Operation Cartwheel

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The eastern part of the Territory of New Guinea, and the northern Solomon Islands; the area in which Operation Cartwheel took place, from June 1943. Operationcartwheel.jpg
The eastern part of the Territory of New Guinea, and the northern Solomon Islands; the area in which Operation Cartwheel took place, from June 1943.

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. [1]

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Pacific War theatre of war in the Second World War

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean and islands, the South West Pacific, South-East Asia, and in China.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



US Marines hit three feet (1 metre) of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. 26 December 1943. (Source:National Archives) Beach at Cape Gloucester.jpg
US Marines hit three feet (1 metre) of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. 26 December 1943. (Source:National Archives)

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:

Battle of Rabaul (1942) battle

The Battle of Rabaul, also known by the Japanese as Operation R, was fought on the island of New Britain in the Australian Territory of New Guinea, in January and February 1942. It was a strategically significant defeat of Allied forces by Japan in the Pacific campaign of World War II, with the Japanese invasion force quickly overwhelming the small Australian garrison, the majority of which was either killed or captured. Hostilities on the neighbouring island of New Ireland are also usually considered to be part of the same battle. Rabaul was significant because of its proximity to the Japanese territory of the Caroline Islands, site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk.

New Britain island of the Bismarck Archipelago in Papua New Guinea

New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. It is separated from the island of New Guinea by the Dampier and Vitiaz Straits and from New Ireland by St. George's Channel. The main towns of New Britain are Rabaul/Kokopo and Kimbe. The island is roughly the size of Taiwan. While the island was part of German New Guinea, it was named Neupommern.

Territory of New Guinea Australian administered territory est. 1920

The Territory of New Guinea was an Australian administered territory on the island of New Guinea from 1920 until 1975. In 1949, the Territory and the Territory of Papua were established in an administrative union by the name of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. That administrative union was renamed as Papua New Guinea in 1971. Notwithstanding that it was part of an administrative union, the Territory of New Guinea at all times retained a distinct legal status and identity until the advent of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

Tulagi Small island in the Solomon Islands north of Guadalcanal

Tulagi, less commonly known as Tulaghi, is a small island in Solomon Islands, just off the south coast of Ngella Sule. The town of the same name on the island was the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1896 to 1942 and is today the capital of the Central Province. The capital of what is now the state of Solomon Islands moved to Honiara, Guadalcanal, after World War II.

Santa Cruz Islands island group in the Pacific Ocean

The Santa Cruz Islands are a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, part of Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands. They lie approximately 250 miles (400 km) to the southeast of the Solomon Islands Chain. The Santa Cruz Islands lie just north of the archipelago of Vanuatu, and are considered part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion.

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.

Russell Islands two small islands in the Central Province of Solomon Islands

The Russell Islands are two small islands, as well as several islets, of volcanic origin, in the Central Province of Solomon Islands. They are located approximately 48 kilometres northwest of Guadalcanal. The islands are partially covered in coconut plantations, and have a copra and oil factory at Yandina. Yandina also has basic services, including a store, post office, and airport.

Battle of the Bismarck Sea battle of the Pacific theatre of World War II in which US and Australian aircraft attacked a Japanese convoy

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) during World War II when aircraft of the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a Japanese convoy carrying troops to Lae, New Guinea. Most of the Japanese task force was destroyed, and Japanese troop losses were heavy.

Isoroku Yamamoto Japanese Marshal Admiral

Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese Fleet Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death.


Elkton III Plan, March 1943. Elkton Plan.jpg
Elkton III Plan, March 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.

Admiral is a four-star commissioned naval flag officer rank in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, with the pay grade of O-10. Admiral ranks above vice admiral and below fleet admiral in the Navy; the Coast Guard and the Public Health Service do not have an established grade above admiral. Admiral is equivalent to the rank of general in the other uniformed services. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps has never had an officer hold the grade of admiral. However, 37 U.S.C. § 201 of the U.S. Code established the grade for the NOAA Corps, in case a position is created that merits the four-star grade.


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:

Kavieng Place in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

Kavieng is the capital of the Papua New Guinean province of New Ireland and the largest town on the island of the same name. The town is located at Balgai Bay, on the northern tip of the island. As of 2009, it had a population of 17,248.

Kolombangara island in the New Georgia Islands group of the Solomon Islands

Kolombangara is an island in the New Georgia Islands group of the nation state of Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The name is from a local language, a rough translation of its meaning is "Water Lord" with approximately 80 rivers and streams running down its flanks.

The New Guinea Force, under General Thomas Blamey, was assigned responsibility for the eastward thrusts on mainland New Guinea. The 6th Arm, 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.

See also

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Battle of Wickham Anchorage

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Battle of Munda Point

The Battle of Munda Point was a battle, from 22 July-4 August 1943, between primarily United States Army and Imperial Japanese Army forces during the New Georgia Campaign in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific War. In the battle, U.S. forces captured a Japanese airfield constructed at Munda Point on New Georgia.

Battle of Bairoko

The Battle of Bairoko was a battle between American and Imperial Japanese Army and Navy forces on 20 July 1943 during the New Georgia Campaign in the Solomon Islands during the Pacific War. In the battle, U.S. Marine Raiders—supported by two U.S. Army infantry battalions—attacked a Japanese garrison guarding the port of Bairoko on the Dragons Peninsula on New Georgia. The day-long assault on well-prepared Japanese defensive positions by the Americans was unsuccessful.

Operation Dexterity

Operation Dexterity was a military operation, part of Operation Cartwheel in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) for the Allies in the Pacific theater of World War II. The operation was directed by the Supreme Allied Commander in the SWPA, General Douglas MacArthur. Dexterity included amphibious landings at Arawe on 15 December 1943, and Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943 in the northwest of New Britain, the capture of the Imperial Japanese held Tuluvu aerodrome on the 30 December 1943 and the amphibious landing at Saidor on 2 January 1944. The operation ended on 10 February 1944.

Landing at Jacquinot Bay

The Landing at Jacquinot Bay was an Allied amphibious operation undertaken on 4 November 1944 during the New Britain Campaign of World War II. The landing was conducted as part of a change in responsibility for Allied operations on New Britain. The Australian 5th Division, under Major General Alan Ramsay, took over from the US 40th Infantry Division, which was needed for operations in the Philippines. The purpose of the operation was to establish a logistics base at Jacquinot Bay on the south coast of New Britain to support the 5th Division's planned operations near the major Japanese garrison at Rabaul.

Operation I-Go military operation

Operation I-Go was an aerial counter-offensive launched by Imperial Japanese forces against Allied forces during the Solomon Islands and New Guinea Campaigns in the Pacific Theater of World War II from 1–16 April 1943. In the operation, Japanese aircraft—primarily from Imperial Japanese Navy units under the command of Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto and Jinichi Kusaka—attacked Allied ships, aircraft, and land installations in the southeast Solomon Islands and New Guinea. The goal of the operation was to halt the Allied offensives in New Guinea and the Solomons and to give Japan time to prepare a new set of defenses in response to recent defeats to the Allies in the Battle of Guadalcanal and in New Guinea at Buna–Gona, Wau, and the Bismarck Sea.

Neutralisation of Rabaul

Rabaul is a town in Eastern New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Japanese forces landed on Rabaul on 23 February 1942, capturing it in February of that year. The former Australian territory was transformed into a major Japanese naval and air installation. It was heavily relied on by the Japanese, and was used as a launching point for Japanese reinforcements to New Guinea and Guadalcanal. Throughout the Solomons Campaign, neutralizing Rabaul became the primary objective of the Allied effort in the Solomons.


  1. 1 2 3 "Operations Against the Japanese on Arundel and Sagekarsa Islands". World Digital Library . Retrieved 11 February 2013.


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