- Wright, Ken
- WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The sea would give the survivors no mercy, nor would the allies. During 4 and 5 March, with the convoy destroyed, orders were issued for the aircrews to strafe survivors in the water, in lifeboats, on rafts and any rescue vessels that might appear. No survivor must be allowed to reach land to fight Allied troops. Once ashore those survivors who were still armed would fight. The Japanese soldiers were tough and tenacious and would sell their lives dearly so why risk Allied lives when the enemy were already there to be killed. The word had already spread like wildfire around the base the previous day about the cold blooded machine gunning of the B-17 crew and now the Japanese in the water were going to pay. There were a good many pilots and air crew who relished the chance to ‘send the Japs to hell.’ Some would later view it as nauseating work but accept it as a reality of war: for others, the experience would affect them badly. While the planes circled looking for targets for their machine guns, sharks also circled but it’s not known if they took part in the bloody smorgasbord, compliments of the Allied Air Force. With all the food in the water it would be hard to imagine they wouldn’t feed. Even if they did, there would be little sympathy for those in the water as knowledge of Japanese atrocities carried out against Allied POWs and civilians in occupied territories would have been well known by 1943.
The Japanese Navy was as equally sadistic as their army counterparts. At sea Japanese surface vessels sank allied naval, Red Cross and merchant vessels and then tried to murder any survivors who were in lifeboats or were found floating in the sea. Approximately 20,000 Allied seamen and countless civilians were fed to the sharks, killed by sledge hammers, bayoneted, beheaded, hung, drowned, machine-gunned or crucified, just to mention a few methods of execution.
After the Allied aircraft had finished their gruesome work and returned to base, an entry in one American Squadron diary was blunt; ‘What we didn’t get the sharks got. Every man in the squadron would have given two months pay to be in on the strafing. One gunner expended 1,100 rounds of ammunition and burned out two guns.’ The fate of the Japanese soldier who ‘dreamed of a dragon from the sea’ is not known but his diary was found washed up on a beach on Goodenough Island by Allied soldiers. After the battle, Allied aircraft attacked the Japanese fighter base at Lae catching the defenders unprepared. Six Zero fighters were destroyed on the ground and the base facilities were extensively damaged.
In the following days it was fickle fortunes of fate who found who first. While Allied patrol boats and aircraft scoured the ocean looking for survivors to kill, IJN submarines were looking for survivors to save. Rear Admiral Kimura and his staff from the destroyer Shirayuki were among those fortunate enough to be rescued by submarine. Many finally made it to land but were either killed or captured by Allied troops. The fate of the remaining survivors is unknown.
‘A Combined Effort’
The actions over the Bismarck Sea by the combined American and Australian Air Forces had achieved one of the most stunning victories in any theatre in WW II and stopped the Japanese advance toward Australia. It was a land battle fought at sea and won from the air and proved that land based bombers were a highly effective weapon against ships. The Japanese themselves had taught the Allies in Asia and the Pacific that shipping within range of land based aircraft is at risk. The Allied victory also showed what could be achieved with sound intelligence gathering, thorough command gathering and inter-allied operational cooperation and coordination plus skilled and tenacious aircrews. In a blatant promotion of self interest, both MacArthur and Kenney sought to claim all the credit for themselves and the USAAF. Kenney’s report back to Washington made no mention of the participation of the Royal Australian Air Force. MacArthur was notorious for this type of self inflation and that of American military actions throughout the war. Sadly, many historians writing about the Battle of the Bismarck Sea call it a ‘United States’ victory. It was quite clearly a combined ‘Aussie’ and ‘Yank’ effort and every single element of the Allied force was indispensable to the successful end result and it should always be historically recorded as such.