The BATTLE of The BISMARCK SEA 3 March 1943
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by Lex McAuley
30 Minutes That Changed The Balance of Power In New Guinea
A battle for Land forces Fought at Sea Won by Air Power
In March 1943 the Japanese had thousands of troops available and powerful unchallenged naval units to deliver them to New Guinea – only air power could be brought to bear on the naval force. A convoy of eight ships with eight destroyers as escort formed to deliver 6,000 fresh, experienced, fully equipped troops to New Guinea. Using bad weather as cover, the convoy reached the last stage of its voyage from Rabaul to Lae.
A US-Australian air strike force flew out as the last hope for the Allies and employed tactics proposed by an Australian officer. The result was disaster for the Japanese and the convoy was destroyed in 30 minutes.
Accounts of the battle published at the time and for years afterward used and repeated wartime propaganda, exaggerations, myths and lies. This is the full and authentic story of that battle from solid Australian, US and Japanese sources.
Since July 1942 Japanese convoys had successfully carried complete army regoments with supporting units to New Guinea despite air attack by US and RAAF aircraft. Few ships were hit; fewer sunk. The most recent convoy in January 1943 was successful despite hundreds of sorties flown and hundreds of bombs dropped by Allied aircraft; most troops and cargo were delivered. By February 1943 after the Kokoda and Buna-Gona campaigns the Australian and US land forces in New Guinea were exhausted. The Japanese command at Rabaul still had thousands of uncommitted troops, a powerful experienced navy with dozens of transport ships, and a formidable air force in the region.
The Japanese decided to form and send Convoy 81of eight transports escorted by eight destroyers from Rabaul to Lae, New Guinea. But after repeated failure to cope with Japanese shipping, at last the Allied air forces in New Guinea adopted the techniques proposed by an experienced RAAF officer. All eight transports were sunk, with four destroyers. Most damage was done by air attack in 30 minutes on 3 March 1943 in scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood epic.
This is the story of that crucial convoy battle, told with official records, captured documents, interrogation reports, and the recollections and memoirs of the participants. Wartime propaganda and mythology are swept aside and for the first time the facts are presented, with detail including the identities of the ships involved, their cargoes, and the fate of those aboard. Appendices include lists of the ships and cargoes; air crew lists; bombing analysis and the air units involved.
This is a revised edition of the book first published in 1991 by St Martin’s Press, USA.
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