H.M.A.S. Canberra and the Battle of Savo Island

The background for this operation

Transcript by Lieut. Cmdr. Mackenzie J. Gregory, RAN, Ret.

Presentation to the Society (Vic Chapter) 23 July, 1990

The background for this operation

Map of Savo Island

[ click for enlarged photograph ]

The Japanese occupied Tulagi Island (just off Florida Island) in the Solomons on 3 May 1942. The Battle of the Coral Sea took place on 7 May 1942. Tactically, one might suggest this battle was a draw - the Japanese lost the carrier SHOHO whilst the US lost the carrier LEXINGTON. However, strategically it could be claimed as an Allied victory. The Japanese did not gain control of the Coral Sea and Fort Moresby was saved from a seaward invasion.

The Battle of Midway took place between 4 - 7 June 1942. Midway was undoubtedly an American victory. This Battle proved the power of aircraft carrier-borne air weapons; virtually all damage caused to both US and Japanese Naval Forces was achieved by them.

Admiral King, the Naval member of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff wanted the US to seize the initiative after Midway, but the question was, where? By 25 June 1942, he had made up his mind - Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomons. King had always been an advocate for 'defeat Japan first-, but he was the lone voice amongst his other Joint Chiefs.

General Marshall, US Army and General Arnold, US Air Force, were both committed to building up US forces In the UK - and to "beat Germany and Italy first'. Then, to turn to the Pacific and Japan. After much debate, King finally prevailed. He was a tough protagonist and his proposition was approved, but a tug-of-war ensued over who would command the operation. Marshall wanted Douglas MacArthur to have the command whilst King (always fiercely supportive of his Navy) said it should be a Navy show with Navy Marines and he insisted that Admiral Chester Nimitz should have this Command. Once again, King prevailed. Eisenhower, then a Brigadier General, was the Army's Chief Pacific Planner. Farrell in "The Eisenhower Diaries" records Eisenhower, saying, "one thing that might help win this war is to get someone to Shoot King".

On 2 July 1942, the Joint Chiefs issued this directive:

The preamble: -That offensive operations be undertaken with the ultimate objective of seizing and occupying the New Britain, New Guinea and New Ireland area'.

Under the command of Admiral Nimitz:

1. (a) Code Name - Pestilence-
The seizure and occupation of the Santa Cruz Islands.

(b) Code Name Watch Tower'
The seizure and occupation of Tulagi and adjacent positions. Under the command of General MacArthur.

2. The seizure and occupation of the remainder of the Solomon islands, Lae, Salamaua and the NE Coast of New Guinea.

3. The seizure and occupation of Rabaul and adjacent positions in New Guinea - New Ireland.

To place Guadalcanal within Nimitz's zone of Command, the boundary between MacArthur's command of the SW Pacific Area and Nimitz's Pacific Area was moved Westwards from 165 deg East to 159 deg East.

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