World War Two: Papuan Campaign (15); Warren Force Takes the Initiative

On 18 December, the day appointed for the tank-infantry attack in the Duropa Plantation—New Strip area, New Guinea Force ordered the construction of a road from Oro Bay to the airfields at Dobodura. Engineer troops to build the road and port detachment troops to operate the port left Gili Gili for Oro Bay the same day in the K. P. M. ship Japara. Such a road, in conjunction with the port, would make it possible to base bomber and fighter aircraft north of the Owen Stanley Range for the first time. It would serve to seal off Port Moresby from attack and help write the doom of the Japanese garrisons in the Huon Peninsula. The establishment of the port and the construction of the road—prerequisites to the enjoyment by the Southwest Pacific Area of the fruits of victory at Buna—were, in short, being undertaken even as the victory was being won. With tanks finally on hand for the reduction of the Japanese positions in the Duropa Plantation and behind the New Strip, that victory could not be far off.

The Advance to Simemi Creek; Preparing the Tank Attack

As General Harding had concluded in November when he first asked for tanks, the Australian tank men found the plantation area and the New Strip entirely suitable for tank action. The plan of attack on the Warren front therefore called for the main body of the tank squadron, closely followed by two companies of the 2/9 Battalion, to attack in the Duropa Plantation, straight up the coast to Cape Endaiadere. The 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, was to mop up immediately to the rear. After taking the cape, the attackers would then wheel west to the line of Simemi Creek and emerge on the enemy’s rear by securing a bridgehead across the creek near its mouth. The New Strip would be attacked simultaneously from south and east. The 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, was to move on the bridge between the strips from its position immediately to the south of it. Preceded by the rest of the tanks and supported by the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, another company from the 2/9 Battalion would meanwhile attack at the eastern end of the strip, cut through the dispersal bays, and advance on the bridge between the strips via the northern edge of the New Strip.

 A heavy artillery and mortar preparation was to precede the attack. Augmenting the 105-mm. howitzer south of Ango, the 25-pounders on either flank, and the two 3.7-inch mountain guns just below the western end of the New Strip, at least one 25-pounder was to be moved up close to the dispersal bays at its eastern end in order to bring the bunkers in that area under direct fire. The 2/10 Battalion (which was expected to arrive on the night of D Day) was to take over the 2/9 Battalion’s bivouac area and be committed to action upon order from Brigadier Wootten.

At 1800 on the night of the 17th, X Squadron—seven tanks, less one tank in reserve— began moving up to the line of departure. The sound of aircraft was to have covered the rumble of the tanks as they moved up to the starting line, but the planes did not materialize. Instead, the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 128th Infantry, laid down a mortar barrage to drown out the roar of the motors and the clank of the treads. The expedient was successful. Even though the Japanese had patrols very close to the area in which the tanks were arriving, no alarm was aroused.

The American troops were then pressed up tight against the Japanese line, in most cases less than fifty yards from the nearest enemy bunker. They were to withdraw about 300 yards to the rear, just behind the Australian line of departure that was marked that night with white tape. Thus the attacking Australians and supporting American troops would not be endangered by the close-in artillery and mortar preparation, and both the infantry and the tanks would gain maneuver space in the attack.

The First Day

The attack went off as planned. Early the following morning between 0600 and 0645 the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 128th Infantry, withdrew quietly 300 yards to their appointed positions. At 0650 Allied air began bombing and strafing, and every artillery piece and mortar on the front opened up on the enemy positions. During this ten-minute preparation the 2/9 Battalion under its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Clement J. Cummings, passed through Colonel MacNab’s and Major Clarkson’s troops and arrived at the taped-out line of departure just forward of the Americans. At 0700 the artillery and mortar barrage ceased, the planes stopped bombing, and the Australians with tanks in the lead moved out.

Three companies of the 2/9th—A, D, and C—were committed to the attack; the remaining company—Company B—was left in reserve. Companies A and D, and five tanks pushed straight north up the coast, on a two-company front. After jumping off with the other companies, Company C spearheaded by two tanks wheeled northwestward and attacked the enemy bunkers in the area off the eastern end of the New Strip. As soon as the Australians had left the line of departure, Colonel MacNab’s and Major Clarkson’s troops began moving forward north and west in support of the attacking Australians.

Major Beaver meanwhile kept up a steady pressure on the bridge area at the other end of the strip, supported by fire from Buna Force, Instructions to Warren Force in the 3.7-inch mountain guns of the O’Hare Troop. Even though the heavy artillery and mortar preparation failed to destroy the enemy bunkers, the coastal attack on Cape Endaiadere was a brilliant success. Taking Colonel Yamamoto’s 144th and 229th Infantry troops completely by surprise, the tanks and the fresh Australian troops advancing behind them made short work of the Japanese positions in the plantation which had so long held up the attack on the coastal flank.

As Colonel MacNab, who was on the scene waiting to go in with his battalion, described it, the tanks really did that job. They apparently completely demoralized the Japs . . .[who] fought like cornered rats when they were forced into the open [as a result of] having their fires masked when the tanks broke through their final protective line. . . . There were few holes knocked in the bunkers except where the tanks stood off and blasted them at short range with their 37-mm. guns.

The two Australian companies took heavy casualties as they overran the successive Japanese positions. Two tanks were lost—one to a Molotov cocktail, and the other when its motor failed as it skirted a burning enemy dump, but so well did the attack go that the Australians had reached the cape within the hour. Without delay they headed west and began moving on the remaining tanks. About 500 yards west of Cape Endaiadere they encountered a new enemy line whose bunkers and blockhouses had escaped the artillery bombardment. Here they again met stiff resistance. They fought hard to reduce this new Japanese strongpoint but could advance no farther that day.

Colonel MacNab’s battalion had meanwhile pushed forward. There were more Japanese left in the coastal area than expected, and the opposition was relatively heavy. The battalion finished mopping up by evening and established an all-around defense perimeter in the plantation extending from its former front line to a point just below Cape Endaiadere.

The attack on the enemy positions off the eastern end of the New Strip had not gone as well as that on Cape Endaiadere. Company C, 2/9 Battalion, and the two tanks were stopped in their tracks only a short distance from the line of departure. Reserves were called for. Company B, 2/9 Battalion—Colonel Cummings’ reserve company—was brought up, and the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, was ordered in on both flanks. Despite these reinforcements, the Japanese still held to their positions, and soon put one of the tanks temporarily out of action by damaging its vision slits with machine gun fire.

At 1600 the three tanks from the north flank and the tank that had been in reserve were committed to the action. Again the two Australian companies attacked, supported as before by Major Clarkson’s battalion. After two hours of bitter fighting, they finally overran the strongpoint. It was found to be made up of twenty pillboxes, several of them of concrete and steel construction.

Pulling back just in time, the enemy troops less a small rear guard withdrew along the northern edge of the strip to bunkers near the bridge. Their position, as well as that of the engineer and antiaircraft troops whom they reinforced, was now extremely precarious. The whole bridge area and the few still-unreduced bunkers south of the bridge had been under heavy fire during the day from Major Beaver’s mortars, the mountain guns of the O’Hare Troop, and the 105-mm. howitzer south of Ango, which for the first time in the campaign had ammunition to spare.

The 2/9 Battalion lost 160 men in the day’s fighting—49 killed and 111 wounded—and the tank squadron lost two of its seven tanks, but the day’s gains had been decisive. The enemy’s line in the Duropa Plantation—New Strip area had been broken, and his defenses had been overcome in the area east of Simemi Creek.

As the mopping up proceeded and the construction of the enemy bunkers in the area was examined, it became apparent that infantry, with the weapons and support that the 32nd Division had, could probably never have reduced the enemy line alone. General Eichelberger put his finger squarely on the difficulty in a letter to General Sutherland. “I know General MacArthur will be glad to know,” he wrote, “that we found concrete pillboxes with steel doors, interlocked in such a way that it would have been almost impossible for [infantry] unassisted to get across.” Two days later he made his meaning plainer when, in the course of praising Brigadier Wootten for doing a fine job, he added, “I am glad he has the tanks to help him. I do not believe he or anyone else would have gone very far without them.”

The Push Westward

On the evening of 18 December Brigadier Wootten was given permission to use the next day for regrouping his troops, and later the same night the 2/10 Battalion, less two companies, came in from Porlock Harbor by corvette. The incoming troops took over the bivouac area previously occupied by the 2/9 Battalion, and went into brigade reserve.

The 19th was comparatively quiet. Two Australian 4.5-inch howitzers (the Stokes Troop), which had been flown in on the 18th, went into action south of the O’Hare Troop below the bridge, and several concentrations were fired during the morning on newly located bunkers in the bridge area. The two Australian companies that had been operating off the eastern end of the strip moved north to join the rest of the 2/9 Battalion in front of Strip Point. Then, as Major Clarkson’s troops moved forward along the northern edge of the strip to join Beaver’s men in front of the bridge, the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, faced west, and began moving with the 2/9 toward Simemi Creek, its right flank in contact with the Australian left. (NOTE: Company K, 128th Infantry, had lost so many men by this time that it was attached as a platoon to Company I. Ltr, Colonel MacNab to General Ward, 7 Mar 51.)

The corvettes brought in the rest of the 2/10 Battalion from Porlock Harbor that night, and the Japara came into Oro Bay the same night with U.S. troops and cargo. Troop commander on the Japara was Colonel Collin S. Myers, who upon arrival became Commander COSC, Oro Bay. The ship carried 750 tons of cargo. Also on board were additional port battalion troops and an advance echelon of the 43rd U.S. Engineers, the unit which was to build the road between Oro Bay and Dobodura.

The Japara had brought in a number of Australian pontoon barges for use in unloading operations. The barges were quickly lowered over the side, piled high with cargo, and pushed to shore, where they were subsequently used as a floating dock. Unloading was accomplished in record time, and the Japara was out of harm’s way before daylight.

Early on 20 December, following a heavy artillery preparation, the 2/9 Battalion with four tanks attacked the enemy positions east of Strip Point. After a fight that lasted all day, the enemy opposition was overcome, and the 2/9 Battalion and units of the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, operating immediately to the south, began moving forward to the right bank of Simemi Creek.

Company I, on the far left, ran into a sizable Japanese force before it reached the river bank. A heavy fire fight ensued, but the company, with the aid of Company C, 2/9 Battalion, on its right, cleared out the enemy pocket and pushed on to the bank of the creek. By the end of the day only a small finger of land, extending into the mouth of the creek, remained in enemy hands.

Thus far, the M3 tanks had performed well. West of Strip Point, however, the terrain turned very marshy, and the tanks, fourteen tons dead-weight and never noted for their tractive power, began to bog down. One had to be abandoned, and a second was mired so badly it could not be extricated until the following day when the attack on the Japanese in the finger at the mouth of the creek was resumed.

In the New Strip area the last pocket of Japanese resistance was mopped up on 20 December. The Clarkson and Beaver forces made contact early in the morning and by noon had succeeded in clearing out the last of the enemy bunkers in front of the bridge. Fighting a skillful delaying action, Colonel Yamamoto had by this time managed to get the bulk of his remaining troops, mostly from the 229th Infantry, across the creek. They had made the crossing at two principal points. Those who had fought in the New Strip area used the bridge, and those who had survived the Duropa Plantation-Strip Point fighting forded the shallows at the mouth of the creek. Colonel Yamamoto took great pains to guard this crossing, for it was the only place along the entire length of the creek where troops could readily wade over. A Japanese strongpoint on a tiny island at the mouth of the creek was heavily reinforced, and emplacements sited to fire across the shallows were set up on the west bank of the creek to deal with any attempt by the Allies to cross at that point.

Crossing the Creek; The Problem

It was not immediately clear how the Allies were to cross the creek. Tanks could not negotiate the shallows, and an attempt to have troops attack in that area would cost many lives. An assault across the bridge, which was 125 feet long and spanned not only the creek but heavy swamp on either side of it, seemed the best solution. But this too presented difficulties since the Japanese had blown a large gap in the bridge and were covering it with several machine guns and forty or fifty riflemen.

A patrol of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, attempted to cross the bridge just before noon on 20 December. Intense fire drove it off before it could even reach the eastern end. Later in the day, a few men of the Ammunition and Pioneer platoon of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, under their commanding officer, 1st Lieutenant John E. Sweet, tried to put down a catwalk across the hole in the bridge, under cover of smoke shells from two 37-mm. guns. With two of his men, Sweet moved out in the face of the enemy fire and started laying the catwalk, only to find that it had been cut about six inches too short.

Seeing the failure of the attempt to close the gap in the bridge, Colonel Martin at once proposed a second attempt, this time with the aid of one of Brigadier Wootten’s tanks. While the troops were laying the catwalk, Martin suggested, the tank would suddenly engage the enemy bunkers at the other end of the bridge and draw their fire. Brigadier Wootten had other plans for the tanks and the idea was dropped.

[NOTE 2129; Ltr, Colonel MacNab to author, 18 Apr 50. There are no figures as to the number of men Colonel Yamamoto had left when he began crossing the creek. However, I Corps overlays identify all four companies of the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, and Battalion Headquarters as being on the Old Strip, and the subsequent fighting on the strip would seem to indicate that Yamamoto had managed to get a substantial part of his command across the creek.]

[NOTE 2015: 128th Inf Jnl, 1150, 20 Dec 42. During the withdrawal, a member of the patrol was seriously wounded and fell directly in the enemy’s line of fire. A second member of the patrol, Private Steve W. Parks, turned back and braved the bullets to carry the wounded man to safety. Parks was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 43.]

[NOTE 2042; Hist 114th Engr Bn (C), Papuan Campaign; Interv with Lt Col Clifton P. Hannum, 18 Jan 51. Hannum, then a lieutenant and Major Beaver’s S-3, witnessed the abortive attempt to bridge the gap in the bridge. Sweet was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

Only one practicable alternative remained: to have troops cross the creek on foot and neutralize the enemy forces at the western end of the bridge when they got there. At best, this would be a difficult feat, since the creek, except at its mouth, was very deep, and the approaches to it were through heavy swamp, full of prickly, closely spaced sago palms eighteen to twenty feet high.

Ordered by Colonel Martin to find a crossing, Major Beaver sent a patrol into the creek late that afternoon. The men tried crossing at a point just north of the bridge. Japanese fire almost blew them out of the water and forced them back to their own side of the creek. Beaver tried again late that night, this time picking a spot south of the bridge. Company B, 126th Infantry, was chosen to make the crossing, but its attempt also failed. The water was too deep and the enemy too alert. At dawn Colonel Martin called the whole thing off. It was clear that there was no crossing to be found in the bridge area.

The Australians Find a Crossing

Strong efforts to find a crossing were being made downstream. Brigadier Wootten had assigned Company C, 2/10 Battalion, to Colonel Cummings on the 19th, partly to carry out that task and partly to make up for the heavy casualties Cumming’s battalion had suffered the day before. Wootten had also ordered Colonel MacNab to look for a crossing in his area, but his troops tried hard and failed. The 2/10 Battalion, less the company with the 2/9 Battalion, moved up to the front at noon on 20 December, and its commander, Lieutenant Colonel James G. Dobbs, immediately gave his troops the task of finding a way across. At 1500 the following day, after the most difficult kind of reconnoitering during which the men were sometimes forced to move in water up to their necks, a patrol of Company A, 2/10 Battalion, found a practicable crossing at a stream bend about 400 yards north of the bridge. Moving cautiously through the creek and the treacherous swamp beyond, the troops emerged on the other side at a point just below the lower (or eastern) end of the Old Strip, and there they consolidated. Except for a few strands of barbed wire, no signs of the Japanese were found in the area. (Colonel Teesdale-Smith, then intelligence officer of the 2/10 Battalion and a captain, was among the first to make the crossing)

The rest of the battalion began crossing at once, using as a marker a galvanized iron hut on legs, which the Japanese had apparently used as a control tower. By the following morning most of the battalion’s riflemen were across the creek. Except for a few mortar shells that fell in the crossing area from time to time, they met no opposition from the Japanese.

The crossing by the 2/10 Battalion continued through 22 December. By then the 2/9 Battalion, the attached company of the 2/10 Battalion, and four tanks had finished the task of clearing the Japanese from the east bank of Simemi Creek. Several enemy machine guns were still active on the island at the mouth of the creek, but, since they were difficult to get at and had only a nuisance value, Brigadier Wootten decided to ignore them for the moment.

The Repair of the Bridge

Final preparations for repair of the bridge were completed during the 22nd. The engineer platoon charged with its repair—the 3rd Platoon, Company C, 114th Engineer Battalion—had finished gathering and hauling the needed timbers and other materials to the bridge site. The timbers, mostly coconut logs, were to be put in place, and the bridge secured for the passage next day not only of troops but also of tanks. Major Beaver’s troops and those of Major Clarkson were standing by ready to cross, and four tanks of the 2/6 Armored Regiment were moving toward the bridge to be in position to cross as soon as it was repaired.

By first light the next morning, 23 December, the 2/10 Battalion, except for Company C which was still with the 2/9 Battalion, was across the creek. Colonel Dobbs, whose troops were now to the rear of the Japanese in the bridge area, at once sent two companies southward to clear them out. Apparently warned in time of the Australian approach, most of the Japanese pulled out of their bunkers before the Australians arrived.

By noon the few that were found had been killed, and the Australians were able to report “the bridge and 300 yards north neutralized.” The bridge was still under fire from emplacements on the southwest side of the Old Strip, but these could be dealt with later when the repairs to the bridge were completed, and the Americans and the tanks crossed.

The platoon of the 114th Engineer Battalion had begun working on the bridge as (NOTE: The bridge is described in the engineer history as having been of “pile bent construction” requiring the replacement of “one bent, new bracing, and decking throughout its entire length.”) soon as it turned light. Despite heavy enemy fire, first from the bunkers at the other end of the bridge and then from the Old Strip when the Australians cleared the enemy out of the bridge area, the work proceeded speedily and efficiently under the able direction of 2nd Lieutenant James G. Doughtie, (NOTE: Doughtie was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43.] the engineer officer in charge. Cool and imperturbable under fire, Doughtie was everywhere, directing, encouraging, and steadying his men. By noon the repair of the bridge was well advanced. Half an hour later Doughtie had a catwalk down, and in ten minutes the leading platoon of Company B, 126th Infantry was on the other side of the creek.

It was quickly joined by the rest of the battalion. The 1st Battalion 128th Infantry, was to cross later in the afternoon; the four tanks, as soon as the bridge was completed and found capable of bearing their weight. The 2/9 Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, were to remain in position and hold the coast. It was understood that Company C, 2/10 Battalion, would be returned to Colonel Dobbs’ command when the mop-up east of the creek was completed.

The Fight for the Old Strip; The Situation on the Eve of the Attack

As soon as they crossed the bridge, Major Beaver’s troops began moving toward the strip. Enemy fire from flat-trajectory weapons and mortars was heavy, and progress was slow. Colonel Martin joined the troops at 1530. They tied in on Colonel Dobbs’ left at 1745 and took up a position along the southern edge of the strip. The last drift pin was driven into the bridge an hour later, and Major Clarkson’s battalion was across the creek and had moved up on Major Beaver’s left by 1920. The plan now was to have the tanks cross the bridge and join the infantry early the next morning. Upon their arrival, the 2/10 Battalion, with the two American battalions in support would attack straight up the strip. The force would jump off from a line drawn perpendicularly across the strip from the galvanized iron hut or control tower where the Australians had established their first bridgehead on 21 December.

Colonel Yamamoto had had time to man the prepared positions in the Old Strip area and appeared to be holding them in considerable strength. The area was a warren of trenches and bunkers. The Japanese had dug several lines of trenches across the width of the strip and their trench system extended from the swamp to Simemi Creek. There were bunkers in the dispersal bays north of the strip, in the area south of it on the strip itself, and in a grove of coconut trees off its northwestern end.

Nor did Yamamoto lack weapons. He was well provided with machine guns and mortars, and he had at least two 75-mm. guns, two 37-mm. guns, and, at the northwest end of the strip, several 25-mm. dual and triple pompoms—a type of multiple barrel automatic cannon much favored by the Japanese. Near the northwest end of the strip and several hundred yards to the southeast he had in position several 3-inch naval guns in triangular pattern connecting with bunkers and fire trenches. With still another 3-inch gun north of the strip, Yamamoto was in an excellent position to sweep the strip with fire provided his ammunition held out.

It had been known for some time that the Japanese had 3-inch guns on the strip, but the artillery believed that they had been knocked out. The fact that the air force had not received any antiaircraft fire from the strip for several days seemed to confirm this belief. To be on the safe side, it was decided to commit only three of the four tanks. The fourth tank would be kept in reserve until the situation clarified itself.

At dusk of the same night, 23 December, two armed Japanese motor-torpedo-type boats—which may have been the same boats that brought General Oda to Giruwa the night before—rounded Cape Endaiadere and sank the Eva, an ammunition laden barge at Hariko, as it was being unloaded by the troops of the Service Company, 128th Infantry. The two Japanese boats then machine-gunned the beach at 2250 with .50-caliber tracer ammunition.

The Service Company answered with small arms fire from positions just off the beach, but the boats got away before heavier weapons could be brought to bear upon them. Taking no chances, Colonel MacNab at once began strengthening his beach defenses lest the Japanese try something of the same sort again.

While the Japanese were shooting up Hariko with little result, further down the coast at Oro Bay the Bantam, a K.P.M. ship of the same class as the Karsik and the Japara, came in with two more M3 tanks, and 420 tons of supplies. The ship was quickly unloaded and returned safely to Porlock Harbor before daybreak.

The Attack Opens

Early on 24 December the tanks crossed the bridge and moved up to the Australian area on the northern side of the strip from which the main attack was to be launched.

After an artillery preparation with smoke, the troops jumped off at 0950 from a line of departure approximately 200 yards up the strip. The tanks and two companies of the 2/10 Battalion were on the far right, one company of the 2/10th was on the strip itself, the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, under Major Beaver, was immediately to the left, and the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, under Major Clarkson, was on the far left. Beaver’s mission was to protect the Australian flank; Clarkson’s to comb the swamp for Japanese and destroy them.

During the first hour the attack went well, but it ran into serious trouble just before 1100. The dual purpose 3-inch guns opened up on the thinly armored M3’s and quickly knocked out two of them. The third tank went the way of the first two when it turned over in a shell hole a few moments later and was rendered useless by enemy shellfire. With the tanks out of the way, the enemy guns and pompoms began firing down the center of the strip. Company A, 2/10 Battalion, had to move from its position on the strip in the center of the Allied line to the Australian side of the runway. For the next two days no Allied troops could use the strip itself.

Forward observers located one of the enemy’s 3-inch guns on the left shortly after it had fired on the tanks, and the artillery promptly knocked it out. Because the observers were unable to locate the remaining guns, Brigadier Wootten decided to commit no more M3’s to the attack until he knew definitely that all the enemy’s 3-inch guns were out of action. Without tanks the attack moved slowly against enemy machine gun, mortar, and pompom fire.

A light rain during the afternoon further retarded the fighting. Urged on by Colonel Martin and Major Beaver the latter’s troops pulled abreast of Colonel Dobb’s force by nightfall. The Allies had gained about 450 yards in the day’s operations and were about 650 yards up the strip on either side of it.

On the far left Major Clarkson’s troops had met no Japanese, but heavy swamp crippled their movement early in the action. They were then ordered out of the swamp and put in line along the southern edge of the strip, immediately to the rear of Major Beaver’s force. Clarkson’s men were to follow Beaver’s, mop up behind them, and ultimately take their place in the front line.

On the east side of the creek relative tranquility had descended. The last vestiges of Japanese opposition were overcome on 23 December, though not before Colonel Cummings had been wounded in the breast and arm by a shell fragment from the other side of the creek. Colonel MacNab, whose CP was just below Cape Endaiadere, took command of the sector. Because Company C, 2/10 Battalion, was no longer needed in the area, it was detached from the 2/9 Battalion and ordered across the creek to rejoin its parent battalion.

The 2/9 Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, improved their Cape Endaiadere defensive positions. The Australian battalion occupied the east bank of the creek and the shore from its mouth to Strip Point; the American battalion took over defense of the coast line from Strip Point around Cape Endaiadere and south to Boreo. With no fighting to do for the moment, the troops in this sector took time to clean up. Those along the coast were permitted to swim. Some of the soldiers even began amusing themselves by catching fish, using Mills bombs to subdue them.

The Fighting on the Old Strip

On the Old Strip, meanwhile, there was the bitterest kind of fighting. Attempts by patrols of the 2/10 Battalion to take ground from the Japanese during the night were unsuccessful. The enemy troops in foxholes forward of the bunkers were too alert and determined.

At 0515, Christmas morning, Company C, 2/10 Battalion, reverted to Colonel Dobbs’ command and, on Brigadier Wootten’s order, was sent to the far left of the Allied line. Its instructions were to move through the swamp and threaten the enemy’s right flank while the Americans and the rest of the 2/10 Battalion continued their efforts to push forward frontally. Brigadier Wootten also ordered two platoons of the 2/9 Battalion to the bridge, where they were to be available when needed for action on the strip.

[NOTE 2029: Msg, 18th Bde to 32nd Div, Ser 4136, 24 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Captain Khail, S-2, 3rd Bn, 128th Inf, to G-2, 32nd Div, Ser 4195, 25 Dec 42; 3rd Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, 1738, 2135, 24 Dec 42, 1430, 25 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. Colonel MacNab tells two stories illustrative of the comradeship between his troops and the Australians. On the afternoon of the 24th Colonel MacNab visited the 2/9 Battalion, which was then under his command. On his way back he wished a couple of Australian soldiers a Merry Christmas. Thereupon, in Colonel MacNab’s words, “An older corporal replied, ‘I sie Colonel, where shall I hang me bloody sock?’ I replied, ‘well away from your foxhole—the Nip may play Santa Claus.’ Sure enough, the Jap bombed us … that night. The next morning when I was going up this same group [intercepted] me. The same corporal reported, ‘Colonel, you were too right, see where I hung my sock?’ He pointed to a sock hanging on a bush over a new bomb crater about fifty yards away. We had a good laugh. I am reasonably sure the sock was hung there that morning.” The American troops had gotten their Red Cross Christmas boxes on time, but, as Colonel MacNab tells it, “the Aussie boxes, furnished by a volunteer ladies organization in Australia did not arrive. Our men were very solicitous to share their delicacies with the Australians. Later, when the Australian boxes arrived, the woods were full of raucous Aussies looking for ‘that Yank bastard who gave me most of his Christmas.’ During both occasions, I never saw a man eating his stuff alone.” Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 18 Apr 50.]

The Allies attacked at 0700 after a ten minute artillery smoke barrage. Throughout the day Company C, 2/10 Battalion, made very slow progress in the swamp, and the American and Australian companies farther to the right had little success against the well-manned enemy bunker and trench positions.

Company C, 126th Infantry, Major Beaver’s leading unit, had scarcely left the line of departure when it was stopped by a hidden enemy strongpoint somewhere to its front, and Major Clarkson’s battalion on Beaver’s left had the same experience. Colonel Martin, who was still in the front lines lending a hand personally in the conduct of operations, at once ordered a patrol of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, into the swamp with orders to come in on the enemy’s rear. The patrol returned with a report that the swamp was impenetrable.

Convinced that troops could get through the swamp if they had the will to do so, Martin asked Clarkson for an officer with “guts” to take the assignment. Clarkson picked 2nd Lieutenant George J. Hess of Company A for the task. Hess left the battalion CP about 0900 with fifteen men. Swinging to the left, he and his men worked their way through the swamp, sometimes sinking waist deep in mud. Colonel Martin went about halfway with them, gave his final instructions, and returned to the American line. By early afternoon, the patrol had cut its way around the Japanese right flank and established itself on dry ground on the Japanese left rear without being observed by the enemy.

Colonel Martin spent the rest of the afternoon in the front lines trying to get troops through to the position held by Hess but was not immediately able to do so. Heavy fighting developed all along the front, but there was little change in dispositions except for the flanking movements on the left. By late afternoon the Allied line was a shallow V, with the runway still open and the point of the V east of the area where Yamamoto had most of his 3-inch guns emplaced.

The Japanese had meanwhile discovered that there were American troops in the dense undergrowth on their right rear. They started sending mortar and small arms fire in that direction, but were slow in organizing a force to drive them out. Company C, 128th Infantry, under 1st Lieutenant Donald A. Foss reached Hess’ position before nightfall. Except for intermittent area fire, the unit met no opposition from the enemy. Colonel Martin, who was with the incoming troops, ordered Foss to launch an attack the next morning on the nearest enemy emplacement about 100 yards to the northeast.

[NOTE 3231: Martin spent as much time as he possibly could in the front lines. At one point in the day’s fighting he climbed a tall tree that overlooked the Japanese positions in order to get a better bead on enemy troops lurking in the tall grass immediately to his front. From this vantage point he killed several of them with a rifle. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation, which covers the period 3 December 1942 to 5 January 1943, is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 2, 30 Mar 43.]

By the following morning, 26 December, after a very difficult march through the swamp, Company C, 2/10 Battalion, was in position on Lieutenant Foss’s left. After a ten-minute artillery preparation, the two companies attacked the enemy from the flank at 0702, in concert with the troops attacking from the front. After close-in fighting, two Japanese guns were taken, one by the American company and the other by the Australian company. The guns, installed on concrete bases, were sited so that they could command all approaches from south and east. Each was surrounded by a 4½-foot high circular earth embankment, so overgrown with grass that it was impossible to distinguish it from the surrounding kunai grass except at very close range. Bunkers and flanking trenches connected with it, but the enemy guns had run out of ammunition.

Because the left-flank operations gave more promise of success than frontal assault up the strip, Brigadier Wootten decided to reinforce his left. Company A, 2/10 Battalion, crossed the runway and took up a position in the left center of the line on Major Beaver’s right, leaving Companies D and B to deal with the opposition to the right of the strip. Company C, 2/10 Battalion, thereupon flanked farther to the left to deal with an especially formidable concentration of bunkers on up the strip.

Company A, 2/10 Battalion, and the two American battalions with it, were left to overcome the strong enemy positions south of the strip. Except for this movement on the left flank, little change occurred on the front. The center of the line was still about 650 yards up the strip. The line itself had the appearance of a sickle: the Australian troops on the far right formed the handle; the Australian and American troops in the center and left center, the blade; and Company C, 2/10 Battalion, on the far left and thrusting northward, the hook.

Late that night, while the Japanese on the Old Strip unsuccessfully counterattacked Company D, 2/10 Battalion, on the far right, the Japara came into Oro Bay for the second time. It brought in another troop of M3 tanks, the remainder of the men who were to operate the port, and the rest of the engineer troops who were to build the Oro Bay-Dobodura road. Unloading proceeded rapidly, and the ship left before daylight.

[NOTE 3042; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 3 through 7, 25 Dec 42; 128th Inf Jnl, 0800, 0950, 1012, 1108, 1230, 1440, 1902, 25 Dec 42; 32nd Div Sitrep, No. 124, 25 Dec 42; Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point; Ltr, General Martin to General Ward, 6 Mar 51. Hess was later awarded the Silver Star. The citation is in GO No. 37, Hq USAFFE, 12 May 44]

After an unsuccessful raid on Dobodura early on 26 December, fifty-four Rabaul based Japanese aircraft, staging through Lae, raided Buna again the following morning. The raid netted little. Allied losses on the ground were three killed and eight wounded, but the enemy was intercepted by twenty fighter planes of the Fifth Air Force and lost fourteen aircraft. The Allies lost one P-38. [NOTE 3036: These two raids marked the debut in the fighting of the 11th Air Regiment, the first Japanese army air force unit to reach Rabaul.]

The 3.7-inch howitzers of the O’Hare Troop below the bridge ran out of ammunition on 26 December and could take no further part in the fighting. However, a 25-pounder of the Hall Troop, emplaced early on 27 December at the southeast end of the strip, more than made up for the loss, for this weapon finally broke the Japanese defense of the Old Strip. The gun had excellent observation of the enemy positions on the strip, bringing observed direct fire upon them. Using armor-piercing projectiles with supercharge at about a 1,000-yard range, the 25-pounder not only knocked out one of the remaining enemy pompoms but, with the 4.5 howitzers of the Stokes Troop, forced enemy troops out of their bunkers by fire alone—a feat that only the 105-mm. howitzer had previously been able to accomplish.

Clearing the Strip

Thus by 27 December the fight for the strip was in its last stages. Allied artillery fire and pressure on his right flank forced Colonel Yamamoto to begin withdrawing to the plantation area around Giropa Point, though a desperately fighting rear guard tried to keep the fact of the withdrawal from Warren Force as long as possible. The Australian companies moving on the Japanese positions at the head of the strip from either flank met appreciably less resistance. In the center the Australian and American troops who, up to this time, had been meeting the most fanatical Japanese opposition noted a similar weakening.

The advance went slowly during the morning of the 27th but accelerated during the afternoon as the 25-pounder took its toll of enemy positions. At 1615 Colonel Martin reported that the enemy was on the run. Progress thereafter was rapid. Companies A and D, 2/10 Battalion, and Major Clarkson’s battalion, aided by elements of Company C, 2/10 Battalion, had things their own way that afternoon. They squeezed the Japanese out of the last line of trenches across the strip and cleaned out a large bunker as well as an even larger dispersal bay to the rear of the trenches. At nightfall the troops in the center—Company A, 2/10 Battalion, and Company A, 128th Infantry—were working on a main enemy bunker behind the dispersal bay—the last organized enemy position on the runway.

The line was rearranged during the evening. The company from the 2/9 Battalion, in brigade reserve, was ordered across the bridge to be available on the strip in case of need. Stretched across the upper third of the strip, the troops were now advancing on an 850-yard front that extended from the edge of the swamp on the left to Simemi Creek on the right. The men were abreast—Australian and American units alternating. From left to right the line was held by Company C, 2/10 Battalion, Company B, 128th Infantry, and Companies D and B, 2/10 Battalion, with the other tired and depleted units in close support.

That night the Australian freighter Mulcra came in to Oro Bay with a troop of M3 tanks and 400 tons of cargo. As it unloaded and got away, the Japanese in the dispersal bays at the head of the strip again counterattacked Company D, 2/10 Battalion, on the far right. The Japanese fought hard but, as had been the case the night before, were repulsed with heavy loss.

Although Brigadier Wootten still had four tanks on hand, and seven more were on their way from Oro Bay, he no longer needed tanks for the reduction of the Old Strip. Heavy fire of all kinds was still coming from the dispersal bays at the head of the strip, and still heavier fire from the enemy positions in the Government Plantation immediately to the rear, but in the area through which the Old Strip ran and on the strip itself, there was little but sporadic rifle fire. Organized resistance in the area collapsed by noon of 28 December and the troops began mopping up.

It was a bloody business. The remaining Japanese, cornered and hopeless, fought to the end. Hand grenades tossed into their holes would be tossed back, and the Allied troops always had to be on the alert for frenzied suicide rushes with sword or bayonet.

Some of the bypassed enemy troops had taken refuge in trees. In at least one instance, three Japanese were shot out of a single tree. In another case half a dozen Japanese troops were cut down carrying M1’s and wearing American helmets and fatigues. A few Japanese on the far left tried to escape by taking to the swamp; they were picked off one by one by troops ordered by Major Clarkson into the swamp for that purpose.

The Allied troops stabilized their line by noon, 28 December, with Company C, 2/10 Battalion, on the far left, within 200 or 300 yards of the belt of coconut palms forward of the point. The other companies made only slight gains as they came under extremely heavy fire from the dispersal bays and enemy emplacements among the trees of the plantation. A further attack late in the afternoon by Company C, 2/10 Battalion, though supported by artillery, failed. As evening fell, the Japanese began counterattacking. They struck against the center of the line at 1940, while Company C, 128th Infantry, was in the process of relieving Company A, 2/10 Battalion. Joint action by both companies repulsed the attack, and the Australian company took up a new position on the left.

 At 2300 the Japanese in the dispersal bays at the head of the strip unleashed their third blow in three nights at Company D, 2/10 Battalion, on the far right. Once again they were repulsed. About twenty Japanese, who had apparently been caught inside the Allied lines, managed to reach the command post of Company C, 128th Infantry, at 0400 the next morning without being detected.

They attacked in the dark with grenades and bayonets, some yelling, “Medic, Medic,” the call used by American wounded. Several men who were asleep in the command post area were bayoneted by the enemy, and other Americans, mostly without weapons, were killed in hand-to-hand encounters. By the time the Japanese were driven off they had killed fifteen men and wounded twelve, including Lieutenant Foss, Company C’s fifth commander in the five weeks since the fighting began. Since Foss was the company’s only remaining officer, 1st Lieutenant Sheldon M. Dannelly, commanding officer of Company A, 128th Infantry, which was on C’s right, took command of Company C. Only five of the raiding Japanese were killed.

The enemy’s counterattacks had gained him no ground. The Old Strip was firmly in Allied hands. Warren Force was within easy striking distance of Giropa Point, the last enemy stronghold on the Warren front. The next step would be to take the point and clear the area between it and the west bank of Simemi Creek. This step—a climactic one which would put the entire shore between Giropa Point and Cape Endaiadere in Allied hands—Brigadier Wootten was to lose no time in taking.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (16);Urbana Force-Closes on the Mission

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (14B); Buna: The Second Two Weeks


World war Two: North Africa (2-6); Taking Safi

The capture of Safi, where the medium tanks of the Western Task Force were to be landed, opened the attack in Morocco. At about 0600, 7 November, the Southern Attack Group carrying the Safi landing force split from the main convoy of the Western Naval Task Force and headed toward its objective. In midafternoon, while the remainder of the convoy zigzagged, the transport Lyon dropped astern with the destroyer-transports Bernadou and Cole and in about two hours transferred to them by means of landing craft the bulk of companies K and L, 47th Infantry. These men, especially trained, were to be the first to land.

[NOTE 5-XR: The documentary records of the amphibiousand land operations in taking Safi are assembled in the following: (1) CTG 34.10 War Diary and Action Rpt, Operation TORCH: Assault on Safi, French Morocco, 8 Nov 42. This includes reports of the Philadelphia, Mervine, Knight, Beatty, Merrimack, Harris, Lyon, Lakehurst, and Calvert. (2) WTF Final Rpt, Operations TORCH, with annexes. DRB AGO. Of especial value is Annex I, Final Rpt Opns BLACKSTONE. This section is based primarily on those records. (3) See also Maj James Y. Adams, AGF Obsr’s Rpt, 7 Jan 43. Copy in AGF 319.1 (For. Obs), Binder I, Tab 8.]

Half an hour before midnight, the transports and warships began to enter their assigned areas about eight miles offshore, and Led by the old battleship New York and the light cruiser Philadelphia, it included the escort aircraft carrier Santee, eight destroyers, four transports, one cargo ship, the seatrain, two old modified destroyer-transports, an oil tanker, one mine layer, two mine sweepers, and a tug, soon the column came to a stop. (The Santee remained about sixty miles from the coast, guarded by two destroyers, during the next four days.) Safi’s lights were visible on the horizon as preparations for the landings began at once. Troops were alerted. Boats were lowered. Debarkation nets went over the sides. The landing craft were loaded. But in the black darkness, the complicated process of debarkation advanced less rapidly than had been contemplated in the plan of attack and made improvisation necessary.

The Objective and Its Defenses

To the men who were about to land, Safi remained until daylight as they had seen it pictured on maps and photographs, or described in field orders and operations plans. They knew it to be a small town (about 25,000) near an artificial harbor which had been used in recent years principally for the export of phosphates.

 The harbor was a triangular area of protected water sheltered on the east by the shore, on the west by a long jetty extending northwesterly from the shore for a distance of almost a mile, and on the north by a mole (phosphate pier) which projected westward about 300 yards at right angles to the shore. The gap between the tip of the mole and the jetty was the harbor entrance, an opening about 500 feet in width. Within this harbor triangle were several mooring places for ships with drafts of as much as thirty feet, and in the southernmost angle, the Petite Darse as it was called, were slips for shallower draft fishing boats. The merchandise quay at the northeastern comer provided berths for at least three large vessels.

Electric cranes were available there for loading operations. The wharves had access to covered sheds and to space for considerable open storage, and were connected by spur tracks to a railroad leading to the interior. Near this comer, also, was a 100-foot lighthouse tower.

South of the artificial harbor and the new buildings in its vicinity was the old fishing town of Safi, which extended along the coastal shelf and at a break in the bluffs up the easier slopes to a rolling tableland. The native city was nearest the sea at a point where a small stream entered it. Not far from the cliff like waterfront was the tower of an old Portuguese fort of masonry in the crenelated style of the late Middle Ages. On the hillside 750 yards to the east was the Army barracks, and about 2,200 yards farther inland, an emergency landing field for aircraft.

Safi’s beaches were few and, for the most part, lay at the base of high, steep, and rocky bluffs which allowed no exit for vehicles. Within the harbor, however, near the Petite Darse was a short stretch of soft sand, rising rather rapidly to the coastal shelf, which was designated as GREEN Beach. Just outside the harbor, extending northward from the mole for almost 500 yards was a longer strip of sand called BLUE Beach. A third patch of sand ran for a somewhat shorter distance along the base of the cliffs northwest of BLUE Beach; it was called RED Beach. Approaches to RED and BLUE Beaches were exposed to the surf.

Passage inland from them was possible for vehicles only from the southernmost portion of BLUE Beach. The last of the beaches at which landings might have been made was eight miles south of the harbor, at Jorfel Houdi, below rugged but not insurmountable bluffs and near a road. It was labeled YELLOW Beach and considered during the planning as a possible point of landing from which to march on Safi from the south. Its approaches were to be reconnoitered by submarine in time to be reported to the subtask force commander during the first hours after arriving off Safi. Should the report be favorable, the 2nd Battalion Landing Team, 47th Infantry, would be sent there while other units were striking farther north.

At Safi the invaders expected to find a garrison of over 1,000 men. The force actually there was smaller than that, consisting of one battalion of infantry, one armored battalion equipped with fifteen obsolete light tanks and five armored cars, and two batteries of artillery, one with four 75-mm. howitzers and the other four 155-mm. mobile guns. There were coastal guns on Pointe de la Tour and on the tableland above the harbor mouth. Air support could be summoned from inland airdromes and ground reinforcements from Marrakech, at least ninety-four miles away, and possibly from other points. In fact, road and railway connections with Marrakech alone might, if undisturbed, bring to the Safi area within ten hours about 1,400 cavalry, 2,000 infantry, two battalions of horse-drawn guns, and, in even less time, thirty tanks and ten armored cars.

The warnings which spread across French Morocco reached Safi shortly after 0320 (local time). The commanding officer at Safi, Major Deuve, started promptly for his command post, a small group of buildings on the rolling tableland just above the port known as the Front de Mer. While the invading force was organizing for landings, he confirmed the readiness of his slender defenses to resist what might come to Safi. An actual total of some 450 officers and men maned the following:

(1) At the Front de Mer, two exposed 75-mm. guns operated by naval crews and defended with automatic arms from surrounding rifle pits.

(2) On the Pointe de la Tour, a headland less than a mile above RED Beach, a coastal battery known as La Railleuse which

consisted of two operable and two inoperable 130-mm. guns in fixed circular emplacements, with a modem range finder and fire control apparatus. The guns had a reputed range of 19,000 yards. They were themselves protected by four .50-caliber antiaircraft machine guns and barbed wire barriers. They were maned by naval crews and defended by part of the 104th (Coastal Defense) Company of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Regiment, most of whom remained on the alert in a neighboring village. shore, a mobile battery of three tractor-drawn 155-mm. guns in a well-camouflaged position.

(3) In a prepared position on high ground south of the town, next to the town’s European cemetery, ,a battery of four 75- mm. pieces operated by the 2nd Regiment of the Foreign Legion.

( 4-) Approximately two miles south of the town and a half mile inland from the

( 5) Beside the Public Garden, a platoon of light tanks.

The 5th Company of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Regiment quickly sent forward a picket platoon and moved to positions from which to resist landings in and about the harbor.


9th Infantry Division ( 1st BLT, 47th Infantry / 2nd BLT, 47th Infantry /Headquarters, 47th Infantry)

Armored Landing Team (2nd Battalion (reinforced), 67th Armored Regimen /Headquarters, Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division)

Armored Team on Seatrain (3rd Battalion (reinforced), 67th Armored Regiment /Armored Team Combat Support Troops)

Other Force “X” Personnel; Detachment of Air Force Air Support Party /1st Armored Signal Battalion / 122nd Si gnal Company (Radio Intelligence) / 142nd Signal Company / 163rd Signal Company (Photographic) / 239th Signal Company (Operational) / 66th Engineer Company (Topographic) / 56th Medical Battalion /Headquarters, 2nd Armored Division / Interpreters / Prisoner Interrogation Teams / Civil Government Personnel / 4th Platoon. battery A/3rd Artillery (AA) Battalion / 5th Platoon, battery A/3rd Co/ 1st Artillery (AA) Battalion.]

The Plan of Attack

The Safi landing force (designated Sub-Task Force BLACKSTONE) numbered 327 officers and 6,101 enlisted men, commanded by Major General Ernest N. Harmon, Commanding General, 2nd Armored Division. The force was organized into two battalion landing teams (BLT’s) for amphibious assault, with part of one infantry battalion in reserve; one armored landing team for early commitment with one medium tank battalion in reserve; a small medical unit, several specialized signal detachments, interpreters and interrogators of prisoners of war; and miscellaneous other detachments.

The light tanks attached to the two BL T’s came from Company B, 70th Tank Battalion (Separate). The Armored Landing Team consisted of elements of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 67th Armored Regiment (thirty-six light and fifty-four medium tanks), supported by two batteries of self-propelled 105-mm. howitzers, a provisional bridge company, signal and supply detachments-all from the 2nd Armored Division. The sub-task force commander took his staff and headquarters from that division, as did Brigadier General Hugh J. Gaffey, who controlled the Armored Landing Team through Headquarters, Combat Command B, and a detachment from Headquarters, 67th Armored Regiment.

The main purpose in taking Safi was to get the medium tanks ashore to use as needed. The forthcoming operation was expected to fall into four major phases. First the port must be brought under control by seizing the docks and preventing sabotage, and by clearing the enemy from a deep beachhead around it. Next, the armored elements on the transport Titania and the medium tanks on the seatrain Lakehurst had to be brought ashore and assembled for combat.

Third, the line of communication had to be made secure for a northward advance. Lastly, the armored force, in particular, had to hasten overland toward Casablanca using bridges over the Oum er Rbia river which must be secured as early as possible. To control the port and establish the beachhead, artillery batteries had to be neutralized and captured, machine gun positions cleared, the garrison subdued, and the arrival of French ground reinforcements or delivery of a serious air attack prevented by defended roadblocks and by supporting air cover.

After reconnaissance, the assault was scheduled to open with surprise landings in the harbor itself from the Bernadou and the Cole. Following the latter from the line of departure, 3,500 yards offshore, at intervals of not more than 50 feet so as to keep each other in sight, were to Come a wave of five light tanks for GREEN Beach and three successive waves of infantry intended for Beaches BLUE, RED, and GREEN respectively.

The trip in was to take from thirteen to sixteen minutes. Three more assault waves were to wait at the line of departure, the first two to be sent in by the control vessel at proper intervals and the last to remain in floating reserve until summoned from shore. First light was expected at 0536 and sunrise at 0700. The time for starting the run to shore was therefore set for 0330.

Debarkation Begins

Debarkation from the transports waiting off Safi proved more difficult than had been anticipated. Matters were complicated by the fact that, even before the men began shifting from the transports to landing craft, events did not go according to plan. After darkness had fallen on 7 November, the U.S. submarine Barb took station some two and one-half miles from Pointe de la Tour and disembarked a detachment of Army scouts from the 47th Infantry to row in a rubber boat to the end of the long jetty, there to mark the harbor entrance by infrared signals in order to help the Bernadou and the Cole. In complete darkness, they entered the harbor before they discovered their exact whereabouts and were obliged to take shelter from the fire of sentries. The submarine, however, started continuous infrared signaling from its station.

While landing craft were being loaded alongside the transports, a scout boat from the transport Harm commanded by Ensign John J. Bell, started in at 0200 carrying orders to the special landing groups on the Bernadou and Cole to execute the attack plan, and with instructions to obtain from the submarine a written report of its reconnaissance of YELLOW Beach. The submarine’s signals could not be seen. Ensign Bell therefore reported to the commanders of the Bernadou and the Cole that he would himself take a position off the tip of the jetty to assist their approach. He neared the harbor at minimum speed, cutting his motor every fifteen minutes and listening as he drifted.

[NOTE: The submarine remained until firing by friendly ships forced it to submerge, and then, shortly after 0600, started for a patrol station southwest of Mogador, out of the attack zone and in the path of any French naval reinforcements from Dakar. Its beach reconnaissance had been completed so near the time of attack as to be of minor value. Its assistance to navigation y the Bernadou and Cole was superseded by that furnished from the scout boat carrying Ensign Bell. (I) Barb Action Rpt, 25 Nov 42]

 At 0410, as he neared the spot from which to guide the incoming Bernadou, he saw the lights at the end of the jetty go out, and from the general direction of Pointe de la Tour, barely descried the destroyer-transport nearing the harbor mouth. Its infrared light was visible. Ensign Bell turned on his own.

The 1st Battalion Landing Team (BL T) 47th Infantry (Major Frederick C. Feil), disembarked from the Harris while the harbor entrance was being marked and the two destroyer-transports were getting into position to enter the port. The Harris twenty-eight landing craft were lowered by 0035 hours, while twenty-one more boats from the Lyon and the Calvert, were on the way. Those from the Lyon had difficulty finding the Hams and were late. Unloading operations in the darkness fell behind the appointed schedule, necessitating a delay of thirty minutes in the entire program. The vehicles and guns of the first wave of artillery had been loaded in three holds on the fourth deck of the Harris; to extract them, heavy vehicles had to be shifted and nine hatches had to be opened. The troops, moreover, weighed down with sixty-pound packs and weapons, crawled deliberately down the debarkation nets.

The limited training and experience of the Western Naval Task Force showed at this juncture. Getting the assigned landing craft to ship’s side and lowering tanks, vehicles, ammunition, and equipment in the heavy swell proved unexpectedly difficult. Only four out of five tank lighters for the first wave and only the first three personnel waves were loaded from the Harris and sent to the rendezvous area off its port bow in time for the delayed H Hour. The other two waves straggled. The wave of tanks and the three waves of troops started in, nonetheless, from the line of departure at 0400. They were escorted by the destroyers Mervine and Beatty.

The Battle Opens

The Beatty was expected to furnish fire support from an area south of the lanes of approach. It crossed behind the Bernadou to reach its position. In the darkness, the Beatty was mistaken by those on the Cole for the Bernadou itself. As the Bernadou neared the harbor mouth, the signal “VH” was flashed from the shore. It replied at once with the same signal. Nothing followed from the shore for about fifteen minutes. Then, as the ship passed the north end of the jetty to enter the harbor mouth, the defenders of Safi suddenly poured fire in that direction from the 75-mm. battery at the Front de Mer, from machine guns emplaced along the bluffs and the high ground east of the port, and from rifles on the wharves and jetty. From its hidden position south of Safi, even the 155-mm. battery opened up, and the 130-mm. battery on Pointe de la Tour also began to bombard the transport area. The Bernadou’s gunners replied with steady efficiency while the ship continued on her way. A flare with American flag attached was released above the harbor in the hope of moderating the hostile reception; for a brief period it assisted the French gun pointers but had no other effect.

At 0428, when French gun flashes were observed by those on the Mervine, her commander gave the code signal for meeting such resistance, “Batter Up!” Her gunners, who had kept their weapons trained on the lights near the coast as the vessel escorted the landing craft toward the shore, responded almost instantly to firing orders with accurate and effective salvos. Only a minute or two later, the Beatty’s 5-inch shells also began to strike the area from which French artillery and machine gun fire was coming.

At 0438, Admiral Davidson signaled “Play Ball.” The New York then took under fire the big guns on Pointe de la Tour, smashing the fire control tower with the second salvo of its 14-inch shells. At the same time, the Philadelphia shelled the supposed site of the battery to the south. For about ten minutes, fire was heavy, but it diminished as the Bernadou drew near shore within the port.

Bearing Company K, 47th Infantry (Captain Gordon H. Sympson), that old vessel pressed through the opening tempest of both hostile and friendly fire to the narrowing angle of the harbor near its southern limits. Boats at anchor barred quick access to the wharves; so the Bernadou made for a small mole between GREEN Beach and the Petite Darse, ran gently upon its rocks, flung over a landing net, and, at approximately 0445, disembarked the first American troops to land in French Morocco. The first men clambered down the net a few feet and hastened along the mole to the positions which they had been trained to take. Others were much more deliberate.

When the Cole observed the Beatty en route to her fire support position in the darkness and mistook her for the Bernadou, she turned southward to follow. Soon Ensign Bell in the scout boat saw her on a course certain to pile her against the jetty. By flashlight and then by voice radio, he signaled barely in time to stop her thirty yards short of a crash. Also by radio, he guided the Cole back on a curving course into the harbor.

The tank lighters by this time had cut ahead of her and, although one fell out temporarily with motor trouble, three continued into the harbor to GREEN Beach, arriving there some twenty minutes after the Bernadou.

The 47th Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon rode with the tanks in these lighters, and, on reaching shore, one section hastened through Company K to the post office to take over the telephone and telegraph central station and to cut communications with the rest of Morocco. They captured some French troops moving toward the port, seized an antitank gun, and disarmed civil police.”

The Cole itself ran through a renewed outburst of machine gun and small arms fire but swung along the merchandise quay. Company L, 47th Infantry (Captain Thomson Wilson), debarked and swarmed through the dock area, from which the defenders fled, while one American detachment overcame a machine gun crew to take possession of the petroleum storage tanks about 350 yards east of the harbor.

At daylight, the harbor, railroad station, post office, and highways entering the city from the south were held by men of the special landing groups. The enemy had taken cover in buildings and other places of vantage on the heights east and north of the port, from which sporadic fire was received well into the afternoon. The first three waves of the Major Fell’s 1st Battalion Landing Team, 47th Infantry, each with more than 200 men in a group of six landing craft personnel, ramp (LCPR’s), landed before daylight on RED, BLUE, and GREEN Beaches.

[NOTE 6-1LK: (1) The first wave consisted of 212 men, a few more than in the second and third, distributed among the following units: Company A, 47th Infantry; 15th Engineers; and 163rd Signal Company ( Photo). The first wave also contained the following specialists: communications sergeant with SCR-536; shore party beach markers; two light machine gun squads; two 60-mm. mortar squads; four aid men; and two litter bearers. (2) USS Harris Action Rpt, 16 Nov 42. (3) 47th 10£ Hist, I Aug 40–31 Dec 42. (4) Adams, AGF ObIT’s Rpt, 7 Ian 43. Copy in AGF 319.1 (For. Obs), Binder I, Tab 8.]

The plan to remain close enough for visual contact broke down during the run to shore. Each wave depended on navigation by compass and on the assistance of Ensign Bell’s flashlight signals to save itself from fumbling around the harbor entrance until first light. The three waves reached land between 0500 and 0530, largely where they had expected to, and got themselves and their equipment up the beaches against minor resistance from higher ground. Company B and a platoon of Company A, 47th Infantry, pushed inland from Beach RED, but others advanced from Beaches BLUE and GREEN only after about an hour’s delay. The fourth and fifth waves, held up by various difficulties in debarkation, did not go ashore before daylight.

Daylight revealed to the defenders at the coastal defense guns on Pointe de la Tour the exact location, within easy range, of the transports and the destroyer Mervine. They resumed the firing which had been suspended about two hours previously, concentrating on the Mervine while the transports hastily moved farther from the shore.

The destroyer, replying with its own guns as best it could, by energetic evasion also got out of range, but not until it had been straddled several times and its steering gear injured by a near miss astern. The fourth wave of the 1st BLT, 47th Infantry, started in for BLUE Beach just as the firing began and, passing unscathed under the shellfire, arrived about 0745. The fifth wave was withheld while the Harris moved out to sea, and did not land until about 0905. Meanwhile, Ensign Bell’s scout boat hurried away from its vulnerable position near the harbor entrance and was sent to assist the landings at YELLOW Beach.

The attempt to send the 2nd BLT (Major Louis Gershenow) to YELLOW Beach had been thwarted until after daylight. The transport Dorothea L. Dix, crowded with approximately 1,450 officers and enlisted men, 5 light tanks, and nearly 1,500 tons of vehicles and other cargo, made hard work of debarkation.

Lowering and loading of landing craft in the heavy swell fell considerably behind the schedule. Its scout boat, away in time to take station oft’ YELLOW Beach at 0355, waited there for the destroyer Knight to escort the waves of landing craft, but the Knight was not ready until after 0500.

The destroyer began the eight mile movement from the transport area with only five imperfectly organized waves of the ten needed to carry the whole landing team. En route, these five lost contact with the destroyer and returned to the transport area; here they circled about, and did not start for YELLOW Beach again until 0800, when La Railleuse had ceased firing.

The abortive first effort of the 2nd BLT to reach YELLOW Beach during the last hour of darkness had hardly begun when one of the most disturbing episodes of the Safi landing occurred. A truck being lowered by the Dix into an LCV (landing craft, vehicle) was swung heavily against the side by the ship’s motion. An extra gasoline can on the truck was crushed, spraying gasoline into the motor of the craft below. There it exploded, igniting the boat, the truck, and the ship’s side. Flames flared up brilliantly, silhouetting other vessels in the transport area. On other ships and among troops at the beaches or in landing craft, the belief prevailed that the Dix had been torpedoed. This impression was strengthened by exploding ammunition in the burning LCV, which gave the semblance of combat until the craft sank, the noise subsided, and the flaming truck was dropped overboard.

The harbor, the port facilities, and the southern part of Safi were brought under American control by the special landing groups and part of the 47th Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon in less time than it took the 1st BLT to take its objective-the high ground northeast and north of the harbor. The first three waves of the 1st BLT, as already noted, reached RED, BLUE, and GREEN Beaches against minor resistance, and in darkness.

They organized the beaches and prepared to advance inland to the Front de Mer, Pointe de la Tour, and other centers of French resistance. As the light improved, fire from machine guns and concealed riflemen increased. Company C, which landed at 0630, had expected the support of light tanks from GREEN Beach, but these vehicles were delayed for several hours. Only three tank lighters, it will beremembered, reached GREEN Beach together, shortly after the Bernadou had arrived there. A fourth lighter straggled in much later after repairing an engine failure which had forced it to drop out of the wave formation. A fifth made the trip from the Harris to the beach alone.

Once ashore, all the tanks were immobilized by drowned motors, faulty batteries, or by the steep, soft sand. It was after 0800 before they were ready for action. By that time, naval gun fire had silenced the coastal defense guns, and most of the high ground adjacent to the port was in American possession, although enemy riflemen remained concealed on the bluff or in buildings overlooking the harbor. The infantry, after bogging down under fire, were rallied by Colonel Edwin H. Randle and moved inland without the tanks to their objectives along the beachhead line. Company D passed through them after landing at BLUE Beach at 0705.

Completing the Seizure of Safi

Deepening the beachhead and clearing a channel for the seatrain Lakehurst from the transport area to the harbor were the next operations to be attempted. To assist in the first operation, the remainder of the 3rd BLT, 47th Infantry (Major John B. Evans), was ordered ashore from the Lyon to reinforce the special harbor landing groups as soon as landing craft became available. Disembarkation began at 0755 and the first wave started in at 0903, but the unit was not all ashore and reorganized until about noon.

The 2nd BL T began its second attempt to reach YELLOW Beach from the Dix just before 0800 and at noon most of the unit was ashore and ready to move upon Safi along the coastal roads. Part of the 2nd Battalion was eventually sent directly into the port, where it rejoined those who had by then marched north from YELLOW Beach after setting up roadblocks and blowing up the railroad en route. The Armored Landing Team, whose light tanks and other vehicles were on the Titania, while most of its personnel was on the Calvert, was ordered at about 0900 to start sending tanks to the beach in lighters. Within an hour, one platoon had cleared GREEN Beach and was bound to Pointe de la Tour to investigate the situation there. In midmorning, General Gaffey, with one more platoon of five tanks, hastened from BLUE Beach to reinforce an infantry team in quelling renewed resistance at the old Portuguese fort. Thereafter, all tanks were unloaded within the harbor from ship to quay.

Before either the 3rd BL T from GREEN Beach or the 2nd BL T from YELLOW Beach had extended its control over the site of the 155-mm. mobile battery two miles south of Safi, that battery renewed its firing in one final bombardment of Safi harbor. The Philadelphia’s supporting fire at the opening of the battle seemed at the time to have silenced it, but as the Armored Landing Team began to debark from the Titania, shells believed to come from these large guns made it necessary to neutralize them at once. General Harmon, at 1025, got a call through to the cruiser Philadelphia requesting fire on the battery’s supposed position.

Ten minutes later, while an observation plane helped locate the camouflaged target, the cruiser began dropping salvos of 6-inch shells which finally found their mark. To complete the destruction of the battery, bombers worked over it until a direct hit on one gun was seen. Later investigation indicated that the French had themselves rendered the weapons unusable. After the French shelling ceased, unloading of the tanks was resumed at noon, and when the channel had been swept early in the afternoon, both the seatrain Lakehurst and the Titania moved to dockside moorings. The Calvert and Lyon anchored just outside the harbor.

American possession of the main defensive batteries and of the harbor was disputed by harassing small arms fire long after it became imperative, under orders from General Patton, to expedite the unloading. American troops were engaged, for at least an hour after the seatrain docked, in a fire fight in the vicinity of GREEN Beach and along the waterfront streets against a few riflemen concealed in buildings and on the hillsides. Unloading kept stopping as men took cover from whining bullets.

The main center of resistance until midafternoon on D Day was the walled French Army barracks area, between the port and the newer part of the town, southeast of the medina. Company K, leaving one platoon at the roadblock on the highway to Mogador, was ordered back at about 0730 to engage the occupants of the barracks, but at the southern limit of the area was pinned down by machine gun and rifle fire. When I Company approached from the northeast, it too

was held up. The defenders then tried to counterattack with three light tanks only to have two of them knocked out of service by antitank rifle grenades, while the driver of a third was stunned in colliding with a wall. The tanks were seized and their guns were turned against the barracks.

Early in the afternoon, a section of M Company’s 81-mm. mortars, commanded by Captain James D. Johnston, began dropping high explosive shells around the area for two hours while the garrison still held out. In the meantime, Battery A, 84th Field Artillery, got its truck-drawn 75-mm. pieces emplaced above BLUE Beach in a position which commanded both the barracks area and the main thoroughfare to Marrakech.

The guns were not employed against the barracks for fear of harming friendly troops, but the area was surrendered anyway at about 1530, 8 November. About that time, General Harmon landed and soon had tank and motorized patrols clearing out the snipers who were harassing the troops unloading supplies in the port. The day’s operations, during which Companies C and L in the port area took the most punishment, were almost completed. Safi had been taken.

Almost from the first, civilian natives became a problem to the attacking troops. They gathered in awed crowds to observe the naval shelling; they were disdainfully unafraid of small arms fire. A soldier would snake his way painfully through rocks and rubble to set up a light machine gun, raise his head cautiously to aim, and find a dozen natives clustered solemnly around him.

Street intersections were crowded with natives turning their heads like a tennis gallery in trying to watch the exchange of fire. The wounded were poked and jabbered at. An unfolded map quickly attracted an excited group. During the afternoon, the natives thronged the beaches, unloading landing craft for the price of a cigarette, a can of food, a piece of cloth, plus whatever they could steal. Pilferage they attempted with tireless energy. Two days later tons of ammunition and rations were to be found loaded on native fishing vessels. The theft of weapons was far less frequent. Both civilian and military French officials joined in urging preventive measures to deal with the native propensity for sniping.

Control over the deepening bridgehead eventually gave security to the unloading operations from all serious danger except a retaliatory air strike. The air cover which the Santee could offer was extremely weak, for its complement had been hurried into combat while still greatly lacking in experience and training. Admiral Davidson preferred to depend upon the seaplanes of the New York and the Philadelphia. Since the French air units at Marrakech were reported to be friendly, plans to strike the airfield at dawn on D Day had been canceled, and air action was limited to reconnaissance.

French aviation remained quiet until midafternoon. Then, at about 1540, and again a little later, a two-engined bomber circled low enough over the harbor to draw anti. aircraft fire from the batteries ashore and from the seatrain. It seemed likely that, before daylight returned next day, Safi would be under French air attack.

When darkness fell on Safi, the beachhead extended about 5,000 yards from the port. All the roads leading into the townwere blocked. Traffic entered the city only after all persons had been searched for weapons; no one was allowed to leave. The streets were patrolled. Prisoners of war, eventually to number about 300, were accumulating in a newly organized enclosure.

Known Axis collaborationists were in custody. At the piers and near the end of the jetty, the transport crews were putting ashore the tanks, vehicles, and supplies of Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division. To guard against possible counterattacks, the tanks from the Titania, the Harris, and the Lyon were either concentrated at an assembly area on Horseshoe Hill, about three miles northeast of the harbor, or sent on reconnaissance toward Marrakech. Casualties had been light, only three dead and twenty-five wounded having been evacuated to the Hams by the medical beach party. One man had drowned while going over the side from the Lyon.

Air Action at Saft

On D Day no threat of a French counterattack from Marrakech was noted, but French air reconnaissance and strafing in the latter part of the afternoon, at the probable cost of one plane, indicated that stronger resistance might be forthcoming. It could, as an early morning warning stated, take the form of a heavy bombing raid on the shipping and stores concentrated in the port; or it might take the form of an overland attack by armored troops. In any event, the Americans would be winnable to the air but reasonably strong on the ground. Their objective remained that of getting the armor ashore and on its way north to help effect the capture of Casablanca, not to use it in an attack on Marrakech.

The morning of 9 November brought the expected French air strike. At dawn, just as planes from the Santee were beginning antisubmarine patrol, and with the coast itself shrouded in thick fog, what sounded like a considerable formation of enemy planes passed over the town and harbor. Only one determined bomber, unable to discern the target through the fog, swept under the ceiling for a low-level run over the seatrain with its load of medium tanks. It struck instead one of the small warehouses near the ship, a building which had been used as an ammunition dump. The structure was soon ablaze and ammunition began to explode. The resulting damage, casualties, and delay in unloading, though considerable for a single bomb, were minor for a whole raid. The plane itself was caught by antiaircraft fire and crashed on RED Beach. The rest of the French formation did not return.

Less than an hour later, an American carrier-based plane reconnoitered the Marrakech airdrome and was fired upon. The task force commander reluctantly concluded that the airfield must be neutralized before his armored column could leave the area for Casablanca. In the latter part of the afternoon, therefore, a formation of twelve planes from the Santee delivered the first attack, destroying eight or more widely dispersed aircraft on the ground and setting fire to the hangar.!. Eventually, some forty French planes of all types were destroyed on the Marrakech field.

While approaching the Marrakech targets, and again on their return, the formation also attacked more than forty trucks carrying French reinforcements toward Safi, strafing and dispersing them. This air strike opened the last phase of the battle. With gasoline running too low for the return to the Santee, the planes had to land on the small airfield at Safi, which had been enclosed within the beachhead. But as the planes ran downgrade on its irregular runway, six hit soft spots and nosed over.

During the morning, Admiral Davidson and General Harmon recommended to Admiral Hewitt and General Patton that some of the Army P-40’s on the carrier Chenango be based temporarily at Safi. The planes could use gasoline and ground crews furnished by General Harmon’s force, with maintenance personnel and equipment from the cruiser Philadelphia. Drums of aviation gasoline and lubricating oil were taken to the airfield from the Titania, and four antiaircraft guns were set up there and maned by Army units. Although the P-40’s were not sent, the little field was dotted by nightfall with the unfortunate planes from the Santee. To get five which were still operational back in the air on 10 November, a portion of the adjacent highway was prepared for use as an air strip. A bulldozer began to level the trees on either side and, although delayed during the night by a sniper, completed the task next morning.

By then the wind had unfortunately shifted, sweeping across the highway. Only two out of five attempts at take-off were successful. The remaining planes were therefore left for salvage.

Unloading of cargo at Safi was completed as rapidly as possible, but with such insufficient provision for setting up inland dumps that the docks and beaches became congested. The transports, moored at the wharves or anchored off the end of the jetty, continued unloading throughout the first night after the landings. They were screened against submarines and air attack by a close semicircle of seven supporting warships while the cruiser, the escort carrier, and their respective destroyer screens moved out to sea.

The Titania’s landing craft were released to the Calvert as the former’s cargo was swung by booms down to the phosphate pier. To unload, the Calvert first used BLUE and GREEN Beaches, then slips of the Petite Darse, and finally a berth vacated by the Titania on the evening of 11 November. The Lyon came in on the evening of the 12th. A large naval working party, after making room on the docks, emptied the Lyon in time for her departure at 1600, 13 November. The Harris and the Dix were similarly cleared for return to Norfolk at that time.

Stopping French Reinforcement From Marrakech

The considerable French garrison at Marrakech, the center of the Safi-Mogador defense sector, was commanded by General Martin, from whom General Bethouart had expected to receive assistance. General Martin’s intention to aid the Americans was revised upon his receipt of orders which he would not disobey but which he executed with what seemed like less than maximum power or alacrity.

[NOTE 11SK: ( 1) Emptying the Harris required 368 boatloads, and was completed on the afternoon of 11 November (D plus 3). The Lakehurst suffered a jammed derrick and thus got all the medium tanks ashore only after being at the pier about forty-eight hours. Ltr, Patton to Marshall, 15 Nov 42. Copy in OPD Exec 8, Bk. 7, Tab 5. (2) Patton Diary, 11 Nov 42.]

Reinforcements for the Safi garrison were first sighted on the highway from Marrakech at 1350 hours, 9 November. One section in fourteen trucks had almost reached the Bou Guedra crossroads, fifteen miles east of Safi, before being strafed by the planes from the Santee. Planes from the Santee dispersed a second and larger group of perhaps forty trucks at about 1600, ten miles east of Bou Guedra. Near Chemaia, forty miles southeast of Safi, a third section consisting not only of trucks but also of horse-drawn vehicles and foot soldiers was observed and attacked about an hour later. [NOTE 6-11JH] While these air attacks were delaying the French advance, the 1st Armored Landing Team’s tanks and artillery

Navy scout observation plane is taken aboard.

which had already come ashore were dispatched under command of Lieutenant Colonel W. M. Stokes to intercept the column. First contact was reported at 1700, one and a half miles east of Bou Guedra. Colonel Stokes’s force eliminated a French machine gun outpost there, took the bridge, and continued the advance until sunset. Mines along the road knocked out one American tank. The Americans bivouacked that night east of Bou Guedra and prepared for a morning battle. The French occupied defensive artillery positions commanding the passes in the foothills farther east, and waited.

[NOTE 6-11JH: This column was later identified as consisting of: the 11 th Separate Squadron of the African Chuseun; lit Battalion (seven 75·mm. guns). Moroccan Colonial Artillery; 2nd Battalion (two companies only), 2nd Regiment of Foreign Legion Infantry; and Stair. Regimental Company. and 1st Battalion of the 2nd Moroccan Tirailleun Regiment. all under the command of Colonel Paris. Journal of Action. of the High Command of Moroccan Troops. 8-11 Nov 42. Copy in WTF Final Rpt. G-2 Annex, Item 11.]

When contact was resumed next morning, over three hundred 105-mm. shells were fired on the French artillery in the hills. The French replied for a time, revealing enough strength to promise a substantial engagement before progress toward Marrakech could be resumed. A determined attack with all elements of the armored force could have defeated the French only at somecost in casualties and delays. General Harmon’s orders specified that he should undertake operations against the Marrakech garrison only to guarantee security to the beachhead at Safi and to his line of communications to the north. The principal need for his medium tanks was against the city of Casablanca, 140 miles away. General Harmon himself surveyed the situation at Bou Guedra while the last tanks were being swung to the pier from the seatrain, and learned from the interrogation of prisoners that the French column had been deprived of its mobility by the previous day’s air and ground action. He concluded that the 47th Combat Team, with its light tanks of Company B, 70th Tank Battalion, could contain the enemy and protect the unloading operations at Safi while the armored column disengaged after dark and started for Casablanca via Mazagan. Late that afternoon, when the medium tanks were all ashore, he issued orders for the night march. It might still be possible to contribute to the capture of Casablanca.

The Armored Force Starts Toward Casablanca

At 0900, 10 November, Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division, began its march north from the vicinity of Bou Guedra over the road leading to Mazagan. Along the coast, the Philadelphia, Cowie, and Knight started for Mazagan about 1930 to furnish fire support for the armored column there. The Bernadou and Cole, laden with men, ammunition, and supplies, each escorting six landing craft which carried gasoline in cans, departed that same evening to bring supplementary fuel and ammunition for the armored vehicles. The forces by land and sea made steady, uneventful progress beneath a starlit sky.

The armored column halted at 0430, November, three miles south of Mazagan, where the garrison was understood to be friendly and weak. Actually, it had been depleted by sending reinforcements to Casablanca. The bridge across the steep-sided Oum er Rbia river valley was intact and apparently not defended, but the principal crossing at Azemmour, twelve miles northeast of Mazagan, was believed to be strongly guarded by artillery, including antitank guns, and by infantry. The first step was to secure Mazagan and the next to cross the river at Azemmour, with a minimum of delay.

A reconnaissance force entered Mazagan without challenge about 0600, thus suggesting that capture of the town would be easy. The armored force south of Mazagan therefore divided, the medium tank battalion and one artillery battery going directly to seize the Azemmour bridge while the light tanks and another battery entered Mazagan.

About 0730, the Azemmour bridge was found to be undefended. At the same time, planes from the cruiser Philadelphia and from the carrier Santee began to drone over Mazagan while tanks rumbled along its streets. Quickly and without a fight, the garrison made a formal surrender.

Port and town were secured, but imperfect communication between General Harmon and Admiral Davidson left the latter for a time in some suspense. At 0850, a radio warning-“Stop bombing over Mazagan. No fight if no bombs” -indicated that his naval fire support would not be required. About an hour later, General Harmon’s report of the earlier French surrender at 0745 was received by those on the Philadelphia.

 The surrender of Mazagan, indeed, was made at the same time that Casablanca itself ceased all resistance to the American forces by which it was being encircled. Admiral Hewitt’s instruction to withhold the bombardment of Casablanca was overheard on the Philadelphia at 0710. Dispatches were sent from that cruiser to General Harmon by seaplane somewhat later, and Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division, was assembling southwest of Azemmour when the need to hurry northward to Casablanca came to an end.

Rather abruptly, then, Sub-Task Force BLACKSTONE’S principal mission terminated without the final stage of commitment to battle in the vicinity of Casablanca. When General Nogues signified the readiness of Casablanca to cease resistance, the American armored force was not poised at the edge of the great city. It was more than fifty miles away, in the vicinity of Azemmour and Mazagan. Most of the tanks had not yet crossed the river. General Harmon’s force had prevented the reinforcement of Casablanca, and of Safi itself, from Marrakech.

While its armored elements had been moving to the position which they reached by sunrise on 11 November (D plus 3), the larger force at Fedala (Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD), with the Center Attack Group of the Western Naval Task Force, had been engaged in operations controlled by the fact that they were in much closer proximity to the ultimate objective. And farther north, the airfield at Port-Lyautey had come into American possession. From the operations of the Safi force, the story turns therefore to the battles nearer Casablanca during the same period.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World war Two: North Africa (2-6); Taking Safi

World War Two: North Africa (2-5); French decide to fight

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (14B); Buna: The Second Two Weeks

The complete failure on 5 December of the attack on the Warren front had satisfied General Eichelberger that the enemy line was too strong to be breached by frontal assault In the course of a conversation held two days earlier with General Herring at Dobodura, he had learned that he could very shortly expect the arrival of tanks and fresh Australian troops for action on his side of the river. He decided therefore to try no more all-out frontal assaults on the Warren front until he had received the tanks and the promised reinforcements. Meanwhile he intended to do everything possible to weaken the enemy line.

General Herring had suggested late on 5 December that Eichelberger try pushing forward on the Warren front by concentrating on the destruction of individual pillboxes and machine gun nests which lay in the way. This job, General Eichelberger assured Port Moresby the next day, he had “already decided to do.” Since the Japanese line on that front had been found to be very strong, he added, he would make the main effort for the time being on the left, “while containing the Japanese on [the] right.” Instead of making frontal infantry assaults, which had gotten Warren Force nowhere, the troops now were to soften up the enemy line by attrition and infiltration, and to make the final break-through with the tanks when they arrived.

General Eichelberger’s orders to Colonel Martin were therefore to have his men begin vigorous patrolling in order to locate and pinpoint the individual enemy positions. As soon as they located an enemy strongpoint, they were to destroy it. The troops were to move forward by infiltration, and not by frontal assault On 7 December Colonel Martin explained the new tactics to his battalion commanders. There were to be no more all-out attacks. Instead there was to be constant patrolling by small groups. After the artillery had worked over the enemy emplacements, the patrols were to knock them out one at a time, with mortar, grenade, and rifle. They were to subject the enemy line to constant probing. Instead of rushing ahead, they were to feel their way forward. Every effort was to be made meanwhile to make the men comfortable. They were to be given their pack rolls if they wanted them, fed hot food, and allowed to rest. Colonel George DeGraaf, Colonel Rogers, and Captain Edwards, who intervened briefly in the fighting in the center, were all later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 60, 18 December 1942.

Intense patrolling became the order of the day on the Warren front. The 37-mm. guns and mortars fired on the bunkers as they were located, and the artillery, aided by Wirraways now based at Dobodura, joined in. But the 37-mm. guns and the mortars were too light to have much effect on the bunkers, and the 3.7-inch mountain howitzers and the 25-pounders using high-explosive shells with super-quick fuse proved little more effective. Because it had a higher angle of fire and its shells had delay fuses, the 105-mm. howitzer was much better suited to the task, and soon proved itself to be the only weapon on the front which was effective against the enemy bunkers. By comparison, the 25-pounder with its flatter trajectory had only a limited usefulness. Not only was it often unable to clear the trees, but it could not drop its projectiles on the bunkers as could the 105.34 General Waldron put the matter in a sentence. “The 25 pounders,” he said, “annoyed the Japanese, and that’s about all.”

The 105-mm. howitzer could have been even more effective had it been properly supplied with ammunition. But shells for it were very slow in coming forward. After having fired the initial few hundred rounds with which it reached the front, the 105 had to remain silent for days. On 6 December the I Corps ordnance officer at Port Moresby wrote to the front as follows: “I’ve been burning the air waves since 2 December to have 800 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition flown [to you]. The stuff has been at Brisbane airdrome since the night of 3 December. . . . The General asked for 100 rounds per day for 10 days starting 5 December, and there isn’t a single damned round here.”

Ammunition for the 105 finally began reaching the front during the second week in December, and then (apparently because of the priority situation) only in small amounts. Thus, for much of the time when it could have done most good, the 105 stood useless while artillery pieces less suited to the task tried vainly to deal with the Japanese bunker defenses.

Colonel Martin wanted to move up a few of the artillery pieces for direct fire on the bunkers, but Warren Force had too few guns on hand to risk any of them so far forward. The arrival by sea on 8 December of two more 25-pounders then made it possible to shift the pieces. The two 25-pounders were emplaced just north of Hariko, and the O’Hare Troop (the three 3.7-inch howitzers of the 1st Australian Mountain Battery at Hariko) took up a new position about one mile below the bridge between the strips, completing the move on 11 December. Even though the howitzers at once began hitting Japanese positions behind both strips with greater effect than before, they were still able to make no apparent impression on the Japanese line, so well was the enemy entrenched.

Throughout the battle the enemy had been achieving excellent results with grenade launchers. Impressed by their effectiveness the troops on the Warren front found time during this period of attritional warfare to experiment with rifle grenades. The experiments were conducted with Australian grenades since no American grenades were available. Using Australian rifles the men found the few grenades on hand very effective. The small supply soon ran out, however, and they received no more during the campaign. The situation on Colonel Carrier’s front during this period was one of unrelieved hardship.

The positions occupied by the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry [General Martin recalls], were almost unbearably hot in the day time as the tropical sun broiled down, the grass shut off all air, and held in the steaming heat. Due to enemy observation any daylight movement among the forward positions had to be by crawling which added to the misery from the heat. There were cases of heat exhaustion daily, and some of the company commanders strongly urged the battalion commander to permit the troops to withdraw about 300 yards in daytime to positions where there was shade, and reoccupy the forward positions at night. Martin overruled these requests. He felt that to allow daily withdrawals would contribute nothing to the harassing and softening up of the enemy, “would be psychologically bad” for the troops, and “would hurt the rebuilding of their offensive spirit.”

The infantry attackers made few gains anywhere along the Warren front. Colonel Carrier’s troops met repeated setbacks in their efforts to cross the bridge between the strips, and the forces under Colonel Miller and Colonel McCoy moved ahead only a few yards. The fighting had settled down to a siege.

With the fall of Gona, it became clear that the enemy’s beachhead garrison could no longer be supplied easily by sea. But the Japanese could still use the air lanes. On 10 December twenty medium naval bombers flew nonstop from Rabaul and dropped food and ammunition onto the Old Strip. This flight was the second—and last—air supply mission ordered by the enemy headquarters at Rabaul.

On the same day, the 10th, Major Harcourt’s 2/6 Independent Company was returned to the 7th Division, and there were other changes on the Warren front. The three battalion commanders had begun showing signs of wear. When Colonel Carrier, who was suffering from angina pectoris, had to be evacuated on 13 December, General Eichelberger decided the time had come to change the other battalion commanders. Major Beaver replaced Colonel Carrier in command of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry. Major Gordon Clarkson of I Corps took command of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, in place of Colonel McCoy, who returned to division headquarters. Colonel MacNab, executive officer of Warren Force under General MacNider, Colonel Hale, and Colonel Martin, successively, changed places with Colonel Miller to take command of the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and Miller became executive officer to Colonel Martin.

The attritional type of warfare ordered on the Warren front did not advance the line much, but the relentless pounding by the mortars and artillery and the sharp probing forays of the infantry were having exactly the effect intended by General Eichelberger—wearing the enemy down physically and softening up his defenses for the final knockout blow.

Urbana Force Makes Its First Gains; The Capture of Buna Village

Though relative quiet had descended on the Warren front, bitter fighting had continued almost without cease on the Urbana front. The Japanese in the village were virtually surrounded. Fire was hitting them frontally and from across Buna Creek, but they held their positions with extreme tenacity, and it began to look as if it would be necessary to root them out of their bunkers individually as had been the case at Gona.

The 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, was reorganized on 6 December. Colonel Grose had been promised command of the 127th Infantry, which was then on its way to the front, and left the reorganization to Colonel Tomlinson and Major Smith. He himself attended to supply matters and to the readjustment of the positions held by the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, on the right. Feeling that it was really Colonel Tomlinson’s command and that there was no use in having two regimental commanders at the front, Colonel Grose asked General Byers when the latter visited him that afternoon that Colonel Tomlinson be given the command. Byers agreed. Grose returned to the rear, and Tomlinson (who formally took command the next day) went on with preparations for an attack scheduled to be launched the next morning.

The attack was to have better artillery support than before, with all the guns east of the river scheduled to go into action, and the mortars also were to be used more effectively than before. Finding that the infantry could not control their mortar fire in the dense jungle, Colonel McCreary adopted an innovation in the use of mortars, based on artillery practice. He consolidated the seventeen available 81-mm. mortars on his front into one unit, made a fire direction chart from a vertical photograph, and by observation and mathematical calculation fixed the position of the mortars in relation to the Japanese positions. He formed the mortars into three batteries, two of six guns, and one of five guns. After adjusting the mortars and training the crews in artillery methods, he spent “the next two days 60 feet up in a tree less than 200 yards from the Jap forward elements, throwing hammer blow after hammer blow (all guns firing at once fairly concentrated) on the strong localities, searching through Buna Village.

The attack was to be mounted by the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, less the troops at Bottcher’s Corner. Companies E and G were to attack on right and left, and the weapons crews of Company H, would support the attack by fire from a position to the right of Company G. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner would hold where they were, and Company F would be available as required for the reinforcement of the other companies. The Cannon Company, 128th Infantry, now in regimental reserve, would take up a holding position in the area immediately below Musita Island, and the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, would continue to hold on the 126th Infantry’s right.

The strike against the village was to be in the early afternoon of 7 December, but the Japanese moved first. At 0600 in the morning, they attacked the troops at Bottcher’s Corner from both the village and the mission, but Bottcher’s machine gun and the rifle fire of his troops (reinforced by a fresh platoon from Company H) broke up the attack. Urbana Force telephoned the following description of the action: “Bottcher opened fire on the Buna Mission force first, stopping that attack. He then turned his gun on the Buna Village force, and stopped that attack. During the attack, Bottcher was shot in the hand. He was given first aid treatment, and is now commanding his gun.”

The story might have had a different ending had it not been for the alertness of Corporal Harold L. Mitchell of Company H, who had joined Bottcher’s little force the previous day. Acting as a forward outpost, Mitchell detected the enemy force from the village while it was creeping forward under cover of the jungle. Just as it was about to launch its attack, he charged at the Japanese suddenly with a loud yell and bayonet fixed. Mitchell so surprised and dumbfounded them that instead of continuing with the attack they hesitated and momentarily fell back. His yell alerted the rest of the force, with the result that when the Japanese finally did attack they were cut down. Mitchell escaped without a scratch. Mitchell distinguished himself further on 9 December by bringing in a prisoner for questioning. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 3, 6 January 1943.

The flurry at Bottcher’s Corner over, Companies E and G jumped off at 1335 after a fifteen-minute artillery and mortar preparation. They met heavy opposition and made little headway against an enemy that held with fanatic determination. To encourage his troops in their attempts to advance, Major Smith moved to the most exposed forward positions. Less than an hour after the attack began he was severely wounded. Captain Boice, the regimental S-2, who had made the first reconnaissance of the trail to Jaure, immediately replaced him as battalion commander.

The attack made no progress whatever. At 1430 Company F was committed in support of Company E and Company G, and the remaining platoon under Lieutenant Odell was ordered to Bottcher’s Corner. The line still did not move forward, and the only success of the day—a very modest one—was registered by Odell’s platoon.

Odell’s orders had been to move onto the fire-swept beach and clear out two suspected enemy outposts: one northwest of Bottcher’s Corner; the other closer to the village. The first outpost gave no trouble—the enemy troops in it were either dead or dying. The second was a different matter. Odell’s platoon, down to a dozen men, began closing in on the objective, when it found itself faced with about fifteen Japanese in a hastily dug trench. As the platoon edged forward, one of the Japanese called out in English that he and his fellows would surrender if the Americans came over to them first. The men (as the battalion journal notes) treated the offer as a “gag.” They stormed the trench and mopped up the Japanese, but heavy fire from the village ultimately drove them back to the Corner. The Japanese kept on trying. An attempt that evening by Captain Yasuda to send boats through to the village from his headquarters in the mission was frustrated when Sergeant Bottcher detected the leading barge and set it on fire with his machine gun. The barge was pulled back to the mission, a blazing hulk. After that rebuff the Japanese made no further attempts to send boats to the village.

On 8 December the companies attacked again. Artillery, mortars, and machine guns opened up at 1400, and the troops started moving forward at 1415. Colonel McCreary’s mortars laid down fire as close as fifty yards to the front of the battalion’s advance elements, but the Japanese line still held, and the attack was beaten off once again.

The day was marked by a futile attempt to burn out a main Japanese bunker position on the southern edge of the village which had resisted capture for several days. The bunker was on the corner of a kunai flat, with dense jungle and swamp to the rear. It could neither be taken by frontal assault nor flanked. Two primitive flame throwers had reached the front that day, and one of them was immediately pressed into use. Covered by the fire of twenty men, the operator managed to get within thirty feet of the enemy without being detected.

Then he stepped into the open and turned on his machine. All that came out of it was a ten or fifteen-foot dribble of flame which set the grass on fire and did not even come near the Japanese position. The operator, two of the men covering him, as well as the chemical officer in charge, were killed. The operation, as reported to Port Moresby that night, had been a complete “fizzle.

The same evening Captain Yasuda made his last diversion in favor of the beleaguered troops in the village. While the Japanese in the village counterattacked on the left with about forty men, a second force of between seventy-five and a hundred men moved from the mission by way of the island and hit the right flank of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. The force from the mission advanced to the attack screaming and yelling, but the battalion’s mortars and machine guns beat it off in short order. “Our heavy weapons quieted them down rather fast,” was the way the battalion journal described the action.

Colonel McCreary continued his “hammer blows” against the village next day, but the Japanese still held their positions. During the afternoon, 1st Lieutenant James G. Downer, now commanding Company E, led a patrol against the same bunker position that the flame throwers had failed to reduce the day before. Covered by fire from the rest of the patrol, Downer moved out against the enemy positions alone but was killed by a hidden sniper just before reaching it. Downer’s body was recovered and the fight for the bunker went on. Enemy fire slackened by evening and the bunker finally fell after costing the attackers heavy casualties and several days of effort.

By this time the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, had launched twelve futile attacks on the village. Its companies had become so understrength that they could do little more than hold their positions. Companies E and F each had less than fifty effectives left, and the whole battalion totaled about 250 men.

Its relief had long been overdue, and the task of delivering the final attack on the village went therefore to the fresh 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, which together with regimental headquarters had completed its movement to the forward area by air on 9 December. On 10 December, just as the 2nd Battalion was about to be relieved, Private First Class Walter A. Bajdek, of Battalion Headquarters Company, made a dash under heavy enemy fire to reestablish communication with an advanced observation post overlooking the enemy positions. Bajdek was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE, GO No. 32, 15 June 1943.

Colonel Grose, as he had been promised earlier, took over command of the regiment the same day, and Lieutenant Colonel Edwin J. Schmidt, the regimental commander, became his executive officer. On 11 December, Companies I and K, 127th Infantry, relieved Companies E and G, 126th Infantry. Company I took up a position at Bottcher’s Corner between the village and the mission, and the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, moved into a reserve area along the supply trail.

Companies I and K began probing the Japanese line at once. They made small gains on the 12th and consolidated them. On the 13th the village was subjected to heavy fire from the 25-pounders at Ango, and a heavy mortar concentration was laid down in preparation for a final assault the next day. The Japanese—by that time down to about 100 men—apparently had a premonition of what was coming. They evacuated the village that night and made for Giruwa. Most of them appear to have gotten through. On the 13th, while the Japanese were still holding, Sergeant Samuel G. Winzenreid of Company I, 127th Infantry, acting on his own initiative, single-handedly reduced a strongly held enemy bunker with hand grenades. Winzenreid was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 June 1943.

Early the next morning, 14 December, a thorough preparation by 25-pounders and mortars was put down on the village. Leaving a small holding force at the corner, Company K moved forward against the village at 0700. Company I was in support on Company K’s left flank, and one of its platoons covered Company K’s left rear. The advance continued steadily and cautiously. There was no opposition. By 1000 the entire area was overrun. Moving slowly and warily because they feared a trap, the troops soon discovered that none existed. They found no Japanese anywhere in the village. After all the bitter fighting that had raged on the outskirts, the village had fallen without the firing of a single enemy shot.

The village was a mass of wreckage. Its few huts had been blown to bits; the coconut palms in the area were splintered and broken by shellfire; and there were craters and shell holes everywhere. The bunkers still stood, despite evidence of numerous direct hits registered upon them by the artillery. The Japanese had left little equipment and food behind: a few guns, some discarded clothing, a supply of canned goods, and a store of medical supplies.

Thus anticlimactically had Urbana Force taken its first objective. The Coconut Grove remained as the only position on the left bank of Entrance Creek still in Japanese hands. This labyrinth of trenches and bunkers was next.

The Reduction of the Coconut Grove

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert A. Smith, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, had been told by General Byers a few days before that he would be called upon to take the Coconut Grove when Buna Village fell. Smith and his executive officer, Major Roy F. Zinser, lost no time therefore in preparing a plan for its reduction. Since the jungle fronting the grove was split by an open grassy area, the plan called for one company of the battalion to attack on the right under Smith and a second company to attack on the left under Zinser, whose unit was to make the main effort.

About 1300 on 15 December General Byers came to Colonel Smith’s CP, west of the grove, and told him he was to attack at once. Smith’s battalion numbered about 350 men at the time, but they were scattered along a 1,750-yard front all the way from the apex of the Triangle and along the left bank of Entrance Creek to a point just below Musita Island. Not counting a platoon of heavy machine guns from Company H which was to play a supporting role, Smith had less than 100 men immediately available for the attack: about 40 men from Company E; about 20 men from a Company F platoon; 15 or 20 men from Battalion Headquarters Company; and about 15 men from the Regimental Cannon Company who happened to be in the immediate area. Smith requested more troops, and specifically asked for the rest of Company F, which was then in the Siwori Village area protecting the left flank. General Byers found it impossible to give Smith the men he asked for, and the attack was ordered to begin at 1500 with those he had available. Smith divided his available strength in half. He gave Zinser the platoon of Company F, most of the troops from Battalion Headquarters Company, and a few men from the Cannon Company detachment. He himself took Company E and a few men from each of the other units. The two forces moved out quickly to their respective points of departure. At 1510, with the troops in position and ready to go, Colonel McCreary’s mortars opened up on the grove.

The mortar preparation, about 100 rounds in all, hit the target area but had little effect. As one who was there recalls, it merely “blew a little dirt from the Japanese emplacements.” At 1520 the mortars ceased firing, and the troops moved out on right and left with the help of fire from the platoon of Company H.

The Japanese had the approaches to the grove covered and laid down heavy fire on the attackers. Progress was slow, but Colonel Smith’s forces were pressed up tight against their objective by nightfall. A heavy rain fell during the night, drenching the troops and filling their foxholes with water. Zinser’s force took the initiative next morning. Running into a particularly troublesome bunker, it pressed into use a flame thrower of the same type that had worked so badly the week before in front of Buna Village. The result was the same: the flame thrower “fizzed out and Japanese shot it up.

After reducing this position with grenades and small arms fire, the troops on the left discovered a very large bunker which commanded the American approaches to the grove. Since the enemy strongpoint was accessible to both of them, the two forces began converging on it from right and left, clearing out intermediate obstacles as they went. In this fighting Major Zinser demonstrated conspicuous leadership, but it fell to two men of Company E on the right—Corporal Daniel F. Rini and Private Bernardino Y. Estrada—to clear out the main position. Rini and Estrada, members of the same squad, had been in the forefront of the company’s advance. The climax came when Rini, covered by Estrada’s BAR, got close enough to the main bunker to jump on top and knock it out.

That morning Colonel Smith had been watching Rini and Estrada from a position thirty or forty yards behind them, occasionally helping them with fire. Just as Rini reached the bunker, Smith was called to the phone tied to a tree about twenty-five yards to the rear to talk to Colonel Tomlinson. He had scarcely lifted the receiver when he heard shouting from the direction of the main bunker.

I sensed [he recalls] that this was probably the break we were looking for, so I told Colonel Tomlinson that I must get forward and see what was happening. I arrived just in time to see Corporal Rini on top of the big bunker and the rest of the squad closing in on it. Later I learned that Rini, after working up as close as he could, had suddenly made a dash, jumped on top of the bunker, and leaning over had pushed hand grenades through the firing slits.

Realizing that he would have to move fast to take full advantage of this turn in the fighting, Colonel Smith ordered all-out attacks on the remaining enemy positions. Charging at the head of a squad, Smith cleared out a bunker in the center, and Captain Joseph M. Stehling of Company E did the same in an attack on his right. The bunkers fell in quick succession, but Corporal Rini and Private Estrada were both killed in the mop-up which their valor had made possible. Rini was shot by a wounded Japanese to whom he was trying to administer first aid, and Estrada fell not long after while helping to clear the last enemy position in the grove.

[NOTE: Zinser, Rini, and Estrada were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; Smith and Stehling, the Silver Star. Zinser’s citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 2, 11 Jan 44; Rini’s and Estrada’s posthumous awards are cited in GHQ SWPA GO No. 9, 19 Jan 43. The Silver Star citations are in Hq 32nd Div GO No. 54, 14 January 1943, and in GO No. 28, 6 April 1943, of the same headquarters.]

The fighting was over by noon. Thirty-seven Japanese were buried by the following day, and more were found and buried subsequently. The cost to the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, was four killed and thirteen wounded. Booty included 2,000 pounds of rice and oatmeal, a number of kegs of malt and barley, a quantity of small arms, several light machine guns, and a hut full of ammunition. One wounded Japanese sergeant was taken prisoner.

As soon as the grove was captured, Colonel Smith sent patrols over a footbridge built by the Japanese across Entrance Creek and the Ango-Buna track bridge. Though the latter span lacked flooring, its piling and stringers were still intact. The patrols met no opposition, and two heavy machine guns were immediately emplaced covering the approaches to the bridges. Late in the afternoon, while the engineers were repairing the track bridge, an enemy attempt to mass troops in the Government Gardens, presumably for an attack on the newly won beachhead east of Entrance Creek, was frustrated by fire from the heavy machine guns both east and west of the creek.

General Eichelberger wrote General Sutherland that night that he was “delighted” with the way Colonel Smith’s battalion had performed in the day’s fighting. The battalion was now “high” in his favor, Colonel Smith had “developed into quite a fighter,” and the men had “a high morale.”As a matter of fact,” he added, “the boys are coming to life all along the line.”

The Scene Brightens: The Situation: Mid-December

General Eichelberger was right. Despite considerable losses, widespread sickness, and severe physical discomforts, the troops were giving an increasingly good account of themselves. By 11 December, after having been been in action for only twenty-one days, the two task forces east of the Girua River had lost 667 killed, wounded, and missing, and 1,260 evacuated sick. The detailed figures are: KIA, 113; WIA, 490; MIA, 64. Warren Force sustained 422 of these casualties; Urbana Force, 245. Troop morale had touched bottom during the first week in December and had stayed there for a few days after. By mid-month, however, a distinct improvement had become manifest. A report on morale in the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, submitted to Colonel Martin on 13 December, noted that the men were tired and feverish, that their physical co-ordination was poor, that they complained of the, food and of the difficulty of getting rest at night. The same report nevertheless commented that their “spirits” had “livened-up” considerably during the preceding few days.

There were good reasons for the upswing in morale. The fact that the troops had by this time learned their business had a great deal to do with it. More food and rest, the arrival of the 127th Infantry, the victories on the Urbana front, the receipt of mail for the first time since the campaign began, and the knowledge that tanks and fresh Australian troops were coming had boosted morale still further.

The supply situation was improving. More luggers were becoming available, and General Johns of the Combined Operational Service Command (COSC) had already decided to send large freighters into Oro Bay. The airlift was beginning to bring in truly impressive tonnages. On 14 December, for example, the air force in seventy-four individual flights between Port Moresby and the airfields at Dobodura and Popondetta brought in 178 tons of high-priority matériel. This was a maximum effort that was never equaled during the rest of the campaign, but it indicated what the air force could do when it extended itself and the weather was favorable.

The rapidly growing airlift, the opening of a fourth field at Dobodura, regular nightly deliveries by the luggers, and the completion by the engineers of additional jeep trails to the front had done more than merely make good the supply shortages that had so long afflicted the 32nd Division. They had made it possible for the first time to begin stockpiling food and ammunition for a sustained offensive effort.

There were other improvements. The sound-power telephone, pressed into use at this time for fire control purposes, was proving itself highly efficient within a two-mile range, and the introduction of the new 4-inch-to-1-mile Buna Map, in place of the improvised Buna Target Plan No. 24, was already paying the troops dividends. With a more accurate base map, improved communications with the forward observers, and observation from the air, the artillery was beginning to give an even better account of itself. From time to time, it was executing fire missions on bunkers adjacent to the bridge between the strips, and on those flanking the dispersal bays off the northeastern end of the New Strip. It was laying down harassing fire on the enemy front and rear. Direct hits were chipping away at the bunkers, but except in the case of the 105-mm. howitzer, using shells with delayed fuses, artillery had little effect on the enemy bunker positions.

On the more strongly defended Warren front what was needed, in addition to more effective artillery support, was special equipment for the reduction of bunkers. Such equipment—routine later on—was simply not to be had at Buna. It was expected that the tanks, when they finally reached the front, would make up for these deficiencies.

The Arrival of the Australians

Early on 7 December General Herring and his chief of staff, Brigadier R. N. L. Hopkins, visited General Eichelberger’s headquarters at Henahamburi to make arrangements for the reception of the Australian troops and tanks that General Eichelberger had been promised on 3 December. General Blarney had chosen Brigadier George F. Wootten of the 18th Brigade (then still at Milne Bay) to command the incoming Australian force. General Eichelberger at once offered to put Wootten in command of Warren Force with Colonel Martin as second-incommand—an offer which General Herring promptly accepted.

General Blarney had discussed the matter with General MacArthur the day before. The two commanders had agreed that the operation would require at least a battalion of troops from Milne Bay and a suitable number of tanks from Port Moresby. Since General Blarney did not have enough small ships to move the battalion, he asked General MacArthur to prevail upon the Navy (which up to that time had been unwilling to send its ships into the waters around Buna) to provide corvettes or destroyers to get the troops forward. On 8 December— the same day that Brigadier Wootten was ordered to report to General Blarney at Port Moresby—the Navy agreed to provide three corvettes for the purpose, and New Guinea Force issued its first orders relating to the movement the following day.

The orders provided that one troop (four tanks) of the 2/6 Australian Armored Regiment at Port Moresby, and the 2/9 Australian Infantry Battalion at Milne Bay, were to be sent to Buna. The tanks were to go forward in the Dutch ship Karsik, a 3,300-ton, four-hatch freighter of the K. P. M. line; the Australian corvettes Colac, Ballarat, and Broome were to carry the troops. The Karsik was to pick up supplies and ammunition at Milne Bay before moving on to Oro Bay where it was to be unloaded on the night of 11-12 December. The three corvettes would touch at Milne Bay on the 12th. After taking on brigade headquarters and the 2/9 Battalion, they would make a speedy run northward and rendezvous the same night off Soena Plantation just below Cape Sudest with landing craft from Porlock Harbor which were to ferry the troops and their equipment ashore.

Brigadier Wootten reported to General Blarney on 10 December and received his instructions. Blarney had decided by that time to send another troop of tanks and another infantry battalion to Buna. Of Brigadier Wootten’s two remaining battalions, the 2/10th was at Wanigela and Porlock Harbor, and the 2/12th was at Goodenough Island. Blarney therefore intended to draw the additional battalion from the 7th Brigade, which was still at Milne Bay. However, at Brigadier Wootten’s request, the 2/10 Battalion, the 18th Brigade unit at Wanigela and Porlock Harbor, was substituted. This change in plan made it necessary to move the battalion of the 7th Brigade to Wanigela and Porlock Harbor before the 2/10 Battalion could be sent forward to Buna. The change-over began immediately in order to permit the 2/10 Battalion to reach Buna by the night of 17-18 December.

Brigadier Wootten flew to Popondetta at dawn the next morning, 11 December. After conferring with General Herring and Brigadier Hopkins, he and Hopkins flew to Dobodura where they met General Eichelberger. Wootten spent the afternoon reconnoitering the Warren front, and that night, while he slept at General Eichelberger’s headquarters, the Karsik came into Oro Bay.

The Karsik had in its hold four light American M3 tanks (General Stuarts) belonging to the 2/6 Australian Armored Regiment. It carried also a seven-day level of supply for the 2/9 Battalion. Major Carroll K. Moffatt, an American infantry officer serving with the COSC, supervised the unloading. He had just reached the area from Milne Bay with six Higgins boats (LCVP’s) and two Australian barges, the first Allied landing craft to reach the combat zone. The actual unloading was done by troops of the 287th U. S. Port Battalion who had come in on the Karsik. They did the job quickly, and, the ship got away safely before daylight. The tanks were transferred to specially constructed barges (which had reached the area a few days before), towed to shore, unloaded, and hidden in the jungle. They were reloaded on the barges the next night and then towed by luggers to Boreo. There they were landed, run into the jungle, and hidden at a tank lying-up point a few hundred yards north of the village.

Brigade headquarters, the 2/9 Battalion, and the commanding officer of the 2/10 Battalion (who had flown in from Wanigela the night before) left in the Colac, Broome, and Ballarat early on 12 December. Traveling at high speed, the ships reached the rendezous point off Cape Sudest late that night to find Major Moffatt and the eight landing craft waiting for them.

Unloading began at once, but scarcely had the first seventy-five men, including the two battalion commanders, stepped into the two leading LCVP’s when the captain of the Ballarat, the senior officer in charge of the corvettes, learned that a “large” Japanese naval force, was moving on Buna from Rabaul. He immediately pulled the corvettes back to Porlock Harbor with the rest of the troops still aboard. The enemy force was the one bearing General Oda and the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, which was to reach the mouth of the Mambare the following morning.

The two loaded landing craft let the troops off at Boreo, and all eight craft made for the Oro Bay area, their hiding place during the day. Just before they reached it, they were bombed by patrolling Australian aircraft, which mistook them for Japanese—an understandable error since the pilots had not been told to look out for Allied landing craft, and the Allies had up to that time had no landing craft of any kind in the area. One LCVP was sunk, and another had to be beached, a total loss. Nine crew members were wounded, and one died before he could reach a hospital.

The corvettes returned the following night. Instead of rendezvousing with the landing craft off Cape Sudest as planned, the corvettes landed the troops at Oro Bay, a full day’s march away. The Japanese naval force was still in the area and unaccounted for, and the corvettes had no intention of running into it, especially with troops aboard.

The Australian troops reached Hariko the following night. The next morning—15 December—they moved up to their permanent bivouac area about a mile north of Boreo and a quarter-mile inland. That night the Karsik came in again to Oro Bay, with 100 tons of cargo and a second troop of tanks. As in the case of the first tank movement, the four tanks were put aboard barges, towed to Boreo, unloaded, and moved up the beach to the tank park. With the first four tanks they were organized into a composite unit: X Squadron of the 2/6 Armored Regiment.

[NOTE 8180: Rpt on Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49; Kenney, General Kenney Reports, pp. 165, 166. General Kenney’s story of the bombing is inaccurate in that he says that no one was hurt, and fails to mention that, in addition to the one craft sunk, a second was rendered useless and had to be abandoned. The figures given are from records kept by Colonel Moffatt, who was in charge of the landing craft.]

On 16 December Advance New Guinea Force moved to Dobodura from Popondetta. General Byers was wounded while in the front lines during the attack on the Coconut Grove, and General Eichelberger, as the only U.S. general officer present, took command of the American forces at the front. The next day, 17 December, after consulting with General Eichelberger, Brigadier Wootten took over command of the Warren front, and Buna Force set 18 December as D Day.

General MacArthur had been urging General Eichelberger to speed his preparations, and Eichelberger had done his best to comply. The attack General MacArthur had asked for was now ready. Warren Force was to move out on the 18th with tanks; its successive objectives were Duropa Plantationand Cape Endaiadere (including a bridgehead across the mouth of Simemi Creek), the New Strip, and the Old Strip.

Urbana Force was to attack on the 19th—D plus 1. It was to storm the Triangle, cut through to the coast, and seize the track junction between Buna Mission and Giropa Point, thereby isolating the one from the other, and exposing both to attack on their inward flanks.85 Captain Yasuda and Colonel Yamamoto were now each faced with a double envelopment, and both were about to be caught in a pincers from which there was no escape.

[NOTE 8082 Rpt, CG Buna Force, p. 27; Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 41. Byers, who was wounded immediately after his troops jumped off, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross nine days later. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 63, 24 Dec 42.]

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (15); Warren Force Takes the Initiative

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (14A); Buna: Second Two Weeks

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Opposition figure Tendai Biti says President Emmerson Mnangagwa is to blame for the alleged human rights abuses being carried out against people in Zimbabwe. In an interview with DW, he urged the UN to intervene. Zimbabwean opposition politician Tendai Biti has accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of orchestrating the violence gripping the southern African country.”He is the author of the current crackdown,” Biti told DW in an interview. “He is the author of the gross human rights abuses that have been committed against the civilian population.” Nationwide protests, rioting and looting erupted in Zimbabwe last week after a steep rise in the cost of fuel. Security forces responded with a brutal crackdown to disperse the demonstrators. At least 12 people have died in the unrest, according to NGOs operating in the country. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, including several opposition activists and politicians.

FRANCE (France24)

Venezuela opposition leader Guaido calls for ‘major demonstration’ next week; Guaido said the public would remain in the streets “until we achieve an end to the usurpation, a transitional government and free elections”. Guaido and Maduro have been locked in a power struggle since the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature, proclaimed himself “acting president” Wednesday, declaring that Maduro’s inauguration this month for a new six-year term was illegitimate. Reacting to a statement by Maduro that he was open to holding talks with “this young man”, Guaido said he would not attend a “fake dialogue”.”When they don’t get the results they want through repression, they offer us fake dialogue instead,” he told a separate news conference in a Caracas square.”I want that to be clear to the world and to this regime: nobody here is signing up for a false dialogue.”

Former Sudanese PM calls for Bashir to quit as protests mount; “This regime has to go immediately,” Mahdi told hundreds of worshippers at a mosque in Omdurman, the twin city of the capital Khartoum, which has seen near daily anti-government protests. Hundreds of protesters then marched through Omdurman after Friday prayers, until police fired teargas to try to break up the rally. Mahdi said that since the protests against Bashir’s government erupted on December 19, “more than 50 people have been killed” in violence during the demonstrations. Officials say 30 people have died in the protests, while rights groups have put the death toll at more than 40.

Turkish court orders release of Kurdish MP after 11 weeks on hunger strike; Leyla Guven, 55, launched a hunger strike on November 8 in protest at the prison conditions for Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and her deteriorating health has sparked concerns and rallies to support her cause.The MP will be monitored after she is freed, the court in Diyarbakir in the Kurdish majority southeast said, although few further details of the terms of her release are yet available. Guven, whose party has said is suffering a “life-threatening” medical condition, did not attend the hearing, according to an AFP journalist in the court.


Magnitude 4.3 quake hits Kumamoto; A strong earthquake has jolted southwestern Japan. There is no danger of tsunami. The magnitude 4.3 quake struck Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. It registered an intensity of five-minus on the Japanese scale of zero to seven in the town of Nagomi. It reached an intensity of four in Yamaga City and the town of Gyokuto. Intensities between three to one were felt across the Kyushu region. The Japan Meteorological Agency says the quake occurred at around 14:16 on Saturday, Japan Time. The agency estimates the focus at a depth of about 10 kilometers in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Govt. to access home devices in security survey; apan will attempt to access Internet-connected devices in homes and offices to find their vulnerabilities. The first-of-its-kind survey is aimed at beefing up cyber-security. The government approved the survey on Friday. It will be carried out by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. Starting mid-February, the institute will generate IDs and passwords in its attempt to randomly break into about 200 million devices, such as routers and webcams. Owners of the devices that are breached will be informed that they need to improve safeguards. The institute found that Internet of things devices were targeted in 54 percent of the cyber-attacks it detected in 2017. A revised law that went into effect last November gives the institute the authority to gain access to people’s devices over a five-year period. A communications ministry official asked the public for its support and understanding, citing the need to improve cyber-security in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year. Institute of Information Security professor Harumichi Yuasa said it’s possible that researchers might unintentionally gain access to webcam images or stored data. He said this would violate the device owners’ constitutional right to privacy if their identities were revealed.

Merkel to visit Japan in February, meet with Abe; German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Japan early next month to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced Merkel will arrive for a two-day visit on February fourth. She will hold talks and have dinner with Abe. Suga said he hopes the meeting will signal that the two countries are committed to maintaining the international order and ensuring global prosperity. He also said he expects cooperation and goodwill between the countries to deepen. The visit will be Merkel’s fifth to Japan since she took office in 2005. The leaders are expected to discuss free trade and other global issues ahead of the G20 summit scheduled to be held in Osaka in June.

Tibetan leader calls for dialogue with China; A Tibetan political leader has urged the Chinese government to resume dialogue, saying that is the only way Beijing can guarantee true autonomy for the Tibetan people. The prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile Lobsang Sangay gave an exclusive interview to NHK. Sangay said, “I think the Chinese government should listen to the voices and the cries of the Tibetan people. 153 Tibetans have committed self-immolation. And many are demanding the same thing. They want to see the return of his Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and basic freedom for the Tibetan people. I think this something that is fundamental as far as Tibetans are concerned. If the Chinese government listens to their voices, then I think it will be good for the Chinese government and good for China as well.” This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising that caused thousands of refugees and the Dalai Lama to flee to India. Sangay and the government in exile want talks with China to negotiate more autonomy. But Beijing refuses such talks, saying that the aim is separatism. Sangay says that in the six decades of Chinese rule, Tibetans have not been allowed to hold peaceful demonstrations and have faced other suppression under the Chinese government. He also says, “They destroyed 98 percent of Tibetan monasteries and nunneries. They disrobed 99.9 percent of monks and nuns. They disallow the practice of Buddhism. They disallow possession of the photograph of the Dalai Lama.”