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Operation Cartwheel (1943–1944) was a major military operation for the Allies in the Pacific theatre of World War II. Cartwheel was an operation aimed at neutralising the major Japanese base at Rabaul. The operation was directed by the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA), General Douglas MacArthur, whose forces had advanced along the northeast coast of New Guinea and occupied nearby islands. Allied forces from the Pacific Ocean Areas command, under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, advanced through the Solomon Islands toward Bougainville. The Allied forces involved were from Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the US and various Pacific Islands.
Japanese forces had captured Rabaul, on New Britain, in the Territory of New Guinea, from Australian forces in February 1942 and turned it into their major forward base in the South Pacific, and the main obstacle in the two Allied theatres. MacArthur formulated a strategic outline, the Elkton Plan, to capture Rabaul from bases in Australia and New Guinea. Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, proposed a plan with similar elements but under Navy command. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, whose main goal was for the US to concentrate its efforts against Nazi Germany in Europe and not against the Japanese in the Pacific, proposed a compromise plan in which the task would be divided into three stages, the first under Navy command and the other two under MacArthur's direction and the control of the Army. This strategic plan, which was never formally adopted by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff but was ultimately implemented, called for the following:
- Capturing Tulagi (later Guadalcanal) and the Santa Cruz Islands (Operation Watchtower)
- Capturing the northeastern coast of New Guinea and the central Solomons
- Reducing Rabaul and related bases
The protracted battle for Guadalcanal, followed by the unopposed seizure of the Russell Islands (Operation Cleanslate) on 21 February 1943, resulted in Japanese attempts to reinforce the area by sea. MacArthur's air forces countered in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea from 2–5 March 1943. The disastrous losses suffered by the Japanese prompted Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to initiate Operation I-Go, a series of air attacks against Allied airfields and shipping at both Guadalcanal and New Guinea, which ultimately resulted in his death, on 18 April 1943.
MacArthur had presented Elkton III, his revised plan for taking Rabaul before 1944, on 12 February 1943. It called for him to attack northeastern New Guinea and western New Britain and for Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., then in command of the South Pacific Area, to attack the central Solomons. The plan required seven more divisions than were already in the theatre, which raised objections from the British. The Joint Chiefs responded with a directive that approved the plan if forces already in the theatre or en route were used and the implementation was delayed by 60 days. Elkton III then became Operation Cartwheel.
Cartwheel identified 13 proposed subordinate operations and set a timetable for their launching. Of the 13, Rabaul, Kavieng, and Kolombangara were eventually eliminated as too costly and unnecessary, and only 10 were actually undertaken:
- Operation Chronicle – 30 June 1943
- Operation Toenails – 30 June 1943
- New Georgia (43d Infantry Division US) – 30 June 1943
- Segi Point, New Georgia (4th Marine Raider Battalion US) – 21 June 1943
- Rendova (169th and 172nd RCT's US) – 30 June 1943
- Zanana, New Georgia (169th and 172nd RCT's US) – 5 July 1943
- Bairoko, New Georgia (4th Marine Raider Battalion US) – 5 July 1943
- Arundel Island (172nd RCT, 43rd Infantry Division US) – 27 August 1943
- Vella Lavella (35th RCT, 25th Infantry Division US, 3rd Division New Zealand) – 15 August 1943
- Operation Postern – 5 September 1943
- Operation Goodtime – 27 October 1943
- Treasury Islands (8th Brigade New Zealand)
- Operation Blissful – 28 October 1943
- Choiseul Island (2nd Marine Parachute Battalion US)
- Operation Cherryblossom – 1 November 1943
- Operation Dexterity
- Admiralty Islands – 29 February 1944 (1st Cavalry Division US)
- Emirau Island – 20 March 1944 (4th Marine Regiment US)
The New Guinea Force, under General Thomas Blamey, was assigned responsibility for the eastward thrusts on mainland New Guinea. The US 6th Army, under General Walter Krueger, was to take Kiriwina, Woodlark, and Cape Gloucester. The land forces would be supported by Allied air units under Lieutenant General George Kenney and naval units under Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender.
In the midst of Operation Cartwheel, the Joint Chiefs met with President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Quadrant Conference in Quebec City in August 1943. There, the decision was made to bypass and isolate Rabaul, rather than attempting to capture the base, and to attack Kavieng instead. Soon afterward, the decision was made to bypass Kavieng as well. Although initially objected to by MacArthur, the bypassing of Rabaul, instead of its neutralisation, meant that his Elkton plan had been achieved, and after invading Saidor, he then moved into his Reno Plan, an advance across the north coast of New Guinea to Mindanao.
The campaign, which stretched into 1944, showed the effectiveness of a strategy of avoiding major concentrations of enemy forces and instead aiming to sever the Japanese lines of supply and communication.
- "Operations Against the Japanese on Arundel and Sagekarsa Islands". World Digital Library. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
- Frank, Richard B (2000). "Chapter 1, Strategy, Command and the Solomons". Guadlacanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. New York, NY, USA: Random House. ISBN 0-394-58875-4.
- Griffith, Brig. Gen. Samuel B (USMC) (1974). "Part 96: Battle For the Solomons". History of the Second World War. Hicksville, NY, USA: BPC Publishing.
- Bergerud, Eric M. (2000). Fire in the Sky: The Air War in the South Pacific. Boulder, CO, USA: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3869-7.
- Birdsall, Steve (1977). Flying buccaneers: The illustrated story of Kenney's Fifth Air Force. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-03218-8.
- Boyington, Gregory "Pappy" (1977) . Baa Baa Black Sheep. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-26350-1.
- Gamble, Bruce (2000). Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-89141-801-6.
- Hara, Tameichi (1961). Japanese Destroyer Captain. New York & Toronto: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-27894-1.
- Henebry, John P. (2002). The Grim Reapers at Work in the Pacific Theater: The Third Attack Group of the U.S. Fifth Air Force. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company. ISBN 1-57510-093-2.
- McAulay, Lex (1987). Into the Dragon's Jaws/the Fifth Air Force over Rabaul, 1943. Champlin Fighter Museum Pr. ISBN 0-912173-13-0.
- McGee, William L. (2002). The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville--Pacific War Turning Point, Volume 2 (Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII). BMC Publications. ISBN 0-9701678-7-3.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot (1958). Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, vol. 6 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Castle Books. ISBN 0-7858-1307-1.
- Sakaida, Henry (1996). The Siege of Rabaul. St. Paul, MN, USA: Phalanx. ISBN 1-883809-09-6.
- The New Guinea Offensives (Army)
- Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945
- Air War Against Japan, 1943–1945 (RAAF)
- Miller, John, Jr. (1959). "CARTWHEEL: The Reduction of Rabaul". United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific. Office of the Chief of Military History, US Department of the Army. p. 418. Retrieved 20 October 2006.
- Shaw, Henry I.; Douglas T. Kane (1963). "Volume II: Isolation of Rabaul". History of US Marine Corps Operations in World War II. Retrieved 18 October 2006.
- Craven, Wesley Frank; James Lea Cate. "Vol. IV, The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan, August 1942 to July 1944". The Army Air Forces in World War II. US Office of Air Force History. Retrieved 20 October 2006.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Cartwheel.|
- The History Channel, June 30 — 1943 Operation Cartwheel is launched (2005)
- David Horner, "Strategy and Command in Australia’s New Guinea Campaigns" (2004)
- An Animated History of Operation Cartwheel (2006)
- "Encyclopædia Britannica Article: The encirclement of Rabaul". Retrieved 16 May 2006. Brief synopsis of Allied campaign to isolate Rabaul.
- "Rabaul and World War II". Retrieved 16 May 2006. Brief account of Japanese occupation of Rabaul and subsequent war crimes trials of many of the Japanese troops who had been stationed there.
- Mersky, Peter B. (1993). "Time of the Aces: Marine Pilots in the Solomons, 1942–1944". Marines in World War II Commemorative Series. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, US Marine Corps. Retrieved 20 October 2006. Account of US Marine involvement in air war over Solomon Islands and Rabaul.
- "World War II Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington". Archived from the original on 9 May 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2006. Information on "Pappy" Boyington
- "Title: THE ASSAULT ON RABAUL. Operations by the Royal New Zealand Air Force December 1943 — May 1944". Retrieved 30 May 2006.