WORLD WAR 2 - SOLOMON ISLANDS The Second World War came to the South Pacific and shattered a dream. The battling armies created bleak infernos of the jewelled islands and laid them waste. The small campaigns of the indigenes had left no scars on the sun-blessed beauty of ocean and isle; but one, and one only, the great powers of the Northern Hemisphere invested these tiny strongholds with strategic importance and fought for them. Attackers and defenders alike poured in their armies, transporting more material in more ships of greater tonnages than had ever crossed the sub-Equatorial oceans before. The armies passed but the material remained: aircraft, tanks, cannons, landing-craft, warships, transporters, trucks, bulldozers, graders, jeeps, hospitals, canteens, beach defences, communication lines--everything that could possibly advance the attack, retard the enemy, or repair the damage. Most of it had only transitory value, and today the traveller through scenes of living beauty again and again finds this metal, useless and abandoned. The jetsam ruptures the atmosphere that a wealth of flowers and the biggest butterflies and the most beautiful birds in the world should dominate. After fifty years Nature is toning down the raw impact of the relics of war, and the slow disintegration often produces beauty, provocative of sorrows and regrets, and memories, some of them proud. Sometimes by its contrasts it emphasies vivid surroundings and lusty life. I have incorporated into this Web site some of the photographs of Australian photographer, Bruce Adams who with his camera has caught a hundred moods and arrested them in these photographs, preserving them forever in the processes of decay. BRUCE ADAMS
Bruce Adams served with the RAAF in the Korean campaign as a photographer. After a subsequent period of peacetime press photography on the hometown Sydney newspapers with which he had served his cadetship he branched out as a free-lance.
Overseas agencies have commissioned him to cover events and record developments in Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong, the Philippines and many South Pacific islands as well as Australia, and the results have secured a wide coverage in England, America, the Continent and Australia. He is currently employed as a photographer with the Defence Department, attached to the Department of Air. "Rust In Peace" is his record of a disastrous war in a terrain of great beauty.
Nowhere else in the world did the impediementa of war strike so incongruous a note as when opposing armies contested the South Pacific battlegrounds. Into the receptive mould of tropic forest, where a blazing beauty of birds and insects decks the green jewelled hills, poured a river of grey metal: guns and carriers, bulldozers, strip-matting, girders, poles and wire. Along the cobalt waterways where only the silent outriggers had followed the fish a traffic of warships raised white feather-fans of bow-wave, and set fishbone ripples of wake interlacing on the lagoon calm.
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Where some Melanesian digging-stick had socketed a tiny garden into the volcanic slope at an incredible angle, concentrations of machines moved mountains, and canvas cities erected in a day replaced the palms and the calophyllums bordering the lagoons, and the sago-leaf huts they sheltered.
Where the spear and the heading-knife had exacted silent revenge, the chatter and roar of explosive accompanied mass slaughter. Three million men and the impedimenta produced by tens of millions more accomplished a mass invasion of the lonely places.
The laughter-loving inhabitants were no strangers to war and its cost in lives and human happiness. In their way they were as aggressive in defence of their homes and traditions as any men anywhere. But now they were to see war's destruction on a scale beyond the limits of fantasy
They saw it, for a start, as a war between strangers; something that touched their lives only by accident; but sooner or larger on some day that started like any other, it involved them and their lives completely.
Now a full fifty years has passed, and men of generation which knew it not at all are assuming village and district power; yet the gunfire so long silent still affects their olives. It gave them a shock introduction to the world beyond the wide waters, to modern techniques and desirable acquisitions.
It displayed a wider potential to their ambitions. Perhaps it opened their hearts to the universal need for peace, and to the realisation that the neighbouring tribes their fathers distrusted are fellow-humans with similar hopes and ideals, a similar direction and similar limitations.
To the eye of the sometime invader, some places have changed beyond recognition. The beach-head of 1942 opens directly on a thriving town today, a serviced road replaces the jungle trail, a pretty subdivision with neat homes and colour-bright gardens blankets the hill where a bloody battle raged.
For every site that development has masked, Nature has obliterated a score. Jungle has covered vast staging grounds, extensive as cities. The returning sailor can identify his one-time bustling Naval base only by the broken concrete aprons at the sea's edge. The airman finds his airfield overgrown, identified by the rusted steel of the control tower still standing sentinel, and his imagination reconstitutes with difficulty the once frantic swarms of aircraft rumbling off on bombing raids, or trundling into the skies on fighter forays.
Memories flood in as you walk the lagoon's black sand in the sunshine, and look to the chain of islands on the further shore of the sparkling bay. This, you marvel, was the restless palm fronds the inland hills tower green and beautiful, as indeed they always were, but the beauty is no longer a spurious camouflage for death-traps in the tangled jungle. You suppress a shudder at the memory of fighting through undergrowth, plowing on, cursing the restraints of a physical exhaustion, diving for cover on the ear-shattering alarm of machine-gun fire.
Today the only alarms are the domestic crises of the song-birds; the undercurrent noise an incessant chatter of insects; the sudden movement a blaze of beauty as the birdwing butterfly swoops at the flowers.
Beyond the reef an outrigger glides under its brown sail, and a ketch with its cargo of copra further out. On the exposed coral a fisherman stalks quarry in the ebb-tide pools. From inland cones a harmony of islanders singing as they plant taro. You cannot credit that this was once a battleground.
But around the point is a pill-box, and beyond it where the jungle ends a field-gun's rusted barrel points to sea. It was, in many ways, a piece-meal kind of war; it could scarcely have been otherwise considering the vast distances over which it ranged. There were so many individual actions, large or small, so many acts of heroism, unrecorded sometimes, and often unobserved.
That war has lost its more dreadful impact; it changed the world as no other war before or since. Nowhere else in its range will you find its pathetic detritus in such variety and such quantity, its vivid reminders of an all-embracing tragedy. Here in the South Pacific the lush beauty of regeneration modifies their ugliness.
HONIARA, THE AIR AGE CAPITAL of the Solomons, was born of war's necessities. Its oldest architectural style, still to be observed in one or two less obvious corners of its bustling environs, is World War Two Military Hut. It takes its name from the native description of its site: "naho ni ara", meaning "facing the east and southeast wind", and not even a native village preceded it in its location.
It is centred, though, on Point Cruz, which Alvaro de Mendana named when he landed there more than four centuries ago. He also named Guadalcanal, the island on which it is located, for a town in Spain, and many of the other geographical features of the group, which probably takes its own name from his reports of its riches.The islands which comprise the Solomons are practically innumerable, A thousand and one, it is said, make up the cluster called the Russell group, and at least as many more festoon the southeast shores of New Georgia, centering the whole complex of archipelagos. The more practical estimate lists thirteen large islands nearly enclosing a central passage which, ever since the war, has been called The Slot, and which runs southeast and northwest between the seventh and tenth degrees of south latitude.
At the top end are Bougainville and Buka; all the rest being grouped as the Solomon Islands. On the eastern side of The Slot are Choiseul, Santa Isabel and Malaita; on the western, San Cristobal, Guadalcanal, the Russells, New Georgia, Rendova, Kolombangara, Vella Lavella, the Treasuries and the Shortlands. In a central position lies Florida, and to the south, well away from the crowd, is Rennell.
Most of the indigenous inhabitants are Melanesians, some extremely dark with fair, tawny hair; but ocean-wandering Polynesians have settled in many of the distant outliers: Rennell, Bellona, Tikopia, Sikaiana, Ongtong Java, Taumako and Anuta.
Tulagi, the pre-war capital, was located in Florida, a group centred by Nggela, an island deeply indented with sheltered narrow waterways, an ideal administrative centre in a period of marine transport.
But Florida contains no possible site for an airfield, and the Japanese, landing there in May 1942 without opposition, were not long preparing for a landing on Guadalcanal at a point where wide coastal plains border the Matanikau River.
They began immediately to build a key airbase that could threaten and subdue the long chains of islands to the south and southeast, and eventually Australia herself. Operation Watchtower, the first Allied amphibious assault of the Pacific War, challenged their occupation. On 7 August, ten thousand men of the US First Marine Division splashed ashore, almost without opposition, and quickly occupied the airfield.
They enjoyed two days of approximate peace. Then Japanese aircraft forced the transports to stop unloading supplies at a juncture at which the only heavy vehicle landed was a bulldozer, whose driver for the next few months performed Herculean tasks.
When that night a Japanese force of eight ships slipped past Savo Island, challenged the 82 ships of the Allied fleet, and sank four cruisers and two destroyers and inflicted other damage on key ships, the Allied commander withdrew the transports.
The action signalled the onset of a nightmare of constant fighting. From the Japanese Bougainville bases supply ships of a unit the Allies called the "Tokyo Express" made constant destroyer-guarded delivery runs of the men and munitions down The Slot.
The Japanese kept up air and sea bombardment that sank at least sixty ships between Guadalcanal and nearby Savo Island, so that the name this waterway bears on today's charts is "Ironbottom Sound", a bitter but appropriate description. The Savo Islanders once worshipped sharks, and some may still nurture these beliefs; their gods enjoyed a massive sacrifice in the closing days of 1942.
Now rice grows, on the disputed acres near Henderson Field where, so legend says, American planes for a time used one end of the runway while Japanese held the other. But the agriculture is not without its hazards. In the summer of 1967 a British bomb-disposal team, superintending operations that would extend the long-neglected though constantly-used runway, uncovered 11,000 still lethal bombs and shells, most from stockpiles. The location of other dumps is known, and authorities are undertaking removal as necessity dictates.
Even in suburban gardens the spade turns up an occasional grenade, a cartridge, a rifle or an unexploded shell. Honiara's Chinatown clusters over the farther bank of the river that once ran red with blood; its housewives hang out washing over the rusted remnants of the temporary pontoon bridge.
The heady exhilaration of success seldom attaches to even the most immaculate of defensive operations; and advancing army is halfway to victory before a gun is cocked, but men in a retreat march oftener with despair. Until Guadalcanal the Allied ground forces engaged in purely defensive operations; a relentless inevitability seemed to accompany the continuing Japanese advances and the mental climate of the defenders dampened accordingly.
Long-range plans of the Allies earmarked the beginning of 1943 for an attempt to turn the tide but success in the Naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway signalled a return to optimism. Moreover the Japanese potential of a major air base planted as far south as Guadalcanal cried urgency; a wise opponent would counter that development at as early a stage as he could contrive.
Major-General Alexander A. Vandergrift's First United States Marine Division landed in New Zealand in mid-June for intensive training, but almost immediately re-embarked for the Guadalcanal venture. They kept a rendezvous south of Fiji with Marines of the Second Division who sailed from California on 1 July. They conducted a landing rehearsal on Koro Island in the Lau group of Fiji, and after this brief preparation sailed for the Solomons under the overall command of Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, fresh from his successful conduct of the Coral Sea and Midway battles.
Weather favoured the expeditionary force. It steamed up the dark western coast of the island, where precipitous mountains lost their peaks in the cloud cover and faded altogether in the lash of frequent storms. They crown a rugged coast, populated well enough, but so heavily forested as to conceal the majority of the gardens and villages, and so difficult that as yet no road has opened to a land-based traffic.
The convoy had no chance to admire its beauty; the ships turned north to pass between Cape Esperance on the western extremity and the Russell group, and swing into the sight of Savo's cone, as beautiful as Fuji, a symbol of fire and destruction and the turmoil of the inner earth even with its furnaces cold.
Here the transports divided into two groups, the smaller heading for Tulagi, the larger for the vicinity of Guadalcanal's north coast airfield. Simultaneous attacks in the early hours of 7 August took the 7,500 Japanese defenders by surprise.
The unopposed Tulagi landing secured half the tiny island without delay, but in the afternoon the invaders encountered strong opposition, the Japanese fighting from caves and tunnels. They charged repeatedly when the night's alliance cancelled the advantage of the superior American numbers, but accepted defeat in the afternoon of the next day, the few survivors swimming the narrow straits to Nggela, where some of them still survived three years later, living on roots and fruits.
The Marines who landed at Red Beach on Guadalcanal between the Tenaru and the Tenavatu rivers, met no initial opposition and secured the beach-head inland to about a third of a mile. They abandoned an attempt to strike deeper when the best defensive positions proved less accessible than the maps had indicated, and turned to secure the partly-constructed airfield and the Japanese camp at Kukum, a nearby village. By nightfall they achieved success.
Meantime the Japanese counter-attacked from the air, striking repeatedly at the task force and the invaders. Coastwatchers on the line of flight gave radio warnings, and as the Japanese pilots came in for the attack they found the shipping on the move with an air cover overhead.
One bomber scored a direct hit on the destroyer Mugford, another crippled the destroyer Jarvis and left it to be finished off as it ran for emergency shelter at Noumea, and a kamikaze pilot sank the transport George F. Elliot.
On this day six Japanese transports sailed with reinforcements from Rabaul, but an American submarine sank one and the rest turned back. At this time Admiral Mikawa sailed south with his small force of cruisers and destroyers to make a direct attack on the Allied Navy. Allied units that observed this movements failed to report them and his boldness paid a heavy dividend. His eight ships sank the Australian cruiser Canberra, and the American cruisers Quincy, Vincennes and Astoria as well as smaller units and sailed off without loss and with little damage. The following day, off New Ireland, an American submarine sank one of his cruisers, Kako, with torpedoes.
This battle forced the retirement of Allied transports and naval forces and made life difficult for the 10,900 troops on Guadalcanal and the luckier 6,075 on Tulagi. It opened The Slot to the daily deliveries of the 'Tokyo Express', and the Solomon skies to the bombers. But the Seabees retrieved the position from complete disaster by improving and extending the airfield, allowing an increasing flow of supplies.
The Japanese remained successful in landing reinforcements at night. In mid-August Colonel Kiyono Ichiki landed about a thousand troops on Taivu Point, east of the perimeter, and on the night of the twentieth launched an attack, sustaining devastating losses. At the end of the month the Japanese landed another 6,000 troops, and on 13 September advanced along Bloody Ridge, a long bare-topped spur normally golden with feathery native grasses.
Conscious of the key significance of their most distant outpost the Japanese continued to reinforce, leaving their gains in Papua and New Guinea for a later date. Troops and artillery moved in at night; and at sea naval units bent every effort to the task of keeping sea-lanes open for their transports.
Their submarines sank the US carrier Wasp, and inflicted such damage on the carrier Saratoga as to put it out of action for three months. They sent the new battleship North Carolina back to Pearl Harbour for the repair of a huge gash in her hull. Casualties, amongst destroyers and smaller units proved severe.
At the Shortland Islands, on the northern end of The Slot, a build-up of ships and men constituted a major threat. The sea battle gave the Allies a morale lift. Four cruisers and several destroyers under command of Rear-Admiral Norman Scott set out to intercept the 'Tokyo Express' and found themselves cutting across the line of a Japanese bombardment group of three heavy cruisers and several destroyers. With the element of surprise on their side the Allies slammed home an attack, beginning the Battle of Cape Esperance. They sank the cruiser Furutaka and the destroyer Fubuku and sent the heavy cruiser Aoba limping back to Japan for repairs. Aircraft sank two more destroyers. The Americans lost a destroyer and had to withdraw a cruiser and other units for repair.
Towards the end of October, forces engaged on Guadalcanal numbered 22,000 Japanese and 23,000 Americans. Admiral "Bull" Halsey assumed command of Pacific forces. Several naval battles were joined and in the action eight more ships from both sides joined the stilled armada in Ironbottom Sound.
The middle of the following month found the Japanese in a desperate situation. In an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal eleven transports with 13,000 men sailed from the Shortlands at night on 12 November.
Initially repulsed, they tried again the following day, only to run into heavy attacks by Allied aircraft based on Henderson Field. By nightfall three of the seven transports had been sunk but the other from persisted and in a heroic move beached themselves on Guadalcanal shores to offload 3,000 troops with equipment. Next morning Allied bombers saw to the total destruction of the transports. The enterprise was in vain, for the Japanese had now no hope of recapturing Guadalcanal. And now the Wet Monsoon made movement a misery in the steaming jungles.
By the middle of January the Allied Forces numbered 50,000 men, including the Third Division of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and a group of Fijian Commandos. The latter were raw recruits, but when they hit the battlefields they began creating legends. For a start they loved music and laughter, and no tense situation could quell their sense of fun. They proved mighty builders of morale. They also had a sense of discipline, for from birth the Fijian learned a loving obedience to his parents, the headmen of his village, and his seniors.
Man for man, they proved the most formidable enemies the Japanese had met until that time; they were at home in the tropical jungle, and so intent upon upholding the honour of Fiji, none ever displayed any of the symptoms of homesickness.
Another factor that favoured the Allies was the loyalty of the native Solomon Islanders. Not once was a position betrayed to the Japanese. Wherever Allied scouts moved they moved amongst friends. And often enough, in villages where some Japanese oppression had been felt, the Solomon Islanders took to the offensive with cane-knives and what weapons they could acquire from the dead.
Some of them were heroic indeed, Sergeant-Major Vouza, who before the war had headed a police force on the Santa Cruz group, was described by his hen District Officer Hector McQuarrie as "a magnificent specimen of humanity (whose) build had the grand simplicity of perfection, the reserve, the control which marks the work of the great Greek sculptors." Retired, Vouza rejoined the service as soon as he heard war was declared.
It may have been his brilliantly bronze hair that enabled the Japanese to capture him as he returned from a patrol. Caught, he refused to reveal the position of the American troops with whom he was connected though his captors tied him to a tree and bayonetted him repeatedly. Left for dead he escaped, reported back to his unit, and insisted on giving information leading to the capture of a large enemy force before he allowed ambulance officers to dress his wounds.
A campaign screaming crescendo to its peak affords little time or opportunity for assessment, but in terms of men and materials the recapture of Guadalcanal must have been accounted an expensive venture. It was no less expensive in its prodigality of time. Not any of earth's communities could suffer for too long the ravages inflicted by the maintenance of such effort, such sorrow, such sacrifice, and such production for no return as modern wars demand. No one knew how much pressure the population could withstand. The limit in years must have posed a problem to the strategy planners, but all they could know for certain was that the need for victory was urgent, and its climax must be hastened.
From that viewpoint Guadalcanal was hazardous. If the possession of Bloody Ridge demanded a month of effort the capture of the Pacific on an attuned programme would need an eternity. But in fact the time and effort had gone to the arrest of a momentum; the swing was now committed to a reverse direction and the task would never loom so frighteningly large again.
Problems remained. Japan's wealth in manpower had garrisoned most islands on the track of her advance. She maintained a multitude of strong points, and she was countering the new efficient beach-head techniques with some innovations of her own.
Civilian populations in Allied countries now produced an astonishing wealth of material, with newly invented features and functions that permitted new concepts of attack and relegated to machines some of the more hazardous duties originally allotted to blood and sinew. But not all the machinery could be delivered where it was needed; not all the solutions had been perfected.
Not every strongpoint was worth a battle, and the planners devised a strategy of island-hopping that would wrinkle out the enemy nerve-centres and leave untouched small communities of enemy garrison troops rendered helpless because unsustained by supplies or reinforcements. Bombing patterns might drive some from their fastnesses. The remainder would linger ineffectively, their strength no longer supporting their country's powers of resistance, their very being a weapon turned against its owner.
The next obvious point of attack for the Allies was New Georgia, where the Japanese had established Munda, a large airfield capable of considerable extension. Its possession would put Allied bombers to reasonable striking distance of Rabaul and its fleet concentrations, and give additional control of waterways in the Solomon, Bismarck and Coral Seas, and the ocean pathway to Micronesia in the northeast.
The airfield bordered the Roviana Lagoon on the western side of the island, a tract of such exquisite marine beauty as few in this lifetime are privileged to see, with a complex of small islands bridging the distances to Rendova on its southern horizon. Its atmosphere is one of peace and beauty, and a benign wealth of natural foods enriches the lagoon and its shores. Its inhabitants, a quiet, shy attractive people, are mainly notable for great artistic ability; their carvings in ebony and erema wood display with power and definition a delicacy well-conceived.
In February the Japanese, in a series of daring destroyer runs, evacuated about 12,000 men from the Guadalcanal armies, a Pacific Dunkirk that has never attracted the attention it seems to deserve. Most of them reunited with the Munda or Rabaul garrisons.
In that same month the United States forces occupied the Russells, encountering no opposition; and for a while the opponents licked their wounds and prepared for the decisive contest. In June a concerted movement thrust two fronts to the attention of the Japanese command: in the Solomon Sea, south of New Britain the Allies took Kiriwina in the Trobriand group and Woodlark a little to the east of it to set up air bases for the control of enemy air forays from Rabaul, a move preliminary to landings at the western end of the freedom of the Vitiaz straits between that island and New Quinea. In this theatre, too, other armies moved west along the New Guinea coast to Lae and Salamaua, while the Australians closed on the same targets from the inland base at Wau, high in the dividing range.
At the same time, the United States 43rd Infantry began landing at Rendova and New Georgia, evoking a response from Rabaul that culminated in Naval battles at Kula Gulf and Kolombangara. But the Japanese Navy had never recovered from the crippling blow of the Midway battle in June 1942 which had cost her four carriers and all her best navy pilots. Naval activities failed to halt the Allied landings.
Besides the 43rd the Allies engaged most the US 25th and 37th Divisions, an infantry brigade of the new Zealand Division, and two raider battalions of the United States Marine Corps.
Other units that played a significant part were the 1st Battalion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment and 200 men of the First Commando Fiji Guerillas. These commandos included a small group of Tongans who belonged to the youngest and one of the smallest armies in the world. The independent Kingdom of Tonga, the only Polynesian kingdom remaining, and indeed the only Pacific region which has never suffered a foreign dominance, has a close treaty relationship with Great Britain that is backed by firm friendship ties. Tonga declared war on Germany on the outbreak of European hostilities, and began training an army of 2,000 regulars backed by 2,000 Home Guardsmen although its total population, spread over a hundred an forty islands in a wilderness of ocean was about 30,000.
Also recruited to these Commandos was a small group of Solomon Islanders, volunteers far above the average in intelligence and endurance, and possessed, like the Fijians and Tongans, of a deep fund of forest lore. This unit performed a magnificent service in spite of their numbers almost completely countering the menace of Japanese snipers who nightly took up positions round the bivouacs and waited for the morning's movement. The commandos were credited with a night vision that made them reliable snipers at distances up t a hundred yards in the darkness.
The beauty of the New Georgia wild evoked a scant response from the warriors of both sides forced to the forest depths. The masses of perfumed orchids went unregarded, as did the foot-wide butterflies; the eyes of the men were rather for the traps of loia vine of which the tentacles, savagely barbed, can rip solid flesh from careless limbs, or the giant centipede, of which the bite initiates three days of a yelping agony. Their ears, attuned for evidence of stealth movement, wer4 assaulted by the harsh voices of unseen birds, or the whine of mosquitoes.
Malaria was their enemy. The undergrowth hid the raised tree-roots that trapped their feet; the mountain tracks were pitted with ankle-wrenching holes and so were the rocks; mud greased the precipitous slopes. They were in the dry season, but there were days when rain fell endlessly from the overhead canopy of leaves. Leeches reached from ground-cover to fasten on their legs and suck their blood. Shellfire in the swamps created gaping holes under the camouflage of floating weeds, and in most of them a weary man weighted with his battle-gear could simply disappear.
On the credit side they had the friendship of the natives. When Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy ran his wrecked PT boat up on the coral of Olasana Island, two ebony-skinned Gizo men, at great personal risk, concealed him in the bottom of a tiny dug-out canoe and brought him to Australian coastwatcher Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans who, entrenched on Kolombangara, was reporting on Japanese movements. Any of the Navy vessels on patrol would have shot them out of the water had their cargo been perceived, but audacity aided them. They reached their objective and Evans was able to rescue Kennedy and his ten stranded men.
Munda was the last battle of attrition. With the island and airfield secured the victors, in a leap-frogging movement, made a landing on Veila Lavella leaving the large island of Kolombangara which lay between, to be occupied at leisure, and against no opposition a few weeks later.
At the end of October, elements of the 3rd New Zealand Division secured the Treasury Group, and at the same time the United States 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion made an amphibious landing on the large island of Choiseul, principally to engender the belief that this and the Shortlands were major targets. Another feint was the heavy bombing of buka.
The major objective, however, was Bougainville, where the Allies required a base for the more secure containment of Rabaul. They chose a site at Torokina in Empress August Bay on the west coast of this 3,800 square mile island, and the main force of United States Marines landed there on 1 November against very light opposition. They built a fighter strip which was operating only three weeks after the invasion, and completed a heavy-bomber strip by mid-December.
The 60,000 Japanese on Bougainville were stationed mainly in the far north and south of the island, holding the east coast in some strength; therefore the Allied perimeter enjoyed the natural protection of the Crown Prince and Emperor Ranges which together form the island's backbone and offered a fearsome barrier to troop movement. By this time the Allies had established a significant air and sea superiority.
Nevertheless, in March 1944 the Japanese made a last desperate play, advancing in strength through those terrible ranges on the perimeter. It cost them 6,000 men. It failed, and the garrison survivors on Bougainville remained in starving condition until the war's end, subjected all the time to mopping-up operations conducted by the 3rd Division of the Australian Imperial Forces.
Just previous to the March engagement a squadron of the dismounted US Cavalry had landed in Manus to take the Admiralties, and the New Zealanders occupied the Green Islands, southeast of New Ireland. By these operations the isolation of Rabaul was completed, and the war's front line moved on to the greater distances of the trans-Equatorial Pacific.
Bougainville was the scene in April 1943 of a rewarding coup by the US Intelligence staff, the destruction of Admiral Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined fleets and a man held by his countrymen to be the greatest naval officer since Admiral Togo, who had led them to victory over the Russians at the beginning of the century. He was the guiding brain in Japanese strategy.
Early in 1943 the US Intelligence managed, after months and years of concentrated effort, to crack the Japanese communications code, and for a time were able to follow and forecast important movements. In April a decoded messaged revealed that Admiral Yamamoto with his Chief of Staff and aides would fly to Buin in southern Bougainville on the eighteenth. An escort of six Zeros from Kahili airstrip near Buin would make an in-flight rendezvous to bring him in.
Gauging the operation with split-second timing, eighteen Lightnings set out from Henderson Field to intercept the two aircraft before they made their rendezvous. At the extreme limit of their range they made the target area 35 miles from Kahili, and intercepted with precision, shooting down both aircraft.
That containing Admiral Yamamoto crashed into the jungle, killing the entire complement. The Chief of Staff and several aides survived when the other crashed into the sea. The fighter escort from Kahili was getting airborne at the moment of interception.
This master-stroke hit shrewdly at Japanese morale, and perhaps at a potential tactical, or less conceivably, strategic success, for Yamamoto's constantly displayed impressive ability. In the thick jungle his aircraft remained undiscovered for many years, and Bruce Adams had to trek inland for weary miles to secure the pictures in this story.
On that long search Bruce Adams also sought out a memorial which he had been reliably told had been established over Yamamoto's grave. He found none, for there was no grave. Yamamoto's ashes had been returned to Japan soon after his death. The supposed Yamamoto monument is more than 20 miles from where his plane crashed, and is in fact a Japanese monument to all war dead.
In Guadalcanal Bruce Adams heard the story of the American identity disk picked up from what appeared to be a grave and sent back to the US authorities to have the owner identified. The Marine was identified--still living in the US, where he had returned safely after the war, and delighted to be presented with this memento from the jungle.
Villagers on Guadalcanal invited Bruce Adams to see the Hollywood movie recovered from the jungle only two years previously, still intact in its green can, marked USMC. The late Ginger Rogers used to continuously dance to a delighted audience at the mission film nights.
Mendana, the first European to visit the Solomons was also the first to cause the spilling of European blood there, the first promoter of an engagement involving white men. Perhaps prophetically, the site was on Guadalcanal. Near Point Cruz, where today the copra schooners feed the cargo ships in the quiet bay, his men fired on a group of natives, killing two. In a righteous retaliation their companions took the lives of nine of the white invaders.
Mendana set out from Peru in search of islands which, according to an old Inca legend, lay six hundred leagues to the west of South America. Their fabric was gold, and their possession would make the Spanish King the most powerful man in the world. In such an event, Mendana must have thought, his own advancement would be immediate and secure.
He had sailed three or four times the requisite distance when, on 7 February 1568, he discovered the island of Santa Isabel. Here he laid up his wee-slowed ships and built a four-ton brigantine of green wood, shallow and readily manoeuvrable for local exploration. In this his chief pilot, Hernan Galleto, and his Master of the Camp, Pedro de Orgega, made a reasonable exploration of the Solomons. They named Guadalcanal after Orgega's birth place.
Mendana claimed to have found gold, and perhaps after his return to Peru he dubbed his discovery the Isles of Solomon and dreamed that this was where the King of the Jews found the gold for his temple. If so, he did it in the hope, presumably, of promoting a second expedition.
This did not eventuate until 1595. Then he discovered the Santa Cruz group in the south of the Solomons, and there, in Graciosa Bay, established a short-lived and ill-fated Colony that was the first attempt of Europeans to assume control over any part of the South pacific.
The group, despite this promising start, remained almost completely neglected thereafter. Abel Tasman, returning from his search for a Pacific Staten Land in 1643, discovered and named Ongtong Java, a Polynesian outlier of the Solomons; but the main islands were not rediscovered until Philip Carteret arrived in the Swallow in 1767. The Comte de la Perouse wrecked his ships there in 1788, shortly after his astonishing meeting with Australia's First Fleet in Botany Bay.
Early in the next century, American, Australian and English whalers ran westward with the Trades from the Tonga grounds with such consistency they met at an island they called Rendezvous, now distorted to Rendova, in the Western Solomons, the western boundary of the Roviana Lagoon's excellent and capacious anchorage. (Another theory holds that "Rendezvous" was the whalers' distortion of an island name; even so the whalers must have sensed it appropriate enough to have cliched its use among themselves.) From 1893 Great Britain established her protectorate, but until after the Second World War did little to advance its standing or even discover its potential. Today the picture is very different.
Though English appointees fill most official positions the Australian influence is strong. Australian money is the only currency, most planters and businessmen hail originally from Australia, and most residents spend their leave in Sydney. The other influence is that of Mendana, who left his name everywhere. In Honiara you travel by way of Mendana Avenue past the Mendana stores to the Mendana Hotel of which the then proprietor, Kenneth Houston Dalrymple-Hay is one of the town's oldest residents--he spent the war years there as a coastwatcher.
This small neat modern settlement harbours a polyglot population. A rather large Chinese enclave hugs the Matanikau beyond the bridge, maintaining its own excellent schools and serving many of the group's trading needs. Nearby lives a whole community of Ellice Islanders (Tuvaluans), transplanted because of overcrowding in their homeland. Polynesians from the outliers haunt Honiara as they do few other settlements; the headquarters of several missions, trading opportunities, an impressive fleet of copra schooners to be crewed and the government administrative offices all attract them.
The islands will move away from village economy; the islanders, exceptionally fine gardeners and daring fishermen, are beginning to challenge the world of commerce with cash crops and commercial fish hauls.
Copra, the meat of the coconut is the mainstay of the group today; though that may rapidly change. Even copra production here responds to the post-war influence, and the modern Solomons plantation is perhaps the most efficient copra-production unit in the world. Where planters elsewhere are satisfied with half a ton of the oil-rich kernels to the acre, and that of mixed grades, the up-and-coming Solomons planter gathers half as much again, and hopes to sell it all as "confectionary grade", rather better than the first grade which topped the list a few years ago. Its production calls for new standards of plantation management.
Plantation workers must clear all undergrowth, pick up the nuts as soon as they fall, extract the meat immediately thereafter, and put it through the drying process without delay.Because copra prices have remained static while costs have skied, the islands, quick to apply wartime lessons, have turned to mechanisation for efficiency. Undergrowth hides the nuts as they fall; it also competes with the palm for nourishment. Therefore it is cleared, but where a hundred workers once cleared by hand, the large plantation will now use six workers and a brace of tractors. In newer developments the plantations use browsing cattle to clear the land, and when sufficient have been bred a beef industry will develop. But cattle eat young palms; their control means the introduction of fencing. Year after year and up-to-date efficiency replaces the old casual methods.
Not only machinery testifies to changes. The native mind, having been exposed to some of the best and worst facets of civilization, is turning to new attitudes and discovering an adaptability long suppressed in the old village organisation.
British authorities promote one salient change by advocating property ownership and making it easy. Communally-minded Melanesians, who have always tended to see the tribe and not the individual as owner, respond gratifyingly to this new concept. Competition between home-owners results in a rapid improvement in the amenities and the appearance of the new houses; and the Melanesian housewife is just as eager to spur her husband to new achievements as her white-skinned sister.
All through Guadalcanal and the western islands well-kept homes testify to the change. In towns and on larger plantations homes for individual families replace the barracks where employers, including government, housed native labour. For all their late run, the Solomon Islanders are making an impressive entry into the Twenty-first Century.
In some of the islands this may be harder to perceive. Though the group covers an area of 15,000 square miles--two and a half times the size of the Hawaiian group--Malaita with an area of 1800 square miles contains 64,000 people, one third of the total Solomons population. The number includes many heathens, and a rather lesser group with no concept of a way of life other than their own; in the closing months of 1966 mountain people speared a newly-arrived missionary to death when he tried to help with a problem of land ownership. Some tribes in southern mountains still go completely naked.
Island-building tribes inhabit coastal districts, displaying tremendous industry. Two lagoons, the Lau and the Langalanga enclose much of Malaita; over their considerable expanse the depth of water rarely exceeds twelve feet. Far from the shore, sometimes at the edge of the reef, the people have built islands, and still continue to build them today, by loosening coral boulders from one underwater site and transporting them by raft to another. Much skill goes to the building of the walls; the only cyclone which has disturbed the lagoons since records were kept did not shift them, though it levelled the houses crowding their surfaces, a foot or two only above high tide.
To these islands the men transport sago-leaves and other house building materials, and the heavy trunks of cocoa palms for pigsties, and there they live with wives and families, "because", they say, "the air is sweeter than over the mainland", -- but also because of traditional defence needs.
On many of these islands worshippers have built devil-houses, and the women of the village may not turn their heads in that direction much less look there. Custodians preserve skulls in the houses, culling them from the artificial island's burial ground; and almost nightly the men sit there in smoky conference, squatting in massed ranks round a central fire that throws weird shadows on the vaulted ceiling.
During the day the men transport many of the women to the mainland gardens, some remaining to work at timber-getting and other tasks while the rest fish for the communal larder. Other women remain in the village to work with primitive drills, boring small round discs of red shell and stringing them into coils which form the native wealth.
They use modern coinage too, but this has not replaced the shell wealth, nor the wealth that resides for them in porpoise teeth. A porpoise may have about two hundred teeth and each tooth is worth between five and ten cents. Each year a porpoise drive effects a massacre of these gentle animals. Dr W. H. Dawbin, an Australian lecturer in biology observed one recent drive which secured nine hundred and ninety-nine porpoises in one operation, and left them dying on the beach. The total catch for the season ran into thousands. The hunters eat a little of the good red meat, but their objective is teeth, and the store of tooth treasure in each house is amazing.
Authority still wonder whether such porpoise drives may have any connection with an ancient shark worship, since these two animals are incompatible; but Malaitans are close mouth. A belief in what might be called "were-sharks" exists; sharks that obey the command of certain men, or men who may assume the form of a shark-brother; and the sharks abound on Malaitan coast, but their influence on human behaviour is more obvious on Savo Islanders, who once made human sacrifices to them, for New Georgians, who traditionally regard them as friends.
Porpoise teeth have not much changed in value. In blackbirding days sixty teeth or a snider rifle-a Brown Bess musket in areas of minor contact--was the price offered a headman or a war-chief for a healthy man.
The first man in Australia to use Pacific Islands labour was Benjamin Boyd, a banker-immigrant who came to Australia in 1844 with a flotilla of four ships flying his own flag, a device of two honey-bees. This was the beginning of a vicious trade in human flesh, in which the operators violently abducted men and women from their homes, brought them from war-chiefs, decoyed them to imprisonment, or "rescued" them from canoes they deliberately sunk at sea.
Boyd came to a not wholly undeserved end in Wanderer Bay (named for his yacht) on the west coast of Guadalcanal, where he may have gone to recruit more men. After his bank failed he removed, unsuccessfully, to the California diggings to retrieve his fortunes. On his homeward voyage he and a companion left the yacht at this western bay, where many smokes on the steep mountainsides indicated a numerous population, and here the villagers, probably with recent experience of other blackbirders, killed him. Later an expedition negotiated for his skull and bought it for twenty tomahawks. The relic still lies in Sydney's museum, but testifies only to a well-developed trading sense, for today's experts classify it the skull of a Melanesian female.
Missions do much to remove the fears and superstitions of the past. The Anglican mission is the most prominent in the Solomons; it educated about two-fifths of the mission-educated people who outnumber ex-pupils of government schools about five to one. But the Catholics and other sects are very active, and the work of one agency often complements that of another.
On Malaita a government boat-building school teaches small-ship construction; a Catholic mission school, perhaps more realistically, teaches ship repair. Wasting hulls clutter many an island shore. The Melanesian's tradition is to build anew; he is perhaps the most careful craftsman in the Pacific and his constructions, particularly his canoes, are models of beautiful work.
Men in the invading armies fell sudden prey to attacks of the malaria which constituted the group's main menace to health. No one could estimate with any certainty its effect upon the indigenous population but the general expectation of life did not seem as high as would be desirable, and the Administration listed high on its post-war concerns a programme for the diminution and final elimination of malarial attacks. It has succeeded remarkably.
The female Anopheles farauti mosquito transmits the disease from one human blood stream to another, and the government plan of action was to attack, not all mosquitoes, but such as had recently bitten a malaria sufferer, and were therefore carriers of the disease.After its intake of human blood the mosquito rests, usually on the nearest vertical surface and by treating the inner walls of houses with a persistent insect-killing solution at six-month intervals, the Administration's medical men achieved their object. Malarial incidence dropped amazingly. Within a few years of the institution of this programme it was barely more than three per cent of its highest figure, and the visitor to the group no longer needs to take anti-malarial precautions.
In a similar way the administration vigorously prosecutes a campaign against other severe threats to health. As to some of the outliers, it has to maintain a guard against the possibility that visitors will introduce diseases from which the indigenes have not yet suffered, and against which they have not of course, developed a partial immunity, such diseases as measles, which under these circumstances can be highly lethal, or the common cold.
Missions and Administration alike command the help of young Englishmen called "VSO's" the initials standing for "Volunteer Service Overseas" and describing an organisation about equivalent to the American Peace Corps. They use their energies, intelligence and initiative wherever an opening occurs; some comparatively inexperienced, for example, have made creditable successes in organising village labour to build airfields and roads. One measure of the success of these modernising efforts is that mountain dwellers, who used to hide their houses as deeply s possible in the forest away from strangers' eyes, now tend to build them adjacent to the passing traffic for the own convenience.
Very little is needed to convert these realistic people to appreciation of the comparative ease of modern life. The Roviana Lagoon where armies and navies slugged out the New Georgia campaign sheltered until 1890 some of the most savage head-hunters of the Pacific. Their seventy-foot planked canoes, upraised bows and sterns exquisitely inlaid with mother-of-pearl, could carry substantial squadrons. They raided islands up to a hundred miles away, and besides the severed heads they featured in their horrible ceremonies took captives to sell to Europeans for modern weapons.
The whalers and blackbirders of the era were not deterred by the reputations of these men; they regarded the lagoon as an excellent anchorage and knew the villagers to be eager for trade, and capable of supplying ample food from their lush gardens. Then some of the head hunters attacked and captured European ships; others disturbed the missionaries on Florida with their raids, and in January 1892 the Commodore of Her Majesty's Australian station sent H.M.S. Royalist under Captain Davis to clean up the trouble. He imposed a savage retribution.
Before this happened Frank Wickham, a Somerset man shipwrecked on the New Georgia coast, settled in the area, took a succession of wives, and raised a large and highly regarded family. One lad, Alec, was five years old at the time of the Royalist raid.
Later educated in Sydney, he introduced to the world the overarm swimming stroke that, with variants called trudgeon and Australian crawl, revolutionised that water-sport. It was a product of the lagoon, where even the smallest lads thought nothing of swimming from island to island. With his brothers and schoolmates he coached, Alec Wickham set records that amazed the world and made Australia significant in international sport. He capped them with one that will surely never be broken, a high dive of 205 feet, performed before record crowds that expected to see a man swoop to his death in Melbourne's Yarra River.
Alec died in New Georgia in 1967, one of the most respected men in the island. He had seen it change from a bloodbath to prosperity twice in his lifetime. He was acquainted with the outside world, and in his quiet and determined way had made a significant contribution to its changing spirit. He commanded the respect and liking of a huge circle.
Life in his islands seems always concentrated at the edge of the sea; there is always a canoe with a newly-caught turtle, or a man with a net or a spear, or a horde of laughing children, with a flotilla of canoes they manage like veterans. New Georgia is haven of delight today, and the wonder is it acquired the status with such speed.
Other qualities may open the Solomons to a speedy continuation of their advance. In the Australian sector of the group, in Bougainville and Buka, the diversification of production--from copra to cocoa to rubber to a variety of lesser crops--has proceeded ore rapidly than in the British Solomons, though the comparison becomes less noticeable year by year. Education is more widespread, though the facilities may not be as advanced.
The most exciting future seems to lie in metals, just as Mendana once claimed. Prospectors have washed gold in small quantities from the streams, but is copper that is creating the vision of unlimited wealth. The proved deposits are immense; added to the unproved potential they could form the world's largest. As in the other islands, fine timbers grow in the mountains, the seas are rich, and the agricultural potential not yet reached.The surest promise of an expanding future comes from the people; the happy, intelligent, healthy children, the loyal dependable men, and the industrious women.
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