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Naval Battles of the Solomon Islands: WW II

Updated on August 8, 2020
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A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


The rise of Japan can be traced directly to the Americans. An American naval squadron under Commodore Mathew C Perry was authorized by Congress to proceed to the Japanese ports and force them to enter into a trade agreement with America starting 1854. This led to the treaty of Kanagawa and Japan opened up its ports to the USA. The Japanese who had been in isolation before now took western ideas and industries as a new religion.

The Japanese copied western ideas on naval and military warfare. These stood them in good order and lead to their victory over the Russians in the Russo- Japanese war of 1904-05. This victory over a European power bolstered the confidence of the Japanese and they came to the conclusion that they were in a position to beat any power in the world.

Japan had a drawback and that was a lack of raw material. The Japanese could develop their industry but raw material like coal and oil had to be imported. They needed resources for their empire. This was the genesis of the occupation of Manchuria and the start of the Second World War in the Pacific. The Japanese had realized that for them to defend their empire, they needed to annihilate the US Pacific fleet as well as destroy the aging Imperial powers France and England.

Attacking the East Indies

The Japanese think tank also envisaged a conquest of the East Indies for its rich resources and the Philippines to defend their empire. The Philippines were allied with the USA which had a significant Naval and Military presence there. The Japanese strategic plans hinged on securing the Philippines and defend the East Indies which was envisaged as an arc of the Japanese empire stretching from Korea downwards to New Guinea. After attacking Pearl Harbor on 3 December 1941 the Japanese were able to achieve their strategic objectives in 6 months. They also captured Indo China and ousted the French and Singapore and Hongkong from where the British were ejected.

The Battles

The Japanese Arc

The Japanese think tank decided that to keep the islands safe from invasion, it was important to create an arc of defense by occupying islands and areas in SE Asia. Just after decimating the American surface fleet at Pearl Harbor The Japanese army and navy went about the task of creating the arc of defense. In this scenario, the Solomon Islands of New Guinea were of great importance. The Solomon Islands is an archipelago consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania lying to the east of Papua New Guinea. Their goal was to establish an effective defensive perimeter from British India on the west and continue through the Dutch East Indies on the south, and to island bases in the south and central Pacific. This was their arc of defense. Having conquered the Philippines and winning a great victory at Bataan, the Japanese invaded New Guinea. The Imperial Army with the Navy was able to establish control over the islands within six months

Battle of Coral Sea 1942

At that time the US decided that the Japanese thrust had to be contained and this led to the Battle of the Coral Sea 4-8 May 1942. This is a revolutionary battle as it was the first occasion when two navies had gone into battle without being in sight of each other. The battle was an airborne assault between the carrier forces of the Imperial and US fleet. This is the classical vindication of Douhet’s theory of airfare as applied to a naval scenario. The potency of air power even in the naval environment was thus established.

Admiral Yamamoto personally supervised this battle. The Imperial navy claimed a tactical victory but in effect suffered a strategic defeat. The Imperial fleet lost 2 carriers the Shōkaku and Shoho. This was the major blow to the Japanese fleet. The loss of these carriers was significant as later at the battle at Midway their loss was felt.

The Japanese lost the battle of midway and thus lost the command of the sea.

The battle is recounted the world over and resulted in a crippling of the Imperial navy’s carrier fleet. This marked the high tide of the Japanese success and now the tide began to ebb.

Solomon Islands

The naval battles in the Solomon Islands have an importance of their own. They were the scene of the Pacific war's longest running naval battles and were fiercely contested for close to 3 years. At Guadalcanal, more than a dozen battles raged in the oceans around the island.

An important point is that most of the battle took place at night. The Japanese had perfected the art of night battles. Their weapons and tactics were of a high order. Unfortunately, the Japanese were faced with a foe willing to accept heavy losses for the sake of victory and more important could sustain these losses.

The Americans resisted tenaciously and further advances of the Japanese were effectively halted. The area around Guadalcanal, Savo Island, Florida Island, and Solomon islands is a hallowed place in naval warfare. The stretch of the ocean around this area has seen the sinking tens of ships. This area is also referred to as Iron Bottom sound and saw a bitter naval war between the Japanese and the US fleet.

Major Battle Ground

History records that this area around the Solomon Islands saw 7 major naval battles. The Japanese strategic designs were not allowed to bear fruit. Guadalcanal is the most famous of them and after that, the Japanese knew that their empire was at stake.

Last word

There is no doubt that the Japanese fought ferociously. They had occupied the islands in early 1942 and retained many of them till Aug1945. fresh. Historians believe that the battles of the Solomon Islands were the first that halted the Imperial navy war machine. One significance of these battles is that the awe and fear with which the allies looked at Japanese seamen and soldiers were replaced with a quiet confidence that the battle against Japan could be won.

During these battles, the Imperial Navy lost 80 ships and 1500 planes. The American Navy lost 40 ships and 800 aircraft. The Japanese suffered 86,000 dead while the American fleet had10,600 dead. These figures give an idea of the stoic approach to death of the Japanese army and navy.


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