This Day In History: March 2

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On March 2, 1943, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea begins when U.S. and Australian land-based planes launch an offensive against a convoy of Japanese ships in the western Pacific.

One day earlier, U.S. reconnaissance planes spotted 16 Japanese ships en route to Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea. The Japanese were attempting to maintain control of the island—and their garrisons there—by sending 7,000 reinforcements and aircraft fuel and supplies. But between March 2 and March 4, a bombing campaign carried out by 137 American bombers along with U.S. and Australian fighters, destroyed eight Japanese troop transports and four Japanese destroyers.

More than 3,000 Japanese troops and sailors drowned as a consequence, and the supplies sank with their ships. Of 150 Japanese fighter planes that attempted to engage the American bombers, 102 were shot down. The battle stands as an utter disaster for the Japanese—whose convoy was hit by a total of 213 tons of bombs dropped by the U.S. 5th Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill chose March 4, the official end of the battle, to congratulate President Franklin D. Roosevelt, since that day was also the 10th anniversary of the president’s first inauguration. “Accept my warmest congratulations on your brilliant victory in the Pacific, which fitly salutes the end of your first 10 years.”