Bismarck Archipelago Campaign

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BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO CAMPAIGN of World War II was fought in Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific area from late 1943 to early 1944. Located just north of New Guinea, these islands were situated along the Allied advance toward the Philippines. The formidable Japanese bastion at Rabaul, on the northern edge of New Britain, presented a serious threat to Allied forces. Thus the campaign had the two objectives of isolating Rabaul and securing bases for further advances toward the Philippines.

The first assaults began in December 1943 with landings on the southern edge of New Britain and concurrent Australian and American advances over the northern coast of New Guinea. In February 1944 MacArthur ordered a hazardous assault on the Admiralty Islands to the north and west of Rabaul. Despite unexpectedly strong Japanese resistance, soldiers of the First Cavalry Division captured the islands, and the excellent anchorage of the Admiralty Islands provided the necessary logistical base for further Allied advances. At the same time Allied possession of these islands isolated and neutralized the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul, thus accomplishing the objectives of this campaign. Operations in these jungle islands were extremely difficult for soldiers from both sides, as the harsh environment caused diseases, especially malaria and psychological stress. Subsequent scholarship has pointed to the enormous advantage the Americans obtained by breaking Japanese codes.


Drea, Edward J. MacArthur's ULTRA: Codebreaking and the War against Japan, 1942–1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Miller, John. Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1959.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Volume 6: Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, 22 July 1942–1 May 1944. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

Leo P.Hirrel

See alsoWorld War II .