Shortland Islands

Relief map of Shortland Islands

The Shortland Islands (155.88E 6.93S) are located just off the southern tip of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, at the head of "The Slot." Shortland Island itself is about thirteen miles (21 km) long and ten miles (16 km) wide. It is relatively flat (maximum elevation 777' or 237 meters) and heavily forested. Most of the coast is fringed by coral reefs, and the nearby small islands are covered with palms.

Occupied by the Japanese on 31 March 1942, the anchorage became an important staging area for Japanese forces heading down "The Slot" to Guadalcanal. The Japanese also set up a seaplane base at the island of Faisi (155.870E 7.070S) and an airfield on the island of Ballale (155.875E 6.989S). Faisi eventually became the headquarters of 8 Fleet and was garrisoned by the 5000 men of 1 Base Force.

Ballale airfield was constructed by 18 Construction Battalion between November 1942 and January 1943. Lacking bulldozers, the Japanese used some 517 British prisoners of war, primarily artillery gunners surrendered at Singapore.  The Japanese refused to permit the prisoners of war to build any kind of air raid shelters, and most of the gunners were eventually killed either in air raids or from Japanese abuse. The survivors were allegedly massacred on 5 March 1943.

The Allies considered seizing the area, but canceled invasion plans in August 1943 because of the strength of the defenses, the lack of good landing beaches, and the lack of good airfield sites. Instead, the area was bypassed by the Allied landings in the Treasury Islands to the southwest and at Cape Torokina on western Bougainville.


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