Academic journal article Military Review

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943

Academic journal article Military Review

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943

Article excerpt

FORTRESS RABAUL: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943

Bruce Gamble, Zenith Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2013, 416 pages

Lying thousands of miles from the more famous battles of the central Pacific, the predominately aerial Battle for Rabaul has often been overlooked by war historians. However, the strategic importance of this former German colonial town, located on the northern end of New Britain in modern Papua New Guinea (PNG), was paramount to Japanese war plans. Rabaul was selected by Japan's Imperial General Headquarters to serve as the strategic heart of the southwest Pacific, securing the southern flank of Truk Lagoon--the "Gibraltar of the Pacific"--from where the Japanese hoped to ambush and crush the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Truks importance as home base of much of Japan's Pacific Fleet meant that Rabaul would need to be secured from the Australians and held at all costs. This strategic assessment led to the capture of New Britain through Operation R, January-February 1942, and the transformation of a tropical, coconut-exporting town into the "most heavily fortified stronghold south of the equator" Rabaul's position provided the Japanese air forces the ability to conduct numerous bombing sorties against the Australian mainland to thwart U.S. resupply of Australia and to prevent any Allied offensive against the occupied Dutch East Indies, which was the chief source of Japanese oil. Thus Rabaul, and the New Guinea theater more broadly, became the principal target for Allied airpower in the Pacific. This massing of Allied combat power from early 1942 onward blunted Japan's advance toward Australia at the Battle of the Coral Sea and compelled the Japanese to fight an increasingly defensive battle. …

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