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Back to the Philippines

Southwest Pacific region near New Guinea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Southwest Pacific region near New Guinea. (U.S. Air Force photo)


The Battle of the Coral Sea and the fight at Guadalcanal in 1942 ended the Japanese drive across the Southwest Pacific, but Japanese troops still controlled the northern half of New Guinea. Before Gen. Douglas MacArthur could begin his drive to liberate the Philippines, he had to defeat the enemy forces in New Guinea and eliminate the Japanese sea and air forces at Rabaul, New Britain, threatening his flank and the supply lines.

Rough terrain, terrible weather and tropical diseases made it almost impossible for Allied ground troops to march across New Guinea, although airlifting troops with C-47s provided one solution. However, control of the skies had to be won before unarmed C-47s and amphibious forces could operate effectively. MacArthur entrusted the air war to Gen. George C. Kenney, who commanded the Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific, including the USAAF 5th and 13th Air Forces. Kenney convinced MacArthur that the first priority should be to destroy the enemy's "air strength until we own the air over New Guinea." Then, MacArthur's land and amphibious forces could advance under the constant protection of Allied fighters and bombers.

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