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World Battlefronts: 90 Miles Below Rabaul

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On the fringes of Empress Augusta Bay U.S. marines and soldiers killed more Japs, expanded their positions. But the week’s most spectacular killing of Japs in the Solomons theater took place many miles from Bougainville’s steaming, hotbox jungle.

Thanksgiving Day, between midnight and dawn, a scouting U.S. destroyer force intercepted six Jap light cruisers or de stroyers in the waters northwest of Bougainville. Two of the surprised enemy were quickly dispatched by torpedoes. The remainder turned stern in a welter of American shellfire. Hard-driving Captain Arleigh (“31-Knot”) Burke, the U.S.

force’s chief, ordered a chase, pressed boldly to a point 90 miles below the big Jap base at Rabaul. Later he described the action : “With all the speed we had [we] finally closed the range to 8,000 yd.” The Japs, apparently thinking the entire U.S. Fleet was attacking, scattered. Captain Burke ordered a concentration on one damaged ship.”Our boys were firing so fast that many collapsed from gas fumes in their turrets and from sheer exhaustion. Finally we got close enough so I knew the shells from three ships were hitting him. He was burning and exploding all over. Just as we prepared to open up with torpedoes he sank with a terrible explosion.” The box score, after the fight was over: four Jap ships sunk, I damaged,I escaped, no U.S. losses.

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