Seen as a natural highway into the South Pacific, the Solomon Island archipelago was seized by the Japanese early in the Pacific war. The Americans also recognized the geographical advantage of the Solomon Islands, but directed their objectives toward New Guinea, the Philippines, and ultimately Japan.
America's goal was to take the port of Rabaul, located on the island of New Britain north of New Guinea. Rabaul, which the Japanese had seized from the Australians in June 1942, had been built up as Japan's main base in the South Pacific. Beginning with the Guadalcanal Campaign, US forces hoped to secure the region surrounding Rabaul and stop Japanese forces from gaining more strength and territory. In this ongoing US offensive, other islands along the Solomon Island chain had to be secured. These included New Georgia and Bougainville.
A major Military Intelligence Service (MIS) contribution in the Solomons campaign was the ambush of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet Command and the mastermind behind the attack on Pearl Harbor.
MIS soldier Technical Sergeant Tarno Harold Fudenna was a Kibei from California who had graduated from the Military Intelligence Service Language School in one of the top sections. He had initially been deployed to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) in Brisbane, Australia, but was sent to a remote airstrip in New Guinea to join the 138th Signal Radio Intercept Company. On April 13, 1943, the Army and Navy learned from picking up radio messages that Yamamoto would be inspecting the South Pacific region within a few days. They learned of Yamamoto's planned flight to Bougainville.
As more messages about Yamamoto's visit hit the airwaves, Fudenna intercepted one such message and then presented it to his superior. At first, some thought the messages were designed as a trap. But they turned out to be legitimate. On April 18, 1943, Brigadier General Ennis Whitehead, deputy commander of the Fifth Air Force, called Fudenna to verify the accuracy of his message. Later on that same day, Yamamoto's plane was successfully shot down above Bougainville by P-38s at Guadalcanal. There were no survivors. Whitehead personally congratulated Fudenna for his part in intercepting and translating the message.1 General Douglas MacArthur later referred to this incident as "one of the singularly most significant actions of the Pacific War."2
Meanwhile, at New Georgia in the central Solomons, the main US objective was to take the Japanese air base at Munda on the western end of New Georgia. The first phase, securing the flow of supplies and troops from Guadalcanal, was a success.3 Then, on the night of June 29, 1943, the Americans invaded New Georgia. With the 43rd Infantry Division were Captain Eugene A. Wright and a team of ten Nisei MIS linguists. After two weeks of intense, but unproductive fighting, Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., commander-in-chief of the South Pacific Area, sent support from the 37th and 25th Infantry Divisions. Accompanying them was another team of Nisei MIS linguists, led by two Caucasian officers and Staff Sergeant Kazuo Komoto. One night, Komoto was hit by sniper machine gun fire, which tore up his knee. Evacuated to the hospital ship, he was presented with a Purple Heart, the first given to an MIS Nisei.
On August 5, the Japanese resistance at Munda was finally crushed and the airstrip was secured. The battle at Munda was the most costly part of the New Georgia initiative, with more soldiers falling ill from disease than from combat, but it was not yet over. Fighting continued through northern New Georgia, and after about 5,000 Japanese troops were killed in action, the Japanese retreated.5
Meanwhile, the 25th Infantry Division had landed at Vella Lavella, accompanied by Captain John Burden and a team of ten Nisei, including Tateshi Miyasaki, whom Burden referred to as his "right hand all through the Solomon Islands campaign."6
Despite the hardships of jungle warfare, the MIS worked courageously through the Northern Solomons campaign. They worked at intelligence centers, on the front lines, and behind enemy lines. They also labored over the scores of documents that were left behind by the retreating Japanese, combing through papers to find any helpful information, and putting together bits and pieces of information to form cohesive content that would be useful to commanders.
1 James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 186, http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/nisei_linguists/CMH_70-99-1.pdf.
2Ted Tsukiyama, "The Nisei Intelligence War Against Japan," javadc.org, November 19, 2004, http://www.javadc.org/Nisei%20Intelligence%20War%20Against%20Japan.htm.
3For details on the New Georgia offensive and the Northern Solomons campaign, see Shannon S. Schwaller, "The Harsh Realities of Warfare," US Army Website, last updated February 14, 2011, http://www.army.mil/article/51848/The_Harsh_Realities_of_Warfare/.
4McNaughton, p. 175.
5John Rickard, "Battle of Munda, 2 July-5 August 1943," historyofwar.org, n.d., http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_munda.html.
6John Alfred Burden, qtd. in Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 50.