Operation Chronicle - Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands (30 June 1943)

Operation Chronicle, the invasion of Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands, saw Allied troops occupy two undefended islands off the north-eastern corner of New Guinea at the start of the campaign to neutralise the key Japanese base at Rabaul. 

The invasions of Woodlark and Kiriwina were part of a much larger series of operations. 30 June was D-Day for Operation Cartwheel, a long series of operations originally intended to prepare for the conquest of Rabaul. Three separate operations were to be carried out on the day. In the Solomon Islands Admiral Halsey's forces landing on New Georgia. On New Guinea itself the Australians landed at Nassau Bay, south of Salamaua, in preparation for the next part of the Elkton plan. Finally Woodlark and Kiriwina were to be occupied to provide sites for new airbases. Woodlark was wanted to support the invasion of Bougainville, a later part of the Elkton plan. These operations were part of Operation I, part of the first phase of the Elkton III plan.

The targets for Operation Chronicle were two of the islands located off the north-eastern tip of New Guinea. Kiriwina was the largest of the Trobriand Islands, and was a long narrow island, running north-south for 25 miles. Woodlark was a larger island, some miles further east. Although neither island had actually been occupied by the Japanese, they were both within range of Japanese aircraft. Woodlark was 220 miles from the Japanese base at Buin on Bougainville, 300 miles from Rabaul and 380 miles from their airfields at Lae on New Guinea. This would also be the first large scale amphibious operation carried out by MacArthur's South-West Pacific command.

The operation was to be supported by two naval task forces. TF 74 (Rear Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley, RN), contained Australian and American cruisers and destroyers and was to guard against any Japanese naval intervention. TF 76 was the amphibious force, and was to transport the occupation troops. Woodlark was to be occupied by the 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team (Colonel Cunningham), Kiriwina by the 2nd Battalion 158th Regimental Combat Team (Colonel Herndon). Air support was to come from the US Fifth Air Force. The entire series of operations were to be supported by a week of heavy air attacks on Rabaul, designed to prevent the Japanese based there from interfering. The invasion force also included engineers who were given the task of building airfields on both islands.

The first allied troops landed on both islands in early May to carry out reconnaissance. As this was to be an unopposed landing it was decided to send in advanced parties to prepare both islands for the main invasion. These shore parties landed on Woodlark early on 23 June and Kiriwina near midnight on the same day.

The main force began to move on 25 June when part of the Woodlark force left Townsville. These troops landed on Woodlark Island at 9pm on 30 June and were soon firmly established on shore. The rest of the force arrived on 1 July.

The Kiriwina landings began just after dawn on 30 June. They didn't go quite as smoothly as the Woodlark landings, and men and supplies were still coming onshore in mid July.

The Americans very quickly began work on turning both islands into effective bases. Work on an airstrip on Woodlark began on 2 July and by 14 July it could take C-47 transports. On 23 July the 67th Fighter Squadron moved onto the island. Work on Kiriwina was again slower, mainly because of heavy rain. The first squadron to move in, No.78 Squadron, RAAF, didn't arrive until 18 August.

The Japanese hardly reacted to either landing. They did fly some reconnaissance missions, but only two small bombing attacks. Operation Chronicle was carried out without a single Allied casualty. Both islands became useful bases for the next stage of the campaigns in the Solomons and on New Guinea.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 December 2014), Operation Chronicle - Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands (30 June 1943) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_chronicle.html

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