The pivotal Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a major victory for the Allies in the Pacific and one of the most successful operations for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during the Second World War.

In early 1943, Allied Intelligence learned of a large Japanese convoy which would transport nearly 7,000 troops from Rabaul to reinforce its base in Lae, on the northeast coast of New Guinea. Eight Japanese destroyers and eight troop transports were escorted by approximately 100 fighter aircraft when they left Rabaul on 28 February 1943.

RAAF and United States Army Air Force bomber squadrons in Papua began training together to attack the ships at sea, to prevent the Japanese troops from landing. The combined Allied force included 154 fighters, 34 light bombers, 41 medium bombers and 39 heavy bombers.

Once tropical storms had cleared and the convoy was spotted, the Allied force attacked in successive relays over the next three days using a range of aircraft including Beauforts, B-17 Flying Fortresses, A-20 Bostons and Catalina flying boats. RAAF Beaufighters inflicted damage with low level strafing runs, while US B-17s and B-25s dropped bombs from higher altitudes. One tactic was low altitude 'skip bombing', which involved causing the bomb to skip along the water's surface, detonating when the tip of the bomb hit a ship's hull.

By daybreak on 4 March 1943 all eight Japanese transports had been sunk and four of their escorting destroyers had also been lost. The other four were badly damaged, and around 50-60 escorting Zero fighters had also been shot down  While the Allied losses were smaller, 13 US Air Force and RAAF crew were killed and a further six were wounded.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea is remembered as one of the pivotal battles in the South West Pacific. Eighty years on, we honour the sacrifice and bravery of all those who served in this battle and in the Second World War.

For more information on the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, visit DVA’s Anzac Portal.

80th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Image: Enemy shipping under attack by Allied aircraft during the battle of the Bismarck Sea