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Choiseul

Digital relief map of Choiseul

Choiseul is located in the Solomon Islands north of the New Georgia group and east of Bougainville. The island was of little intrinsic military value, lacking useful anchorages or suitable sites for airfields. Victor Krulak later recalled (Gailey 1992) that

The island is the most rugged of all the Solomons. It's the home of the giant banyan whose roots cover an acre. It's different. It's never daylight in most of the island. The jungle cover makes it like late afternoon.

The terrain included rocky spurs from the central range that cut clear to the shores and made movement along the coasts extremely difficult.

However, coast watchers Charles J. Waddell and Sublieutenant C.W. Seton were based on Choiseul and provided priceless intelligence on Japanese ship movements during the Guadalcanal campaign. The island also became a staging area for barges evacuating troops from Kolombangara after it was island hopped by the Allies, and Seton estimated that four thousand Japanese had passed through and another three thousand Japanese were still on the island in late 1943.

Choiseul was the target of a diversionary raid in late October 1943 by 725 men of the 2 Marine Parachute Battalion (Operation RAISE HELL) during the Bougainville campaign.

Operation RAISE HELL. 2 Marine Parachute Battalion, reinforced with a heavy weapons company and other supporting elements (for a total of 655 Marines), landed at Voza (156.647E 6.899S) in the early hours of 28 October 1943. A base camp was established some distance inland and patrols were sent out towards Sangigai (156.815E 7.065S) to the south and the Warrior River (156.417E -6.705S) to the north.

The northern patrol reported that the native trail shown on maps was nonexistent and the terrain was all but impassible, so that any movement to the north would require the use of the raiding force's landing craft. The patrols to Sangigai reported the presence of a Japanese supply dump and barge staging base, and the force commander, Victor Krulak, ordered an attack on 30 October. The attacking force was originally to move in by landing craft, but a supporting raid by American aircraft mistook the Marine positions for Japanese and, while no Marines were hit, the aircraft destroyed one of the force's landing craft. Krulak therefore ordered the attack to be mounted overland.

Company E was in position by 1400 and began dropping rockets and mortar rounds into the village. The Japanese promptly retreated towards the mountainsto the east, where they ran into the anvil of F Company, which had made an enveloping movement around the town. The Marines demolished the base, captured valuable documents (include a complete chart of the mine fields south of Bougainville), and returned to Voza that night, having suffered casualties of six dead and twelve wounded in return for at least 75 Japanese dead.

On 1 November 1943 a PBY brought in additional supplies and took out the captured documents and the wounded Marines.  On the same day, Krulak sent a patrol south that ambushed a Japanese patrol but showed that the Japanese had moved back into Sangigai. Kurlak also sent strong patrol (87 men) north to the Warrior River to fire a few mortar shells towards Japanese supply dumps on the Guppy Islands just offshore, then retreat back into the jungle. The patrol planned to use two LCPRs to move under cover of darkness up the Warrior River, conceal the landing craft, and follow two native guides to a suitable firing site for the mortars. After firing their barrage, they would move back to the boats and slip back to Voza.

Things went wrong almost at once. The LPCRs unexpectedly grounded near the mouth of the Warrior River, forcing the Marines to debark at the river mouth and send the LPCRs south to find daylight cover. After several hours of wandering through the jungle, the native guides admitted that they were unfamiliar with the area but had been ashamed to admit it earlier. Part of the patrol returned to the LPCRs to notify Krulak of the delay, while the main body took cover in a swamp for the night.

The next morning, the LPCR detachment found that the Japanese had infiltrated along the route the main body of the patrol planned to use to return to the LPCRs. Radio failures left the main body unaware of this development, and the LPCR detachment returned with the boats to Voza to warn Krulak of impending disaster. Krulak promptly radioed for PT boats and fighter cover. 

Meanwhile the main body of the patrol overwhelmed a Japanese outpost and carried out their mortar barrage. Returning to the Warrior River, they found that the LPCRs were not there to make the rendezvous. By evening they were surrounded by Japanese and under heavy fire. At this point the LPCRs showed up with a PT boat escort, which had to tow one of the LPCRs when its engine compartment was flooded after grounding on coral. The PT boat responsible was commanded by Lieutenant (j.g.) John F. Kennedy, the future President of the United States.

On the night of 3 November, as the Japanese were closing in on their base camp, the remainder of Krulak's force was withdrawn from Choiseul by three LCIs.

The Marines claimed to have killed 143 Japanese, destroyed a staging base, sank two barges, and destroyed supply dumps in exchange for nine Marines killed, twelve wounded, and five missing in action. (Four of the missing were later declared dead, one of whom was executed by the Japanese.) Though a resounding tactical success, the strategic value was less clear. It is possible that the Japanese diverted some troops to the Shortlands in response to the raid and send a large bomber raid towards Choiseul the morning of the Cape Torokina landings to search for an Allied task force.

Notwithstanding its success, the raid nearly ended in disaster due to reliance on native scouts without a corresponding understanding of native culture. The raid succeeded largely because of Allied control of the air and sea that permitted close support by coastal naval forces.

References

Devlin (1979)

Gailey (1991)

Morison (1949)

Rottman (2002)



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