Eighty years ago this week the noose tightens on Rabaul


 American led forces in the South West Pacific launched the next steps in Operation Cartwheel, which was intended to eliminate the major Japanese base at Rabaul. US forces landed on the island of Bougainville with the ultimate objective of establishing an airfield for short range aircraft to attack Rabaul. Just to the north a New Zealand brigade landed on the Treasury Islands which were to serve as stepping stones for the ultimate assault; one was slated as the site for a radar base. A Japanese naval force was despatched to hamper the Bougainville operation but the transport ships for the first wave had unloaded rapidly and been withdrawn. In turn a US Navy force engaged the Japanese ships in a night action where their radar gave them a decisive advantage. The Japanese withdrew after losing two ships and damage to two more. The US build-up could continue practically unopposed.

The installation of Lord Wavell as the Viceroy to India brought attention in Britain to the burgeoning massive famine in Bengal. It was too late to prevent a major catastrophe but Wavell mobilised the army in the relief effort. It was to help distribute what stocks of food were available in Calcutta to the badly hit regions. Starving people  were to be housed in dedicated camps where it would be easier to feed them.

The British and US foreign ministers visited Moscow for discussions with Stalin. Their principal achievement was to persuade the Soviets that the Allies seriously intended to launch a second front in Europe for which they had long agitated. In practice post-war issues received only perfunctory attention although at Churchill's behest it was agreed to pursue Nazi atrocities after victory.   

Image by Russell Clarke