World War Two: Guadalcanal (10); December Offensive

Although the lack of sufficient troops limited American capabilities, December was not without some bitter fighting. As a preliminary to a corps offensive, American troops began a small offensive designed to capture Mount Austen. The necessity for capturing the mountain had been recognized even before the Marine landing. General Vandegrift had originally planned to capture it together with Lunga Point. He had changed his .plans on the discovery that Mount Austen was much farther from Lunga Point than the first maps had indicated. Lacking sufficient troops, he had never tried to hold it permanently. General Harmon had always maintained that Henderson Field would not be secure until the mountain was in American hands. In November he had asked General Vandegrift when he intended to take it; the Marine commander replied, according to Harmon, that he would take it at the earliest opportunity.

Mount Austen, 15-30 December: Plans for the XIV Corps Offensive

The capture of Mount Austen was a necessary prelude to a full-scale corps offensive against the Japanese west of the Matanikau. In early December Admiral Halsey, stating that it would not be possible to “predict the ability of our naval surface forces and air to satisfactorily interdict the operation of Jap submarines and the Tokyo Express into Guadalcanal . . . ,” ordered General Harmon to take action necessary to eliminate all Japanese forces on the island. This order gave General Harmon, temporarily, direct authority over tactical operations which he had not previously possessed, for as commander of U. S. Army Forces in the South Pacific he had only administrative authority. In effect, Admiral Halsey had informally deputed to him part of his own tactical authority within a limited area. General Patch’s authority over his troops was not limited or affected in any way. He was to direct operations on Guadalcanal subject to the direction of Harmon, who was acting for Halsey.

General Harmon immediately flew to Guadalcanal to confer with General Patch. Patch planned to capture Mount Austen immediately. Once that mountain had been taken and sufficient forces had been assembled, two divisions would attack westward while a third division defended the airfields. While one of the attacking divisions swung over Mount Austen and the hill masses south of Hill 66 to outflank the Japanese, the other would resume the coastal push from the Hill 66-Point Cruz line. The flanking movement would extend the American line west of the Matanikau an additional 3,000 yards inland. The two divisions would continue attacking westward to trap and destroy the Japanese. General Harmon gave his approval to this plan.

Planners also discussed the possibility of sending amphibious expeditions around Cape Esperance to land on the south coast in the enemy’s rear, block the trail that ran from Kokumbona over the mountains to Beaufort Bay, and to advance west toward the cape. But these bold shore-to-shore movements could not be executed until more landing craft could be assembled.

Terrain and Intelligence

Mount Austen, a spur of Guadalcanal’s main mountain range, juts northward between the Matanikau and Lunga Rivers toward Lunga Point. The 1,514-foot summit lies about six miles southwest of Henderson Field and dominates the surrounding area. It provided the enemy with an excellent observation post from which to survey activity at Lunga Point—traffic at Henderson Field and the fighter strips, unloading of ships, and troop movements. Just as the coastwatchers radioed information on enemy movements to the Allied forces, so Japanese observers could warn their northern bases when bombers left Henderson Field. From the hill they could see the American areas west of the Matanikau, and over the hills west of the mountain into Kokumbona, 9,000 yards to the northwest.

Mount Austen, where the Japanese were to make their strongest defensive effort of the campaign, is not a single peak, but the apex of a confusing series of steep, rocky, jungled ridges. The main ridge forming the summit rises abruptly out of the foothills about two miles south of the shore, and east of the Matanikau River. Aerial photographs do not always give a clear picture of Mount Austen, for a dense forest covers the summit and much of the foothill area is covered by grass. The bare, grassy spaces are not separate hills, though for identification they were assigned numbers. No ridge is usually visible in a single vertical aerial photograph. The actual summit appears to be lower than the open, grassy areas. Hill 27, a separate rocky mound, 920 feet high, lies southwest of the summit. The crest rises just above the surrounding treetops, and is barely visible. Hill 31, a grassy area about 750 yards north of Hill 27, overlooks Lunga Point.

Fifteen hundred yards northwest of Mount Austen, across a deep gorge cut by the Matanikau, lies another hill mass (Hills 43 and 44). A third hill mass (Hills 55-54-50-51-52-53-57), about 900 feet high, lies just north of the first, and is clearly visible from Mount Austen. As General Patch intended to move one division over these hill masses in the southwesterly envelopment, it was first necessary to capture Mount Austen to deny it to the enemy, and to locate and partially roll up his east flank.

In late November and early December it was thought that the Japanese were not holding Mount Austen in strength. Patrols from the 132nd Infantry, which was to attack Mount Austen, had confirmed the negative reports by earlier patrols from the 8th Marines and the 182nd Infantry. By 15 December, General Patch had reason to change this view. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy might be building up strength in the south, and that he might attack in force from the south or raid the airfields. On 12 December a night-raiding party had managed to steal through the lines to destroy one P-39 and a gas truck on Fighter Strip No. 2. Two days later the 132nd Infantry regimental intelligence officer, four other officers, thirty-five enlisted men, and ten native bearers reconnoitered Mount Austen’s northwest slopes. Pushing east, they met fire from a force estimated to include one rifle platoon, four machine guns, and one or two mortars. Receiving orders by radio, the patrol withdrew. On his return to the Lunga perimeter the intelligence officer directed artillery fire on the enemy positions. From the patrol’s experience it was concluded that the enemy had occupied Mount Austen. On 15 and 16 December the patrol went up Mount Austen’s eastern slopes and reported finding only abandoned Japanese positions. It had not found the enemy, who may have been lying quiet, unwilling to disclose his position.

The commanders on Guadalcanal were not fully aware of the extent of the enemy’s strength on Mount Austen. Colonel Oka’s force, including understrength battalions from the 124th and 228th Infantry Regiments, and the 10th Mountain Artillery Regiment, were then holding positions which extended to the northeast slopes of Mount Austen, and were concentrated in a 1,500-yardlong pillbox line west of the summit on a curved ridge lying between Hills 31 and 27. Supply and evacuation posed difficult problems for the Americans, but for the Japanese they were almost insoluble. They had to depend exclusively upon hand-carriers for rations and ammunition, and received a negligible quantity.

There is no evidence to show that Oka’s troops were ever reinforced after the 132nd Infantry attacked. Most of the enemy wounded were apparently not hospitalized; they either fought on or died in their foxholes and pillboxes. The battalions of the 124th and 228th Regiments had been on Guadalcanal for periods ranging from several weeks to three months; they had been affected by battle weariness, malnutrition, and disease.

Plans for Taking Mount Austen

By 16 December General Patch was ready to inaugurate preparations for the corps offensive in January by seizing Mount Austen. He ordered the 132nd Infantry to occupy Mount Austen at once. The operation was to be conducted under the control of the west sector commander, Colonel John M. Arthur, USMC, who reported directly to General Patch. The 132nd Infantry, commanded by Colonel LeRoy E. Nelson, had landed on Guadalcanal on 8 December, and was completely new to combat. The 3rd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel William C. Wright commanding, was to lead the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Earl F. Ripstra’s 1st Battalion (less D Company) was to follow in reserve. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George F. Ferry, was to remain in the Lunga perimeter defense.

Artillery support for the operation was to be provided initially by the 105-mm. howitzers of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion and the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines. Ample additional artillery support was available if needed. On 11 December 1942 there were twenty-eight 75-mm. pack howitzers, thirty-six 105-mm. howitzers, twelve 155-mm. howitzers, and six 155-mm. guns belonging to the Americal Division and attached units in the Lunga area. The Marine Corps battalion moved its pack howitzers to the northwest slopes of Mount Austen, inside the perimeter defense, while Lieutenant Colonel Alexander R. Sewall’s 246th Field Artillery Battalion occupied the positions near Fighter Strip No. 2 that it had taken over from the 5th Battalion, 11th Marines. The 246th’s positions were much farther from Mount Austen than those of the marines. The two battalions later fired some “Time on Target” (TOT) concentrations. To surprise the enemy troops and achieve the maximum possible destruction by having all initial rounds hit the target simultaneously, each battalion subtracted its shells’ time of flight from the time its shells were to hit the target and fired its howitzers on the second indicated. This was probably one of the earliest occasions during World War II when American artillerymen employed TOT in combat, although it should be emphasized that this was not a divisional artillery TOT.

To meet the difficulties of supply and evacuation, the 57th Engineer Battalion was building the rough, slippery, jeep track up the mountain from the coast road. By 20 December the engineers had reached Hill 35, about five miles southwest of Lunga Point. The 60-degree incline of Hill 35 slowed the engineers, for they then had no heavy equipment and only 40 percent of their authorized dump trucks. Jeeps were to carry supplies forward from the coast road to the terminus of the mountain road, from which available soldiers and the “Cannibal Battalion” of native bearers were to hand-carry supplies forward.

Preliminary Operations

The Mount Austen operation was opened on 17 December with a reconnaissance in force to the northeast slopes by L Company of the 132nd Infantry, reinforced by about a hundred men from K Company. Patrols from these companies reported finding no Japanese. Early on 18 December L Company marched up the road again ahead of the 3rd Battalion’s main body to the terminus at Hill 35. L Company advanced about 1,000 yards southwest from Hill 35, then swung left (southeast) to enter the jungle on the crest of the mountain. Patrols from L Company had pushed about 500 yards into the jungle by 0930, when fire from hidden enemy riflemen and machine gunners forced them to take cover. Unable to see the enemy, the company awaited the arrival of the main body which joined it at 1130. At Colonel Wright’s request the supporting artillery put fire on the suspected enemy position in front of the 3rd Battalion, which did not close with the enemy. The battalion suffered only one casualty on 18 December, a shoulder wound. The troops were worn out, however, by the hard climb in the heat. After the artillery fire the 3rd Battalion killed three enemy soldiers, then established a perimeter defense just inside the jungle.

The 132nd Infantry continued to underestimate the strength of the enemy defenses. On 18 December, for example, it estimated that a determined westward advance by two battalions would drive the Japanese into the Matanikau River. That this estimate was overly optimistic was soon to be demonstrated.

Three dive bombers (SBD’s) bombed and strafed the enemy areas from 0725 to 0735 on 19 December; this was followed by a 5-minute artillery concentration 400 yards in front of the 3rd Battalion. Colonel Wright and a three-man artillery liaison party from the 246th Field Artillery Battalion then reconnoitered west into the jungle in front of the 3rd Battalion. About 0930 Colonel Wright, who was wearing his insignia of rank, was struck by enemy machinegun fire. The three artillerymen stayed with him to administer first aid, but the enemy machine guns prevented medical aid men from reaching the colonel and halted all efforts to carry him to safety. He died from loss of blood shortly after noon, whereupon the artillerymen crawled back to the 3rd Battalion’s lines.

When Colonel Wright fell, the battalion executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Louis L. Franco, assumed command. At the time he took over the battalion he was 1,000 yards back with the rear echelon and unable to exercise control. The battalion, temporarily without a leader, was partly disorganized and, in the words of one observer, its operations were “obscure.”

When Colonel Franco reached the front he organized the efforts of the battalion. Late in the afternoon he sent forward a combat patrol under the regimental intelligence officer. The patrol was guided by the artillery liaison party. Covered by the patrol’s fire, the artillerymen crawled forward, rescued a wounded man lying nearby, and pulled Colonel Wright’s body back.

The 3rd Battalion failed to gain ground on 19 December. Japanese riflemen harassed the troops with fire from concealed positions. A few infiltrated the American lines by slipping through the ravines to harass the supply parties and the engineers cutting the supply trail near Hill 35. At 1700 a concealed enemy automatic weapon opened fire and surprised the combined battalion command post, aid station, and ammunition dump. Simultaneously, at least two enemy riflemen also opened fire on the command post. The headquarters troops cleared the area hastily, and the command post was not reorganized until 1830.

The regimental commander then ordered the reserve 1st Battalion (less D Company) to move southeast to join the left flank of the 3rd Battalion south of Hill 19. Both battalions then dug in on a line which faced generally south from a point south of Hill 20, and extended east toward the eastern tip of Hill 21. The night of 19-20 December was typical of the Mount Austen operation. It was noisy with artillery, small-arms, and automatic weapons fire. American artillery harassed the enemy throughout the night, while Japanese soldiers, attempting to infiltrate the 132nd’s line, employed noise-making ruses to tempt the Americans to fire and disclose their positions.

On 20 December the 1st Battalion sent out patrols in an unsuccessful effort to find the enemy’s east flank, while Japanese riflemen and patrols harassed the 132nd Infantry’s flanks and rear. On 21 December General Sebree ordered the 132nd Infantry to cut the Maruyama Trail, which, he thought, lay across its left front. Accordingly C Company advanced 1,000 yards to the south but found no enemy troops and no trail.


Meanwhile, getting supplies to the two front line battalions was proving difficult Wright Road was a narrow, tortuous trail fit only for jeeps, and the heavy rains made its steep grades slick and dangerous. Jeeps could bring supplies to Hill 35, the point to which the engineers had pushed the road by 20 December, but beyond Hill 35 all ammunition, water, food, replacement parts, and medical supplies had to be hand-carried forward over rough, wooded slopes. Raiding enemy riflemen led the regimental commander, who was concerned about the security of the supply line, to request the Americal Division headquarters to use the 2nd Battalion, 132nd Infantry, and the Mobile Combat Reconnaissance Squadron to protect the route. Division headquarters, asserting that the supply line was not in serious danger, denied this request.

The 101st Medical Regiment’s Collecting Company, assisted by the 25th Division Collecting Company, was having trouble in evacuating wounded and sick. Litter bearers carried them to battalion aid stations 100 yards behind the firing line. Serious cases were carried in 100-yard relays to the forward collecting station on Hill 35, and from there jeep-ambulances carried them to the Lunga perimeter. Carrying the litters up and down ridges and through ravines was so exhausting that bearers had to be relieved and rested after one or two trips. The medical aid men were fired on so frequently that they began to discard their arm brassards in favor of weapons. As carrying both wounded men and rifles at the same time proved awkward, two-man escorting parties armed with rifles and submachine guns escorted the litter bearers. Later in the operation, engineers and medical men fixed skids on litters to slide them down hills, and also rigged pulleys and steel cables to carry the litters across the deepest ravines.

Resolute patrolling on 23 December produced more significant results than did the patrolling on 20 and 21 December. The 1st Battalion patrols covered 1,000 yards they had previously penetrated, then reconnoitered 500 yards farther toward the south and west. When they found neither Japanese nor trails, regimental headquarters concluded that the Maruyama Trail did not cross Mount Austen but circled along its southern slopes to reach the upper Lunga. In the north a 3rd Battalion patrol advanced westward from the summit, skirting the southeast grassy area of Hill 30, and reached Hill 31, another grassy area more than 1,000 yards west of the 132nd Infantry’s line. The patrol, finding only abandoned enemy bivouacs around Hill 31, turned south and advanced a short distance before turning east to return to the American lines. On the return trip the patrol encountered small-arms fire. It returned the fire, killed one Japanese, and reached the lines without loss.

As the patrol had found a safe route to Hill 31, Colonel Nelson changed the direction of his attack. At 2000, 23 December, he ordered the 3rd Battalion to move west over the patrol’s route and prepare to attack toward Hill 27 from the north. The 1st Battalion was to follow the 3rd Battalion west to cover the open areas (Hills 20, 28, 29, and 30) and to be in a position to assist the leading battalion, protect the supply route, and assist in carrying supplies forward.

Attacks Against the Gifu Strong Point, 24-30 December

The 3rd Battalion left its area at 0730, 24 December, in column of companies. L Company again led, followed by I and Headquarters Companies, the medical detachment, and M and K Companies. The battalion reached Hill 31 in the afternoon after routing some enemy riflemen who tried to oppose the advance. It then started a push south into the jungle. As the troops moved up the grassy, open slopes of Hill 31 they were halted by heavy machine-gun fire from well-concealed positions. The battalion had not suffered any casualties that day, but Colonel Franco, the battalion commander, decided that it was too late in the day to develop the enemy position and continue the attack. The 3rd Battalion established a perimeter defense for the night in the ravine between Hills 31 and 32.

Meanwhile the reserve 1st Battalion had completed its move. All companies were reported in position by 1230. B Company held the west spur of Hill 30, C Company, Hill 29, and A Company, Hill 20. The machine-gun fire which had halted the 3rd Battalion’s attack came from the strongest Japanese defensive position on Guadalcanal—the Gifu strong point. Its garrison, about five hundred men from Oka’s forces, had given it the name of a prefecture in Honshu. The Gifu lay between Hills 31 and 27, west of the summit of Mount Austen. The strongest part of the area was a horseshoe-shaped line of about forty-five inter-connecting pillboxes between the two hills. Arranged in a staggered formation, they were mutually supporting. The pillboxes were made of logs, and were dug into the ground and revetted inside and out with earth. The roofs were three logs thick; the walls, two logs. Earth and foliage concealed and protected the pillbox tops, which rose less than three feet above the surface of the ground.

Each pillbox contained at least one and sometimes two machine guns, plus two or three riflemen. Supporting riflemen and light machine gunners outside the pillboxes had prepared positions under the bases of mahogany and banyan trees, and some were reported, probably erroneously, to have established themselves in the treetops. Foliage concealed the fire lanes, and in the thick, dark forest the well-camouflaged pillboxes were almost invisible. The machine guns in the positions covered all approaches with interlocking bands of fire, and the American infantrymen were to have great difficulty in finding their exact locations. When one machine gun was knocked out the Japanese would redistribute their automatic weapons.

Mortar fire usually did little damage to the Gifu. The 105-mm. howitzer was to prove more effective, but only direct hits could damage the pillboxes. Anything lighter was ineffective, and less plunging fire burst in the trees. Fuzed charges of high explosive could have destroyed the pillboxes had the soldiers been able to get close enough to place them. Flame throwers were not then in use. The attacking troops, of course, did not possess exact knowledge about the Gifu. Whenever they moved into the jungle, heavy fire would force them down before they could close in to locate the pillboxes.

The enemy position, though strong, was not invulnerable. It was a fixed position, but the Japanese were unable to supply or reinforce it. The attacking American forces had a preponderance of artillery support, while the Japanese, apparently lacking sufficient ammunition, seldom used artillery on Mount Austen. The west side of the Gifu was weak, and the omission of Hill 27 from the perimeter of the strong point left the Gifu open to eventual envelopment.

On 25 December General Sano, commanding the 38th Division, tried to raise morale with an “Address of Instruction.” He assured his men that the Americans had lost their fighting spirit and promised that patient endurance of starvation by the Japanese would soon be rewarded by air, ground, and naval reinforcements. Sano, urging his troops to resist with “desperate determination,” referred slightingly to the American reliance on fire power and faith in “material substance.”

The attack of the 132nd Infantry was renewed on Christmas Day. The three rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion were to advance southward in line from Hill 31 toward Hill 27. M Company was in reserve. At 0930 the rifle companies, supported by 60-mm. mortar fire, began advancing from the open area into the jungle. As the men entered the jungle their movements were impeded by the rocky terrain. The Japanese maintained rifle and machine-gun positions out beyond the pillbox line to prevent the attackers from drawing close. The Americans were forced to fight for each yard of ground against an invisible enemy. By 1335, after moving a short distance, the American companies had been completely halted by machine-gun and rifle fire from their front and flanks. Patrols then attempted to locate the enemy’s right and left flanks, but Japanese fire halted their movements. The battalion had by that time lost three officers and nine enlisted men killed and sixteen enlisted men wounded. The regimental commander ordered the troops to retire to their original positions while howitzers shelled the enemy.

As a result of the day’s action, the regimental commander concluded that the Japanese had built a perimeter defense in the area. He decided to resume the attack on the next morning. The 3rd Battalion was to deliver a frontal attack while the 1st Battalion covered the 3rd Battalion’s left flank, and moved 1,000 yards to the south to establish a position from which patrols could deploy to locate the enemy flanks.

At 1030, 26 December, after an artillery and aerial bombardment, the 3rd Battalion again tried to move forward. K Company advanced on the right (west), I Company on the left (east). L Company was held in reserve on Hill 31. The 1st Battalion (less C Company) covered the 3rd Battalion’s left flank, while C Company covered the 1st Battalion’s rear from Hills 29 and 30. The 3rd Battalion was able to advance only to the line reached on the previous day. Heavy machine-gun fire halted the assault companies again. Soldiers from K Company located one machine-gun position and killed nine Japanese with grenades. Meanwhile B Company, given the mission of finding the enemy’s east flank, had been halted by machine-gun fire. At 1600 the troops dug in along the south edge of Hill 31. K Company held the right, I and B Companies the center, and A Company held the left flank. The day’s attack cost the 3rd Battalion five killed and twelve wounded. In addition twenty-one sick men were evacuated on 26 December. Nine Japanese were known to have been killed.

The Gifu was still intact, but the 132nd now held a line between the Gifu and Hill 31, from which the enemy could no longer observe the Lunga area. The regimental commander decided to use both battalions in the next day’s attack. While the 3rd Battalion delivered a holding attack, A, B, and C Companies were to swing south and east to find the enemy flanks. The 3rd Battalion moved forward at 0800 but was halted by machine-gun fire. The 1st Battalion meanwhile moved south in a column of companies. But it had become confused in the jungle. Ordered to assemble between Hills 29 and 30, the 1st Battalion actually assembled in the ravine between Hills 30 and 31, 400 yards too far to the west. Its right flank closely crowded the left flank of the 3rd Battalion, making free maneuver impossible. In the lead, B Company ran into the Gifu line instead of outflanking it. As B Company was quickly halted by machine guns, A Company then deployed to the left where it met less fire, for the Gifu’s main eastern bulge did not extend east of Hill 30.

Patrols on 27 and 28 December could find no gaps in the enemy lines, nor any flanks, but on 29 December an 8-man patrol from the 1st Battalion before returning at 1330. By advancing due south from Hill 29, the patrol had avoided the eastern bulge of the Gifu, and found the route by which Hill 27 could be economically assaulted.

By the end of December the battalions were dispirited and in poor physical condition. Between 19 and 30 December the two battalions had lost 34 killed, 129 wounded, 19 missing, and 131 sick and evacuated, a total of 313 casualties. Each battalion had been understrength at the outset, and by 28 December effective strength in both battalions totaled only 1,541.44

The Capture of Hill 27: The Plan

Although the attack of the 132nd Infantry had bogged down, the American generals agreed that the Mount Austen operation should be continued. At a conference held at General Patch’s command post on 29 December, Generals Harmon, Patch, Collins, and Sebree decided to attempt to complete the capture of Mount Austen because it was an essential preliminary to the corps offensive planned for January.

The 132nd’s commander believed that a co-ordinated attack by the 1st and 3rd Battalions from the north coupled with a wide envelopment by the 2nd Battalion, would capture Hill 27. The 132nd Infantry’s Field Order No. 1, issued on 30 December 1942, announced the plan for continuing the attack by taking Hill 27. The 3rd Battalion was to continue attacking south from Hill, 31 while the 1st Battalion pushed against the enemy’s eastern line. To secure sufficient space for maneuver, the 1st Battalion was to jump off from assembly areas east of Hill 30, advance southward, then swing southwest to attack Hill 27.

The fresh 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George F. Ferry, was to deliver the main attack. On 28 December the regimental commander was informed that this battalion would be released to him, and regimental headquarters immediately began to plan for its employment. The battalion executive officer and each company commander were ordered to reconnoiter the routes leading to Hill 27.

To capture Hill 27 from the south the 2nd Battalion was to make a wide envelopment, starting from Hill 11 in a southwesterly direction. When the battalion reached a point southeast of Hill 27, it was to turn to the northwest and attack up the south slopes of Hill 27. Each battalion would be responsible for the security of its flanks. H Hour was originally set for 0630, 1 January 1943, but was postponed to 0630, 2 January 1943, when the 2nd Battalion’s progress up Wright Road proved slow. The 2nd Battalion was to be in position southeast of Hill 27 on the night prior to the regimental attack.

While patrols from the 1st and 3rd Battalions reconnoitered the enemy lines, the 2nd Battalion left the perimeter defense on 30 December to march up Wright Road to Hill 11, where it bivouacked on the night of 31 December 1942-1 January 1943. At daybreak on New Year’s Day the battalion left Hill 11. Hill 27 lies less than one air mile from Hill 11, but the enveloping march up and down almost vertical slopes covered 6,000 yards.

The terrain proved so difficult that on 2 January 175 litter bearers were to take five hours to evacuate 20 casualties over the same route. Since the crest of Hill 27 was nearly invisible from the jungle, an airplane, gunning its engine at intervals, flew between Hill 11 and the objective every fifteen minutes to help orient the scouts. The 2nd Battalion was fired on by a few enemy riflemen but did not delay its approach march, and the battalion arrived at the day’s objective—the southeast slope of Hill 27—by 1600 without losing a man. Colonel Ferry was confirmed in his belief that the fire from the scattered Japanese riflemen usually called “snipers” was not dangerous when the troops kept moving. Meanwhile the commander of the 132nd Infantry, who was suffering from malaria and the debilitating effects of the tropics, had asked to be relieved.

Colonel Alexander M. George took over command of the regiment and arrived at the 132nd Infantry’s forward command post at 0915, 1 January. One of his first acts was to stage a dramatic exhibition to demonstrate to the tired battalions facing the Gifu that Japanese small-arms fire was generally ineffective against a moving target. Clad in shorts and a fatigue cap, and armed with two .45-caliber automatic pistols and an M1 rifle, Colonel George inspected the front lines. He walked along erect in full view of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Battalions. Some soldiers, unaware of his identity, shouted to him to take cover, but Colonel George finished his tour. Japanese soldiers in the jungle helped him to prove his point by shooting at him repeatedly but inaccurately.

Artillery support for the regimental offensive of 2 January was heavier than on previous occasions. It included the 105-mm. howitzers of the 247th Field Artillery Battalion, the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 36 Battalion, 10th Marines, and the 155-mm. howitzers of the recently landed B Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Division.

Operations of the 3rd and 1st Battalions, 2 January

The 132nd Infantry moved to the attack at 0630, 2 January. The 3rd Battalion, pouring fire into the jungle in its zone, was able to advance in line from Hill 31 for a short distance into the jungle, although I Company on the left met heavy fire. At 1400 the battalion established positions just south of the tree line on Hill 31. In the day’s fighting the battalion killed fifteen Japanese and lost four killed and eighteen wounded.

The 1st Battalion had moved in column to the southwest out of the ravine between Hills 29 and 30 simultaneously with the 3rd Battalion’s attack. When fire from Japanese patrols hit C Company which was leading, it deployed while A Company moved south and east to bypass the Japanese, and then turned southwest again, followed by B Company. By 1000 A Company had reached a point just east of the Gifu’s eastern bulge. Before the end of the day C Company cleared out the enemy in its front and rejoined the main body. The 1st Battalion then dug in on a line east of the Gifu. The left flank lay near Hill 27, but a 200-yard gap remained between the 1st and 3rd Battalions. During the day the 1st Battalion killed twenty-five Japanese, C Company accounting for most of them. Two 1st Battalion soldiers were killed and four were wounded.

Operations of the 2nd Battalion

In a difficult zone of action, the 2nd Battalion was able to take its objectives in one of the day’s most successful operations. The battalion’s roundabout march through the jungle on the previous day had not alerted the Japanese. At 0630 the battalion moved out of its bivouac area to attack; it advanced in column of companies with each company in single file. As the battalion began the climb up the southeast slopes about 0730, the troops deployed as much as the terrain would permit. E Company advanced on the left, F Company on the right, while G and H Companies were held in reserve. The climb was hard. Perspiration soaked the men’s clothing and cut through the camouflage blacking on their faces. The slippery slopes delayed their advance, but no Japanese opened fire.

By 0907 the leading assault troops gained the summit without firing a shot, and by 1130 all assault troops had reached the top. The Japanese had been completely surprised. As E and F Companies reached the top they saw a 3-inch mountain howitzer in the open about 100 yards north of the crest. The enemy crew was sprawled at ease in the shade about thirty yards from the howitzer. The Japanese artillerymen ran for their weapon, but riflemen of the assault companies picked off each gunner before he could reach it.

The 2nd Battalion began to organize Hill 27 for defense, but digging in on the rocky crest was slow work. Like nearly all Army and Marine Corps units on Guadalcanal, the battalion was suffering from serious shortages, and did not possess enough entrenching tools. Before the troops could complete their foxholes and machine-gun emplacements, the Japanese north of Hill 27 recovered from their surprise and attempted to recapture the hill. Using mortars, grenade dischargers, machine guns, rifles, and some artillery, they poured a heavy fire on the exposed troops. An artillery forward observer on Hill 27 describes the fire fight: Then all hell broke loose. Machine guns and rifles pinged from all directions. Snipers fired from trees . . . Crossfire cut down our boys who were over the hill . . . Our Garands [M1 rifles] answered the fire and the battle was on. Enemy “Knee mortars” [grenade dischargers] popped on our lines with painful regularity. Our own 60’s [mortars] opened and neutralized them only to have the shells start lobbing in from a different direction. In forty minutes, as the troops dug in under fire, the 2nd Battalion lost eight men killed and seventy wounded but they held the hill against the six successive infantry counterattacks launched by the Japanese in the afternoon. After mortar fire the Japanese infantry would rush southward against the American lines, but the 2nd Battalion beat off each assault

In the late afternoon the 2nd Battalion moved back off the exposed crest for the night and dug in on the reverse slope, about 100 yards south of the military crest where the hill was narrower. During the night of 2-3 January the battalion was almost surrounded, for the Japanese had penetrated to positions on the north, northwest, and southwest of Hill 27. Heavy artillery concentrations on the enemy’s positions prevented him from getting close enough to the 2nd Battalion to break its lines. On one occasion, when enemy troops climbed the north slopes to set up machine guns which could have covered the 2nd Battalion’s lines, the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, placed one concentration directly in front of the lines. The shells exploded between the Americans and the Japanese, who were unable to get even one gun into action. The Japanese employed the standard ruse of firing mortar shells into the American lines while the American artillery shells were bursting—a ruse designed to make the American infantrymen think their own artillery fire was falling short. Some cried “cease fire,” but the forward observer kept the artillery firing. By dawn the last enemy soldier had been killed or driven off. The 2nd Battalion moved back to the military crest of Hill 27 to dig in securely, and H Company moved its heavy weapons up to the hilltop.

On 3 January the 1st Battalion, attempting to push west to straighten the bulge in the line, established contact on its left with the 2nd Battalion. By 1000, 4 January, patrols from companies of the 1st and 3rd Battalions had met at a point about 500 yards south of the ravine between Hills 31 and 30.

The Results

The 132nd Infantry was ordered to dig in and hold its gains and on 4 January it began to build a strong half-moon-shaped line around the eastern bulge of the Gifu between Hills 31 and 27. The troops built log-covered foxholes and wired in the lines. The addition of D Company, which was relieved from the Lunga perimeter defense, enabled Colonel George to place one machine gun platoon on the line in support of each rifle company. Every heavy weapons company sent one mortar platoon to form a provisional 81-mm. mortar battery on the reverse slope of Hill 29. The 132nd Infantry’s operations from 1 to 3 January had ringed the Gifu strong point on the north, east, and south with a strong line which was to prove impervious to enemy counterattacks.

Hard hit by battle fatigue, malaria, dysentery, and casualties, the 132nd was incapable of further offensive action. It held the line until relieved by the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, of the 25th Division. During its twenty-two days on Mount Austen the 132nd Infantry lost 112 men killed, 268 wounded, and 3 missing; it estimated that during the same period it tad killed between 400 and 500 Japanese. Part of Mount Austen was still in Japanese hands, but the 132nd’s accomplishments were of great value. Observation of the perimeter was denied to the Japanese, and the XIV Corps’ troops could be safely deployed in the forthcoming southwesterly operations. The 132nd Infantry had located and partly rolled up the Japanese east flank. With the arrival of the 25th Division, preparations could be made for more ambitious efforts.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal (11): First January Offensive: West Front

World War Two: Guadalcanal (9); Situation in December-General Patch Takes Command


World War Two: Papuan Campaign (12): I Corps Reaches the Front

The failure of the 32nd Division to take Buna by the end of November had strong repercussions at Port Moresby. The feeling there was that the division had bogged down because of poor leadership, a feeling that was to cost General Harding his command.

The Situation: 30 November

The Condition of the Troops

The men on both the Urbana and Warren fronts were tired and listless. They had not been sufficiently hardened for jungle operations and, with few exceptions, had not been fresh when they reached the combat zone. Thrown into battle in an exhausted state, most of them had had no chance to rest since. The loss of the 126th Infantry to the Australians on 19 November had left General Harding without a reserve.

Nor had the return of the far-from-fresh 2nd Battalion to his command on 23 November remedied the situation, for the battalion was immediately incorporated into Urbana Force, and the division still had no reserve. As General Harding explained the matter to General Herring the men, especially during the first five days of combat, had been without rest, and every combat element had, during that time, been “to all intents and purposes continuously engaged.”

The troops were half-starved. Most of them had been living on short rations for weeks and their food intake since the fighting began had averaged about a third of a C ration per day—just enough to sustain life. They were shaggy and bearded and their clothes were ragged. Their feet were swollen and in bad shape. Their shoes, which had shrunk in the wet, often had to be cut away so that the troops could even get their feet into them.

The men had very little tentage to protect themselves from the heavy rains. Those who had lost or thrown away their shelter halves during the approach march were still without them and had to sleep in the open. Quinine sulphate, salt tablets, vitamin pills, and chlorination pellets were in short supply, and sicknesses—malaria, “jungle rot,” dengue fever, and dysentery—were beginning to take an increasing toll.

Dysentery was the most widespread affliction. Tainted rations, the long periods that the troops had gone without food, and the lack of sterilizing equipment had all contributed to that result There were those who were careless with their drinking water, but they were a small minority. The fact was that even those who were extremely careful caught the disease. Thus, Colonel MacNab recalls that although he never drank water that was not chlorinated he “suffered from dysentery as much as any of the troops.

The troops were having trouble with their weapons, partly because of the wet, but mostly because they were not getting gun oil, patches, and other cleaning aids. The M1’s had been issued without oil and thong cases. Though gun oil was reaching the front it arrived in large containers that made wide distribution of it impracticable, with the result that some of the troops had to go completely without oil for considerable periods of time. Their weapons therefore—especially the BAR’s and machine guns—kept jamming.

There were other serious supply deficiencies. Spare parts and rifle clips were hard to come by, and the troops frequently ran short of ammunition, especially mortar shells. Some had lost their entrenching tools, and so disrupted was supply that they had not been replaced.

Morale was low. Instead of being met, as they had been led to expect, by a few hundred sick and starving Japanese, they found themselves facing apparently large numbers of fresh, well-fed, well-armed troops in seemingly impregnable positions, against whom in almost two weeks of righting they had failed to score even one noteworthy success.

Most frustrating of all, however, was the realization that they did not have the proper weapons to reduce the bunkers that stood in their way. They were without tanks, grenade launchers, or flame throwers, and mortars, artillery, and air bombardment seemed to have no effect on the enemy’s formidable bunker positions. About the only method they could use to reduce the enemy bunkers was to crawl forward as close as the Japanese protective fire would allow and then make a sudden rush in the hope of getting close enough to push hand grenades through the firing slits. This was a course in which, as one who was present was to observe, “Many more failed than succeeded, but for the most part, there was no other way.”


Adequate supply, a basic ingredient of good morale, was simply out of the question at Buna during the latter part of November and the first few days of December, for the Japanese by the end of November had succeeded in cutting the division’s supply line by sea. The division had had six luggers in operation on 21 November, but only one was still making the run on the 28th. The rest had either broken up on the reefs or been destroyed by the enemy. Everything now depended on the airlift, which was still too small to fill more than a fraction of the division’s needs. By the end of the month, less than sixty tons of freight had been brought in by air—about the equivalent of what one lugger could bring in two trips.

With air space strictly limited, there had been a mad scramble for priorities, and the division, intent on getting enough food and ammunition to the troops to keep the fighting going, found itself competing for space with its supporting elements. In a message to Major Birkness at Port Moresby, Colonel Joseph S. Bradley, Division G-4, wrote that the “many priorities by the medics, antiaircraft people, engineers, and others are causing essential chow and ammunition for the fighting men to be held up.” He closed his message with the plea that Birkness lose no time in bringing the difficulty “to the attention of the Big Boys.”

to General Herring in succinct fashion on 28 November. “Everything,” he wrote, “had been going beautifully until November the 16th, the day they blitzed the four ships, all of which were loaded with supplies and ammunition.” Since then, he added, everything had been on a “hand-to-mouth, catch-as-catch-can basis.” Nor had the situation improved with the arrival of new luggers on the 21st.. . . The little ship situation [General Harding continued] has gone from bad to worse. One went on the reefs a little while ago, another got stuck on a sandbar on the 25th, and was bombed by the Japs the following day, and three more have been shot up and bombed while at anchor, one at Mendaropu, one off Embogu, and one yesterday in Oro Bay. That finishes the Red Arrow freighters. There’s nothing left except one small craft with a kicker that will make about two knots. . . .

Though the division now had to get almost all of its supplies from Dobodura, the process was difficult because no roads existed between the airfield and the front suitable for the use of vehicles. The engineers were building a jeep track between Dobodura and Simemi to speed up the transfer of material to the front lines, but there were not enough engineer troops and engineer tools in the area to do the job quickly. Until the road was completed, native carriers, too few for the task, had to carry the supplies forward from Dobodura on their backs. Because the carriers would not go into the front lines, it became necessary to use combat troops to complete the deliveries.

The Question of Additional Support

General Harding had little luck in his pleas for additional support. When he asked for tanks he had been promised Bren gun carriers, but even the carriers had not arrived. When he asked for ten more artillery pieces, he was promised four—sometime in December. When he asked for all or part of the 127th Infantry (which had finally reached Port Moresby on Thanksgiving Day), General Herring had disapproved the request with the remark, “I cannot see what it is needed for, as you seem to have ample reserves.”

On 29 November Harding moved his headquarters from Embogo to Dobodura. The next day he had an opportunity to renew his plea for additional support. Not only did General Herring visit him, but General Sutherland flew in from Port Moresby.

Herring, who had just opened his headquarters at Popondetta, reached Dobodura by air early in the morning of the 30th, ahead of Sutherland. After the usual amenities, the two generals seated themselves on some empty ammunition boxes and plunged into a discussion devoted principally to Harding’s request for the 127th Infantry.

After expressing his dissatisfaction over the diversion to General Vasey of Colonel Tomlinson’s 126th Infantry troops, and getting no promise of their return, Harding began to press Herring for at least part of the 127th Infantry. This is the way Harding reported the discussion in his diary, The chief topic we discussed was the bringing in of part or all of the 127th Infantry.

In one of his letters to me, General Herring had stated that he disapproved of previous requests that part or all of the regiment be thrown in, on the ground that we had plenty of reserves. I explained somewhat heatedly, that we had no reserves, and I argued to the best of my ability for additional troops, not to relieve those in the line, but to strike in another quarter. General Herring remained unconvinced of the need or desirability of the proposed move despite all my protestations.

Recalling the matter, Harding was to write: I tried to give Herring the picture by letter, radio, and finally face to face, but he never seemed to get it. He was a gentleman … a scholar, and a pretty good guy withal, but his heart, I am sure, was with the Australians. He seemed to take an almost detached view of the trials and tribulations of my ail-American contingent. I felt all along that he had very little scope for independent decision.

Harding and Herring were still discussing the problem when Sutherland arrived. Sutherland was also opposed to bringing in the regiment. His argument was that the problem of supplying the troops already in the area was taxing the transport facilities of the air force to the utmost, and that it would be unwise to bring in more troops until a stockpile had been built up at Dobodura.

General Harding then pleaded for at least one battalion of the 127th Infantry to strike in a new quarter, but General Sutherland was adamant. The supply level would have to be raised, he said, before such a move could be considered. A further request by Harding that Colonel Tomlinson be returned to him was also refused. General Harding, who did not take kindly to these refusals, considered that he had been given “the brush-off.”

General Eichelberger Is Ordered Forward:General Sutherland Stays for Lunch

At the close of the discussion General Herring flew back to Popondetta, and General Sutherland, who had more to say, stayed for lunch. During the course of the meal, Harding again pressed him about the 127th Infantry…. I asked [he noted in his diary] if the Australians were going to use it on the other side of the river. His reply was startling. He said that that had been discussed, and that Blarney had spoken disparagingly of the fighting qualities of the American troops, and told MacArthur that he preferred to use his militia brigade in that quarter. He had also dropped one or two remarks to the effect that the Americans weren’t showing the fight they should. I told him that anyone who thought that didn’t know the facts—that while we hadn’t made much progress, it wasn’t because we weren’t in there fighting, and I reminded him that our casualties would testify to the hard fighting that had been going on.

General Blarney had indeed spoken disparagingly to General MacArthur of the performance of the 32nd Division. The conversation had taken place five days before at Government House, General MacArthur’s headquarters at Port Moresby.

General Kenney, who had been present (and had made a note of General Blamey’s remarks), felt that it had been “a bitter pill for General MacArthur to swallow.” It must have been, for it was about this time, as General Kenney recalls further, that General MacArthur “began to be worried about the caliber of his infantry.” Stories that American troops were fighting badly and that some had even thrown away their machine guns and fled in panic from the enemy were reaching headquarters, [NOTE 21E] as were observers’ reports which were distinctly unfavorable in tone. The observers noted that the troops and their officers seemed to lack aggressiveness, that many of the junior leaders did not seem to know their business, and that “too many” commanders were trying to conduct operations from a command post. At least one of the observers seems to have gone so far as to say that the 32nd Division would not fight.

Matters came to a head when Colonel Larr, General Chamberlin’s deputy, visited the front on 27 and 28 November and returned to Port Moresby with an extremely adverse report on conditions there. General Sutherland, whose visit was apparently occasioned by Larr’s report, mentioned it to Harding during lunch. He told Harding that because of its unfavorable tone General MacArthur had sent for General Eichelberger and would probably order him to the front. Sutherland then asked Harding (whose two field commanders, Colonels Mott and Hale, were ill-regarded by both I Corps and GHQ) whether he intended to make any changes in his top command.

Though Harding knew that Mott had a “notable talent for antagonizing superiors, subordinates, and contemporaries,” and was not particularly impressed with Colonel Hale’s ability as a regimental commander, [NOTE 27E] he nevertheless replied in the negative. Mott, he pointed out, appeared to be doing an excellent job on the Urbana front and, while he “frankly . . . questioned whether Hale had the qualifications to lead a regiment in battle,” he considered that he was “doing fairly well in the only chance he had had to show his stuff.”

[NOTE 21E: Ibid., pp. 150, 154, 156, 157. The incident which had given rise to these stories occurred on 24 November (see above, p. 186). The units involved were Company E, 128th Infantry, and the Weapons Platoon of Company G, 128th Infantry, then in their first day of combat.]

[NOTE 27E: Gen Harding’s Diary, 30 Nov 42. General Harding’s feeling in the matter was that Hale, as his last regimental commander from the National Guard, in a division in which the bulk of the officers were from the Guard, should be given a chance to show what he could do, especially since Colonel MacNab, who was on the ground, could be trusted to keep him out of trouble. Interv with Gen Harding, 9 Dec 47.]

[NOTE 29E: Eichelberger, promoted to lieutenant general on 15 October 1942, had been at Port Moresby in mid-November to observe the 32nd Division in action. He had been ordered back to Australia before the fight for the beachhead began in order to prepare a camp for the 25th U.S. Infantry Division, which was then on the alert for movement to Australia from Hawaii. The mission had come to nothing since the division had been diverted at the last moment to Guadalcanal in order to make possible the relief of the 1st Marine Division and its transfer to Australia for rest and rehabilitation. Ltr, CINCSWPA to CG USASOS et al., 22 Nov 42, sub: Reinforcements, in G-3 Jnl, GHQ SWPA; Msgs, Gen Marshall to Gen MacArthur, No. 3874, CM-OUT 6906, 23 Nov 42; No. 4131, CM-OUT 9526, 30 Nov 42; Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48.]

Harding’s reply apparently was enough for General Sutherland. The latter returned to Port Moresby that same afternoon, 30 November, and recommended to General MacArthur that General Harding be relieved at once on the ground that he insisted on keeping in command subordinates whose competence was open to question.

General Eichelberger Is Given His Orders

As Sutherland had told Harding, General MacArthur had already ordered General Eichelberger to Port Moresby. [NOTE 29E] Eichelberger was at Rockhampton training the 41st Division in jungle warfare at the time the summons was received. It was 29 November, a summery and quiet Sunday, the last quiet day General Eichelberger was to enjoy for a long time. There were two messages. The first was an alerting order from General Chamberlin at Brisbane telling Eichelberger to stand by and advising him that if it was decided that he and a small staff were to go to Port Moresby he would be told that night.

Late at night the second message came ordering them to go. By that time General Eichelberger, Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers, his chief of staff, six staff officers, his aide, and nine enlisted men, mostly clerks, were packed and ready. They took off in two C-47’s for Port Moresby early the next morning, 30 November, and, after an uneventful flight over the Coral Sea, landed at Seven Mile Airdrome late in the afternoon. They were met at the airstrip by Colonel Larr, who told Eichelberger that he would be given four or five days to be briefed on the situation at Buna before he and his staff went over the mountains.

Eichelberger and Byers were given quarters at Government House, General MacArthur’s headquarters, a comfortable sprawling place, which in prewar days had been the official residence of the lieutenant governor of Papua. They had scarcely reached their rooms when they were ordered to report to General MacArthur immediately.

The two officers preserved a vivid recollection of what followed. They found General MacArthur with Generals Kenney and Sutherland on the long breezy veranda at the front of the house. General Kenney gave them a welcoming smile when they were ushered into MacArthur’s presence, but General Sutherland, who had come in earlier in the afternoon with the news that General Harding had no intention of relieving his subordinate commanders, sat at a desk, stern and unsmiling. Aware that General Sutherland had just returned from Dobodura, General Eichelberger, who had been surprised at the abruptness of the summons to report to General MacArthur, was surprised no longer. It was plain to see, he wrote later on, that Sutherland’s report had been the cause.

Striding up and down the veranda, grim and intense, General MacArthur without preliminary plunged into the matter at hand. American troops, he told the officers, had dropped their weapons and run from the enemy. He had never been so humiliated in his life, and it was the kind of thing that he would not stand for. Harding, he said, had failed and the blame for what had happened was his. What was needed at Buna, he told Eichelberger, was aggressive leadership. He knew, he continued, that the troops were not trained for operations in the jungle, that they were sick, and that the climate was wearing them down, but he was convinced that “a real leader could take these same men and capture Buna.”

General MacArthur told Eichelberger that he was to relieve Harding and his subordinate commanders, “or,” he flung out, “I will relieve them myself and you too.” “Time was of the essence,” he said, for the Japanese might land reinforcements “any night.” Continuing his restless pacing up and down the veranda, he told Eichelberger, “Go out there, Bob, and take Buna or don’t come back alive.” Then pointing to General Byers, he added, “And that goes for your chief of staff, Clovis, too.”

MacArthur went on to tell Eichelberger and Byers that he knew his staff thought they should have four or five days to be briefed on the situation before they went over the mountains. Things, however, were too serious for that, and he would therefore give them not even one day. They were to get ready immediately and leave for Buna in the morning.

General Eichelberger’s First Day at Buna

Subsequent briefings and conferences lasted far into the night. In the morning, immediately after breakfast, General Eichelberger and his party left for Buna. They landed at Dobodura at 0958, and, at 1300, General Eichelberger, as commander of I Corps, assumed command of all U.S. troops in the Buna Area.

Harding, who had been in the midst of a letter to General Sutherland when Eichelberger and the corps staff arrived, noted in his diary that night: Eichelberger had come fresh from the presence of MacArthur who had given him an earful of instructions concerning what he, Eichelberger, was expected to do. First of all, he was to take command of American troops in the sector. I wasn’t sure just where that left me, but I gathered MacArthur was much dissatisfied with way things were going. Among other things, he had told Eichelberger that he was to take Buna or die before it.

After explaining how General MacArthur felt about the situation at Buna, Eichelberger asked Harding what changes he proposed making in his command in order to get things moving. When Harding replied that he intended to relieve no one and that most of his commanders deserved to be decorated not relieved, Eichelberger pushed the matter no further. He decided to spend the day at Dobodura, find out what he could there, and inspect the front the following day. Two of his staff officers, Colonel Clarence A. Martin, his G-3, and Colonel Gordon Rogers, his G-2, would observe the attack on the Warren front, while he himself would observe it on the Urbana front.

That night General Eichelberger wrote to General Sutherland that, to judge from what he heard during the day, things did not appear to be as bad as he had been led to expect. Colonel Mott, for instance, was reporting progress, and seemed to be within a hundred yards of Buna Village. Eichelberger referred to a conversation that he had had that day with Brigadier R. N. L. Hopkins, General Herring’s chief of staff. Hopkins, he said, had stated that General Herring wanted Buna Mission taken and was not particularly interested in the capture of Buna Village. “I told him,” General Eichelberger wrote, “that I had directed, prior to seeing him, that Buna Village be captured tonight, and while I was anxious to get in Buna Mission, I did not want to leave the force in Buna Village on our front and rear.”I shall go forward in the morning,” General Eichelberger continued, “to gain a first hand knowledge of the situation.” While he was not willing to admit anything, he said, until he had “personally surveyed the situation well forward,” he nevertheless felt that he could already recommend the dispatch to the beachhead of “at least 127th Infantry, because we may need a fresh impetus to carry into Buna Village.”

Buna Operations: 1 and 2 December The Urbana Front

The night of 30 November-1 December had been an uneasy one on the Urbana front. The 25-pounders and the mortars had laid down a desultory fire on Buna Village, and a few unarmed Japanese were killed trying to get back to the large grassy strip where the headquarters area had been, in an effort apparently to recover some of the food and weapons left there. There was actually little action during the night, but the exhausted troops, who were expecting a counterattack, got little real rest.

In the morning Urbana force made another attempt to take Buna Village. Detachments from the Headquarters Companies of both 2nd Battalions, and a section of machine guns from Company H, 126th Infantry, were sent forward to reinforce Company E, 126th Infantry. This time the plan was to move on Buna Village through the relatively open area just below the bridge over the Girua River, instead of directly up the main track. The attempt was preceded by fire from the 25-pounders at Ango and from all the available 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars in battery, the latter being, as before, under Captain Hantlemann of Company H. At the start the action went well, and several bunkers were knocked out. Then, just as the troops seems to be on the point of going through, Company E, instead of continuing to press forward, withdrew. Whether it did so because there was a mix-up in signals or because the men were “jumpy,” Colonel Mott was unable to ascertain.

[NOTE: 40C1: Colonel Mott’s Memo. Private John E. Combs of Company E distinguished himself on this day for a superb job of scouting, during the course of which he maneuvered himself behind an enemy bunker that had been holding up the advance, killed twelve Japanese single-handed, and enabled his platoon to take the position. For this exploit, Combs was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in the GHQ SWPA, GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43.]

Although his front line was now less than 300 yards from Buna Village, Colonel Mott decided to make no further attacks that day. His plan was to attack again in the morning with the aid of the Cannon Company, 128th Infantry, which had meanwhile been promised him by General Harding. There was intermittent firing during the night, most of it by enemy mortars and machine guns. A few Japanese again tried, unsuccessfully, to reach the large grassy strip. Otherwise, the night was quiet and the troops got a little rest.

By the following morning Colonel Mott had available for the attack on the village Companies E and H, 126th Infantry, the Cannon Company, and a platoon of Company F, 128th Infantry, which he had ordered up from the other side of the Girua River. He had also the eight additional mortars that General Harding, true to his promise, had rushed to him.

At 0950 the artillery opened a heavy concentration of fire on the bunkers holding up the advance. The artillery was followed by Captain Hantlemann’s massed 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars. The artillery fire was accurate, and the mortar barrage intense and well placed. As soon as the American infantrymen attempted to move forward, however, they were stopped by heavy bands of fire across every axis of approach. Colonel Mott was again forced to call off the attack in order to give his battered troops at least one day’s rest before they attacked again.

Weakened by fever and suffering from hunger and exhaustion, the men by this time were in pitiable condition. Major Roger O. Egeberg, a visiting medical officer from Milne Bay, who saw the troops on 1 December, reported to General Eichelberger in General Harding’s hearing that they looked like “Christ off the Cross.”

[NOTE 42C1: Msgs, Gen Eichelberger to NGF, Sers 1882 and 1933, 2 Dec 42; Msg, Urbana Force to 32nd Div, Ser 1898, 2 Dec 42. All in 32nd Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. 2nd Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 2 Dec 42; 2nd Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 0030, 0954, 2 Dec. 42. Two men particularly distinguished themselves in the day’s attack—Captain Hantlemann, and 1st Lieutenant James I. Hunt of Battalion Headquarters Company, who at his own request led a platoon in the attack on the village. Each was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA, GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43.]

As Colonel Mott observed, the men were suffering from the continuous round of fighting, lack of food, and lack of sleep, as well as from “the long marches and short rations on which they had been subsisting even before the fighting started.” An entry on 2 December in the journal of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, made just after the Japanese had repulsed Company E’s fifth attack on Buna reads, “The troops that we have left are weak and tired and need rest and reinforcement.” It was clear that until they got both, it would be impossible to close the last few yards between them and Buna Village.

The Warren Front

General Harding had already concluded that to attack Cape Endaiadere and the New Strip simultaneously was tactically unsound because the attacks from the eastern end of the New Strip were on divergent lines. He decided therefore to shift the main attack to the New Strip. At 1045 on 1 December he ordered Colonel Hale to stop pressing the attack on Cape Endaiadere and to lend all possible support instead to Colonel Carrier in an attack on the New Strip. One of Colonel McCoy’s companies was to be left in place along the coastal track to hold the position there, and the other two companies were to support Colonel Carrier in his operations against the strip.

The plan of action, including air and artillery support, called for Company B, 128th Infantry, to remain in position about 900 yards south of Cape Endaiadere and to launch a series of demonstrations intended to deceive the enemy into thinking that the main Allied effort was still against the cape. The real attack would be against the New Strip. Its object was essentially exploratory: to discover a weak spot in the enemy line and to “go all out” if it found a hole.

Company A, 128th Infantry, with Company B, 126th Infantry, and what was left of Company C, 128th Infantry, would launch an east-west attack from the coastal flank toward the dispersal bays off the eastern end of the strip. At the other end of the strip, Company A, 126th Infantry, would join Company I, 128th Infantry, in an attack on the bridge between the strips. The 2/6 Australian Independent Company would patrol the area facing the strip and serve to connect the forces attacking at its other end. The drive from east to west would be under command of Colonel McCoy; that from south to north, under Colonel Carrier.

The air strafing and bombing of Buna Village, the New Strip, and the bridge between the strips took place between 0800 and 0815, and most of the bombs hit the target area. The last flight, however, forgot to drop flares (the prearranged signal that the air bombing was over), and the artillery and mortars as a result took up the bombardment only after an appreciable interval. The troops, who had pulled back temporarily to avoid being hit by friendly fire, jumped off at 0830 but made little progress. Colonel Yamamoto’s troops had not been taken in by the feint of Company B, 128th Infantry, toward Cape Endaiadere.

When the bombing began, they took shelter in the bunkers. When it was over, they emerged from their shelters and laid down such heavy fire that the advance stalled almost immediately and soon came to a complete halt The results of the day’s fighting were not encouraging. The heat was intense, and there were as many casualties from heat prostration as from enemy fire. The troops on Colonel McCoy’s front knocked out only a few bunkers before they were completely stopped by the enemy. On Colonel Carrier’s front the troops initially registered small gains, only to be stopped in their turn by flanking machine gun fire from positions in the western part of the strongpoint between the strips. The attack on the Warren front had once again been a failure.

NOTE 49C1: Tel Msg, Col Hale to Gen Byers, Ser 1897, 2 Dec 42, in 32nd Div G-2, G-3 Jnl; 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 454 through 465, 2 Dec 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 9, 15, 17, 24, 51, 72, 2 Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 9, 10, 15, 27, 42, 46, 2 Dec 42; 32nd Div Sitreps, No. 78, 2 Dec 42; No. 79, 3 Dec 42; Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. During the day’s operations, Staff Sergeant Delmar H. Daniels, of Company B, 126th Infantry, led three volunteers against an enemy strongpoint near the dispersal bays at the eastern end of the strip, which had held up the company for some time, only to be killed as he attempted to clear out the enemy position. Daniels was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ]

General Harding’s Relief: I Corps Inspects the Front

For the Corps inspection of 2 December, General Eichelberger, accompanied by his aide, Captain Daniel K. Edwards, General Harding, General Waldron, and several others, left Dobodura for the Urbana front at 0930. Half an hour later Colonel Martin and Rogers left for the Warren front. Both parties were able to go only a short distance by jeep; the rest of the way, they had to go on foot.

General Eichelberger’s party reached its destination first. Just before it arrived at the front, Eichelberger stopped at the Urbana force aid station. There he found a number of unwounded men who had been sent to the rear for a few days to recover from dengue fever or exhaustion. Some had cracked up in combat. Eichelberger made it a point to question several of them closely as to why they were not at the front. The most common answer was that they had been sent to the rear for a rest, and the same answer was given by two or three other unwounded individuals closer to the front, who either were dozing at the roots of trees or were on their way to the aid station.

The three generals reached Colonel Mott’s command post at 1140. The artillery was still firing, and it was hoped that this time the bunkers which had held up the previous attack would be destroyed. When the news came that the attack had failed, General Eichelberger announced that he was going forward to see for himself how things were. Ordering General Waldron to remain in the CP, he went up front. General Harding, who refused to remain behind, went with him. The Japanese, after repulsing a whole series of attacks, were not firing, and the two generals were able to inspect the front line without drawing enemy fire.

In General Harding’s opinion, General Eichelberger had been in an exceedingly censorious mood before. Now he found a great deal to be angry about in his tour of the front. He had been told (and had in good faith reported to New Guinea Force) that there had been a strong Japanese counterattack. On questioning Major Smith he discovered that there had been no counterattack, only a feeble attempt by a few Japanese to get back into the main strip southeast of the village. He noticed both light and heavy machine guns standing in the open neither dug in nor concealed.

Though he was to learn later what the men already knew, that fires made with wet jungle wood raised dense columns of smoke, he was extremely indignant when he discovered that the front-line troops, though ravenously hungry, had not been permitted to cook some captured Japanese rice lest by doing so they draw enemy fire. He seemed to think that lack of aggressiveness kept the troops from firing and he was greatly angered that, when he asked for volunteers to see what lay immediately ahead, the troops he spoke to did not respond.

While General Eichelberger was questioning the troops, he interviewed three machine gunners on the front line. In response to his question, they told him that they knew that there was an enemy machine gun immediately ahead because it had opened fire only a few hours ago on the troops who tried to go that way. General Eichelberger asked if any of them had gone down the trail since that time to see if the machine gun was still there. The men said they had not. The general then offered to decorate the man who would go forward fifty yards to find out.

Satisfied that the enemy weapon was still there, neither the gunners nor any of the other troops volunteered for the job. Instead, Captain Edwards, the general’s aide, using a different route and crawling on his belly, made his way to the outskirts of Buna Village and returned without being fired on, an exploit that only deepened the general’s irritation with the troops over their failure to show any disposition to fight.

[NOTE 55C1: General Harding’s Diary, 2 Dec 42; Colonel Mott’s Memo; Interv with General Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48; Ltr, General Harding to author, 24 Jul 51. Edwards was later awarded the Silver Star. The citation is in Hq I Corps, GO No. 102, 4 Dec 42.]

The upshot was an angry scene in Colonel Mott’s command post. General Eichelberger (who told the troops later on that he had not realized at the time “what they were up against”) had some “caustic comments” to make on what he had seen at the front.[NOTE 56C1]

[NOTE 56C1: Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 50. Smith as commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry was in the CP at the time and witnessed the scene.]

He delivered pointed remarks on the unwounded men at the aid station, the exposed machine guns, the apparent hesitancy to stir up enemy fire, and the failure of frontline troops to volunteer “even for a decoration.” At one point, he went so far as to say that he was not even sure that the troops had fought. Colonel Mott flared up at this. He spoke of the hardships his men had been through and argued vehemently in their defense—a point of view with which General Harding made it clear he agreed by demonstratively dashing his cigarette to the ground when Mott finished speaking.[NOTE 58C1] This is Mott’s recollection of what followed: His [General Eichelberger’s] voice rose and he said, “You’re licked,” and indicated in various ways that the troops had done a very poor job and included a great many cowards.

[NOTE 58C1: General Harding’s Diary, 2 Dec 42; Colonel Mott’s Memo; Ltr, General Harding to author, 24 Jul 51; Interv with Gen Eichelberger, 21 Nov 48. That night General Harding wrote in his diary that in the light of his remarks General Eichelberger “showed no appreciation of what the men had been through, or the spirit shown by most of them in carrying on despite heavy casualties, the roughest kind of opposition, and the most trying conditions.” Of Colonel Mott’s outbursts, he wrote, “I approved of every word he said and of the vehemence with which he stated the case.”]

After having observed General Eichelberger’s manner, I refrained from further attempts to state my side of the case and that of the soldiers under me, and shortly thereafter General Eichelberger . . . left my command post. Nor had the inspection gone much better on the Warren front. Colonels Martin and Rogers reached Colonel Hale’s headquarters at Hariko about noon, after catching a lift part of the way to Simemi in a jeep.

They left Hariko at 1410 and at 1528 had reached Colonel McCoy’s command post. After a short visit there, they went forward with Colonel MacNab to the area off the eastern end of the New Strip. Before they came, the fighting had raged fiercely and every available man had been on the line. When they arrived, however, the action had died down to virtually nothing.

There was no firing, and, as Martin recalls, there were times when the front was “as quiet as the inside of an empty church.” Having beaten off a succession of American attacks, the Japanese were resting and taking things easy. They were not firing even on targets in plain view. Nor did the Americans seem anxious to stir up Japanese fire. After the bloody nose that the enemy had given them, they were content to let well enough alone and were using the respite to dig in, bring up supplies, and prepare for the next day’s attack. Although Martin admitted “in the light of subsequent knowledge” that the attacks could not possibly have succeeded even had they been “continued throughout the day with the utmost vigor and daring,” the total absence of fighting when the inspection team reached the front led the inspectors to wonder whether there had really been any fighting at all that day.

The inspection team was particularly struck by the poor physical condition of the troops. Colonel Rogers (who subsequently put his criticism in writing) described their condition as “deplorable,” and took special note of their dirty beards, ragged clothing, and worn-out shoes, and of the fact that they were not getting enough to eat. Colonel Martin noted that the morale of the troops was poor, that the men seemed to have a “sorry for ourselves” attitude, and that they appeared to be interested above all else in being relieved. Rogers was critical of Colonel Hale for remaining too far behind the lines and thought it remarkable that there had been so little action at the front when the inspection team arrived. Martin was struck by the fact that unsanitary conditions had been allowed to develop at the front, and recalls seeing a great deal of unnecessary litter, quantities of un-salvaged equipment, and piles of empty ration tins swarming with flies.

The two colonels were back at Colonel McCoy’s CP by 1702, and left on foot for the rear at 1820. They reached Dobodura about 2200, to discover that General Eichelberger had relieved General Harding only a short while before and that General Waldron was in command of the division.

General Eichelberger Comes to a Decision

General Eichelberger was well aware that General MacArthur had spoken in anger on 30 November when he ordered him to relieve Harding. As corps commander, Eichelberger knew, he was under no obligation to take the step if he thought the relief unnecessary.

After his visit to the Urbana front, he nevertheless concluded that Harding would have to go. That evening, shortly after his return from the front, he called in General Byers and other immediately available members of the corps staff and told them how things had gone on the left flank. He described the scene in Colonel Mott’s command post, informed them that General Harding had appeared to be in sympathy with Mott throughout, and asked them what they would do if they were in his place. The staff members present unanimously told him that he had only one choice: to comply with General MacArthur’s instructions and relieve Harding.

Shortly after the staff meeting, General Harding approached General Eichelberger in his tent in order to discuss a new plan to take Buna. He described the plan, which envisaged an air bombardment and an artillery preparation, both coordinated on a split-section schedule with the infantry attack. General Waldron was in Eichelberger’s tent at the time, and this, as Harding entered it in his diary that night, is what followed: Eichelberger listened but did not seem to be impressed. He had other matters on his mind, and I soon found out what they were.

He started talking about what he had found out that day that was allegedly wrong. I took issue on one or two points, and finally said, “You were probably sent here to get heads, maybe mine is one of them. If so, it is on the block.” He said, “You are right, it was, and I am putting this man”—pointing to Waldron—“in command of the division.” I said “I take it I am to return to Moresby.” He said, “Yes.” I stood up, and stepped outside the tent.

The New Task Force Commanders

As soon as General Harding left the tent, General Eichelberger offered to replace Colonel Hale with Colonel Martin, an offer that Waldron promptly accepted. Sometime later, while Waldron was still in Eichelberger’s tent, Colonel Martin and Colonel Rogers reported to General Eichelberger.

On the way in, Martin had confided to Colonel Rogers that he thought the reason General Eichelberger had sent him to the Warren front in the first place was that he probably wanted him to take command there. Colonel Martin was nevertheless taken aback by what followed. For scarcely had he, as Roger’s senior, started to give the report of what he had seen at the Warren front, when as he recalls, . . . General Eichelberger, turning to General Waldron, stated rather than asked, “Shall we tell him now.” Whereupon he turned again to me and said, “Clarence, my boy, you have always said you would like to command a regiment. I am going to give you one. You will take command of the 128th Infantry and the Warren front”. My conclusion . . . confided to Rogers . . . was confirmed. I immediately replied, “Yes, Sir, that is true, but I never imagined it would be under circumstances such as these.” Then, I added, “Since I am to take command of the 128th Infantry I would prefer [that] Colonel Rogers made the report.” Rogers then continued and made the report orally. We had just returned, it was dark, and there had been no time to write a report.

General Harding’s relief was followed the next day by that of Colonels Hale and Mott. Colonel Martin replaced Colonel Hale as commander of Warren Force, and Colonel McCreary took over from Colonel Mott as commander of Urbana Force. McCreary was replaced on 4 December by Colonel John E. Grose, General Eichelberger’s inspector general, whom Waldron accepted for the post after deciding that he needed McCreary to command the artillery.

I Corps had taken over completely, and the responsibility for taking Buna was now General Eichelberger’s.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (13); Fighting West of the Girua

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

World News Headlines: 01-23-2019


Syria on agenda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Vladimir Putin; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Their alliance is in good shape, so what’s left to talk about for two men who’ve engineered themselves all-powerful presidencies? Now that President Donald Trump has announced plans to withdraw US troops from Syria, countries that intend to remain involved in the mutlifront civil war are adapting their strategies accordingly. And Syria will certainly be on the agenda when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The leaders will discuss creating a “security zone” east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria; Erdogan’s desire to launch a military operation to take the self-governed northern city of Manbij, which has been protected by Kurdish forces that drove out the Islamic State (IS) group; and the growing influence of a militia allied with al-Qaida in Idlib. Turkey officially opposes the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and has dedicated its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a terror group. Turkey, the European Union and the US classify the PKK as a terror organization. The United States had worked with the YPG militia to combat IS, including training and arming fighters, which has angered Turkish officials and created tensions between the NATO members. The PYD seeks to establish an autonomous state in northern Syria, just south of Turkey’s border. Erdogan, however, wants to push YPG fighters out of this region in order to set up his security zone, where Syrians who have fled the war to Turkey could be resettled.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro inherits Davos keynote on overseas debut; President Bolsonaro said he would present a new, investment-ready Brazil to the Davos elite. He told the forum he’d try to walk a line between business interests and environmental protection. Brazil’s newly sworn-in nationalist President Jair Bolsonaro gave the first keynote speech to the globalist audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday. Bolsonaro has promised to institute neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of most infrastructure. The president did little to assuage the fears of environmentalists who worry about his ideas concerning the economic potential of the Amazon rainforest, by telling the forum that development and concern for the climate should go “hand in hand.” “One should not emphasize more than the other,” he said. He promised to open up Brazil’s “relatively closed” economy by lowering taxes and easing regulations on foreign investment, and to seek active reforms of the World Trade Organization. He further cemented his right-wing populist bonafides by vowing that the left wing “would not prevail” in Latin America. The only major policy initiative undertaken by Bolsonaro thus far is to pull Brazil from a UN pact meant to curb irregular migration, following in the footsteps of other populist leaders from around the world. He has also moved to relax gun regulations in violence-plagued Brazil.

Lebanon’s political and economic meltdown; Lebanon, it seems, is close to political and economic paralysis. Rampant corruption, poor health care, and soaring unemployment have turned the country into a powder keg. Anchal Vohra reports from Beirut. Barely a week passes these days without people in Lebanon taking to the streets. In one such protest last week in Beirut, demonstrators marched from the Labour Ministry to the Health Ministry, chanting slogans and displaying placards lamenting the country’s deteriorating economic conditions. The majority of the protesters were young and many of them unemployed. Take Zeenat. She studied French — the second most spoken language in Lebanon after Arabic — and would like to teach the language as a professional, if she could only get a job. “There are just no openings, no jobs,” she told DW. “We do not even have the money to live on.”

Analyst: China has to be put in the category of a ‘rogue state’; A group of ex-diplomats and academics have signed an open letter to the Chinese president for the release of two Canadians detained on national security grounds. DW spoke to Bill Hayton, one of the letter’s signatories.Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were on December 10 arrested for activities that “endanger China’s national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage. Their detentions are thought to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US request of Huawei vice president Meng Wanzhou, who is facing fraud charges linked to violations of Iran sanctions. In an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, released on Monday, a group of more than 100 former diplomats and academics called for the release of the two Canadians. The signatories included former ambassadors to China from Canada, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, the UK and the US. They all are “deeply concerned” by the detentions.

Uprising shows instability of Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela; A small group of Venezuelan soldiers have apparently failed in their to overthrow the regime. Observers say the uprising demonstrates how unstable Venezuela’s political situation has become.On Monday, members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) launched an apparent uprising. Things were seemingly back to normal by afternoon. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the “criminals” had been arrested and would feel the full force of the law. The failed revolt once again illustrates the political instability and humanitarian crises that plague Venezuela. Internationally and at home, the very legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro, who has been sworn in for a second term, is being questioned. “There have been similar revolts in the past,” said Victor Mijares, a Venezuelan native and professor of political science at the University of Los Andes in the capital of Colombia, Bogota. “There will be more in the future,” he said. Venezuela’s opposition has called for nationwide protests on Wednesday. Mijares said Venezuelan soldiers had put up with working conditions that breed discontent. Low- and midlevel personnel are particularly disgruntled, he said. “These people have the same worries that most ordinary citizens have. So this is a revolt by impoverished citizens, albeit with guns and uniforms.” The question is whether Venezuela’s disaffected citizens and military personnel will manage to destabilize the regime. And whether that would actually pave the way toward a democratic transition.

EU fines Mastercard more than half a billion euros; The EU has fined Mastercard €570 million for limiting competition between banks offering cheaper payment fees. The European Commission said Mastercard’s actions harmed consumers and retailers in the bloc. The European Commission on Tuesday fined Mastercard €570 million ($648 million) for preventing retailers from looking for better card payment terms at banks around Europe. The Commission, which monitors competition, said that Mastercard’s rules prior to 2015 forced retailers to pay certain bank fees in the country they are located rather than let them shop around. Mastercard, which also controls the Maestro brand, is the second-largest credit card program in Europe. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that “By preventing merchants from shopping around for better conditions offered by banks in other member states, Mastercard’s rules artificially raised the costs of card payments, harming consumers and retailers in the EU.”

Huawei scrambles to untangle crossed lines; Huawei just needs a better “brand storytelling” approach, a company source reportedly said. But will the telecoms giant’s charm offensive work as the EU wakes up to Chinese industrial espionage? Chinese telco Huawei kicked off a charm offensive this week aimed at salvaging its rapidly deteriorating reputation. The company has been hit with accusations of stealing trade secrets, several countries are blocking or planning to block its equipment from sensitive infrastructure projects, and its finance chief is under arrest in Canada.


Sources: Ghosn plans to step down from Renault; NHK sources say former Nissan head Carlos Ghosn intends to resign from his position as the chairman and CEO of Renault. Ghosn has been held in detention in Tokyo for over 2 months on a series of financial misconduct allegations. He was ousted from his post as Nissan chairman after his arrest in mid-November, but Renault has kept him on board. Ghosn oversaw the alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors. The news comes as the French automaker prepares to hold a board meeting on Thursday to replace Ghosn. The French government is Renault’s largest shareholder. It’s urging the company to appoint new management to ensure stability. French media say tire manufacturer Michelin’s chief executive will likely take over as chairman. And Renault’s Chief Operating Officer is expected to become CEO. He has been filling in for Ghosn as acting chief executive. Ghosn’s expected departure is likely to intensify a power struggle and talks over the future of the alliance. Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan’s shares, but the Japanese automaker is more profitable. So there have been calls from within Nissan to review the partnership and possibly become more independent.

Indian police arrest Rohingya Muslims; Indian police have arrested a group of Rohingya Muslims who were trying to enter Bangladesh through its border. They had been stranded at the border for nearly a week. The 31 Rohingya Muslims include women and children. They had been reportedly living in the Kashmir region. Around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are estimated to be in India after violence erupted in Myanmar. They live in settlements and slums across the country, but are considered illegal migrants and a potential security risk. Last October, seven Rohingya Muslims were repatriated to Myanmar, raising fears that more expulsions may follow. The United Nations estimates 730,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN has condemned the violence as ethnic cleansing, and has warned conditions in Myanmar are not conducive for the refugees to return.

US, N.Korean officials had ‘productive talks’; The government of Sweden has hinted that officials from the United States and North Korea had productive discussions at an international conference in the country. The US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, and North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Choe Son Hui, attended the meeting that was held for three days from Saturday near Stockholm. Biegun and Choe are believed to have discussed a second US-North Korean summit. Swedish officials told NHK on Tuesday that delegates from the US, North and South Korea and Sweden took part in the conference and discussed confidence-building and economic development. But the officials did not say whether US and North Korean delegates had one-on-one talks or how Pyongyang’s denuclearization was discussed. The head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, Kenji Kanasugi, was also in Stockholm but did not attend the conference. Kanasugi, who spoke with Biegun, said he did not meet the North Korean delegates. He added that Japan will provide support to ensure that the proposed US-North Korean summit will be a success.

Russians demonstrate opposing islands’ handover; Scores of Russians have staged a demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Moscow against a possible handover of islands claimed by Japan. About 100 people, mainly supporters of Russia’s Communist Party, gathered there on Tuesday. This comes before a Japan-Russia summit in Moscow on the same day to discuss a peace treaty that would include a resolution to the issue of the Russian-held islands. The demonstrators were holding up signs saying, “Russia won’t hand over the islands,” or “Japan should give up on them.” One criticized the Russian government, saying it should not negotiate with Japan on the sovereignty of the islands. Some of the participants scuffled with police. The demonstration’s organizers say 11 people were detained. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration. The declaration states that Russia will hand over to Japan two of four Russian-held islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty. But opposition to the handover has been increasing since then. Russia controls the four islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.