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    Vella Lavella Island Western Province Solomon Islands

Location
Lat 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.

Wartime History
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

Japanese Stragglers
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 its jungles and palm groves.

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."

Barakoma
Site of the American landing, and adjacent beach to and American built Barakoma Airfield (Fighter Strip).

Geva Airfield
Postwar built airfield

Biloa
Located on the southern tip of the island. Prewar, Biloa Mission was established at this location. Also known as Biloa Mission Station.

Liapari Island
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.

Niarovai
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.

Maravari
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

Gill's Plantation
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 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.

Kimbolia
American radar station built at this location.

Vorambare Bay
Location of the last battles between the Japanese and American forces during the recapture of the island. Japanese holdout sighting in 1989.

P-40F Warhawk
Piloted by Lewis MIA February 27, 1943

References
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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Last Updated
May 22, 2017

 

Map
Map
Sept 1943

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