World War Two: North Africa (2-7A); Fedala to Casablanca; Landings

The main amphibious attack for the capture of Casablanca was to be delivered at Fedala. There Force BRUSHWOOD; consisting of the 3rd Infantry Division, reinforced mainly by an armored landing team from the 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, was to establish itself on shore, seize the small port, and swing southwestward to capture Casablanca. While it was advancing to positions in the outskirts of that city, Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division, would be making its way to the southern side from its landings at Safi. Planes of the XII Air Support Command, using the Port-Lyautey airdrome soon after D Day, would supplement naval air support from the carrier Ranger and the escort carrier Suwannee. Off Casablanca, the warships of the Covering Group would protect the naval task force from French naval units based in Casablanca or Dakar.

The Augusta, Brooklyn, and others would furnish fire support to troops ashore. But successful landings at Fedala were to be the first phase. The town of Fedala is on a shallow bay which lies between two rivers and between the rugged projection of Cap de Fedala at the southwest and the bold headland of Cherqui, three miles to the northeast.

The small harbor is at the western end of the bay. Its protected waters are enclosed by an 800-foot breakwater on the inner side of the cape and another, extending twice as far and at right angles to it, from the southern shore of the bay. Through an opening about 100 yards wide between the tips of these jetties, a dredged channel enters the port. An almost continuous crescent of sandy beach extends from the longer breakwater to the Cherqui headland. At a few points this broad strand is divided by rocky outcrops and, at the base of Cherqui, by the mouth of the Nefifikh river. That stream enters the bay from a deep ravine or wadi extending almost directly south for well over a mile. The Mellah river on the other hand, the mouth of which is outside the bay at the base of Cap de Fedala, approaches the coast by a meandering course through marshes and tidal flats. From the sand dunes along the coast between these rivers, a level shelf extends inland for from half to three quarters of a mile before the land rises very gradually to less than 200 feet above sea level. A secondary coastal road and the railway between Casablanca and the north run along the base of this easy slope. The main highway between Casablanca and Rabat lies one mile or more farther inland. The railroad skirts the town except for a short branch extending to the harbor.

Before World War II Fedala was a community of about 16,000 which combined the functions of a small fishing port, a major petroleum storage and distributing point, and a popular pleasure resort. Its hotel, race track, casino, golf course, broad, palm-lined streets and formal gardens, its parks and bathing beach, were among the attractions for vacationists. Several sets of petroleum storage tanks, a small harbor, and the fishing port within it, met the chief requirements of commerce. On Cap de Fedala a lighthouse tower guided pilots past several hazards in adjacent waters.

Within five miles of Fedala on either side, ten possible sandy landing beaches were designated. Four were deemed appropriate for major use by battalion landing teams and two for auxiliary use by smaller units on special missions. All the main landings were directed to sections of shore in the Baie de Fedala identified as Beaches RED 2, RED 3, BLUE, and BLUE 2. RED beach lay directly under the guns on Cap de Fedala and was faced by a ten-foot seawall. It was reserved for follow-up landings when the whole region should be under American control.

Smaller units could land at Beach YELLOW, near the mouth of the Mellah river, and on Beach BLUE 3, in the Mansouria inlet about three miles northeast of the Cherqui headland. Except for Beach BLUE 2, which was on the shore of a cove at the Nefifikh river’s mouth, all four of the better beaches led by an easy gradient through sand dunes to flat land above. All four beaches were dangerously exposed to the high surf which surged in on an average of four days out of five in November. Even more unprotected were the shores directly northeast of Cherqui and southwest of Cap de Fedala.

The advance from the Baie de Fedala to Casablanca was to be made over an area extending along the coast some sixteen miles. The initial beachhead was to extend about five miles inland between the eastern bank of the Nefifikh river and the western edge of the Mellah river. Thereafter, during D Day the prescribed objective line would be reached by advancing southwesterly for another four miles beyond the Mellah.

The most dangerous feature of the amphibious attack at Fedala was the ability of coastal defense guns there to enfilade the beaches. Two batteries were in menacing positions on Cap de Fedala. From the tip, two 75-mm. guns with a range of 9,000 yards could fire on any of the beaches on which major landings were planned. Near the base of the cape, four 100-mm. guns comprised the Batterie de Fedala, or Batterie du Port, and could fire directed salvos within a range of 15,400 yards. The most powerful battery was on the Cherqui headland. It was known as the Batterie du Pont Blondin and consisted of four 138.6-mm. (5.4-inch) guns capable of firing on targets 20,000 yards distant. Near these guns were searchlights, antiaircraft machine guns, and rifle and machine gun pits-all on ground well organized for defense. A fourth battery was reported to consist of “three or four large-caliber guns” at a point about two miles northeast of the Batterie du Pont Blondin and 1,600 yards southwest of Mansouria inlet.

Antiaircraft batteries had been identified southwest of Fedala near the golf course, on the golf course itself, and farther up the Mellah river on its western bank, south of the railroad. Two antiaircraft or dual purpose guns, as large as 105-mm. in caliber, and others, 75-mm. or perhaps 90-mm., with searchlights and small antiaircraft machine guns were indicated at these sites. If Fedala’s coastal batteries were the greatest hazard to the landing force, the proximity of the French naval units in Casablanca harbor furnished another threat.

The Jean Bart’s big 15-inch rifles could reach the Fedala area, several submarines might slip out to inflict grave damage on the transports or escort vessels, and other French warships would no doubt be ready to grasp an opportunity to interfere with American naval support of the forces ashore.

Fedala’s garrison was estimated at not quite 2,500 men, consisting of a battalion plus one company of infantry, two mechanized troops of Spahis, an antiaircraft artillery battery, and other artillery units. The field artillery had an undetermined number of 75-mm. guns and sixteen 13.2-mm. machine guns. Reinforcements could be expected from Rabat, only forty-three miles to the northeast; up to five battalions of cavalry, two armored battalions, and several battalions of infantry might come from as far away as Meknes.

Casablanca’s defenders were estimated at five battalions of infantry (4,325 men)colonial, Moroccan, and Senegalese; at least two troops of cavalry (300 men), of which one would be mechanized; two battalions of artillery and one of antiaircraft ( 1,600-1,700 men); naval ground units operating the coastal defense guns, and a strong assemblage of warships at the Casablanca naval base. From the Rabat-Sale and Cazes airdromes, according to best reports, the French Air Force could throw fifty fighters and thirty bombers into the battle. Reinforcements were expected from Mazagan, Kasba Tadla, and Mediouna. Thus the attack on Casablanca from Fedala might require seizure of the beachhead from somewhat less than 2,500 defenders; defense of Fedala from counterattack and advance southwestward along the coast would have to be made against perhaps 6,500 others.

In moving to invest Casablanca, some American units would push inland to encircle the city and cut its approaches from the southeast and south. The terrain to be covered in this scheme of maneuver was not difficult. The flat shelf along the coast was not quite one mile in depth, rising gradually to a tableland eroded into low, gently contoured hills and ridges. Small vineyards and clumps of woods were widely dispersed among numerous small farms. Footpaths and mule tracks crossed the hills in many directions. One stream bed, that of the Hasser river, wound southwesterly from the Mellah between banks neither high nor precipitous.

The approach to Casablanca along either the main highway or the railway from Rabat led through the eastern suburb of Ain Sebaa, about three miles from the harbor, and past an industrial section south of Roches Noires. At Ain Sebaa, a peripheral road, the Route de Grande Ceinture, branched southwestward from the main highway and circled Casablanca at a distance of from three to four miles from the port. On the level ground and easy slopes between this road and the thickly settled portion of the city, the parks, cemeteries, and newer residential areas which fringed the city were to be found. On the western side of the city about three miles from the harbor were the racecourse, hotel, and suburban estates of Anfa, the scene of President Roosevelt’s overseas conference with Prime Minister Churchill and the Combined Chiefs of Staff two months later.

Casablanca lies at a bulge on the six miles of coast between two headlands, Table d’Oukacha on the east and El Hank on the west. The artificial harbor was east of the bulge. Its area and depth, the tugs and barges there, the power-driven cranes, railway sidings, and covered storage-all made it a maritime prize in 1942.

Casablanca’s coastal defenses were strong. On Pointe El Hank were two batteries, one consisting of four 194-mm. (7.6-inch) and the other of four 138.6-mm. (5.4-inch) guns, each equipped with range finder apparatus and searchlights and protected by concrete emplacements and by organized defensive positions. On Table d’Oukacha, a battery of four l00-mm. guns was similarly equipped. In the harbor at the end of a long jetty were two 75-mm. coast defense guns. The port was protected by a six-and-one-half-foot concrete wall from one breakwater to the other and bristled with antiaircraft batteries and machine guns in protected emplacements along jetties.

The antiaircraft defenses included batteries of 75-mm. guns on El Hank, in the harbor, on the golf course at Anfa, and in Ain Sebaa. Southwest of the city was the Cazes airfield, from which defending planes might rise to protect the port and city. The Covering Group of the Western Naval Task Force was to wait for the French to open hostilities. The American plan of attack contemplated only counterbattery fire against the French coastal guns and no overland assault against them except from Fedala and Safi. Such then were the objective and the defenses.

Now to tum to the actual Fedala-Casablanca operation. The joint Army-Navy expeditionary force making the amphibious attack at Fedala consisted of the Center Attack Group of the Western Naval Task Force carrying Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD. The fire support vessels were the cruisers Augusta and Brooklyn and the destroyers Wilkes, Swanson, Ludlow, and Murphy. Air support was furnished from the carrier Ranger and the escort carrier Suwannee, protected by one cruiser and five destroyers. Troop and cargo transports numbered fifteen, screened by a squadron of six destroyers. Also on hand were the tanker Winooski and five mine craft. The Center Attack Group, with 17,700 naval personnel, was commanded from the transport Leonard Wood by Captain R. R. M. Emmett (USN).

Force BRUSHWOOD-the 3rd Infantry Division, reinforced chiefly by an armored landing team from the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment (Major Richard E. Nelson)-was organized into three regimental landing groups (RLG’s). These were based on the 7th (Colonel Robert C. Macon), the 15th (Colonel Thomas H. Monroe), and the 30th (Colonel Arthur H. Rogers) Infantry Regiments. Each regimental landing group consisted of three battalion landing teams comprising in the main a battalion of infantry, a platoon of combat engineers, one or more platoons of self-propelled antiaircraft guns, shore fire control and air support parties, medical, signal, service, and other detachments, and in the case of two RLG’s (7th and 30th), a company of shore party engineers and a platoon of light tanks. RLG 15 was to land later at the same beaches as the other two. Supporting arms were drawn from the 9th, 10th, 39th, and 41st Field Artillery Battalions, the 10th Combat Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Regiment (shore party), 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP), and the 756th Tank Battalion.

The Armored Landing Team included elements of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, and 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, all from the 2nd Armored Division. Force BRUSHWOOD was commanded by Major General Jonathan W. Anderson, as already noted; the assistant division commander was Brigadier General William W. Eagles; Brigadier General William A. Campbell was division artillery commander; and Colonel Walter E. Lauer was the chief of staff. With all detachments included, the force totaled approximately 19,500 officers, enlisted men, and civilians.

[NOTE: The Army troop list of 22 October 1942 shows a total of 19,364 men and 1,732 vehicles. The Leonard Wood’s Action Report, 30 November 1942, tabulates the troops and vehicles per ship with a total of 19,870 men and 1,701 vehicles. Morison, U.S . Naval Operations, 11, 37, 55, sets the total at 18,783 and on p. 158 adopts the total of 19,870.]

The general scheme of maneuver by Force BRUSHWOOD was for BLT 1-7 (Lieutenant Colonel Roy E. Moore) -or 1st Battalion Landing Team of the 7th Regimental Landing Group–to occupy the town and cape, BLT 2-7 (Lieutenant Colonel Rafael L. Salzmann) to control the bridges over the Mellah river and to clear a regimental zone south and west of the town, BLT 1-30 (Lieutenant Colonel Fred W. Sladen, Jr.) to push four miles southward to a long ridge well beyond the main Casablanca-Rabat highway, and BLT 2-30 (Lieutenant Colonel Lyle W. Bernard) to occupy the Cherqui headland, the bridges over the Nefifikh river, and a defense line on the eastern bank of that stream against possible reinforcements from the direction of Rabat. The third battalion of each of these RLG’s minus its Company L, would be in floating regimental reserve, and the entire 15th RLG would be in Force BUSHWOOD reserve, prepared to land two hours after the assault battalions. The 15th RLG was to assemble ashore in the 7th RLG’s zone and to advance southwestward at the left of the 7th RLG while the 30th RLG secured the rear and furnished a reserve battalion.

The two L Companies and the 3rd Reconnaissance Troop had their special missions following landings at the extreme flanks. The 2nd Battalion, 20th Engineers (Combat), which was in Western Task Force reserve with a company of the 204th Military Police Battalion, and the Armored Landing Team, 67th Armored Regiment, were expected to land on call at least three hours after the first wave, the former initially to relieve BL T 1-7 in Fedala and the latter to join RLG’s 7 and 15 in the drive on Casablanca. Once the port was in American hands, it was to be used first for unloading armored vehicles and heavy equipment, and then for other materiel.

[NOTE: FORCE “Y” (BRUSHWOOD), AS OF 22 OCTOBER 1942

3rd Infantry Division 1st RLG (reinforced), 7th Infantry 2nd RLG (reinforced) , 30th Infantry / 15th Infantry Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Signal Company, 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters,

Task Force Armored Landing Team: 1st Battalion (reinforced), 67th Armored Regiment

Other Force “Y”

Detachments, XII Air Support Command; 436th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion; 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (one and a half platoons only); 2nd Battalion, 20th Engineer Regiment; 204th Military Police Company; 36th Engineer Regiment (less detachments);

Detachment of 66th Engineer Company (‘Topographic); 1st Armored Signal Battalion; 122nd Signal Company (Radio Intelligence); 163rd Signal Company (Photographic); 239th Signal Company (Operational); 829th Signal Service Battalion; 1st Broadcasting Station Detachment; Counterintelligence Group; Prisoner Interrogation Group; Civil Government

The Landings Begin

Running through intermittent rain squalls, the Center Attack Group arrived off Fedala shortly before midnight, 7-8 November 1942. Soon afterward the lights of Casablanca and Fedala were suddenly extinguished. The transports were organized into four columns, with the Leonard Wood (BLT 1-7), Thomas Jefferson (BLT 2-7), Charles Carroll (BLT 1-30), and Joseph T. Dickman (BLT. 2-30) in the column nearest the shore. Discovery as the convoy neared its destination that an unexpected current had carried it a few miles from the desired position resulted in a series of emergency turns during which the transport formation became badly deranged. Radar revealed that some transports were at least 10,000 yards from their designated place. The vessels therefore had to continue movement in the darkness, aided by a control vessel, in order to re-establish their planned formation within a transport area six to eight miles offshore.

[NOTE: Only four out of seven waves from the Wood,five out of eight from the leBerson, five and one-half out of fifteen from the Carroll, and four out of five from the Dickman, which were bound for Beach BLUE 2, reported. From the fourth wave, three of the six boats had failed to appear at starting time, but two of them, including the boat with the commanding officer of BLT 2-30, went in independently. Their navigation was such that they ended up thousands of yards to the northeast of Beach BLUE 2, well apart from the battalion’s attack. Two entire waves from the Carroll of three or four boats each missed the rendezvous with the Ludlow and went toward Beach BLUE unescorted.]

When Captain Emmett described the naval situation to General Anderson at 0130, the four assault BLT’s were on transports near their assigned positions, and it seemed likely that the men could disembark in time for the 0400 H Hour. Other ships might or might not be able to participate as expected. An attempt was therefore begun to carry out the basic plan. Three scout boats went in to find and mark the beaches. Three quarters of an hour later, reports of the lagging rate at which vehicles and heavy equipment from the Leonard Wood were being unloaded, and of the slowness with which landing craft were assembling from each transport at the rendezvous points, made it apparent that a half hour’s delay was essential. Orders were issued to the transports to use their own landing craft to disembark as large a proportion of the assault BL T’s as possible without waiting for the arrival of the boats from other transports in outer positions. Even with this improvisation the men, weighted by heavy, cumbersome packs, clambered down the sides of the ships at too slow a pace to fill up the bobbing craft for the 0430 H Hour. Another postponement of fifteen minutes was authorized.

The 3rd Division’s command had concluded from its training experiences that in order to insure integrity of units upon landing and to expedite their reorganization ashore to prevent defeat in detail, all assault and reserve BL T’s ought to be assembled afloat in landing craft before the start toward the landing beach, and all should be put ashore as fast as possible. At Fedala, each assault battalion had its own landing schedule adapted to the particular characteristics of its beach and its mission. Each of the four BL T’s required groups of from forty-three to forty-five personnel landing craft and from five to nine tank lighters, for landings extending over periods of from one to three hours. The fact that none of the transports carried more than thirty-four landing craft necessitated the temporary use of boats and crews from other transports. All these details had been most carefully combined in an elaborate boat employment plan designed to put the required assault units ashore before daylight and to land supporting elements there with great rapidity during the morning.

At about 0400 the four control destroyers, the Wilkes, Swanson, Ludlow, and Murphy, each conducting the landing craft for which it was responsible, moved to a line of departure, 4,000 yards from the beach designated for its battalion landing team. BLT 1-7 was to land on Beach RED 2; BLT 2-7, on Beach RED 3; BLT 1-30, on Beach BLUE; and BL T 2-30, on Beach BLUE 2. But all the boat waves were not then ready! In fact, the landings at. Fedala began at the outset to depart from the plan and continued to be only an approximation of what had been worked out as the best means of getting necessary forces ashore. Silencing the coastal batteries, a mission of paramount importance, was the first assignment of the forces being sent ashore.

BLT 2-30 (Colonel Bernard) was expected to capture the Batterie du Pont Blondin, just east of the Nefifikh river, assisted by Company L, 30th Infantry. BLT 1-7 (Colonel Moore) was charged with taking the town of F edala and continuing on to the cape to seize the two batteries there. The 3rd Reconnaissance Troop (Captain Robert W. Crandall), landing on Beach YELLOW, was to destroy the antiaircraft installations in the vicinity of the golf course and then, after crossing the Mel1ah, to attack the positions on Cap de Fedala from the southwest, on the western side of Moore’s unit.

Next most pressing objective was the control of the highway and railway bridges over the Mellah before they could be destroyed, or used by French troops for retreat or reinforcement. BLT 2-7 (Colonel Salzmann) was to seize these bridges from the east while another unit, Company L, 7th Infantry, landed on Beach YELLOW an hour after the 3rd .Reconnaissance Troop and supported Salzmann’s unit from the western bank of the stream. The first waves of Force BRUSHWOOD

actually started toward the beaches from the line of departure at about 0445. The men, in herring-Bone twill fatigue uniforms and with U.S. flag arm bands, were heavily laden. They could see near shore the lights of the scout boats blinking energetically but could observe no sign of action on land. The run to shore took from fifteen to twenty minutes. A warning from Casablanca had been sent to Fedala as it had to Safi, but, if received, it had not told the French defender show or from whom to expect an attack, and some French troops remained in barracks. When the motors of the landing craft were first heard and reported, searchlights on Cap de Fedala and Cherqui shot skyward in quest of airplanes, and because vertical searchlight beams had been specified in General Eisenhower’s broadcast as a sign of nonresistance, they brought a brief but mistaken moment of hope. Almost at once the lights came down to play over the sea approaches and on the incoming boatloads of troops. Machine gun fire from support boats which were escorting the landing craft on the last stage of the run caused the lights to darken abruptly. The first men leaped ashore during this episode. Loss of craft during the first landings greatly added to the delay and confusion caused by the complicated boat employment plan.

The lift available for later trips from ship to shore was sharply reduced by such losses. Faulty navigation, attributable to either compass deviations, inexperienced crews, or other causes, brought boatloads of troops to shore sometimes miles from the designated points, an onto rocky obstructions or reefs rather than at sandy beaches. The consequences were serious even when the boats were able to retract from these landings, with such major ill effects as the scattering of troop units, the loss of control over the ensuing deployment, and the separation of weapons and equipment from units expecting to operate with them. But the boats too often could not retract and met destruction under circumstances which drowned some of their passengers and left the survivors cut and battered and deprived of weapons or radio sets needed in the assault.

First to land at about 0500 were elements of BLT 1-7 from the Leonard Wood. The thirty-one boats carrying the first four waves of the battalion toward Beach RED 2 ended up partly on that beach, partly on Beach RED 3, and partly on the rocky shore which lay between them. The surf swept many boats out of control, throwing them against rocks with such destructive force that they either capsized or were smashed. A total of twenty-one boats were lost. Heavily laden troops could not swim, and drowned. From the Thomas Jefferson, whose beach-marking scout boat was out of position, the landing craft bringing BLT 2-7 to Beach RED 3 went instead to Beach BLUE 2 at the mouth of the Nefifikh and two or three miles farther northeast along the coast to tiny beaches or rocky reefs. The landings began about one hour after those of the 1st BLT.

The commanding officer of BLT 2-30 (Colonel Bernard) and his headquarters were also carried over three miles east of the battalion, which landed as planned on Beach BLUE 2. The Jefferson lost 16 of her 33 landing craft, while 6 more were damaged on their first trip to shore. Of 25 landing craft from the Carroll heading for BLUE Beach with units of BLT 1-30, 18 were wrecked on the first landing, 5 more on the second, and only 2 continued in service.

Despite these losses, searchlight illumination of the beach, and machine gun fire, all three rifle companies were ashore by 0600. The Dickman’s boat crews made the best record, losing only 2 out of 27 craft on Beach BLUE 2 in the initial landing of BLT 2-30, and getting the others back to the transport promptly for a second trip to shore. The landings began during ebb tide.

Boats which were not quickly unloaded became stranded. Following waves came in at intervals scheduled so close that not only could they not be warned away from obstacles, but they also prevented retracting operations by their predecessors. Lighters with vehicles aboard were sometimes held at the water’s edge because the motors would not start so that the vehicles had to be pulled ashore rather than being swiftly driven off under their own power. Most common of the situations delaying retraction was the failure of the troops in the inadequate Army shore parties to unload materiel. Unassisted boat crews were too slow. When naval beach party personnel helped, they were thus diverted from salvage operations or from marking hydrographic obstacles off the beaches. Landing craft which had not been withdrawn were hit and wrecked by the high surf on the later flood tide. For these and other reasons, the Center Naval Task Group suffered the loss of a very high proportion of its landing craft. The damaging effect of such heavy losses on the build-up of troops and supplies ashore was felt throughout the operation. This misfortune was one of the factors which made swift investment of Casablanca impossible.

Clearing Cap de Fedala

Less than forty-five minutes of darkness remained after the first landings before the coastal guns would have targets visible in the dim first light. Elements of Colonel Moore’s 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, assembled at the inland edge of Beach RED 2 without opposition and hastened toward Fedala. One company of the 6th Senegalese Infantry Regiment, the only infantry unit in the garrison, was quickly surprised and captured. Ten German Armistice Commissioners fled from their headquarters at the Miramar Hotel just before a platoon entered the building, but they were caught in automobiles before they got out of town. By 0600 Fedala itself was under American control.

The guns of Cap de Fedala opened fire on the ships offshore at about the same time as did the Batterie du Pont Blondin, that is, a few minutes after 0600. Naval counterbattery fire against these guns on the cape was hampered from the first by the proximity of petroleum tanks which the invaders wished to leave undamaged. Fire from one of the destroyers which quickly replied to French shelling did strike one of the tanks and set it afire. The flagship Augusta succeeded in silencing the Cap de Fedala batteries only temporarily by less than a quarter hour’s bombardment from her 8-inch guns.

At irregular intervals during the morning, one or more of the 100-mm. guns of the Batterie du Port resumed fire, especially against the beaches near the Cherqui headland across the bay, where the 30th RLG was landing. These actions drew counterbattery fire from some of the destroyers which caused the French to suspend firing for a while. Some American shells which passed only a short distance over the guns or storage tanks on the cape carried into the port or the town, where they struck the Hotel Miramar and also menaced friendly troops.

The first detachment of Force BRUSHWOOD headquarters landed at Beach RED 2 before 0800 under command of General Eagles. From a grove near that beach, this forward section established radio communications with General Anderson aboard the Leonard Wood. General Eagles sent staff observers to ascertain the progress of Moore’s and Bernard’s BLT’s at the cape and headland. When the remainder of the forward echelon landed with General Anderson and Beach BLUE at 0945, French artillery fire struck near them but inflicted no casualties.

Moore’s battalion turned in the meantime from occupying Fedala to carrying out two separate but related actions-an attack on the heavy antiaircraft batteries near the race track southwest of the town, and an attack along the cape to capture the 100-mm. guns of the Batterie du Port, a 75-mm. battery, a fire control station, and some emplaced antiaircraft machine guns. The heavy antiaircraft battery was scheduled for seizure by a surprise assault in darkness by the 3rd Reconnaissance Troop after a landing from rubber assault boats at Beach YELLOW. Wearing special black uniforms, this unit waited while a series of mishaps delayed its landing so long that the attempt either had to begin in daylight on a well-defended beach or had to be abandoned. The unit returned to the transport Tasker H. Bliss without attempting an operation so different from that for which it was prepared. The antiaircraft battery thus was able to pin down elements of Company C, 7th Infantry, by direct fire when they tried to approach Cap de Fedala from the town. Although a bazooka succeeded in temporarily silencing this battery, it was not actually surrendered to Moore’s force until about 1100.

American naval gunfire on the cape also deterred the attacking troops. Colonel Moore’s urgent requests to terminate the bombardment, relayed to the Leonard Wood as early as 0845, were repeated. But the simultaneous predicament of Colonel Rogers’ 30th RLG, which was under intermittent fire from the French guns on the cape, caused Rogers to urge that the naval gunfire be continued until those guns were completely neutralized. His recommendations were approved, so that Moore’s attack along the cape was retarded until about 1140. At that juncture, the unsuccessful attempt to neutralize the guns was superseded by an effort to seize them by means of a tank-infantry assault, supported by field artillery.

Company A, 7th Infantry, supported by four light tanks of Company A, 756th Tank Battalion, which were directed by Colonel Wilbur from an exposed position on one of the tanks, obtained the surrender of the fire control station and main 100-mm. battery with twenty-two prisoners at about noon.(For this exploit, and his earlier mission to Casablanca through the French lines, Colonel Wilbur was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.) The highly effective 75-mm. guns and machine guns in concrete emplacements on the tip of the cape held out until 1500. They surrendered after being subjected to mortar fire from Fedala and shells from two 75-mm. pack howitzers inland from Beach RED 2. Lifting of this fire brought to an end the bombardment which had begun with the naval gunfire in the morning.

The Capture of the Batterie du Pont Blondin

At the eastern end of the bay the Batterie du Pont Blondin was captured by elements of two BLT’s as a consequence of admirable initiative and a thorough grasp of the whole plan by company commanders and platoon leaders. The objective had been assigned to Colonel Bernard’s BLT 2-30, but the battalion commander was carried almost three miles from the beach (BLUE 2) where the main portion of his BLT had come ashore.

Nevertheless BLT 2-30’s heavy weapons company got its mortars into position ashore and, with elements of the rifle companies, prepared to assault the battery from the west. At the same time, quite independently, Colonel Salzmann, who had also been put ashore at the wrong point, attacked the objective from the east with one section of mortars and four rifle platoons. These units had landed on the reefs and small beaches northeast of Cherqui instead of on Beach RED 3 and could not well proceed on their own assigned mission. But while the troops were organizing the attack the Batterie du Pont Blondin, like the guns on Cap de Fedala, took advantage of the first streaks of daylight to begin firing on the beaches, the approaches, and the control vessels near the shore. By 0610 the four destroyers and the coastal guns were exchanging shells; Captain Emmett was about to signal “Play Ball”; and in preparation for that order, which came shortly thereafter, the ships were hastening to their fire support areas.

The cruiser Brooklyn came in with a rush from an outer patrolling position, sent up a spotting plane, and at 0622 fired her first salvo of 6-inch shells. The transports suspended debarkation and unloading and hurried farther out to sea. Three of the control destroyers, the Wilkes, Swanson, and Ludlow, continued into fire support areas while the Murphy, still only about 5,000 yards from the headland, drew heavy fire which first straddled and then struck her, forcing her to withdraw.

Like the Philadelphia’s bombardment of the Batterie de la Railleuse at Safi, the Brooklyn soon struck the fire control apparatus within the fortifications on Cherqui and rendered it useless. Another shell hit one of the gun emplacements, putting a gun out of action, igniting the powder bags, and causing many casualties. The ground troops, who had almost surrounded the battery, organized while waiting for the bombardment from the sea to lift and added 81-mm. mortar shells to the projectiles from the Brooklyn. At the first opportunity they pushed in from several sides. Captain M. E. Porter, commander of Company H, 30th Infantry, received the surrender at approximately 0730, with Colonel Salzmann acting as interpreter. Not long afterward Colonel Bernard, commanding BLT 2-30, reached the position, put a rifle company in charge, and sent the other elements to join the rest of the BLT in seizing the crossings over the Nefifikh river and in setting up defenses against counterattacks from the northeast.

The elements of Colonel Salzmann’s BLT 2-7 which had joined in taking the battery crossed the Pont Blondin to an assembly area near Beach RED 3. Here they were joined by the remainder of their BLT and moved along the coastal road to the western bank of the Mellah river, a march of about seven miles, which they completed during the latter part of the afternoon.

Other D-Day Landings at Fedala

While Moore’s BLT 1-7 was occupying Fedala and the cape, on the right (west) flank of the beachhead, and while Bernard’s BLT 2-30 and part of Salzmann’s BLT 2-7 were investing the Cherqui headland and seizing the Nefifikh bridges at the left (east), Siaden’s BLT 1-30 landed its three rifle companies in a series of small waves on Beach BLUE. The craft had run through intermittent searchlight illumination and machine gunning without casualties or serious damage but, as already noted, had sustained severe losses in the surf. The BLT organized just above the beach as daylight began and pressed southward toward the higher ground which it was to hold. A train for Rabat was intercepted about one mile west of the Nefifikh river bridge and searched. French Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel, about seventy-five in all, were removed and held as prisoners. The train was immobilized. Despite occasional artillery fire and strafing air attacks, Sladen’s battalion reached its objective without a fight, and by 1600, had consolidated positions for defense according to the tactical plan.

The four assault BL T’s had thus successfully accomplished their first missions, but the two L Companies scheduled to land on the western and eastern flanks were frustrated by delays that prevented them from landing before daylight. They went ashore during the morning on beaches not related to their original planned missions and marched to join their respective regiments. BLT 3-7 (Lieutenant Colonel Ashton H. Manhart) (less Company L) began landing at about 0930 on Beach RED 3, an operation which continued for a considerable period because of the shortage in serviceable landing craft. It then went into an assembly area southeast of Fedala near the 7th RLG command post.

BL T 3-30 (Major Charles E. Johnson) (including Company L) started arriving at Beach BLUE 2 (as well as on the rocks and reefs to the northeast of Cherqui) about 0900. It suffered some casualties from artillery fire and from strafing airplanes as it moved inland to an area west of the Nefifikh during the remainder of the morning. The rifle companies of BLT 1-15 (Major Arthur W. Gardner), served by only a small number of boats, began to land at 1430, and were scattered on several beaches. They were sent to hold the bridge over the Mellah on the main Rabat-Casablanca highway, while the remainder of the RLG was ordered to get ashore as rapidly as possible.

Just prior to darkness Major Gardner’s BLT arrived east of the bridge, made contact with the 7th RLG on its right, sent outposts to organize a defensive bridgehead on the western bank, and prepared its night position. Company D and its heavy weapons arrived in the assembly area after dark. The BLT had reached its D-Day objective without encountering French forces.

General Patton first prepared to leave the Augusta for the Fedala beachhead at 0800 on D Day with part of his staff. Their effects were loaded in a landing craft, swinging from davits. Before it could be lowered, the cruiser became engaged in firing missions and maneuvers which precluded his departure. For over three hours, he was an involuntary observer of the ship’s skillful participation in a sea battle to tum back French warships emerging from the port of Casablanca. For a few minutes the ship also engaged in antiaircraft activity in an effort to defend the transports off Fedala against attack by French bombers. The first muzzle blast of the Augusta’s rear turret blew the waiting landing craft to pieces, but the general could take satisfaction in the fact that only a minute or two earlier, his distinctive brace of pistols with the white stocks had been taken out and brought to him. He reached Fedala, therefore, at 1320 when the firing on Cap de Fedala was still in progress, although light resistance elsewhere in the beachhead had ended.

[NOTE: Patton Diary, 8 Nov. 42. The Augusta’s action illustrated how its overlapping missions interfered with the most efficient control of operations ashore and offshore. A separate command ship was available for the next great amphibious assault in the Mediterranean, the attack on Sicily.]

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 (2-7B); French Reaction Ashore

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

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

On 16 December, in compliance with orders of Advance New Guinea Force, Colonel Tomlinson, then in command of Urbana Force, ordered a platoon of Company F, 126th Infantry, led by Lieutenant Schwartz to Tarakena, a point about one mile northwest of Siwori Village. The move was taken to prevent the Japanese in the Giruwa area from reinforcing their hard pressed brethren east of the river. Buna Force issued orders the next day for the capture of the island and Triangle. The island was to be taken on 18 December, the day of the tank attack on the Warren front; the Triangle, one day later. An element of the 127th Infantry would take the island; what was left of the 126th Infantry, the Triangle.

The Search for an Axis of Attack: The Situation: 18 December

Capture of Buna Village had narrowed down the ground still held by the Japanese on the Urbana front, but the main objective, Buna Mission, was still in Japanese hands, and seemingly as hard to get at as ever. The problem was to find a practicable axis of attack, and this the projected operations were designed to provide. Seizure of the island would not only make it possible to bring the mission under close-in fire but might supply a jumping-off point for a direct attack upon it from the south. The Triangle, in turn, would furnish an excellent line of departure for an advance through Government Gardens to the sea, a necessary preliminary to an attack on the mission from the southeast.

The fresh 127th Infantry would be available in its entirety for these operations. The 3rd Battalion was already in the line and had been for several days. After consolidating at Ango, the 2nd Battalion had just begun moving to the front. Companies E and F were on their way there, and Headquarters Company and Companies G and H were moving forward. The 1st Battalion was still being flown in and would come forward as soon as its air movement was completed.

With the 127th Infantry moving up steadily, Colonel Tomlinson reshuffled his line. Company I, 127th Infantry, took the place of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, in the area between the island and the Coconut Grove. The battalion, less the mortar platoon of Company H, which remained behind, was ordered to Simemi for a well-earned rest. The 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, took over in the Coconut Grove and moved troops into position above and below the Triangle. Companies E and F, 127th Infantry, meanwhile reached the front and went into reserve. A mixed platoon of the 126th Infantry under 1st Lieutenant Alfred Kirchenbauer began moving to Siwori Village to replace the 128th Infantry troops there, and the Schwartz patrol of 15 men started out for Tarakena.

The First Try at the Island

On 17 December Colonel Tomlinson gave Company L, 127th Infantry, orders to take the island the next morning. This was to be no easy task, for the footbridge to the island had been destroyed and the creek was a tidal stream, unfordable even at low tide. The troops had no bridge-building equipment, and the distance from one bank to the other was too great to be bridged by felling trees. One alternative remained: to have swimmers drag a cable across the stream. This expedient worked, and two platoons and a light machine gun section of the company, commanded by Captain Roy F. Wentland, got across just before noon on 18 December.

The two platoons, joined shortly thereafter by a third, moved cautiously forward along the eastern half of the island without meeting any opposition. However, when they started moving toward the bridge that connected the island with the mission, they ran into very heavy fire from concealed enemy positions. In the fire fight that followed, five men, including Captain Wentland, where killed and six were wounded. The heavy enemy fire continued, and the troops, under the impression that they were heavily outnumbered, pulled back to the mainland that night, leaving the island still in enemy hands.

The 126th Infantry Attacks the Triangle

The attack on the island had failed. The attack on the Triangle was next. This narrow, jungle-covered tongue of land set in the midst of a swamp, and covering the only good track to Buna Mission, was in effect a natural fortress. Improving upon nature, the Japanese had hidden bunkers and fire trenches on either arm of the Triangle and in the track junction itself. To try to storm the junction from the south meant taking prohibitive losses. To try taking it from the north by advancing into its mouth by way of the bridge over Entrance Creek was likely to be almost as costly. There was no room for maneuver in the narrow and confined area east of the bridge, and no way to take the track junction from the south except by advancing through interlocking bands of fire.

The plan of assault, profiting from the experience gained in an abortive attack on the place by Companies E and G, 128th Infantry, on 17 December, called for two companies of the 126th Infantry to attack across the bridge from the Coconut Grove, and a third company to block the position from the south. The jump-off would be preceded by an air strike on the mission and a preparation on the Triangle itself by Colonel McCreary’s seventeen 81-mm. mortars, which were in battery about 300 yards south of the bridge to the island. Since the Triangle was narrow and inaccessible, neither air nor artillery would be used in direct support of the troops lest they be hit by friendly fire.

Some 100 men from Companies E and G, plus the attached weapons crews of Company H, were to mount the attack. They crossed the bridge over Entrance Creek and moved into the bridgehead area at the mouth of the Triangle at 2200, 18 December. Shortly thereafter, the thirty-six men of Company F, the holding force, went into position in the area below the track junction.

Beginning at 0650 the following morning, nine B-25’s dropped 100-pound and 500-pound demolitions on the mission. They were followed at 0715 by thirteen A-20’s which bombed and strafed the coastal track between the mission and Giropa Point. The A-20’s dropped 475 twenty-pound parachute and cluster fragmentation bombs and fired more than 21,000 rounds of .30-caliber and .50-caliber ammunition during the attack. They probably did the enemy a great deal of damage, but their accuracy left much to be desired. A stick of four bombs was dropped within fifty yards of a bivouac area occupied by the 127th Infantry, and a chaplain visiting the troops at Buna Village was hit by bullets meant for the Japanese at Giropa Point.

At 0730 Colonel McCreary’s mortars, which were so disposed that they could drop their shells on any point in the Triangle, began firing their preparation. Fifteen minutes later Companies E and G attacked straight south under cover of a rolling mortar barrage. The barrage did the attacking troops little good. They were stopped by enemy crossfire just after they left the line of departure. In the forefront of the attack, Captain Boice did everything he could to get things moving again, but the crossfire proved impenetrable. Every attempt by the troops to slip through it only added to the toll of casualties. At 0945 Boice was mortally wounded by mortar fire and died shortly afterward. He was succeeded as battalion commander by Captain John J. Sullivan, who had just come up from the rear with a handful of replacements.

[NOTE 15-6KL: Tel Msg, Urbana Force to 32nd Div, Ser 3700, 19 Dec 42; 2nd Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 0715, 0745, 0945, 1250, 19 Dec 42: 126th Inf, Jnl, Ser 20, 19 Dec 42; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 19 Dec 42. copy in OCMH files; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p.29. Captain Boice, who was at the very head of his troops when he met his death, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 3, 6 Jan 43.]

On General Eichelberger’s orders the mortars laid down a concentration of white phosphorous smoke in the Triangle at 1415, and the attack was resumed. The troops gained a few yards with the help of the smoke, but were again stopped by enemy crossfire. At 1600 a third attack was mounted. This time the mortars fired a 700-round preparation—some forty rounds per mortar—but the result was the same; the men found it impossible to break through the murderous enemy crossfire. When night fell and the utterly spent troops dug in, they had lost forty killed and wounded out of the 107 men who had begun the attack.

Obviously in no condition to continue the attack, the two companies were relieved early the following morning by Company E, 127th Infantry, and went into reserve with the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. Except for Company F, which continued for the time being at the tip of the Triangle, the troops in the Siwori Village-Tarakena area, the whole battalion, now 240 men all told, was in reserve. The main burden of operations henceforward would be on the 127th Infantry.

The 127th Infantry Takes Over the Attack

The attack on the Japanese positions in the Triangle was resumed on 20 December. The plan was prepared the night before. Since it provided for an artillery preparation, safeguards were taken to ensure that the artillery did not hit the attacking troops. Company E, 127th Infantry, which was to deliver the blow was ordered into the Coconut Grove at daybreak. Its instructions were to remain there under cover until ordered across the creek, over which a second footbridge had been built a short distance from the first. Company F, 126th Infantry, still in place below the Triangle, was ordered to pull back about 300 yards in order to permit the artillery to use the track junction as its registration point.

After registering on the junction, the Manning battery of 25-pounders and the 105-mm. howitzer, both using smoke, were to fire on the enemy positions in the track junction for five minutes at the rate of two rounds per gun per minute. A second five minute preparation was to follow at a somewhat faster rate. As soon as the registration was over and the first five-minute preparation began, Company E, covered by smoke from the artillery and the mortars, would dash across the two bridges, form up on the east bank of the stream at a position south of the original crossing, and wait out the artillery fire there. When the artillery fire ceased, the mortars, firing a salvo every minute, were to place a concentration of forty rounds of white phosphorus on the target. When the first smoke shell from the mortars went down, Company E was to rush forward, get within close range of the bunkers under cover of the smoke, and clear out the enemy with hand grenades.

The artillery registered in at 0845. As soon as it began firing its first preparation, the troops dashed across the creek “in a cloud of smoke.” Though General Eichelberger confessed to General Sutherland that night that he had been very much worried that some of them might be hit, “as this is very thick country and our troops are in close to the junction,” not a man was hit by the artillery. Just as everything seemed to be going well, some “trigger-happy” machine gunners on the west bank of the creek, to the rear of the line of departure, spoiled everything by opening fire prematurely. This unauthorized firing from the rear threw the inexperienced troops along the line of departure into great confusion. When the troops finally attacked at 1000, they found the enemy alert and ready for them. In an hour and a half of action Company E was unable to get within even grenade distance of the enemy.

The attack was called off at 1130. Captain James L. Alford, the company commander, thereupon proposed a new attempt. Alford’s proposal was that a reinforced platoon, led by 1st Lieutenant Paul Whittaker, with 2nd Lieutenant Donald W. Feury as second-in-command, infiltrate the low-lying area in the center of the Triangle with the help of fire from the rest of the company. When the platoon was as close as it could get to the enemy bunkers, it would charge and clean them out with hand grenades. Colonel Tomlinson sanctioned the plan, but General Eichelberger, who was present, vetoed it immediately as reckless and likely only to cause useless casualties. On Captain Alford’s assurance that the two lieutenants and the men who were to make the attack were confident of its success, the general let the attack proceed.

General Eichelberger’s original misgivings were quickly justified. With Staff Sergeant John F. Rehak, Jr., leading the way, the platoon managed to get within grenade distance of the bunkers and charged. The Japanese had meanwhile pulled out of the bunkers apparently in anticipation of just such a move. They caught the platoon with enfilading fire and nearly wiped it out with a few bursts of their automatic weapons. Seven men, including Lieutenant Feury, Lieutenant Whittaker, and Sergeant Rehak, were killed, and twenty were wounded. The two attacks had gained nothing, and they had cost Company E thirty-nine casualties—better than 40 percent of its strength—in its first day of combat.

[NOTE 1512RA: 126th Inf Jnl, Ser 13, 20 Dec 42; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 20 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. Rehak was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and the two lieutenants, the Silver Star. Rehak’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43; Feury’s and Whittaker’s in GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43.]

Colonel Tomlinson called off the attack at 1335, and a badly rattled Company E spent the next few hours getting its dead and wounded out of the Triangle—a perilous business because the Japanese, taking full advantage of the situation, were laying down heavy fire on the rescue parties. When the job was done, the company, less outposts in the mouth of the Triangle, withdrew to the Coconut Grove where the men were made as comfortable as the circumstances would permit.

At 1410 Colonel Tomlinson, who was physically exhausted, suggested to Colonel Grose that he take over command of Urbana Force inasmuch as the 127th Infantry now made up the great bulk of the troops in the line. Grose’s reply was that it was not within his authority to assume command. He told Tomlinson that he could take over only if ordered to do so by General Eichelberger. At 1522 Tomlinson called Eichelberger and asked to be relieved of command of Urbana Force. Realizing that Tomlinson had been under strain for too long a time, General Eichelberger relieved him at once and ordered Colonel Grose to take his place. Grose assumed command of Urbana Force at 1700, and all elements of the 127th Infantry not already there were immediately ordered to the front.

[NOTE 1414: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 17, 21, 20 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 1700, 20 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 20 Dec 42. Though no longer commander of Urbana Force, Tomlinson continued as commander of the 126th Infantry. Reporting the change to General Sutherland that night, General Eichelberger wrote, “I am going to bring Tomlinson in here for a day or so to rest him up.” Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 20 Dec 42.]

The Attack Moves North: The Plan To Bypass the Triangle

It had become perfectly clear by this time that the reduction of the Triangle would be an extremely difficult task. Not only did the troops have no room to maneuver, but the enemy’s fire permitted not a single man to get through alive. It became a question therefore of whether it might not be wiser to break off the fight and try to find a better line of departure elsewhere for the projected drive across the gardens to the coast.

General Eichelberger had made such a suggestion to General Herring on 19 December. Herring saw the point and authorized Eichelberger to bypass the Triangle if the next day’s attack upon it also failed.

When the attempt on the 20th did fail, General Eichelberger began immediately to plan for a new axis of attack across the gardens. As he explained the situation to General Sutherland that night: “General Herring is very anxious for me to take the track junction, and I am most willing, but the enemy is … strong there and is able to reinforce his position at will. I am going to pour in artillery on him . . . and I am going to continue that tomorrow morning. Then I am going to find a weak spot across Government Gardens.”

The next morning General Eichelberger ordered Company E, 127th Infantry, to contain the Triangle from the north and Company F, 126th Infantry, to continue blocking it from the south. He then tried a ruse to lead the Japanese into believing that another infantry attack on the Triangle was imminent. To that end, the program of artillery and mortar fire executed the day before was repeated exactly. There were the same five-minute intervals of artillery fire and the same salvos of smoke from the mortars. Company E dashed across the bridge at exactly the same time and in exactly the same way as the day before, and, as the first smoke shell went down, the men fixed bayonets as if to attack, and cheered loudly for two minutes. The Japanese had pulled out of their bunkers as usual and were in their trenches braced for the expected infantry charge. This time, however, there was no attack. Instead, the infantrymen held their positions and the artillery and mortars poured everything they had into the smoke enveloped track junction.

General Eichelberger reported that evening that he was sure he had killed a large number of the enemy with his “phony attack of artillery and smoke followed by the fixing of bayonets and a cheer.” But he had to admit that despite all the artillery and mortar fire that had been laid down on the Japanese positions in the Triangle, and the heavy losses that had been sustained in trying to take it, “our attempts to get the road junction have all failed.” The failure to take the Triangle was no great setback since General Eichelberger had already decided upon a more promising axis of attack across Entrance Creek in the area north of the Coconut Grove and the Triangle.

The Crossing of Entrance Creek

Where to establish the initial bridgehead on the other side of the creek was the problem. After studying available maps, General Eichelberger concluded that the best place for it lay in a fringe of woods just off the northwest end of the gardens where there seemed to be better cover and less enemy fire than elsewhere. He therefore issued orders late on the night of 20-21 December that the bridgehead be established there the next day.

Colonel Grose chose Companies I and K for the task and early the next morning began to make his dispositions for the crossing. He ordered Company L to move from its position below the island to the right of Company I, which was already deployed in the area immediately north of the Coconut Grove. Company K, which had previously been to the rear of Company I, was ordered to go in on Company L’s left and to extend along the west bank of the creek almost to its mouth. The move brought Company K directly across the creek from the prescribed bridgehead area and in position to cross.

From the beginning it was recognized that Company K’s crossing would be more difficult than Company I’s. The swift tidal stream that had to be crossed was less than twenty-five yards wide in Company I’s sector, and the engineers had only that morning finished building a small footbridge there improvised from a few saplings and a captured enemy boat anchored in the center of the stream. In Company K’s sector, on the other hand, the creek was at least fifty yards wide at the point of crossing and seven or eight feet deep. Colonel Grose went down to Company K’s sector to look things over and did not like what he saw. Thinking that there was a possibility that Company K, crossing in Company I’s sector, might be able to work its way under the bank to the bridgehead area and establish itself there, he telephoned General Eichelberger and asked for more time. In the heat of the moment, he apparently failed to make clear to the general the reason for his request. In any event, Grose recalls, Eichelberger was impatient of any suggestion for postponement. He refused to give him more time, and Grose at once called in Captain Alfred E. Meyer, the Company K commander, and ordered him to proceed with the crossing.

At 1600 that afternoon Meyer sent troops into the creek to see if it could be forded. Not only could they find no crossing; they were nearly “blown out of the water” by enemy fire from the other side of the stream. Greatly perturbed at being ordered to make what he considered a suicidal crossing, Meyer pleaded with Grose to let him cross over the bridge in Company I’s area. If that permission was impossible to grant, Meyer requested that he be allowed to cross at night with the aid of ropes, pontoons, or whatever equipment was available. Colonel Grose, who had already asked for more time without being able to get it, told Meyer that he was to start crossing immediately even if the men had to swim across.

Captain Meyer went back to his company and made several attempts to get men across in daylight, but the enemy fire from the other side of the creek proved too heavy. By nightfall the company finally located a heavy rope, and the attempts to cross were renewed.

Unbidden, 1st Lieutenant Edward M. Greene, Jr., picked up one end of the rope, and with several enlisted men started swimming for the opposite shore. Greene was killed almost instantly by enemy fire, and his body was swept away by the current. A few minutes later one of the enlisted men lost his hold on the rope and was swept away. One of the swimmers finally got the rope across the river, and the rest of the night was spent in getting the heavily weighted troops over in the face of the continuing enemy fire. By about 0200 forty-seven men were on the other side of the creek, and when daylight came the total was seventy-five. Company K suffered fifty-four casualties that night—six killed or drowned in the crossing, and eight killed and forty wounded in the fighting at the bridgehead area.

Early on the morning of 22 December, while Company K engaged the enemy frontally in the bridgehead area and Company M’s heavy weapons covered it with fire from the west bank, Company I, under Captain Michael F. Ustruck, crossed on the footbridge. Finding, as Colonel Grose had surmised, that there was a safe and easy approach to the bridgehead under the bank, the company went into position on Company K’s right by 1235 without losing a man.

Bodies of troops of Company K who had been drowned in the crossing on the night of 21-22 December were to be seen the next day bobbing in the stream,25 but the crossing had been accomplished, and there was a strong bridgehead on the other side of the creek. It had been a difficult and frustrating operation. As General Eichelberger put it two days later, “When we put K Company across an unfordable stream in the dark against heavy fire the other night we did something that would be a Leavenworth nightmare.”

The Subsidiary Operations:The Situation on the Left Flank

While these operations were progressing, there had been a flurry of activity on the left flank. On 18 and 19 December the Schwartz patrol had clashed with enemy patrols west of Siwori Village. On 20 December, upon the insistence of General Herring that the left flank be better secured, Schwartz was reinforced with another twenty men of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, which was in reserve at the time below Buna Village. Schwartz’s force, now numbering thirty-five, began moving on its objective, Tarakena, a small village on the west bank of Konombi Creek, about a mile northwest of Siwori Village.

The men reached Tarakena early on 20 December, only to be thrown out of the place by a superior Japanese force. Colonel Frank S. Bowen, Jr., G-3, Buna Force, immediately ordered forward another mixed unit of thirty-two men from the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. Schwartz got the reinforcements late in the afternoon and moved on Tarakena at dusk with his sixty-seven men to stage, as he said, “a heckling party” for the enemy’s benefit.

The patrol succeeded in retaking a corner of the village during the night, but the enemy, much stronger than had been anticipated, counterattacked and forced it back across the creek. The patrol suffered fifteen casualties during the encounter, including Schwartz who was wounded. Command of the patrol fell to 1st Lieutenant James R. Griffith. He was wounded the same afternoon, and 1st Lieutenant Louis A. Chagnon of Headquarters Company, 127th Infantry, took over, bringing with him members of Headquarters Company and the Service Company. Since he was obviously outnumbered, Chagnon took up a defensive position a few hundred yards southeast of Tarakena and awaited the enemy’s next move.

The Capture of the Island

By 22 December the engineers, meeting no enemy interference, had repaired the south bridge between the mainland and the island. That afternoon, as soon as the bridge was down, a patrol of Company L, 127th Infantry, moved over it and crossed the island without opposition. As the men approached the north bridge between the island and the mission, they began receiving heavy fire. Two platoons of Company F and a machine gun section of Company M, under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin R. Farrar, then serving as S-3 of the 127th Infantry, moved in to meet the situation. By 1115 the next morning, the last Japanese to be found on the island had been overcome, and Company F, its work done, pulled back to the mainland.

Company H thereupon moved onto the island, bringing with it, in addition to its heavy weapons, a 37-mm. gun “with plenty of canister.” A platoon of Company E, 127th Infantry, on the village spit (the small peninsula east of Buna Village) also had a 37-mm. gun firing canister. From their separate points of vantage the two units began bringing down close-in harassing fire on the mission and continued to do so day and night.

Now that the island had fallen, General Eichelberger had a new axis of advance for an attack on the mission. All that remained was to get troops across the north bridge between the island and the mission and to establish a beachhead on the opposite shore. “Maybe I can get a toehold there,” General Eichelberger mused in a letter to General Sutherland. “It might prove easier,” he added, “than where I now plan to go across.”

The Corridor to the Coast: he Attack in the Gardens

On the evening of 23 December, with the bridgehead at the northwest end of Government Gardens firmly secured, General Eichelberger ordered Colonel Grose to attack in an easterly direction across the gardens the following morning. Grose had five companies of the 127th Infantry for the attack. The plan called for the 3rd Battalion rifle units to launch the attack, supported by the heavy weapons crews of Company M disposed along Entrance Creek to the rear of the line of departure, with some of the men in trees. Company G would be in reserve and would go into action upon orders from Colonel Grose.

There would be no direct air support because the troops were too close to the enemy. The artillery at Ango and Colonel McCreary’s massed mortars south of the island were to lay down a heavy preparation before the troops jumped off, and were to follow it with a rolling barrage when the advance got under way. The troops on the island and on the village spit would make a maximum effort to saturate the mission with fire, in order to deceive the enemy as to the direction of the attack and to prevent the reinforcement of his positions in the gardens.

The troops on the island and on the village spit laid down heavy fire on the mission during the night, as did the 25-pounders and the 105-mm. howitzer at Ango. The Japanese, in turn, kept the bridgehead under continual harassment, using mountain guns, heavy mortars, and antiaircraft guns depressed for flat-trajectory fire. All along the line of departure the companies remained on the alert throughout the night, but the Japanese made no move either to counterattack or to infiltrate the American lines.

At dawn of 24 December Company G crossed the creek, and the heavy weapons crew of Company M took up supporting positions along the bank of the stream. Company L replaced Company I on the left, Company I extended to the right, and Company K, shaken by its experience of the night before, went into reserve. Shortly thereafter, the two assault companies, I and L, each reinforced by weapons crews of Company M, moved into position along the line of departure. At 0600 the artillery and mortars began firing their preparation, and Company H on the island opened up on the mission with all its weapons. Covered by the rolling barrage, the troops jumped off fifteen minutes later on a 400-yard front.

The drive across the gardens to the sea had about 800 yards to go. Neglected and overgrown with thick clumps of shoulder high kunai grass, the gardens extended for some 400 yards to a swamp about 100 yards wide. On the other side of the swamp, looking out on the sea, was a coconut plantation, about 300 yards across, through which ran the coastal track between Buna Mission and Giropa Point.

Captain Yasuda had the area well prepared for defense and could cover nearly every foot of it with both observed and unobserved fire. The track through the gardens was covered by bunkers, and on either side of it, echeloned in depth to the rear and hidden by the kunai grass, were numerous individual foxholes and firing pits, most of them with overhead cover. In the surrounding swamp, north and east of the gardens, were strong bunker positions, and even stronger fortifications were to be found in the plantation and along the shore.

For an attacking force, the gardens would have presented great difficulties even had there been no bunkers. One who was there recalls the situation in these words: There was very little cover on the eastward side of Entrance Creek which forced troops to be heavily bunched during the staging period of an attack. The gardens themselves were very flat, covered by a substantial growth of Kunai grass, and accordingly provided excellent cover for the Japanese as well as a good field of fire. The surrounding swamp areas were infested with snipers in trees. All of which made operations across the Government Gardens a very difficult maneuver.

As the two companies left the line of departure and began moving through the kunai grass they were met by heavy fire and both were held up. The fire was particularly heavy on Company I’s front. The company cleaned out an isolated enemy bunker just forward of the line of departure, but its attempts to infiltrate and knock out a main Japanese strongpoint immediately to the rear met with no success whatever. Making full use of the many hidden positions at their disposal, the Japanese successfully countered the unit’s every attempt to move forward.

The fighting was bitter and at close quarters. While the company was pinned down in front of the strongpoint, its 1st sergeant, Elmer J. Burr, saw an enemy grenade strike close to Captain Ustruck, who was out in front with his men. The Sergeant threw himself on the grenade and smothered the explosion with his body. Burr was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor—the first man to receive the award during the campaign.

[NOTE 3636 WD GO No. 66, 11 Oct 43. On the same day {as BURR}, 24 December 1942, another member of the company, Private First Class Albert L. Fisher, who had been evacuated for treatment of his wounds to a point just behind the front line, saw two men of his unit lying wounded in an area swept by enemy fire. Disregarding his wounds and the continuing enemy fire, Fisher crawled into the open and dragged both men to safety. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 43.]

Though Colonel Grose had a temporary forward CP close to the line of departure—so close in fact that Colonel Farrar was wounded that morning by small arms fire while in the CP area—he could not see why Company I was not moving forward. Major Harold M. Hootman, the regimental S-4, who was in the CP with him, asked permission to go to Company I and try to find out what was happening. Grose recalls that he was “a bit flabbergasted” at the request, “because it seemed to be the desire of so many to find a good reason for going to the rear,” but he gave Hootman permission to go and asked him to report his findings to him when he got back. That was the last time he saw the man alive. Hootman’s body was later recovered, rifle in hand, not far from a Japanese bunker under circumstances which suggested that he fell while trying to take it singlehanded.

Hootman had scarcely left the CP when news came back that Company I had suffered heavy casualties and become disorganized. Colonel Grose finally went out to the company himself and what he saw confirmed the news. He ordered the unit to the rear to reorganize and, at 0950, sent in Company G in its place. Within the hour, Company G reported that the enemy had been cleared out of a three-bunker strongpoint which had previously held up the advance. Despite this promising start, Company G did not get much farther that day. Setting up his command post in the most forward of the captured bunkers, the company commander, Captain William H. Dames, continued with the task of rooting the enemy out of his remaining bunker positions.

Under an unusually aggressive commander, the fresh company cut through to the track and straddled it but, try as it would, could not move forward immediately because of the intense fire from the enemy’s hidden bunker positions.[NOTE 15-38JL] The real disappointment of the day, however, came on the far left, where Company L was to have made the main penetration.

[NOTE 15-38JL: Tel Msgs, Col Bradley to Col Howe, Ser No. 4088, 24 Dec 42, Ser 4090, 24 Dec 42, Ser 4093, 24 Dec 42, Ser 4099, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 0950, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42. Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 42. Actually it was a sergeant from Company I, Sergeant Francis J. Vondracek, with the help of members of Company G, who cleared out the strongpoint. When Company G took over from Company I, Vondracek, an acting platoon leader of Company I, remained behind at his own request. Covered by rifle fire from Company G, he knocked out the three bunkers in quick succession by flinging hand grenades through their firing apertures. Vondracek was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

Under 1st Lieutenant Marcelles P. Fahres, Captain Wentland’s successor, Company L was given all the aid that was available. The automatic weapons of Company M along Entrance Creek fired heavily in its support, as did the massed 81-mm. mortars south of the island, first under Colonel McCreary, and when McCreary was wounded that day, under Colonel Horace Harding, General Eichelberger’s artillery officer who was acting as division artillery commander. Nevertheless, the company, after making small initial gains, did not move forward.

[NOTE 15-3939RP: Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 31; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42. Colonel McCreary directed the fire of the mortars personally most of the day from a coconut tree about fifty yards from the enemy lines—the only good observation post he could find. Though wounded in the back by a shell fragment, he strapped himself in his tree and continued to direct the mortars until he lapsed into unconsciousness from loss of blood and had to be evacuated. Colonel Harding, who was at the front inspecting the artillery, thereupon took over direction of the mortar fire using the same tree Colonel McCreary had just vacated. Both colonels were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. McCreary’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 2, 2 Jan 43; Harding’s, in GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43.]

Aware of the situation, Colonel Grose at 1028 ordered a platoon of twenty men from Company A to cross over to the mission from the island by way of the north bridge and hold there as long as possible. The Japanese were so busy in the gardens that the troops actually got across the bridge, which though rickety was still standing. Unopposed at first, the platoon was soon set upon by the Japanese, who killed eight of its members and forced the rest back across the bridge.[NOTE 40DD]

[NOTE 40DD: 127th Inf Jnl, 1028, 1430, 1442, 24 Dec 42; Interv with Col Grose, 15 Nov 50; Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51. Neither Colonel Grose nor General Eichelberger knew of his presence, but Brigadier General Spencer B. Akin, General MacArthur’s signal officer, was on the island for a few minutes during the forenoon. Before he left, he saw American troops walking erect in the mission area. Shortly thereafter, General Eichelberger began receiving congratulations on having taken the mission. Exceedingly wroth, Eichelberger not only refused to accept the congratulations but demanded an immediate explanation of the matter from Colonel Grose, who, until he learned that General Akin had been present on the island, was at a loss to understand what General Eichelberger was talking about.]

The diversion appears to have succeeded better than was at first realized. Captain Yasuda’s troops by this time were spread thin, and he was apparently forced to transfer troops from the strongpoint at the northwest end of the gardens to the mission in order to meet the new threat there. Feeling the pressure upon it ease, Company L’s left platoon, under 2nd Lieutenants Fred W. Matz and Charles A. Middendorf, began pushing ahead. Meeting little opposition, the platoon started racing forward alone through the tall grass, unnoticed by the rest of the company.

The company commander did not see the men go and did not miss them until some time later. Within a short while, the platoon was through the gardens and on the outskirts of the Coconut Plantation. There the men ran into two well-manned enemy bunkers which stood directly in the way of their advance. Sergeant Kenneth E. Gruennert, in the lead, undertook to knock them out. Covered by fire from the rest of the platoon, he crawled forward alone against the first bunker and killed everyone in it by throwing grenades through one of its firing slits.

Although severely wounded in the shoulder while doing so, Gruennert refused to return to the rear. He bandaged the wound himself and moved out against the second bunker. Hurling his grenades with great precision despite his bad shoulder, Gruennert forced the enemy out of the second bunker as well but was himself shot down by an enemy sniper. Gruennert was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor—the second to be conferred on a 127th Infantry soldier for the day’s action.

[NOTES 15-4141TM: Tel Msg, Urbana Force to Colonel Bowen, Ser 4112, 24 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Colonel Bradley to Colonel Bowen, Ser 4125, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42; Colonel Grose’s Diary, 24 Dec 42; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General MacArthur, 25 Dec 42; Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51. Gruennert’s citation for the Medal of Honor is in WD GO No. 66, 11 Oct 43.]

Completely out of touch with its company and the rest of Urbana Force the platoon consolidated and pushed on. By noon it was within sight of the sea, and there its troubles really began. The Japanese started closing in, and the artillery at Ango, unaware that friendly troops were so far forward, shelled the area with great thoroughness, killing Lieutenant Middendorf and wounding Lieutenant Matz slightly.

One of the eight men left with Matz was badly wounded and unable to march. The lieutenant decided to stay with him and ordered the rest of the troops to withdraw. They got back safely to their own lines two days later after a difficult march, most of it through hip-deep swamp. Matz and the enlisted man, who would have died had the lieutenant not stayed with him, remained hidden behind the enemy lines until Urbana Force overran the area eight days later.

[NOTE 15-4242TM: Tel Msg, Colonel Bowen to 32nd Div, Ser 4124, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 24 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 1400, 26 Dec 42; Ltr, Meyer to author, 13 Mar 51. Matz was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

Colonel Grose did not learn of the platoon’s break-through until just before noon when a runner got back with the news. He at once ordered Company I back into the line to the right of Company G and sent Company K to the far left with orders to go to the platoon’s assistance. The company attacked in the direction it was believed the platoon had followed. Captain Yasuda had meanwhile plugged the hole in his defenses, and it was only after heavy fighting that 1st Lieutenant Paul M. Krasne and eight men of the company finally broke through. They raced to the beach, found no trace of the Matz patrol, and promptly withdrew lest they be cut off.

Seeing that the line did not move, Colonel Grose ordered Company F to attack on Company L’s right at 1511. The result was the same. The line remained where it was and by evening was no more than 150 yards from the line of departure. Colonel Grose asked General Eichelberger for time to reorganize but the request was refused, and he was ordered instead to resume the attack early Christmas morning. Eichelberger, who had been at the front all day, taking an active part in the conduct of operations, reported the refusal to General MacArthur the next day, adding in words charged with emotion, that seeing the attack fail had been the “all time low” of his life.

The Attack on Christmas Day

Colonel Grose now had eight companies of the 127th Infantry at the front—A, C, F, G, I, K, L, and M. His plan was to have Companies A and F attack on the far left and push through to the coast. Companies K and L, in the center of the line, would push forward in their sector in concert with the companies on the left. Companies I and G would concentrate on reducing the bunkers that covered the trail through the gardens and would be aided in that endeavor by a diversionary attack in the afternoon on the Japanese positions in the Triangle. Company C would be in reserve.

Companies A and F were to launch their attack on the far left without mortar or artillery preparation of any kind. Instead, there would first be the pretense of a fullscale attack on the mission from the island, in the hope that the enemy would weaken his dispositions in the gardens in order to meet the new threat. As soon as it became evident that the enemy had swallowed the bait, Companies A and F would suddenly attack in the gardens. It was hoped that the enemy would be taken completely by surprise by this maneuver.

On Christmas morning, the mortars and artillery in a thunderous barrage gave the mission a thorough working over, and Company H, on the island, made a great show of being about to attack the mission across the north bridge, a makeshift structure that miraculously still stood. At 1135, while the commotion on the island was at its height, Companies A and F attacked across the gardens without preparation of any kind.

The ruse worked. Company A (less two platoons which had not yet arrived) was held up, but Company F, which had found it impossible to move forward the day before, found the going relatively easy. Led by Captain Byron B. Bradford, the company cut its way through the gardens and the swamp and reached the Coconut Plantation by 1345. Obviously caught off base, the Japanese rallied, surrounded the company, and began a counterattack. After beating off the attack with very heavy losses to itself, the company established an all-around perimeter in a triangular cluster of shell holes just outside the plantation. The position was about 200 yards west of the track junction, about 250 from the sea, and 600 from the mission.

An advance detachment of Company A, under its commanding officer, Captain Horace N. Harger, broke through to F’s position at 1620, but its weapons platoon was ambushed and destroyed by the enemy just as it was on the point of going through. The rest of Company A reached the front late in the afternoon but was unable to get through. As night fell, its leading elements and those of Companies K and L were at least 350 yards from the beleaguered companies near the coast.

The diversionary attack on the enemy bunker positions in the Triangle to help Companies G and I on the right was mounted late in the afternoon. A platoon of Company E was to advance into the mouth of the Triangle and engage the enemy with fire while a platoon of Company C, with the support of heavy weapons crews of Company D, launched the main effort from the south. Although the attack, led by Captain James W. Workman, commanding officer of Company C, was carefully planned and prepared, it failed, as had all previous efforts to take this position. The attack was finally called off toward evening after Captain Workman was killed while charging an enemy bunker at the head of his troops.

[NOTE 15-4747TM: Tel Msg, Colonel Bradley to 32nd Div, Ser 4220, 25 Dec 42; 32nd Div Sitrep, No. 124, 25 Dec 42. Workman was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jan 43]

For all its cost, the diversion had done little to ease the pressure on Companies G and I. After fighting hard all day, the two units had made only slight gains. The enemy bunkers were too well defended and too cleverly concealed. Captain Dames and Lieutenant Fahres tried digging saps toward them, but at the end of the day, the enemy bunkers still stood, seemingly as impregnable as ever.

Urbana Force had not been able to make contact with Companies A and F since morning because their radios were wet and would not work. Three men of Headquarters Company, 127th Infantry—Private Gordon W. Eoff, Private First Class William Balza, and Sergeant William Fale—distinguished themselves while attempting to get telephone wire forward, but all efforts to regain communications with the two companies that day failed.

[NOTE 15-4949RD: 127th Inf Tact Hist, 25 Dec 42; Tel Msg, Colonel Bradley to Colonel Howe, Ser 4316, 26 Dec 42. Eoff, Balza, and Fale were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Eoff’s citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 42; Balza’s in GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43; Fale’s, in GHQ SWPA GO No. 29, 30 Mar 42.]

Establishing the Corridor

Late in the afternoon Colonel Grose redisposed his command, in accordance with his practice of rotating “the units so that they could get out of the lines and have a few days rest.” Pulling Companies I and K out of the line, he ordered Company C (less one platoon, which was holding the area below the Triangle) in on the far left. Company I returned to the other side of the creek, Company K went into reserve, and Company L, extending itself to the right, tied in on Company G’s left.

[NOTE 15-5050KG: Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51; 32nd Div Overlays, Papuan Campaign, 26 Dec 42. There were no facilities for resting the troops. “It was difficult,” Colonel Grose recalls, “to find a dry spot for this purpose, and since there were no tents or other shelter, the men were quite often wet from rain even when resting. The relief from the tensions of the front was a help. I found that this system worked, and continued to use it all the way through, despite the fact that there were those in the higher echelons who insisted that all the men needed was proper leadership.”]

Company C’s instructions for 26 December were to break through to the companies near the coast, and link up with them to form a corridor from Entrance Creek to the sea. Major Edmund R. Schroeder, commander of the 1st Battalion, who reported to Colonel Grose that evening, would take personal charge of the attack.

Things went somewhat better on the 26th. Assisted by Company I, Company G knocked out several bunkers on the right along the trail during the morning and began working on those that remained. On the far left, however, the enemy was still resisting stubbornly, and Company C made no progress all morning.

The Japanese were obviously reinforcing their positions north of the gardens directly from the mission. To discourage this activity, the artillery put down a ten-minute concentration on the southwest corner of the mission at noon that day. Major Schroeder ordered an element of Company C, split into patrols, into the swamp north of the gardens to deal with the Japanese there. The rest of the company, joined during the afternoon by Company B, commanded by 1st Lieutenant John B. Lewis, continued to attack frontally.

The attack made little progress, and it became apparent during the early afternoon that Company C was not going to break through. Colonel Grose ordered Colonel Bradley, now chief of staff of the 32nd Division, to go to the beleaguered companies and bring back a report on their condition. Bradley, who at Grose’s request was also acting as executive officer of the 127th Infantry, was to be accompanied by Major Schroeder, 1st Lieutenant Robert P. McCampbell, S-2 of the 2nd Battalion, and a platoon of Company C, led by 1st Lieutenant Ted C. Johnson. The patrol set out at once, carrying with it wire, ammunition, and food. After some sharp skirmishing with the enemy the patrol reached its destination at 1745 that afternoon.

[NOTE 5353; 127th Inf Jnl, 1745, 26 Dec 42; Ltr, Major McCampbell to author, 26 Aug 50; Ltr, Colonel Grose to Gen Ward, 26 Feb 51. Bradley, Schroeder, and McCampbell were all later decorated for getting through to the surrounded companies: Schroeder and McCampbell with the Distinguished Service Cross; Bradley with the Silver Star. Schroeder’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43; McCampbell’s is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43; Bradley’s is in Hq U.S. Forces Buna Area GO No. 7, 14 Jan 43.]

The two companies were in very bad condition when the patrol reached them. Major McCampbell, or Lieutenant McCampbell as he then was, recalls the matter in these words: The condition of the companies on our arrival was deplorable. The dead had not been buried. Wounded, bunched together, had been given only a modicum of care, and the troops were demoralized. Major Schroeder did a wonderful job of reorganizing the position and helping the wounded. The dead were covered with earth . . . the entire tactical position of the companies were reorganized and [they were] placed in a strong defensive position. . . .That evening Colonel Bradley, accompanied by a small patrol, returned from the perimeter with a complete report. Major Schroeder and Lieutenant McCampbell remained behind to continue with the reorganization of the troops.

[NOTE 15-5555TM; Tel Msg, Colonel Bradley to Colonel Howe, Ser 4361, 26 Dec 42; Interv with Colonel Grose, 18 Nov 50. In a letter he wrote to General Sutherland and then decided not to send, General Eichelberger noted the situation as Colonel Bradley reported it to him personally. It was to the effect that Company F had been “practically wiped out,” and that the detachment of Company A had received “numerous casualties.” “I must be frank, however, and tell you,” he continued, “that the first two companies have taken tremendous losses, and everyone on the Urbana front has recommended that we reorganize and substitute two fresh companies of [them].” “I believe,” he added, “that the greater part of the Japanese strength has been on our two forward companies.” Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 27 Dec 42, marked “not sent,” copy in OCMH files.]

The attack was resumed early on 27 December, with Colonel Bradley, on Colonel Grose’s orders, in command of Companies B and C and the detachment of Company A. Company C and the detachment of Captain Harger’s company were held up by the bunkers north of the gardens, but Company B on their right made good progress all day. A grass fire set in the gardens by the enemy during the afternoon caused only slight interruption in its advance. By 1700 Lieutenant Lewis had moved through to Schroeder’s position with his entire company.

[NOTE 15-5656; 127th Inf Jnl, 0200, 0830, 1500, 1525, 27 Dec 42, 0826, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 27 Dec 42, 28 Dec 42; 32nd Div Overlay, Papuan Campaign, 27 Dec 42, 28 Dec 42. Captain Millard G. Gray, General Eichelberger’s new aide-de-camp, who was in command of Company C between 24 December and 1 January, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 51, 30 Aug 43.]

By the morning of 28 December Major Schroeder had the forward perimeter well organized for action. The telephone was operating without interruption, ammunition and food were going through, the walking wounded had been successfully evacuated to the rear, and the troops were being organized for attack. Early that morning Colonel Grose ordered Company L out of the line to rest and clean up. He expected the break-through to the beleaguered companies to come momentarily. This expectation was quickly realized. Just before noon Company C on the left and Company G on the right broke through to the position held by Companies F and B and the detachment of Company A. The rest of Company A moved in soon after and the result was a broad corridor from Entrance Creek to the Coconut Plantation.

 

Major Schroeder reported the establishment of the corridor the minute Companies C and G got through and, with a flourish characteristic of the man, asked Colonel Grose over the telephone, “Do you need any help in the rear areas?” [NOTE 5858; 127th Inf Jnl, 0750, 1131, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42; Interv with Col Grose, 18 Nov 50. Colonel Bradley, who had been in the front lines with Company C all morning directing the advance and urging the men forward, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 36, 1 Jul 43.]

 

It was obvious that the Japanese could not hope to hold the Triangle once they lost control of the gardens for the position was now outflanked and cut off. No one knew this better than the Japanese commander, Captain Yasuda, who had apparently lost no time in ordering it evacuated. When a volunteer party of Company E, 127th Infantry, led by Sergeant Charles E. Wagner, with Private First Class James G. Greene as his second-in-command, pushed its way cautiously into the Triangle that evening, it found that the Japanese had pulled out of the area some time before and that the fourteen bunkers and innumerable trenches making up the position were empty.

There was every indication that the Japanese had left their positions in the Triangle in a great hurry. Pieces of equipment and quantities of small arms ammunition were strewn about in the bunkers and fire trenches, and two 20-mm., gas operated, cart-mounted antiaircraft guns, together with large quantities of antiaircraft ammunition, had been left behind. The entire area was pockmarked with shell holes, and there was mute evidence that some of the enemy had not long ago been caught in the open by Allied artillery fire.

In evacuating the Triangle the Japanese had given up an immensely strong position that Urbana Force, despite many costly attempts, had found it impossible to take. Going over the ground a day later, General Eichelberger reported to General Sutherland: “I walked along there and found it terrifically strong. It is a mass of bunkers and entrenchments surrounded by swamp. It is easy to see how they held us off so long.”

By the evening of the 28th Urbana Force was able to use the trail through the gardens as far as the Coconut Grove and also controlled the track junction along the coast. Major Schroeder’s force was deep in the Coconut Plantation, and Company B, its forward element, was only 120 yards from the sea. The corridor from Entrance Creek to the coast had finally been established. Split off from Giropa Point, the mission now lay open to assault.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign(17); Fall of Buna

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

 

World War Two: Guadalcanal (12); First January Offensive: South Flank

While the 27th Infantry had been making spectacular gains over the open hills of the Galloping Horse, the 35th Infantry of the 25th Division was heavily engaged in its zone, which included Mount Austen and the hilly, jungled areas south of the southwest Matanikau fork. Except for the open hills previously taken by the 132nd Infantry, there was only one extensive piece of open ground in the 35th’s zone. This ground, formed by Hills 43 and 44, was named the Sea Horse from its appearance in an aerial photograph.

Lying about 1,500 yards northwest of Hill 27 and about 1,500 yards east of the objective line, the Sea Horse dominated the low ground along the Matanikau. As capture of the Sea Horse would bottle the Japanese along the Matanikau and its forks, the 35th Infantry decided to capture the Sea Horse first, and then to advance to the objective in its zone. Like the Galloping Horse, the Sea Horse is also isolated by river forks, deep canyons, and solid jungle. The best route to the Sea Horse lay over Mount Austen, south of the Gifu, and through the jungle to the south end of Hill 43.

The task of the 35th Infantry in the Corps offensive was fourfold: to relieve the 132nd Infantry at the Gifu, to capture the Sea Horse, to cover the Corps’ left flank, and to push west to seize and hold the objective in its zone, a line south of the head of the Galloping Horse about 3,000 yards west of Mount Austen. For this operation the 3rd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Roy F. Goggin, and the 25th Division’s Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop were attached to the 35th Infantry.

Colonel McClure, commanding the 35th Infantry, ordered the 2nd Battalion and the Reconnaissance Troop to relieve the 132nd Infantry at the Gifu and to press against that strong point and keep in touch with Goggin’s battalion on the right. The 3rd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William J. Mullen, Jr., was to advance southwest from Hill 27 (south of the Gifu on Mount Austen), and then swing north to seize Hills 43 and 44. Lieutenant Colonel James B. Leer’s 1st Battalion was to be initially in regimental reserve, following about a half day’s march behind the 3rd Battalion. The 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry, was to protect the 25th Division’s artillery positions on the open ground north of Mount Austen and east of the Matanikau by advancing south from Hill 65 to block the river gorge and the ravine between Hills 31 and 42 against Japanese infiltration. The battalion was to maintain contact with the 27th and 35th Regiments on either flank.

The 35th Infantry’s attacks, if successful, would pocket the enemy in the Gifu and in the ravines and valleys of the Matanikau forks. The 3rd Battalion, by attacking the Sea Horse from the south, would attempt to encircle the right flank of the Japanese and cut off their lines of supply and retreat. The final movement of the 35th Infantry west from Hill 43 to the objective, where the southeast Matanikau fork cuts southward, would complete the trap.

Wright Road, the jeep track from the coast road to Mount Austen, had been extended forward to a point just east of the 132nd Infantry’s line at the Gifu, but no lateral roads then connected Wright Road with Marine Trail on the Matanikau’s east bank. In the initial operations, Wright Road was to supply the four battalions under Colonel McClure’s command plus the supporting artillery. The absence of enemy tanks in the 35th Infantry’s zone, coupled with the difficulty of moving infantry cannon over jungle ridges, obviated the immediate tactical employment of the 35th Infantry’s Antitank and Cannon Companies. Soldiers from these companies were not to be committed to action for the present, but with 300 native bearers were to hand-carry supplies forward from the terminus of Wright Road. When the American lines were pushed south along the Matanikau after 10 January, soldiers floated supplies in and evacuees out on pole and motor barges and boats between Hill 50 and the mouth. The boat operators used some captured enemy assault boats, and engineers constructed two barges from gasoline drums. Although they used some outboard motors, they called the line the “Pusha Maru.”

Taking of the Sea Horse

Advancing to their lines of departure was considerably more difficult for the battalions of the 35th Infantry than for those of the 27th. The 35th Infantry, having pulled out of the Lunga perimeter defense on 7 January, the next day marched up Wright Road to Mount Austen in column of battalions, with the 3rd Battalion leading. While the 2nd Battalion moved into line at the Gifu, the 3rd Battalion, followed by the 1st, cut south and west through the jungle south of the Gifu to bivouac for the night of 8-9 January on a small ridge about 700 yards south of Hill 27. The mortar sections of these battalions remained at the Gifu, but the light machine guns were carried along during the advance. The next day the 3rd Battalion marched over slippery ravines and ridges to its line of departure, a small knoll about 1,500 yards southwest of Hill 27, and about 2,000 yards southeast of Hill 43. The 1st Battalion moved west to occupy the bivouac held by the 3rd Battalion on the previous night. These movements were made in secret, for success of the 3rd Battalion’s attack depended upon surprise. To avoid warning the enemy of the impending attack, there were to be no preliminary artillery or aerial bombardments in the 35th Infantry’s zone.

From the 3rd Battalion’s bivouac area Colonel Mullen was able to see a small wooded hill, a short distance south of Hill 43. From direct observation and photographic study he concluded that a narrow ridge connected the small hill with Hill 43. He decided to capture the small hill first since it would provide a good route to the grassy slopes of Hills 43 and 44.

At H Hour, 0635 of 10 January 1943, while the 27th Infantry was beginning its attack, the 3rd Battalion began its envelopment. Fearing that the enemy might have observed his troops, Colonel Mullen kept I Company, the battalion reserve, spread out over the bivouac area to deceive the Japanese while the assault companies, K and L, formed in the dense woods prior to attacking. By 0800 K and L Companies were ready to move.3 Patrols on the previous night had reconnoitered in front of the bivouac area to feel out the Japanese. Relying on data from these patrols, the battalion pushed southwest through the jungle. Advancing in column of companies, the battalion then turned north toward the Sea Horse. K Company, leading, cut a trail for about 1,000 yards with machetes and bayonets, but its route led it down onto low ground along a branch of the Matanikau. At noon it reached a small knoll about 700 yards southeast of Hill 43. The company was then on ground that was dominated by ridges and bluffs on all sides.

The battalion had turned northward too soon, and it was now southeast instead of southwest of Hill 43. The assault companies had to advance farther west before they could envelop the south flank of the Sea Horse. As hills, deep ravines, and a branch of the Matanikau lay between K Company and Hill 43, patrols advanced to the west and northwest, and one found a faint trail that led westward.

The 35th Infantry then requested that artillery fire be placed on the Sea Horse. At 1300 the battalion commander ordered K Company to advance over the west trail. L Company, also following an old trail, was to advance on K’s left. I Company, which had been relieved at the line of departure by the 1st Battalion, was to follow the assault company that found the best route. Colonel Mullen, who wished his battalion to reach the greater security of high ground before dark, ordered that the advance be pressed vigorously.

K Company turned west and, to cover its right flank while crossing a branch of the Matanikau, posted two light machine guns from M Company, plus some riflemen, on a knoll. The covering force faced to the northeast toward the gorge cut by the branch. As the company crossed the branch, a group of Japanese from the area of Colonel Oka’s command post farther down the river attacked toward the southwest and nearly broke through to strike the company’s right flank. They drove off the riflemen, knocked one machine gun out of action, and killed the gunner and wounded the assistant gunner of the second. They were prevented from hitting the flank of the vulnerable company by the heroism of two soldiers from M Company—Sergeant William G. Fournier, the machine gun section leader, and T/5 Lewis Hall. Although ordered to withdraw, the two men ran forward to the idle gun and opened fire on the Japanese, who were then in the low stream bottom in front of and below them. As the gun on the knoll would not bear, Fournier lifted it by its tripod to depress the muzzle sufficiently to fire on the Japanese while Hall operated the trigger. Both soldiers stayed at their exposed post, pouring fire at the Japanese, and were fatally wounded before other Americans could come forward. But Fournier and Hall had broken the Japanese attack, and for their gallantry were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

As the assaulting American companies were advancing to the west, K Company surprised a Japanese supply party near a water hole at the junction of two trails, killed seven, and dispersed the rest. Having then reached a point about due south of Hill 43, the companies swung northward toward their preliminary objective, the wooded hill south of Hill 43. Only a few scattered Japanese were in front, and they failed to offer any effective opposition. By 1700 K and L Companies had reached high ground 400 yards south of the open slopes on Hill 43. As dusk was falling rapidly, the 3rd Battalion, which to gain high ground had kept moving much later in the afternoon than was considered advisable in the jungle, halted and hastily dug in for the night.

While the 3rd Battalion was advancing toward the Sea Horse, Colonel Leer’s 1st Battalion, in reserve, moved farther west. Patrols from A and C Companies covered the right and left flanks. Platoons of B and D Companies relieved I Company at the water hole in a gulch about 600 yards south of Hill 43. Colonel Mullen’s battalion resumed the attack against the Sea Horse at dawn on 11 January. K Company led the attack north along the ridge toward Hill 43, while L Company covered the left flank and I followed in reserve. The progress of K Company was slow against enemy machine gunners who fired to delay the attack, then fell back to new positions. In one hour it gained only 100 yards. The advance gathered speed later in the .afternoon, however, and the 3rd Battalion emerged from the jungle, drove the enemy off Hill 43, and by 1831 had advanced to Hill 44.

Meanwhile Colonel Leer’s battalion had come forward to assist the 3rd Battalion when its advance was retarded. But when K Company cleared Hill 43, and it became evident that the 3rd Battalion would reach its objective unaided, Colonel McClure ordered the 1st Battalion to relieve I and L Companies on the south and southwest wooded parts of Hill 43. When relieved those companies joined the remainder of the 3rd Battalion on the Sea Horse. By nightfall on 11 January, the 35th Infantry had completed the encirclement of the Gifu on the east and west by seizing the Sea Horse, and had progressed halfway toward its objective, about 1,500 yards west of the Sea Horse.

In their southerly envelopment around the enemy’s right flank the 3rd and 1st Battalions had traveled more than 7,000 yards. Their route had taken them over Mount Austen’s ravines and ridges, down its west slopes to the Matanikau, and up the Sea Horse. The trails they had followed were passable only for men on foot; vehicles could not get through. The advancing battalions had depended upon native carriers for supply pending the completion of dredging for the Pusha Maru boat line on the Matanikau. The 7,000-yard advance of the 1st and 3rd Battalions had outdistanced the native bearers who could not make the round trip in one day, and thus created a serious problem of supply. Until the native camp could be moved forward and the Pusha Maru boat line could be completed, the regiment’s advanced battalions were supplied by air drops from B-17’s. As cargo parachutes were not available for all gear, some supplies were wrapped in burlap or canvas and thrown from the bombers. On 13 January one B-17 dropped 7,000 pounds in four flights, and two days later another dropped four tons. Rations stood the rough treatment fairly well; 85 percent of the food was usable, but only 15 percent of the ammunition could be used, and nearly all the 5-gallon water cans were ruined. Regular ground supply was not resumed until 17 January when the Pusha Maru reached the foot of Hill 50, and carriers began hauling supplies up the north slopes of Hill 44.

Advance West from the Sea Horse

When L and I Companies had reached the Sea Horse Colonel Mullen organized a perimeter defense, with L Company holding Hill 44, I Company the narrow neck between 44 and 43, and K Company, Hill 43. On the morning of 12 January the 3rd Battalion made contact with the forces which had just taken the eastern half of the Galloping Horse. Colonel Leer’s 1st Battalion assumed the brunt of the attack west to the objective on 12 January. B Company defended the hill south of Hill 43, A Company the water hole, while C Company attacked along a narrow ridge southwest of Hill 43. Enemy fire from a ridge about 150 yards to the southwest halted the advance.

While patrols from C Company were seeking the enemy flanks, an enemy force from east of Hill 43 struck just south of Hill 43 against the supply trail and isolated the 3rd Battalion on the Sea Horse. At 1730 one B Company platoon counterattacked and by nightfall it had recaptured the trail. Japanese rifle fire again stopped C Company on 13 January. The 64th Field Artillery Battalion meanwhile continued registration on enemy targets, and Colonel Leer asked regimental headquarters to send forward to Hill 43 the mortars which were then on Mount Austen under regimental control.

Operations on 14 January again failed to gain ground. C Company attacked the enemy ridge twice without success. The terrain slowed the movement of the mortars, which failed to reach Hill 43 until late afternoon. In the afternoon, however, one of Colonel Leer’s patrols found a route around the enemy’s right flank. The next morning B Company relieved C Company. The 64th Field Artillery Battalion then fired 553 rounds on the Japanese on the ridge in a 30-minute concentration ending at 1005, followed by fire from machine guns and mortars.

When the artillery ceased firing B Company, reinforced by one platoon from D, moved around the enemy’s right flank and struck him in the rear. B Company killed thirteen Japanese and captured twelve prisoners; it also took two 70-mm. guns, three light machine guns, and a quantity of ammunition. B Company had penetrated an enemy bivouac area with room for an estimated 1,000 troops. It was then occupied by one platoon. The platoon had no rations; six of the prisoners were too weak to walk, and there were seventy-eight graves in the area. Since daylight was ending, B Company halted for the night.

The defunct enemy platoon had been the only effective enemy force between the Sea Horse and the objective in the 35th Infantry’s zone. The next day, 16 January, B Company and the reinforcing platoon from D Company moved west to the objective without fighting. About 1500 they reached a precipice overlooking the southwest fork of the Matanikau. So dense was the jungle that the troops could not determine their exact location until the next day, and on 18 January they built smoky fires and fired amber flares to reveal their location to the 25th Division observation posts.

In capturing the Sea Horse and advancing to the Matanikau, the 1st Battalion reported that it had killed 144 of the enemy; the 3rd Battalion, 414. Enemy prisoners totaled 17 for both battalions. The 3rd Battalion had captured 35 light and heavy machine guns, the 1st Battalion, 9 light machine guns. The 1st Battalion had also captured 112 rifles and 18 pistols, while the 3rd Battalion took 266 rifles and 26 pistols. In the. days following the capture of Hills 43 and 44 the 3rd Battalion reduced a pocket of Japanese along the Matanikau just east of Hills 43 and 44.19 The capture of the Sea Horse and the advance to the Matanikau had covered the XIV Corps’ left (south) flank, and brought the 35th Infantry up to the objective on the left (south) of the 27th Infantry.

Reduction of the Gifu: Preliminary Operations

While the rest of the 25th Division was advancing, the 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry on Mount Austen had the slow, grueling task of clearing the Japanese out of the Gifu which had halted the 132nd Infantry in December. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Peters, had left its positions east of the Lunga River on 7 January, and early the next morning had followed the 3rd Battalion up Mount Austen to advance toward the 132nd Infantry’s lines. Battalion Headquarters, G, and H Companies were to infiltrate directly into the 132nd’s line while E and F Companies followed a back trail south of Hill 27 to get into line via the latter hill. The main body, following Wright Road, reached the line without difficulty, but E and F Companies had to labor through thick jungle. The companies followed the 3rd Battalion to a point about 800 yards southeast of Hill 27, then turned northwest toward Hill 27. Struggling over a rough, muddy trail, and using telephone wires to help pull themselves along, they reached Hill 27 by nightfall of 8 January and bivouacked on its southeast slopes.

The next day, 9 January, the 2nd Battalion and the Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop completed the relief of the 132nd Infantry, which returned to the Lunga perimeter. By nightfall the 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry had occupied the line from Hill 31 to Hill 27, a front of over 2,000 yards. E Company, the 35th Infantry’s Reconnaissance Platoon, and a platoon from the Reconnaissance Troop held Hill 27; F Company, plus platoons from H Company and the Reconnaissance Troop, held the center; G Company and platoons from H Company and the Reconnaissance Troop held Hill 31. The remainder of H Company emplaced mortars on Hill 29. Soldiers from Headquarters Company were to carry supplies from the jeep terminus on Wright Road to the companies in the line. There was no battalion reserve. By the end of 9 January, a day characterized by random rifle fire and some mortar shelling, the 2nd Battalion estimated that over 100 Japanese with 10 machine guns held the pocket.

When General Collins and Colonel McClure had first observed the Gifu from Hill 27, they had discussed the possibility of enveloping it from the west sides of Hills 27 and 31. Persuaded that the terrain was impassable, they agreed on a frontal assault to hold the Japanese while the 3rd and 1st Battalions made their flanking movement. Time would have been saved had the double envelopment been attempted at once.

On 10 January, when the 25th Division began its advance, the 2nd Battalion made a reconnaissance in force. After an artillery and mortar preparation two combat patrols from each company tried to move forward but Japanese fire halted them all. The battalion commander then requested that tanks be sent up to Mount Austen to crack the pillbox line, but the only tanks on Guadalcanal were then under Marine control. After the patrols were halted the 2nd Battalion estimated that the enemy forces facing it consisted of 400 men and 20 machine guns. The battalion eventually captured 40 machine guns.

The next day, 11 January, patrols again met fire from the Gifu. The 3rd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry completed its southward move to close the gap between the right flank of the 2nd Battalion, 35th, and the 27th and 161st Regiments on the Galloping Horse. By the end of 11 January the 3rd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry, holding more than 1,500 yards of front, was blocking the valleys northwest of the Gifu, the portion of the Matanikau just east of Hill 50, and the southwest Matanikau fork. This move, coupled with the capture of the Sea Horse, ringed the Gifu on all sides, but its pillbox line still remained to be broken. The situation of Colonel Oka’s troops in the Gifu had become serious in December, yet the majority of the trapped Japanese, who were without food or reinforcements, were to fight to the death.

The 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry again tried to advance on 12 January to straighten the line. In the morning 60- and 81-mm. mortars fired a three-quarter-hour preparation into the Gifu. When they ceased fire F and G Companies attacked, but again heavy enemy fire blocked the advance. By 1300 G Company had gained about 100 yards, but F Company, which was hit by intense machine-gun fire, had gained only 50 yards by 1815.

American soldiers had discovered the exact locations of very few of the Gifu pillboxes. Poor visibility in the jungle, the high quality of the Japanese camouflage, and the heavy fire made scouting difficult The 132nd Infantry had shown the locations of two machine guns to the 35th Infantry; a patrol from F Company had located two pillboxes on 10 January but machine-gun fire drove the patrol back before it could destroy the positions. On the same day a patrol from E Company knocked out one machine gun before enemy grenades drove it back. The next afternoon when F Company ran into fire from a pillbox just twenty-five yards in front of the American lines, soldiers from Headquarters and F Companies killed some of the occupants with grenades. On 13 January, a quiet day, a patrol from F Company met fire from three emplacements, whereupon all battalion mortars fired into the area and knocked out one pillbox.

By 14 January, only 75 percent of the 2nd Battalion was fit for duty. Malaria and battle casualties had accounted for the remaining 25 percent. To reinforce the depleted battalion, the 35th Infantry’s Antitank Company was attached as infantry to the battalion, and on 14 January moved into line between F and G Companies just northeast of Hill 27.

On the same day patrols from the 3rd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry attempted to find the Japanese left flank. At 1100 the battalion intelligence officer led two squads from I Company and three soldiers from M Company to reconnoiter the area south of Hill 42. Reaching a small knoll, they saw what appeared to be parachutes and ammunition lying on the ground. As the patrol circled back toward the American lines some entrenched Japanese soldiers opened fire and killed the intelligence officer and one sergeant. The patrol opened fire, but to avoid being trapped it withdrew. Later in the day a second patrol returned to the spot and engaged the enemy, but it could not find the bodies of the dead men.

On 15 January the Gifu was still virtually intact. On the morning of that day the 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry attempted to break through the Gifu to advance west to make contact with the 3rd Battalion on the Sea Horse. The plan called for a 15-minute preparation by all battalion mortars, after which the Antitank, G, and F Companies were to assault the Gifu and converge after gaining 500 yards on their respective fronts. E Company, in reserve on Hill 27, was to help envelop the strongest points of enemy resistance developed by the attack.

The mortars fired from 0645 to 0700, whereupon the assault companies tried to advance. A few moved forward, but the majority of the 2nd Battalion was halted almost immediately. G Company gained 100 yards, but by 0940 it had been halted by machine guns. The soldiers replied with grenades and a flame thrower operator from Division Headquarters Company tried unsuccessfully to burn out the enemy. G Company was unable to advance after 0940 and returned in the afternoon with the rest of the battalion to its original lines.

Attacking northward from Hill 27, F Company could make no progress. The Antitank Company advanced west a few yards but halted when fire from the eastern pillboxes killed five and wounded ten soldiers. When the Antitank and F Companies lost contact in the morning, twelve soldiers from H Company moved in to fill the gap but were thrown back after losing two killed and one wounded.29 The Pioneer Platoon from Battalion Headquarters Company then filled the gap. F Company was still attempting to advance north at 1510 when E Company moved off Hill 27 to try to envelop the enemy in front of F. This effort failed when a misunderstanding of orders caused the entire battalion to withdraw to its original line. About 1630 the battalion executive officer ordered one badly shaken platoon from G Company to withdraw, but as the order was passed verbally along the line, the soldiers misinterpreted it as an order to the entire battalion to retire, and all fell back.

[NOTE 28FT: 35th Inf Journal, 15 Jan 43. On 15 January, the 2nd Marine Division also used flame throwers on the beach, but with greater success. The 35th Infantry ceased to use them because it was believed they needlessly exposed the operators. Interv with Colonel Larsen.]

[NOTE 29AT35: 35th Inf Journal, 15 Jan 43; 25th Div Opns, p. 81, states that the gap developed between the Antitank and G Companies. At the time neither company was moving, according to 35th Infantry Journal, and there is no record of an enemy counterattack on 15 January.]

Bombardment and Envelopment

Colonel McClure, the regimental commander, relieved the 2nd Battalion commander on 16 January and placed the battalion under command of Lieutenant Colonel Stanley R. Larsen. After assuming command Colonel Larsen reconnoitered his front and correctly concluded that mutually supporting pillboxes ringed the easternmost three-fifths of the Gifu line. Individual combat groups of riflemen and machine gunners held the western areas. The enemy positions could not be bypassed, he decided; the Japanese in the Gifu apparently had no intention of escaping but preferred to hold out until death.

The position of the defenders of the Gifu had been rapidly deteriorating. They ate their last rations sometime between 10 and 17 January. Colonel Oka, commanding the 124th Infantry, is reported to have deserted his troops about 14 January. He and his staff left the command post on the Matanikau and made their way to safety, and later sent orders to the Gifu defenders to evacuate and infiltrate through the American lines to the coast. But Major Inagaki’s starving troops in the Gifu elected to stay at their posts and fight to the end rather than desert their sick and wounded comrades.

[NOTE 33KD: Amer Div Int Rpt, Tab A; XIV Corps, Enemy Opns, p. 6. Ito, when interrogated by Sebree at Rabaul in 1946, claimed that Oka did not desert his post but was killed on Mount Austen. Interv with General Sebree. Ito may have been attempting to uphold the honor of the Imperial Army by trying to conceal Oka’s defection. It will be noted that Oka’s operations in October were sometimes hesitant and tardy.]

Colonel McClure then decided to attempt the double envelopment which he and General Collins had originally decided against. To tighten the noose around the Gifu, he decided to extend the 2nd Battalion’s lines from Hill 27 to Hill 42, thus closely encircling the strong point. E Company was to march northward around the American lines from Hill 27 to Hill 42, and by 17 January be ready to attack the Gifu from the rear (northwest) while troops on Hill 27 pushed north.35 As a deep, tangled ravine northwest of Hill 27 would make movement too difficult to employ a whole company in that area, E Company had completely to circle the American lines at the Gifu before attacking. Colonel McClure requested that every available artillery piece be used against Gifu.

Psychological warfare was also employed by XIV Corps headquarters in an attempt to persuade the Japanese to surrender. Captain John M. Burden of the Corps intelligence section, accompanied by intelligence officers of the 25th Division, set up a loud speaker on Hill 44 on the northern part of the Sea Horse on the afternoon of 15 January. Burden had intended to broadcast in Japanese at 1600, but a fire fight broke out between a part of the 35th Infantry and some of Oka’s troops to the east. The broadcast was delayed until 1715, when Burden told the Japanese to send an officer to Hill 44 to arrange for the surrender. But it was too close to nightfall to expect results, and at 1815 the Japanese were told not to try to surrender until the next day. At 0600 the next morning Burden repeated the first broadcast of the previous day. When two hours passed without a response from any Japanese officer, Burden broadcast again to urge the Japanese soldiers to ignore their leaders and save their lives before being annihilated. Five emaciated prisoners were obtained in this area. They asserted, perhaps untruthfully, that neither they nor their fellow soldiers had any stomach for more fighting, but continued to resist because they feared that the Americans killed their prisoners. On the basis of this testimony, Captain Burden decided to make one more broadcast.

The artillery had meanwhile been preparing for a heavy bombardment. A heavy artillery concentration to smother the Gifu was an essential prelude to a successful attack, for light mortar shells left the pillboxes undamaged, and there were not enough 81-mm. mortars to cover the entire area. During the first days of the operation the 64th Field Artillery Battalion, directly supporting the 35th Infantry, had fired little at the Gifu but had fired a few missions in support of the 27th Infantry, and a few counterbattery and harassing missions into Kokumbona.

Prior to 10 January soldiers of the 64th had emplaced their 105-mm. howitzers in the vicinity of Hill 34, about 2,000 yards northeast of the Gifu. The proximity of this position to Wright Road somewhat simplified the movement of supplies. Two of the batteries occupied sharp, exposed hill crests, advantageous positions made tenable by the enemy’s deficiencies in artillery and air power. Artillery problems on Guadalcanal were always complicated by the lack of accurate maps, but since American soldiers had ringed the Gifu it was possible to place observed fire in the pocket. Forward observers, who frequently encountered difficulty in locating their own positions in the jungles, often crawled so close to the enemy lines that their own fire fell within 100 yards of them.

The artillery preparation requested by Colonel McClure was assigned by 25th Division artillery headquarters to the 105-mm. howitzers of the 89th Field Artillery Battalion, one 105-mm. howitzer of the 8th, and the 155-mm. howitzers of the 90th and 221st Field Artillery Battalions in addition to the 105-mm. howitzers of the 64th Field Artillery Battalion. Because the 64th was in a better position to control fire on the Gifu than division artillery headquarters, the 64th’s fire direction center was to direct the fire. Direct wires from the 64th’s fire direction center were to carry data to the fire direction centers of the 8th, 89th, and 90th Battalions. Data from the 64th would be transmitted to the 221st via the 25th Division Artillery fire direction center, where the 221st liaison officer was stationed.

On the morning of 17 January Captain Burden again attempted to persuade the Japanese to surrender. Broadcasting from G Company’s line at the Gifu, he warned them of the impending bombardment and advised that they escape before the shelling began. The Japanese were assured that they would be permitted to enter the American lines even after the bombardment started. Burden then moved to Hill 27 to repeat the broadcast. But heavy rains fell during most of the period of the broadcast, and the volume of the loud-speaker was reduced. No one surrendered. One Japanese company is reported to have discussed the possibility of surrender but decided against it because most of the men were too ill to walk.

The artillery had planned to adjust its fire in the morning, but the broadcasts delayed the adjustment of the twenty-five 105-mm. and the twenty-four 155-mm. howitzers until noon. At 1130 infantrymen of the 2nd Battalion, 35th, were pulled back 300 yards to the rear. The forward observers remained out in front. The 35th’s main line on Hill 31 lay less than 250 yards north of the Gifu line. The 64th Field Artillery Battalion’s 105-mm. howitzers lay only 2,000 yards from the Gifu. Two thousand, eight hundred yards was the minimum range for high-angle fire listed in the firing tables in use at that time. The 155-mm. howitzers could not fire at quadrant elevations greater than 800 mils (45 degrees). To hit the ravines inside the Gifu, all shells would have to be fired almost directly over Hill 31, with no margin of safety for clearing the hill. The known vertical probable error in the angle of fall of the howitzer shells made it obvious that some would hit Hill 31. It was therefore necessary to pull the infantrymen back to the south from Hill 31.

The artillery battalions began adjusting their fire on the Gifu at 1200 after the broadcast had ceased, but were interrupted frequently by calls of “cease fire,” especially from infantrymen on Hill 42 who believed that the shells were falling short. The artillery battalions then adjusted each howitzer individually on the target, a slow task which took over two hours to complete.

For ninety minutes, starting at 1430, the forty-nine howitzers fired for effect. They placed over 1,700 rounds in an area less than 1,000 yards square. The 2nd Battalion’s mortars fired into the most defiladed areas. The noise, concussion, and reverberation were tremendous, and the effect of the bombardment was doubtless great, for the Japanese prisoners captured during the next few days were nearly all shell-shocked.40 But poor timing largely vitiated the effects of both the broadcasts and the shelling.

After the bombardment the infantrymen moved forward and by 1630 had reoccupied their lines. They did not then assault because the approaching dusk would have made an attack over such terrain very risky. The shock effect of the artillery was thus partially lost. Colonel McClure did not repeat the bombardment the next morning because he did not wish to withdraw the infantry again.

[NOTE: Colonel McClure disapproved of the broadcasts. 25th Div Opns, p. 87. General Collins pointed out (p. 103) the necessity for capturing prisoners. XIV Corps, Enemy Opns, 38th Div Hist, p. 3, states that the  broadcasts were effective, for of the 248 prisoners taken later, 118 came from the 124th and 228th Infantry Regiments, the units toward which the broadcasts were directed.]

The double envelopment began the next day, 18 January. I Company of the 182nd Infantry advanced 450 yards south from Hill 42 to make contact about 1700 with a platoon detached from G Company. The platoon had advanced northwest from Hill 27 through the ravine.44 While these two units were advancing, E Company, which had followed I Company of the 182nd off Hill 42, swung to the left (east) to strike the Gifu from the west. The company knocked out three or four enemy machine guns and killed seven Japanese before wired-in machine guns halted it. Meanwhile, to the right of E Company, the platoon from G Company had located two pillboxes on its front, one of which was knocked out after the platoon leader had given firing data to 81-mm. mortars.

The next day, 19 January, E Company resumed its attack, but a pillbox and machine-gun defense held it down. (Map 13) The Gifu, however, was beginning to crack. A 37-mm. antitank gun and an 81-mm. mortar hit one of the two pillboxes discovered in front of Hill 27 by an F Company patrol. G Company reported that it had definitely located twelve pillboxes on its front. E Company, which had begun its attack at 0800, reported at 1615 that it had killed six of the enemy, knocked out four machine guns, and located twelve machine-gun positions and pillboxes on a small ridge. One hour later the company reported that it had destroyed three more positions, but that nine wired-in pillboxes, from ten to twelve feet apart, held it back. Grenades failed to damage them, and E Company dug in for the night.

Heavy rain, mud, and particularly poor visibility limited operations on 20 January and prevented the 2nd Battalion from exploiting its successes immediately. One patrol penetrated 150 yards north from Hill 27, and another found three pillboxes northwest of Hill 27. Two were empty. The patrol leader and one automatic rifleman approached within ten feet of the occupied pillbox before they were observed. The patrol leader shot one Japanese, and the automatic rifleman shot two more who were trying to escape, but machine guns forced the two Americans to withdraw. That night several small groups of enemy soldiers failed in their efforts to escape from the pocket. Eleven Japanese were killed.

The Cracking of the Line

Tanks were made available to the 2nd Battalion on 21 January, and the task of breaking the enemy lines was greatly simplified. Three Marine Corps light tanks, manned by soldiers from the 25th Division’s Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, started up the jeep trail toward Mount Austen’s 1,514-foot crest. Two broke down, but the third reached the top. As the tank drew near the Gifu infantrymen fired mortars and machine guns to drown its sound, then cut down trees to permit the tank to approach the Japanese front lines.

Supported by sixteen infantrymen, the tank drove into the northeast part of the Gifu line, on G Company’s left flank, at 1040 on 22 January. It pulled close to three pillboxes and destroyed them with 37-mm. high explosive shells, and shot the Japanese soldiers with canister and machine guns. Turning left (south), the tank broke out through the east end of the Gifu. At 1500 it made one more attack against the north side of the Gifu and destroyed five more pillboxes.

The infantrymen then moved forward before dark to occupy the gap. That same day E Company, on the west, was again held in place by the pillboxes on its front. One platoon attempted to outflank them in the afternoon, but darkness fell before it could complete its move. But the tank, in a few hours, had torn a 200-yard hole in the line which had withstood infantry assaults for a month. The Gifu area remained quiet until 0230 on the night of 22-23 January, when about 100 Japanese soldiers led by Major Inagaki rushed the sector held by F Company and the Antitank Company. Inagaki’s desperate men used grenades, small arms, and automatic weapons. The American companies immediately opened fire and easily broke up the attack. When day broke the Americans found 85 dead bodies in front of the two companies, including those of Inagaki, one other major, 8 captains, and 15 lieutenants.48 Inagaki had directed his attack against pillboxes on the strongest part of the 2nd Battalion’s line. Had he attacked southwest against the G Company platoon northwest of Hill 27, his chances of success might have been greater, since each 15 yards of line was held by only two men.

As the XIV Corps had already begun the second phase of the January offensives, Colonel McClure ordered the 2nd Battalion to clear the remnants out of the Gifu on 23 January. The tank attacks, the success of the enveloping companies, the effect of the artillery, Inagaki’s desperate attempt, and the demoralized state of the few prisoners captured had convinced Colonel Larsen that the Gifu could no longer offer serious resistance. He put his battalion in skirmish line and advanced. There was almost no fighting; the enemy survivors were trying to hide, not to fight. The only American injured was one private who was shot through the shoulder by a Japanese officer. By nightfall Colonel Larsen’s battalion had cleared the Gifu. Mount Austen was free of the enemy.

The reduction of the Gifu had cost the 2nd Battalion 64 men killed and 42 wounded. The battalion reported that it had killed 518 Japanese and had captured 40 machine guns, 12 mortars, 200 rifles, and 38 sabers. The Gifu garrison had been almost completely wiped out. Colonel McClure reported that the 35th Infantry in its operations on Mount Austen and the Sea Horse had killed almost 1,100 of the enemy, and had captured 29 prisoners, 88 light and heavy machine guns, 678 rifles, 79 pistols, plus a quantity of ammunition.

The destruction of the determined defenders of the Gifu strong point had engaged five battalions of infantry, and lasted over one month. Finally the last effective enemy force east of the Matanikau River had been wiped out, and the 35th Infantry became the reserve of the 25th Division, which was then advancing rapidly to the west.

The first January offensive by the XIV Corps had gained about 3,000 yards of ground. The western line, running from the coast west of Point Cruz inland to the southwest Matanikau fork, had been firmly established. The south flank, extending east to Mount Austen, was now secure. In the opinion of the Corps commander, the 25th Division had performed brilliantly.

[NOTE: 52A Rpt, CO, 35th Inf to CG, 25th Div. 25th Division Operations lists 431 Japanese killed. Colonel McClure’s report includes those killed by artillery fire.]

[NOTE 53CG: Rad, Commanding General Cactus to COMSOPAC, 0507 of 14 Jan 43, in USAFISPA G-3 Worksheet File 1-15 Jan 43. General Patch, in XIV Corps GO No. 52, 7 Mar 43, cited the 25th Division for “outstanding performance of duty” from 10 January to 9 February 1943. He recommended that the Division be cited in War Department General Orders, and COMGENSOPAC concurred, but the recommendation was not approved. See ltr, CG XIV Corps to TAG, 7 Mar 43, sub: Recommendation of Citation of 25th Inf. Div. WPD 210.54 (3-1-42) in HRS DRB AGO.]

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal(13); Tactics-Weapons

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