On this day in 1943, General Douglas MacArthur launches Operation Cartwheel, a multi-pronged assault on Rabaul and several islands in the Solomon Sea in the South Pacific. The joint effort takes nine months to complete but succeeds in recapturing more Japanese-controlled territory, further eroding their supremacy in the East.
The purpose of Cartwheel was to destroy the barrier formation Japan had created in the Bismark Archipelago, a collection of islands east of New Guinea in the Solomon Sea. The Japanese considered this area vital to the protection of their conquests in the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines. For the Allies, Rabaul, in New Britain, was the key to winning control of this theater of operations, as it served as the Japanese naval headquarters and main base.
On June 30, General MacArthur, strategic commander of the area, launched a simultaneous attack, on New Guinea and on New Georgia, as a setup and staging maneuver for the ultimate assault, that on Rabaul. The landing on New Georgia, led by Admiral William Halsey, proved particularly difficult, given the large Japanese garrison stationed there and the harsh climate and topography. Substantial reinforcements were needed before the region could be controlled, in August.
One consequence of Cartwheel was a lesson in future strategy. By establishing a “step-by-step” approach to invasion, the Allies unwittingly gave the Japanese time to regroup and establish their next line of defense. The Allies then decided that a new strategy was to be deployed, that of leaving certain islands, or parts thereof, to “wither on the vine,” rather than waste valuable time and manpower in fighting it out for marginal gains. A leapfrogging strategy was then employed by MacArthur, whereby he left in place smaller Japanese strongholds in order to concentrate on “bigger fish.”