired northward, having again failed to hit the airfields. The badly damaged Kirishima was scuttled by her crew; one Japanese destroyer sank. Three of the American destroyers sank, and the South Dakota and the other destroyer suffered damage.

When day broke on 15 November the Americans saw, lying at Tassafaronga in plain view, the four surviving transports of the force which had been hit the day before. The transports had no air cover. Three were beached and unloading, while the fourth was slowly pulling northward toward Doma Reef. F Battery of the 244th Coast Artillery Battalion had moved two of its guns from their field artillery positions on the west bank of the Lunga to the beach. These guns opened fire at 0500 and hit one beached transport 19,500 yards away; the ship began to burn. The 3rd Defense Battalion’s 5-inch batteries opened fire forty-five minutes later on a second ship 15,800 yards away and hit her repeatedly.

The beached target burned and listed to port. The destroyer Meade sailed over from Tulagi to shell both the ships and the landing areas, while aircraft from Henderson Field and bombers from Espiritu Santo attacked the remaining ships. By noon all four had been turned into burning, useless hulks which were abandoned to rust in the shallow water. The planes then turned their attention to the Japanese supplies which had been landed, and started tremendous fires among the piles of materiel. One blaze was 1,000 yards long.

Cost and Results

Of the ill-fated convoy’s 10,000 or more troops, about 4,000 had landed safely on Guadalcanal, but without sufficient supplies and rations. Only five tons of the 10,000 tons of supplies aboard the ships were landed safely. Of the rest of the troops, some had drowned at sea, but a large number were rescued by the Japanese.

The destruction of the convoy brought the November counteroffensive to a quick end. For the Japanese the failure had been expensive. Besides the troops and supplies lost at sea, they had lost two battleships, one heavy cruiser, and three destroyers sunk. Equally serious had been the destruction of the eleven ships in the convoy, a total loss of 77,609 shipping tons. Two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and six destroyers had been damaged. The U. S. Navy had lost one light cruiser, two light antiaircraft cruisers, and seven destroyers sunk, and one battleship, two heavy cruisers, and four destroyers damaged.

This was the last major effort by the Japanese Army and Navy to recapture the Lunga area by a co-ordinated attack. The November battle had made the task of reinforcing Guadalcanal much less dangerous. The movement of the 182nd Infantry was the last shipment of troops to Guadalcanal in the face of enemy forces. Thereafter American troops were to be landed on Guadalcanal fairly regularly, and although enemy air attacks continued, and the Alchiba was torpedoed by a submarine on 28 November, the danger of attack by enemy warships lessened. The Lunga area was now securely held, for by the end of November Vandegrift’s force totaled 39,416 men.

The November battle had been the most decisive engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign. It had almost “sealed off” the Japanese on the Guadalcanal battlefields from their rear bases. After November, the most important factor of the campaign was to be the long hard ground fighting on the island itself.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (8); Advances Toward Kokumbona

World War Two: Guadalcanal (6); October Counteroffensive

World News Headlines: 01-20-2019

Germany (DW)

Congo’s Martin Fayulu declares himself president, top court sides with Felix Tshisekedi; The runner-up in the presidential election in DR Congo, Martin Fayulu, had said he was the real winner in the contest and called for protests. But a high court ruling said the challenge was “unfounded.” The Constitutional Court of the Democratic Republic of Congo rejected a challenge to last month’s presidential election results. The high court said early Sunday that runner-up Martin Fayulu’s challenge to Felix Tshisekedi’s win was “inadmissible.” In the verdict, the court also rejected a request to carry out a recount and declared Tshisekedi “President of the Democratic Republic of Congo by simple majority.”The ruling comes shortly after the African Union had asked Congo to delay announcing the final election results, casting “serious doubts” about the vote. On January 10, DR Congo’s Electoral Commission said Tshisekedi had provisionally won with 38.57 percent of the vote against Fayulu’s 34.8 percent.

Northern Ireland: Suspected car bomb explodes in Londonderry; Northern Irish police posted a picture of what appeared to be a burning car in front of a courthouse. Irish politicians have condemned what they called a terrorist attack. No one was injured by the explosion. A suspected car bomb exploded in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry late on Saturday, police have said. “As far as we know no one injured,” police wrote on Facebook. A photo posted by the police’s Twitter account showed what appeared to be a car in flames outside of a courthouse near the city center.

Angela Merkel sees Germany-France as drivers of European unity; With Brexit looming on the horizon and populist parties calling for further EU exits, European unity has been shaken. In a video message, Merkel explained why she thinks a new friendship treaty with Paris will help. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance and significance of German-French ties in a video message posted on Saturday. After centuries of war between the two countries, the friendship that now exists between Berlin and Paris was “anything but self-evident,” she said. Her remarks come just days before she and French President Emmanuel Macron are due to sign a new friendship treaty in the city of Aachen.

FRANCE (France24)

US airstrike in Somalia kills 52 Al Shabaab extremists, military says; According to the statement, the airstrike was “in response to an attack by a large group of Al Shabaab militants against Somali National Army Forces” near Jilib, 370 km southwest of Somalian capital Mogadishu. “We currently assess this airstrike killed fifty-two militants,” read the statement. Military officials from this East-African country and local elders said heavily-armed Al Shabaab militants had launched a dawn raid on a military camp on Saturday morning, followed by a heavy exchange of gunfire which lasted hours. “The terrorists attacked Bulogagdud military base using heavy weaponry and explosives. The Somali military and Jubaland forces resisted the enemy before later retreating back from the base,” Mohamed Abdikarin, a Somali military official told AFP by phone.

Lebanon urges Arab League to readmit Syria ahead of regional summit; The Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, or AESD, is being held in Lebanon for the first time amid sharp divisions in the country and among Arab countries.
Syria was not invited despite demands by allies of Damascus in Lebanon. “Syria is the most notable absentee at our conference, and we feel the weight of its absence,” Gibran Bassil said.


Toyota, Panasonic to set up EV battery company; apanese firms Toyota Motor and Panasonic plan to set up a joint venture to make batteries for electric vehicles, or EVs. They want to increase their production capacity and competitive edge as EVs become more popular. The two companies have been holding talks since 2017 on how to work together in the field of EV batteries, which are key to extending the range of the vehicles. Toyota will own 51 percent of the firm. Panasonic will hold the rest of the company’s stock. The joint venture will be formally established next year at the earliest. Panasonic will shift most of its battery production facilities in Japan and China to the new firm. A plant in Nevada that it operates with US electric vehicle maker Tesla will not be involved. Toyota hopes that by around 2030 it will sell 5.5 million electric vehicles a year, or half its total projected sales. News of the planned joint venture comes as Chinese companies increase their battery production. Toyota and Panasonic are also working together to develop next-generation all solid-state batteries.

Ministers speak after TPP meeting; Ministers of the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement held a news conference after their first meeting in Tokyo. Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification, Jim Carr, said his country has become the first G7 nation to sign free trade agreements with all the other members. He said free trade agreements build bridges that are “crossed by investment, goods and services” which “produce growth, wealth and jobs.” Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, said he was encouraged that all the members were united, despite many facing protectionist pressure. He said the members are committed to seeing the rules evolve to suit the times, and that it is in their common interest to embrace more countries within the agreement. Of the 4 countries that have yet to ratify the deal, the representatives from Peru and Chile said they hope to complete the process within a few months while the representative from Brunei said it would be as soon as possible. Malaysia’s administration led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who took office last May is showing caution toward the TPP. The country’s representative said in the news conference that the country is still evaluating the trade pact.