Operation Blissful, the Choiseul Raid of 27 October-4 November 1943, was a diversionary attack designed to distract Japanese attentions away from Bougainville, the next American target in the Solomon Islands.
An attack on Choiseul had been part of the Bougainville plan for some time, but originally the intention was to build a PT base on the northern coast of the island. General Vandegrift, the commander of the ground forces allocated to the invasion of Bougainville was worried that the occupation of Choiseul and the Treasury Islands would alert the Japanese to the upcoming invasion of Bougainville, and he suggested that the Choiseul operation be altered into a diversionary raid. He hoped that this would confuse the Japanese as to the real American target or at least convince them that southern Bougainville would be their target.
The 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion, commanded by Lt Col Victor H. Krulak, was allocated to the new operation, which was adopted on 22 October. It was to be transported to Choiseul on four destroyer transports, with an escort of destroyers, all part of the southern force within Task Force 31.
A number of reconnaissance parties were landed on Choiseul before the main raid. They found 1,000 Japanese troops at Kakase, about half way along the southern coast of the island and another 300 at Choiseul Bay at the western tip. There was also a barge staging point at Sagigai, half way between the two.
On the night of 27-28 October the paratroopers were landed at Voza, between Choiseul Bay and Sagigai. They had been expecting to be greeted by a local party, who would shine a light if there were no Japanese troops in the area. The light wasn't seen until after the Marines began their final run-in, so they landed expected opposition that never appeared. The landing was spotted by a Japanese aircraft, and at dawn the landing beach was bombed, but by then the Americans had moved inland.
On 28 October the Marines established a base on a plateau to the north-west of Voza, with outposts on the coast to the north-west and south-east of the village.
On 29 October Krulak sent out patrols in both directions to study the approaches to the nearby Japanese positions. He led the ground heading south-east to Sagigai himself. During the reconnaissance patrol a group of ten Japanese soldiers unloading a barge were found and attacked, marking the start of the raid's active period.
On 30 October Krulak launched a larger attack on Sagigai, supported by an air strike. Krulak planned to use two companies to envelop the Japanese position. One company would attack along the beach while the other would circle around inland and attack from the east. As so often happened in the Solomon Islands this plan failed to take into account the difficulties of movement in the jungle. The beach force reached its starting positions on time and launched its attack a few minutes after H-Hour at 2pm. At this point Krulak and the inland company were still some way from their starting point. If the Japanese had stood and fought then Company E, on the beach might have been in trouble. Instead the Japanese abandoned the village and retreated into pre-prepared defensive positions. This move brought the Japanese straight into Krulak and Company F, and an hour long battle began. The Americans had much the better of this clash, and when it eventually ended they counted 72 Japanese bodies having only lost four dead themselves.
By 31 October the Marines were back at Voza. They prepared a number of ambush positions to guard against the inevitable Japanese counterattack while another patrol was sent north-west along the coast. A second patrol was sent out in the same direction on 1 November, to investigate reports of a Japanese base on the Warrior River. On the night of 1-2 November part of this patrol had a close encounter with a larger Japanese patrol, but escaped unscathed. Another detachment to fight its way past a Japanese force, and the overall attack towards Choiseul Bay had to be abandoned when it was clear that any chance of surprise had been lost. Instead a Japanese base on Guppy Island, just off the coast, was shelled. The patrol then had to be rescued from the mouth of the Warrior River by a force that was supported by two PT boats (one of which was commanded by the young John F. Kennedy).
It was now clear that the Japanese had a good idea of how large the American force was, and its location. On 3 November native scouts reported that there were around 800-1,000 Japanese soldiers at Sagigai. Krulak was asked if he thought his force should be evacuated early and told that Vandegrift believed that he had achieved his objectives. With a major Japanese attack on the way, and his objectives met, Krulak decided to withdraw early. On the night of 3-4 November the marines embarked on three LCIs and after a short journey returned were back on Vella Lavella. A few hours later the large Japanese force at Sagigai reached Voza, but found their quarry had gone.
The Choiseul raid probably had little impact on the wider Bougainville campaign. The main landing in Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November was so much larger than the landing on Choiseul that it made it immediately clear that the Marine raid was just a diversion. The gap between the two operations was also so short that the Japanese wouldn’t have had any time to make any major changes to their plans even if they had been fooled. Although it may not have worked as a diversion, the operation was very successful as a simple raid. The Marines lost 9 dead and 12-15 wounded, while the Japanese lost 143 dead, two barges, 180 tons of supplies and a sizable amount of fuel.