7° 45' 0S Long 156° 40' 0E Vella Lavella Island is located in Western Province in the central Solomon Islands. Borders Vella Gulf to the east, and Wilson Strait
to the south. To the west are Mbava Island (Baga Island) and Turovilu Island. To the southeast is Laipari Island.
During October 1942, USS Grampus (SS-207) landed several coastwatchers on Vella Lavella to survey the Barakoma area as a potential site for a suitable airfield to bypass Kolombangara.
The Naval Battle of Vella Lavella occurred during the night of October 6, 1943. By early October, 600 Japanese remained at Horaniu on the northern tip of Vella Lavella. A destroyer force was sent to rescue them including destroyer-transports: Fumizuki, Matsukaze, and Yūnagi escorted by six destroyers: Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazagumo, Yūgumo, Shigure, and Samidare. At 11:30pm, the Japanese spotted three USN destroyers approaching from Vella Gulf including USS Selfridge, USS Chevalier, and USS O'Bannon. During the battle, Yūgumo was hit and sunk. USS Chevalier was hit by a torpedo and sunk. Damaged were USS O'Bannon and USS Selfridge. The battle resulted in a Japanese victory as they sustained less damage and were able to complete their mission.
The Land Battle of Vella Lavella (also known as the Vella Lavella Campaign) was the American and New Zealand effort to liberate the island. On August 15, 1943 troops from the 25th Infantry Division, 35th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) along with four Marine Defense Battalion, and later one battalion of the
145 Infantry Regiment landed on Vella Lavella. Following the landing, the Japanese were driven to the northern end
of the island, between Praso Bay and Mundi Mundi awaiting reinforcements.
On September 18, 1943 the Americans were relieved by the New Zealand Army's 3rd
New Division, 37th Battalion and 35th Battalion that established their headquarters at Gill's Plantation, with the 30th Battalion held in reserve. The 35th and 37th Battalions made an amphibious flanking movement around the island, the 37th Battalion made an amphibious movement around the southern tip of the island and between Mbava (Baga) and Turovilu Island before landing at Mundi Mundi and Pakoi Bay. Meanwhile, the 35th Battalion made an amphibious movement around the east coast of Vella Lavella before landing at several points on the north coast including Paraso Bay, Doveli Cove, Varuasi and Warambari Bay.
American and Japanese
missions against Vella Lavella
February 27 - October 2, 1943
The handful of Japanese there
were quickly mopped
up, but about 300 were abandoned and fled into the interior of the
island. At least one Japanese
holdout surrendered 1965. Due to
its rapid captured, the island was spared excessive damage to
David Cram adds:
"I have a surrender notice leaflet that I found in the bush in Vella la
Vella in 1995 that was dropped by the Japanese Embassy when they were looking
for Japanese stragglers in the
1960s. I'll get a scan of that for you if you like. It was printed on water proof
paper and as such was able to survive relatively intact."
Site of the American landing,
and adjacent beach to and American built Barakoma Airfield (Fighter Strip).
Postwar built airfield
Located on the southern tip of the island.
Prewar, Biloa Mission was established at this location. Also known as Biloa Mission Station.
Located opposite Biloa on the southeast corner of Vella Lavella. Remains of a U. S. Navy "Seabee" built road that connect Liapari
to Ruruvai. A U. S. Navy (USN) PT Boat base was initially built at this location.
Located on the eastern coast between Ruravai to the
north and Gill's Plantation to the south. War Memorial to NZ forces who
landed in September 1943 located at this location.
Located on the eastern coast of Vella Lavella to the south of the mouth of the Maravari River.
New Zealand and United States cemetery at Maravari
Dedicated on December 19, 1943. Honor guards were provided by the New Zealand 14th Brigade and U. S. Navy (USN) 58th Naval Construction Battalion "Seabees". A service was led by Bishop Gerard,
senior chaplain to the 3rd New Zealand Division and an American chaplin.
Buried at this cemeter were New Zeland Army casualties from the 35th Battalions and 37th Battalion killed in the Land Battle of Vella Lavella (Vella Lavella campaign) plus Americans killed during air raids on the island.
Reference: Pacific Kiwis: Being The Story of the Service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force page 85
During 1943, American forces established their division headquarters and field hospital at this location. The only European building on the island
was located here and used as a rest area for soldiers.
Lambu Cove (Lambulambu)
Located on the northeastern coast of the island,
Kimbolia is located further to the north. PT Boat base was relocated
here from Laipari which proved to be unsuitable. Japanese freighter sunk
here in 12m, reportedly visibility is poor.
American radar station built at this
Location of the last battles between the Japanese
and American forces during the recapture of the island. Japanese
holdout sighting in 1989.
Piloted by Lewis MIA February 27, 1943
Pacific Kiwis: Being The Story of the Service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force pages 66-98
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May 22, 2017