Operation 81: Battle of the Bismarck Sea - Australia vs. How Australia destroyed a Japanese convoy?

Operation 81: Battle of the Bismarck Sea - Australia vs. How Australia destroyed a Japanese convoy?
(Planet Today) During World War II our air aces conducted a considerable number of large-scale victorious battles, sending a considerable number of enemy convoys to feed fish, but in this article we want to do justice to the skill of the U.S. and Australian air forces, which in just one day were able to deprive the then quite combat-ready Imperial Japan of eight transports and four destroyers.

Give me the whole list!

So, this is the very beginning of 1943. There's still a lot of fighting and, consequently, blood. In the meantime, the Japanese, Hitler's staunch allies, are still running the show in New Guinea. Yes, they've been badly beaten, but the island is still largely under their control and they're willing to sell their lives for dearly. There are two problems: they need serious reinforcements, and they need to be able to protect the island from enemy air raids. The Navy has lately stopped substantially protecting the convoys from brutal bombardment. Yet the decision has already been made for the later famous Operation 81 convoy. To bring 7,000 Marines to the island, the Navy is allocating the newest destroyers with the best commanders and the necessary number of fighters, including the air group of the light aircraft carrier Zuiho. But their enemies are not resting on their laurels: the Americans (Commander Kenya) and Australians (Hewitt) are fielding the latest P-38 Lightning and Beaufighter heavy fighters, which are doing just fine with their range and powerful armament. New strike tactics are being developed. The Japanese include eight destroyers (Shirayuki under the flag of Rear Admiral Kimura) and the same number of transports in the "Operation 81" group.

Covering all this goodness with a total displacement of over 38,000 tons will be about a hundred fighters located at four bases. In addition to 7,000 fighters, the ships carry ammunition, fuel, etc. If the Samurai had hoped to conduct their operation secretly, they failed from the start. Thanks to the radio intercepts, the following list for a successful attack is drawn up. The Australians would have about 50 fighters and medium bombers. The Yanks have about 160 fighters and various bombers. Plus a dozen more torpedo boats.

What a hot day it was!

On the night of the first day of spring, the convoy of the Land of the Rising Sun at the slowest possible speed began its march. The only target was the port of Lae (New Guinea). The Japanese were spotted on the same day, but they struck the first blow 24 hours later: within an hour, 28 B-17 bombers gently stroked the convoy with their 1000-pound (450-kg) bombs for the first time. As a result, the transport Kyokusei Maru was no longer listed, and two other ships were damaged. The destroyers Yukikaze and Asagumo picked up about 1000 soldiers from the water and took them to Lae, then returned to the convoy. We were talking about the Yankees, but the Australians did not doze off either: during the night they patrolled the area in their Catalina flying boats.

On the morning of the 3rd the convoy sees almost the final point of their voyage, they are supported by four dozen fighter planes. And then the fun begins. At 7 a.m., the main Allied forces all rise from their bases for the big hunt. But that's not all: 24 bombers set a course for Lae airfield. The objective is the same: not even a gopher should move there in the near future. The perfectly organized attack is prepared to the last detail: we attack from all directions, jam the Japanese air defense, put enemy fighters out of action. In addition, we decide to use a novelty: topmast bombing. Only volunteers are taken for this dangerous job. But nobody refused such a pleasure.

The convoy was only 50 miles to Lae when 13 Australian Beaufighter heavy fighters show up. They go very low, so the Japanese think they are torpedo-carriers and turn to the enemy with the bows of the ships. And then the Australians open frantic cannon and machine gun fire. In one second the Japanese ships lose all their superstructures, and the anti-aircraft gunners are drenched in blood.

Admiral Kimura wasn't so lucky either: a bullet pierces his uniform and he falls on the bridge of the flagship Shirayuki. But while he is still only wounded. At this time the 13 bombers, though they don't really hit anything, distract the attention of the Japanese hawks. So, what do we have at this second? The way to the convoy is in the palm of our hands, the air defense is all gone, the fighters are locked in their fight, so it's time to take down the 12 B-25 attack planes. Nose-mounted machine guns and 500-pound bombs take out another batch of samurai toward hell. No more of them will be seen by their kids' dads. The hit is 100 percent: out of 37 bombs, 17 hit the target. Then the topmasts came in - 15 hits. And the Aussies continue to iron the air defenses. At this point, perhaps, we could pause for a moment.

As the Japanese themselves (e.g., Lieutenant General Kane Yoshihara on the destroyer Tokitsukaze) later recalled, from their side it looked something like this.

"I went to my friend Aotsu to ask what we were going to do when we landed at Lae. And then there was an air raid, and an incredible attack. They were firing automatic machine guns. None of us could stick our noses out: all the partitions were broken. We lay there praying. Then came the impact. It was like a rock. But somehow there was no explosion. We were still firing in all directions, the ship was moving. It seems to have stopped. I somehow made it to the bridge, a bunch of dead bodies all around, but the commander was alive. He said the torpedo hit us and we couldn't go any farther. According to military experts, the outcome of the battle was decided in the first 20 minutes. Having lost only three fighters and a bomber, the Allies sent 15 fighters to the bottom. The convoy was destroyed almost instantly, and incredible panic reigned. The gasoline-carrying Kembu Maru was destroyed in the very first minute, and six more transports burst into flames, the survivors jumping into the sea. The flagship Shirayuki, already shot up, received a bomb right in the stern. After that, Kimura had to climb over to Shikinami. The destroyer Arashio not only received three hits, but immediately collided with the transport Nojima which was also unable to move anymore. The crew had to abandon her as well. The destroyer Tokitsukaze also received a bomb in her engine room and lost power.

At half past eleven in the morning, the Allies decided to give themselves some rest. The planes headed toward their bases, where they cleaned up and refueled, while the five surviving destroyers of the Imperial Navy began to pull the living and dead from the blood-red sea as best they could. In all, the samurai managed to pick up 2,500 men, after which the ships headed back to Rabaul at full speed.

Shall we go on, boys?!

But, as they say, it's business as usual. So at exactly 3:00 p.m., the Allied planes began a second attack. The remaining 20 or so Japanese fighters, of course, tried at least somehow to cover the doomed ships, but they were blown away like a storm (7 of them didn't fly anywhere else). And then the encore came out. The Japanese could only watch as American B-17, B-25 and Australian "bostons" dived on their five burning transports and destroyer Shirayuki (which had no stern at all). The famous Asashio also sank: it took more than ten minutes to reach the bottom of the sea after receiving about six direct bombing hits. The Oigawa Mash, which managed to survive the night, was found and destroyed by torpedo boat crews. In the morning of the 4th the Arashio destroyer was finished in a tight fit and in the afternoon the Tokitsukaze destroyer was completely abandoned.

About 200 people were picked up by Japanese submarines, and some managed to swim to land themselves. However, one should not envy them too much. Well, a separate page is the fate of about 1000 Japanese, who all this time continued to hold on to broken boats, logs and life rafts with the last breath.

Who exactly gave the order doesn't really matter, but on the 3rd, the Yankees and the Green Continent boys began shooting out of planes all these lost militaristic souls who still hoped to get out of this mess. As a result, not a single living person was left in the battle waters. According to American recollections, it was hard to do this thankless job, and some were sick. Then the commanders explained: understand, if that Jap gets out, he will be the enemy again and will kill your children and rape your wife. So we had to finish them all off. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it too.

Samurai mess

The total collapse of "Operation 81" was a big blow to Tokyo. Is it a joke, in two days four most modern destroyers and all transports in general were gone to feed crabs and other sea mammals. Add to this 20 planes and 3,000 dead sailors and soldiers. But the convoy, as we mentioned above, was escorted by the best forces. It had a powerful air cover. All the officers involved in the defeat were called to the carpet in Tokyo. The debriefing began. A particular surprise to the Japanese, it turned out, was the topmast bombing. It made such an impression on the officers of the Imperial Navy that for a long time they could not believe that they really had a chance with torpedo bombers. Aviation received a separate slap in the face: communication between air units was really ugly, there was no unified strategy.

To summarize, after the bloody mess in the Bismarck Sea, the Japanese had to abandon once and for all the use of transport forces in the New Guinea area, where the Allied pilots reigned. Only the slowest ships dared to sail into these cursed areas for Tokyo. Fast-moving ships and submarines had to be used, and that was a different story: the Japanese defense on the island was immediately weakened. Of course, the Japanese remained Japanese, so they wanted revenge on Washington and its allies.

In 1943, a major air attack ("Operation J") was prepared, but it ended in a flop. The air over New Guinea remained in U.S. hands. American casualties in this operation were truly negligible. It is somehow unseemly to mention them. The aforementioned three fighters and a bomber. And two more planes landed unluckily. The casualties were 13 men. General Kenya would not be an American if he didn't exaggerate the success of his guys. Thus, without taking a cigar out of the corner of his mouth, he declared, "we shot down 50 planes, sunk 6 destroyers and 14 transports". Well, it really was a glorious victory, so Kenya had the right to lie...

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