New Georgia
The 30 June Landings on New Georgia Island —

I’ll bet you’ll be surprised to learn that the landings on New Georgia actually started on 30 June—five days before the landing at Rice Anchorage when we were sunk.

About midnight on 29 June the Japanese submarine RO-113 sighted and reported the invasion force west of Russell Islands moving toward New Georgia. This caught the Japanese by surprise. They had grossly overestimated the effectiveness of their “I” offensive and had incorrectly assessed other intelligence indications. Now the Japanese were caught with inadequate defensive forces in the area.

Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s forces were headed for landings in several spots on New Georgia. The most important of these early landings was at Rendova, across from Munda Airfield. These landings commenced on 30 June.

From the Japanese Viewpoint

The first major Allied offensive in the Solomons began on 21 June 1943, and was directed toward the capture of the Munda airfield. If Munda fell, then the Japanese would be backed up to Bougainville, and everything south of there would be under constant air attack. The airfields at Munda and Vila had already been subjected to frequent air raids for some time, and by 21 June they could offer little or no opposition. The first step in the Munda invasion was to secure beachheads on nearby islands, and finally at Rice Anchorage, New Georgia for an overland assault on Munda. Thus, a major burden now fell on the Navy to reinforce Munda by landing troops at Vila on the southern tip of Kolombangara.

Vice Admiral R. Kusaka, commander-in-chief of Air Flotilla 11, did not have enough planes to stop the capture of beachheads near and on New Georgia; thus his resistance was relatively weak and ineffectual. But Munda had to be reinforced quickly, and so some 4,000 Japanese troops were to be landed at Vila. The first echelon was carried on 5 July by destroyers Niizuki (equipped with radar), Yunagi and Nagatsuki. Nearing Kolombangara at the same time that a strong US naval bombardment force had just concluded shelling Vila and Bairoko Harbor, the three destroyers (using Niizuki’s radar) launched a torpedo attack at 0015, at the range of 11 miles. The destroyer Ralph Talbot’s radar detected the ships to the northwest at 0040, but before the American ships could react, one torpedo had hit the destroyer Strong, which sank an hour later. The source and nature of the explosion that ripped Strong apart mystified the American command. They could not believe that a torpedo fired from the distance their radar indicated could be responsible. The blips on the US ships’ radar screens disappeared as the three Japanese destroyers, rather than tangle further with light cruisers and destroyers, went back to Buin with their troops still on board.”

Source: Dull.

Outline of Plan for the 4–5 July Landings on New Georgia Island —

Admiral Halsey also had assembled a separate force of 2600 troops under Colonel Harry Liversedge, USMC, to occupy Rice Anchorage and block reinforcements of Munda from Vila (on Kolombangara Island). The night of 4–5 July was selected for the landing. The troops were carried in seven destroyer-transports with two DMSs and five destroyers as escorts. The troops were in Dent, Talbot, McKean, Waters, Kilty, Crosby and Schley. They were screened by Radford, Gwin, McCalla, Ralph Talbot and Woodworth. The DMSs were Hopkins and Trever.

The landing was scheduled to commence at Rice Anchorage after midnight following a cruiser task force bombardment of the Vila-Stanmore area on Kolombangara and the Bairoko Harbor area on New Georgia. For this bombardment, Admiral Ainsworth’s group consisted of three cruisers and four destroyers. The cruisers were the Honolulu, Helena and St. Louis. The destroyers Nicholas and Strong were to form column ahead of the cruisers with O’Bannon and Chevalier in column astern. Nicholas and Strong were to proceed ahead and search out the Kula Gulf area for radar and sonar contacts. They were to concentrate on this search and not bombard until after passing the Vila-Stanmore area.

The weather was expected to be dark and overcast. A new moon was to set early in the evening. Scattered light rain showers were expected throughout the area with visibility low in these showers.

Neither US intelligence sources nor air spotters had reported any Japanese naval activity in the central Solomons, so none was expected in the Kula Gulf area.

Our Part of the Bombardment and Landing at Rice Anchorage on 4/5 July —

Shortly before midnight on 4–5 July (at 2326), our cruiser task force came to course 215 to enter the Gulf. As planned, we were the second ship in the column behind Nicholas followed by the Honolulu, Helena and St. Louis and then by O’Bannon and Chevalier. Nicholas and Strong were scheduled to proceed ahead and search out the Kula Gulf area for radar and sonar contacts. There was no shipping in the Gulf when we entered.

On Strong we had observed a minor, but puzzling, event on the radar. Before the cruiser task force turned to enter Kula Gulf, we observed a single aircraft over Rakata Bay on Santa Isabela Island. Since the Japanese were known to be using this bay as a seaplane base, that was not too surprising. We were surprised, however, when the aircraft did not proceed to our area. Instead, it flew over to a location in the Slot beyond the northern side of Kolombangara. The pilot did not seem to be aware of our cruiser task force. (This aircraft was not the US Navy PBY “Black Cat” which flew around the task force from 0001 until after the bombardment to provide spotting for the gunfire.)

The cruisers commenced bombarding pre-assigned targets in the Vila-Stanmore area at 0025. We continued our radar and sonar search along the bombardment track off the coast of Kolombangara. As planned, Nicholas and Strong did not commence bombardment until after passing the Vila-Stanmore area. (We did shoot a few rounds to suppress what appeared to be shore battery fire from Kolombangara.) We bombarded Bairoko Harbor as planned. Everything appeared to be routine until after we turned north at 0040 in the wake of Nicholas and take up course to exit the Gulf.