Operation Bobcat

This was the US geographical rather than operational codename for Bora Bora island in the Society islands group of the Pacific Ocean (1941/45).

Bora Bora is part of the Society islands group in French Polynesia, 140 miles (225 km) to the north-west of Tahiti, 2,700 miles (4345 km) to the south-south-east of Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian islands group, and 1,420 miles (2285 km) to the east of US Samoa. Possessing an area of 11.3 sq miles (29.3 km˛) and a maximum height of 2,385 ft (727 m) at Mt Otemanu, the island is surrounded by a barrier reef some 8 miles (12.9 km) north to south and 6 miles (9.6 km) east to west. The reef is very wide to the south and west, and is rimmed by barrier islands to the east, north and north-west. The only pass through the reef is Teavanui Pass to the west, but this is deep and leads directly into the excellent natural anchorage of Teavanui Harbour to the south-west of the central island, and this is shielded to seaward by the hilly Tupua island. A second but somewhat smaller anchorage is that of Fanui Bay on the north-west coast of the central island. The climate throughout the year is pleasant at about 80° F (27° C) with moderate rainfall.

These aspects rendered the island a good site for a naval base, the one significant liability being a shortage of fresh water. However, there was not a single pier in the harbour when war broke out. The US Navy started to develop a refuelling station here even before the outbreak of war, and on 30 December 1941, following the 'Ai' Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the island was identified as a strategic point along the sea lanes to Australia, and on 4 January 1942 the first orders were issued. Task Force 5614 departed with six transport and cargo ships on 27 January and arrived on 17 February, landing 4,400 men of the 102nd Infantry (less one battalion), the 198th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft), and the 1st Naval Construction Battalion with 20,000 tons of supplies. The organisation and deployment of the expedition so rapidly was rendered possible by the fact that most of the men and equipment had already been selected for the establishment of naval bases in the UK.

This first attempt at a significant overseas expedition took 52 days to unload, however, but taught the US services many invaluable lessons in logistics, such as the need for adequate cargo nets and slings for unloading at undeveloped ports and the requirement for proper loading of cargo ships. There were also difficulties with provisions for fresh water and in the command arrangements.

Eventually the garrison had eight 155-mm (6.1-in) coastal defence guns, and by a time early in 1943 an airfield and aircraft assembly facility with a 5,000-ft (1525-m) runway had been constructed at Motu Maue on the northern tip of the ring of barrier islands. However, the Allied victory in the Battle of Midway ensured that the Japanese would never seriously threaten the island.