Operation Se (ii)

'Se' (ii) was an air offensive by Imperial Japanese forces against Allied air and maritime forces staging around the Guadalcanal island area during the Solomon islands campaign which had followed the US 'Watchtower' landings on the island on 7 August 1942 (16 June 1943).

'Se' (ii) was part of a larger effort to destroy Allied air power in the Solomon islands group in order to delay the US advance to the north-west along the chain of the Solomon islands group after the Japanese defeat on Guadalcanal. It was preceded by the two-part 'So', which involved fighter sweeps, or the 'Lunga Air Battle', against Guadalcanal by several air groups of Imperial Japanese naval air force. The first 'So' operation took place on 7 June 1943, when the 582nd Kokutai led a sweep by 81 Mitsubishi A6M Reisen 'Zero' single-engined fighters of three kokutais against a variety of targets around the Guadalcanal area (including the new Allied airfield in the Russell islands group). The Japanese sweep was intercepted by a strong force of Allied fighters of various types, and the resulting air combat accounted for several aircraft lost on both sides. The second 'So' operation took place five days later, on 12 June, when 77 A6M fighters of three kokutais attacked the same targets. As had happened five days earlier, the Japanese fighters were intercepted by a strong force of Allied fighters of various kinds and the ensuing air battles had a similar result.

Unlike the first and second 'So' operations, the 'Se' (ii) operation also involved an attack against Allied shipping off the Lunga coast of northern Guadalcanal in addition to the regular fighter sweep. The attack therefore included 24 Aichi D3A 'Val' single-engined dive-bombers of the 582nd Kokutai under the command of Lieutenant Tamotsu Ema. The escort and fighter sweep was provided by 70 A6M fighters (24 of the 204th Kokutai, 30 of the 251st Kokutai and 16 of the 582nd Kokutai), and was led by Lieutenant Commander Saburo Shindo and Lieutenant Miyano. The attack force took off from Buin on Bougainville island at 10.00 on 16 June 1943.

Lieutenant Ema’s dive-bombers reached Guadalcanal at about 12.00 and attacked the Allied shipping off Lunga, scoring hits on two Allied ships. The attack force was intercepted by a strong force of Allied fighters of various kinds, which resulted in air battles over the skies of Guadalcanal. Having noticed in previous missions that friendly dive-bombers were often shot down after they had released their bombs, Lieutenant Miyano of the 204th Kokutai devised a tactic that involved fighters descending to low altitude to provide the dive-bombers with protection after they had released their bombs. The escorting A6M fighters tested the new tactic during Ema’s attack, and while it helped the better to protect the dive-bombers, Miyano himself was killed during the action.

As with the similar effort in April during 'I', the success of 'Se' (ii) operation was limited inasmuch as it did not impede the Allied advance up the Solomon islands group in any significant way. The dive-bombers only managed to damage the cargo ship Celeno and the landing ship LST-340, while only six Allied fighters were lost. On the other hand, the cost for the Japanese was high as they lost 13 D3A dive-bombers and 15 A6M fighters. Additionally, the preceding pair of 'So' operations had led to the loss of nine and seven A6M fighters respectively. Furthermore, 204th Kokutai lost Miyano, its highly experienced leader.