The New Georgia Campaign
June - August 1943
by Eric Hammel
The Solomon island archipelago stretches in a roughly east-west direction from New Guinea to San Cristobal. For the Imperial Japanese forces in 1942, it was a natural highway into the South Pacific. When checked at Guadalcanal, these forces realized they had moved east too quickly, and that their defeat was caused in part by inadequate air bases between the front and their headquarters at Rabaul, more than six hundred miles away. As the last Japanese battalions were wrecking themselves against the Marine defensive perimeter on Guadalcanal, the decision was made to build the Munda airfield on New Georgia, right in the middle of the Solomons chain.
The Americans also recognized the Solomons as a highway, but in the other direction, toward Rabaul, the Philippines, and ultimately Japan. The two great Pacific powers clashed in the middle of this strategic island corridor in June 1943, when an untried U.S. Army infantry division assaulted New Georgia and began to move up the Munda Trail to take the airfield. This “forgotten” battle was in truth one of America’s first sustained offensive actions in the Pacific, and as such it taught green American troops and equally green commanders the realities of jungle warfare.
Munda Trail is the dramatic, harrowing story of green American soldiers encountering for the first time impenetrable swamps, solid rain forests, invisible coconut-log pillboxes, tenacious snipers tied into trees, torrential tropical rains, counterattack by enemy aircraft and naval guns, and the logistical nightmare of living and moving in endless mud. A carefully planned offensive quickly degenerates into isolated small-unit actions as the terrain breaks unit cohesion and leads inexperienced soldiers into deadly ambushes. As physical and psychological strains mount, Army doctors begin to define a new disease nearing epidemic proportions—combat fatigue. Men without injuries simply become useless for further fighting, the advance bogs down. Yet, over time, the scared American soldiers find their inner resolve and climb out of the psychological abyss, emerge steady and true, combat veterans at last—and victors.
The New Georgia Campaign was, in Hammel’s words, “a graphic study of the universal military truths attending the feeding of innocents to the ravenous dogs of war.” Yet when it was over, there was no question in anyone’s mind that the tide had turned, that the forces moving through the Solomons would be American, and that they would move toward Japan.