In all of the readings here (which now number more than 700), there has been precious little said about Rabaul. That’s going to change…at least for today. As you might know, there isn’t a whole lot to say about the present-day place…oh, where is it? Ok, go to your globe and find Australia. Then find Papua New Guinea off Australia’s northeast coast. To the northeast of Papua, there’s a bow-shaped island. That is New Britain, and on the very northeast tip of New Britain lies the town of Rabaul…right here.
As I was saying, Rabaul really doesn’t exist anymore, due to a volcanic eruption in 1994. The ash that rained down was heavy and thick enough to collapse most of the structures, and the place was abandoned. But up until then, it had been the provincial capital.
And during the Second World War, it was one of the largest and most important Japanese bases in the Pacific. I’ve mentioned it in passing a few times. It was the origin of Isoroku Yamamoto’s final flight and it was the destination of Saburo Sakai’s remarkable “flight of survival”.
And on November 5, 1943, it was the destination for a bunch of U.S. carrier-based planes. It was then that Task Force 38′s six-day assault of Rabaul began. And while it may have been the first of the naval attacks on this Japanese fortress, it certainly wasn’t the first attack. Land-based planes had begun air strikes in mid October.
Rabaul had been lost to the Japanese in 1942 (along with a bunch of territory), but rather than try to recapture it by a costly direct assault, Allied planners decided to bypass Rabaul and capture more accessible targets. This would allow Rabaul to simply wither away due to lack of supplies. Furthermore, with the recent Allied invasion of Bougainville (in the western Solomon Islands), attacks on Rabaul would keep Japanese air and naval assets from threatening that operation.
So aircraft from Admiral Sherman’s carriers struck, assisted by air cover from a frontal system. Pilots succeeded in damaging a bundle of cruisers and destroyers, though nothing was sunk. Fifth Air Force would add their bombs and bullets a little later in the day, so it was a pretty solid start to the reduction of Rabaul, and a far better option than an invasion.
Recommended Reading: The Pacific War Day by Day – I just picked this little gem up a couple weeks back.