Operation Shoestring II

This was the US seizure of Cape Torokina within the ‘Cherryblossom’ landing at Empress Augusta Bay on the western side of Bougainville island in the Solomon islands group (1 November 1943).

The cape lies on the south central end of the assault area earmarked for Major General Allen H. Turnage’s 3rd Marine Division (3rd, 9th and 23rd Marines, 12th Marine Artillery, 1st Marine Parachute and 2nd Marine Raider) of Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift’s I Amphibious Corps, while the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion attacked the small Puruata island located just off the coast to the west of Cape Torokina. To the north, the cape and island formed a beach which was subject to heavy surf. The cape was relatively isolated, with a poor trail system to supply an area made all the more inaccessible from the landward side by a wide swamp stretching inland from the beach area before the start of the island’s heavy forestation.

The landing involved 14,321 men of the 3rd Marine Division, and these were delivered by Task Unit 31.5.1 (Transport Group Northern Attack Force) of Commodore Lawrence F. Reifsnider’s Task Force 31 (Transport Group). The troop transports were Crescent City, Fuller, American Legion, Hunter Liggett, President Hayes, President Jackson, George Clymer and President Adams and the cargo transports Alchiba, Titania, Libra and Alhena within Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson’s III Amphibious Force (TF31), with escort for the ships provided by Commander Ralph Earle’s Destroyer Squadron 45, comprising Fullam, Guest, Bennett, Hudson, Anthony, Wadsworth, Terry, Braine, Conway, Sigourney and Renshaw, together with four destroyer minesweepers and four large and four small minesweepers.

The landing by the three battalions of the 9th Marines on the left and three battalions of the 3rd Marines on the right was unopposed on land, where there were only 300 Japanese defenders of the 1/23rd Regiment of Lieutenant General Masatane Kanda’s 6th Division within Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake’s 17th Army, but the cape was the location of a Japanese 75-mm (2.95-in) gun whose fire managed to inflict heavy damage upon some of the landing craft.

The covering force was Rear Admiral Aaron S. Merrill’s TF39 with the 12th Cruiser Division comprising Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia and Denver, and Captain Arleigh S. Burke’s Destroyer Squadron 23 comprising Charles Ausburne, Dyson, Stanly, Claxton, Spence, Thatcher, Converse and Foote, which shelled the Japanese airfield at Buka on 1 November.

Late in the afternoon of the same day, a force consisting of Renshaw and the destroyer minelayers Breese, Gamble and Sicard laid a minefield to protect the landing area to the north-west.

After unsuccessful air attacks from Rabaul, Vice Admiral Baron Tomoshige Samejima, commanding the 8th Fleet, committed all his available ships to attack the US invasion fleet on 1 November in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay. Following the landing on Cape Torokina, an airfield was constructed at the cape to allow the start of air operations on 9 December, and 25 miles (40 km) of road were also built in the area.