|August 1942 – November 1943
|Empire of Japan
|Imperial Japanese Armed Forces
|Imperial Japanese Navy
|Ad hoc military logistics organization
|Supply and reinforcement to Japanese Army and Navy units located in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea
| Rabaul, New Britain
Shortland Islands and Buin, Solomon Islands
"Rat" or "Ant" transportation (Japanese names)
| Battle of Cape Esperance
Battle of Tassafaronga
Battle of Blackett Strait
Battle of Kula Gulf
Battle of Kolombangara
Battle of Vella Gulf
Battle off Horaniu
Naval Battle of Vella Lavella
Battle of Cape St. George
| Gunichi Mikawa
The Tokyo Express was the name given by Allied forces to the use of Imperial Japanese Navy ships at night to deliver personnel, supplies, and equipment to Japanese forces operating in and around New Guinea and the Solomon Islands during the Pacific campaign of World War II. The operation involved loading personnel or supplies aboard fast warships (mainly destroyers), later submarines, and using the warships' speed to deliver the personnel or supplies to the desired location and return to the originating base all within one night so Allied aircraft could not intercept them by day.
The original name of the resupply missions was "The Cactus Express", coined by Allied forces on Guadalcanal, who used the code name "Cactus" for the island. After the U.S. press began referring to it as the "Tokyo Express," apparently in order to preserve operational security for the code word, Allied forces also began to use the phrase. The Japanese themselves called the night resupply missions "Rat Transportation" (鼠輸送, nezumi yusō), because they took place at night.
Night transportation was necessary for Japanese forces due to Allied air superiority in the South Pacific, established soon after the Allied landings on Guadalcanal and the subsequent establishment of Henderson Field as a base for the "Cactus Air Force" in August 1942. Delivery of troops and material by slow transport ships to Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and New Guinea soon proved too vulnerable to daytime air attack. The Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto therefore authorized the use of faster warships to make the deliveries at night when the threat of detection was much less and aerial attack minimal.
The Tokyo Express began soon after the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942 and continued until late in the Solomon Islands campaign when one of the last large Express runs was intercepted and almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Cape St. George on November 26, 1943. Because the destroyers typically used were not configured for cargo handling, many supplies were sealed inside steel drums lashed together and simply pushed into the water without the ships stopping; ideally, the drums would float ashore or were picked up by barge. However, many drums were lost or damaged; a typical night in December 1942 resulted in 1500 drums being rolled into the sea, with only 300 recovered.
Most of the warships used for Tokyo Express missions came from the Eighth Fleet, based at Rabaul and Bougainville, although ships from Combined Fleet units based at Truk were often temporarily attached for use in Express missions. The warship formations assigned to Express missions were often formally designated as the "Reinforcement Unit", but the size and composition of this unit varied from mission to mission.
The Tokyo Express ended up being a lose-lose gambit for the Japanese, because many destroyers were lost during the fifteen months of the Tokyo Express, for no gain. These ships could not be replaced by the stressed Japanese shipyards, and were already in short supply. In addition, they were desperately needed for convoy duty to protect Japanese shipping supplying the Home Islands from the depredations of American submarines.
The Imperial Japanese Navy was caught in a Catch-22 situation, since American airpower from Henderson Field denied the Japanese the use of slow cargo ships. Compared to destroyers, cargo ships were much more economical in fuel usage while having the capacity to carry full loads of troops plus sufficient equipment and supplies, and having efficient cargo loading & unloading equipment. However, they were slow and comparatively unmaneuverable, and thus easily sunk - not merely sending irreplaceable supplies and freighters to the bottom but leaving their increasingly desperate troops unprovisioned and ever less able to fight.
As a result, the Navy was in essence forced to "fight as uneconomical a campaign as could possibly be imagined", since in using destroyers they had to "expend much larger quantities of fuel than they wanted" considering Imperial Japan's disadvantage in oil supply, and this "fuel was used to place very valuable (and vulnerable) fleet destroyers in an exposed forward position while delivering an insufficient quantity of men and supplies to the American meatgrinder on the island".Even at its best (with only one-fifth of the supplies dropped ever making it to shore) the destroyer strategy amounted to waging a losing war of attrition on land and an extremely expensive rolling naval defeat.
John F. Kennedy's PT-109 was lost on a "poorly planned and uncoordinated" attack on a Tokyo Express run on the night of 1-2 August 1943. 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) with no running lights.Fifteen PT boats with sixty torpedoes fired over thirty and did not register a single hit, while PT-109 was rammed and sunk by the destroyer Amagiri, which was returning from her supply run, estimated to be traveling in excess of
By early February of 1943 the Allies had triumphed on Guadalcanal and had effective control of the area of The Slot that had been used to man and provision it, preventing a highly stressed Japanese military from being able to wage an effort to retake it and its extremely valuable Henderson Airfield. To signify final victory over the Japanese on the island, General Alexander Patch, commander of the Allied land forces on the island, messaged his superior, Admiral William F. Halsey on February 9, 1943, "Tokyo Express no longer has terminus on Guadalcanal."
The Guadalcanal campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower by American forces, was a military campaign fought between 7 August 1942 and 9 February 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major land offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
The naval Battle of the Eastern Solomons took place on 24–25 August 1942, and was the third carrier battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II and the second major engagement fought between the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Guadalcanal campaign. As at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, the ships of the two adversaries were never within sight of each other. Instead, all attacks were carried out by carrier-based or land-based aircraft.
The Battle of Rennell Island took place on 29–30 January 1943. It was the last major naval engagement between the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II. It occurred in the South Pacific between Rennell Island and Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands.
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, sometimes referred to as the Third and Fourth Battles of Savo Island, the Battle of the Solomons, the Battle of Friday the 13th, or, in Japanese sources, the Third Battle of the Solomon Sea, took place from 12–15 November 1942, and was the decisive engagement in a series of naval battles between Allied and Imperial Japanese forces during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign in the Solomon Islands during World War II. The action consisted of combined air and sea engagements over four days, most near Guadalcanal and all related to a Japanese effort to reinforce land forces on the island. The only two U.S. Navy admirals to be killed in a surface engagement in the war were lost in this battle.
The Battle of Savo Island, also known as the First Battle of Savo Island and, in Japanese sources, as the First Battle of the Solomon Sea, and colloquially among Allied Guadalcanal veterans as the Battle of the Five Sitting Ducks, was a naval battle of the Solomon Islands campaign of the Pacific War of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and Allied naval forces. The battle took place on August 8–9, 1942, and was the first major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign, and the first of several naval battles in the straits later-named Ironbottom Sound, near the island of Guadalcanal.
The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, fought during 25–27 October 1942, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Santa Cruz or Third Battle of Solomon Sea, in Japan as the Battle of the South Pacific, was the fourth aircraft carrier battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. It was also the fourth major naval engagement fought between the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy during the lengthy and strategically important Guadalcanal campaign. As in the battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, and the Eastern Solomons, the ships of the two adversaries were rarely in sight or gun range of each other. Instead, almost all attacks by both sides were mounted by carrier- or land-based aircraft.
The Battle of Tassafaronga, sometimes referred to as the Fourth Battle of Savo Island or, in Japanese sources, as the Battle of Lunga Point (ルンガ沖夜戦), was a nighttime naval battle that took place on November 30, 1942, between United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy warships during the Guadalcanal Campaign. The battle took place in Ironbottom Sound near the Tassafaronga area on Guadalcanal.
The Battle of Cape Esperance, also known as the Second Battle of Savo Island and, in Japanese sources, as the Sea Battle of Savo Island (サボ島沖海戦), took place on 11–12 October 1942, in the Pacific campaign of World War II between the Imperial Japanese Navy and United States Navy. The naval battle was the second of four major surface engagements during the Guadalcanal campaign and took place at the entrance to the strait between Savo Island and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Cape Esperance ( is the northernmost point on Guadalcanal, and the battle took its name from this point. )
Amagiri was the 15th of 24 Fubuki-class destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world. They served as first-line destroyers through the 1930s, and remained formidable weapons systems well into the Pacific War. She is most famous for ramming the PT-109 commanded by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, who would later become the 35th President of the United States.
Raizō Tanaka was a rear admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during most of World War II. A specialist in the heavy torpedoes that were carried by all the destroyers and cruisers of the IJN, Tanaka mainly commanded destroyer squadrons, with a cruiser or two attached, and he was the primary leader of the "Tokyo Express" reinforcement and resupply shipments during the long campaign for the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific Ocean. From the Americans, Tanaka acquired the nickname of "Tenacious Tanaka" for his stalwart opposition.
Fubuki was the lead ship of twenty-four Fubuki-class destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world. They served as first-line destroyers through the 1930s, and remained formidable weapons systems well into the Pacific War. Fubuki was a veteran of many of the major battles of the first year of the war, and was sunk in Ironbottom Sound during the Battle of Cape Esperance in World War II.
Operation Ke was the largely successful withdrawal of Japanese forces from Guadalcanal, concluding the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II. The operation took place between 14 January and 7 February 1943, and involved both Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) forces under the overall direction of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters (IGH). Commanders of the operation included Isoroku Yamamoto and Hitoshi Imamura.
The Solomon Islands campaign was a major campaign of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign began with Japanese landings and occupation of several areas in the British Solomon Islands and Bougainville, in the Territory of New Guinea, during the first six months of 1942. The Japanese occupied these locations and began the construction of several naval and air bases with the goals of protecting the flank of the Japanese offensive in New Guinea, establishing a security barrier for the major Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain, and providing bases for interdicting supply lines between the Allied powers of the United States and Australia and New Zealand.
Murasame was the third of ten Shiratsuyu-class destroyers, and was built for the Imperial Japanese Navy under the "Circle One" Program. This vessel should not be confused with the earlier Russo-Japanese War-period Harusame-class torpedo boat destroyer with the same name.
Samidare was the fifth of ten Shiratsuyu-class destroyers, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy under the Circle One Program.
Yūdachi was the fourth of ten Shiratsuyu-class destroyers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy under the "Circle One" Program.
Hatsuyuki was the third of twenty-four Fubuki-class destroyers built for the Imperial Japanese Navy following World War I. When introduced into service, these ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world. They served as first-line destroyers through the 1930s, and remained formidable weapons systems well into the Pacific War.
Aritomo Gotō was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.
Jinichi Kusaka, was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Fellow Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka was his cousin.
The 8th Fleet was a fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) established during World War II.