Before 1942 hardly anybody had ever heard of New Georgia, and after 1943 few people would ever hear of it again. Nothing important had ever happened there before, and nothing important afterwards. But for an intense five-month period from June through November 1943, the New Georgia Group of islands would see fierce fighting on land, sea and in the air—and some of the worst American strategic and tactical planning of the war.
The New Georgia Group in the Central Solomons, on the west side of “The Slot,” is 125 miles long and 40 miles wide. It includes 12 large habitable islands, several dozen small ones, barrier islands, fringing coral reefs and innumerable uncharted coral heads. Like most of the other large Solomon Islands, the New Georgia group is thickly covered by some of the most difficult jungle terrain in the world. So thick is the top canopy that twilight prevails even in broad daylight. The ground beneath is covered with many steep ridges and small rivers—most of which are unseen in aerial photography. Where the terrain flattens near the coastline and the rivers deposit silt carried down from the interior highlands, mangrove swamps usually result.
Just south of the equator, the islands are always hot and rainy, with high daytime temperatures often in excess of 100 degrees. Humidity runs near 100%, and as a result the usual tropical diseases, malaria and dengue fever, proliferate. Constant moisture promotes many debilitating fungal skin conditions, commonly referred to as “jungle rot.” Metal rusts seemingly overnight, and in WW II cloth and leather literally rotted off the soldiers’ equipment.
In 1943 there were virtually no trails or roads in the interiors of these islands, and when they were eventually cut, the passage of even a company-sized unit turned the footing into a sea of mud. The only large low flat area on New Georgia was the former copra plantation zone around Munda airfield near the south tip of its northwest corner.