South Pacific

One bright day, air surveillance photos showed what appeared to be Zeke fighter planes in many of the Rapopo revetments. That captured the immediate attention of the Bougainville command.

When the photos were enlarged and studied carefully, however, by Marine Intelligence, it became clear that it was all a sham. The Zekes were patched-over hulks, some

with propped up wings, some without wheels, a few without engines.

Nevertheless, we were sent on a full-scale mission to Rapopo. Capt. Barney McShane, a genial Irishman from Boston, led the strike. Barney was VMTB-242’s popular executive officer. All 24 planes in the strike force came out of our squadron pool.

As we approached Rapopo, the antiaircraft fire was surprisingly light. At about 7,500 feet we peeled off into our dives, coming down in four-plane sections. Six sections, wave after wave. And we hit Rapopo hard, very hard. It was an easy target.

We destroyed Rapopo. The concrete strip was blasted apart, in fragments. The revetments, the tower, the surrounding buildings were rubble. Nothing standing. Nothing left.

It was my last flight to Rabaul.

By the end of our tour at Bougainville, flying a mission to Rabaul had become a routine “milk run.” The antiaircraft fire had thinned out. Most of the airfields were bombed out and destroyed. The few Jap planes remaining were trapped on the ground—hidden in jungle revetments. Incoming supplies were cutoff.

The Allies’ military strategy had worked. Rabaul was successfully throttled. The mighty fortress had become useless. In their ongoing drive toward Japan, the Allies simply bypassed the remnants of Rabaul.

The trapped and hungry Japanese stubbornly held on in their former stronghold, however. Sporadic but meaningless strikes on Rabaul by the Aussies and the US Air Force continued until the end of the war in August 1945.

***

The long, two-year Solomons Campaign was over. At Bougainville, the Marine Corps’ job was finished. Maj. General Roy S. Geiger, the original top commander on the big island and head of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, had moved on to the Central Pacific. Marine ground forces were pulled out of the perimeter defense positions, replaced by Australian and US Army troops, VMF-116 and VMTB-242 were pulled back to Espiritu Santo for reassignment.

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