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Royal New Zealand Air Force


page 129


Early in May a large force of Japanese warships and transports was severely damaged in the Coral Sea by aircraft from a combined Australian and American task force based on the carriers Yorktown and Lexington. At the beginning of June another enemy force was defeated by American aircraft when approaching Midway Island. The damage done to the enemy's naval strength in these two battles, while it did not give the Allies control of the sea, allowed them a breathing space in which to organise their forces.

Early in July the Japanese, who had occupied Tulagi in the southern Solomons in April, landed on Guadalcanal. Allied reconnaissance planes reported that they had started the construction of an airstrip near Lunga Point. Had they been allowed to complete it they would have had an aerodrome within 550 miles of Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides, the Allies' forward base in the South Pacific and one of the most important points on the trans-Pacific supply route. At the same time enemy forces in the South-West Pacific were advancing on Port Moresby in New Guinea. They were finally turned back by the Australians early in August when 20 miles from the base, and this period marks the furthest extent of their conquests.

It had been intended to train an American task force in New Zealand for operations against the Japanese in the Solomons, planned to commence at the end of 1942. In June elements of the 1st Marine Division arrived in Wellington to begin their period of training. The Japanese occupation of Guadalcanal necessitated a change of plan, for the enemy had to be attacked before he had a chance to develop a base on the island. A task force composed of the American units in New Zealand was hastily assembled in Wellington, left New Zealand later in July, and landed on Guadalcanal early in August. The airfield, which was almost completed, was captured with little opposition and the Americans dug themselves in. For the next three months the enemy still had control of the sea and, to a great extent, of the air in the southern Solomons, and was able to land strong reinforcements on the island. The Americans had great difficulty in supplying and reinforcing their troops, who had to endure a number of determined counter-attacks. It was not until the end of November that their position on the island was reasonably secure.