World War Two: Guadalcanal (6); October Counteroffensive

The Japanese, who had been planning for a full-scale counteroffensive ever since August, had completed their preparations by October, and were ready to strike. The first attempts by the inadequate Ichiki and Kawaguchi Forces had failed to dislodge the marines from their defenses around the airfield. The early Japanese estimates of American strength had proved to be disastrously low. Major General Shuicho Miyazaki wrote later that, while in Tokyo prior to becoming Chief of Staff of the 17th Army, he had lacked exact knowledge of American strength. “Does the American force which landed on Guadalcanal on August 7th,” he had asked himself, “represent the entire enemy force committed to this campaign, or is it only the spearhead of a large counter-offensive? If it is the former, our operations will most certainly be successful. But if it is the latter, victory or defeat hangs in the balance.”

When the Japanese planned their operation in the spring of 1942, Miyazaki wrote, they hoped to sever the line of communications between the United States and Australia with two separate thrusts. One had as its goal Port Moresby in New Guinea, while the other, an advance through the Solomons, was aimed at the Fijis, Samoa, and New Caledonia. The Allied offensive in August, however, had turned these two thrusts into a single campaign. Operations against Port Moresby, which had been repulsed in May at the Battle of the Coral Sea, had meanwhile been resumed by one small force moving overland across the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea.

After August, 17th Army Headquarters at Rabaul raised its estimates of American strength on Guadalcanal but still made serious miscalculations. It believed that 7,500 American troops were holding Lunga Point on 19 September. Actually, U. S. strength on Guadalcanal at the end of September was above 19,000 and rose to over 23,000 on 13 October.

Japanese Strategy

On the basis of erroneous estimates, General Hyakutake had been preparing elaborate plans for the recapture of Lunga Point even before the Kawaguchi Force had reached Guadalcanal. The first plan, issued on 28 August and altered several times afterward, established the basic concept for the Japanese counteroffensive which was to begin in October. General Hyakutake intended to command the operation on Guadalcanal personally. The Kawaguchi Force was to secure positions east and west of the Matanikau to cover a projected landing by a fresh division, to secure a line of departure, and to harass the Lunga defenses while a strong artillery force prepared to neutralize Henderson Field. The 17th Army was to arrange for the transport of the necessary troops from Rabaul. Once the troops reached Guadalcanal and completed their preparations for the attack, they were to “… capture the enemy positions, especially the airfield and artillery positions in one blow.” General Hyakutake also considered sending one force in an amphibious assault “behind the enemy.” “The operation to surround and recapture Guadalcanal,” he grandiloquently announced, “will truly decide the fate of the control of the entire Pacific area ….”

Once Lunga Point was retaken, the Japanese planned to seize Rennell, Tulagi, and San Cristobal. During this phase, 17th Army reserve forces and the Imperial Navy were to intensify the attacks against General MacArthur’s force in New Guinea. Port Moresby was to be taken by the end of November. Because the importance of Guadalcanal prevented planes, warships, and troop transports from being sent from the Solomons to New Guinea, the Japanese were forced to finish the Guadalcanal campaign before attempting to reinforce New Guinea.

The Japanese offensive against Guadalcanal was to be a joint operation. In September 17th Army representatives met at Truk with the commanders of the Combined and the Southeastern Fleets to plan the attack, which was tentatively set for 21 October. Japanese warships were to co-operate fully until two weeks after the fresh division had landed.

Drawing troops for the projected operation from China, the East Indies, the Philippines, and Truk on orders from Imperial General Headquarters, the Japanese assembled, by October, a strong force in Rabaul and the Solomons under the 17th Army’s command. The infantry units consisted of two divisions, one brigade, and one reinforced battalion. Supporting them were three independent antiaircraft artillery battalions, three field antiaircraft artillery battalions, one field antiaircraft artillery battery, one heavy field artillery regiment plus extra batteries, one tank regiment and one tank company, one independent mountain artillery regiment and one independent mountain artillery battalion, one engineer regiment, one trench mortar battalion, and a reconnaissance plane unit. Of these, the brigade and the reinforced battalion (Kawaguchi and Ichiki Forces) and additional battalions of the 4th Infantry had already met defeat on Guadalcanal.

The 2nd and 38th Divisions, forming the bulk of the main infantry force which had been assembled, had formerly belonged to the 16th Army. In March 1942 the 2nd Division, which had been recruited in Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture of Honshu, had moved from Manchuria to Java as a garrison force. In July 1942 the 4th Infantry was detached for service in the Philippines, while the 16th and 29th Regiments remained in Java. In August 1942 the entire division was transferred to Rabaul and the Shortland Islands.

The 38th Division had been organized in September 1939 in Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture of Honshu. A triangular division, it consisted of the 228th, 229th, and 230th Infantry Regiments. In 1941, it took part in the siege of Hong Kong, after which its regiments were detached. One detachment, the reinforced 228th Infantry under Major General Takeo Ito, assisted in the capture of Amboina and Timor. One battalion of the 229th Infantry also helped to take Timor, while the

remainder of the regiment campaigned in Sumatra. The 230th Infantry had served in the Java campaign. The division then reassembled at Rabaul in late September 1942. The 4th Heavy Field Artillery Regiment (150-mm. howitzers) was dispatched from China in September 1942, arriving at Rabaul in early October.

Although the 17th Army was composed of veteran regiments, it had seldom operated as one unit. Likewise, the infantry divisions had seldom seen action as divisions. Individual regiments and battalions had campaigned actively, but had never fought against a foe who possessed superior numbers, equipment, or strong defensive positions.

The movement of Japanese forces from Rabaul and the northern Solomons to Guadalcanal, already begun in August, increased rapidly during September and October. By destroyer, by landing craft, by cargo ship and transport the enemy soldiers sailed down the inter-island channels to land on the beaches west of the Matanikau River under cover of darkness, while destroyers covered the landings by bombarding Lunga Point. The Allied forces which might have opposed them were too few in number to be risked in action north of Guadalcanal, and at night the darkness and clouds helped to hide the Japanese ships from Henderson Field aircraft.

By mid-October General Hyakutake had assembled a sizable portion of his army, except the main body of the 38th Division, on Guadalcanal. The 2nd Division and two battalions of the 38th Division were ready to fight beside the survivors of the Ichiki and Kawaguchi Forces. In addition there were present one regiment and three batteries of heavy field artillery, two battalions and one battery of field antiaircraft artillery, one battalion and one battery of mountain artillery, one mortar battalion, one tank company, and three rapid-fire gun battalions. Engineer, transport, and medical troops, and a few Special Naval Landing Force troops were also on the island. These forces, about 20,000 men, though below full strength, represented the largest concentration of Japanese troops on Guadalcanal up to that time.

The U. S. Situation

The Americans on Guadalcanal thus faced a serious enemy threat. Yet as late as 5 October South Pacific Headquarters had not definitely decided to send additional reinforcements to the 1st Marine Division. Though deferred, the plans for occupying Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands had not been canceled. The purpose of holding Ndeni, 335 nautical miles east-southeast of Henderson Field and about 300 nautical miles north-northwest of Espiritu Santo, was threefold: to deny it to the Japanese; to protect the right flank of the Allied line of communications to Guadalcanal; and to provide an intermediate airfield for short range aircraft to stage through while en route from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Admiral Nimitz had recommended early in September that Ndeni be occupied sometime later at a date to be determined by Admiral Ghormley. Dispatches between Admirals King and Ghormley in late September discussed the possibility of using the 8th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division for the Santa Cruz operation. On 29 September Admiral Ghormley announced that he was planning to occupy Ndeni with a part of that regiment, which was then in need of more training. On the same day he rejected Admiral Turner’s suggestion that one battalion of the 2nd Marines be withdrawn from the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area for Ndeni. Admiral Turner then suggested transporting one Army infantry battalion, some Army field artillery, a detachment of the 5th (Marine) Defense Battalion, and naval construction forces to Ndeni in two transports and one cargo ship. These forces were to be followed by a second Army infantry battalion, one Army antiaircraft artillery regiment, and one Army coast artillery battery, transported in five ships.

General Harmon, the Army commander in the South Pacific, regarded the entire Ndeni project as unsound and unnecessary. When Admiral Ghormley tentatively agreed to Admiral Turner’s proposal, General Harmon, in a letter to Admiral Ghormley dated 6 October 1942, reviewed the reasons for the Ndeni operation in the light of the situation on Guadalcanal. Ndeni, he wrote, would yield sparse results for two or three months, and was not vital to the security of the South Pacific. As long as Allied forces could operate from Espiritu Santo, the Japanese could not operate in strength from Ndeni. Since nearly all Allied aircraft could fly directly from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal, Ndeni was not needed as a staging base.

Occupation of Ndeni, General Harmon pointed out, would divert strength from the main effort. The situation on Guadalcanal was exceedingly grave, for if the Japanese were to use artillery against the airfield they could cause serious damage. If the beachhead on Guadalcanal fell, then the Ndeni operation would be a complete waste. The main effort must be in the Solomons. If the beachhead on Guadalcanal did not hold, the Japanese would have an outpost to protect the Bismarcks and to cover New Guinea, as well as a point of departure for advances to the south. “It is my personal conviction,” he wrote, “that the Jap is capable of retaking Cactus-Ringbolt [Guadalcanal-Tulagi] and that he will do so in the near future unless it is materially strengthened.” But if Guadalcanal was strengthened, the airfield improved for heavy bombers, and naval surface operations intensified, the enemy would not make the costly attempt to retake Lunga Point.

General Harmon therefore recommended: (1) that the Ndeni operation be deferred until the southern Solomons were secure, (2) that Guadalcanal be reinforced by at least one more regimental combat team, (3) that naval surface operations in the Solomons be increased, and (4) that sufficient airdrome construction personnel and equipment be sent to Guadalcanal. What was needed at Henderson Field, he stated, was two all-weather runways, improved dispersal facilities and fueling systems, a standing fuel supply of at least 250,000 gallons, and intensive air operations from Guadalcanal against the northern Solomons.

After Admiral Ghormley received this letter he conferred with Admiral Turner and General Harmon on the evening of 6 October. After the conference Admiral Ghormley announced his intention to proceed with the plan to occupy Ndeni and build a landing strip. As it seemed likely that the Japanese would try to recapture the Lunga airfield, he accepted General Harmon’s recommendations that Guadalcanal be reinforced by one Army regiment and that the island’s airdrome facilities be improved.

Reinforcements would prove valuable, for General Vandegrift could then safely enlarge the defense perimeter around Henderson Field to protect it from enemy fire. Although casualties from enemy action had not been prohibitive—by 18 September 848 wounded had been evacuated—the 1st Marine Division was beginning to suffer heavily from tropical diseases. The enervating, humid heat, skin infections caused by fungi, and inadequate diet had weakened the troops. A mild form of gastro-enteritis had appeared in August. Although it caused only one death, this disorder made many temporarily unfit for duty and lowered their resistance to other diseases. During the third week in August malaria had first appeared among the troops. Suppressive atabrine treatment had been inaugurated on 10 September, but the disease had gained such a foothold that it was to become the most serious medical problem of the campaign. It sent 1,960 men of the division into the hospital during October.

The force selected for the reinforcement of Guadalcanal was the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division, which was then in New Caledonia. The regiment was immediately alerted for movement, and began loading the Zeilin and the McCawley, the flagship of the South Pacific Amphibious Force, at 0800,8 October, at Noumea. The 147th Infantry (less two battalions), Colonel W. B. Tuttle commanding, which was then at Tongatabu, was selected for Ndeni. The McCawley and Zeilin, loaded on 8 October, sailed from Noumea the next morning with the troops, weapons, and supplies of the 164th Infantry, 210 men of the 1st Marine Air Wing, 85 Marine casuals, and cargo for the 1st Marine Division. Three destroyers and three mine layers escorted the transports, while four cruisers and five destroyers under Rear Admiral Norman Scott covered their left flank.

The McCawley and the Zeilin sailed safely from Noumea to Guadalcanal, and arrived off Lunga Point to discharge troops and cargo at 0547, 13 October. Though interrupted twice during the day by Japanese bombing raids, the ships landed 2,852 men of the 164th Infantry, 210 of the 1st Marine Air Wing, and 85 casuals, plus forty-four ¼-ton trucks (jeeps), twenty ½-ton trucks, seventeen 1½-ton trucks, sixteen British Bren gun carriers, twelve 37-mm. guns, five units of fire, seventy days’ rations, sixty days’ supplies, complete tentage, and 1,000 ships’ tons of cargo for the 1st Marine Division and the naval units. The 164th Infantry supplies which were landed totaled over 3,200 ships’ tons. The McCawley and Zeilin, completely unloaded, embarked the 1st Raider Battalion and sailed out of Sealark Channel before nightfall to return to Noumea.

The first naval craft to be permanently based at Tulagi, aside from harbor patrol boats, were four boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, which the destroyers Southard and Hovey had towed in on 12 October. The Jamestown, arriving at Tulagi on 22 October, stayed there as a service ship for the torpedo boat squadron, which was brought to full strength on 25 October by the arrival of four more boats.

Before the Japanese counteroffensive in late October, therefore, the 1st Marine Division had been materially strengthened. With these reinforcements, troop strength on Guadalcanal and Tulagi totaled 27,727 of all services: 23,088 men were on Guadalcanal, the remainder on Tulagi.

When Admiral Ghormley ordered the 164th Infantry to Guadalcanal, General Vandegrift decided to establish permanent positions on the east bank of the Matanikau River, occupied in the offensive of 7-9 October. Domination of the mouth of the Matanikau was essential to the defense of Henderson Field. The rough terrain and thick jungles on the Matanikau effectively prevented heavy equipment from crossing the unbridged river at any point except over the sand bar at the mouth. Since tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces could cross the river over the bar, the Japanese, had they been able to dominate the position, could have put their tanks across it to deploy for attack against the perimeter defense. Had they been able to emplace artillery on the east bank, they might have damaged the Lunga positions and the airfield even more heavily than they did in October.

Two infantry battalions and elements of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion were assigned to hold the Matanikau. They established a horseshoe-shaped position, running from the mouth along the east bank to a point about 2,000 yards inland. They refused the right flank along the beach and the left flank east along the ridge line of Hill 67, a strong defensive position. The marines cleared fields of fire, rigged booby traps, and laid personnel and antitank mines in front. Several 37-mm. antitank guns, with 75-mm. tank destroyers concealed nearby in support, covered the sand bar, which was illuminated at night by headlights salvaged from damaged amphibian tractors. There were not enough troops to hold the beach and jungle between the forward Matanikau position and the perimeter defense; patrols covered the gaps each day.

The arrival of the 164th Infantry on 13 October permitted General Vandegrift to make further changes in the Lunga perimeter defense. The 22,000-yardlong perimeter line was divided into five regimental sectors. As it was believed that the enemy would be most likely to attack from the west, the heaviest strength was concentrated in the western sectors. In Sector One, 7,100 yards of beach on Lunga Point, the 3rd Defense Battalion, with the 1st Special Weapons Battalion attached, had tactical command, and co-ordinated the related functions of beach defense and antiaircraft fire. The amphibian tractor, engineer, and pioneer troops continued to hold the beach lines at night.

The 164th Infantry, Colonel Bryant E. Moore commanding, and elements of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion were assigned to Sector Two, the longest infantry sector. This 6,600-yard line extended along the beach from the 3rd Defense Battalion’s right flank to the Ilu River, inland along the Ilu about 4,000 yards, and west through the jungle to the left flank of the 7th Marines. The 7th Marines (less one battalion) occupied Sector Three, about 2,500 yards of jungle between the 164th Infantry’s right and the Lunga River, including the south slopes of Bloody Ridge. The 1st Marines (less one battalion) held Sector Four, about 3,500 yards of jungle between the Lunga and the left flank of the 5th Marines, who held Sector Five, the western corner of the perimeter.

The 3rd Battalions of both the 1st and 7th Marines held the Matanikau line, and were supported by parts of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion and one battalion of the 11th Marines. The 1st Air Wing was to continue to provide air cover, close ground support, and longer-range bombardment and reconnaissance. The 1st Tank Battalion, then held in division reserve, was to continue to reconnoiter areas suitable for tank action. Each sector was placed under the command of the respective regimental commander. Division headquarters again directed each sector commander to maintain one battalion in reserve to be available to the division if needed. These were the defenses with which the Lunga garrison was to meet the Japanese counteroffensive in October.

Air and Naval Preparations

While the 17th Army troops had been landing on Guadalcanal’s north coast, Japanese fleet units had been preparing to execute their part of the plan. The strongest Japanese naval force assembled since the Battle of Midway left Truk to assemble at Rabaul for the offensive. Bombers from the Southwest Pacific had been attacking Rabaul regularly, but they had inflicted little damage and presented no great threat to the assembling fleet. Japanese submarines had deployed southward in August and September to try to cut the American supply lines leading to Guadalcanal, and warships escorted 17th Army convoys to Guadalcanal and shelled the airfield almost every night. As long as American aircraft could operate from Henderson Field the Japanese could not safely bring troops and heavy equipment to Guadalcanal in transports and cargo ships. The nocturnal Tokyo Express could deliver troops in relative safety but could not carry heavy equipment or large amounts of supplies. The Tokyo Express warships and the daylight bombers therefore made a concerted effort in October to neutralize the Lunga airfield.

Admiral Ghormley’s naval forces were still smaller than those that the Japanese could muster, but, determined to stop the nightly naval bombardments and the flow of enemy reinforcements to Guadalcanal, he ordered the four cruisers and five destroyers under Admiral Scott to sail from Espiritu Santo to Savo by way of Rennell to intercept any Japanese naval units moving on Guadalcanal. Scott’s force was also to cover the left flank of the convoy carrying the 164th Infantry to Guadalcanal.

Battle of Cape Esperance

At 1345, 11 October, patrol planes from Guadalcanal discovered a Japanese force of four cruisers and one destroyer sailing south through the Slot toward Guadalcanal. The Japanese had dispatched them to neutralize Henderson Field and thus provide greater safety for the landing of additional troops and supplies. The force was sighted again at 1810 about 110 miles from Guadalcanal.

Informed of the approaching Japanese, Admiral Scott sailed from the vicinity of Rennell toward Cape Esperance to be in position to stop them about midnight. As Scott’s force neared the channel between Cape Esperance and Savo about 2232, the screens of the radars on the cruisers Boise and Helena showed five Japanese ships 18,000 yards to the northwest. Search planes from the cruiser San Francisco also reported about 2300 that one Japanese transport and two destroyers were in Sealark Channel, but Scott decided to attack the larger force of cruisers and destroyers. The transport and the two destroyers escaped. The Boise and Helena reported the presence of the Japanese cruisers and destroyers by voice radio to Admiral Scott aboard the San Francisco, but he did not attack at once. The flagship’s radar was older and less efficient than that aboard the other cruisers, and Scott was not sure of the location of the destroyers of his force. He feared that the destroyers reported by the Boise and Helena might be his own. The American destroyers, having recently changed their course, were then to starboard (north) of Scott’s cruisers, which were sailing on a southwesterly course. The American destroyers thus lay between the opposing cruiser forces.

The Helena opened fire on the Japanese at 2346, 11 October; her fire was followed by that of the cruiser Salt Lake City, the Boise, and the destroyer Farenholt The Japanese were caught completely by surprise. The American column executed the classic naval maneuver of crossing the enemy’s “T”, by sailing in column at a right angle to, and ahead of the approaching Japanese column. The entire American force was thus able to concentrate salvoes on each ship as it came forward. Each Japanese ship, on the other hand, masked the guns of the ships in its rear. Two Japanese vessels sank at once; the flagship Aoba was badly damaged, and the cruiser Kinugasa suffered light damage. The surviving Japanese ships retired northward after thirty-four minutes of battle. The destroyer Marukamo was joined by the destroyer Natsugumo, and they returned to Savo to rescue survivors in the water, but both were sunk the next morning by dive bombers and fighters from Henderson Field.

Scott’s losses were light by comparison. The Boise, Salt Lake City, and Farenholt suffered damage. The destroyer Duncan, which had pulled close to fire torpedoes at the enemy, was caught between the American and Japanese forces, hit by fire from both, and sank on 12 October.

The victory at Cape Esperance, whose flames lit the night skies west of the Lunga, cheered the men in the Lunga perimeter, but its effects were short-lived. Two days after Admiral Scott’s force stopped the Tokyo Express, the Japanese hit the airfield with damaging blows. Guadalcanal’s air situation had steadily improved during September, for more planes had been arriving. On 22 September Vandegrift reported to Ghormley that thirty F4F’s, twenty-two SBD’s, seven TBF’s, and five P-400’s were operational. The Naval Advanced Base at Kukum included an aviation unit and the 6th Construction Battalion. Air squadron personnel totaled 1,014—917 men of Marine Air Group 23, 33 of the 67th Fighter Squadron, and 64 from the naval carrier squadrons. The P-400’s had proved so valuable that Vandegrift requested more to support ground operations.

By 10 October twelve P-39’s of the 67th Fighter Squadron had reached Henderson Field but had not yet gone into action. B-17’s were now occasionally being staged through Henderson Field. But these operations were soon to end. On 13 October there were ninety operational aircraft under General Geiger’s command at Henderson Field—thirty-nine SBD’s, forty-one F4F’s, four P-400’s, and six P-39’s. At 1200 twenty-two Japanese bombers, escorted by fighters, flew over to bomb Henderson Field from 30,000 feet. They were almost unchallenged.

The PAGO’S could reach only 12,000 feet; the P-39’s could climb to 27,000. The F4F, a relatively slow climber, could not reach the enemy in time to intercept him. Between 1330 and 1400 all the American planes were forced to land for more gasoline. While they were being refueled, a second wave of about fifteen bombers attacked the field. The men of the 6th Construction Battalion worked throughout the afternoon in an effort to keep the field in operation. They had loaded their dump trucks with earth well in advance to speed the task of filling the bomb craters. But their efforts did not avail. The Japanese did not completely neutralize the runway on 13 October, but they inflicted such severe damage that General Geiger was forced to broadcast the information that Henderson Field could not be used by heavy bombers except in emergencies.

After the last bomber had retired, the long-range 150-mm. howitzers which the Japanese had been landing opened fire on the airfield and Kukum Beach from positions near Kokumbona. They first made Kukum Beach untenable. The 1st Marine Division had no sound-and-flash units to locate the enemy howitzers, or suitable counterbattery artillery with which to reply to “Pistol Pete,” as the troops called the enemy artillery. The field artillery units were armed with 75-mm. pack and 105-mm. howitzers, and the 3rd Defense Battalion had emplaced its 5-inch gun batteries on the beach. On 13 October and the days that followed, the 5-inch guns and the 105-mm. howitzers attempted to silence Pistol Pete. But the trajectory of the 5-inch guns was too flat for effective counterbattery fire. Some of the 105’s were moved up to the Matanikau River, but they were too light for effective counterbattery fire. Aircraft also attempted to silence the Japanese artillery, but were no more successful than the artillery.

Shortly before midnight of 13 October, a Japanese naval force which included the battleships Haruna and Kongo sailed unchallenged into Sealark Channel. While a cruiser plane illuminated the target area by dropping flares, the task force bombarded the airfield for eighty minutes, the heaviest shelling of the campaign. The battleships fired 918 rounds of 360-mm. ammunition, of which 625 were armor-piercing and 293 high explosive. They covered the field systematically. Explosions and burning gasoline lit the night brightly. In the words of a Japanese report, “explosions were seen everywhere, and the entire airfield was a sea of flame.” Forty-one men were killed, and many aircraft damaged. When the shelling had ceased, enemy bombers raided the airfield intermittently until daylight.

On 14 October only forty-two planes would fly—seven SBD’s, twenty-nine F4F’s, four P-400’s and two P-39’s.43 An American report states: When the men could finally come from their foxholes and survey the damage they knew what had hit them. They found jagged noses of shells’ measuring 14 inches in diameter—the shells from battleships’ guns—and smaller pieces of shrapnel [sic]. Bits of clothing and equipment were hanging from telephone wires. The field itself was in shambles. . . . The 67th [Fighter Squadron] was fortunate—only two P-39’s were damaged, and, miraculously, not one of the old P-400’s was hit. The next morning a few B-17’s which had been operating temporarily from Henderson Field took off safely from the 2,000 feet of usable runway to return to Espiritu Santo. The bombardments had rendered the airfield unusable as a base for heavy bombers. Moreover the presence of Japanese aircraft and warships over and in Sealark Channel prevented cargo ships from bringing in fuel, so that the perpetual shortage of aviation gasoline on Guadalcanal had now become more acute. As a result B-17’s could no longer be staged through Henderson Field.

By the afternoon of 14 October Japanese bombing and shelling had knocked Henderson Field out of action. Pistol Pete prevented aircraft from using the runway. Fortunately the construction battalion had laid out a rough grassy runway southeast of Henderson Field. When dry this runway, Fighter Strip No. 1, could be used by light planes and it served for a week as the main airfield. Aviation gasoline supplies had fallen to a critically low level. On the afternoon of 14 October a Marine staff officer informed the 67th Fighter Squadron that there remained just enough gasoline to mount strikes against a Japanese force, including transports, which patrolling SBD’s had found sailing toward Guadalcanal. The 67th was ordered to load its planes with 100-pound bombs and to join the SBD’s in striking at the oncoming ships. The aircraft took off and located the enemy before nightfall. They sank one ship and set another on fire, but failed to halt the convoy, which continued on toward Guadalcanal under cover of darkness.


When day broke on 15 October, five Japanese transports and their eleven escorting warships were plainly visible from Lunga Point as they lay ten miles away at Tassafaronga unloading troops, weapons, supplies, and ammunition. The runway was pitted with shell and bomb craters. Only by searching wrecked planes and hunting in the jungles beside the runway for stray gasoline drums was enough fuel obtained for the planes to take off from the pitted runway to strike at the ships. The searches had yielded 400 drums, or about enough for two days’ operations. On the same day Army and Marine Corps transport planes (C-47’s) began flying gasoline from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal, despite the fire from Pistol Pete. Each C-47 carried twelve drums. The seaplane tender MacFarland also ran in a load of gasoline from Espiritu Santo. Caught by Japanese planes in Sealark Channel on 16 October, she was seriously damaged but was salvaged by her crew in an inlet on Florida Island.

American fighters and dive bombers attacked the Japanese ships on 15 October, and, despite antiaircraft fire and the opposition of Japanese planes, sank one transport and set two more afire by 1100. The remaining ships and their escorts, under attack from both Guadalcanal aircraft and B-17’s and SBD’s from Espiritu, then put out to sea. One ship fell victim to the B-17’s near Savo. Although the air attacks seriously damaged the Japanese transports, they succeeded in landing all the troops—between 3,000 and 4,000 men51—and 80 percent of their cargo. The soldiers included part of the 230th Infantry of the 38th Division as well as seven companies of the 16th Infantry of the 2nd Division, the last Japanese infantry units to land prior to the opening of the ground offensive against Lunga perimeter.

That the Japanese were preparing to attack in force was all too obvious. General Vandegrift radioed to South Pacific Headquarters to stress his need for the greatest possible amount of air and surface support. Admiral Ghormley, fully aware of the situation, requested General MacArthur to have Southwest Pacific aircraft search the western approaches to the southern Solomons for enemy aircraft carriers. When the B-17’s were forced off Henderson Field, Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, commanding South Pacific land-based aircraft, suggested that Southwest Pacific aircraft relieve the pressure on Guadalcanal by intensifying their attacks on Rabaul, Kahili, and Buka.

On 16 October, Admiral Ghormley warned Admiral Nimitz that the Japanese effort appeared to be “all out.” South Pacific forces, he stated, were “totally inadequate,” and needed air reinforcements. Naval strength had been seriously weakened by combat losses. The Enterprise, Saratoga, and North Carolina were in Pearl Harbor undergoing repairs. Admiral Nimitz ordered that work on the Enterprise be rushed, and on 16 October the veteran carrier was able to leave Pearl Harbor for the South Pacific with the South Dakota and nine destroyers. Meanwhile Fitch’s force at Espiritu Santo was increased to eighty-five patrol planes and heavy bombers. Southwest Pacific aircraft continued to support Guadalcanal by patrolling, and by bombing Rabaul and the fields in the northern Solomons.

The Ground Offensive; Japanese Tactical Plans

General Hyakutake’s units had meanwhile been confidently preparing to execute their part of the plan—an assault directed at the seizure of the airfield. The 17th Army issued tactical orders to the 2nd Division on 15 October. The main body of the 2nd Division, then in the vicinity of Kokumbona, was to deliver a surprise attack against the south flank of the American position on X Day, then tentatively set for 18 October. While the main body of the 2nd Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Masao Maruyama, was pushing inland to reach its line of departure south of the airfield, a force west of the Matanikau under command of Major General Tadashi Sumiyoshi, commander of 17th Army artillery, was to cover its rear, divert the Americans, and shell the Lunga airfields and artillery positions. An amphibious attack by the 1st Battalion, 228th Infantry, was still a part of the plan, but it was later discarded. American morale and strength, the Japanese believed, were declining.

The coast force under Sumiyoshi’s command consisted of five infantry battalions of about 2,900 men, one tank company, fifteen 150-mm. howitzers, three 100-mm. guns, and seven field artillery pieces.58 The units in Sumiyoshi’s force included the 4th Infantry as well as elements of the 4th, 7th, and 21st Heavy Field Artillery Regiments and several mountain artillery and antiaircraft artillery units, and perhaps tanks and part of the 124th Infantry.

[NOTE: 17th Army Opns, I, does not show the tanks or any part of the 124th Infantry under Sumiyoshi’s command, although they must have been, as the results of the interrogations of former 17th Army officers clearly show. 17th Army Opns, I, terms the 150-mm. artillery units as medium, but contemporary documents called them heavy field artillery units.]

The enveloping force under Maruyama which was to attack Henderson Field from the south consisted of eight or nine infantry battalions totaling 5,600 men, plus artillery, engineer, and medical troops. This force was divided into two wings. The right wing, under Kawaguchi, consisted of one battalion of the 124th Infantry, two battalions of the 230th Infantry, parts of the 3rd Light Trench Mortar Battalion and the 6th and 9th Independent Rapid fire Gun Battalions, the 20th Independent Mountain Artillery, and engineers and medical troops. The left wing, under Major General Yumio Nasu, was composed of the 29th Infantry, the 3rd Light Trench Mortar Battalion (less detachments), a Rapid Fire Gun Battalion, a Mountain Artillery Battalion, and engineers. In reserve were the 16th Infantry and additional engineer units.

Kawaguchi’s wing, after working inland from Kokumbona, was to attack northward under cover of darkness from east of the Lunga to capture the airfield and destroy the American forces east of the Lunga. Nasu’s left wing was to attack northward from a point between Kawaguchi and the Lunga River. Supremely confident that these soldiers could retake Lunga Point, General Hyakutake left the main body of the 38th Division at Rabaul and in the northern Solomons in readiness for operations in New Guinea. Capture of the field would be heralded by the code signal BANZAI. He directed his troops to continue “annihilating” the enemy until General Vandegrift, with staff officers, interpreters, one American flag and one white flag, had advanced along the coast toward the Matanikau to surrender.

To get troops, guns, ammunition, and supplies into position for the attack, the engineers built and improved roads leading from the landing beaches eastward to Kokumbona. Engineers and combat troops had also begun work in September on an inland trail by which the 2nd Division could get into position south of Henderson Field. This trail, commonly known as the Maruyama Trail, ran southward from the 17th Army assembly area at Kokumbona, then turned east to cross the Matanikau and Lunga Rivers south of Mount Austen, and followed the Lunga River downstream (north) to a point near the American perimeter. It covered a distance of about fifteen miles. The Maruyama Trail led through the thickest of tropical jungles, where giant hardwood trees, vines, and undergrowth are so thick that a man cannot easily walk upright or see more than a few yards. The route south of Mount Austen led over an almost unbelievably tangled series of ridges and ravines. As sunlight never penetrates the treetops, the earth underfoot is wet and swampy. The Japanese had no heavy road-building equipment but hacked their way by hand, using axes, saws, and machetes. At best they could have cleared only a path through the undergrowth, making no attempt to cut down the trees. Mount Austen’s bulk, plus the jungle, would hide the advancing column from Lunga Point, and the overhead growth provided security from aerial reconnaissance.

Since the Japanese had brought no horses and almost no motor transport on the Tokyo Express, supplies had to be brought forward by hand from as far away as Cape Esperance. About 800 tons of supplies had to be hand-carried forward. The artillery pieces assigned to Maruyama were hauled forward by manpower. General Maruyama also ordered each soldier to carry, in addition to his regular equipment, one shell, apparently from the supply dump near Kokumbona.

On 16 October, after assembling at Kokumbona, Maruyama’s troops set out on their grueling march toward the line of departure east of the Lunga River, “crossing mountains and rivers with much difficulty due to the bad roads and heavy terrain.” Progress was slow. Since the trail was narrow, the men marched, single file, in a long straggling column. The van would begin the march early each morning, but the rear elements usually could not move until afternoon, with the result that the 2nd Division inched along like a worm. Torrential rains fell during most of the march. The troops, subsisting on half rations of raw rice, burdened with shells and full combat equipment, had to use ropes to scale some of the cliffs. They also used ropes to pull the artillery pieces, machine guns, and mortars along the trail. As carrying and hauling the artillery pieces by manpower proved impossible, these guns were abandoned along the line of march.

Hyakutake’s confidence was somewhat justified, for he enjoyed significant advantages. The 150-mm. howitzers in Kokumbona outweighed the heaviest American howitzers on Guadalcanal. Almost nightly Japanese warships were sailing into Sealark Channel with impunity. The majority of the 20,000 Japanese troops were fresh, while many of General Vandegrift’s 23,000 men were suffering from malaria and malnutrition. The Japanese could reasonably expect to surprise the Americans, since the wide envelopment by Maruyama’s division through jungled, mountainous terrain was hidden from ground or aerial observation.

On the other hand, the Americans were entrenched in prepared positions, were expecting an attack, and could place artillery fire in front of any threatened sector of the perimeter. The Japanese had no near-by airfields, and American planes, though few in number, possessed local control of the air when they had enough gasoline, and thus limited the amount of heavy materiel which the enemy could safely land. The Japanese lacked sufficient transport. Hyakutake had committed his main force to a wide enveloping march through wild, trackless jungle, with all the difficulties of communication, co-ordination, and control attendant upon such a maneuver. Finally, it is doubtful that Hyakutake had enough reserves immediately available to exploit a break-through, even if the assault forces were able to penetrate the perimeter defense in strength.

Action on the Matanikau

The landing of the Japanese from transports on 15 October had alerted the 1st Marine Division to a major attack by infantry. A captured map indicated the possibility of a triple-pronged assault by three enemy divisions from the east, west, and south. But there were no indications that fresh Japanese forces had landed east of the perimeter. Air and ground patrols had not found any organized bodies of Japanese troops along the upper Lunga but only dispirited groups of hungry stragglers, most of whom were promptly killed. On the other hand, the increasing artillery fire and growing Japanese troop strength west of the Matanikau convinced the Lunga defenders that the brunt of the attack would fall in the west.

Maruyama’s forces, unknown to the Americans, were meanwhile slowly approaching the perimeter. Without good military maps, the Japanese commanders were meeting difficulty in finding their way. When advance elements of the enveloping force failed to cross the upper Lunga before 19 October, Maruyama postponed the assault date until 22 October.

The first ground action occurred in the Matanikau area on 20 October when a Japanese combat patrol from Sumiyoshi’s force approached the west bank of the river. The patrol, which included two tanks, withdrew after a 37-mm. gun in the sector of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, hit one tank. At sunset the next evening, after heavy Japanese artillery fire, nine Japanese tanks supported by infantry came out of the jungle on the west bank to attempt to drive east over the sand bar. But 37-mm. fire knocked out one tank and the force pulled back to the west.

No Japanese infantry appeared on 22 October, but Sumiyoshi’s artillery kept firing. On 22 October Maruyama, still short of his line of departure, put off the attack date to 23 October; on that date he postponed it until 24 October. The twenty-third of October was a quiet day until 1800, when Sumiyoshi’s artillery began to fire its heaviest concentrations up to that time—an orthodox preparation on the Matanikau River line, the rear areas, and the coast road.

When the fire ceased a column of nine 18-ton medium tanks [NOTE 71-71] appeared out of the jungles to try to smash a passage across the sand bar to penetrate the defenses of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, while the 4th Infantry assembled in the jungle west of the river. To halt the infantry, the 11th Marines immediately began firing a series of barrages to cover a 600- to 800-yard-wide area between the Matanikau River and Point Cruz, while the 37-mm. guns on the Matanikau engaged the tanks.

Not one enemy infantryman succeeded in crossing to the east bank of the river. The antitank guns meanwhile wrecked eight tanks as they rumbled across the sand bar. One tank eluded the 37-mm. fire and crossed the bar to break through the wire entanglements. A marine rose out of his foxhole and threw a grenade into the tank’s tracks. A 75-mm. self-propelled tank destroyer then approached to fire at close range. The tank ran down the beach into the water, where it stalled, and was finished off by the tank destroyer. The assault having been stopped so abruptly, the surviving Japanese infantrymen withdrew to the west. About midnight a second Japanese attempt to cross the river farther upstream was easily halted.

The jungles west of the river were filled with Japanese corpses, and many enemy dead lay on the sand bar. The 1st Marines, with 25 killed and 14 wounded, estimated Japanese losses at 600. Marine patrols later found three more wrecked tanks west of the river. They had apparently been destroyed by the 11th Marines’ fire before they could reach the Matanikau.

Sumiyoshi had sent one tank company and one infantry regiment forward to attack a prepared position over an obvious approach route while the Americans were otherwise unengaged. The Maruyama force, still moving inland, had not reached its line of departure. In 1946, the responsible commanders gave different reasons for the lack of co-ordination and blamed each other. According to Hyakutake, this piecemeal attack had been a mistake. The coastal attack was to have been delivered at the same time as Maruyama’s forces struck against the southern perimeter line. Maruyama, according to Hyakutake, was to have notified the 4th Infantry when he had reached his line of departure on 23 October, and he so notified the 4th Infantry. That regiment then proceeded with its attack.

[NOTE 71-71: Japanese medium tanks are comparable with U. S. light tanks. These were later identified as Model 2598 Ishikawajima Tankettes and Model 98 medium cruisers, 1st Mar Div Rpt, V, Int Annex N, 9.]

Maruyama disclaimed responsibility for the blunder, and blamed 17th Army Headquarters. His forces, delayed in their difficult march, had not reached their line of departure on 23 October. The 17th Army, he asserted, overestimated the rate of progress on the south flank and ordered the coast forces to attack on 23 October to guarantee success on the south flank. Sumiyoshi was vague. He claimed that throughout the counteroffensive he had been so weakened by malaria that he had found it difficult to make decisions. Despite an earlier statement that he did not know why the attack of 23 October had been ordered, he declared that he had attacked ahead of Maruyama to divert the Americans. Communication between the two forces, he claimed, had been very poor. Radio sets gave off too much light, and thus had been used only in the daylight hours. Telephone communication had been frequently disrupted. As a result the coast force had been one day behind in its knowledge of Maruyama’s movements.[NOTE 76-76]

The Main Attacks

On 24 October, the day after Sumiyoshi’s abortive attack, the Lunga perimeter was fairly quiet during the morning hours. Japanese artillery fire continued intermittently during the entire day, and killed six and wounded twenty-five marines. In the afternoon two events indicated that the situation was becoming serious for the Americans. Men of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, holding the southeast line of the forward Matanikau position along Hill 67, observed a Japanese column passing eastward over Mount Austen’s open foothills about 1,000 yards south of their lines. This column, whose exact composition is doubtful, is reported to have been commanded by Colonel Oka. It had apparently crossed the upper Matanikau in an effort to outflank the forward Matanikau position.[NOTE 77-77] Battalions of the 11th Marines immediately put fire on the area, and aircraft rose to strafe and bomb it. But the column had disappeared among jungled ravines, and the effects of the bombing and shelling were probably slight.

[NOTE 76-76: Interrog of Sumiyoshi; 17th Army Opns, I, slurs over the blunder, but asserts that Hyakutake approved postponing the 2nd Division’s attack from 23 to 24 October.]

[NOTE 77-77: According to 1st Demob Bureau’s map, this column, commanded by Colonel Oka, consisted of 1,200 troops of the 124th Infantry (less 3rd Battalion) and the 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry. This movement had apparently not been ordered in the original plan of campaign.]

 As earlier patrols had reported that the upper reaches of the Lunga River were clear of the enemy, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines had been withdrawn from Sector Three east of the Lunga prior to Sumiyoshi’s attack on 23 October The entire 2,800-yard front, from the Lunga River over Bloody Ridge to the right flank of the 164th Infantry, was turned over to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines, commanded by Colonel Puller. The 2nd Battalion of the 7th was ordered to the Matanikau to relieve the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines. But following the Sumiyoshi attack on 23 October and the observation of the enemy column the next afternoon, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines, on 24 October, moved hastily into position to cover the gap between the Matanikau line and the Lunga perimeter. It held over 4,000 yards of front along the line between the left flank of the 3rd Battalion, 7th, and the 5th Marines in the Lunga perimeter.

The discovery of Oka’s column east of the Matanikau was followed by evidence that another sector was in danger. A straggler from a 7th Marines patrol returned to the perimeter in the late afternoon to report that he had seen a Japanese officer studying Bloody Ridge through field glasses. At the same time a marine from the Scout-Sniper Detachment reported that he had seen the smoke of “many rice fires” rising from the jungle near the horseshoe bend of the Lunga River, about 1 3/4 miles south of the southern slopes of Bloody Ridge. It was too late in the day for further defensive measures, and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines, spread thinly over its long front, awaited the attack. There were then available few troops which were not already in the front lines. The motorized division reserve, bivouacked north of Henderson Field, consisted of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. The only other uncommitted infantry troops in the perimeter were the reserve battalions in each regimental sector.

By 24 October Maruyama’s infantry forces had finally crossed the Lunga River and moved into position in the dark jungles east of the Lunga and south of Bloody Ridge. On the left (west) the 29th Infantry, with the 16th in reserve, prepared to attack on a narrow front, while the Kawaguchi Force, now commanded by Colonel Toshinari Shoji, prepared to attack farther east.[NOTE 79-79] The heaviest weapons for supporting the infantry were machine guns. All the artillery pieces and mortars had been abandoned along the line of march. Maruyama hoped that bright moonlight would provide enough light for his assaulting troops to maintain their direction, but clouds and heavy rainfall made the night black.

[NOTE 79-79] 17th Army Opns, I. According to Sumiyoshi and Tamaki (2nd Div CofS), Kawaguchi, who had advocated attacking from the southeast, had fallen out with his superiors over the plan and had been relieved before the battle. Neither Hyakutake, Miyazaki, nor Maruyama mentioned this.]

The early evening hours of 24 October were quiet. A Marine listening post east of Bloody Ridge briefly opened fire about 2130. The front then lay quiet until half an hour after midnight, when Japanese infantrymen, firing rifles, throwing grenades, and shouting their battle cries, suddenly sprang out of the jungle to try to cross the fields of fire on the left center of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines east of Bloody Ridge. This was the 29th Infantry’s assault, the only attack delivered by the Japanese that night. Shoji’s wing, attempting to reach the perimeter in the black, rainy night, had lost direction and got in behind the 29th Infantry. The confused battalions were immediately ordered to the front but arrived too late to participate in the night’s action.

At the first attacks by the 29th Infantry, troops on the right flank of the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry opened fire to assist the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Division headquarters correctly assessed the significance of the Japanese attack. It immediately ordered the 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry, then in regimental reserve in the 164th’s sector, to proceed to the front and reinforce the Marine battalion by detachments, for the 1st Battalion, 7th, was holding a long front against heavy odds. The division reserve was not committed.

The Army battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Hall, was then in bivouac south of Henderson Field about one mile from the front lines. The rain was still falling heavily, and visibility was poor. By 0200 the assembled battalion, about to engage the Japanese infantry for the first time, had marched out of its bivouac area. While the Marine battalion continued to hold back the Japanese, the soldiers entered the lines by detachments between 0230 and 0330, 25 October. The night was so dark that the marines guided the soldiers into position practically by hand. The two battalions, as disposed that night, did not defend separate sectors, but were intermingled along the front.

In the first wild minutes of battle the 29th Infantry overran some of the American positions. One platoon captured two mortar positions but was immediately destroyed by Puller’s forces. The 11th Marines began firing barrages in depth in front of the threatened sector and maintained the fire throughout the engagement.

The Japanese attacked with characteristic resolution all through the night, but every charge was beaten back by the concentrated fire of American small arms, heavy weapons, and artillery. The rifle companies were supported by the Marine heavy weapons and artillery, by the weapons of M Company, by one heavy machine-gun section of H Company, and by 37-mm. antitank guns of the 164th Infantry. That night M Company fired 1,200 81-mm. mortar rounds. The line threw back a series of separate infantry assaults. It neither broke nor retreated, although some Japanese, including Colonel Masajiro Furumiya of the 29th Infantry, penetrated to the jungle behind the American lines.

By 0700, 25 October, the Japanese attacks had temporarily ceased. Maruyama was withdrawing his battalions to regroup and prepare for another assault The front lines remained quiet throughout the daylight hours of Sunday, 25 October. Japanese artillery and aircraft were so active, however, that veterans of Guadalcanal have named the day “Dugout Sunday.” Pistol Pete opened up at 0800, to fire for three hours at 10-minute intervals. Strong enemy naval forces, which were engaged the next day in the Battle of Santa Cruz, were known to be approaching, and the early hours of Dugout Sunday had found all Guadalcanal aircraft grounded. Fighter Strip No. 1, without matting or natural drainage, had been turned into a sticky bog by the heavy rains. Japanese planes bombed and strafed Lunga Point in seven separate attacks. Some Japanese pilots, resolutely dive bombing a group of planes parked in regular formation along the edge of Henderson Field, destroyed a considerable number. These conspicuous targets, however, were non-flying hulks from the “boneyard” left in the open to deceive the enemy. The operational aircraft had been dispersed and camouflaged.

During the morning three Japanese destroyers, having entered Sealark Channel from the north, caught two World War I, flush-decked, American destroyer-transports off Kukum. Outgunned, the American vessels escaped to the east. The Japanese then opened fire on two of the harbor patrol boats from Tulagi, set them ablaze, and ventured within range of the 3rd Defense Battalion’s 5-inch batteries on the beach. The batteries hit the leading destroyer three times, and the enemy ships then pulled out of range. The sun had dried the airfield slightly, and three fighters succeeded in taking off to strafe the destroyers, which escaped to the north. As the runways became drier more American planes were able to take to the air to challenge the Japanese overhead, until by evening they had shot down twenty-two planes in addition to five destroyed by antiaircraft fire.

Along the perimeter the Americans reorganized their lines. The 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines and the 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry, which had been intermingled during the night, divided the front between them. The Marine battalion, occupying the sector from the Lunga River to a point about 1,400 yards to the east, covered the south slopes of Bloody Ridge. Hall’s battalion took over the sector in low-lying, rough jungle between the marines’ left (east) flank and the right flank of the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry. The 3rd Battalion, 164th, prepared to defend its sector with three companies in line—L on the left, K in the center, and I on the right. The 60-mm. mortars were emplaced behind the lines to put fire directly in front of the barbed wire; 81-mm. mortars, behind the light mortars, were to hit the edge of the jungle beyond the cleared fields of fire, which ranged in depth from 60 to 100 yards.

Four 37-mm. guns covered the junction of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 164th Infantry, where a narrow trail led north to the Lunga road net. The 164th Infantry regimental reserve, consisting of 175 men of the Service and Antitank Companies, bivouacked in the 3rd Battalion’s old positions. To the west, in Sector Five, the 5th Marines swung their line southwestward to close with the left flank of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. During the day the soldiers and marines, besides strengthening their positions, improving fields of fire, and cleaning and siting their weapons, hunted down a number of Japanese who had penetrated the perimeter during the night.

Hidden in the jungles south of the perimeter, Maruyama was preparing to attack again. Acting on a false report that an American force was approaching his right (east) flank, he deployed Shoji’s wing on the right to cover his supposedly threatened flank. The attack against the perimeter was to be delivered by two infantry regiments in line—the 16th on the right and the 29th on the left.

After nightfall on Dugout Sunday, Maruyama’s forces struck again in the same pattern as on the previous night. The 16th and 29th Infantry Regiments attacked along the entire front of the two American battalions which had defeated the 29th Infantry the night before. Supported by machine-gun fire, groups of from 30 to 200 assaulted the perimeter in the darkness. They executed one strong attack against the point of contact of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 164th Infantry where the trail led northward. Two enemy heavy weapons companies covered by riflemen repeatedly drove in toward the trail, but they were driven off or killed by canister from the 37-mm. guns and by fire from the weapons of the 3rd and 2nd Battalions of the 164th Infantry. About 250 Japanese were killed in their attempt to seize the trail. One company of the division reserve went forward to support L Company of the 164th, and one platoon of G Company, 164th, moved south to support L Company and E Company, on L’s left. The 164th regimental reserve was alerted in the event of a breakthrough, but again the lines held. The 16th and 29th Regiments pressed their attacks until daylight, but everyone was beaten off. As day broke on 26 October, the shattered Japanese forces again withdrew into the cover of the jungle. Hyakutake’s main effort had failed.

Elsewhere during the night of 25-26 October the enemy attacked with slightly greater immediate success. Oka’s force, which had been observed crossing Mount Austen’s foothills the day before, struck north at the attenuated line of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines east of Hill 67. The Japanese broke through at one point, but before they could consolidate their positions, Major Odell M. Conoley, a Marine staff officer, leading headquarters personnel, special weapons troops, bandsmen, and one platoon of the 1st Marines, hastily contrived a counterattack and drove the Japanese off the ridge.

The unsuccessful night attacks of 25-26 October marked the end of the ground phase of the October counteroffensive. The Japanese forces began a general withdrawal about 29 October. There were no more infantry assaults. American patrols were able to advance 2,500 yards south of the perimeter without encountering any organized Japanese forces. They found only sniping riflemen, small patrols, and bands of stragglers. The defeated enemy forces were retreating eastward and westward to Koli Point and to Kokumbona.

The Americans had won the battle handily. Their employment of their weapons had been skillful and effective. The infantrymen, though outnumbered, had stayed at their posts in the face of determined enemy attacks. The soldiers of the 164th Infantry had done well in their first action. Colonel Hall’s battalion had, in the words of General Vandegrift, “arrived in time to prevent a serious penetration of the position and by reinforcing the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines throughout its sector, made possible the repulse of continued enemy attacks. The 1st Division is proud to have serving with it another unit which has stood the test of battle and demonstrated an overwhelming superiority over the enemy.”

[NOTE: L Company, 164th Infantry, fired for 30 minutes at a suspected enemy force in the jungle in front of the lines on the night of 27-28 October. See Baglien, “The Second Battle for Henderson Field,” p. 28.]

The Japanese counteroffensive, which had been begun with such high hopes, was a costly failure. The 1st Marine Division conservatively reported that some 2,200 Japanese soldiers had been killed. A later Army report estimated that the combat strength of the 16th and 29th Regiments had been reduced by 3,568. By November, effective strength of the 4th Infantry numbered only 403. Over 1,500 decaying Japanese bodies lay in front of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and the 3rd Battalion, 164th Infantry. The latter regiment buried 975 enemy bodies in front of K and L Companies alone. Among the dead Japanese were General Nasu and Colonels Furumiya and Toshiro Hiroyasu (commanding the 29th and 16th Regiments, respectively.) By comparison American losses had been light. The 164th Infantry reported twenty-six killed, four missing, and fifty-two wounded throughout October.

The bombardment of the Lunga airfields had been by far the most successful phase of the Japanese counteroffensive. However, the Japanese might have achieved greater success had the air and naval bombardments been delivered simultaneously with the infantry attacks. The infantry assaults, usually delivered against battalions by forces in regimental strength, had failed completely.

Japanese co-ordination, as exemplified by the operations of Sumiyoshi and Maruyama, had been poor, and the assaults had been delivered in piecemeal fashion. If Oka’s attack had been intended to divert the Americans, it came forty-eight hours too late to be effective. The fact that Maruyama was able to move his troops inland around Mount Austen in secret was a signal demonstration of the skill and doggedness of the Japanese soldier, but the terrain over which the intended envelopment had been executed had prevented the movement of artillery. The heavy artillery in Kokumbona does not appear to have been used in direct support of Maruyama’s attacks. Maruyama’s night attacks were thus made by infantrymen against prepared positions supported by artillery and heavy weapons. As the circular perimeter line possessed no open flanks, the Japanese delivered frontal assaults. The Lunga airfields, though seriously threatened, were saved by a combination of Japanese recklessness and American skill and bravery.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

The naval phase of the October counteroffensive was concluded almost anticlimactically by the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. South Pacific naval forces had been preparing to meet the attack since early October. On 20 October the Joint Chiefs of Staff transferred the submarines of the Southwest Pacific naval forces to the South Pacific until the completion of the Guadalcanal campaign, and Admiral Nimitz promised to send more submarines from the Pacific Fleet. The Southwest Pacific submarines were ordered to attack warships, tankers, transports, and supply ships in the vicinity of Faisi, Rabaul, Buka, northern New Georgia, Kavieng, Bougainville Strait, Indispensable Strait, and Cape Cretin on the Huon Peninsula in New Guinea. On 24 October the Enterprise and her escorts rendezvoused with the Hornet task group northeast of the New Hebrides. The task force thus assembled, commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, included the two carrier groups—the Enterprise, South Dakota, one heavy cruiser, one light antiaircraft cruiser, and eight destroyers—and the Hornet with two heavy and two light antiaircraft cruisers and six destroyers.

A strong Japanese fleet, consisting of four carriers, four battleships, nine cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, four oilers, and three cargo ships, had meanwhile been maneuvering off the Santa Cruz Islands in support of the 17th Army. At 0110 of 26 October, while the 17th Army forces were attacking Lunga Point, a patrolling plane reported to Admiral Kinkaid’s force that it had discovered part of the enemy fleet near the Santa Cruz Islands. Kinkaid moved in to attack. The ensuing engagement, a series of aircraft attacks against both planes and surface ships, was less decisive than the ground operations on Guadalcanal. The outnumbered American force lost twenty planes to the enemy, and fifty-four more from other causes. The Hornet and the destroyer Porter were sunk, and the Enterprise, the South Dakota, and the light antiaircraft cruiser San Juan and the destroyer Smith suffered damage. All the enemy ships remained afloat, but three carriers and two destroyers were damaged. The Japanese lost 100 planes, a loss which may have limited the amount of air cover they were able to provide to their convoys in November. At the conclusion of the day’s action the Japanese fleet withdrew and returned to Truk, not because it had been defeated but because the 17th Army had failed. The Santa Cruz engagement proved to be the last action of the Guadalcanal campaign in which the Japanese employed aircraft carriers in close support.

Thus far in the campaign, Allied air and naval forces had fought valiantly, but had not yet achieved the result which is a requisite to a successful landing on a hostile island—the destruction or effective interdiction of the enemy’s sea and air potential to prevent him from reinforcing his troops on the island, and to prevent him from cutting the attacker’s line of communication. This decisive result was soon to be gained.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (7); Decision at Sea

World War Two: Guadalcanal(5);Counteroffensive 12-14 September


World War Two: Papuan Campaign (10);Opening Blows in General Vasey’s Area

On 16 November the 32nd Division under General Harding and the 7th Division under General Vasey moved out against the enemy positions at the Buna-Gona beachhead. The Americans were on the right, and the Australians on the left.

Between them ran the Girua River, the divisional boundary. East of the river, the 126th Infantry troops under Colonel Tomlinson pushed off from Bofu and marched on Buna Village and Buna Mission by way of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura. Warren Force, the 128th Infantry and supporting elements, under General MacNider, sent out two columns from its positions along the coast: one along the coastal track leading to Cape Endaiadere; the other against the bridge between the strips.

On the other side of the river, the 25th Brigade under Brigadier Eather left the Wairopi crossing early on the 16th and moved on Gona by way of Awala, Amboga Crossing, and Jumbora. Crossing the Kumusi close on the heels of the 25th Brigade, the 16th Brigade under Brigadier Lloyd began moving on Sanananda the same day via Isivita, Sangara, Popondetta, and Soputa. Believing like the Americans on the other side of the river that only a small number of the enemy remained, the Australians advanced confidently, sure of a quick and easy victory.

The Attacks on Gona: The 25th Brigade Bogs Down

Gona was forty miles from Wairopi, and the trail, a poor one frequently lost in mud, lay through bush, jungle, kunai flat, and swamp. The 25th Brigade moved out toward Gona on 16 November, the 2/33 Battalion leading and the 2/25 Battalion bringing up the rear. There was no enemy contact on either the 16th or the 17th but the heat was intense and men began dropping out with malaria and collapsing with heat prostration. The 2/33 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel A. W. Buttrose commanding, reached Jumbora on the afternoon of 18 November and started to prepare a dropping ground. One of its companies moved forward to Gona to find out if the place was defended.

The company quickly discovered that there were Japanese at Gona. Major Yamamoto’s original allotment of 800 men had been reinforced by an additional hundred men—eighty from the 41st Infantry, and the rest walking wounded from the hospital.

The Japanese defense was centered on Gona Mission at the head of the trail. The mission and the surrounding native village area were honeycombed with bunkers, trenches, and firing pits, and every approach was covered. On the west lay the broad mouth of Gona Creek, an expanse of water just wide enough to make an attack from the other side of the creek unlikely.

Immediately to the south, and along the east bank of the creek, was an overgrown timbered area which bristled with defense works. To the east a labyrinth of hidden firing pits with overhead cover extended along the shore for a distance of about three quarters of a mile. With such defenses at their disposal, a resolute garrison could hope to hold for a long time.

The company of the 2/33rd which had gone on ahead to investigate ran into the most southerly of the Japanese defenses late on 18 November. The position, a strong, well-prepared one with cleared fields of fire, was about 1,000 yards south of the mission.

Next morning when the 2/31 Battalion, which was now in the lead, came up, it found the sixty men of the company in an intense fire fight with an enemy who was well hidden and well dug in, and whose fire commanded every approach. The 2/31st, under its commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Miller, attacked vigorously but could not penetrate the enemy’s protective fires. By nightfall, when it was ordered to disengage, the battalion had lost thirty-six killed and wounded.

By this time the brigade had outrun its supply. Ammunition had run low, and the troops, hungry, and racked with fevers, were without food. The supply situation righted itself on 21 November when supply planes came over Jumbora and dropped what was needed. Brigadier Eather at once assigned a company of the 2/33 Battalion to guard the supply dump. When a forty-five man detachment of the 2/16 Battalion which had previously been operating in the Owen Stanleys was made available to him that day, he ordered it to take up a position on the west bank of Gona Creek in order to cover his left flank. The 25th Brigade was finally ready to attack.

Eather’s command now numbered less than 1,000 men. Thus far he had no idea of how strong an enemy force was facing him. He did not yet realize that the Japanese defending Gona from carefully prepared positions had roughly the same number of troops that he had.

The attack began early on 22 November. The 2/33 Battalion attacked frontally along the track; the 2/25 Battalion, in reserve, moved out on the left of the track to be in position to attack from the southwest if called upon; the 2/31 Battalion, which was to launch the main attack, pushed forward on the right toward the beach, turned left, and attacked from the east.

Moving through swamp, the troops got as close as they could to the Japanese positions and then went in on the run with bayonets fixed. They did not go far. The leading troops had scarcely reached the Japanese front-line positions when the entire attacking wave was met by such intense enfilading fire from right and left that the troops had to pull back into the swamp. This abortive attack cost the 2/31 Battalion sixty-five killed and wounded.

The next day Brigadier Eather tried again. He switched the 2/25 Battalion from the left flank to the right and ordered it to launch a new attack from the east that afternoon. The 2/25th, Lieutenant Colonel Richard H. Marson commanding, passed through the 2/31st and attacked westward, supported by fire from its sister battalion. The result was the same. No sooner had the troops approached the enemy position than enfilading fire drove them back into the swamp, like the 2/31 Battalion before them. The 2/25th lost sixty-four men in the day’s fighting, only one less than the 2/31st in the attack of the day before.

The situation had turned serious. In only three days of fighting, the brigade had lost 204 killed and wounded. There was little to show for these losses. Although the Japanese had pulled back along the track, they were still holding the village and the mission and had apparently given as good as they got.

Realizing only too well now that he faced a strong, well-entrenched enemy, Brigadier Eather called for an air strike to soften up the Japanese position. When it was over, he planned to attack again with the 3rd Infantry Battalion which had meanwhile come under his command.

The air force flew over Gona on 24 November and gave the place a thorough bombing and strafing. On the next day the 3rd Battalion, now less than 200 strong, attacked Gona from the southwest. For the first time the attack was well prepared. Not only did the 2/25 and 2/31 Battalions fire in its support, but four 25-pounders which had reached Soputa on 23 November fired 250 rounds of preparatory fire before the troops jumped off. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Allan G. Cameron, the battalion got about fifty yards inside the Japanese position but, as in the case of the other attacks, was met by such intense fire that it too had to withdraw. The attack, though a failure like the rest, had one redeeming feature: unlike the inadequately prepared attacks which had preceded it, casualties were relatively light.

The 21st Brigade Opens Its Attack

By now the 25th Brigade was no longer in condition to attack. The total strength of its three battalions amounted to less than 750 men—two were under 300 men, and one, the 2/31st, was under 200. The troops were exhausted, and the number of sick from malaria and other causes was increasing daily. What was left of the brigade could still be used to contain the enemy but could scarcely be expected to do more. The task of clearing Gona fell therefore to General Vasey’s reserve unit, the 21st Brigade, Brigadier Ivan N. Dougherty commanding. It was only about 1,100 strong, but the men, after a long rest at Port Moresby, were fit and ready to go.

Advance elements of the new brigade began moving into the line on 28 November. By 30 November the brigade had completely taken over. Pending the receipt of orders returning it to Port Moresby, the 25th Brigade took up a position along the track just south of Gona and lent such support as it could to the 21st Brigade, whose opening attacks on the place were, to Brigadier Dougherty’s chagrin, proving no more successful than its own.

The capture of Gona, which the Australians had thought initially to be undefended, had turned out to be an extremely difficult task. After almost two weeks of attack, it was still in enemy hands. The Japanese had suffered heavy losses and had been forced to contract their lines until they held little more than a small area immediately around the mission, but they were still resisting with the utmost tenacity, and their perimeter had yet to be breached. The almost fanatical resistance of Major Yamamoto’s troops served its purpose. Australian troops that might otherwise have been available for use elsewhere in the beachhead area were at the end of the month still trying to take Gona.

The 16th Brigade Moves on Sanananda; The Australians Reach the Track Junction

The leading battalion of the 16th Brigade, the 2/2nd, Lieutenant Colonel C. R. V. Edgar commanding, was across the Kumusi by the early morning of 16 November. Edgar struck out at once for Popondetta. Behind him in order were Brigadier Lloyd and his headquarters, the 2/3 Battalion, and the 2/1 Battalion. The men plodded along without rations, tired and hungry. They were gnawing green papayas and sweet potatoes, whatever they could find. Some were so hungry they chewed grass.

A torrential rain struck the next day, turning the track into a sea of mud. Even minor creeks were almost impossible to ford. The troops still had no food, and that day fifty-seven men of the 2/2nd collapsed on the trail from exhaustion, heat prostration, and hunger. There was no food on the 18th—only a rumor that the planes would drop some at Popondetta. The 2/2nd reached Popondetta that evening, but there was no food there either. Rations would be waiting for them, the troops were told, at Soputa, a day’s march away.

Leaving some troops at Popondetta to prepare an airstrip, the brigade pushed off for Soputa on 19 November, the 2/3 Battalion leading. Rations had been dropped during the morning at Popondetta and caught up with the troops by noon, at which time the men had their first meal in three days. The battalion approached Soputa toward evening and ran into resistance just outside the village. Major Ian Hutchinson, the battalion commander, at once deployed his troops for attack. Darkness fell before the battalion could clear out the enemy, and the weary troops dug in.

Next morning the Japanese were gone. Brigadier Lloyd sent a covering force to the Girua River crossing, about half a mile east of Soputa, and the 2/3 Battalion marched out along the track in pursuit of the Japanese. Finding no enemy after a half-hour march, the troops were busily eating breakfast by the side of the track, when the 2/1 Battalion, taking the lead, pushed past them. After about fifteen minutes of marching through brush and scrub, the 2/1 began debouching onto a broad kunai flat and there was met by heavy enemy fire, including artillery fire.

The 2/1st had to run into Colonel Tsukamoto’s most southerly outpost. This outpost was manned by a covering detachment whose mission was to delay an advancing force, thus giving Tsukamoto time to complete preparations for the defense of his main position at the junction of the Cape Killerton and Soputa-Sanananda tracks.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Cullen, the battalion commander, ordered an immediate attack. One company of the 2/1 started moving frontally up the track. A second company started flanking on the right. A third composite company moved out wide on the left. The troops in the center and on the right made some gains at first, but by noon they were meeting strong resistance that balked further progress that day. The company on the left under command of a particularly aggressive young officer, Captain B. W. T. Catterns, did better. This force, ten officers and eighty-one enlisted men (all that was left of two companies), made a wide detour around the Japanese right flank, taking particular care to keep clear of the kunai flat which the enemy was defending. By evening Catterns was about two miles behind the Japanese and in position to come in on their right rear.

Creeping stealthily forward, the Australians surprised a number of Japanese at their evening meal, killed about eighty of them, and established a strong, all-around perimeter just east of the track. The Japanese attacked Catterns all day on 21 November, hitting him repeatedly from three sides. Though they were running short of ammunition, Catterns’ troops in a stirring defense not only beat off the enemy but inflicted heavy casualties upon him.

The Australians on the right were quick to profit from the enemy’s absorption in Catterns’ attack. Two companies of Colonel Edgar’s 2/2 Battalion, under Captains Athelstan K. Bosgard and Jack M. Blamey, pushed around the enemy’s left flank and kept going. By evening they had gained 3,000 yards and had taken an enemy rice dump in an abandoned banana plantation, about 600 yards east of the track. As the Australians moved into the dump area, the Japanese rallied, mounted a strong attack, and brought the drive on the right to a complete halt, Catterns had meanwhile won his battle. Unable to dislodge him, the Japanese covering force fell back that night to the track junction, abandoning still another prepared defensive position on the kunai flat which it was now no longer in a position even to try to hold.

Catterns lost sixty-seven of his ninety men in the engagement, but his attack was a brilliant success. Not only had it turned the enemy’s flank, but it had made possible the deep penetration on the right. Left with no choice but to withdraw, the Japanese had pulled all the way back to their main defenses in the track junction.

When the attack was over and Catterns’ company had been relieved by a company of the 2/3 Battalion, the Australians had a new east-west front line which was pivoted on the track and lay within easy attacking distance of the enemy positions immediately south of the track junction. The Australian left was just south of the perimeter Catterns had held on the 21st, a slight withdrawal having been ordered there for tactical reasons.

In the center the Australians were astride the track several hundred yards to the south of the main Japanese defenses covering the track junction. On the right, to the southeast of the junction, they held the banana plantation and the rice dump, their forward foxholes in the relatively open plantation area being only thirty or forty yards away from those of the enemy.

By this time the strength of the brigade after not quite two months of action had gone down from almost 1,900 officers and men to a force of barely 1,000. Most of the companies in the line were at half strength or less. Catterns’ company, for instance, had only twenty-three officers and men, and the company of the 2/3 Battalion that relieved his unit had less than fifty men. The two companies on the right under Captains Bosgard and Blamey did not exceed forty men each, and the other companies were similarly depleted.

Despite their dashing showing on 21 November, the troops of the brigade were in poor physical condition. They were feverish, hungry, and exhausted, and an ever increasing number were being hospitalized for malaria and other diseases. The brigade was still a fighting force. It could still hold, but its men, for the present at least, were too worn out to do more. Until they had a little rest another force would have to take over the attack. That force, by decision of General MacArthur, was to be Colonel Tomlinson’s 126th U. S. Infantry, the regiment to which General Harding had given the task of taking Buna Village and Buna Mission.

General Vasey Is Given the U. S. 126th Infantry

Because he could make no radio contact with the 7th Division, and had no assurance that the Australians would get to Soputa in time to close his inward flank, General Harding ordered Colonel Tomlinson on the morning of 18 November to march on Buna via Popondetta and Soputa. Tomlinson, who was then at Inonda, was told that, if the Australians were at Popondetta by the time his leading elements got there, he was to order his troops back to Inonda and, as previously planned, move them on Buna via Horanda and Dobodura.

Early on 19 November Colonel Tomlinson sent Major Bond and Companies I and K, 126th Infantry, across the Girua River to find out if the Australians had as yet reached Popondetta. Bond made contact with an Australian unit just outside of Popondetta at 1130 that day. When he learned that the main Australian force had already passed Popondetta and was on its way to Soputa, Bond ordered his two companies back to Inonda. The regiment, which had been down to its last C ration on 18 November, had rations and ammunition dropped to it at Inonda on the 19th and began marching on Buna, via Horanda, and Dobodura, the 2nd Battalion as before leading.

At Port Moresby meanwhile, higher headquarters, with General MacArthur’s approval, had decided to give the 126th Infantry to General Vasey for action on the Sanananda track, rather than let it proceed as originally planned to Buna. The point was made that there seemed to be more Japanese in General Vasey’s area than in General Harding’s, and that the main effort would therefore have to be made west of the Girua River. If need be, higher headquarters decided, this was to be accomplished at the expense of the offensive effort on the eastern side of the river.

After this decision, General Vasey was told that he could have the 126th Infantry if he thought he needed it to take Sanananda. Knowing only too well how tired and depleted the 16th Brigade was, General Vasey accepted the offer with alacrity, and General Herring at once ordered Colonel Tomlinson to Popondetta with instructions to report to General Vasey.

The diversion of the 126th Infantry to General Vasey’s command greatly disturbed General Harding, who could see little justification for the diversion of half his troop strength to General Vasey just as he was about to use it to take Buna. In a message “For General Herring’s eyes only,” he urged that the decision to take the 126th Infantry away from him be reconsidered as likely to lead to confusion, resentment, and misunderstanding. The message went out at 0100, 20 November, and General Herring, in a stiff note, replied at 1420 that the decision would have to stand, and that he was counting on Harding to make no further difficulties in the matter. General Harding had no further recourse. He would have to make out as best he could at Buna without Colonel Tomlinson’s troops.

The Regiment Arrives at Soputa

On 19 November Colonel Tomlinson was ordered by New Guinea Force to report to the 7th Division. Surprised by the order, Tomlinson immediately tried checking with General Harding by radio to make sure that there was no mistake. Unable to make radio contact with Harding, he got in touch with the rear echelon of the regiment at Port Moresby. Learning from the regimental base that he had indeed been released from the 32nd Division, he began moving on Popondetta early on the 20th.

Accompanied by a small detail, including Captain Boice, his S-2, and Captain Dixon, his S-3, he reported to General Vasey at Popondetta that afternoon. Vasey at once sent him to Soputa where he was to come under the command of Brigadier Lloyd. The regiment had already begun moving. Major Bond and the men of Companies I and K, who had been on their way back to Inonda when the orders came for the regiment to cross the Girua and come under Australian command, led the march to Soputa. Major Baetcke, whom Colonel Tomlinson had left in command at Inonda, departed for Soputa with the rest of the regiment the same afternoon. Only an airdropping detail and a couple of hundred natives were left at Inonda. Their instructions were to bring forward all the supplies accumulated there as quickly as possible.

Although it had rained during the preceding few days and the march was through heavy mud, the troops made good time. By the evening of 21 November, the whole force—regimental headquarters, Major Boerem’s two companies and platoon of the 1st Battalion, Major Smith’s 2nd Battalion, the 17th Portable Hospital, the Service Company, and a platoon of Company A, 114th U.S. Engineer Battalion—had reached Soputa. The men arrived wet and hungry.

They were at once attached to the 16th Brigade and assigned a bivouac near Soputa. General Vasey in the meantime had set 22 November as the day that the Americans were to be committed to action. With the successful advance of the 16th Brigade on 21 November, the plan now was that the brigade would hold and make no further attempt to advance until the Americans had taken the track junction

The situation was to the liking of the depleted and exhausted 16th Brigade. As the Australian historian Dudley McCarthy puts it, “. . . the Australians were content to sit back for a while and watch the Americans. There was a very real interest in their observation and a certain sardonic but concealed amusement. The Americans had told some of them that they ‘could go home now’ as they (the Americans) ‘were here to clean things up.’”

The Americans Take Over: The Troops Move Out for the Attack

On the evening of 21 November Colonel Tomlinson, who, with Captains Boice and Dixon, had already reconnoitered the front in the company of both General Vasey and Brigadier Lloyd, met with his battalion commanders to plan the next morning’s attack.

Little was known about the terrain ahead. The map being used at the time by the 16th Brigade was the provisional 1-inch-to-1-mile Buna Sheet. In addition to being inaccurate, it was blank as far as terrain features in the track junction were concerned. All that it showed was the junction, the Cape Killerton track, and the Soputa—Sanananda track. The rest was left to the troops to fill in.

As he started planning for the attack, Colonel Tomlinson knew only that heavy bush, jungle, and swamp lay on either side of the junction, and that the junction itself was covered by well-prepared enemy defenses, location and depth unknown. The Japanese position, he noted, was an inverted V. To flank it, he would have to attack it in a larger V. His plan was therefore to use Major Bond’s 3rd Battalion to probe the enemy position and move behind it in a double envelopment from right and left. When that maneuver was completed, he would send in Major Smith’s 2nd Battalion and, as he phrased it, “squeeze the Japanese right out.”

Tomlinson quickly worked out the details of the attack. While Major Boerem’s detachment tried attacking frontally along the track, Major Bond’s battalion would move up into the 16th Brigade’s area and, from a central assembly point about four miles north of Soputa, would march out on right and left to begin the envelopments. The 2nd Battalion, in need of rest after its march over the Owen Stanleys, was to remain in the Soputa area in reserve, to be called upon when needed.

The 2nd Battalion had no sooner settled itself in its bivouac than New Guinea Force ordered it back across the Girua River to rejoin the 32nd Division. General Herring gave the order in response to a request from General Harding for the reinforcement of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, which had run into difficulties on General Harding’s left flank. Major Smith’s battalion left Soputa for the river crossing, half a mile away, early on 22 November. It got there only to discover that the river, which was unbridged, was in flood and could not be forded. A cable was thrown over the river, and the troops crossed in hastily put together rafts, which were guided to the other side by the cable. The battalion finished crossing the river late that evening and fought thereafter on the eastern side of the river.

Major Smith’s battalion and the bulk of Colonel Carrier’s battalion—some 1,500 men—were now both east of the Girua River. [NOTE 12-12] Colonel Tomlinson was left with the comand only of the 126th Infantry troops west of it—Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Major Boerem’s detachment, Major Bond’s 3rd Battalion, the regimental Cannon and Antitank Companies, a detachment of the Service Company, and attached medical and engineer troops—a total of 1,400 men. The Cannon and Antitank Companies were still at Wairopi and would not arrive at Soputa for some time. The envelopments would have to be made with the troops at hand—Major Boerem’s detachment and Major Bond’s battalion.

Though he was now without his reserve battalion, Colonel Tomlinson proceeded as planned with the envelopments. Major Boerem’s detachment would engage the enemy frontally along the track, and the 3rd Battalion—Companies I and K on the left and Company L on the right—would make the envelopments, supported by elements of Company M.

Companies I, K, and L, strengthened in each case by machine gun and mortar elements from Company M, left the regimental bivouac area near Soputa at 0640, 22 November, their faces daubed with green for action in the swamp and jungle terrain facing them. The troops had been issued two days’ rations, hand grenades, and as much .30-caliber and .45-caliber ammunition as they could carry. Twenty rounds had been issued for each mortar, and arrangements had been made to have additional rations, equipment, and ammunition brought forward as needed by native carriers and by Company M.

The 3rd Battalion moved up to its designated assembly area, and there, about four miles north of Soputa and about 1,000 yards south of the track junction, Major Bond established his CP. Continuing up the track, Major Boerem’s detachment passed through a company of the 2/3 Battalion under Captain N. H. L. Lysaght, the most advanced unit on the trail, and began moving into position immediately to Lysaght’s front.

Companies I and K, Captain John D. Shirley and Lieutenant Wilbur C. Lytle commanding, accompanied by Captain Meredith M. Huggins, battalion S-3, moved out on the left at 0940; Company L, under Captain Bevin D. Lee, pushed off on the right an hour and a half later. Company M, under Captain Russell P. Wildey, less such of its machine gun and mortar elements as were with the companies in attack, went into bivouac 200 yards to the rear of Major Bond’s CP. By 1100 Companies I and K had passed through the Australian troops on the left—two companies of the 2/2 Battalion under command of Captain Donald N. Fairbrother.

At 1445 Company L had reached the right flank position in the banana plantation held by the remaining two companies of the 2/2nd under Captains Bosgard and Blamey. By this time Major Boerem’s detachment had passed through Captain Lysaght’s company and was dug in immediately to its front. The rest of the 2/3 Battalion was in position behind Lysaght to give the center depth and serve as a backstop should the Japanese try to break out from the track junction. Colonel Tomlinson’s attack was almost ready to go.

[NOTE 12-12: It will be recalled that Colonel Carrier and most of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, 589 officers and men, had been flown from Port Moresby to Abel’s Field, when the landing field at Pongani had closed temporarily because of heavy rains, and that the next day the rest of the troops 218 men, under Major Boerem, had been flown to Pongani upon the opening there of a new all-weather field. The two detachments became separated. The bulk of the battalion, under Colonel Carrier, fought thereafter east of the river. Major Boerem’s detachment (which with late comers and attached troops was to reach a strength of about 250 men) fought west of it.]

The Envelopments Begin

At 1100 Company K under Lieutenant Lytle moved out into the no man’s land on the Australian left. Company I under Captain Shirley followed immediately, swinging wide around Lytle’s left. Colonel Tsukamoto had patrols in the area, and Company K ran into the first of them at 1110, only ten minutes out. The patrol was a small one, and Lytle had no trouble dispersing it. Company I, which was covering Company K from the left, ran into a much larger force at 1215. Shirley started flanking on right and left, and the Japanese after a heavy exchange of fire withdrew. At 1300 Company K again received fire, probably from the same force which had tried to ambush Company I. Lieutenant Lytle started flanking, and the enemy again withdrew.

The two companies suffered light casualties in these encounters—four killed and four wounded. The terrain was heavy bush and swamp, hard to get through, and with no prominent terrain features from which to take a bearing. Having had very little training in patrolling, the troops got their directions skewed during the frequent harassing encounters with the enemy. By the end of the day they found themselves only about 350 yards north of the Australians and not, as they had planned, several times that distance from them.

Captain Lee’s Company L, with a platoon of Company M attached, left the banana plantation, which was on the west bank of a small, easily forded stream, at about 1500 and attacked in a northwesterly direction. After gaining perhaps 200 yards, the company was stopped in its tracks by heavy crossfire. It lost three killed and several wounded and made no further advance that day.

The company had just dug itself in for the night when Colonel Tsukamoto attacked with several hundred fresh 144th Infantry replacements who had reached Basabua the night before and had been immediately assigned to his command. Company L, helped by the two Australian companies, threw back the attack and inflicted heavy losses to the enemy. Company L alone claimed to have killed forty Japanese that night, with a further loss to itself of two killed and one wounded.[NOTE 15-15]

Colonel Tomlinson had planned to continue the attack during the afternoon of 23 November. But with Companies I and K completely out of position on the left, and Company L on the right stopped almost as soon as it moved out of the plantation area, he had to postpone the attack until his flanking companies were more advantageously situated to launch it.

The delay would be an advantage for the front by this time was rapidly becoming organized. The airstrip at Popondetta opened for traffic on 23 November, and a section of four 25-pounders of the 2/1 Australian Field Regiment, Major A. G. Hanson commanding, was flown in and went into action the same day from a point north of Soputa. Additional 81-mm. mortars were rushed to Company L, and the available native carriers and troops of Company D began bringing out the wounded and carrying rations to the troops on both flanks.

Companies I and K, trying to get into position for the attack after their slow advance of the day before, got off to an early start on 23 November. Except for some heavy firing at daybreak, which caused them no casualties, the two companies met no interference from the enemy all day. Progress was steady, and by 1410 Captain Shirley was able to report an uninterrupted advance.

[NOTE 15-15: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 5, 23 Nov 42; Tomita Butai Orders, 22 Nov 42; Yokoyama Det Orders, 22 Nov 42. Last two in ATIS EP 29; 17th Army Opns I, 131; 18th Army Opns I, 20, 21. About 500 replacements had come in from Rabaul on 21 November. The larger portion were at once assigned to Colonel Tsukamoto for front-line action, and the rest were left in reserve to the rear of the track junction.]

Though they themselves were not too sure of their location, Companies I and K had by the following evening reached a clearing in the swamp to the left of the track, about 1,200 yards north of their line of departure and about 1,000 west of the Killerton trail. The two companies, now together and in position to attack, settled themselves in the clearing for the night, preparatory to attacking eastward in the morning. After three sleepless nights the weary men were not as alert as they should have been. Japanese patrols approached to within a short distance of their perimeter and suddenly subjected them to heavy crossfire. Taken completely by surprise, the troops pulled back into the swamp in disorder.

Learning of the new setback, Colonel Tomlinson, who had counted on finally attacking on 25 November, at once ordered Major Bond forward to take command of the two scattered companies and to attack on the 26th. On the right Company L had been making virtually no progress. By the evening of 24 November, it was just where it had been on the evening of the 22nd—on the outskirts of the rice dump, about 200 yards from its line of departure.

The next day, 25 November, the 25-pounders and the mortars gave the Japanese positions a thorough going over. In the process, however, an 81-mm. mortar shell fell short and landed in the command post that Captain Lee was sharing with Captain Blamey. Blamey and one other Australian were killed, and Captain Lee and five others—Australians and Americans—were wounded. Captain Bosgard took over command of the Australians in the area, and Major Bert Zeeff of the Americans.

Major Zeeff, executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, went forward that night from battalion headquarters. Zeeff reached the plantation area with a few men from Battalion Headquarters Company at about 0100 on the 26th. He slept in the same CP in which Captain Blamey had been killed. At daybreak, after a heavy mortaring of the plantation area by the Japanese, Zeeff inspected the Allied position. He found the Australians in the center of the line, with the Americans in a semicircular position on left and right. The Australians were behind a heavy log breastwork, which, as Zeeff recalls, was “grooved and creased” with enemy fire. The attack obviously was making no progress, and it was clear to Zeeff that he would have to use some other axis of approach if he was to reach the track.

Instead of trying to crash through the strong enemy positions forward of the plantation area, Zeeff tried a new tactic. Leaving part of Company L and twenty men from 3rd Battalion headquarters in place in the plantation area, he re-crossed the stream with the rest of his force, about 100 men, side-slipped along the stream for about 600 yards, and prepared to hit the enemy through the gap between Boerem’s positions on the track and the allied right flank.

[NOTE 1717: Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 126th Inf, 23 Nov 42, 24 Nov 42, 25 Nov 42; 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 12, 14, 16, 19, 23 Nov 42, Sers 4, 16, 28, 24 Nov 42, Sers 9, 19, 25 Nov 42; Ltrs, Lt Col Bert Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50, 11 Sep 51. Captain Jack M. Blamey, a nephew of General Blamey, who had distinguished himself by his bravery during this period as well as during the fighting in the Owen Stanleys, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 54, 3 Dec 42.]

The long-delayed attack was now finally ready. The 25-pounders and the mortars opened up about 1300, 26 November, shortly after Companies I and K, under Major Bond, pushed off to the eastward toward the Killerton trail. At 1320 the artillery and mortar fire ceased. Companies C and D, Major Boerem’s two companies, attacked straight north along the track, and Company L, with attached elements of Company M and battalion headquarters, under Major Zeeff, crossed the stream and pushed northwestward.

Major Bond’s eastward thrust hit stiff resistance. After several hours of indecisive fighting and the loss of five killed and twenty-three wounded, Bond’s two companies consolidated about 700 yards west of the Killerton trail. Major Boerem’s companies ran into such heavy machine gun and mortar fire that they were stopped after an advance of less than a hundred yards. Colonel Tomlinson, Captain Boice, Captain Dixon, and other members of the regimental staff who were observing Boerem’s attack were pinned to the ground and managed to extricate themselves only after the enemy fire lifted. Zeeff did somewhat better. He pushed ahead for about 350 yards before running into heavy fire from several hidden machine guns that killed and wounded several of his men. The advance, which had begun so promisingly, was brought to a complete halt The troops began aggressive patrolling to pinpoint the enemy positions, but so skillfully were they hidden that Zeeff’s patrols could not at once locate them. Dusk came, and the troops dug in for the night in foxholes which immediately filled with water.

[NOTE 1818: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 1, 7, 20, 27, 33, 39, 48, 52, 54, 56, 59, 26 Nov 42; Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 26 Nov 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem’s Det, 26 Nov 42; Ltrs, Col Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50. Major Simon Warmenhoven, the regimental surgeon, while on his way that day to Major Boerem’s CP with other members of the regimental staff, saw a mortar shell land on a platoon of the 2/3 Battalion, which was in position immediately to Boerem’s rear, killing five and wounding eight. Though the position was under heavy fire, Warmenhoven at once went to the aid of the wounded Australians and stayed with them until all had received medical attention and been evacuated. Warmenhoven was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

The Establishment of the Roadblock

Early on 27 November Major Bond reported that, although everything on his front was at a stalemate, he was holding and preparing to attack. The next morning, while Colonel Tomlinson was adding up his battle casualties (which by that time were more than 100 killed, wounded, and missing), the Cannon and Antitank Companies under Captain Medendorp finally reached Soputa from Wairopi. The men, exhausted and very hungry, were given food and allowed to rest, their first respite in some time.Colonel Tsukamoto meanwhile continued attacking savagely on his left, on the assumption apparently that the Allied troops on that flank presented the greatest threat to his position in the track junction.

The Japanese attacked all day on 27 November. Their pressure was directed principally at Zeeff, whose forward perimeter was now between 300 and 400 yards from the track, but intermittent glancing blows were sent also against the Australian and American positions in the banana plantation.

The heaviest attack of the day came toward evening. It was beaten off with the help of Major Hanson’s 25-pounders and the excellent observation of one of Hanson’s forward observers, Lieutenant A. N. T. Daniels, who was with Zeeff. Daniels switched the artillery fire from Zeeff’s front to Bosgard’s and back again to such good effect that the Japanese attack soon dwindled to nuisance fire only. In repelling the Japanese, Zeeff’s troops suffered considerable casualties, and the Australians in the plantation area, now down to about fifty men, lost Captain Bosgard, whose death came only two days after Captain Blamey’s.

Zeeff had meanwhile been joined by seventy men from Major Boerem’s detachment—thirty-seven men from Company C and thirty-three from Company D. Still facing the task of cleaning out the Japanese immediately to their front, the group spent the day of the 28th in patrolling and locating the hidden enemy positions.

One of Zeeff’s platoon leaders, 1st Lieutenant Henry M. Crouch, Jr., accompanied by Lieutenant Daniels, stalked and ambushed a party of eight Japanese. In a particularly daring foray, Sergeant Robert R. McGee of Company L led the patrol that located the main enemy position standing in the way of the advance and helped to wipe it out. The next day, rations, ammunition, and hand grenades were brought forward and distributed to the troops. Zeeff was ready to push forward again. His orders were to move northwest to make contact with the troops on the left flank, who, he was told, would try to hit the Soputa—Sanananda track the next day.

[NOT E 1919: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 19, 24, 27 Nov 42, Sers 2, 13, 28 Nov 42; Jnl, Co L, 126th Inf, 27-30 Nov 42; Ltrs, Colonel Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50; Interv with Colonel Baetcke, 18 Nov 50. Sergeant McGee was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

General Vasey had hoped to open up a new front for his Australians by having them cut over from the Killerton trail to the Soputa-Sanananda track at a point well to the north of the area in which the Americans were operating. On 28 November, on the very eve of the American attack, he learned that the plan was impracticable.

Strong Australian patrols sent out on 24 and 26 November reported that the intervening swamp barred access from one track to the other that far north. The farthest north the crossing could be made, General Vasey was told, was where the Americans were about to make it. The Americans, in short, had stumbled upon exactly the right spot to make the envelopment, and the envelopment was ready to go.

The main effort was to be on the left. On 29 November Colonel Tomlinson ordered Major Baetcke, his executive officer, to proceed to Major Bond’s position on the left flank and take command of the troops there. These troops now included Companies I and K, elements of Company M and 3rd Battalion headquarters, and the Cannon and Antitank Companies. The last two units had moved up from Soputa and taken up a position on Bond’s rear. Baetcke’s instructions were to attack eastward on 30 November and, in concert with a further frontal attack by Major Boerem, and an attack on the right by Major Zeeff, to establish a roadblock to the rear of the main enemy position in the track junction.

Baetcke reached Bond’s position late on the morning of 29 November. He was accompanied by 1st Lieutenant Peter L. Dal Fonte, commanding officer of the Service Company, whom he had chosen to be his assistant. As nearly as could be made out, Bond’s position to the west of both the Cape Killerton trail and the Soputa-Sanananda track lay about 700 yards from the one and 1,600 yards from the other. Baetcke quickly worked out a plan of attack. The line of departure was to be about 200 yards northeast of Bond’s main position and about 500 west of the Killerton trail. At the prescribed time the troops would attack straight east and move astride the Soputa—Sanananda track 1,400 yards away.

The units in assault would be under command of Major Bond, who was to be accompanied by Lieutenant Daniels. The attacking force of 265 men was to include Company I under Captain Shirley, the Antitank Company under its commanding officer, Captain Roger Keast, a light machine gun section of Company M, and a communications detachment from 3rd Battalion headquarters.

Company K and the Cannon Company, both under command of Captain Medendorp, were to be in support. Led by Lieutenant Lytle, Company K would take up a position behind the line of departure and execute a holding attack by fire. The Cannon Company, under its commander, 1st Lieutenant John L. Fenton, would remain in reserve to the rear of Company K and would come to its aid should it come under enemy attack.

Early on the morning of 30 November the 126th Infantry attacked the Japanese on the right, in the center, and on the left. The attack on the right by Company L met no opposition for about 150 yards but was then brought to a complete halt by a strong Japanese force that Colonel Tsukamoto had deployed there for just that purpose. Companies C and D in the center did not do as well and gained only a few yards. The real success of the day was registered on the left.

Major Bond’s force left the line of departure at 0900, after a ten-minute artillery and mortar preparation. It moved in column of companies, Company I leading. The supporting fire of Company K proved very effective and drew strong, retaliatory fire from the enemy. At first the troops had no trouble dealing with the enemy to the front.

About four hundred yards beyond the line of departure, as they started moving through a large kunai patch, they were met from virtually all sides by hostile rifle, mortar, and machine gun fire. Major Bond was wounded about 0930 and had to be evacuated. The attack lost its momentum and for a time bogged down completely. Learning of the difficulty, Major Baetcke came up from the rear, rallied the troops, and, leading the way, cleared the enemy out of the kunai flat. Captain Shirley took command and the attack continued.

After eliminating the resistance on the kunai flat, the troops fought several minor skirmishes with small parties of the enemy who seemed to be patrolling the area. About a thousand yards out, they ran into jungle and swamp terrain more difficult than anything they had previously encountered. The undergrowth in the jungle was almost impenetrable, but the real difficulty came when the men reached a 300-yard stretch of knee-deep swamp. The Japanese, who had cut fire lanes commanding the swamp, temporarily stopped Captain Shirley’s troops with knee-mortar and machine gun fire just as they were trying to clear it. Shirley’s men finally succeeded in crossing the swamp and dispersing the enemy. A little way out of the swamp the troops came upon a well-traveled trail leading generally eastward and followed it. At 1700 Company I’s scouts reported an enemy bivouac area directly ahead. [NOTE 2020] What followed is best told by one who was present.

At this point Captain Shirley ordered his Company I, deployed with two platoons abreast and supporting platoon following in center rear, to insert bayonets and assault the . . . enemy position (endeavoring to get his objective prior to darkness). The attack was well executed and successful. Captain Shirley, after driving the enemy from this position, organized perimeter defense by emplacing his rifle platoons of Company I west of the road; 1 LMG Squad (Light Machine Gun), Company M, near the road on the northern portion of the perimeter; and 1 LMG Squad, Company M, on the southern portion of the perimeter. AT (Anti-tank) Company had been [deployed] east of the road. The perimeter was in and established by about . . .1830. . . . About two hours later we were getting heavy mortar fire in the perimeter and later attacks from the northeast on the AT Company’s sector, and subsequently from the northwest on Company I’s sector. Both were repulsed with few casualties.

In storming the bivouac area, the Shirley force had killed a score of Japanese; it had captured two disabled Ford trucks, a variety of auto repair tools, a little food, and some medical supplies; most important of all, it had gained its objective. The captured bivouac area, a comparatively open, oval shaped space about 250 yards long and 150 yards wide, lay astride the track 1,500 yards to the north of the track junction and approximately 300 south of the Japanese second line of defense higher up on the track. The long-sought roadblock, to the rear of the Japanese positions in the track junction, had finally been established.

Zeeff’s Recall

Now that the Shirley force had cut through the Japanese line and established itself on the track, it remained to be seen whether the Zeeff force, now only a few hundred yards south of it, could link up with Shirley. Held up on 30 November while Shirley was moving steadily to his goal, Major Zeeff experienced no difficulty moving forward the next day. His men advanced northwest in order to join Shirley in the roadblock. The Japanese, apparently diverted from the threat on their left by the new threat on their rear, had relaxed their pressure, and Zeeff’s force moved steadily ahead.

Early that afternoon Zeeff’s troops crossed the track and, moving to a point about 250 yards west of it, surprised and wiped out a party of thirty-five to forty Japanese. Zeeff reported the skirmish to Colonel Tomlinson at 1515 and, told him that he thought his troops had crossed the track. To prevent enemy interception of the message Zeeff spoke in Dutch, a language familiar to many of the Michigan troops present, and a Dutch-speaking sergeant at headquarters interpreted for Colonel Tomlinson.

[NOTE 20-20: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 16, 21, 29 Nov 42, Sers 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 30, 31, 35, 37, 38, 30 Nov 42; Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 126th Inf, 29 and 30 Nov 42; Colonel Baetcke, Notes on the American Force on the Sanananda Trail, 25 May 43; Memo, Major Peter L. Dal Fonte for author, 12 Jul 50; McCarthy, op. cit., Ch. 17. For his action in rallying and leading the troops on the kunai flat, Major Baetcke was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq, USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

Zeeff dug in at 1625 on Tomlinson’s orders. Within the hour the Japanese struck from right and front. After a brisk fire fight in which Zeeff lost two killed and three wounded, the enemy withdrew. At 2100 Colonel Tomlinson ordered Zeeff to move back to the east side of the road as soon as he could and to push northward from there to make the desired juncture with the troops in the roadblock. At that point the wire went dead, and Zeeff was on his own.

The troops fashioned stretchers for the wounded from saplings, telephone wire, and denim jackets, and the next morning began moving from their night perimeter on a northeasterly course to re-cross the track as ordered. Their withdrawal was no easy task. The enemy kept up a steady fire, and it was here that Private Hymie Y. Epstein, one of Zeeff’s last medical aid men, was killed.

Epstein had distinguished himself on 22 November by crawling to the aid of a wounded man in an area swept by enemy fire. He had done the same thing on 1 December. This is the scene on the afternoon of the 1st, as Zeeff recalled it: I was prone with a filled musette bag in front of my face; Epstein was in a similar position about 4 or 5 feet to my left. Private Sullivan was shot through the neck and was lying about 10 feet from me to my right front. Epstein said, “I have to take care of him.” I said, “I’m not ordering you to go, the fire is too heavy.” [Despite this], he crawled on his stomach, treated and bandaged Sullivan, then crawled back. A few minutes later, Sergeant Burnett . . . was shot in the head, lying a few feet from Sullivan. Epstein did the same for Burnett, and managed to crawl back without being hit.

Epstein’s luck did not hold. To quote Zeeff again: “The next morning just before daybreak, Private Mike Russin on our left flank was hit by a sniper. Epstein went to him, …but did not return as he was shot and killed there. We buried him before moving out…”

[NOTE 23-23; Ltr, Colonel Zeeff to author, 11 Sep 51. Private Epstein was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. The citation is in Hq, 32nd Div GO No. 28, 6 Apr 43.]

Toward evening, while the troops were digging in for the night at a new perimeter a few yards east of the track and about 500 south of the roadblock, Sergeant McGee, whom Zeeff had sent out to reconnoiter the area immediately to the northward, came back with discouraging news. Strong and well-manned enemy positions, beyond the power of the Zeeff force to breach, lay a couple of hundred yards ahead. Zeeff had scarcely had time to digest the news when the Japanese were upon him again. After a wild spate of firing, the attack was finally beaten off at a cost to Zeeff of five killed and six seriously wounded.

By this time Colonel Tomlinson was satisfied that Zeeff could neither maintain himself where he was nor break through to the roadblock. His perimeter was directly in the line of Allied fire, and there was no alternative but to get him out of there as quickly as possible before he was hit by friendly fire or cut to pieces by the enemy. The wire had been repaired, and at 2000 that night Tomlinson ordered Zeeff to leave the area immediately, warning him that it was to be mortared the next day. Zeeff was to bring back his sick and wounded but was not to bother burying the dead.

The job of making litters for the six newly wounded began at once and went on through the night. Saplings were cut and stretchers made. By 0330 the stretchers were loaded and the march began. Walking in single column, and guiding themselves in the dark with telephone wire, the troops moved south for about 900 yards and then turned east toward the familiar little stream that flowed past the banana plantation.

The terrain was swampy, and the march slow. The men were spent and hungry, and eight soldiers had to be assigned to each stretcher. Four would carry it for fifty yards, and then the other four would take over. Two of the stretchers broke down en route, and the troops struggled forward with the two wounded men as best they could.

Shortly after daybreak the procession reached the stream, where Captain Dixon was waiting with stretchers and stretcher bearers. The wounded were attended to immediately, and the rest of the troops, most of whom had been eleven days in combat, returned to regimental headquarters and were allowed to rest.

Zeeff had not accomplished his mission, but he and his troops had done something that in retrospect was electrifying. They had threaded their way through the main Japanese position on the track, manned by some 2,000 enemy troops, and had come out in good order, bringing their wounded with them.

The Ensuing Tasks

General Vasey had by now lost all hope of an early decision on the Soputa—Sanananda track. He simply did not have enough troops to secure such a decision. The 16th Brigade had less than 900 effectives left and was wasting away so rapidly from malaria and other sicknesses that there was no longer any question of assigning it any further offensive mission, especially if the mission was of a sustained nature as any offensive thrust on the track was likely to be. All that the brigade was now in condition to do was hold. If not relieved in the near future, it would soon be unable to do even that.

The weight of the attack would therefore have to continue on the Americans. But they too were beginning to sicken with malaria, and their effective strength was between 1,100 and 1,200 men, not the 1,400 it had been on 22 November when they had first been committed to action. This was scarcely a force sufficient to reduce a position as strong as that held by Colonel Tsukamoto, especially since the later actually had more men manning his powerful defense line than the Allies had available to attack it.

SOURCE: Victory in Papua, BY: Samuel Milner (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11A); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the right)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (9);The Allies Close In

Today’s Extra for January 18: 7 Houseplants to Beat the Winter Blues

7 Houseplants to Beat the Winter Blues

Because of their many benefits for mind and body, houseplants are a great way to get through the short days of winter.

I’m a winter woman – I love the frigid air, the snow, the coziness of it all. But the sunsetting-at-4:28-pm business is a bit disconcerting, and for a lot of people, the diminished sunlight is truly problematic. I used to quip that the best way to get through winter is with sunlamps and vodka … to that I should add a more efficacious solution: Houseplants!

The benefits of houseplants are really pretty amazing. From filtering the air and increasing oxygen levels to boosting healing and increasing focus, these humble organisms are some very hardworking allies. (See more on their benefits in the related stories below.) Meanwhile, just their presence in the house can turn up the happiness level. One study from the University of British Columbia concluded that by pondering the nature around you, general happiness and well-being will increase – even if that “nature” is living in a pot on your windowsill.

With all of this in mind, I think it’s officially time to add some houseplants to the prescription list for winter blues. Here are some great ones to start with.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Mua’s Answer (Part 47); Assyrian

Sweet Mua lifts her eyes toward the heights
That glow afar beneath the softened lights
That rest upon the mountain’s crystalline.
And see! they change their hues incarnadine
To gold, and emerald, and opaline;

Swift changing to a softened festucine
Before the eye. And thus they change their hues
To please the sight of every soul that views
Them in that Land; but she heeds not the skies,
Or glorious splendor of her home; her eyes.

Have that far look of spirits viewing men,
On earth, from the invisible mane,
That erstwhile rests upon the mortal eye,
A longing for that home beyond the sky;
A yearning for that bliss that love imparts,
Where pain and sorrow reach no mortal hearts.

A light now breaks across her beauteous face;
She, turning, says to him with Heavenly grace:

“Dear Izdubar, thou knowest how I love
Thee, how my heart my love doth daily prove;
And, oh, I cannot let thee go alone.
I know not what awaits each soul there gone.
Our spirits often leave this glorious land,
Invisible return on earth, and stand
Amidst its flowerets, ‘neath its glorious skies.
Thou knowest every spirit here oft flies
From earth, but none its secrets to us tell,
Lest some dark sorrow might here work its spell.
And, oh, I could not see dark suffering, woe
There spread, with power none to stop its flow!

“I saw thee coming to us struck with fire,
Oh, how to aid thee did my heart desire!
Our tablets tell us how dread sorrow spreads
Upon that world and mars its glowing meads.
But, oh, so happy am I, here to know
That they with us here end all sorrow, woe.

O precious Izdubar! its sights would strike
Me there with sadness, and my heart would break!
And yet I learn that it is glorious, sweet!
To there enjoy its happiness, so fleet
It speeds to sorrowing hearts to turn their tears
To joy! How sweet to them when it appears,
And sends a gleam of Heaven through their lives!

“No! no! dear heart! I cannot go! It grieves
Thee! come, my dear one! quick to us return;
We here again will pair our love, and learn
How sweet it is to meet with joy again;
How happy will sweet love come to us then!”

She rests her head upon his breast, and lifts
Her face for Love’s sweet kiss, and from them drifts
A halo o’er the shining gesdin-trees
And spreads around them Heaven’s holy rays.
He kisses her sweet lips, and brow, and eyes,
Then turns his gaze toward the glowing skies:

“I bless thee, for thy sweetest spirit here!
I bless this glorious land, that brings me near
To one that wafts sweet Heaven in my heart;
From thy dear plains how can my soul depart?
O Mua, Mua! how my heart now sings!
Thy love is sweeter than all earthly things!

I would I were not crowned a king!–away
From this bright land–here would I ever stay!
As thou hast said, I soon will here return;
The earth cannot withhold me from this bourne,
And soon my time allotted there will end,
And hitherward how happy I will wend!”

“And when thou goest, how my love shall there
Guard thee, and keep thy heart with Mua here.
Another kiss!”

Her form doth disappear
Within the garden, gliding through the air.
He seats himself upon a couch and rests
His head upon his hand, and thought invests
Him round. His memory returns again
To Erech’s throne, and all the haunts of men.
He rises, turns his footsteps to the halls,
And thoughtful disappears within its walls.

And so the tale ends

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Falls In Love With Mua (Part 46)

World News Headlines: 01-19-2019

BREAKING NEWS: Mexico: Fire at illegal fuel pipeline tap kills 20


Second summit coming for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump; After exchanging a number of letters and announcing they “fell in love,” US President Trump will attend a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Exactly where and when the pair will meet has not been determined. North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol met with President Donald Trump on Friday as the two sides worked to resume stalled efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons program by arranging a second summit with leader Kim Jong Un. “President Donald J. Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and a half to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The President looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Mexico: Fire at illegal fuel pipeline tap kills 20; Some 200 people were at the scene of a pipeline blast that left at least 20 dead. Dozens of Mexican states have experienced fuel shortages since President Lopez Obrador shut down pipelines to curb fuel theft. A leaking pipeline in central Mexico sparked a large blaze that killed at least 20 people and injured dozens, authorities said on Friday. The fire ignited after an illegal tap was drilled into the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline, belonging to state oil company PEMEX. Locals were attempting to gather the fuel with buckets when the blaze occurred. “The preliminary report I’ve been passed is very serious, they’re telling me 20 people have died, charred, and that 54 are injured, burned,” Omar Fayad, governor of Hidalgo state, told Mexican television. The massive fire occurred in a small town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Mexico City. Footage from Mexican television earlier in the day showed what appeared to be gasoline spouting dozens of feet into the air and people approaching it with containers. Mayor Juan Pedro Cruz told Mexican media that the fuel spill took place around 5 p.m. local time (2300 UTC). He said members of the army arrived at the scene and cordoned the area, but were ultimately unable to stop some 200 people who broke through to reach the fuel.

Brexit: German leaders write emotional letter to Britain; Over 20 major figures from German politics, sports, business and entertainment have written a passionate appeal to the UK. Britons would “always have friends in Germany and Europe,” they wrote. Leading German politicians, celebrities, athletes and business leaders have written an emotional letter in Friday’s edition of the British Times newspaper, insisting to their “British friends” that the door to the European Union would always remain open. “Britain has become part of who we are as Europeans,” the letter read. “And therefore we would miss Britain. We would miss the legendary British black humor and going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale. We would miss tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road. “The short but impassioned message was signed by the leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Green Party, as well as the heads of four major industry associations, the CEOs of Daimler and Airbus, the rock star Campino, classical pianist Igor Levit, and former national football goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. The letter’s signatories included Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, successor to Angela Merkel as head of the CDU and potentially Germany’s next chancellor.

Will Germany use autobahn speed limits to cut carbon emissions?; A national commission has laid out a number of steps to help Germany meet EU emissions targets. Though desperately needed, they will face resistance from citizens and the country’s influential auto industry.

Colombia seeks arrest of ELN rebel leaders after bombing; Authorities said a man linked to the National Liberation Army guerrilla was the driver of the car bomb that killed 21 people in a Bogota. President Ivan Duque accused the ELN of lacking “true desire for peace.” Colombian President Ivan Duque announced on Friday that he was reinstating the arrest warrants of 10 National Liberation Army (ELN) members after his government accused the group of being responsible for a car bombing in a Bogota police academy. The attack on Thursday, which left 21 people dead and dozens wounded, has been a major setback to two years of peace talk attempts between the Colombian government and the ELN. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had begun the talks with the group in Havana, but Duque suspended them just after taking office in August. The Colombian president has now called on Cuba to hand over 10 ELN members who were on the island for the stalled peace talks. “It’s clear to all of Colombia that the ELN has no true desire for peace,” Duque said, citing a long list of kidnappings and attacks attributed to the guerrillas since peace talks began in 2017. “We would like to thank the Cuban government for the solidarity it expressed yesterday and today, and we ask that it capture the terrorists who are inside its territory and hand them over to Colombian police,” Duque added.

German police detain patient who took hostage at hospital; Police and special forces swarmed a hospital in Bavaria after a male patient took a woman hostage. The man also threatened several other people with knives, but police did not comment on a possible motive.A 40-year-old male patient at a hospital in southern Germany was arrested on Friday after he took a female patient hostage with a knife. The incident took place at the Mainkofen district hospital in the Bavarian town of Deggendorf. Police and special forces were able to overpower the man and arrest him. Authorities later said that the man was an Austrian national. According to news agency DPA, the man suffered minor injuries in the police operation.

FRANCE (France24)

ICC grants prosecution request to keep Ivorian ex-leader Gbagbo in custody; Judges cleared 73-year-old Gbagbo on Tuesday on charges of crimes against humanity relating to a wave of violence after disputed elections in 2010, and ordered his immediate release. The crisis claimed some 3,000 lives. But prosecutors at the Hague-based court challenged the release of Gbagbo, who has already spent seven years in jail, saying he should be detained while they make a broader appeal over his acquittal.

DR Congo refuses African Union request to delay release of final vote results; In a surprise announcement on Thursday, the AU called for the results to be postponed because of “serious doubts” over the conduct of the election, which was supposed to mark Congo’s first democratic handover of power in 59 years of independence but which the runner-up candidate says was rigged. The final tally will be released once the Constitutional Court has ruled on challenges to the provisional results. It is expected to decide on appeals, including that of opposition leader and second-placed Martin Fayulu, on Friday or Saturday. “I do not think anyone has the right to tell the court what to do. I am not under the impression (the AU) fully understands Congo’s judicial process,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said. “No country in the world can accept that its judicial process be controlled by an (outside) organization.”

Egypt abuses put French military deals in spotlight as Macron heads to Cairo; In May 2016, hundreds of workers at the Alexandria Shipyard Company in northern Egypt staged a two-day, peaceful sit-in over fairly routine labour rights issues. The employees were demanding improvements in their work conditions – including safety equipment – and wage increases commensurate with the national monthly minimum wage. The nature of the sit-in did not appear to be particularly crippling or adversarial: workers demonstrated in shifts while production continued at Alexandria Shipyard, which is owned and operated by the Egyptian military. The response to the sit-in though has shocked international labour rights defenders. In a systematic crackdown, the Egyptian military suspended hundreds of Alexandria Shipyard employees and arrested over two dozen workers. The latter were only released months later after they were forced to resign from their jobs.

Russia says it will allow German, French experts to monitor Kerch Strait; Russian ships fired on and seized three Ukrainian navy vessels in the narrow strait — shared between Russia and Ukraine–as the boats tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Azov Sea on November 25.President Vladimir Putin had “immediately agreed” to Berlin’s request to send observers to the area, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas. Lavrov said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had asked Putin for permission to send German specialists to the strait “over a month ago” and later requested for French observers to join the mission. “This can be done today, tomorrow, at any moment,” Lavrov said, adding that the foreign observers had still not arrived. Lavrov said he received concrete proposals for the mission from Maas on Friday and confirmed Moscow also agreed for the French observers to take part. Maas, who was due to travel to Ukraine later on Friday, said that the two countries had not yet agreed on a start date to the mission but that he expected it to be a “topic in the coming weeks”. The German diplomat added that the passage of ships in the Kerch Strait is “currently open” and that “this has been confirmed by all sides”.


US media: China offers to eliminate trade gap; A US media outlet is reporting that China has offered to reduce its trade surplus with the United States to zero by 2024. Bloomberg said China presented the offer when trade negotiators from the two sides met in Beijing for three days through January 9th. The report says Chinese negotiators told their US counterparts that it will increase goods imports from the US by a combined value of more than one trillion dollars by 2024. Some trade policy experts note that it would be unrealistic to eliminate China’s huge trade surplus with the US. But Bloomberg says the US side asked China “to do even better, demanding that the imbalance be cleared in the next two years.” At a summit last month, the two countries agreed that the US would postpone imposing higher tariffs on Chinese imports until March 1st while they continue negotiations to try to settle their dispute. Observers say it may be relatively easy for Washington and Beijing to narrow their differences over China’s imports, compared to addressing its alleged intellectual property rights violations. But they say it remains unclear if the two sides can reach a deal by the March 1st deadline.

Huawei CEO interview; Huawei’s founder and CEO strongly denies that his company’s products are a security risk. Speaking to Japanese media on Friday, Ren Zhengfei dismissed allegations that Huawei is engaged in espionage on Beijing’s orders. Huawei’s CEO, Ren Zhengfei said “Our company has never received nor will receive orders from the government. We will refuse any order from the government.” Asked about the US and other countries banning Huawei products, Ren said it’s only a few countries doing that. He said “Huawei is a global leader in information system products. Several countries that have decided to boycott our products are already lagging behind in construction of the equipment. They will soon realize they made a wrong choice in not using Huawei’s excellent products.” Ren is the father of Meng Wanzhou, now under arrest in Canada. He said he felt sorry for his daughter, but said he believed the issue would be solved in the courts.

Japan eyes applying domestic law to GAFA; apan’s communications ministry is expected to start preparing to apply domestic privacy regulations to US IT giants. Japanese telecoms and IT firms want Japan’s telecommunications business law to cover US-based Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, known collectively as GAFA. They argue that not doing so gives their foreign competitors an unfair advantage. Carriers are prohibited by law from looking at the content of mails without users’ consent. In principle, the law doesn’t cover the four US firms, which don’t have data centers or communications bases in Japan. The communications ministry plans to apply what is known as the extraterritorial application provision to regulate firms based abroad. This means the four IT giants will have to get users’ consent before displaying selective ads based on e-mails and other telecommunications logs, just like Japanese firms. The government plans to consider reviewing the anti-monopoly law and other legal provisions to level the playing field between GAFA and Japanese telecom and IT firms.

Arrest warrant sought for ex-chief justice; South Korean prosecutors are seeking an arrest warrant for a former Supreme Court Chief Justice. Yang Sung-tae is currently mired in dozens of allegations of wrongdoing including that he abused his power to help the country’s now-disgraced former president. He’s the first Supreme Court Justice to be questioned as a criminal suspect. Prosecutors have interrogated him 3 times in the past week. It’s alleged he delayed a key ruling as a favor to former President Park Geun-hye before her impeachment. The case was a lawsuit against a Japanese firm brought forward by people who said they were forced to work at the company’s plants during World War Two. Park was trying to boost relations with Tokyo at the time. It’s believed she was worried the ruling would worsen them. The court handed down its ruling last October siding with the workers and souring relations between Tokyo and Seoul. Japan’s government says any right to claims was settled in 1965 when the 2 countries normalized ties. Yang is also accused of putting pressure on judges to rule in ways he wanted… and blacklisting those who disagreed with his ideas. He has denied any wrongdoing. Judges he used to supervise could decide if there are grounds for an arrest as early as Tuesday.