Korean War: Armed Forces of North and South Korea 1950 (2)

The North Korea People’s Army had been from the beginning under the supervision of the Soviets. At first the Peace Preservation Corps had undertaken the organization and training of a military force. Then, when the Soviets began to withdraw their occupation forces in February 1948, the North Korean Government established a Ministry of Defense and activated the North Korea People’s Army. Soviet instruction and supervision of the Army continued, however, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from North Korea. One prisoner stated that every training film he ever saw or used had been made in the USSR. About three thousand Russians were active in the Army program before June 1950. In some instances as many as fifteen Soviet officers served as advisers on an N.K. infantry division staff. The adviser to a division commander reportedly was a Soviet colonel.

The Soviet diplomatic mission to North Korea, apparently organized in January 1949, became the post occupation body for Soviet control of the country. By June 1950 every member of the Soviet diplomatic staff in North Korea was either an army or an air force officer. Colonel General Terenty F. Shtykov, commander of the Soviet occupation forces in North Korea and, after their withdrawal, the Soviet Ambassador there, apparently functioned as the senior Soviet officer in the country. Intelligence reports indicate that Premier Kim Il Sung received weekly instructions from the USSR through Ambassador Shtykov.

In June 1950 Kim Il Sung was Commander in Chief of the North Korean armed forces. His deputy was Marshal Choe Yong Gun. Both had left Korea in their youth, resided in China for long periods of time, and, ultimately, gone to Moscow for training. Kim Il Sung returned to Korea on 25 September 1945 under Soviet sponsorship, landing at Wonsan on that date with a group of Soviet-trained guerrillas.

For all practical purposes the North Korean ground forces in June 1950 comprised two types of units: (1) the Border Constabulary (BC or Bo An Dae) and (2) the North Korea People’s Army (NKPA or In Min Gun). The Border Constabulary, an internal security force, was organized, trained, and supervised by Soviet officials. It was uncommonly strong in political indoctrination and supported and promoted the Communist party line throughout North Korea. All officer training for the Border Constabulary was under the direct supervision of Soviet advisers on the school staffs.

The Border Constabulary had its beginnings as early as September 1945, when anti-Japanese and Communist Koreans, guerrillas who had fled from Korea and Manchuria to Soviet territory, came back to Korea and formed the nucleus of what was called the Peace Preservation Corps. It numbered about 18,000 men and drew its personnel mostly from Communist youth groups. Its officers were usually active Communists. In May 1950 the effective strength of the North Korean internal security forces was approximately 50,000, divided among the Border Constabulary, the regular police, and the “thought” police.

The Border Constabulary in June 1950 consisted of five brigades of uneven size and armament—the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. The 1st Brigade numbered 5,000 men; the 3rd and 7th each had a strength of 4,000. These three brigades were stationed just north of the 38th Parallel. The 7th was in the west, deployed from Haeju to the coast, just above the Ongjin Peninsula; the 3rd was east of the7th, in the center from Haeju to the vicinity of Chorwon; and the 1st was at Kansong on the east coast. These three brigades, totaling 13,000 men, were armed and equipped to combat-infantry standards. The brigades each had six or seven battalions composed of three rifle companies each, together with machine gun and mortar companies, an antitank platoon, and the usual headquarters and service units.

The BC 2nd Brigade, with a total strength of only 2,600, was divided into seven battalions. It held positions along the Yalu and Tumen River boundaries separating North Korea from Manchuria and the USSR. This brigade had little heavy equipment and few mortars, machine guns, or antitank guns. The BC 5th Brigade, with a strength of about 3,000 men, had headquarters at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. It was responsible for railroad security.

The North Korea People’s Army

The North Korea People’s Army in June 1950 constituted a ground force of eight infantry divisions at full strength, two more infantry divisions activated at an estimated half strength, a separate infantry regiment, a motorcycle reconnaissance regiment, and an armored brigade. Five of the infantry divisions and the armored brigade had well-trained combat personnel. Many of these soldiers were hardened veterans who had fought with the Chinese Communist and Soviet Armies in World War II. The North Korea People’s Army was officially activated on 8 February 1948.

Its first full infantry divisions, the 3rd and 4th, were established between 1947 and 1949; and its first armored unit, the 105th Armored Battalion, was established in October 1948. The latter increased to regimental strength in May 1949. Conscription for replacements and build-up of the North Korea People’s Army apparently began about July 1948.

After a meeting of USSR and Communist China officials, reportedly held in Peiping early in 1950 to explore the advisability of using the North Korea People’s Army for an invasion of South Korea, there was a rapid build-up of that Army. It increased its training program, transferred ordnance depots from urban to isolated rural sites, and readied hidden dump areas to receive supplies, weapons, and munitions of war from the USSR. At the beginning of this build-up there were in Korea about 16,000 repatriated North Koreans from the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). In April 1950 Communist China returned 12,000 more veterans of the CCF to Korea where they formed the N.K. 7th Division (redesignated the 12th about 2 July 1950).

NOTE:Future reference to the two opposed Korean forces generally will be North Korean or N.K. and South Korean or ROK. The abbreviation N.K. will precede a numbered NKPA unit; ROK will precede a numbered South Korean unit.]

The Korean veterans of the Chinese Communist Forces made up about one third of the North Korea People’s Army in June 1950 and gave it a combat-hardened quality and efficiency that it would not otherwise have had. Five of the eight divisions in the North Korea People’s Army—the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th (12th) Divisions—had in their ranks substantial numbers of CCF soldiers of Korean extraction. The 5th, 6th, and 7th (12th) Divisions had the largest number of them. Also, many of the NKPA units that did not have rank and file soldiers from the CCF did have officers and noncommissioned officers from it.

Special mention needs to be made of the N.K. 5th, 6th, and 7th Divisions. In July 1949 the Chinese Communist Forces transferred all non-Koreans in the CCF 164th Division, then stationed in Manchuria, to other Chinese divisions and filled the 164th with Korean replacements. Near the end of the month the division, about 7,500 strong, moved by rail to Korea where it reorganized into the 10th, 11th, and 12th Rifle Regiments of the N.K. 5th Division.

At the same time, in July 1949, the CCF 166th Division moved to Korea and reorganized into the 13th, 14th, and 15thRegiments of the N.K. 6th Division. The story of the Koreans in this division goes back to 1942 when the Chinese Communists formed a Korean Volunteer Army largely with deserters from the Japanese Kwantung Army. This division had a strength of about 10,000 men when it entered Korea; there 800 replacements brought it to full strength.

In February 1950 all Korean units in the Chinese Manchurian Army assembled in Honan Province. They numbered about 12,000 men drawn from the CCF 139th, 140th, 141st, and 156th Divisions. Some of them had participated in the Chinese Communist advance from Manchuria to Peiping, and all were veteran troops. In the first part of April these troops moved by rail to Korea. In the Wonsan area these CCF veterans reorganized into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments of the N.K. 7th Division.

In addition to these three divisions, the N.K. 1st and 4th Divisions each had one regiment of CCF veterans. All the units from the CCF Army upon arrival in North Korea received Soviet-type arms and North Korean uniforms and were retrained in North Korean tactical doctrine, which closely followed the Russian.

In March 1950 North Korea activated two new divisions: the 10th, around Manchurian-trained units, and the 15th, with men from three youth-training schools and veteran Communist officers and noncommissioned officers. Although activated in March, the 15th Division received most of its troops near the end of June—after the invasion had started. In early June the 13th Division was activated; the last one to be activated before the invasion of South Korea.

By June 1950, the 105th Armored Regiment had become the 105th Armored Brigade with a strength of 6,000 men and 120 T34 tanks. Its equipment—tanks, weapons, and vehicles—was Russian-made. The brigade had three tank regiments—the 107th, 109th, and 203rd—each with 40 tanks, and a mechanized infantry regiment, the 206th, with a strength of about 2,500 men. A tank regiment had three medium tank battalions, each having 13 tanks. The battalions each had three tank companies with 4 tanks to a company. Tank crews consisted of five men. Battalion, regimental, and division tank commanders each had a personal tank. The 105th Armored Brigade was raised to division status in Seoul at the end of June 1950 before it crossed the Han River to continue the attack southward.12

In addition to the 120 tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade, the better part of another tank regiment appears to have been available to North Korea in late June. Thirty tanks reportedly joined the N.K. 7th (12th) Division at Inje in east central Korea just before it crossed the Parallel. This gave North Korea a total of 150 Russian-built T34 tanks in June 1950.

In the six months before the invasion, a defensive-type army of 4 divisions and an armored regiment had doubled in strength to form 7 combat-ready divisions and an armored brigade. And there were in addition 3 other newly activated and trained divisions, and 2 independent regiments.

The North Korean ground forces—the NKPA and the Border Constabulary— in June 1950 numbered about 135,000 men. This estimated total included 77,838 men in seven assault infantry divisions, 6,000 in the tank brigade, 3,000 in an independent infantry regiment, 2,000 in a motorcycle regiment, 23,000 in three reserve divisions, 18,600 in the Border Constabulary, and 5,000 in Army and I and II Corps Headquarters.

The North Korean infantry division at full strength numbered 11,000 men. It was a triangular division composed of three rifle regiments, each regiment having three battalions. [The 12th Division had a strength of 12,000.] The division had as integral parts an artillery regiment and a self-propelled gun battalion.

[NOTE 1-15NKA: The estimate of 135,000 is based on the following tabulation, drawn principally from N.K. PW interrogation reports:

There were also medical, signal, antitank, engineer, and training battalions, and reconnaissance and transport companies. The artillery support of the North Korean division in 1950 closely resembled that of the older type of Soviet division in World War II. A division had 12 122-mm. howitzers, 24 76-mm. guns, 12 SU-76 self-propelled-guns, 12 45-mm. antitank guns, and 36 14.5-mm. antitank rifles. In addition, the regiments and battalions had their own supporting weapons. Each regiment, for instance, had 6 120-mm. mortars, 4 76mm. howitzers, and 6 45-mm. antitank guns. Each battalion had 9 82-mm. mortars, 2 45-mm. antitank guns, and 9 14.5-mm. antitank rifles. The companies had their own 61-mm. mortars. A North Korean rifle regiment at full strength numbered 2,794 men—204 officers, 711 noncommissioned officers, and 1,879 privates.

From the beginning the Soviet Union had been the sponsor for the NKPA and had provided it with the sinews of war. Most important at first were the Russian-built T34 tanks of the 105th Armored Brigade. The T34 was a standard medium tank in the Soviet Army at the end of World War II. The Russians first used this tank against the Germans in July 1941. Guderian gives it the credit for stopping his drive on Tula and Moscow. The T34 weighed 32 tons, was of low silhouette, had a broad tread, and was protected by heavy armor plate. It mounted an 85-mm. gun and carried two 7.62-mm. machine guns, one mounted on the bow and the other coaxially with the gun.

[NOTE 1-19 Not until the end of the third week of the war did American intelligence settle on the identification of the T34 tank.]

Other ordnance items supplied to the NKPA by the Soviets included 76-mm. and 122-mm. howitzers; 122-mm. guns; 76-mm. self-propelled guns; 45-mm. antitank guns; 61-mm., 82-mm., and 120mm. mortars; small arms; ammunition for these weapons; and grenades. From the Soviet Union North Korea also received trucks, jeeps, radios, and fire control, signal, and medical equipment.

In the spring of 1950 the Soviet Union made particularly large shipments of arms and military supplies to North Korea. One captured North Korean supply officer stated that in May 1950, when he went to Chongjin to get supplies for the N.K. 5th Division, Soviet merchant ships were unloading weapons and ammunition, and that trucks crowded the harbor waterfront area. Korean-speaking crew members told him the ships had come from Vladivostok. Markings on some of the North Korean equipment captured in the first few months of the Korean War show that it was manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1949-50 and, accordingly, could not have been matériel left behind in 1948 when the occupation forces withdrew from North Korea, as the Soviets have claimed.

 

North Korea began the war with about 180 aircraft, all supplied by Russia. Of these about 60 were YAK trainers; 40, YAK fighters; 70, attack bombers; and 10, reconnaissance planes. The North Korean Navy had approximately 16 patrol craft of various types and a few coastwise steamers reportedly equipped with light deck guns.

Army of the Republic of Korea

In June 1950 President Syngman Rhee was Commander in Chief of the South Korean Army. Under him was Sihn Sung Mo, the Minister of National Defense. The Deputy Commander in Chief actually in command of the Army was Major General Chae Byong Duk.

The origins and development of an armed force in South Korea had their roots, as in North Korea, in the occupation period after World War II. At first the principal objects of the U.S. occupation were to secure the surrender of the Japanese troops south of the 38th Parallel, return them to Japan, and preserve law and order until such time as the Koreans could do this for themselves.

In January 1946 a Korean constabulary was authorized and established. This organization took form so slowly that a year later it numbered only 5,000 men. By April 1947, however, it had doubled in strength and by July of that year it had reached 15,000. The constabulary became the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army in August 1948 and grew so rapidly in the next few months that by January 1949 it numbered more than 60,000 men. In March 1949 the Republic of Korea had an Army of 65,000, a Coast Guard of 4,000, and a police force of 45,000—a total security force of about 114,000 men. The United States had equipped about 50,000 men in the Army with standard infantry-type weapons and matériel, including the M1 rifle and 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars.

Upon withdrawal of the last of the U.S. occupation force at the end of June 1949 a group of 482 United States military advisers began working with the South Korean Army. This small group of U.S. Army officers and enlisted men, established on 1 July 1949 with an authorized strength of 500 men, was called the United States Korean Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea (KMAG). Its mission was “to advise the government of the Republic of Korea in the continued development of the Security Forces of that government.” KMAG was an integral part of the American Mission in Korea (AMIK) and, as such, came under the control of Ambassador Muccio. In matters purely military, however, it was authorized to report directly to the Department of the Army and, after co-ordinating with Ambassador Muccio, to inform General MacArthur, the Commander in Chief, Far East (CINCFE), of military matters.

In April 1950 the South Korean Government began the formation of combat police battalions to relieve the Army of internal security missions, but of twenty-one battalions planned only one, that activated at Yongwol on 10 April 1950 to provide protection for the power plant, coal mines, and other vital resources in that vicinity, was in existence when the war started.

[NOTE 1-25ROK: Rpt, USMAG to ROK, 1 Jan-15 Jun 50, Annex I. The Department of the Army in a message to General MacArthur dated 10 June 1949 established KMAG. It became operational in Korea on 1 July 1949. Msg, G-3 Plans and Opns to CINCFE WARX90049, 10 Jun 49. The KMAG personnel present for duty 1 July 1949 numbered 482: 165 officers, 4 warrant officers, and 313 enlisted men. Sawyer, KMAG MS; Msg, WX90992, DA to CG USAFIK, 2 Jul 49, cited in General Headquarters Support and Participation, 25 June 1950-30 April 1951, by Major James F. Schnabel (hereafter cited as Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War), ch. I, pp. 4-5. This is Volume I of Far East Command, United Nations Command, History of the Korean War, in OCMH.]

By June 1950 the Republic of Korea armed forces consisted of the following: Army, 94,808; Coast Guard, 6,145; Air Force, 1,865; National Police, 48,273. When the war began nearly a month later the Army had a strength of about 98,000, composed of approximately 65,000 combat troops and 33,000 headquarters and service troops.

NOTE 1-2626 Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and anticipation in Korean War, sec. V, p. 16; Interv, author with Major James W. Hausman, 12 Jan 52. Major Hausman was KMAG adviser to the ROK Army Chief of Staff in June 1950. KMAG figures for 1 June give a total of about 67,000 in the eight infantry divisions]

In June 1950 the combat troops of the ROK Army were organized into eight divisions: the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and Capital Divisions. Five of them, the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, and Capital, had 3 regiments; two divisions, the 3rd and 8th, had 2 regiments; and one division, the 5th, had 2 regiments and 1 battalion. Only four divisions, the 1st, 6th, 7th, and Capital, were near full strength of 10,000 men.

The organization of the combat divisions and their present-for-duty strength are shown in Table 1. For some unknown reason the ROK Army headquarters report, on which Table 1 is based, does not include the 17th Regiment. It numbered about 2,500 men and was part of the Capital Division in the paper organization of the Army.

[NOTE 1-27G3: Interv, author with Major General Chang Chang Kuk (Military Attaché, Korean Embassy, Washington), 14 Oct 53. General Chang was G-3 of the ROK Army in June 1950. Rpt, USMAG to ROK, 1 Jan15 Jun 50, Annex IX. Major Hausman says he always considered 10,000 as the table of organization strength of a South Korean division. Some references give the figure as 9,500. General Chang said the ROK Army considered 9,000-9,500 as T/O strength of a division in June 1950. Spelling of names and rank as of June 1950 checked and corrected by General Chang and by General Paik Sun Yup, ROK Chief of Staff, in MS review comments, 11 July 1958. In accordance with Korean usage, the surnames come first, the name Syngman Rhee is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. Korean personal names ordinarily consist of three monosyllables.

In the early summer of 1950 the 1st, 7th, 6th, and 8th Divisions, considered the best in the ROK Army, held positions along the Parallel in the order named, from west to east. Beyond the 1st Division at the extreme western end of the line was the 17th Regiment of the Capital Division on the Ongjin Peninsula. The other four divisions were scattered about the interior and southern parts of the country, three of them engaged in anti-guerrilla activity and training in small unit tactics. The Capital Division’s headquarters was at Seoul, the 2nd’s at Ch’ongju near Taejon, the 3rd’s at Taegu, and the 5th’s at Kwangju in southwest Korea.

The South Korean divisions along the Parallel were equipped mostly with the United States M1 rifle, .30-caliber carbine, 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars, 2.36 in. rocket launchers, 37-mm. antitank guns, and 105-mm. howitzers M3. The howitzers had been used in the U.S. infantry cannon companies in World War II. They had a shorter barrel than the regular 105-mm. howitzer M2, possessed no armor shield, and had an effective range of only 7,250 yards (8,200 yards maximum range) as compared to 12,500 yards for the 105-mm. howitzer M2.

There were five battalions of these howitzers organized into the usual headquarters and service companies and three firing batteries of five howitzers each. The 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 8th Divisions each had a battalion of the howitzers. A sixth battalion was being formed when the war started. Of 91 howitzers on hand 15 June 1950, 89 were serviceable.

The South Korean armed forces had no tanks, no medium artillery, no 4.2-in. mortars, no recoilless rifles, and no fighter aircraft or bombers. The divisions engaged in fighting guerrillas in the eastern and southern mountains had a miscellany of small arms, including many Japanese Model 99 World War II rifles.

In October of 1949 the ROK Minister of Defense had requested 189 M26 tanks but the acting chief of KMAG told him the KMAG staff held the view that the Korean terrain and the condition of roads and bridges would not lend themselves to efficient tank operations. About the same time a KMAG officer pointed out to Ambassador Muccio that the equipment provided the ROK’s was not adequate to maintain the border, and he cited the fact that North Korean artillery outranged by several thousand yards the ROK 105-mm. howitzer M3 and shelled ROK positions at will while being out of range of retaliatory fire.

The ROK Army in June 1950 had among its heavier weapons 27 armored cars; something more than 700 artillery pieces and mortars, including 105-mm. howitzers and 81-mm. and 60-mm. mortars; about 140 antitank guns; and approximately 1,900 2.36-in. bazookas. In June 1950 it had about 2,100 serviceable U.S. Army motor vehicles for transportation, divided between about 830 2-1/2 ton trucks and 1,300 ¼-ton trucks (jeeps). Motor maintenance was of a low order.

[NOTE 1-30ROK: The original U.S. commitment in July 1949 was to supply the Korean Army with an issue of equipment and a six months’ supply of spare parts for a force of 50,000. See Memo, Gen Roberts to All Advisers, KMAG, 5 May 50, sub: Korean Army Logistical Situation. The Department of State gives $57,000,000 as the value of military equipment given to South Korea before its invasion by North Korea,with a replacement cost at time of delivery to South Korea of $110,000,000. See The Conflict in Korea, p. 10.]

The South Korean Air Force in June 1950 consisted of a single flight group of 12 liaison-type aircraft and 10 advance trainers (AT6). Major Dean E. Hess, KMAG adviser to the South Korean Air Force, had a few (approximately 10) old F-51 (Mustang) planes under his control but no South Korean pilots had yet qualified to fly combat missions. These planes were given to the ROK Air Force on 26 June 1950.

On 25 June the South Korean Navy consisted of a patrol craft (PC701) recently purchased in the United States from surplus vessels, 3 other similar patrol craft at Hawaii en route to Korea, 1 LST, 15 former U.S. mine sweepers, 10 former Japanese mine layers, and various other small craft.

In June 1950 the ROK Army supply of artillery and mortar ammunition on hand was small and would be exhausted by a few days of combat. An estimated 15 percent of the weapons and 35 percent of the vehicles in the ROK Army were unserviceable. The six months’ supply of spare parts originally provided by the United States was exhausted.

The state of training of the ROK

Army is reflected in the Chief of KMAG’s report that a majority of the units of the South Korean Army had completed small unit training at company level and were engaged in battalion training.

In summary, the North Korean Army in June 1950 was clearly superior to the South Korean in several respects: the North Koreans had 150 excellent medium tanks mounting 85-mm. guns, the South Koreans had no tanks; the North Koreans had three types of artillery—the 122-mm. howitzer, the 76-mm. self-propelled gun, and the 76-mm. divisional gun with a maximum range of more than 14,000 yards which greatly outranged the 105-mm. howitzer M3 of the ROK Army with its maximum range of about 8,200 yards. In number of divisional artillery pieces, the North Koreans exceeded the South Korean on an average of three to one. The North Koreans had a small tactical air force, the South Koreans had none. In the North Korean assault formations there were 89,000 combat troops as against approximately 65,000 in the South Korean divisions. Also, North Korea had an additional 18,600 trained troops in its Border Constabulary and 23,000 partially trained troops in three reserve divisions. In comparison, South Korea had about 45,000 national police, but they were not trained or armed for tactical use. The small coast guard or navy of each side just about canceled each other and were relatively unimportant

[NOTE 1-33ART: The maximum range of the Soviet artillery used by the N.K. Army in June 1950 was as follows: 122-mm. howitzer, 12,904 yards; 76-mm. SP gun, 12,400 yards; 76-mm. divisional gun, 14,545 yards. The average North Korean division had 48 122-mm. howitzers, 76-mm. SP and non-SP guns; the ROK division had 15 105-mm. howitzers M3.]

The superiority of the North Korean Army over the South Korean in these several respects was not generally recognized, however, by United States military authorities before the invasion. In fact, there was the general feeling, apparently shared by Brigadier General William L. Roberts, Chief of KMAG, on the eve of invasion that if attacked from North Korea the ROK Army would have no trouble in repelling the invaders.

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: Invasion Across the Parallel (3)

Korean War: (1) Background to Conflict

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World War Two: North Africa (6-30); Attacks at Fondouk el Aouareb – Pursuit Onto the Plain

During the period when II Corps, with three of its divisions, was engaged in the battles for Gafsa, Maknassy, and EI Guettar, the 34th Infantry Division, and later the British 9 Corps, was attempting to gain the important gap through the Eastern Dorsal near Fondouk el Aouareb. If the Allies could thus succeed in driving the enemy out of his mountain defenses they would be in a position to threaten Kairouan and possibly cut off the enemy’s forces in the southern portion of the Tunisian bridgehead.

General Alexander’s plan of 25 March specified that the 34th Infantry Division should attack as early as possible on the axis Sbeltla-Hadjeb el Youn-Fondouk el Aouareb, to seize the heights on the Eastern Dorsal south of the gap, and Djebel Trozza (997), which is about eight miles west of it. “This ground will be firmly held,” the directive stated, “to enable mobile forces to operate from there into the Kairouan plain.” General Patton later passed on these instructions to General Ryder, Commanding General, 34th Infantry Division, in an evening conference at Feriana on 25 March.

His directions to Ryder were brief and clear. The 34th Division was to make what amounted to a largescale demonstration. Seizing Kairouan was not desired. The attack was to gain the pass and, after intermediate objectives there had been occupied, to make strong demonstrations in the direction of Kairouan. The means and method were left to Ryder’s discretion.

By moving a regiment on the night of 25-26 March, and a second on the following night from the area of Sbeitla to the vicinity of Hadjeb el Aioun, and leaving one regiment at Sbeitla for defense, General Ryder could attack at daylight on 27 March. He left the 133rd Infantry (less one battalion stationed at AFHQ in Algiers) to defend Sbeitla, and sent the 135th and168th Infantry into the attack. The 175th Field Artillery Battalion was to support the 168th Infantry; the 125th and 185th Field Artillery Battalions were to support the 135th Infantry; and battalions of the 178th and 36th Field Artillery Regiments were to remain in position near Sbeitla, subject to call. Units of the 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 751st Tank Battalion were to assemble near Had jeb el Aloun and be in reserve on the right wing of the attack. Antiaircraft batteries of the 107th Coast Artillery were attached to the field artillery. The routes of approach through a secondary pass east of Had jeb el Aloun or via the western side of Djebel Trozza were to be covered by reconnaissance elements.

[NOTE: The staff of the 34th Division was as follows: commanding general, General Ryder; assistant division commander, General Caffey; chief of staff, Colonel Norman E. Hendrickson; G-l, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas L. Gaines; G-2, Lieutenant Colonel Hubert Demarais; G-3, Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Neely; G-4, Lieutenant Colonel Walter W. Wendt; artillery, Brigadier General Albert C. Stanford. 3 (1) Memo, CG 34th Div for CG II Corps, 25 Mar 43, sub: Opn Plan, with copy of outline plan annexed, Entry 321, in II Corps G-3 Jnl. (2) Inten-with Gen Ryder, 21 Feb 50.]

The opening at Fondouk el Aouareb, through which First Army had expected an enemy attack on 14 February that actually came through Faid pass, is about sixteen miles northeast of Hadjeb el Aloun at a gap where the Marguellil river goes through the eastern mountain chain. The shallow stream flows from the northwest and in an elbow turn swings eastward at the pass through a wide, marshy valley. North of the opening is the Djebel el Cherichera (462) and its foothills. Immediately to the south, several precipitous knobs along parallel ridges of the Djebel el Aouareb (306) lead to a higher hill mass.

The Zeroud river winds its way around them at a distance of 10 to 20 miles south of Fondouk. The gap at the village of Fondouk el Aouareb narrows to about 1,000 yards and the ground appears, except for occasional mounds, almost flat both east and west of it. Just west of it, on the northern side of the stream, is the Djebel Ain el Rhorab (290), a steep-sided ridge above a large native village and spring. From this hill all of the roads from the west and Northwest of Pichon, the French XIX Corps (Divisions Mathenet and Welvert-also known as the Constantine Division ) were to push across the Ousseltia valley at this time, southwest that meet in the pass en route to Fondouk el Aouareb can be observed and brought under fire. All the roads converging on the village from these directions are dominated also by the massive Djebel Trozza, with a crest over 3,000 feet high.

These roads run over a bare, undulating plain cut by wadies but devoid of important vegetation except for widely scattered cactus patches and small olive groves. In the spring, the time of these operations, desert flowers of brilliant hue abound. The attack on 27 March approached the pass from the southwest along the Hadjeb el Aioun- Fondouk el Aouareb road, which became the boundary between the two participating regiments.

The defenders were in positions on the hills. The zone of which this portion was a critical part was controlled by the Italian XXX Corps (General Sogno) headquarters at Sousse, through Group Fullriede at Kairouan. The forces were neither numerous nor exceptionally well equipped, and were rather thinly strung from outposts near Pichon southward to the Zeroud river. Hills northwest of Fondouk el Aouareb toward Pichon were held by two companies of the 1st Battalion, 961st Infantry Regiment, each with three rifle platoons, one platoon with two heavy machine guns and two mortars, and one antitank platoon with two guns. This unit (of the 999th Africa Division) consisted chiefly of court-martialed German soldiers to whom combat duty was permitted for the purpose of rehabilitation. The defense of Fondouk el Aouareb gap was its first important battle.

Along Djebel el Cherichera and northeast of it was the 190th Reconnaissance Battalion, reinforced with some artillery. To the south, along the crest of Djebel el Aouareb, the 27th Africa Battalion was stationed, and from there to Djebel Hallouf (481), the Headquarters, 961st Infantry Regiment (Kampfgruppe Wall), was ready. It consisted of the 1st Battalion (-) and the 2nd Battalion, 961st Infantry Regiment, reinforced with artillery and antitank guns. As reinforcements for his sector, Colonel Fullriede could also draw on the 34th Africa Battalion, the 2nd Battalion, Italian 91st Infantry Regiment, and some native Arab troop units. The enemy expected an attack in view of the information gleaned on 26 March from prisoners.

The 34th Infantry Division’s two regiments organized with the somewhat more experienced 168th Infantry (Colonel Butler) on the right nearer the enemy’s principal hill positions and the 135th Infantry (Colonel Ward) on the northwest. At 0600, 27 March, the attack opened on a four-battalion front. Each regiment echeloned its leading battalion and put a second battalion behind the outer company of the assault unit. The troops reached the first phase line four hours later in good order and without coming under hostile fire. The steeply sloped hills of the Eastern Dorsal crossed their path of approach obliquely, with Hill 306 on Djebel el Aouareb, the first objective, still several miles away.

The next phase of the advance shortly brought the leading elements within range of shelling from both the hills to the east and those to the northwest in the vicinity of Djebel Trozza. Most fire fell at first on the 168th Infantry. American artillery drove off an enemy reconnaissance group of scout cars and two light tanks which approached from the northwest and also struck two squads of the 135th’s Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon at close range. Then, as the volume of fire from the hills intensified, the 135th Infantry, ahead and on the left, stopped a little before 1400. The men sought cover from both the frontal and enfilading fire of heavy machine guns, artillery, and mortars. The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 168th Infantry, heading for somewhat separated objectives on their part of the front, were only partly successful.

As nightfall drew near, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 135th Infantry, attacked abreast in fading light. They succeeded in penetrating the enemy’s main line of resistance, but in the darkness which now prevailed the unit commanders lost control and could not hold their gains. A gap developed during this attack between the 135th Infantry and the 168th Infantry on its right.

Another attack next morning after a heavy artillery preparation carried the advance elements to the base of the main ridge but neither then nor later did assaulting forces risk enough troops to gain full possession of the exposed upper slopes. Infiltration tactics were unsuccessful. Three days of small infantry attacks followed, and during this period the northern flank of the 135th Infantry was under persistent enfilading fire by flat trajectory weapons which swept the reverse slopes of forward ridges and severely hampered daylight movement.

Several battalion officers were wounded, requiring the transfer of Lieutenant Colonel Albert A. Svoboda, regimental executive officer, to command the 2nd Battalion, and the regimental, Captain Ray Erickson, to be Svoboda’s operations officer, while the executive officer of the 1st Battalion, Major Garnet Hall, was shifted to command the 3rd Battalion.

These vital changes occurred while the units were thoroughly engaged, and weakened the regimental staff. Farther south, elements of the 168th Infantry gained some isolated crests. On the morning of 31 March, a mobile armored force struck an enemy group lurking in the cactus and olive groves on the northwestern slopes of Djebel Touil (665), about five miles south of the main battle area, and drove them out despite strong fire from adjacent hills and an attack by Axis dive bombers. This operation was thought to have forestalled, at the cost of two tanks, an enemy blow at the 168th Infantry’s southern flank.

The 34th Infantry Division’s attack was stopped short of Fondouk el Aouareb gap on 28 March and never actually reached it. Furthermore, General Ryder adhered to General Patton’s oral instruction to make a lot of noise but not to run grave risks merely to gain ground. to Co-ordination and control were defective. The Germans in consequence derived a low estimate of American soldiers. “The American gives up the fight as soon as he is attacked. Our men feel superior to the enemy in every respect,” a German inspector reported on 2 April.

On the nights of 31 March-l April and 1-2 April, with the division’s combat condition reported as only “fair,” the infantry units fell back well out of the range of the heavy machine guns and artillery in their protected emplacements on the Djebel Ain el Rhorab, the Djebel el Aouareb, Djebel el Djeriri (374), and Djebel Hallouf, to defensive positions four miles to the west. There they waited and rested.

[NOTE: (1) 34th Inf Div G-3 Periodic Rpts 48, 31 Mar 43, and 49, 1 Apr 43. (2) 168th Inf Hist, 12 Nov 42-15 May 43, reported casualties as follows: killed, 17; wounded, 108; missing, 178.]

The Second Attack at Fondouk el AouarebFalters

Benefiting from his first attempt at Fondouk el Aouareb, during which he realized, after testing its defenses, that he had committed too small a force, General Alexander directed that the new effort should be part of a much broader push extending for fifteen miles from Fondouk el Aouareb northeastward along the mountain chain to the northern extremity of Djebel Ousselat (887). For the whole offensive, General Koeltz’s French XIX Corps (under British First Army) and the British 9 Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Sir John Crocker (directly under 18 Army Group) were to be used. British combat units for the prospective operation could not get into position before 7 April, when not much time would be left for the break-through if the enemy was to be intercepted on the coastal plain. The 34th Infantry Division (from U.S. II Corps) , the British 6th Armoured Division, 128th Infantry Brigade, and two squadrons of the 51st Royal Tank Regiment (temporarily released by British First Army) comprised General Crocker’s command.

The ultimate objective, at one time to confine the enemy’s retreat to the coastal road east of Kairouan, was redefined before the attack began as interception and destruction of retreating forces. American and British infantry were expected to open the pass while the British armor went through in order to carry out its mission on the coastal plain, and while French and other British units swept the enemy from the hills north of Fondouk el Aouareb gap.

On the day before the attack, General Crocker, at General Ryder’s headquarten; near the village of Djebel Trozza, held a command conference which was attended by his principal subordinates and by General Koeltz. The British 9 Corps plan was set forth and the plans for each of the participating major units then explained. General Crocker had established the northern boundary of the 34th Division’s zone along the southern edge of the Marguellil river, thus splitting the gap itself, as well as the approach from the west, into American and British areas of attack. In conformity with preliminary understandings, General Ryder’s plan prescribed the employment of all three of his regiments (including the two-battalion 133d Infantry) and more armor and artillery than in the first attack, after making a sideslip to the northward from their current positions southwest of the gap. The assault would be made squarely eastward toward the heights south of Fondouk el Aouareb. Its left flank would depend for protection upon a simultaneous attack by the British 128th Brigade aimed at denying to the enemy the use of Djebel Ain el Rhorab. The ground over which the 34th Division would attack was so open as to make the frontal assault on Djebel el Aouareb’s steep and craggy slopes a formidable task. But the additional enfilading fire to be expected from Djebel Ain el Rhorab could be positively devastating.

At the command conference on 6 April, General Ryder learned for the first time that the British 128th Infantry Brigade would attack initially the heights east of Pichon, and then move southward toward Djebel Ain el Rhorab, which it could reach at best only after the passage of several hours of daylight. Later recollections of the discussion which followed are somewhat conflicting, but General Ryder’s misgivings concerning the exposed northern flank of his attack, however clearly he may have expressed them, produced no change in the corps orders. General Crocker and his chief of staff, Brig. Gordon MacMillan, then believed, as they did after the operation, that Djebel Ain el Rhorab was much less strongly held than the heights east of Pichon and was not a serious menace to Ryder’s attack. General Ryder’s division could not add the seizure of Djebel Ain el Rhorab to its other responsibilities or even gain permission to reply to fire received from it, except to cover it with smoke shells during the critical opening phase.

The whole operation, as British 9 Corps planned it, would occur in three phases. First, the British 128th Infantry Brigade would seize crossings over the Marguellil river west of the village of Pichon early on the night of 7-8 April, thus enabling engineers to construct bridging for tanks and other vehicles before daylight. At dawn it would continue to the east to the heights beyond Pichon, then turn southward toward Fondouk el Aouareb gap to neutralize or occupy Djebel Ain el Rhorab. The second phase would consist of parallel attacks by the 128th Infantry Brigade and the 34th Infantry Division on opposite sides of the river to drive the enemy from the heights. In the third phase, the British 6th Armoured Division was to pass through the gap.

The decision whether the tanks of the 26th Armoured Brigade would be sent through first or be preceded by the 18th Guards Brigade was deferred until the command conference which was attended by his principal subordinates and by General Koeltz. The British 9 Corps plan was set forth and the plans for each of the participating major units then explained. General Crocker had established the northern boundary of the 34th Division’s zone along the southern edge of the Marguellil river, thus splitting the gap itself, as well as the approach from the west, into American and British areas of attack. In conformity with preliminary understandings, General Ryder’s plan prescribed the employment of all three of his regiments (including the two-battalion 133rd Infantry) and more armor and artillery than in the first attack, after making a sideslip to the northward from their current positions southwest of the gap.16 The assault would be made squarely eastward toward the heights south of Fondouk el Aouareb. Its left flank would depend for protection upon a simultaneous attack by the British 128th Brigade aimed at denying to the enemy the use of Djebel Ain el Rhorab. The ground over which the 34th Division would attack was so open as to make the frontal assault on Djebel el Aouareb’s steep and craggy slopes a formidable task. But the additional enfilading fire to be expected from Djebel Ain el Rhorab could be positively devastating.

At the command conference on 6 April, General Ryder learned for the first time that the British 128th Infantry Brigade would attack initially the heights east of Pichon, and then move southward toward Djebel Ain el Rhorab, which it could reach at best only after the passage of several hours of which followed are somewhat conflicting, but General Ryder’s misgivings concerning the exposed northern flank of his attack, however clearly he may have expressed them, produced no change in the corps orders. General Crocker and his chief of staff, Brigadier Gordon MacMillan, then believed, as they did after the operation, that Djebel Ain el Rhorab was much less strongly held than the heights east of Pichon and was not a serious menace to Ryder’s attack.

General Ryder’s division could not add the seizure of Djebel Ain el Rhorab to its other responsibility or even gain permission to reply to fire received from it, except to cover it with smoke shells during the critical opening phase. The whole operation, as British 9 Corps planned it, would occur in three phases. First, the British 128th Infantry Brigade would seize crossings over the Marguellil river west of the village of Pichon early on the night of 7-8 April, thus enabling engineers to construct bridging for tanks and other vehicles before daylight. At dawn it would continue to the east to the heights beyond Pichon, then turn southward toward Fondouk el Aouareb gap to neutralize or occupy Djebel Ain el Rhorab. The second phase would consist of parallel attacks by the 128th Infantry Brigade and the 34th Infantry Division on opposite sides of the river to drive the enemy from the heights. In the third phase, the British 6th Armoured Division was to pass through the gap, course of the battle had clarified the nature of the defense to be overcome. Moreover, if General Crocker should have to use the 18th Guards Brigade to clear Djebel Ain el Rhorab, it would of course leave no alternative to a decision to use British armor at the head of the column through the gap.

With the start of operations so near, and with the elements of British 9 Corps assembling within sight of Djebel Trozza on 5-6 April, General Ryder faced an extremely difficult situation. His troops had just failed in one attack against the objective which they were now to assault for the second time. It would be extremely difficult to get them in motion again once they had been pinned down by heavy enemy fire. They might succeed, of course, despite their inexperience in night attack, in crossing to the hills under cover of darkness, but once they were there, they could no longer be aided by an air bombardment.

Air bombing was more desirable than artillery fire because the enemy could take shelter behind great boulders on the reverse slopes of Djebel el Aouareb’s several ridges and emerge unhurt when the artillery fire was lifted. Any daylight advance on the American side of the Marguellil river would be, as noted, in serious jeopardy while the enemy could fire from Djebel Ain el Rhorab. General Koeltz, whose corps had been driven out in January after holding Fondouk el Aouareb gap for a time, and who had planned several times to retake it, knew the terrain very well. He could appreciate General Ryder’s conviction, a conviction also reached by Major General Harold R. Bull on arrival at General Ryder’s command post during the afternoon before the attack, that the U.S. 34th Infantry Division was being committed under a faulty plan which threatened to result in failure. But it was now too late to revise the entire scheme of attack.

General Ryder balanced the factors affecting his part of the attack and concluded that he should get his assault battalions on the objective before dawn. He obtained consent from 9 Corps to advance his attack from 0530 to 0300. Corps concluded that the preparatory air bombardment of Djebel el Aouareb should be cancelled, and notified the division just before midnight, 7-8 April, that no such bombing would take place. The leading infantry units were then marching in a northeasterly loop to the line of departure at a large wadi running generally north and south some 5,000 yards from the base of the hills. At 0220, a liaison officer left division headquarters with orders to cross the line of departure at 0300.

The attack was to be made by two regiments in column of battalions, the 135th Infantry on the north and the 133rd on the south. Each regiment put its 3rd Battalion ahead on a 1,500-yard front. The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 168th Infantry, were at first to protect the tank and artillery assembly areas, and to patrol toward Djebel Touil.

The 2nd Battalion was held in reserve near the division command post. One company of the 751st Tank Battalion was to assemble south of the line of departure for commitment with the assault infantry on division order, while the remainder of the tanks, with the 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less one company), were held farther to the south for commitment on that flank or elsewhere as required. To the south and rear of the line of departure, six battalions of artillery were set up for massed fires. Farther to the rear, the 36th Field Artillery Regiment (less 1st Battalion) was emplaced. The deep northern flank was protected by a company of the 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 2nd Battalion, 168th Infantry. Eventually this infantry battalion would be released by the division to the 133rd Infantry on the southern wing of the assault. The 135th Infantry was directed to smoke appropriate targets on its left flank by mortars, but Djebel Ain el Rhorab would be out of mortar range.

Upon arriving at a co-ordinating line about 1,500 yards from the base of Djebel el Aouareb the two leading battalions on the assault line were expected to pause for reorganization while the Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 135th Infantry (Major Hall), fired a flare as a signal for the beginning of artillery preparation fire. Because of communications difficulties the two battalions did not attack until about 0530, instead of at 0300 as ordered. Hall’s battalion veered to the north on the way to the co-ordinating line, causing a gap to develop between it and the 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry. At 0630, the artillery men saw the signal and began shelling the objective. At the same time the enemy opened up on the attacking infantry with mortar and machine gun fire. To fill the gap, 1st Battalion, 135th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Robert P. Miller), hurried forward across the flats toward the assault line as the rising sun shone from behind the enemy, and as hostile fire from the left and the front quickened.

At this juncture, General Ryder learned that the artillery had been signaled when the troops were still considerably short of the line specified in the plans and when in fact most of them were still west of the 2,000-yard bomb line. He therefore tried at about 0745 to have the infantry stopped, the artillery alerted to mark the target by smoke shells, and an air bombing mission reinstated for the half hour from 0800 to 0830. Some of the infantry had to pull back. The enemy in front quieted down on the south and center but remained very active on the north, and on the northern flank, as the minutes ticked off but the air attack failed to materialize. The strike was postponed one hour and, at 0930, was abandoned altogether. The artillery then repeated its preparation with smoke and high explosive, and the infantry resumed its advance.

The attack started forward by bounds under increasing enemy fire which in spots raised a cloud of dust almost as opaque as a smoke screen. Every attempt to reply brought a quick response from well-registered enemy artillery. The men then reacted as General Ryder had anticipated they would. They dug shallow trenches, found dry wadies, or lay behind sand hummocks for cover. Troops comprising the northern wing of the attack could not be induced to go forward into a curtain of fire such as they had never previously encountered. Elsewhere the attack also dragged to a stop.

The British 128th Infantry Brigade, supported by Churchill tanks of the 51st Royal Tank Regiment, attacked at the designated time through Pichon to the heights east of the village but fell somewhat behind schedule. Turning south at 1500, the brigade stopped about a mile and a half from Djebel Ain el Rhorab in the latter part of the afternoon, after the enemy on Djebel Ain el Rhorab switched his heavy mortar fire northeastward to oppose its progress. About 1600, when the 34th Infantry Division, supported by American tanks, renewed its attack toward Djebel el Aouareb the British 26th Armoured Brigade passed through the division’s area, much to the Americans’ surprise and confusion. American infantry reached some of the enemy’s positions at the base of the hills but could not hold them. The 135th Infantry units, after withdrawal, were partly interspersed among vehicles of the British armored force, which remained deployed in attack formation. Reorganization under enemy observation and under the increased fire attracted by these vehicles was necessary before the regiment could again engage, as it did early next morning, in co-ordinated action. At all points, the first day’s attack at Fondouk el Aouareb gap had been thwarted.

When General Keightley, 6th Armoured Division commander, returned to his command post about 1830 from a reconnaissance toward the pass, he found orders from General Crocker to create or discover a path through the enemy’s mine field during the night, to push the tanks through early next morning, and to protect his own left flank from enemy guns and mortars on Djebel Ain el Rhorab by sending one battalion of infantry to take it before daylight. Crocker insisted that Djebel Ain el Rhorab was lightly held or possibly even abandoned and must not be “re-occupied.” Actually, it was strongly defended by a small force which was to be reinforced. Keightley sent the 3rd Battalion, Welsh Guards (3/WG), to patrol as far as Djebel Ai”n el Rhorab that night and to attack as early as possible in the morning. When General Crocker discovered at daybreak, 9 April, that Djebel Ain el Rhorab was just about to be attacked but that a path through the mines had not been opened, and the enemy’s defenses had not yet been fully tested, he sent the 26th Armoured Brigade into the pass, ordered the entire Guards Brigade, if necessary, to occupy Djebel Ain el Rhorab, and directed the 128th Infantry Brigade to assist them.

At 0900, 9 April, before General Crocker’s orders had been executed, thirty-one of General Ryder’s tanks were on the 34th Division objective ahead of his infantry in an attack without benefit of artillery preparation, but the infantry remained pinned down under intensified ground fire and an enemy dive-bombing, so that the whole effort went for naught. Five tanks were lost. A second attempt about 1130 on a narrower portion of the front reached the lower slopes of Hill 306 but was then smothered by fire, mainly from the north flank. The remaining tanks were then sent to the rear, out of range. The British 6th Armoured Division would apparently have to punch its own way through the gap.

[NOTE: The Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously to Private Robert D. Booker, a machine gunner of the 133rd Infantry for bravery and leadership on 9 April 1943.]

Djebel Ain el Rhorab was captured during the afternoon, 9 April, by the 3rd Battalion, Welsh Guards, supported by tanks of the 2nd Lothians, and was mopped up with the help of the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards (3/GG). They took over 100 German prisoners from the 26th and 27th Africa Battalions. The 135th Infantry was still receiving fire from the left as late as 1430, but they were ordered not to reply.

On 8 April the enemy was forced to commit his reserves to prevent the Allies from breaking through to the Kairouan plain. Shortly before Djebel Ain el Rhorab was captured by the British, Colonel Fullriede reinforced the two companies of the 27th Africa Battalion defending Djebel Ain el Rhorab and the hills to the north of it by sending into the line the 26th Africa Battalion. On 9 April, as the situation further deteriorated, he committed one company of the 334th Reconnaissance Battalion with the mission of regaining the lost ground on the djebel. The antitank company (armed with seven self-propelled antitank guns and a captured and converted American armored car) took up positions to the south of the Marguellil river and the Kairouan road. Further to strengthen the antitank defenses of the pass area north of the river, the German commander borrowed six self-propelled 47 -mm. antitank guns from the Italian 135th Armored Battalion and two 88-mm. dual-purpose Flak guns. In the thickly mined pass were at least thirteen heavy antitank guns on the southern side of the river and two more north of it. Through this gantlet the British armor was waiting to run.

Failure to obtain the pass on 8 April for the unimpeded passage of the British 6th Armoured Division threatened to frustrate the purpose of the whole effort, which, as already pointed out, has been running on a very close schedule from the first. The Chott Position at the Akarit wadi had been defended only briefly. The Italian First Army was already streaming northward over the coastal plain, on the roads leading east of Kairouan. Although the German Africa Corps was nearer the mountain chain, it could still be intercepted only if the Allied armored units were on the plain south of Kairouan before 10 April.

British 6th Armoured Division Breaks Out at Fondouk el Aouareb

While the 3rd Welsh Guards and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division were attacking, the British 26th Armoured Brigade spent the morning of 9 April and the first half of the afternoon in a successful effort to penetrate the enemy’s deep but irregular belt of mines across the gap. The 17/21 Lancers with some Royal Engineers found a lane which permitted one small tank unit to get through about 1215 before being stopped by fire from Fondouk el Aouareb village, 400 yards beyond the mine field. As British along with a number of American troops boldly tried to clear another lane farther south, the 16/5 Lancers discovered a twisting and difficult path which involved crossing the stream bed to the northern side, working along that bank for almost a mile, and then turning south to recross the Marguellil on the far side of Fondouk el Aouareb village. Allied counterbattery fire during this protracted and courageous action took its toll of the enemy’s antitank guns, but they in turn knocked out enough British tanks to bring the total to a considerable figure. The Coldstream Guards were ordered to clear the enemy from those heights nearest the gap, originally in the U.S. 34th Infantry Division’s zone. The American zone was then narrowed in order to transfer this area to the British 6th Armoured Division. Armored units began to emerge on the eastern side of the mine field between 1500 and 1800, 9 April. The enemy in the hills facing General Ryder’s troops prepared to join the main northward retreat during the night.

The 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, attacked to gain the summit of Hill 306 and adjacent ground after dark, 9-10 April. The Americans reached the crest while a few of the defenders were still there, and drove them off. By noon, 10 April, elements of the 34th Infantry Division including the 168th Infantry, which had relieved the 133rd Infantry, held the dominating hills on either side of the Marguellil river. The British armored units were by that time seeking out elements of the enemy near Kairouan, which they entered next day after the enemy’s units had withdrawn.

The Enemy Slips Past Kairouan

The Italian First Army’s Italian element, making good use of the holding action at Fondouk el Aouareb, had passed across the Kairouan plain on 8-9 April before the British 6th Armoured Division could block their path. But the enemy needed still more time. The German units under General Bayerlein were somewhat more slowly moving up the coast, east of Kairouan, under light pressure by British Eighth Army. The remnants of the 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions, of Kampfgruppe Lang, of Division Centauro, and the other units under the command of the German Africa Corps were on the line Faid-Sfax during the night of 8-9 April, and were to pass through Kairouan on the night of 9-10 April. The German forces defending at Fondouk e1 Aouareb had therefore been requested to hold until 10 April to permit their passage. Before the British 6th Armoured Division could reach the plain east of Kairouan, it not only had to cross the mine field, but it also had to overcome antitank guns farther east. At the cost of four Shermans, the 16/5 Lancers drove off a determined covering enemy force at these guns late in the day.

After winning their way through the gap, British 9 Corps took account of the losses (thirty-four tanks), the approaching darkness, and the possibility of a counterattack in the morning by the German Africa Corps. General Crocker decided not to push out onto the plain until morning and the armored elements already through Fondouk el Aouareb gap were called back into the pass to harbor for the night. The 9 Corps commander and his staff concluded that the main opportunity to strike the weaker elements of the enemy had passed. They understood, moreover, that the enemy was planning to hold in the area one more day. The disappointment and sense of frustration engendered by the delay were profound.

The second attack at Fondouk el Aouareb gap subjected Allied relations to a considerable strain, for General Crocker not only recommended withdrawal of the 34th Infantry Division for retraining of junior officers at the rear under British guidance but blamed the failure of his operation toward Kairouan on the inability to get through the pass expeditiously, and that failure, in turn, upon the incapacity of the 34th Division. Similar disparagements were published shortly thereafter in the United States, where the public had quite wrongly been encouraged to expect an American drive to the sea between the two Axis armies.

The German retreat was described as though “Rommel” had again succeeded in outwitting the Allies, this time because of American deficiencies. American officers aware of the issues involved later condemned the corps plan of attack on which General Crocker had insisted as being unnecessarily prodigal with American troops and materiel. They absolved the 34th Division of sole responsibility for failure, emphasizing heavily General Ryder’s predicament in being obliged to attack with an exposed flank, and minimizing the faulty aspects of his division’s operations. Generals Eisenhower and Alexander took swift steps to suppress the mounting tide of recrimination, while the 34th Division acted energetically to forestall future failures. The division, after beginning at once a program of intensive training in the various types of attack-by night, with tanks, behind a rolling artillery barrage, and in mountainous terrain-and after some changes in command, was whipped into effective condition.

During the night of 8-9 April all but the rear guard of the German Africa Corps rolled past the Fondouk el Aouareb-Kairouan area undeterred. At about 1000 on 10 April the British 6th Armoured Division completed the transit of Fondouk el Aouareb gap in time to start for Kairouan, eighteen miles away. With about 110 Sherman tanks, it moved astride the Fondouk el Aouareb-Kairouan road on a broad front. It fought several small armored engagements during a day and netted about 650 prisoners, 14 tanks, and 15 guns. At 1110, 10 April, 18 Army Group issued a new instruction to British 9 Corps. After cleaning up the area near Kairouan, it was to turn toward Sbikha in an attempt to cut off enemy forces stranded in the northern portion of the Eastern Dorsal. These instructions were put into effect on 11 April. During 10 April, Combat Command A, U.S. 1st Armored Division, pushed through Ain Rebaou pass south of Faid under General Patton’s personal supervision and moved along the eastern side of the mountain chain. By late evening its 81st Reconnaissance Battalion had come in contact with elements of the 168th Infantry east of Fondouk el Aouareb village.

By nightfall, 10 April, General Koeltz’s command had succeeded in pushing through the Djebel Ousselat to the coastal plain. The Ain Djeloula pass between Ousseltia and Kairouan, scene of the January battles, had come into French possession. Over 1,000 prisoners had been taken. Yet for the French, 10 April had been an extremely costly day. Their gallant General Welvert had been fatally wounded by a mine, a heavy price even for the important gains achieved.

The mission of the II Corps from 17 March to 10 April had been to menace the enemy’s line of communications, threaten an incursion into the rear of the First Italian Army, and absorb enemy strength, thereby weakening the resistance of the Axis forces to the British Eighth Army. General Montgomery’s army was at the same time faced with the task of overcoming the enemy’s advantage of prepared positions, first at Mareth and later at the Chott Position, an advantage which could be extremely costly to any attacking force and which could be nullified only if the enemy was deprived of reserves. The Americans in Tunisia and elsewhere would have been gratified if the II Corps had broken through the eastern mountain chain to deliver disastrous blows on the main body of the enemy. It was hard for them to accept the view that the II Corps was not yet equal to such a mission against the more experienced foe. But the 18 Army Group would not have authorized any large-scale American thrust beyond the mountains, once a pass through them had been secured, unless such a maneuver were likely to save a bad situation or to supply the margin of strength necessary to exploit a triumph. The issue never came to a decision, since the enemy held at all points on the II Corps front and at Fondouk el Aouareb until he was ready to withdraw.

On 13 April, the middle period of the Allied campaign in Tunisia ended. Constriction of the enemy into northeastern Tunisia had eliminated his freedom to maneuver and had cost him important airfields. The 18 Army Group made arrangements to convert and supplement these airfields, and to tighten the ring which hemmed in Army Group Africa. General Alexander assigned II Corps a substantial role in the final phase of the campaign, and by 11 April it was already taking steps to shift to its new zone of attack.

{Note 6-38S: (1) The commander of Amy Group Africa later expressed the belief that the war would have been much shortened in Tunisia if the- Eighth Army had held along the Mareth Line, with two divisions and sent the remainder on a wide- westerly sweep to the Gafsa-Faid are-a, thus releasing U.S. II Corps for a powerful attack on weakly held Kairouan in mid-March. The- southern Axis army and Group Imperiali would then have been cut off and would inevitably have perished. Se-c MS # C-098 (von Arnim). (2) Allied losses we-re- reported as 603 killed, 3,509 wounded, 1,152 missing, and I captured. Enemy prisoners totaled 4,679. Estimated additional e-ne-my losses were 1,600 killed and 8,000 wounded, figures undoubtedly much exaggerated. Entry 229, 14 Apr 43, in II Corps G~3 In!’ (3) Total Axis prisoners from all fronts, 20 March-14 April, were reported to be more than 6,000 German and 22,000 Italian. Msg 1/286, 18 A Gp to AFHQ, IS Apr 43. AFHQ CofS Cable Log, 85.]

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 (7-31) Allied Drive to Victory

World War Two: North Africa (6-29); II Corps Operations Beyond El Guettar

World War Two: Bougainville (12); Invasion

While MacArthur’s and Halsey’s troops were gaining the Trobriands, the Markham Valley, the Huon Peninsula, and the New Georgia group for the Allied cause, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their subordinate committees in Washington had been making a series of decisions affecting the course of the war in the Pacific. These decisions related not so much to CARTWHEEL itself as to General MacArthur’s desire to make the main effort in the Pacific along the north coast of New Guinea into the Philippines. But, since they called for troops to support the offensives in Admiral Nimitz’ Central Pacific Area, they had an immediate impact upon CARTWHEEL, especially on the Bougainville invasion (Operation B of ELKTON III) and on MacArthur’s plans to seize Rabaul and Kavieng after CARTWHEEL.

The Decision To Bypass Rabaul

Once the Combined Chiefs at Casablanca had approved an advance through the Central Pacific, the Joint Chiefs put their subordinates to work preparing a general strategic plan for the defeat of Japan. An outline plan was submitted at the meeting of the Combined Chiefs in Washington, 12-15 May 1943. The Combined Chiefs approved the plan as a basis for further study.

The plan, which governed in a general way the operations of Nimitz’ and MacArthur’s forces until the end of the war, aimed at securing the unconditional surrender of Japan by air and naval blockade of the Japanese homeland, by air bombardment, and, if necessary, by invasion. The American leaders agreed that naval control of the western Pacific might bring about surrender without invasion, and even without air bombardment. But if air bombardment, invasion, or both proved necessary, air and naval bases in the western Pacific would be required. Therefore, the United States forces were to fight their way westward across the Pacific along two axes of advance: a main effort through the Central Pacific and a subsidiary effort through the South and Southwest Pacific Areas.

The Washington commanders and planners preferred the Central Pacific route for the main effort because it was shorter and more healthful than the South-Southwest Pacific route; it would require fewer ships, troops, and supplies; success would cut off Japan from her overseas empire; destruction of the Japanese fleet, which would probably come out fighting to oppose the advance, would enable naval forces to strike directly at Japan; and it would outflank and cut off the Japanese in the Southeast Area. The main effort should not be made through the South and Southwest Pacific Areas, it was argued, because a drive from New Guinea to the Philippines would be a frontal assault against large islands with positions closely arranged in depth for mutual support. The Central Pacific route, in contrast, permitted the continuously expanding U.S. Pacific Fleet to strike at small, vulnerable positions too widely separated for mutual support.

The Joint Chiefs decided on the two axes, rather than the Central Pacific alone, because the Japanese conquests in the first phase of the war had compelled the establishment of comparatively large Allied forces in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas; to shift all these to the Central Pacific would take too much time and too many ships, and would probably intensify the already strong and almost open disagreement between MacArthur and King over Pacific strategy. Further, the Joint Chiefs hoped to use the oilfields on the Vogelkop Peninsula. Twin drives, co-ordinated and timed for mutual support, would give the U.S. forces great strategic advantages, for the Japanese would never know where the next blow would fall.

At Washington in May the Combined Chiefs, as they had at Casablanca, approved plans for seizure of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands as the opening phase of the Central Pacific advance. They also approved the existing plans for CARTWHEEL, which the Joint Chiefs estimated would be ended by April 1944.

Next month, the Joint Chiefs, concerned with the problem of coordinating Nimitz’ and MacArthur’s operations, asked MacArthur for specific information on organization of forces and dates for future operations and informed him that they were planning to start the Central Pacific drive in mid-November. They planned to use the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, then in the Southwest and South Pacific Areas, respectively, all the South Pacific’s assault transports and cargo ships (APA’s and AKA’s), and the major portion of naval forces from Halsey’s area.

Faced with the possibility of a rival offensive, using divisions and ships that he had planned to employ, General MacArthur hurled back a vigorous reply. Arguing against the Central Pacific (he called the prospective invasion of the Marshalls a “diversionary attack“), he set forth the virtues of advancing through New Guinea to the Philippines. Withdrawal of the two Marine divisions, he maintained, would prevent the ultimate assault against Rabaul. He concluded his message with the information on target dates and forces that the Joint Chiefs had requested. Two days later, 22 June, Admiral Halsey protested the proposed removal of the 2nd Marine Division and most of his ships.

Although General MacArthur may not have known it at the time, his argument that transfer of the two divisions would jeopardize the Rabaul invasion was being vitiated. In 1942 there had been general agreement that Rabaul should be captured, but in June 1943 members of Washington planning committees held that a considerable economy of force would result if Rabaul was neutralized rather than captured. The Joint Strategic Survey Committee, in expressing itself in favor of giving the Central Pacific offensive priority over CARTWHEEL, also argued that the Allied drive northward against Rabaul was merely a reversal of the Japanese strategy of the year before and held “small promise of reasonable success in the near future.”

On the other hand Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to the President and senior member of the Joint Chiefs, was always a strong supporter of MacArthur’s views. He argued strongly against any curtailment of CARTWHEEL. Admiral King, however, was far from pleased (in June 1943) with the rate of “inch by inch” progress in the South and Southwest Pacific. He wanted to see Rabaul “cleaned up” so the Allies could “shoot for Luzon,” and seemed to imply that if CARTWHEEL did not move faster he would favor a curtailment.

[NOTE 12-11BV: Min, JCS mtg, 29 Jun 43. At this time King wanted to go to Luzon by way of the Marianas, which he always regarded as the key to the Pacific because he believed that an attack there would smoke out the Japanese fleet.]

The immediate question on the transfer of the Marine divisions was compromised. The 1st Marine Division would remain in the Southwest Pacific. The 2nd Marine Division, heretofore slated for the invasion of Rabaul, was transferred from New Zealand to the Central Pacific, where it made its bloody, valorous assault on Tarawa in November 1943. Assured by King that the Central Pacific offensive would assist rather than curtail CARTWHEEL, Leahy withdrew his objections.

By 21 July the arguments against capturing Rabaul had so impressed General Marshall that he radioed MacArthur to suggest that CARTWHEEL be followed by the seizure of Kavieng on New Ireland and Manus in the Admiralties, with the purpose of isolating Rabaul, and by the capture of Wewak. But MacArthur saw it otherwise. Marshall’s plan, he stated, involved too many hazards. Wewak, too strong for direct assault, should be isolated by seizing a base farther west. Rabaul would have to be captured rather than just neutralized, he insisted, because its strategic location and excellent harbor made it an ideal naval base with which to support an advance westward along New Guinea’s north coast.

Marshall and King were not convinced. Thus the Combined Chiefs, meeting with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in Quebec during August, received and approved the Joint Chiefs’ recommendation that Rabaul be neutralized, not captured. They further agreed that after CARTWHEEL MacArthur and Halsey should neutralize New Guinea as far west as Wewak, and should capture Manus and Kavieng to use as naval bases for supporting additional advances westward.

Once these operations were concluded, MacArthur was to move west along the north coast of New Guinea to the Vogelkop Peninsula. Subsequently MacArthur was informed that his cherished ambition to return to the Philippines would be realized; Marshall radioed him that once the Vogelkop was reached, the Southwest Pacific’s next logical objective would be Mindanao.

Papers containing the Combined Chiefs decisions were delivered to General MacArthur by Colonel William L. Ritchie of the Operations Division, War Department General Staff, who reached GHQ on 17 September.

From then on MacArthur did not raise the question of Rabaul with the Joint Chiefs; his radiograms dealt instead with broader questions relating to the Philippines and the relative importance of the Central and Southwest Pacific offensives. Although the evidence is not conclusive, the general course of events and certain opinions MacArthur gave during the planning for Bougainville seem to indicate that he knew of the decision to neutralize rather than capture Rabaul, or else had reached the same decision independently, sometime before Colonel Ritchie reached the Southwest Pacific.

The General Plan

If ever a series of offensives was conducted according to plan, it was the extremely systematic Allied moves in the Pacific that started in 1943. At the time that Allied forces were fighting in New Guinea and New Georgia, the Joint Chiefs were considering the wisdom of neutralizing Rabaul, and General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey were preparing for the invasion of Bougainville.

ELKTON III had initially provided that the southern Bougainville area (Buin and Faisi) was to be invaded during the fifth month after the beginning of CARTWHEEL, simultaneously with the conquest of New Georgia, and one month before the invasion of Cape Gloucester. Admiral Halsey had altered the plan by managing to start his invasion of New Georgia on 30 June. In June General MacArthur, in ordering the Markham Valley-Huon Peninsula attack, directed Admiral Halsey to be ready to take southern Bougainville on orders from GHQ. At this time Admiral Halsey, planning in accordance with ELKTON III, intended to use the 3rd Marine Division and the 25th Division against southern Bougainville, the 2nd Marine and 3rd New Zealand Divisions against Rabaul.18 Before long, however, the 25th Division, sent into New Georgia, was too worn for further combat and the 2nd Marine Division was ordered to invade the Gilberts instead of Rabaul.

Tactical planning for Bougainville began in the South Pacific in July when Halsey assigned the Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Corps, to command the ground forces.

[NOTE 12-19: The 25th Division stayed on Guadalcanal after the conclusion of the campaign there. It had little opportunity for rest and reorganization before moving to New Georgia.]

His mission was the seizure of Buin, Kahili, and Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville and of the nearby islands in Bougainville Strait—the Shortlands, Faisi, and Ballale, where there were then an estimated twenty thousand Japanese soldiers and sailors.

Near the end of July Admiral Halsey suggested a change in plan to General MacArthur. It was based on two assumptions: first, that the objectives of the operation were denying the use of airfields and anchorage to the Japanese and securing airfields and anchorages for the Allies, as a step toward the capture of Rabaul; and second, that because terrain, strategic position, and Japanese dispositions indicated that southern Bougainville was extremely important to the Japanese, the operation would be a major one. With the difficulties of the then bogged-down New Georgia invasion and the success of the artillery on the offshore islands against Munda both obviously in mind, he suggested that he could save men, matériel, and time by avoiding the Bougainville mainland completely. He proposed to seize the Shortlands and Ballale, to emplace artillery on the former with the mission of interdicting Kahili, to build one or more airfields in the Shortlands, and to use the anchorages there that the Japanese 8th Fleet then employed regularly. MacArthur heartily approved the scheme.

By early September, however, Admiral Halsey had decided on a further change in plan. Several factors influenced his decision. The impressive and inexpensive success on Vella Lavella had demonstrated once more the validity of the old principle of striking soft spots, when possible, in preference to headlong assault against fixed positions. Further, reconnaissance had indicated that airdrome sites on the Shortlands were not very good. Landing in the Shortlands, which the Japanese were believed to be reinforcing, would entail heavy losses; poor beaches would impede the landing of heavy construction equipment and artillery for the neutralization of Kahili. It was also estimated that assaulting the Shortlands-Ballale-Faisi area would require two divisions, while two more would be needed to operate on southern Bougainville proper. As the South Pacific had but four divisions—the 37th and Americal Divisions of the U.S. Army, the 3rd Marine Division, and the 3rd New Zealand Division—that were considered fit to fight, no more advances would be possible for months.

[NOTE 12-21: The 2nd Marine Division was due to leave; the 25th and 43rd Divisions were due for rest and rehabilitation.]

Looking for a method of neutralizing the southern Bougainville-Shortlands area without capturing it, a method that would retain enough troops for a major forward move later, Halsey acted on the advice of his principal subordinate commanders. He decided in favor of increased air effort from the New Georgia fields against southern Bougainville and Buka. Starting about 1 November, he proposed to capture the Treasury Islands and Choiseul Bay as airfield, radar, and PT base sites from which to “contain and strangle” southern Bougainville and the Shortlands. He proposed that after the mainland of Bougainville had been reconnoitered he and MacArthur could decide whether to advance from Choiseul to Kieta on the east coast or from the Treasuries to Empress Augusta Bay on the west if post-CARTWHEEL plans required the establishment of positions on the mainland of Bougainville.

[NOTE 12-22: Ltr, Halsey to CINCSWPA, 9 Sep 43, sub: ELKTON III–S Bougainville Objectives, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 10 Sep 43; Memo, Adm Fitch, Gen Harmon, Maj Gen Charles D. Barrett [CG I Mar Amphib Corps], and Adm Wilkinson for COMSOPAC, 7 Sep 43, no sub, ABC 384 (1-17-43) Sec 2; Halsey, Narrative Account of the South Pacific Campaign, p. 8, OCMH; Harmon, The Army in the South Pacific, p. 9, OCMH. Some advocated bypassing Bougainville completely in favor of a jump to Emirau in the Saint Matthias group northwest of Kavieng.]

This plan was consistent with ELKTON III, and varied only slightly from the July schemes approved by MacArthur. But by now, MacArthur, perhaps aware of the decision to neutralize rather than capture Rabaul, and obviously anxious to hurry up CARTWHEEL and get started on the drive toward the Philippines, had changed his mind about the scope and nature of the operation. Thus when Halsey’s chief of staff, Rear Admiral Robert B. Carney, and his new war plans officer, Colonel William E. Riley, USMC, presented the Treasuries-Choiseul plan to MacArthur at GHQ on 10 September, MacArthur was against it. With the successful airborne move to Nabzab in mind, he expressed his agreement with the principle of the bypass, but maintained that Halsey’s plan would make it impossible for South Pacific aircraft to hit at Rabaul effectively before 1 March 1944. He wanted Halsey’s aircraft established within fighter range of Rabaul in time to assist with the neutralization of Rabaul that would cover the Southwest Pacific’s invasion of Cape Gloucester.

This would be necessary, MacArthur held, because Southwest Pacific air forces could not attack all the objectives (including Madang and Wewak) that would have to be neutralized in order to protect the invasions of Cape Gloucester and of Saidor, on the north coast of the Huon Peninsula. Southwest Pacific headquarters hoped to start Operation III (chiefly Cape Gloucester) shortly after 1 December; Cape Gloucester itself would probably be invaded between 25 December 1943 and 1 January 1944. Therefore it would be necessary for South Pacific forces to establish themselves on the mainland of Bougainville about 1 November. So important was the operation that MacArthur tacitly approved commitment of the major part of South Pacific ground forces.

Specifically, he proposed the following outline plan:

  1. 15 October-1 November, Southwest Pacific air forces would make heavy attacks against Japanese aircraft, air installations, and shipping at Rabaul;
  2. 20-25 October, South Pacific forces would occupy the Treasuries and positions on northern Choiseul in order to establish radar positions and PT boat bases;
  3. 1 November, South Pacific forces would occupy Empress Augusta Bay on the west coast of Bougainville in order to establish airfields within fighter range of Rabaul;
  4. 1-6 November, the Southwest Pacific would continue air attacks on Rabaul and would assist in the neutralization of Buka;
  5. 25 December 1943-1 January 1944, Southwest Pacific forces would seize Cape Gloucester and Saidor in order to gain control of Vitiaz and Dampier Straits and to secure airdromes for the neutralization of Kavieng. During this period South Pacific forces would neutralize Rabaul.

General MacArthur stressed the importance of a landing on the mainland at another meeting on 17 September attended by General Harmon and Colonel Riley. Asked if he preferred a landing on the east or the west coast of Bougainville, he put the decision entirely in Admiral Halsey’s hands.

And so on 22 September, Halsey issued warning orders which canceled all his earlier plans and assigned the units to constitute the invasion force. Admiral Wilkinson would lead it. The landing forces, under Wilkinson, were still to be under the commanding general of the I Marine Amphibious Corps. Halsey instructed Wilkinson and his units to be ready to carry out one of two plans: either they were to seize and hold the Treasury Islands and the airfield sites in the Empress Augusta Bay region on the west coast of Bougainville; or they were to seize the Treasuries and Choiseul Bay, build airfields, PT boat bases, and landing craft staging points, and in late December seize the Japanese airfield at Tenekau on the east coast of Bougainville.

Submarines took patrols to the east coast and to Empress Augusta Bay to gather data, and South Pacific intelligence officers interviewed missionaries, traders, planters, coast-watchers , and fliers who had been shot down over Bougainville. The east coast patrol, carried by the submarine Gato, delivered an unfavorable report. The west coast patrol, composed of marines, debarked from the submarine Guardfish about ten miles northwest of Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay. The marines were unable to examine Cape Torokina because it was occupied by the Japanese, but they took samples of soil similar to that at Torokina. When tested, it showed that Cape Torokina was suitable for airfields.

[NOTE 12-24BV: Ltr, COMSOPAC to CG 1 Mar Amphib Corps, CTF 31, and CTF 33, 22 Sep 43, sub: Warning Order, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 24 Sep 43. During this period Admiral Halsey received communications from Admiral King’s office which seemed to require him to seize southern Bougainville and then Kieta and Buka. This confused the issue until Admiral Nimitz assured Halsey that the messages from King were estimates and not directives, and that Halsey was to operate under the provisions of the 28 March 1943 directive.]

Between the sea and the mountains at Cape Torokina, which lay within fighter range of Munda, was a coastal plain of about seven square miles. It was lightly defended; Halsey estimated that there were about one thousand Japanese in the area. So forbidding were the surrounding mountains that the area was almost isolated from the strong Japanese garrisons in southern Bougainville. Halsey and his planners estimated that if Allied forces seized Torokina the Japanese would require three or four months to bring enough heavy equipment over the mountains to launch an effective counterattack. But there were disadvantages. The heavy surf in Empress Augusta Bay, which had no protected anchorages, would make landing operations difficult No more than 65 miles separated the cape from all the Japanese air bases on Bougainville, and Rabaul was only 215 miles to the northwest.

Admiral Halsey calculated the chances and decided on Torokina. In his words: “The conception was bold and the probability of provoking a violent air-land-surface action was accepted and welcomed on the premise that the by-products of enemy destruction would, in themselves, greatly further the over-all Pacific plan. Enthusiasm for the plan was far from unanimous, even in the South Pacific, but, the decision having been made, all hands were told to ‘Get going.‘”

Halsey informed MacArthur of his decision on 1 October. Expressing his complete agreement, MacArthur promised maximum air support from the Southwest Pacific. The invasion would be launched on 1 November.

Air Operations in October: The Fifth Air Force

By October the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific Area was well situated to carry the fight against Rabaul. Nearly all its warplanes had been displaced to forward bases. Port Moresby, an outpost in 1942, was now a rear base. Dobodura was the main staging base for heavy bombers, and Nadzab was being readied as the main base for future operations. P-38’s from New Guinea could stage through Kiriwina and escort the bombers all the way to Rabaul.

Rabaul was ripe for air attack. Transports, cargo ships, and smaller craft, together with some warships, crowded Simpson Harbor. Supply depots were fully stocked. Four all-weather airfields —Lakunai, Vunakanau, Rapopo, and Tobera—were in operation in and near Rabaul.

[NOTE 12-28: Lakunai had a sand and volcanic ash surface; the other three were concrete. Keravat field on the west coast of Gazelle Peninsula had never been used.]

Southwest Pacific aircraft had been harrying Rabaul with small raids since January 1942, but now the Allies were ready to attack this bastion on a large scale. General Kenney was ready for the first big attack on 12 October. Altogether, 349 planes took part: 87 heavy bombers, 114 B-25’s, 12 Beaufighters, and 125 P-38’s, plus some weather and photo reconnaissance planes—or, as he put it, “Everything that I owned that was in commission, and could fly that far.” B-25’s and Beaufighters made sweeps over Vunakanau, Rapopo, and Tobera while the heavy bombers struck at shipping. The Allies lost four planes and estimated a great deal of damage to Japanese aircraft and ships. Their estimates were somewhat exaggerated, especially those on shipping damage, but some Japanese planes were destroyed. The Japanese, taken by surprise and unable to send up fighters to intercept, later reported that this and later raids in October were “a great obstacle to the execution of operations.”

Bad weather over New Guinea halted Kenney’s operations against Rabaul for the next few days. The Japanese used the respite to send out attacks against Oro Bay on 15 and 17 October, and Finschhafen on 17 and 19 October. The Allied planes did not sit idle while Rabaul was inaccessible, but struck at Wewak on the 16th and again the next day.

Kenney planned and sent out another big raid against Rabaul on 18 October, but when the air armada was over the Solomon Sea the weather closed in. Fifty-four B-25’s went on to Rabaul anyway. Kenney followed this attack with three successive daylight raids on 23, 24, and 25 October before the weather again imposed a delay, this time until the 29th, when B-24’s and P-38’s bombed Vunakanau.

The weather intervened again, so that it was not until 2 November, the day after South Pacific forces landed at Empress Augusta Bay, that Southwest Pacific aircraft again struck at Rabaul. On that day seventy-five B-25’s escorted by P-38’s attacked and ran into the fiercest opposition the Fifth Air Force encountered during World War II. A large number of carrier planes and pilots from the Combined Fleet at Truk had just been transferred to Rabaul, and they put up a stiff fight.

Although it is clear that these raids failed to wreak as much havoc at Rabaul as Kenney’s fliers claimed, it is also clear that they caused a good deal of damage to aircraft and prevented the Japanese planes at Rabaul from undertaking any purely offensive missions. In short, the Southwest Pacific’s air support for the Bougainville invasion, though not as devastating as was thought at the time, was effective.

Certainly American pilots, like the Japanese, and like soldiers and sailors on the ground and in ships, tended to exaggerate the damage they inflicted. But there were two important differences between American and Japanese claims. First, Japanese claims were wildly exaggerated whereas American claims were merely exaggerated. Second, Japanese commanders apparently took the claims seriously, so that nonexistent victories often served as the bases for decision. On the other hand American commanders, taking human frailty into account, evaluated and usually scaled down claims so that decisions were normally based on more realistic estimates of damage.

Air Command, Solomon’s

General Twining’s composite force, Air Command, Solomons, had been striking hard at the northern Solomons bases during the same period and for the same purpose—to knock out the Bougainville bases so that Wilkinson’s convoys could sail past in safety. Twining’s available air strength had been displaced forward to bases within range of south Bougainville targets. At the start of operations in October, Twining had 614 Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand Air Force planes. Of these, 264 fighters and 223 medium, dive, torpedo, and patrol bombers were at New Georgia and the Russells, and 127 heavy bombers and patrol planes were at Guadalcanal.

Ever since 1942 South Pacific planes had been battering at the Japanese bases at Kahili, the Shortlands, Ballale, Kieta, and Buka, and now the process was intensified in an effort to put them out of commission. [Kenney offered to include Buka in his attacks, but Halsey asked him to concentrate on Rabaul and leave Buka to Twining.]Starting on 18 October, Twining—whose high professional qualifications were matched by a physical appearance so striking that he looked like Hollywood’s idea of a diplomat—drove his inter-service, international force hard in a continuous series of high-level, low-level, dive, glide, and torpedo bombing attacks and fighter sweeps, all made with escorting fighters from the four air services in the command. The primary mission was accomplished. The hard-hit enemy showed skill and determination in keeping his airfields in repair, but these qualities were not enough. By 1 November all his Bougainville airfields had been knocked out of commission, and the continuous attacks kept them that way.

The Japanese

Of Admiral Kusaka’s 11th Air Fleet, a substantial portion was based at Rabaul in early October, the remainder in southern Bougainville. When Air Command, Solomons, intensified its operations, Kusaka withdrew his planes to Rabaul, and to avoid being completely destroyed by Kenney’s heavy raids he frequently pulled his planes back to Kavieng in New Ireland. Despite these attacks Kusaka was usually able to maintain about two hundred planes in operating condition at Rabaul throughout October.

Now Admiral Koga, like the late Yamamato, decided to use his carrier planes jointly with the land-based planes of Kusaka’s air fleet in an effort to improve attack on airfields and supply areas’ the situation in the Southeast Area. As a result of the September decision to withdraw the main defensive perimeter, Koga developed a plan to cut the Allied lines of communication in the Southeast Area and so delay the Allies and buy time for the Japanese to build up the defenses along the main perimeter. This plan, called Operation RO, was to be executed by the operational carrier air groups of the Combined Fleet, transferred from Truk to Rabaul, and by the 11th Air Fleet. Vice Admiral Tokusaburo Ozawa, commander of the 3rd Fleet, and Kusaka would conduct the operation jointly from Rabaul. Koga decided on this course of action fully aware that his surface strength would be immobilized while his carrier planes were at Rabaul.

He had planned to transfer the planes in mid-October, but delayed the move because he received a false report that the U.S. Pacific Fleet was out against the Marshalls. On 20 October, now aware that Nimitz’ forces were not moving against the Marshalls, Koga ordered the carrier planes dispatched. By the beginning of November, 173 carrier planes—82 fighters, 45 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 6 patrol planes—had reached Rabaul to team with Kusaka’s 200. It was Ozawa’s carrier pilots who gave Kenney’s men such a hard fight on 2 November. Koga had first planned to deliver his main stroke against New Guinea but the increased tempo of Allied activity in the Solomons made him decide to strike in the Solomons. Koga’s decision to execute Operation RO was to have far-reaching results, results that were the precise opposite of what he expected. The transfer of the carrier planes coincided with the South Pacific’s invasion of Bougainville.

Forces and Tactical Plans The Allies

Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands, is 125 miles long on its northwest-to-southeast axis, and 30 to 48 miles wide. Its mountainous spine comprises two ranges, the Emperor and the Crown Prince. Two active volcanoes, 10,000-foot Mount Balbi and 8,000-foot Mount Bagana, send continual clouds of steam and smoke into the skies. Mount Bagana, a stark and symmetrical cone, overlooks Empress Augusta Bay and is the most outstanding feature of the region’s dramatic beauty.

The mountain range ends toward the southern part of the island, and there, on the coastal plain near Buin, the Japanese had built the airfields of Kahili and Kara. On the western coast the mountains slope down through rugged foothills and flatten out into a narrow and swampy coastal plain that is cut by many small rivers. These silt-laden streams constantly build bars across their own mouths and thus frequently change their courses.

Good harbors in varying stages of development were to be found at Buka, Numa Numa, Tenekau, Tonolei, and in the islands off the south coast. Empress Augusta Bay, exposed as it was to the open sea, was a poor anchorage. The Japanese had airfields at Buka and Bonis on either side of Buka Passage, at Tenekau, Kieta, Kara, and Kahili on the mainland, and at Ballale near the Shortlands, and had seaplane anchorages and naval bases in the Shortlands. As on all the other islands, there were no real motor roads, only native trails near the coasts plus a few that led through the mountains.

The native population consisted of over forty thousand nominally Christian Melanesians, who were slightly darker in color than their fellows in the southern Solomons. Before the war about a hundred white missionaries, planters, traders, and government officials had lived on the island. Some of the natives, it was known, were pro-Japanese and had aided the enemy in rooting out the coast-watchers earlier in the year.

Allied intelligence agencies estimated enemy strength at about 37,500 soldiers and 20,000 sailors, and correctly reported that the Army troops belonged to the 17th Army, commanded by General Hyakutake, who had been responsible for the direction of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Over 25,000 of Hyakutake’s men were thought to be in the Buin-Shortlands area, with an additional 5,000 on the east coast of Bougainville, 5,000 more at Buka and Bonis, and light forces at Empress Augusta Bay. Air reconnaissance enabled the Allies to keep a fairly accurate count of Japanese warships and planes in the New Guinea-Bismarcks-Solomons area.

Admiral Halsey, in preparing his attack, was not embarrassed by too many ships. Admiral Nimitz was getting ready to launch his great Central Pacific advance in November and had removed many of Halsey’s ships, leaving him but eight transports and four cargo ships, or enough shipping to carry one reinforced division in the assault Because South Pacific commanders expected the Japanese to oppose the invasion with vigorous air attacks, they decided not to use the slow LST’s for the assault The South Pacific had one carrier force, Task Force 38 under Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, consisting of the 910-foot aircraft carrier Saratoga, the light carrier Princeton, two antiaircraft cruisers, and ten destroyers. Nimitz, in response to Halsey’s requests for additional cruiser-destroyer and carrier task forces, assured Halsey that Central Pacific forces would be within reach to assist if necessary, and agreed to send Halsey another carrier task force on or about 7 November.

Halsey issued the basic orders for the operation on 12 October. He organized five task forces similar to those that had made up the New Georgia attack forces. They were: Task Force 31 (the attack force), under Admiral Wilkinson; Task Force 33 (South Pacific land-based aircraft), under Admiral Fitch; Sherman’s Task Force 38; the cruisers and destroyers of Admiral Merrill’s Task Force 39; and Captain Fife’s submarines in Task Force 72.

The submarines were to carry out offensive reconnaissance in the waters of the Bismarck Archipelago, and would be supplemented in their work by Central Pacific submarines operating out of Pearl Harbor. Merrill’s ships would support the invasion by operating against enemy surface ships and by bombarding Buka and the Shortlands. Halsey also planned to employ Sherman’s Task Force 38 in a raid against Buka and Bonis, which lay beyond effective fighter range of the New Georgia airfields. Task Force 33 was ordered to carry out its usual missions of reconnaissance, destruction of enemy ships and aircraft, and air cover and support of the invasion force. Air Command, Solomons, which was part of Task Force 33, was making its intensive effort during October against the Japanese airfields in southern Bougainville and the outlying islands, so that these areas could safely be bypassed. Arrangements for local air support were the same as for New Georgia. The local air commander with the invasion force was designated, as a subordinate of Twining’s, Commander, Aircraft, Northern Solomons, and would take command of all support aircraft as they took off from their bases.

Admiral Wilkinson’s invasion force, Task Force 31, consisted of eight transports, four cargo ships, two destroyer squadrons, mine craft, almost all the South Pacific’s PT squadrons, and a large force of ground troops under the Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC).

The ground commander was General Vandegrift, USMC, an apple-cheeked, deceptively soft-spoken Virginia gentleman, who had won distinction by his conduct of operations on Guadalcanal from 7 August 1942 until December of that year. Vandegrift was at this time slated to become commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, but was given the Bougainville command temporarily because Major General Charles D. Barrett, who had replaced Vogel in command of the I Marine Amphibious Corps, had met accidental death in Noumea. Halsey’s choice for the corps command fell upon Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, another hero of Guadalcanal, who was then in Washington as Director of Marine Corps Aviation. Vandegrift was to exercise the command until Geiger could arrive.

Ground forces assigned to the attack included the following: I Marine Amphibious Corps headquarters and corps troops; 3rd Marine Division; 37th Division; 8th Brigade Group, 3rd New Zealand Division; 3rd Marine Defense Battalion; 198th Coast Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft); 2nd Provisional Marine Raider Battalion; 1st Marine Parachute Battalion; naval construction and communications units, and a boat pool.

In area reserve, to be committed on orders from Admiral Halsey, were the Americal Division in the Fijis; the 2nd Battalion, 54th Coast Artillery (Harbor Defense) Regiment at Espiritu Santo; and the 251st Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) Regiment in the Fijis.

Naming D Day as 1 November, the date for the invasion of Empress Augusta Bay, Halsey ordered Task Force 31 to seize and hold the Treasury Islands on D minus 5 (27 October) and establish radar positions and a small naval base. Wilkinson’s main attack would be the seizure of Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November, which would be followed by the speedy construction of two airfields on sites to be determined by ground reconnaissance after the troops had landed.

Task Force 31 was initially ordered to be ready to establish a PT base on northern Choiseul. This part of the plan was changed on the recommendation of Vandegrift, who argued that the Treasury landings might reveal to the Japanese the intention to invade Empress Augusta Bay. Halsey, Wilkinson, and Vandegrift decided instead to use the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion in a twelve-day raid on Choiseul which they hoped would mislead the enemy into believing that the real objective lay on Bougainville’s east coast.

[N12-35BV: General Geiger described the plan of maneuver as “a series of short right jabs designed to throw the enemy off balance and conceal the real power of the left hook to his midriff at Empress Augusta Bay.” He must have boxed left-handed.]

Halsey made Wilkinson, whose headquarters was then at Guadalcanal, responsible for co-ordination of all amphibious plans. Wilkinson was to command all elements of Task Force 31 until, at a time agreed upon by him and the ground commander, direction of all air, ground, and naval forces at Empress Augusta Bay would be transferred to the latter.

Wilkinson divided Task Force 31 into a northern force, which he commanded himself, for the main attack and a southern force, led by Admiral Fort, for the Choiseul raid and the seizure of the Treasuries. The assault echelon of the northern force, scheduled to land at Empress Augusta Bay on D Day, included destroyers, the transports and cargo ships, and Major General Allen H. Turnage’s 3rd Marine Division, less one regimental combat team and plus supporting units.

The Treasuries echelon of the southern force was made up of 8 APD’s, 2 LST’s, 8 LCI’s, 4 LCT’s, 2 APC’s, the 8th Brigade Group of the 3rd New Zealand Division, the 198th Coast Artillery, A Company of the 87th Naval Construction Battalion, and communications and naval base detachments. The parachute battalion would be transported by four APD’s escorted by destroyers. The 37th Division, in corps reserve, would be picked up at Guadalcanal by the northern force transports and would start arriving at Bougainville soon after D Day to help hold the beachhead.

Guadalcanal and the Russells were to serve as the main staging and supply bases. However, the shortage of shipping led the I Marine Amphibious Corps to shorten the lines by establishing a supply base at Vella Lavella. Plans called for the Vella depot to be stocked with a thirty-day supply of rations and petroleum products, but so strained was South Pacific shipping that only a ten-day supply had been stocked at Vella Lavella by 1 November.

During the last half of October the ground units completed their training and conducted final rehearsals. The 3rd Marine Division, part of which had served in Samoa in 1942 before joining the main body in New Zealand, had recently transferred from New Zealand to Guadalcanal. It completed its amphibious and jungle training there and rehearsed for Empress Augusta Bay in the New Hebrides from 16 to 20 October.

The 37th Division, returned from New Georgia to Guadalcanal in September, likewise conducted amphibious and jungle training at Guadalcanal. The 3rd Marine Defense Battalion, which after serving in the Guadalcanal Campaign had been sent to New Zealand and from there back to Guadalcanal, rehearsed there. The 8th Brigade practiced landings at Efate en route to Guadalcanal from New Caledonia, and from 14 to 17 October rehearsed at Florida.

The Japanese

The Japanese fully expected Halsey to attack Bougainville and were busy preparing to meet the invasion. Imperial Headquarters’ orders in September had stressed the importance of Bougainville as an outpost for Rabaul, and General Imamura had instructed General Hyakutake to make ready. This the 17th Army commander did, acting in conjunction with the commander of the 8th Fleet. The Japanese planned to use air and surface strength to smash any Allied attempt at invasion before the assault troops could get off their transports. But if troops did succeed in getting ashore, the Japanese hoped to attack and destroy their beachheads.

Hyakutake’s army consisted mainly of the 6th Division, Lieutenant General Masatane Kanda commanding. (This division had acquired an unsavory reputation for indiscipline by its sack of Nanking, China, in 1937). Also assigned were the 4th South Seas Garrison Unit (three infantry battalions and one field artillery battery), and field artillery, antiaircraft artillery, and service units. Imamura was sending four rifle battalions and one artillery battalion of the 17th Division from New Britain to northern Bougainville; these were due in November.

[N12-36BV: The units attached to the Southeastern Detachment had been returned to their parent organizations. The Detachment was inactivated in December.]

Hyakutake, whose headquarters was on tiny Erventa Island near Tonolei Harbor, had disposed most of his strength to cover the Shortlands, Buin, and Tonolei Harbor, the rest to protect Kieta and Buka. Some 26,800 men—20,000 of the 17th Army and 6,800 of 8th Fleet headquarters and naval base forces—and an impressive number of guns ranging from machine guns to 140-mm. naval rifles were stationed in southern Bougainville and the islands. Over 4,000 men were at Kieta, and the arrival of the 17th Division units would bring the Buka Passage garrison to 6,000.

The unpromising nature of the terrain on the west coast of Bougainville had convinced Hyakutake that the Allies would not attempt to land there. Consequently only a small detachment was stationed at Empress Augusta Bay. Hyakutake was aware that he would be outnumbered and outgunned in any battle, but like most of his fellow Japanesegenerals he placed great faith in the superior morale he believed his troops possessed.

“The battle plan is to resist the enemy’s material strength with perseverance, while at the same time displaying our spiritual strength and conducting raids and furious attacks against the enemy flanks and rear. On this basis we will secure the key to victory within the dead spaces produced in enemy strength, and, losing no opportunities, we will exploit successes and annihilate the enemy.”38 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Preliminary Landings

The Treasuries

The assault echelon of Admiral Fort’s southern force consisted of five transport groups: the advance transport group with 8 APD’s and 3 escorting destroyers; the second with 8 LCI(L)’s, 2 LCI(G)’s, [N12-39BVA: The LCI (G) was a gunboat designed to give close fire support in landings. Two 20-mm., three 40-mm., and five .50-caliber machine guns were installed on an LCI (L).] and 6 destroyers; the third with 2 LST’s, 2 destroyers, and 2 minesweepers; the fourth with 1 APC, 3 LCT’s, and 2 PT boats; the fifth with 1 APC, 6 LCM’s, and a rescue boat.40 These ships loaded troops and supplies at Guadalcanal, Rendova, and Vella Lavella and departed for the Treasuries on 26 October. Their departures were timed for the five groups to arrive in Blanche Harbor, which is between Mono and Stirling Islands, between 0520 and 0830, 27 October. All possible measures were taken to avoid detection, because the small forces had to get established in the Treasuries before the Japanese were able to send in reinforcements from their ample reserves in the nearby Shortlands. But detection was almost inevitable in an operation so close to enemy bases, and at 0420, 27 October, a reconnaissance seaplane sighted the ships near the Treasuries and reported their presence. Admiral Merrill’s task force, covering the operation some distance westward, was also discovered.

Heavy rain fell as the leading APD’s arrived off the western entrance to Blanche Harbor. Low-hanging clouds obscured the jungled hills of Mono Island. As Blanche Harbor was too narrow to permit ships to maneuver safely, the fire support destroyers and seven APD’s remained west of the harbor. While the troops boarded the landing craft, destroyers opened fire on the landing beaches on Mono’s south shore, and the minesweepers checked Blanche Harbor. At the same time the APD McKean put a radar party ashore on Mono’s north coast.

Covered by the destroyers’ gunfire and accompanied by the LCI gunboats, the first wave of LCP(R)’s, carrying elements of two battalions of the 8th Brigade, moved through the channel in the wet, misty half-light. There were only a handful of Japanese on Mono, some 225 men of the special naval landing forces. The naval bombardment drove most of the defenders out of their beach positions, and as the New Zealand infantry went ashore they drove out or killed the Japanese in the vicinity of the beach. However, enemy mortars and machine guns from hidden positions in the jungle fired on the landing beaches and on the LST’s of the fourth transport group, which beached at 0735. This fire caused some casualties, damaged some weapons and equipment, and delayed the unloading. But before noon the 8th Brigade troops captured two 75-mm. guns and one 90-mm. mortar and resistance to the landing ceased.

Stirling Island, which was not occupied by the enemy, was secured by a battalion during the morning. A total of 2,500 men—252 Americans of the 198th Coast Artillery and several detachments from other units, the rest New Zealanders—had been landed on the south shore of Mono. The radar detachment and accompanying combat troops that had landed on the north coast of Mono numbered 200.

Meanwhile the American destroyers were busy. In addition to providing fire support for the landings they escorted the unloaded transport groups back to Guadalcanal. Two picket destroyers with fighter director teams aboard were stationed east and west of the Treasuries to warn against enemy air attacks.

General Hyakutake had decided that the Treasury landings were a preliminary to a systematic operation, and that the Allies would build an airfield on the Treasuries, take Choiseul, and after intensified air and surface operations, would land three divisions on southern Bougainville in late November. He felt that they might possibly invade Buka. Warning that the recent decline in Japanese naval strength might cause the Allies to move faster, he stressed the importance of building up the south Bougainville defenses. In short, he believed just what the Allies hoped he would.

When Admiral Kusaka at Rabaul was notified of the Allied landing, he brought some planes forward from Kavieng and sent fighters and dive bombers against the Allies. Most of these were headed off by the New Georgia-based P-38’s and P-40’s that formed the southern force’s air cover, but some got through to damage the picket destroyer Cony and harass the retiring LST’s. The Japanese pilots reported that they had sunk two transports and two cruisers.

On shore, Brigadier R. A. Row of the New Zealand Army, the landing force commander, set up beach defenses. By 12 November his troops had killed or captured the enemy garrison which had fled into the hills of Mono. Two hundred and five Japanese corpses were counted; 40 New Zealanders and 12 Americans had been killed, 145 New Zealanders and 29 Americans wounded.

Succeeding transport echelons, thirteen in all, brought in more troops and equipment from 1 November 1943 through 15 January 1944. During this period the boat pool, an advanced naval base, and radars were established; these supported the main operation at Empress Augusta Bay. Seabees of the U.S. Navy built a 5,600-foot-long airstrip on Stirling that was ready to receive fighter planes on Christmas Day.

The Choiseul Raid

Four of the APD’s that had carried Brigadier Row’s troops to the Treasuries sailed to Vella Lavella on 27 October and there took aboard 725 men of Lieutenant Colonel Victor H. Krulak’s 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion, plus fourteen days’ rations and two units of fire. Escorted by the destroyer Conway, the APD’s steamed for the village of Voza on Choiseul, and that night landed the parachutists and their gear.

General Vandegrift had ordered Krulak so to conduct operations that the Japanese would believe a large force was present. Krulak therefore raided a barge staging point at Sagigai, some eight miles from Voza, and then sent strong combat patrols to the western part of Choiseul. But by 2 November the Japanese appeared to be concentrating at Sagigai with the obvious intention of destroying the 2nd Parachute Battalion. From eight hundred to one thousand enemy were reported to have moved into Sagigai from positions farther east, with more on the way. By now the Empress Augusta Bay landing had been safely executed, and Vandegrift ordered Krulak to withdraw. The battalion embarked on three LCI’s in the early morning hours of 4 November. The raid cost 11 Marines dead, 14 wounded; 143 Japanese were estimated to have been slain.

Japanese sources do not indicate what estimates Imamura and Hyakutake placed on the operation. However, since Hyakutake expected that Choiseul would be invaded after the Treasuries and before southern Bougainville, it is not unlikely that Krulak’s diversion confirmed his belief that southern Bougainville was the main Allied objective.

Seizure of Empress Augusta Bay

Supporting Operations

In invading Empress Augusta Bay, Halsey’s forces were bypassing formidable enemy positions in southern Bougainville and the Shortlands, and placing themselves within close range of all the other Bougainville bases, as well as within fighter range of Rabaul—thus the strong air attacks by the Fifth Air Force and the Air Command, Solomons. In addition, Halsey had planned to make sure that the Japanese bases on Bougainville were in no condition to launch air attacks during the main landings on 1 November. Forces assigned to this mission were the 2 carriers, 2 antiaircraft light cruisers, and 10 destroyers of Admiral Sherman’s Task Force 38 and the 4 light cruisers and 8 destroyers of Admiral Merrill’s Task Force 39.

Task Force 38 sortied from Espiritu Santo on 29 October, Task Force 39 from Purvis Bay on Florida Island on 31 October. Both were bound initially for Buka.

Merrill, sailing well south of the Russells and west of the Treasuries on his 537-mile voyage in pursuance of Halsey’s tight schedule, got there first. He arrived off Buka Passage at 0021, 1 November, and fired 300 6-inch and 2,400 5-inch shells at Buka and Bonis fields. Shore batteries replied but without effect. Merrill then retired at thirty knots toward the Shortland Islands. Enemy planes harassed the task force but the only damage they did was to the admiral’s typewriter. One fire started by the bombardment was visible from sixty miles away.

About four hours after the beginning of Merrill’s bombardment Task Force 38 reached a launching position some sixty-five miles southeast of Buka. This was the first time since the outbreak of the war in the Pacific that an Allied aircraft carrier had ventured within fighter range of Rabaul, and the first tactical employment of an Allied carrier in the South Pacific since the desperate battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign. In Admiral Sherman’s words: “We on the carriers had begun to think we would never get any action. All the previous assignments had gone to the shore-based air. Admiral Halsey had told me that he had to hold us for use against the Japanese fleet in case it came down from Truk….”

The weather was bad for carrier operations as the planes detailed for the first strike, a force made up of eighteen fighters, fifteen dive bombers, and eleven torpedo bombers, prepared to take off in the darkness. The sea was glassy and calm; occasional rain squalls fell. There was no breeze blowing over the flight decks, and the planes had to be catapulted into the air, a slow process that, coupled with the planes’ difficulties in forming up in the dark, delayed their arrival over Buka until daylight. Two torpedo bombers and one dive bomber hit the water upon take-off, doubtless because of the calm air. The rest of the planes dropped three 1,000-pound bombs on Buka’s runway and seventy-two 100pound bombs on supply dumps and dispersal areas.

The next strike—fourteen fighters, twenty-one dive bombers, and eleven torpedo bombers—was launched at 0930 without casualties. These planes struck Buka again and bombed several small ships offshore. At dawn the next morning, 2 November, forty-four planes attacked Bonis, and at 1036 forty-one more repeated the attack. Then Sherman, under orders from Halsey, headed for the vicinity of Rennell, due south of Guadalcanal, to refuel. In two days of action Task Force 38, operating within sixty-five miles of Buka, estimated that it had destroyed about thirty Japanese planes and hit several small ships. More important, it had guaranteed that the Buka and Bonis runways could not be used for air attacks against Admiral Wilkinson’s ships. The Americans lost seven men and eleven planes in combat and operational crashes.

Meanwhile Merrill’s ships had sped from Buka to the Shortlands in the early morning hours of 1 November to bombard Poporang, Ballale, Faisi, and smaller islands. Merrill had bombarded these before, on the night of 29-30 June, but in stormy darkness. Now the bombardment was in broad daylight; it started at 0631, seventeen minutes after sunrise. Japanese shore batteries replied with inaccurate fire. Only the destroyer Dyson was hit, and its casualties and damage were minor. His mission completed, Merrill headed south.

Approach to the Target

The last days of October found Wilkinson’s ships busy loading and rehearsing at Guadalcanal and the New Hebrides. Wilkinson had organized his eight transport and four cargo ships of Task Force 31’s northern force into three transport divisions of four ships each. A reinforced regiment of marines was to be carried in each of two of the divisions, the reinforced 3rd Marine Defense Battalion in the third. The four transports of Division A, carrying 6,421 men of the 3rd Marines, reinforced, departed Espiritu Santo on 29 October and steamed for Koli Point on Guadalcanal. There Admiral Wilkinson and General Vandegrift boarded the George Clymer. General Turnage, 3rd Marine Division commander, and Commodore Laurence F. Reifsnider, the transport group commander, had come up from the New Hebrides rehearsal in the Hunter Liggett. Transport Division B, after the rehearsal, took the 6,103 men of the reinforced 9th Marines from the New Hebrides and in the late afternoon of 30 October joined with the four cargo ships of Transport Division C south of San Cristobal. Division C carried the reinforced 3rd Marine Defense Battalion, 1,400 men, and a good deal of heavy equipment.

All transport divisions, plus 11 destroyers, 4 destroyer-minesweepers, 4 small minesweepers, 7 minelayers, and 2 tugs, rendezvoused in the Solomon Sea west of Guadalcanal at 0740, 31 October. They sailed northwestward until 1800, then feinted toward the Shortlands, and after dark changed course again toward the northwest. During the night run to Empress Augusta Bay PB4Y4’s(Liberators), PV-1’s (Vega Ventura night fighters), and PBY’s (Black Cats) covered the ships. Enemy planes were out that night and made contact with the covering planes but apparently did not spot the ships, for none was attacked and Japanese higher headquarters received no warnings.

Empress Augusta Bay was imperfectly charted and the presence of several uncharted shoals was rightly suspected. Consequently Wilkinson delayed arrival at the transport area until daylight so that masthead navigation could be used to avoid the shoals.

The Landings

At 0432 of 1 November, Wilkinson’s ships changed course from northwest to northeast and approached Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay. Speed was reduced from fifteen to twelve knots. The minesweepers went out ahead to check the area. General quarters sounded on all ships at 0500, and forty-five minutes later the ships reached the transport area. The transport Crescent City struck a reef but suffered no damage.

Sunrise did not come until 0614, but the morning was bright and clear enough for the warships to begin a slow, deliberate bombardment of Cape Torokina at 0547. As each transport passed the cape it too fired with its 3-inch and antiaircraft guns. Wilkinson set H Hour for the landing at 0730. At 0645 the eight transports anchored in a line pointing north-northwest about three thousand yards from shore; the cargo ships formed a similar line about five hundred yards to seaward of the transports.

Wilkinson, sure that the Japanese would launch heavy air attacks, had come so lightly loaded that four to five hours of unloading time would find his ships emptied. Vandegrift and Turnage, anticipating little opposition at the beach, had planned to speed unloading by sending more than seven thousand men ashore in the assault wave. They would land along beaches (eleven on the mainland and one on Puruata Island off Cape Torokina) with a total length of eight thousand yards. The assault wave boarded landing craft at the ships’ rails. The winchmen quickly lowered the craft into the water; and the first wave formed rapidly and started for shore.

The scene was one to be remembered, with torpedo bombers roaring overhead, trim gray destroyers firing at the beaches, the two lines of transports and cargo ships swinging on their anchors, and the landing craft full of marines churning toward the enemy. This scene was laid against a natural backdrop of awesome beauty. The early morning tropical sun shone in a bright blue sky. A moderately heavy sea was running, so that at the shore a white line showed where the surf pounded on the black and gray beaches, which were fringed for most of their length by the forbidding green of the jungle. Behind were the rugged hills, and Mount Bagana, towering skyward, emitting perpetual clouds of smoke and steam, dominated the entire scene.

The destroyers continued firing until 0731, when thirty-one torpedo bombers from New Georgia bombed and strafed the shore line for five minutes. The first troops reached the beach at 0726, and in the next few minutes all the assault wave came ashore. There was no opposition except at Puruata Island and at Cape Torokina and its immediate vicinity. There the Japanese, though few in numbers, fought with skill and ferocity.

Cape Torokina was held by 270 Japanese soldiers of the 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, and of the Regimental Gun Company, 23rd Infantry. One platoon held Puruata. On Cape Torokina the enemy had built about eighteen log-and-sandbag pillboxes, each with two machine guns, mutually supporting, camouflaged, and arranged in depth. He had also emplaced a 75-mm. gun in an open-ended log-and-sand bunker to fire on landing craft nearing the beach.

Neither air bombardment nor naval gunfire had had any appreciable effect on these positions. Because air reconnaissance had shown that the enemy had built defense positions on Cape Torokina (a low, flat, sandy area covered with palm trees), it had been a target for naval bombardment. Two destroyers had fired at the cape from the south, but had done no damage. Exploding shells and bombs sent up smoke and dust that made observation difficult; some shells had burst prematurely in the palm trees. Poor gunnery was also a factor, for many shells were seen to hit the water.

Thus when landing craft bearing the 3rd Marines neared the cape the 75-mm. gun and the machine guns opened fire. The men were forced to disembark under fire and to start fighting the moment they put foot to the ground. Casualties were lighter than might have been expected—78 men were killed and 104 wounded in the day’s action—but only after fierce fighting and much valor were the men of the 3rd Marines able to establish themselves ashore. The pillboxes were reduced by three-man fire teams: one BAR man and two riflemen with M1’s, all three using grenades whenever possible. The gun position was taken by Sgt. Robert A. Owens of A Company, 3rd Marines, who rushed the position under cover of fire from four riflemen. He killed part of the Japanese crew and drove off the rest before he died of wounds received in his assault.

[N12-46MH: Sergeant Owens received the Medal of Honor posthumously.]

By 1100 Cape Torokina was cleared. Most of its defenders were dead; the survivors retreated inland. Puruata Island was secured at about the same time, although some Japanese remained alive until the next day. Elsewhere the landing waves, though not opposed by the enemy, pushed inland slowly through dense jungle and a knee-deep swamp that ran two miles inland and backed most of the beach north and east of Cape Torokina. The swamp’s existence had not previously been suspected.

Air Attacks and Unloading

The Allied air forces of the South and Southwest Pacific Areas had performed mightily in their effort to neutralize the Japanese air bases at Rabaul, Bougainville, and the Shortlands, but they had not been able to neutralize Rabaul completely. In planning the invasion of Empress Augusta Bay, the South Pacific commanders were aware that the Japanese would probably counterattack from the air. General Twining had arranged for thirty-two New Georgia-based fighter planes of all types then in use in the South Pacific—Army Air Forces P-38’s, New Zealand P-40’s, and Marine F4U’s—to be overhead in the vicinity all day. These planes were vectored by a fighter director team aboard the destroyer Conway. Turning in an outstanding performance, they destroyed or drove off most of the planes that the Japanese sent against Wilkinson. But they could not keep them all away.

At 0718, as the last boats of the assault wave were leaving their transports, the destroyers’ radars picked up a flight of approaching enemy planes then fifty miles distant. The covering fighters kept most of the planes away, but a few, perhaps twelve, dive bombers broke through to attack the ships. These bombers had come from Rabaul, where the enemy commanders were making haste to organize counterattacks.

On 30 October Vice Admiral Sentaro Omori, commanding a heavy cruiser division, had brought a convoy into Simpson Harbor at Rabaul. Next morning a search plane reported an Allied convoy of three cruisers, ten destroyers, and thirty transports near Gatukai in the New Georgia group. This was probably Merrill’s task force; it could not have been Wilkinson’s. On receiving this report Admiral Kusaka ordered the planes of his 11th Air Fleet to start attacks, and he and Koga, over the protests of the 8th Fleet commander, who warned of the dangers of sending surface ships south of New Britain, directed Omori to take his force and all the 8th Fleet ships out to attack. This Omori did, but he missed Merrill and returned to Rabaul on the morning of 1 November.

Then came the news of the landing at Empress Augusta Bay. General Hyakutake was still sure that the main Allied attack would be delivered against southern Bougainville, but General Imamura ordered him to destroy the forces that had landed. Imamura also arranged with Kusaka for a counterattacking force from the 17th Division, made up of the 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry, and the 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, 53rd Infantry, to be transported to Empress Augusta Bay. It would be carried on 6 destroyer-transports and escorted by 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 6 destroyers, all under Omori.

Admirals Koga and Kusaka, just completing their preparations for Operation RO, also ordered out their planes. The weather had come to their assistance by halting the heavy raid General Kenney had planned for 1 November. Koga alerted the 12th Air Fleet for transfer from Japan to Rabaul. Kusaka sent out planes of his 11th Air Fleet. The carrier planes apparently did not take part on 1 November.

According to enemy accounts, Japanese planes delivered three separate attacks against Wilkinson on 1 November. The Japanese used a total of 16 dive bombers and 104 fighters, of which 19 were lost and 10 were damaged. [N12-48AA: Southeast Area Naval Operations, III, Japanese Monogr No. 50 (OCMH), p. 46; p. 13 states that twenty-two planes were lost.]

When Wilkinson’s ships received warning at 0718, the transports and cargo ships weighed anchor and steamed for the open sea. They escaped harm, and the dive bombers were able to inflict only light damage to the destroyers. Two sailors were killed. The transports returned and resumed unloading at 0930, having lost two hours.

Another enemy attack at 1248 succeeded in breaking through the fighter cover. Warned again by radar, the transports, with the exception of the American Legion, which stuck on an uncharted shoal, fled. The Japanese attacked the moving ships instead of the Legion. No damage was done, but the ships lost two more hours of unloading time.

The halts in unloading caused by air attacks, coupled with beach and terrain conditions that Admiral Halsey described as “worse than any we had previously encountered,” slowed the movement of supplies and equipment. Fully one third of the landing force—5,700 men in all—had been assigned to the shore party, but nature and the Japanese aircraft thwarted efforts to unload all the ships on D Day.

Even on quiet days the surf at Empress Augusta Bay was rough, and on 1 November a stiff breeze whipped it higher. The northernmost beaches were steep and narrow. The surf, and possibly the inexperience of some of the crews, took a heavy toll of landing craft. No less than sixty-four LCVP’s and twenty-two LCM’s broached on shore and were swamped by the driving surf. As surf conditions got worse, several beaches became completely unusable. Five ships were shifted to beaches farther south, with more delay and congestion at the southern beaches. It was during this move that the American Legion ran aground.

By 1730 the eight transports were empty and Wilkinson took them back to Guadalcanal. But the four cargo ships, which carried heavy guns and equipment, were still practically full. Vandegrift, who had had ample experience at Guadalcanal in being left stranded on a hostile shore while much of his equipment remained in the holds of departing ships, persuaded Wilkinson to allow the cargo ships to put out to sea for the night and return the next morning to unload. Most of the troops aboard went ashore in LCVP’s before Commodore Reifsnider led the cargo ships out to sea. D Battery of the 3rd Defense Battalion, for example, its 90-mm. antiaircraft guns, fire control equipment, and radars deep in the holds of the Alchiba, which had lost all its LCM’s in the raging surf, went ashore as infantry and occupied a support position in the sector of the 9th Marines.

Except for the full holds of the cargo ships, D Day had been thoroughly successful. All the landing force, including General Turnage, Brigadier General Alfred H. Noble, corps deputy commander, Colonel Gerald C. Thomas, the corps chief of staff, and several other officers, were ashore. General Vandegrift returned to Guadalcanal on the George Clymer, leaving Turnage in command at Cape Torokina.

By the day’s end the division held a shallow beachhead from Torokina northward for about four thousand yards. Aside from unloading the cargo ships (a task that was expeditiously accomplished the next day), the main missions facing the amphibious and ground commanders and the troops were threefold: to bring in reinforcements; to organize a perimeter defense capable of beating off the inevitable Japanese counterattack; and to build the airfields that would put South Pacific fighter planes over Rabaul.

SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Bougainville (13); Exploiting the Beachhead

World War Two: New Guinea;Markham Valley and the Huon Peninsula

Korean War: (1) Background to Conflict

Every now and then in the history of mankind, events of surpassing importance take place in little-known areas of the earth. And men and women in countries distant from those events whose lives turn into unexpected and unwanted channels because of them can but wonder how it all happened to come about. So it was with Korea in 1950. In this ancient land of high mountains and sparkling streams the United Nations fought its first war.

 

For decades it has been axiomatic in Far Eastern politics that Russia, China, and Japan could not be indifferent to what happened in Korea, and, to the extent that they were able, each consistently has tried to shape the destinies of that peninsula. For Korea lies at the point where the Russian, Chinese, and Japanese spheres meet—the apex of the three great power triangles in Asia. Korea, the ancient invasion route of Japan into the Asian continent, in turn has always been the dagger thrust at Japan from Asia.

 

Korea is a mountainous peninsula of the Asiatic land mass and has natural water boundaries for almost the entire distance on all sides. The Yalu and Tumen Rivers are on the north, the Sea of Japan on the east, the Korea Strait on the south, and the Yellow Sea on the west. The only countries of the Asiatic mainland having boundaries with Korea are China across the Yalu and Tumen Rivers for 500 miles and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for a distance of approximately eleven miles along the lower reaches of the Tumen River.

 

Korea embraces a little more than 85,000 square miles, is about the size of Utah, and in shape resembles Florida. It has more than 5,400 miles of coast line. High mountains come down abruptly to deep water on the east where there are few harbors, but on the south and west a heavily indented shoreline provides many. There is almost no tide on the east coast. On the west coast at Inchon the tidal reach of thirty-two feet is the second highest in the world.

Korea varies between 90 and 200 miles in width and 525 to 600 miles in length. The mountains are highest in the north, some reaching 8,500 feet.

 

The high Taebaek Range extends down the east coast like a great spine, gradually falling off in elevation to the south. Practically all of Korea south of the narrow waist from P’yongyang to Wonsan slopes westward from the high Taebaek Range. This determines the drainage basins and direction of flow of all sizable rivers within Korea—generally to the southwest.

 

Only about 20 percent of Korea is arable land, most of it in the south and west. But every little mountain valley throughout Korea is terraced, irrigated, and cultivated. The principal food crops are rice, barley, and soybeans, in that order. Most of the rice is raised in the south where the warm and long growing season permits two crops a year. In 1950 the country’s population of about 30,000,000 was divided between 21,000,000 south and 9,000,000 north of the 38th Parallel, with 70 percent engaged in agriculture.[N1-1KW] The population density of South Korea, 586 per square mile, was one of the highest in the world for an agricultural people. Although having less than one third of the population, North Korea in 1950 comprised more than half (58 percent) the country.

 

[N1-1KW: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Survey (NIS). Korea, 1949, ch. 4, pp. 41-42, and ch. 6, pp. 61-66. Figures are from 1949 census.]

 

Despite the fact that Korea has the sea on three sides, in climate it is continental rather than oceanic. Summers are hot and humid with a monsoon season generally lasting from June to September. In winter, cold winds come from the interior of Asia.

 

The Hermit Kingdom or Chosen, the “Land of the Morning Calm,” has an ancient history. Its recorded history begins shortly before the time of Christ. An invasion from China, about one hundred years after the beginning of the Christian era, established a Chinese influence that has persisted to the present time. Many of China’s cultural and technical advances, however, were borrowed from early Korea.

 

In a short war of a few months’ duration in 1894-1895, known as the Sino-Japanese War, Japan ended Chinese political influence in Korea. Thereafter, Russian ambitions in Manchuria clashed with Japanese ambitions in Korea. This rivalry led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which ended with Japan dominant in Korea. Despite the bitter opposition of the Korean people, Japan proceeded step by step to absorb Korea within her empire and in 1910 annexed it as a colony. During World War II, in 1942, Korea became an integral part of Japan and came under the control of the Home Ministry.

 

All the critical events which occurred in Korea after 1945 grew out of the joint occupation of the country at the end of World War II by the United States and the USSR. The boundary between the two occupation forces was the 38th Parallel.

While all the influences operating on the decision to divide Korea for purposes of accepting the surrender of the Japanese forces there at the end of World War II cannot here be explored, it appears that American military consideration of an army boundary line in Korea began at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945. One day during the conference, General of the Army George C. Marshall called in Lieutenant General John E. Hull, then Chief of the Operations Division, U.S. Army, and a member of the U.S. military delegation, and told him to be prepared to move troops into Korea. General Hull and some of his planning staff studied a map of Korea trying to decide where to draw a line for an army boundary between U.S. and Soviet forces. They decided that at least two major ports should be included in the U.S. zone. This led to the decision to draw a line north of Seoul which would include the port of Inchon. Pusan, the chief port of Korea, was at the southeastern tip of the country. This line north of Seoul, drawn at Potsdam by the military planners, was not on the 38th Parallel but was near it and, generally, along it. The American and Russian delegates, however, did not discuss a proposed boundary in the military meetings of the Potsdam Conference.

 

[N1-2KW: Interv, author with General John E. Hull, Vice CofS, USA, 1 Aug 52. Dept of State Pub 4266, The Conflict in Korea, gives the diplomatic and legal background of U.S. commitments on Korea. A detailed discussion of the division of Korea at the 38th Parallel will be found in Lieutenant Colonel James F. Schnabel, Theater Command: June 1950-July 1951, a forthcoming volume in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR. TERMINAL Conference: Papers and Minutes of Meetings (July, 1945), U.S. Secy CCS, 1945, pp. 320-21 (hereafter cited, TERMINAL Conf: Papers and Min.]

 

The matter lay dormant, apparently, in the immense rush of events following hard on the heels of the Potsdam Conference, which terminated 26 July—the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the first part of August, the Russian declaration of war against Japan on 8 August, and the Japanese offer of surrender on 10 August. The latter event brought the question of a demarcation line in Korea to the fore. It was settled in General Order 1, approved by President Harry S. Truman on 15 August 1945 and subsequently cleared with the British and Soviet Governments. It provided that U.S. forces would receive the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea south of the 38th Parallel; Soviet forces would receive the surrender of Japanese forces north of the Parallel. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur issued General Order 1 on 2 September as the directive under which Japanese forces throughout the Far East would surrender after the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender that day at Tokyo Bay in obedience to the Imperial Rescript by Emperor Hirohito.

 

It seems that the Soviet Army reached the 38th Parallel in Korea on 26 August. On 3 September, just as XXIV Corps was loading at Okinawa 600 miles away for its movement to Korea, Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, commander of XXIV Corps and designated U.S. Commander in Korea, received a radio message from Lieutenant General Yoshio Kozuki, commander of the Japanese 17th Area Army in Korea, reporting that Soviet forces had advanced south of the 38th Parallel only in the Kaesong area. They evacuated the town on 8 September, evidently in anticipation of an early American entry.

 

Two weeks after he had accepted the surrender of the Japanese south of the 38th Parallel in Seoul on 9 September 1945, General Hodge reported to General MacArthur in Tokyo, “Dissatisfaction with the division of the country grows.” The 38th Parallel had nothing to commend it as a military or political boundary. It crossed Korea at the country’s widest part without respect to terrain features; it came close to several important towns; and it cut off the Ongjin Peninsula in the west from the rest of Korea south of the Parallel.

 

For a few days at least after the American landing at Inchon on 8 September 1945 the Koreans lived in a dream world. They thought this was the end of fifty years of bondage and the beginning of an era of peace, plenty, and freedom from interference by foreign peoples in their lives.

 

And for the Americans, too, who experienced those memorable September days in Korea there was little at the moment to suggest the disillusionment that onrushing events of the next few years would bring. A composite company, made up of elements of each rifle company of the 7th Infantry Division, paraded proudly and happily out of the courtyard at the Government House in Seoul at the conclusion of the ceremonies attending the Japanese surrender. The wide thoroughfare outside was so densely packed with the throng there was scarcely room for it to pass. These men had fought across the Pacific from Attu to Okinawa.4 They thought that war was behind them for the rest of their lives. Five years later this same division was to assault this same capital city of Seoul where many of its men were to fall in the streets.

 

In an effort to reunite the country and to end the ever-mounting hostilities between the two parts of divided Korea, the General Assembly of the United Nations in November 1947 voted to establish a nine-nation United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNCOK) to be present in Korea and to supervise elections of representatives to a National Assembly which would establish a national government. But the Soviet Union denied the U.N. Commission permission to enter North Korea, thus preventing that part of the country from participation in the free election.

 

South Korea held an election on 10 May 1948 under the auspices of the United Nations, sending 200 representatives to the National Assembly. The National Assembly held its first meeting on 31 May, and elected Syngman Rhee Chairman. On 12 July the Assembly adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Korea and formally proclaimed it the next day. Three days later the Assembly elected Syngman Rhee President.

 

On 15 August 1948 the government of the Republic of Korea was formally inaugurated and the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea terminated. President Rhee and General Hodge on 24 August signed an interim military agreement to be in effect until such time as the United States withdrew its troops. The withdrawal of these troops began about three weeks later on 15 September. The United States recognized the new Republic of Korea on New Year’s Day, 1949. Mr. John J. Muccio, special representative of the United States to the new government of South Korea since 12 August 1948, became the first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea on 21 March 1949.

 

[N1-5KWDS: Text of agreement in Dept of State Pub 3305, Korea: 1945-1948, Annex 26, pp. 103-04; Ibid., Annex 23, pp. 100-101; George M. McCune, Korea Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), p. 231, n. 25.]

 

Meanwhile, events in North Korea took a course which seems to have been guided by a deliberately planned political purpose. On 10 July 1948 the North Korean People’s Council adopted a draft resolution and set 25 August as the date for an election of members of the Supreme People’s Assembly of Korea. This assembly on 8 September adopted a constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and, the next day, claimed for this government jurisdiction over all Korea. Kim Il Sung took office 10 September as Premier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

 

Thus, three years after U.S. military authorities accepted the surrender of the Japanese south of the 38th Parallel there were two Korean governments in the land, each hostile to the other and each claiming jurisdiction over the whole country. Behind North Korea stood the Soviet Union; behind South Korea stood the United States and the U.N. Temporary Commission on Korea.

 

The General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 December 1948 recognized the lawful nature of the government of the Republic of Korea and recommended that the occupying powers withdraw their forces from Korea “as early as practicable.” Russia announced on 25 December that all her occupation forces had left the country. But North Korea never allowed the U.N. Commission to enter North Korea to verify this claim. On 23 March 1949 President Truman approved the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops from Korea, a regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. Ambassador Muccio notified the U.N. Commission on 8 July 1949 that the United States had completed withdrawal of its forces on 29 June and that the U.S. Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) had been deactivated as of midnight 30 June.

While these events were taking place, internal troubles increased in South Korea. After the establishment of the Syngman Rhee government in the summer of 1948, civil disorder spread below the 38th Parallel. There began a campaign of internal disorders directed from North Korea designed to overthrow the Rhee government and replace it by a Communist one. Armed incidents along the 38th Parallel, in which both sides were the aggressors and crossed the boundary, became frequent.

 

North Korea did not stop at inciting revolt within South Korea and taking military action against the border, it made threats as well against the United Nations. On 14 October 1949 the Foreign Minister of North Korea sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations denying the legality of U.N. activity in Korea and declaring that the U.N. Commission in Korea would be driven out of the country. Eight days later the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to continue the Commission and charged it with investigating matters that might lead to military action in Korea. The United Nations supplemented this action on 4 March 1950 by the Secretary General’s announcement that eight military observers would be assigned to observe incidents along the 38th Parallel.

 

During the month there were rumors of an impending invasion of South Korea and, in one week alone, 3-10 March, there occurred twenty-nine guerrilla attacks in South Korea and eighteen incidents along the Parallel. Beginning in May 1950, incidents along the Parallel, and guerrilla activity in the interior, dropped off sharply. It was the lull preceding the storm.

 

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: Armed Forces of North and South Korea 1950 (2)

World War Two: North Africa (6-29); II Corps Operations Beyond El Guettar

By 25 March General Patton’s operations had successfully drawn off one of the German armored divisions which otherwise might have opposed the British Eighth Army. General Montgomery’s attempt to circumvent the Mareth Position through the gap southwest of El Hamma was scheduled to enter a crucial phase on the night of 26-27 March. After the First Italian Army had been uprooted by this maneuver and driven in retreat to the Chott Position, the II Corps was expected to be of additional assistance if it could send an armored task force as far as the Chott Position and perhaps farther up the coast. In the meantime, by stepping up offensive action at all possible points along the Eastern Dorsal, it could pin down Axis forces at the time when success would bring fluidity to the battle near El Hamma. General Alexander accordingly brought to General Patton at noon, 25 March, a new directive for the II Corp. The corps base line was to be advanced from the Western Dorsal to extend between Gafsa and Sbeitla. He released the U.S. 9th and 34th Infantry Divisions to II Corps for employment in current offensive operations. The 9th Division (less Combat Team 60) was to attack simultaneously with the 1st Infantry Division southeast of El Guettar. The 34th Division (less the 133rd Combat Team) was to attack by itself the Axis-held gap through the Eastern Dorsal at Fondouk el Aouareb.

[Note 29-1T: The U.S. 1st Infantry Division reported casualties for the period 17-25 March, inclusive,51 killed, 309 wounded, and 57 missing. Entry 334, 26 Mar 43, in II Corps G-3 Jnl.]

The II Corps was to abandon the attempt to use the pass east of Maknassy to move an armored column onto the coastal plain, southwest of Mahares, a plan which had been under consideration since 22 March. The U.S. 1st Armored Division would leave in the area a force containing a medium tank battalion, two artillery battalions, and the 60th Combat Team, and would assemble in concealment at least three other battalions of medium tanks ready for commitment in a mobile column thrusting southeastward toward Gabes from El Guettar.

Operations east of El Guettar would thus be on a much enlarged scale. The 26th Infantry’s zone astride the Gumtree road would be stabilized while other elements of the 1st Infantry Division and the 9th Infantry Division together opened a gap between Djebel el Meheltat (482) and Djebel el Kheroua (369), southeast of El Guettar, through which the armored column could proceed. The attack along the El Guettar-Gabcs road would be executed in three phases: first, obtaining the road junction east of Djebel el Kheroua; second, securing a position as far forward as the road loop through El Rafay between Djebel Chemsi (790) and Djebel Ben Khelr (587); and third, sending the U.S. 1st Armored Division to Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa (270), a hill on the western flank of the enemy’s Chott Position, at a time to be determined by 18 Army Group, and with the mission of harassing the enemy’s line of communications without incurring a major tank battle.

In preparation for these operations ordered by 18 Army Group on 25 March, Patton directed General Ward to have General McQuillin defend the pass east of Maknassy with a much reduced force against the enemy’s increasingly aggressive pressure, to send to Gafsa as secretly as possible the 81st Reconnaissance and 6th Field Artillery Battalions after dark on 28 March. Until further orders from II Corps Ward was to hold at Maknassy the remainder of the 1st Armored Division not assigned to McQuillin. At the same time that the II Corps was attacking at Fondouk el Aouareb and strengthening and concentrating its thrust beyond El Guettar, the Southeast Algerian Command (General Robert Boissau) at the right of II Corps was directed by 18 Army Group to press forward in the valley between Djebel Berda (926) and Djebel el Asker (625), to the south.

[Note 6-1NA1: McQuillin’s command was to consist of his Combat Command A headquarters; the 1st Armored Regiment (less 1st and 2nd Battalions); the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armorcd Infantry; Combat Team 60: two battalions of the 5th Armored Field Artillery Group (the 58th and 62nd); one battery, 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP); and the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion.]

Two Divisions East of El Guettar,28-29 March

The II Corps renewed its attack towards Gabes at 0600, 28 March, as the enemy farther southeast was occupying the Chott Position and abandoning the Mareth Line. Opposite II Corps the German Africa Corps had built up a strong defensive front. Its back bone was the 10th Panzer Division (less elements committed east of Maknassy under Group Lang) interlaced with units of the Division Centauro. The enemy, making the best possible use of terrain well suited for defense, concentrated his forces in strongpoints, organized during earlier weeks, and effectively supported them with artillery and mortars. German air reconnaissance had detected Allied movements in the Maknassy-Sened area.

The enemy interpreted these movements to indicate an American shift to the defensive in the sector east of Maknassy. But at the same time enemy intelligence concluded that these moves of Allied armored groups constituted a threat to the 10th Panzer Division’s north Hank via passes southwest of Djebel Bou Douaou (753), Meich, Sened, or Sakket.

This assumption was altogether incorrect. Nevertheless, it caused General von Broich to abandon the idea of striking with his main armored force toward El Guettar along the Gumtree road. Instead, he held Group Reimann (2nd Battalion, 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, reinforced by elements of the 7th Panzer Regiment and artillery) in positions north of the Gumtree road at Djebel Hamadi (567) and Djebel Bou Small (608) to act as his flank force. Von Broich ordered the 2nd Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, defending the northernmost portion of the curving horseshoe of Djebel el Meheltat, known as Rass ed Dekhla (536), to extend its line eastward to conform with Group Reimann’s new defensive mission. The 49th Panzer Pionier Battalion, meantime, continued to hold the main portion of Djebel el Meheltat with its Hill 482. The gap between it and the northeastern tip of Djebel Berda was held by elements of the Centauro Division. To their left was the 10th Motorcycle Battalion extending the Axis line to include Hill 772 on Djebel Berda. Other Italian units guarded the extreme south flank as far as Djebel el Asker.

On the Allied side, in the El Guettar sector, the 9th Infantry Division, using five of its six available infantry battalions, was expected to seize Hill 369 at the eastern end of Djebel el Kheroua. The division had never gone into attack as a unit. The prospective test was anything but easy. With imperfect maps and inadequate reconnaissance the division was to attack at night over several miles of open plain in an effort to reach the Djebel Berda complex. Those hills were steep, deeply eroded into numerous gorges, lacking in vegetation, jagged and craggy.

Trails were difficult. Movement through the valleys and gulches was controlled from the adjacent high ground. Progress in any given direction over the often precipitous slopes and twisting ridges would be very difficult to maintain. Several peaks and high crests provided excellent observation enabling those who possessed them to control fire or direct the maneuvers of toiling troop units which could not see each other. In the opinion of those who fought there, the Djebel Berda, and particularly its eastern extremity, was a natural fortress capable of being defended by minimum forces for an indefinite period.

[NOTE 62-1NA:, (1) Combat Team 60, 9th Division, was attached to the 1st Armored Division. (2) Staff of the 9th Infantry Division: commanding general, Major General Manton S. Eddy; assistant division commander, Brigadier General Donald A. Stroh; chief of staff, Colonel Samuel A. Gibson; G~I, Lt. Colonel C. F. Enright; G-2, Major Robert W. Robb; G~3, Lieutenant Colonel Alvar B. Sundin; G-4, Major George E. Pickett; artillery commander, Brigadier General S. LeRoy Irwin.]

[NoTE 63-2NA: (1) When they later analyzed the problem in the light of their experience, they concluded that Hill 772, the paramount observation point, should first have been captured and held, after which simultaneous attacks should have been made from west to east along the ridges of three lower mountains [Draa Saada el Hamra (316), Djebel el Kheroua, and Djebel Lettouchi (361)] with the object of capturing Hills 290, 369, and 361 respectively. Attempts to capture Draa Saada el Hamra or Djebel el Kheroua by direct assault against their northwestern faces across the open plain and valley were almost certain to result in costly failure. (2) 9th Inf Div AAR, 26 Mar-8 Apr 43, 25 Aug 43, Annex B, Terrain Study.]

The 9th Division plan of attack for 28 March provided that General Eddy’s two regiments should assemble at the northwestern base of Djebel Berda, in the area which had been abandoned three nights earlier. The 47th Infantry (Colonel Edwin H. Randle) was to move to attack Hill 369 from the west and south, one battalion going along Djebel Lettouchi, another along Djebel el Kheroua, and a third remaining in reserve but following toward Djebel el Kheroua. The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, was to be in division reserve behind the 47th Infantry. The remainder of the 39th Infantry was to be motorized and held, near the northeastern corner of the Chott el Guettar, also in division reserve. The plan modified another prepared the previous day, and was issued too late to enable all units to make the necessary adaptations and preparations.

The attack of 28-29 March started out as planned, with the 47th Infantry heading for Hill 369 in column of battalions from assembly points at the foot of Djebel Berda. The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, followed by bounds. But the silhouette of Draa Saada el Hamra ridge (with Hill 290) was mistaken for Djebel el Kheroua (with Hill 369). The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 47th Infantry, captured the ridge but did not gain and occupy Hill 290, at its tip. The plans went further astray through the miscarriage of a maneuver by the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry. Taking a route of approach during the latter part of the night somewhat to the south, this unit marched into a confusing jumble of hills and rough terrain between Djebel el Kheroua and Djebel Lettouchi, remained out of touch with the regiment for about thirty-six hours, and lost its battalion commander, intelligence officer and communication officer, its entire Company E, and the commanders of two other Companies, for more than a day during which, with parts of the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry, it fought as a provisional battalion under Captain James D. Johnston in the area of Hill 772. Thus the first day’s abortive operations had been costly to the division, which now faced the second day with only two more infantry battalions on which to draw when attacking its true objective for the first time.

General Eddy arranged during 28 March to send the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry, after dark to the vicinity of Hill 290, which it was to skirt in order to approach Hill 369 from the north for a night bayonet attack while the two battalions of the 47th Infantry on Draa Saada el Hamra ridge assisted from the west. This venture was also frustrated. The truck column moving down the Gabes road drove much too close to Hill 290, from which it received heavy fire. Badly demoralized and severely hurt, most of the column pulled out and hurried back all the way to the starting point. The remainder, pinned down and unable to move in daylight, straggled back thirty-six hours later.

[NOTE 63-29NA: The reserve battalion (1st Battalion, 39th Infantry), committed on division order to advance toward the hills around Djebel el Kheroua, also became lost to (1) In all, 232 enlisted men and 10 officers were taken prisoners. 10th Panzer Diu, Ie, Taetigkeitsbericht, 28 Mar 43. (2) 47th lnf Hist, 1943, p. 6.]

Hill 369 remained in seeming immunity, jeopardizing any passage down the road to Gabes and prolonging the first phase of the II Corps operations under the army group instructions of 25 March. The battalions on Draa Saada el Hamra ridge and in the Djebel Berda complex would have to reorganize before being able to launch an effective assault for the capture of Hill 369, and the shifts would have to be made at night. They could not begin reorganizing until the night of 30-31 March and that meant that no strong attempt would be possible before 1-2 April, although attacks on Hill 290 were kept up in the interval.

Operations thus far had demonstrated not only how attacks could go wrong but also that the enemy’s positions were hewn from rock and very effectively placed for shelter or defensive fire. Mortars became the favored infantry weapon, once the battle in the hills demonstrated their superior effectiveness, while relatively low amounts of rifle ammunition were used.

The 1st Infantry Division meanwhile executed its part of the II Corps attack on 28 March on a front narrowed by the 9th Infantry Division’s assumption of the sector from Djebel Berda to the Gabes road (inclusive) . General Allen’s sector extended from this road to the hills north of the Gumtree road. He placed the 16th Infantry on the southwest near Hill 336, and the 26th Infantry to the north. The 18th Infantry he initially held north of Djebel el Ank (621).

By 29 March, the 1st Infantry Division attack, especially in the northeast sector along Gumtree road, was progressing much more rapidly than the assault of the 9th Infantry Division farther south. As the German line was pulled back, the 18th Infantry ( – ) advanced toward Djebel Hamadi and Hill 574, thus protecting the flank of the 26th Combat Team, which captured Rass ed Dekhla and subsequently turned south in an envelopment movement aiming for Hill 482 on Djebel el Meheltat. The 16th Infantry also attacked that objective. But its advance was far more difficult since it had to be executed over a four mile stretch of open terrain and in full view of the enemy. Progress consequently was slow and costly. At the end of the day the Germans were still in firm possession of Hill 482.

Some units of the 1st Armored Division had already assembled, as noted above, to defend Gafsa in the event of a German break-through east of El Guettar, and General Patton ordered others brought down during the night of 28-29 March. The units from Maknassy had been summoned in anticipation of an armored attack from El Guettar down the Gabes road. General Patton had tried to conceal the assembly of this force, and was angry because the last contingent arrived at 0700, 29 March, instead of before dawn. The day of the 29th passed without the capture of Hill 482 on the southern portion of Djebel el Meheltat, an event which was to have concluded the first phase of II Corps operations east of El Guettar. “We are trying to be simple, not change our plans when once made, and keep on fighting,” wrote General Patton to General Marshall that day as he outlined what the II Corps had thus far been doing.

The Armored Attack Toward Gabes, 30 March-l April

Late on 29 March, 18 Army Group for the fourth time revised its directive to the U.S. II Corps. The situation was critical. The attack at Fondouk el Aouareb was failing. The one at Maknassy had been abandoned. The infantry operations to open a gap for the armor southeast of El Guettar were making no progress. At this juncture, therefore, General Alexander instructed General Patton to organize the defense of Maknassy, Sened, and Gafsa in accordance with a most detailed assignment of Patton’s units, and to launch an armored force next morning to break its own way through the enemy’s barrier on the El Guettar-Gabes road ahead of the infantry. After some of the difficulties involved in this set of instructions had been resolved, Patton determined to put the 1st Armored Division’s task force under Colonel Benson,[N63-92NA] whose aggressiveness he admired. To make certain that that quality was kept undimmed, he sent General Gaffey to “keep an eye on the show.” The basic plan of operations beyond El Guettar had been radically modified by the sudden change in 18 Army Group’s intentions, a change which in turn came as a result of developments elsewhere.

[NOTE 63-92NA(1) Patton Diary, 29 Mar 43. (2) II Corps G-3 Periodic Rpt 56, 30 Mar 43. This lists the elements of Task Force Benson as: 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (mediums); 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (mediums); the 81st Reconnaissance Battalion: the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion; the 65th and 68th Field Artillery Battalions; Company B, 16th Engineer Battalion (C). The 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry, was attached from the 9th Division on 30 March. The 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, joined during the night of 30-31 March.]

By 30 March the British Eighth Army’s battle had shifted from the Mareth Position and El Hamma area to the Chott Position. While General Montgomery reorganized for the next attempt to punch through General Messe’s prepared defenses on the narrow front along the Akarit wadi, an American foray into the Axis flank, by drawing off defending troops, would obviously assist the impending attack.

At the same time, during these preparations the enemy would be free at least temporarily to detach some of his mobile reserves. He could thus employ the 21st Panzer Division, as in fact he did. He might have committed it at Maknassy. For several days, he had feared an Allied break-through there, although Kesselring recognized that such an Allied success, by leading the Americans onto a funnel-like plain and exposing them to the danger of encirclement, might ultimately benefit the Axis forces. Such fears had abated by 30 March, when it was for a time possible to consider sending a German armored column through Maknassy toward Gafsa. But the small force that could then be assembled would have been inadequate for such a thrust, and it might have been encircled and isolated.

In the end the Allied initiative in concentrating for a drive southeast of El Guettar drew to that front first, on 29 March, the Panzer Grenadier Regiment, Africa, and, the next day, elements of the 21st Panzer Division and an intensified commitment of the German Luftwaffe. To prevent an American success there, the 21st Panzer Division on 30 March put Kampfgruppe Pfeiffer (consisting of one battalion of panzer grenadiers, artillery, antitank, engineer, and Flak units) at the 10th Panzer Division’s disposal and on 31 March the whole division during the afternoon joined in the attempt to repel Task Force Benson.’s The II Corps operations near El Guettar from 30 March to 1 April had some initial success but did not achieve all objectives. To assist Task Force Benson’s penetration, the artillery fire of both infantry divisions and of II Corps was massed.

The 9th Infantry Division’s attack at 0600, 30 March, was prefaced by fifteen battalion and six battery concentrations on Djebel Lettouehi and Djebel el Kheroua. This bombardment enabled the infantry to take but not to hold part of Djebel Lettouchi, while it could not even establish a footing on other hills. The 1st Infantry Division was more successful After a morning attack, followed first by three hours of shelling by four artillery battalions, and then by a renewed infantry assault, the 26th Infantry was able to get most but not all the southern portion of Djebel el Mcheltat (Hill 482 and adjacent ridges)

Task Force Benson began its attack at noon of 30 March but did not get very far. The enemy’s artillery and antitank weapons, many of them mobile, were well placed and proved much too strong. A mine field barred Benson’s advance through the pass between Djebel Meheltat and Hill 369. Before he could pull the column back out of range and extricate the leading vehicles, enemy fire knocked out five tanks and two tank destroyers. But after dark, the Americans cleared a lane through the mines north of the road and made preparations for an attack next morning at 0600 by the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry. The object of this attack was to clear the enemy from the south side of the Gabes road and establish contact with the 9th Infantry Division. This task was accomplished. Enemy defenders finally abandoned Hill 290 after repeated American attacks and fell back one mile to their main line of resistance.

(‘ 9th Infantry Division was supported by the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, and the 26th, 34th, and 84th Field Artillery Battalions. 9th Div AAR, 25 Aug 43. (2) The 1st Infantry Division was supported by the 5th, 7th, 32nd, and 33rd Field Artillery Battalions. Corps supplied the 1st Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 36th Field Artillery Regiment; and a battalion of the 178th Field Artilltery Regiment. 1st Div G-3 Rpt, 17 Apr 43.)

Patton’s first inclination on 31 March was to send his G-3, Colonel Kent C. Lambert, to Colonel Benson with instructions to slam his way through at the cost, if need be, of a whole tank company, but he reconsidered, and planned instead an attack at 1600 in which supporting artillery and air would be coordinated with infantry and armor. The 9th Infantry Division put two companies on Hill 290, and one company each on three elevations west of that objective, and fed in more units to get Hill 772, towering above them all. General Eddy decided that his division must extend far enough westward onto Djebel Berda to include its crest. Meanwhile the 1st Infantry Division in a two pronged attack sent elements of Combat Teams 16 from the west and 26 from the north against the southeast tip of Djebel el Meheltat, which they kept under attack all day but did not wholly occupy.

Without waiting for the coordinated attack scheduled for 1600, Benson organized a tank-infantry attack which began at about 1230. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, passed through the lane in the mine field, farmed out, and although it lost eight tanks (four of which were salvaged), it gained possession of most of the ground from the road to the foothills at the north and destroyed several 88’s and lighter antitank guns, plus an estimated six tanks. The battalion, without any infantry support, clung to its gains until the next afternoon. The 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, then relieved it but had to yield some ground to increased enemy pressure. In these attacks Benson’s force had lost a total of thirteen tanks and two tank destroyers. Clearly, the tactical situation in the valley was inappropriate for armored exploitation. The enemy first had to be ousted from antitank positions by infantry and artillery before the armor could lunge ahead.

To reduce the enemy’s resistance to Benson’s attacks, Patton ordered a diversionary attack by elements of General Ward’s command north of Maknassy. Patton hoped that this might also assist Ryder’s operations at Fondouk el Aouareb. On 31 March, General Ward ordered Combat Command A under General McQuillin to seize the mining village of Meheri Zebbeus and Djebel Djebs No.1 (369) and thus to be in position for a breakout toward Sfax. Combat Command C under Colonel Stack remained at the railroad pass east of Maknassy. Most of McQuillin’s units, particularly the infantry, had been defending their limited gains east and north of Maknassy against unremitting pressure from Kampfgruppe Lang ever since 27 March. They had had little relief or rest, and many casualties, and their performance reflected their poor condition. The attack began late and was smothered at its inception when its flare-illuminated right flank came under heavy machine gun fire at the base of the mountain. The defense successfully held off the infantry attack by artillery fire throughout 1 April and by next day, when Benson’s attack was suspended, the whole operation had lost purpose and was abandoned.

The enemy had by then brought about another change in 18 Army Group’s instructions to General Patton. Enemy antitank fire had for three days thwarted the attempt by Benson’s armored force to smash through his lines. Enemy air attacks by 1 April were almost incessant, amounting to at least 163 sorties in 51 distinct attacks, killing fifteen and wounding fifty-five. Late that day, General Alexander therefore ordered that the tank attacks be discontinued, and he revived instead the original scheme of 25 March that infantry operations should open the way, with the tanks in support. The second phase, that of securing positions as far forward as the pass between Djebel Chemsi and Djebel Ben Kheir, was now to begin.

Strict compliance with even these instructions was not yet possible, for the enemy still held Hill 772 and Hill 369, and dominated the pass to the north. It was already painfully apparent that II Corps’ progress toward the coast had suffered severely from the cautious restraint and frequent changes in instructions imposed by 18 Army Group at the beginning of Operation WOP. Its restraining influence had permitted the enemy to occupy extremely defensible ground while the Americans were tethered to Gafsa and El Guettar.

It was now obvious how unfortunate had been the withdrawal of the right flank on Djebel Berda on the night of 25 and 26 March. Yet it must be remembered that the object of these operations remained primarily to divert enemy reserves rather than to advance onto the coastal plain against the enemy’s principal force. Even if the American armored column had been in a position to gain access, either by infantry action or its own bludgeoning attack, to the enemy’s rear area, General Alexander would then have had to decide whether he thought such an operation was advisable. As General Patton explained to General Marshall, Alexander specified the scope of each operation. “All I have is actual conduct of the operations prescribed.”

Tactical Air Support of II Corps

By 1 April, the new doctrine of air support which had been applied to the operations of II Corps seemed to have failed. The three American fighter groups operating from Thelepte and the group of light bombers from Youks-les-Bains had been visible to the ground troops from time to time, but most of their accomplishments had been out of sight and hearing. They had bombed Gafsa on 17 March, before the attack there, and on 23 March had helped throw back the 10th Panzer Division’s counterattack, but their main mission was to win air superiority in Tunisia for the Allies by fighter sweeps against enemy aircraft in the air, and by bombing and strafing strikes against planes on the enemy’s airfields. Their energies had been fully employed and they were inflicting severe damage on the enemy’s air force, but in the II Corps area, in sharp contrast to the situation over the Eighth Army, the air was far from being under Allied control. The daily report from II Corps to 18 Army Group for 1 April described enemy aviation as operating almost at will over the ground troops of II Corps because of the absence of Allied air cover. Indeed, the many enemy air attacks on 1 April against Task Force Benson near El Guettar intensified the sense of frustration brought about by the enemy’s reinforcement of his opposing ground units.

Since tactical air support had been furnished without stint, according to the Coningham doctrine, this commander of the Northwest African Tactical Air Force warmly resented Patton’s description of conditions on his battlefield. He met the complaint by a sarcastic and supercilious rejoinder reflecting on American troops which he subsequently withdrew and for which he made appropriate official amends at General Patton’s insistence. The incident subjected the solidarity of Anglo-American collaboration in arms to one of its severest tests, one through which it emerged unshaken. While Air Chief Marshal Tedder, General Spaatz, and Brigadier General Laurence S. Kuter were visiting Patton’s headquarters the day before Coningham himself came in connection with the matter, the Germans bombed the area around headquarters as if to confirm the protest that the II Corps was not benefiting from Allied air superiority.

But numerical superiority was increasing. Northwest African Tactical Air Force had, on 17 March, 319 aircraft and Strategic Air Force, 383; the enemy was operating far fewer from Tunisian airfields. The enemy was soon trying to maintain his air strength by putting Italian crews in German fighters, dive bombers, and bombers and incorporating them in Luftwaffe formations. The Stuka was driven out of use in Tunisia by the improved antiaircraft fire to which it was subjected and by the ability of Allied fighters to jump the dive bombers during their operations from forward fields.

II Corps Is Held, 2-6 April

The American forces east of El Guettar returned, between 2 and 6 April, to the grinding effort to occupy the hills and ridges along the Gumtree and the Gabes roads. The armored force now followed up the infantry line rather than serving as a spearhead.

Artillery strength increased, the ammunition expenditure was very heavy. The line lengthened to almost twenty miles as it moved eastward, greatly extending the troops of the 1st Infantry Division. The 9th Infantry Division continued to be absorbed in unsuccessful struggles to master the rugged terrain west of Hill 369 on Djebel el Kheroua. Its attacks from various directions on Hill 772 on Djebel Berda were repulsed again and again. Elsewhere its success was incomplete, and the large number of casualties, particularly those of the 47th Infantry, made it less and less likely that the tired troops could ever gain the divisional objective. Both infantry divisions drew engineer troops into the line as infantry before the end, and both were pushed to the limit, as was the enemy force which opposed them. The 1st Infantry Division drove doggedly ahead to take the village of Sakket on 3 April, but slowed down thereafter.

Its losses were not greatly different from those of the 9th Infantry Division, but were sustained by a full three-regiment unit and were therefore proportionately lighter. The badly strained forward supply services over the mountains were performed by pack mules, Arabs, and Italian prisoners. The south flank of the 1st Infantry Division was not in contact with the 9th Infantry Division, and continued exposure to flank attack threatened eventually to halt the advance.

German preparations for withdrawal were observed and misinterpreted as concentration for another armored counterattack like that of 23 March. Special defensive measures were therefore taken on 5 April. The men dug in, determined to hold on. The 19th Engineers (Combat), the 1st Ranger Battalion, and elements of the 1st Tank Destroyer Group set up a switch line along the Keddab wadi to stop any force that might come either along the road from Gabes or around the western end of Djebel Berda. The absence of information at II Corps headquarters on the operations of the British Eighth Army was partly responsible for the perturbation which for a time prevailed.

After an enemy counterattack failed to materialize and it became evident that he intended to withdraw, the two infantry divisions were again sent into an attack east of El Guettar on 6 April with their common objective a north-south line roughly equivalent to that of the first phase set out in the army group’s plan of 25 March. Task Force Benson followed up closely in the late afternoon and pushed beyond the road junction northeast of Djebel Berda.

After several days of artillery dueling, the elements of the 1st Armored Division nearer Maknassy put on another diversionary attack, Combat Command B hitting at Djebel Malzila (522) and Combat Command C demonstrating at Hill 322. American hopes of breaking through to interfere with the Italian First Army’s line of communications or with its defensive stand at the Chott Position were flickering out. Progress since 2 April had been much too slow to achieve such results. The higher levels of command were disappointed in operations to date, feeling that not enough had been achieved to promise success. The infantry divisions poked and jabbed at the defenders in their mountain positions without quite breaking their persistent hold. Those divisions seemed to be engaging the major part of the enemy’s forces. The reinforced armored division, on the other hand, after forfeiting its best chance of successful action early on 22 March at Maknassy, seemed to have spent itself against an enemy who was inferior in strength but had exploited skillfully his advantage of position. The Armored division had also been seriously dispersed by the withdrawal of units for Task Force Benson directly under II Corps, and by the semi-independent operations of Combat Command B north of Maknassy.

After going over to the defensive on 27 March it had withstood a series of enemy attacks, skillfully varied and often temporarily successful, and had sustained heavy losses. General Patton prodded his subordinates continually, and in the hope of bringing new energy and enthusiasm to the 1st Armored Division, (The casualties of 1st Armored Division reported at the end of the operation were (including Combat Team 60, attached): 304 killed, 1,265 wounded, 116 missing.) he acted on a suggestion of General Alexander which confirmed his own inclination, and on 5 April replaced its commander, General Ward, by General Harmon. Harmon, who had returned to the 2nd Armored Division in Morocco after his February service as General Fredendall’s deputy, took command as the tide was turning in south central Tunisia. Patton’s chief of staff, General Gaffey, shortly took command of the 2nd Armored Division. General Ward returned to the United States, was given command of the Tank Destroyer Center, and eventually commanded the 20th Armored Division in Europe.

The Enemy Pulls Out, 6-8 April

To 18 Army Group it was apparent on the night of 6-7 April that the battle for the Chott Position had reached its critical stage. General Patton was instructed to furnish maximum aid in the morning. Patton ordered American armor to be shoved eastward without regard for casualties, and the entire II Corps to drive forward for a spurt down the homestretch.

Almost all of the enemy forces disengaged and slipped eastward under cover of a very heavy artillery bombardment during the night of 6-7 April, so that the attack in the morning encountered no resistance but went “smoothly.” Task Force Benson, reduced to one battalion of tanks, one tank destroyer company, and one company of armored infantry, started out early after Patton’s admonition to the commander to plough through all resistance, and under Patton’s direct scrutiny from Colonel Randle’s observation post. Later, as the drive got under way, the corps commander hounded Benson by radio, then with General Keyes followed him in a jeep, and when the task force stopped at a mine field, led the way through it. The jeep continued southeastward until it had reached the Kilometer 70 road marker (from Gabes). Reluctantly turning back, Patton met Benson and again told him to keep going “for a fight or a bath.” Task Force Benson rolled eastward as never before. It crossed into the British Eighth Army’s zone soon after the General had given his parting instruction, and between 1600 and 1700, if it did not reach the ocean shore or the enemy’s positions, nevertheless arrived at a point of contact with a British Eighth Army reconnaissance detail southwest of Sebkret en Noua.

The meeting was a juncture of Allied forces from the eastern and western limits of the Mediterranean littoral. Closing in behind the Italian First Army, both were arriving at the threshold of the war’s final phase in Tunisia. Task Force Benson withdrew, in conformity with the auxiliary mission assigned to the II Corps, to assist in driving the enemy toward Mezzouna into the main stream of Axis retreat. American artillery in the vicinity of Maknassy, and American aviation from the XII Air Support Command, harried the enemy along the Gumtree road and forced him to take secondary routes. They blocked the road with enemy vehicles, forcing the 10th Panzer Division to use a trail near the northern edge of the Sebkret en Noual.

On the hills east of Maknassy, Group Lang remained through daylight of 8 April, covering the withdrawal of the 10th Panzer Division, 21st Panzer Division, and Division Centauro from points farther south. After dark, Colonel Lang’s command joined the divisions under control of Headquarters, German Africa Corps, to complete the northward march along the Eastern Dorsal.

The pass east of Maknassy, which both sides had so long tried in vain to possess and exploit, was occupied by Combat Team 60 and held until all Axis troops had unmistakably departed. The 1st Armored Division, whether from the Maknassy area, the El Guettar area, or elsewhere, concentrated near Sbeitla and Sidi Bou Zid pending the outcome of operations on the coastal plain between Faid and Fondouk el Aouareb. Only one slim possibility remained of interfering effectively with the withdrawal of the First Italian Army, the German Africa Corps, and Fifth Panzer Army into northeastern Tunisia. This possibility was the use of Fondouk el Aouareb gap to place a strong Allied force on the coastal plain to hit the retreating enemy on the western flank while the Eighth Army pressed from the south. The II Corps might have been used aggressively at this point. Instead, the 9th Infantry Division pulled back at once to the Bou Chebka area, preparatory to an early shift within the week to the extreme northern flank of the British 5 Corps in the Sedjenane area.

The 1st Infantry Division withdrew for five days rest and reorganization near Morsott, north of Tebessa. The 1st Armored Division remained somewhat longer in the Sbeitla-Sidi Bou Zid area. And the 34th Division passed from II Corps to the operational control of British 9 Corps. The 18 Army Group decided to make another attack at Fondouk el Aouareb gap using the army group reserve, reinforced by elements from II Corps and British First Army. Offensive operations by II Corps in central or southern Tunisia were at an end.

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 (6-30); Attacks at Fondouk el Aouareb – Pursuit Onto the Plain

World War Two: North Africa (6-28); Gafsa, Maknassy, and El Guettar (17-25 March)

World War Two: New Guinea;Markham Valley and the Huon Peninsula

While South Pacific troops had been so heavily engaged in New Georgia, General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific forces were executing Operation II of the ELKTON plan—the seizure of the Markham Valley and the Huon Peninsula of New Guinea—aimed at increasing the Southwest Pacific Area’s degree of control over Vitiaz and Dampier Straits. This operation had actually started in January 1943 with the Australian defense of Wau in the Bulolo Valley, and was furthered by the Australian advance from the Bulolo Valley toward Salamaua and the go June landing of the MacKechnie Force at Nassau Bay.

Plans
The Allies

The ground forces in Operation II (or POSTERN) were under command of the New Guinea Force. General Blarney arrived at Port Moresby and assumed command of the New Guinea Force on 20 August 1943, and General Herring went to Dobodura, where as general officer commanding the I Australian Corps he exercised control over tactical operations. General Blarney was responsible for coordination of ground, air, and naval planning. In the actual conduct of ground, air, and naval operations, the principle of co-operation rather than unity of command appears to have been followed.

The operations involved in the seizure of the Huon Peninsula and the Markham Valley were complex. The Southwest Pacific lacked enough ships for a completely amphibious assault, and had too few aircraft for a completely airborne attack; there were enough ground troops, but New Guinea terrain precluded large-scale overland movements. To bring sufficient power to bear General MacArthur and his subordinates and staff therefore employed all available means—amphibious assault, an assault by parachute troops, an airlift of an entire division, and the shore-to-shore operation already executed at Nassau Bay.

MacArthur, in operations instructions issued before the invasions of Woodlark, Kiriwina, and Nassau Bay, and followed by a series of amendments, ordered the New Guinea Force to seize the Lae-Markham Valley area by co-ordinated airborne and overland operations through the Markham Valley and amphibious operations (including Nassau Bay) along the north coast of New Guinea. The Markham Valley operations were to be based on Port Moresby; the north coast operations on Buna and Milne Bay. MacArthur directed the seizure of the coastal areas of the Huon Gulf, including Salamaua and Finschhafen, and initially ordered the New Guinea Force to be prepared for airborne-overland and shore-to-shore operations along the north coast of New Guinea as far as Madang on Astrolabe Bay. The immediate objectives were Lae and the Markham and Ramu Valleys.

The two river valleys form a tremendous trough between the Finisterre and Kratke Ranges. Starting at the mouth of the Markham River at Lae and running northwesterly for 380 miles to the mouth of the Ramu, the trough varies from 5 to 25 miles in width. The rivers flow in opposite directions from a plain in the level uplands of the trough some 80 miles northwest of Lae. Both valleys contain extensive flats of grass-covered sand and gravel, and thus there were many excellent sites for air bases. Already in existence were several emergency strips that had been used by Australian civil aviation before the war.

Lae, a prewar sea terminal for air service to the Bulolo Valley, had a developed harbor and airfield, and was the key to successful employment of airfields in the valleys. Once it was captured, ships could carry supplies to Lae, and roads could be pushed up the Markham Valley to carry supplies to the airfields. The New Guinea Force was ordered to construct airfields in the Lae-Markham Valley area as specified by General Kenney. They were eventually to include facilities for two fighter groups, some night fighters, two medium and two light bombardment groups, one observation squadron, one photo-reconnaissance squadron, and four transport squadrons. MacArthur wanted Madang taken in order to protect the Southwest Pacific’s left flank during the subsequent landings on New Britain. Salamaua was not an important objective, but MacArthur and Blarney ordered the 3rd Australian Division with the MacKechnie Force attached to press against it for purposes of deception. They wanted the Japanese to believe that Salamaua and not Lae was the real objective, and so to strengthen Salamaua at Lae’s expense.
The commander in chief ordered Kenney and Carpender to support the New Guinea Force with their Allied Air and Allied Naval Forces. Allied Land Forces could make the necessary troops available.

U.S. Army Services of Supply and Line of Communications units of Allied Land Forces would provide logistical support. From thirty to ninety days of various classes of supply was to be stocked at intermediate and advance bases. General Marshall’s U.S. Army Services of Supply would be responsible for supply of American forces in the Huon Peninsula and Markham Valley, and would provide all items to the Army and Navy. MacArthur ordered Marshall’s command to aid Allied Naval Forces in transporting the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade to the combat zone, and to prepare to relieve Allied Naval Forces of the responsibility for transporting supplies to Lae and to Woodlark and Kiriwina.

Some of the plan’s outstanding features were the ways it proposed to use air power. The impending assault by parachute would be the first tactical employment of parachute troops as such by Allied forces in the Pacific.[N9-2]The combination of airlifted troops and parachute troops in co-ordination with amphibious assault had also not been used hitherto by the Allies in the Pacific. The year before, General Whitehead had “sold the Aussies on the scheme of an airborne show at Nadzab to take Lae out from the back,” and General MacArthur had liked the idea too, but there were not enough transport planes in the area to carry it out at that time. Generals MacArthur and Blarney had planned to operate overland from the Lakekamu River to the Bulolo Valley and thence to the Markham Valley in conjunction with a parachute assault by one battalion. Delays in building the mountain road from the Lakekamu to the Bulolo Valley made necessary a decision to land an entire parachute regiment at Nadzab, a superb airfield site in the Markham Valley where a prewar Australian airstrip already existed, and to fly an entire division from Port Moresby to Nadzab immediately afterward.

[N9-2:The 1st Marine Parachute Battalion fought well at Guadalcanal and Tulagi in 1942, but it fought on foot as an infantry battalion. It made no tactical jumps.]

The third unusual feature of the POSTERN air operations was made possible by General Kenney’s enthusiastic willingness to try any experiment that offered a hope of success and by the fact that both Allied and Japanese forces were concentrated in small enclaves on the New Guinea coast, with the highlands and hinterland available to whichever force could maintain patrols there. On General Kenney’s recommendation, MacArthur ordered the development of two grass strips, one in the Watut Valley west of Salamaua and the other in the grassy plateau south of Madang where the Markham and Ramu Rivers rise. These strips could serve as staging bases that would enable Kenney to send fighters from Port Moresby and Dobodura as far as the expanding enemy base at Wewak or over the western part of New Britain, and to give fighter cover to Allied bombers in the vicinity of Lae. Thus the Allied Air Forces would be using inland airfields to support and protect a seaborne invasion of a coastal area.

D Day was set for planning purposes as 1 August, but was postponed to 27 August and finally to 4 September to permit the assembly of enough C-47’s, more training for the 7th Australian Division, and the relief of the VII Amphibious Force of its responsibilities for Woodlark and Kiriwina. The precise date was picked by General Kenney on the basis of weather forecasts. He wanted fog over western New Britain and Vitiaz and Dampier Straits that would keep Japanese aircraft away while bright clear weather over New Guinea—a fairly common condition—permitted the flight to and jump into the Markham Valley. The fourth of September promised to be such a date and was selected.

The final tactical plans were prepared by New Guinea Force and by the various higher headquarters in the Allied Air and Allied Naval Forces under the supervision of General MacArthur, General Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff, and such subordinates as General Chamberlin, the G-3 of GHQ.[N9-5]

[N9-5: GHQ supervised the preparation of the plans for Operation II more closely than, for example, those for Woodlark-Kiriwina. The staff at GHQ felt that New Guinea Force and subordinate headquarters were slow in preparing plans, tended to prepare plans for initiating operations rather than for carrying them through completely, failed to provide for co-ordination of forces, and did not thoroughly appreciate logistics. See Memo, Chamberlin for CofS GHQ SWPA, 28 Aug 43, no sub, in GHQ SWPA G-3 Jnl, 16 Jul 43.]

Final plans, issued in August, called for the employment of two veteran Australian divisions, the 7th and the 9th, the U.S. 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, and elements of the U.S. 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, as well as the American and Australian troops already pressing against Salamaua in their deception maneuver. The 9th Australian Division was to be carried by the VII Amphibious Force, with elements of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, attached, from Milne Bay to beaches far enough east of Lae to be beyond range of enemy artillery.

Early plans had called for the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade to carry the 9th Australian Division to Lae and support it thereafter. But closer study showed that an engineer special brigade could carry and support but one brigade in reduced strength—about 3,000 men, or not nearly enough to attack Lae. Therefore the VII Amphibious Force was ordered to carry the 9th Division, and the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade was attached to Barbey’s command for the initial phases.

Two brigade groups, totaling 7,800 men, plus elements of the amphibian engineers, were to land starting at 0630, 4 September. That evening 2,400 more Australians would land, and on the night of 5-6 September the VII Amphibious Force, having retired to Buna after unloading on 4 September, was to bring in the 3,800 men of the reserve brigade group. The time for H Hour, 0630, was selected because it came thirty minutes past sunrise, by which time the light would be suitable for the preliminary naval bombardment.

Admiral Carpender organized his Allied Naval Forces into almost the same task forces that he had set up for Woodlark and Kiriwina and assigned them similar missions. Admiral Barbey organized his VII Amphibious Force into a transport group of 2 destroyers, 4 APD’s, 13 LST’s, 20 LCI’s, 14 LCT’s and 1 AP; a cover group of 4 destroyers; an escort group of 2 destroyers; an APC group of 13 APC’s, 9 LST’s, and 2 subchasers; and a service group of 1 tender, 3 LST’s, 10 subchasers, 5 minesweepers, 1 oiler, and 1 tug. The attached engineer special brigade elements possessed 10 LCM’s and 40 LCVP’s.
Allied Air Forces’ plans for support of the invasion called for General Whitehead to provide close support to ground troops, to provide escort and cover for the amphibious movements, to establish an air blockade over Huon Peninsula, to specify to General Blarney the air facilities to be constructed in the target areas, and to prepare to move forward to the new bases.

But again there was an argument over the method by which the air forces would cover the VII Amphibious Force. Admirals Carpender and Barbey had no aircraft carriers and thus were completely dependent upon the Allied Air Forces for air support. They pointed out that the amphibious movement to Lae would involve over forty ships, 7,800 soldiers and 3,260 sailors. This represented all suitable vessels available, with none retained in reserve. Losses to Japanese air attacks would seriously jeopardize the success of future operations, and therefore they argued that only a fighter umbrella providing continuous cover for the VII Amphibious Force would be adequate. The airmen, who were planning to use over three hundred planes in the Markham Valley parachute jump, were willing to provide air cover for Barbey’s ships over Lae itself on D Day, but argued that the movement of the convoys would be amply protected by maintaining fighter squadrons on ground alert at Dobodura and the staging airfield in the Watut Valley. The argument, a heated one, went up the chain of command to General MacArthur himself, and was finally settled by Kenney’s agreement to use a total of thirty-two planes to give as much cover as possible over the VII Amphibious Force during daylight and to maintain fighter squadrons on ground alert.

There remained the problem of fighter control. One fighter control unit was stationed at Dobodura, and another at the staging field in the Watut Valley, but radar coverage over the area was far from complete. Japanese aircraft from Wewak or Madang could fly south of the mountains to Lae, or from New Britain across Dampier and Vitiaz Straits, and radar would not pick them up until they were almost over Lae. And as Brigadier General Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur’s G-2, pointed out, Allied experience at New Georgia showed that the Japanese air reaction might be violent. An Australian airman suggested that the difficulty be alleviated by posting a radar-equipped destroyer between Lae and Finschhafen. This was accepted, and the U.S. destroyer Reid, which was part of Barbey’s antisubmarine screen, was selected as picket with orders to steam in Vitiaz Strait some forty-five miles southeast of Finschhafen.

Markham Valley plans called for the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, flying from Port Moresby in C-47’s, to jump onto Nadzab airstrip on the north bank of the Markham River on 5 September, the day after the amphibious assault Nadzab was not believed to be occupied by the Japanese, but this seizure would block the valley and prevent the enemy’s sending troops overland from Wewak. Once captured, Nadzab airstrip was to be quickly readied for airplanes by the 503rd and by a force of Australian engineers and pioneers. The Australians were to paddle in boats from the staging airfield in the Watut Valley down the Watut River to Nadzab—a distance of about thirty-two air miles, but actually twice that far for anything but crows and airplanes. Then one brigade of the 7th Australian Division, plus engineers and antiaircraft units, having been flown to the Watut Valley previously, would fly in. The next brigade would come in directly by air from Port Moresby. Once adequate strength had been assembled, the 7th Australian Division would march eastward down the Markham River against Lae, and at the same time the 9th Australian Division would drive westward from the landing beaches.

Seizure of Nadzab would have a threefold effect: it would provide Allied forces with one more air base with which to increase their control over the Huon Peninsula, the straits, and western New Britain; it would provide a base for the 7th Division’s eastward march against Lae; and an Allied force at Nadzab could forestall any attempt by the Japanese to reinforce Lae from Wewak by marching through the Ramu and Markham Valleys.

The Enemy

Japanese strategic intentions were not changed by the invasion of the Trobriands or of Nassau Bay. In August 1943 Generals Imamura and Adachi were still resolved to hold Lae and Salamaua as parts of the outer defenses of Wewak and Madang, and were still planning to move into Bena Bena south of the Ramu Valley.7 There were about ten thousand men in the Lae-Salamaua area, with somewhat more than half of these defending Salamaua. Many of the ten thousand, reported the Japanese after the war, were sick. Some estimates run as high as 50 percent. At Lae, General Shoge, temporarily detached from his post as infantry group commander of the 41st Division, led a force consisting of a naval guard unit, elements of the 21st, 102nd, and 115th Infantry Regiments, and artillerymen and engineers. In addition to defending Lae, Shoge was responsible for patrolling up the Markham River and for protecting the southern approaches to Finschhafen on the east coast of the Huon Peninsula.

In the months following the Bismarck Sea disaster the supply systems for Lae and Salamaua had almost broken down. The Allied aerial blockade of the Huon Peninsula prevented the use of large ships to carry supplies forward to Lae. Until June, six submarines helped carry supplies, but then the number was cut to three and the bulk of supplies had to be carried on barges. Supply of the ten thousand men for the five months preceding September would have required 150 barge-loads per month, while 200 more barges were needed for transport of reinforcements and ammunition. But there were far too few barges. Only 40, for example, were making the run to Lae from the staging base at Tuluvu on the north shore of Cape Gloucester. The sea and the tides in Dampier Strait damaged many, and several fell victim to Allied aircraft and to nocturnal PT’s which, like their sister boats in the Solomons, prowled the barge lanes.

Imperial General Headquarters, meanwhile, had paid heed to Imamura’s request for more planes. On 27 July Imperial Headquarters ordered the 4th Air Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Kumaichi Teramoto, from the Netherlands Indies to the Southeast Area. Teramoto’s army would include the 7th Air Division, the 14th Air Brigade, some miscellaneous squadrons, and the 6th Air Division, which was already based at Wewak.
The 4th Air Army headquarters arrived at Rabaul on 6 August, whereupon Imamura ordered Teramoto and his planes to proceed to Wewak with the mission of escorting convoys, destroying Allied planes and ships, and co-operating with the 18th Army. The move was made at once; the Allies were well aware that the Japanese were building up strength on the four Wewak airfields.
Allied Air and Naval Preparations

Increases in Air Strength

The increases in Allied strength that had been promised to the Southwest Pacific Area at the Pacific Military Conference in March had been coming through practically on schedule.8 P-47’s of the 348th Fighter Group began arriving in Australia in June, and before the end of July the whole group had been deployed to New Guinea. The 475th Fighter Group, flying P-38’s, was ready for combat by the middle of the next month.
Bomber strength, too, was increasing. Newly arrived B-24’s of the 380th Heavy Bombardment Group went into action from Darwin, Australia, in mid-July. One of the 380th’s first large-scale operations was a spectacular raid on the oil center at Balikpapan, Borneo, on 13 August, a feat that required a 1,200-mile round trip. Port Moresby saw the arrival of new B-25’s of the 345th Medium Bombardment Group in July. And the C-47’s were also increasing in number. By September the 54th Troop Carrier Wing could boast fourteen full squadrons of transport planes.

By the end of August the Southwest Pacific Area had on hand nearly all its authorized plane strength—197 heavy bombers and 598 fighters. Keeping this number in flying condition, however, was next to impossible. Many of the planes were old, and with the air forces constantly in action there were always battle casualties. Kenney was always short of manpower; he could never obtain enough replacement pilots to keep all his new and veteran squadrons up to strength, a condition that was probably duplicated in every active theater.

Operations: The first important action of Kenney’s

Allied Air Forces in preparation for the Markham Valley-Huon Peninsula operation was the development of the staging fields in the Watut Valley and in the Ramu-Markham trough. Ever since the Buna campaign Kenney had been anxious for a good fighter field near Lae to use in covering the invasion. He hoped to fly troops into an existing emergency strip and seize it, as he had done during the Buna campaign. Kokoda and Wau had been surveyed but found unsuitable.

Then in May an aviation engineer officer, with orders to find a field farther forward than Wau, trekked from the Bulolo Valley almost to Salamaua, found nothing suitable, and thereupon backtracked and went down the Watut River where he found and recommended an emergency landing strip at Marilinan.

But Marilinan was not perfect; it was feared the September rains would render its clay too muddy to be usable. At this point General Wurtsmith of the V Fighter Command took a hand. Looking over the ground himself, he picked a site at Tsili Tsili four miles down the Watut River from Marilinan. Kenney and Whitehead agreed with his choice.
Meanwhile Kenney and Herring arranged to build the second staging field, using a few Australian troops and native labor, at Bena Bena south of the Ramu Valley. This emergency strip had long served as a New Guinea Force patrol base, and the Japanese at this time were hoping to capture it eventually. The Allies decided to build a grass strip suitable for fighters at Bena Bena (C-47’s carrying supplies to the Australian patrols had been using Bena Bena for some time), and to burn off the grass in fashion so obvious as to distract the enemy’s attention from Tsili Tsili.

In June and July, C-47’s flew Australian troops and the U.S. 871st Airborne Engineer Battalion to Marilinan. The troops moved down the river to Tsili Tsili, cleared the strips, and C-47’s flew in specially designed bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment. Some gear, including trucks sawed in half so they could be loaded into C-47’s, was also flown to Tsili Tsili, where the trucks were welded together. Two strips at Tsili Tsili were soon ready, and by mid-August three thousand troops, including a fighter squadron, were based there. Japanese aircraft failed to molest the Allies until the fields were all built; they raided Tsili Tsili on 15 and 16 August without doing much damage and thereafter left it alone.

While General Kenney had liked the prospects of Tsili Tsili from a technical point of view, he had felt that Tsili Tsili had an unfortunate sound. He therefore officially directed that the base be given the more attractive name of Marilinan.
During this period the Fifth Air Force had been supporting the Allied diversionary attacks against Salamaua. Nearly every day of July saw some form of air attack against the Lae-Salamaua area. Sorties during the month totaled 400 by B-25’s, 100 by B-24’s, 45 by RAAF Bostons, 35 by A-20’s, 30 by B-17’s, and 7 by B-26’s. The Japanese supply point at Madang was also raided during the period 20-23 July by B-25’s and heavy bombers.

But these raids were secondary to Kenney’s main air effort, which was directed against Wewak. Aware of the increase in Japanese air strength at Wewak, and lacking enough strength to hit both Wewak and Rabaul, Kenney had decided to concentrate against Wewak rather than Rabaul up to the day of the landing at Lae, and to rely in part on the weather for protection against Rabaul based lanes. There were too many Japanese fighter planes at Wewak, however, for Kenney to risk sending unescorted bombers there. Raids against Wewak had to await completion of the Marilinan staging field, which would extend the range of Allied fighters as far as Wewak. Meanwhile Kenney ordered his bombers not to go as far as Wewak, thus leading the Japanese to believe that Wewak lay beyond bomber range and to send planes there with a false sense of security.

On 13 August photographs taken by Allied reconnaissance planes showed a total of 199 Japanese airplanes on the four fields at Wewak. The 4th Air Army was now due for a surprise. Marilinan was ready by midmonth and so was the Fifth Air Force. General Whitehead had four bombardment groups with enough range to hit Wewak from Port Moresby—two heavy groups with 64 planes in commission and two medium groups totaling 58 B-25’s. With Marilinan in commission the bombers would have fighter protection all the way.

Heavy and medium bombers and fighters struck the four Wewak fields on 17 August and achieved excellent results. Taking the Japanese by surprise, they caught most of the enemy planes on the ground. Next day they were back in strength, and the Wewak offensive continued throughout the rest of August. The planes struck at Hansa Bay and Alexishafen during the same period.

Damage inflicted by these raids was heavy, though less than estimated at the time. Kenney’s headquarters claimed over 200 Japanese aircraft destroyed on the ground, a claim that Army Air Forces headquarters scaled down to 175. Postwar Japanese reports, however, give losses as about half what the Allies initially claimed. But despite the efforts of Imamura and Teramoto, strength of the 4th Air Army thereafter averaged but 100 planes, and “the prospect of the New Guinea operation [was] much gloomier.”

The Allied Naval Forces, which had not played a decisive part in the Buna campaign because it lacked enough ships and because hydrographic information on the waters of New Guinea’s north coast was almost nonexistent, was also taking a hand. PT boats based at Morobe were stalking the enemy barge routes at night and making the transport of men and munitions to Lae increasingly difficult The Fifth Air Force’s successful strike against Wewak encouraged Admiral Carpender to send warships as far up the coast as Finschhafen. Thus on 22 August four destroyers under Captain Jesse H. Carter left Milne Bay, stopped at Buna to discuss air cover and obtain target information, and sailed for Finschhafen.

Starting at 0121, 23 August, Carter’s ships bombarded Finschhafen with 540 rounds of 5-inch shells and returned safely to Milne Bay. This operation was small in itself, but it was significant because this was the first time Allied warships had ventured so far up the New Guinea coast.

During the first three days of September Allied planes executed preparatory bombardments in support of the Lae invasion. They launched heavy attacks against airfields, supply points, and shipping lanes on 1 September, the same day on which medium and heavy bombers raided Alexishafen and Madang. Next day B-25’s and P-38’s delivered a low-level attack against Wewak. Gasmata and Borgen Bay on New Britain, and Lae itself, were struck on 3 September, and eleven nocturnal RAAF Catalinas raided Rabaul.

The Salamaua Attack: 1July-12 September1943

During July and August, while the various headquarters of the Southwest Pacific Area were preparing plans and assembling troops and supplies for the Lae-Markham Valley invasions, and while the air and naval forces were attacking Japanese aircraft, bases, and lines of communication, the troops in front of Salamaua were carrying out their part of the plan by the diversionary attack against that port. Starting from the arc-shaped positions they held in early July, the 3rd Australian Division and the MacKechnie Force, soon joined by the remainder of the 162nd Infantry, fought their way forward until by the end of August they were closing in on the town and airfield of Salamaua.

At first the reinforced 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, fighting on the right of the 3rd Australian Division, was the only American unit present, but this force was enlarged in July, after the capture of Bitoi Ridge, when other elements of the 41st Division were attached to the 3rd Australian Division. This attachment came about because more U.S. infantrymen and artillerymen were needed to secure the Tambu Bay-Dot Inlet area northwest of Nassau Bay, and because a supply base for Australians and Americans in the combat area was required.

Consequently the Coane Force, commanded by Brigadier General Ralph W. Coane who was also 41st Division artillery commander, was organized during the second week in July.[N9-13] The MacKechnie Force, then fighting forward from Bitoi Ridge, was not a part of the Coane Force. Some units assigned to the Coane Force were already in the Nassau Bay area; others soon came up from Morobe.[N9-14]

[N9-13: It consisted at first of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 162nd Infantry; the 162nd Infantry Cannon Company; 3rd Platoon, Antitank Company, 162nd Infantry; C Battery, 209th Coast Artillery Battalion; A Battery, 218th Field Artillery Battalion; A Company, 116th Medical Battalion; A and D Companies, 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, 2nd Engineer Special Brigade; A Company, Papuan Infantry Battalion; a Combined Operational Service Command detachment; Troop D, 2/6th Royal Australian Artillery Regiment; and signal and quartermaster troops.]

[N9-14: Problems involving command over the mixed Australian-American units appear to have been additional factors in the decision to create the Coane Force rather than to turn all American troops over to Colonel MacKechnie. The MacKechnie Force was attached to the 3rd Australian Division, but Major General Horace H. Fuller, commanding the 41st U.S. Division, retained control over the American troops at the actual beachhead. Thus, as he put it later, Colonel MacKechnie was “placed in the unenviable position of trying to obey two masters” who kept giving him conflicting orders. The impossibility of obeying them both finally led MacKechnie to request relief as commanding officer of the 162nd. He was reassigned as Coane Force S-3, and later as liaison officer with the 3rd Australian Division, but returned to command the 162nd on the dissolution of the Coane Force. See Ltr, Colonel MacKechnie to General Smith, Chief of Mil Hist, 2 Nov 53, no sub, OCMH.]

Both Coane and MacKechnie Forces fought under command of General Savige, commanding the 3rd Australian Division, and after Savige’s headquarters was relieved on 24 August by Headquarters, 5th Australian Division, under command of Major General E. J. Milford, the Americans served under Milford. At the same time Colonel William D. Jackson, 41st Division artillery executive officer, was appointed as Commander, Royal Artillery, of the 3rd and then the 5th Australian Divisions. Jackson, using a composite Australian and American staff, served as artillery commander until the end of hostilities in that area.

On 17 July the Coane Force moved forward from Nassau Bay, and by the end of the next day had secured the southern headland of Tambu Bay, where a supply base was set up. Starting on 20 July, the Americans launched a series of attacks with strong artillery support which resulted on 13 August in the capture of the high ground—Roosevelt Ridge, Scout Ridge, and Mount Tambu —overlooking Tambu Bay and Dot Inlet. On 12 August the Coane Force was dissolved and the entire 162nd Infantry reverted to Colonel MacKechnie’s control.

At the same time the Australians pressed forward so that by the first week in September they had reached the Francisco River, which flows in an west-east direction just south of the Salamaua airfield. All advances were made up and down precipitous ridges varying from eight hundred to three thousand feet in height. With characteristic skill the Japanese had established strong defensive positions on the ridges; there were many automatic weapons emplacements, with earth-and-log pillboxes predominating, that gave each other mutual support with interlocking bands of fire. Trenches and tunnels connected the emplacements.

Early September saw Japanese resistance slackening. On 11 September the Australians and the 162nd Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon crossed the rain-swollen Francisco River and by the end of 12 September the airfield, the town, and the entire isthmus, which had been held by the Japanese for eighteen months, was back in Allied hands.

The cost was not cheap. On 29 June there were 2,554 men in the 162nd Infantry. By 12 September battle casualties and disease had reduced the regiment to 1,763 men. One hundred and two had been killed, 447 wounded. The 162nd estimated it had killed 1,272 Japanese and reported the capture of 6 prisoners.

The Japanese had lost Salamaua after a stiff fight and the very strength of their defense had played into Allied hands, for of the ten thousand enemy soldiers in the Lae-Salamaua area, the majority had been moved to Salamaua. The Allied ruse had succeeded.

Lae: The Seaborne Invasion; The Landing

The unit slated to invade Lae, Major General G. F. Wootten’s 9th Australian Division, embarked on the ships of Admiral Barbey’s Task Force 76 at Milne Bay on 1 September. Next day Barbey’s ships sailed to Buna and to Morobe, where they were joined by fifty-seven landing craft of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade that had assembled there in the latter part of August. On the night of 3-4 September the armada set out for Lae, eighty miles distant; it arrived at the landing beaches east of Lae at sunrise of 4 September.

At 0618, eighteen minutes after the sun rose, five destroyers fired a ten-minute bombardment on the beaches. Then sixteen landing craft from the APD’s started for the beaches carrying the assault waves. At 0631 the 20th Australian Infantry Brigade began going ashore at Red Beach, near Bulu Plantation and some eighteen miles east of Lae. This landing was unopposed. Two minutes later troops of the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade landed at Yellow Beach, eighteen miles east of Lae, east of the Bulu River. A small group of Japanese on Yellow Beach ran away at the approach of the Australians. Scouts of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade landed with the Australian infantry.

Fifteen minutes after the assault waves beached, LCI’s pushed their bows onto the beaches and put more riflemen ashore. They were followed by LCT’s and LST’s. All assault troops had landed by 0830, and by 1030 fifteen hundred tons of supplies had been landed. By the end of the day the beachheads were secure, 2,400 more Australians had landed, and the 26th Brigade and the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion had crossed the Buso and begun the advance westward against Lae.

There was no resistance on the ground, but Japanese aircraft attempted to break up the invasion. About 0700, before fighter cover had arrived, a few two-engine bombers with fighter escort attacked Task Force 76 and damaged two LCI’s. Imamura dispatched eighty planes from Rabaul to attack Barbey but these were delayed by the fog over New Britain that Kenney’s weathermen had predicted. The picket destroyer Reid’s radar located them over Gasmata in the afternoon just as Task Force 76 was making ready to sail for Milne Bay. The Reid vectored out forty P-38’s and twenty P-47’s which intercepted the flight and broke it up. Some planes got through, however, and attacked a group of six LST’s off Cape Ward Hunt. They damaged two and killed over a hundred Australian soldiers and American sailors. The Japanese did not attack the jammed landing beaches at this time, but returned in the evening to blow up an ammunition dump, damage two beached LCI’s, and kill two men.[N9-16]

[N9-16] They claimed to have sunk 14 transports,2 barges, 1 PT boat, 3 destroyers, and to have shot down 38 planes.]

The Advance Westward

Once the assault troops had landed control of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade elements—thirteen hundred men of a reinforced boat company, a boat control section, a shore battalion, a medical detachment, scouts, and a headquarters detachment—passed from Admiral Barbey to General Wootten. A salvage boat, ten LCVP’s, and two additional LCVP’s mounting machine guns for support of landings remained at Red Beach. Eventually, twenty-one LCM’s and twenty-one LCVP’s were sent to Red Beach. Because of breakdowns, these replacements were necessary if ten craft of each type were to be kept in operation. All these craft were used to support the 9th Division’s march against Lae.
The 2/13th Australian Infantry Battalion, once landed, pushed east from Bulu Plantation and secured the east flank by seizing Hopoi. The reserve 24th Infantry Brigade landed on schedule on the night of 5-6 September, and at daylight started west behind the 26th Brigade. On 6 September, after a ten-mile march, the 26th Brigade met its first opposition at the Bunga River.

The 24th Brigade advanced along the coast while the 26th Brigade moved some distance inland in an effort to get behind Lae and cut off the enemy garrison.

The 24th’s advance was rendered difficult, not so much by the enemy as by the terrain. The heavy September rains flooded the creeks and turned the trails into deep mud that was virtually impassable for vehicles. Fortunately the boats of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade were available to ferry supplies by water to coastal dumps and enable the advance to continue. The leading Australian battalions reached the Busu (not to be confused with the Buso farther east) on the morning of 8 September. This swollen river, five feet deep and sixty feet wide at the mouth, and flowing at twelve knots, was a severe obstacle in itself, and the west bank was held by the Japanese.

Patrols attempted to force a crossing on the morning of 9 September but the combination of Japanese bullets and the swift current forced them back. In the late afternoon elements of four rifle companies got across in rubber boats and by wading and swimming. Several men were drowned and many weapons lost in this act of gallantry, but the four companies seized a bridgehead on the west bank and held it against enemy counterattacks.

Meanwhile the troops on the east bank loaded men, weapons, and ammunition onto the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade’s landing craft and sent them to the west bank. For the next sixty hours, the landing craft plied back and forth until the entire 24th Brigade had been transferred to the west bank. Rain, mist, and darkness helped hide the boats from the Japanese, who tried to hit them with artillery, machine guns, and rifles. During the same period a box girder bridge was moved in pieces by landing craft from Bulu Plantation to the mouth of the Burep River, then laboriously hauled inland to the 26th Brigade’s zone over a jeep track built by the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade. The bridge was installed over the Busu under enemy fire on the morning of the 14th. The 26th Brigade crossed over that night. Both brigades were then on the west bank of the Busu and were ready to resume the advance against Lae and effect a junction with the troops of the 7th Australian Division that were advancing east out of Nadzab.

Nadzab: The Airborne Invasion; The Jump

Capture of Nadzab had been spectacularly effected on 5 September. This mission, assigned to Colonel Kenneth H. Kinsler’s 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, was coupled with the additional mission of preparing the airstrip for C-47’s carrying Major General George A. Vasey’s 7th Australian Division from Marilinan and Port Moresby.
Reveille for the men of the 503rd sounded early at Port Moresby on the morning of 5 September. The weather promised to be fair, although bad flying weather over the Owen Stanleys delayed take off until 0825. New Guinea Force had prepared its plans flexibly so that the seaborne invasion on 4 September would not be slowed or altered if any threat of bad weather on 5 September delayed the parachute jump, but Kenney’s weathermen had forecast accurately.

2/4th Australian Field Regiment which was to jump with its 25-pounder guns reached the airfield two hours before take off. There they put on parachutes and equipment. The 54th Troop Carrier Wing had ninety-six C-47’s ready, and the troops boarded these fifteen minutes before take-off time.

The first C-47 roared down the runway at 0825; by 0840 all transports were aloft. They crossed the Owen Stanleys, then organized into three battalion flights abreast, with each flight in six-plane elements in step-up right echelon.

An hour later bombers, fighters, and weather planes joined the formation over Marilinan, on time to the minute. All together 302 aircraft from eight different fields were involved. The air armada then flew down the Watut Valley, swung to the right over the Markham River, and headed for Nadzab. The C-47’s dropped from 3,000 feet to 400-500 feet. The parachutists had stood in their planes and checked their equipment over Marilinan, and twelve minutes later they formed by the plane doors ready to jump.
In the lead six squadrons of B-25 strafers with eight .50-caliber machine guns in their noses and six parachute fragmentation bombs in their bays worked over the Nadzab field. Six A-20’s laid smoke after the last bomb had exploded. Then came the C-47’s, closely covered by fighters.

The paratroopers began jumping from the three columns of C-47’s onto separate jump areas about 1020. Eighty-one C-47’s carrying the 503rd were emptied in four and one-half minutes. All men of the 503rd but one, who fainted while getting ready, left the planes. Two men were killed instantly when their chutes failed to open, and a third landed in a tree, fell sixty feet to the ground, and died. Thirty-three men were injured. There was no opposition from the enemy, either on the ground or in the air. Once they reached the ground, the 503rd battalions laboriously moved through high kunai grass from landing grounds to assembly areas.

Five B-17’s carrying supply parachutes stayed over Nadzab all day. They dropped a total of fifteen tons of supplies on ground panel signals laid by the 503rd. The Australian artillerymen and their guns parachuted down in the afternoon. The whole splendid sight was witnessed by Generals MacArthur and Kenney from what Kenney called a “brass hat” flight of three B-17’s high above. MacArthur was in one, Kenney in another, and the third B-17 was there to provide added fire power in case the Japanese turned up.

The 503rd’s 1st Battalion seized the Nadzab airstrip and began to prepare it to receive C-47’s. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions blocked the approaches from the north and east. As soon as the parachutists had begun landing, the Australian units that had come down the Watut River—the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, the 2/6th Field Company, and one company of the Papuan Infantry Battalion—began landing on the north bank of the Markham. They made contact with the 503rd in late afternoon and worked through the night in preparing the airstrip. The next morning the first C-47 arrived. It brought in advance elements of the U.S. 871st Airborne Engineer Battalion.

Twenty-four hours later C-47’s brought in General Vasey’s 7th Division headquarters and part of the 25th Australian Infantry Brigade Group from Marilinan, where they had staged from Port Moresby. Thereafter the transports flew the Australian infantry and the American engineers directly from Port Moresby. By 10 September the well-timed, smoothly run operation had proceeded fast enough that 7th Division troops at Nadzab were able to relieve the 503rd of its defensive missions. Enough American engineers had arrived to take over construction of new airstrips.

The 503rd’s only contact with the enemy came in mid-September when the 3rd Battalion ran into a Japanese column at Yalu, east of Nadzab. The parachute regiment was withdrawn on 17 September. It had lost 3 men killed jumping, 8 men killed by enemy action, 33 injured jumping, 12 wounded by the enemy, and 26 sick.
This was, comparatively, small cost for the seizure of a major airbase with a parachute jump. Nadzab paid rich dividends. Within two weeks the engineers had completed two parallel airstrips six thousand feet long and had started six others.

The Advance Against Lae

The 25th Australian Infantry Brigade

Group moved eastward out of Nadzab toward Lae on 10 September while General Wootten’s 9th Division troops were forcing a crossing over the Busu River east of Lae. The Markham Valley narrows near Lae, with the Atzera Range on the northeast and the wide river on the southwest. A prewar road in the Atzera foothills connected Nadzab with Lae, and a rough trail on the other side of the Atzeras paralleled this road from Lae to Yalu, where it intersected the road. Thus while some troops blocked the trail at Yalu, and the 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion guarded the line of communications, the 2/25th Australian Infantry Battalion advanced down the road and part of the 2/2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion moved down the north bank of the river.
When a small group of Japanese offered resistance to the advance at Jensen’s Plantation, toward the lower end of the valley, the 2/25th Battalion drove it back and on 14 September captured Heath’s Plantation farther on. The 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion then took over and pushed on toward Lae. By now the Australians had come within range of Japanese 75-mm. guns and found the going harder. But an assault the next day cleared Edward’s Plantation and enemy resistance ended.

The advance elements of the 25th Brigade entered Lae from the west the next morning, 16 September. In the afternoon the 24th Brigade, which had advanced from the east and captured Malahang Airdrome on 15 September, pushed into Lae and made contact with the 25th Brigade. Lae had fallen easily and speedily. The Japanese had vanished.
The Japanese Evacuation

Throughout July and August the Salamaua Japanese were reinforced at Lae’s expense, but were continually forced back. On 24 August General Nakano, reflecting the importance which his superior had attached to Salamaua, addressed his troops thus: “Holding Salamaua is the Division’s responsibility. This position is our last defense line, and we will withdraw no further. If we are unable to hold, we will die fighting. I will burn our Divisional flag and even the patients will rise to fight in close combat. No one will be taken a prisoner.

Imperial Headquarters, however, did not order a suicidal last stand. Nakano was ordered to hold out as long as possible, but to withdraw if he could not hold Salamaua. The Australian landing between Lae and Finschhafen and the 503rd’s seizure of Nadzab, coupled with Allied air and PT boat activity in the Huon Gulf and the straits, caused General Adachi on 8 September to order Nakano to abandon Salamaua and pull back to Lae. Nakano’s hospital patients and artillery had already been sent to Lae, and on 11 September withdrawal of the main body began.

Meanwhile, after considerable discussion Imperial Headquarters, Imamura, and Adachi abandoned their plans to take Bena Bena and Mount HaGen Adachi saw that the Allied operations at Salamaua, Nadzab, and Lae threatened to cut off the 51st Division. He now decided that he would have to withdraw from Lae, but determined to hold the Finisterre Range, the Ramu Valley, and Finschhafen. Therefore he ordered Nakano and Shoge to withdraw overland from Lae to the north coast of the Huon Peninsula, and directed the 20th Division to move from Madang to Finschhafen and to dispatch a regiment to the Ramu Valley to assist the 51st.

Thus the Allied troops pushing toward both Lae and Salamaua in early September met only delaying forces. The Salamaua garrison had assembled at Lae by the 14th, two days after the first echelon of the Lae garrison had started north. Another echelon left that day, and the last slipped out on the 15th. The day before, General Vasey had learned from a captured document and from interrogation of a prisoner that the Japanese were leaving Lae. He dispatched troops northward to reinforce the 2/4th Australian Independent Company, which was operating in the wilds north of Lae, but the Japanese eluded their pursuers.

It was a band of retreating enemy that the 3rd Battalion, 503rd, encountered at Yalu, and when Australian forces rushed there the Japanese hastily altered their route to avoid interception.

Once out of Lae, the 51st Division and the Lae naval garrison executed one of the difficult overland marches that were to characterize so many future Japanese operations in New Guinea. There was little fighting, but Australian patrols harried the retreat. The Japanese moved north out of Lae and avoided Nadzab and the obvious Markham-Ramu trough that Adachi had originally planned to use for the withdrawal. They moved in a generally north-northeasterly direction, crossed the Busu River by means of a rough-hewn bridge on 20-22 September, and skirted the west ends of the Rawlinson Range and Cromwell Mountains in the vicinity of Mount Salawaket about 25 September.
They had started with food for ten days, but this was exhausted by the time they reached Salawaket. Thereafter they lived by looting native gardens and by eating roots and grasses. Dysentery and malaria made their appearance, but as there were plenty of suppressive drugs the malaria rate was low.

The 51st Division had already abandoned most of its heavy equipment before the retreat. Along the way mountain artillerymen, unable to drag their guns over the precipitous slopes, were forced to abandon them. Many soldiers threw away their rifles. This was in strong contrast to the behavior of the 1st Battalion, 20th Division, which had reinforced the 51st Division at Salamaua. The commander, a Major Shintani, had threatened death to any soldier who abandoned his arms. Shintani died on the road, but his battalion rigorously adhered to his orders. Each soldier who completed the march carried his rifle and his helmet.

By mid-October the troops reached the north coast of the Huon Peninsula. The Army troops went to Kiari, naval personnel to nearby Sio. Slightly over 9,000 men had left Lae; 600 were march casualties. Nearly 5,000 soldiers arrived at Kiari, and some 1,500 sailors went to Lio. Many others were taken to the hospital at Madang. The defense of Lae-Salamaua and the subsequent retreat cost almost 2,600 lives.

Strategic Reconsiderations; The Japanese Pull Back

The fall of Lae and Salamaua, coming hard on the heels of defeat in the central Solomons, had a profound effect upon Japanese strategic plans, an effect that went far beyond the immediate importance of Lae and Salamaua. Although the twin losses of Guadalcanal and Buna were severe, Imperial General Headquarters had not regarded these as irretrievable. It had continued to prepare plans for offensives in the Southeast Area. Now the war leaders in Tokyo reassessed the situation and determined on a drastic retrenchment.

The fall of the central Solomons and of Lae-Salamaua closely followed the loss of Attu and the evacuation of Kiska in the Aleutians, and came at a time when Imperial Headquarters entertained well-justified fears about the opening of an Allied offensive through the Central Pacific. The Japanese in September decided that they were overextended.

They determined to withdraw their perimeter in order to set up a defense line that would hold back the Allies while they themselves marshaled their strength for decisive battle. This perimeter would be strongly manned and fortified. It was hoped that the defensive preparations behind it would be completed by the early part of 1944.
So Imperial Headquarters drew its main perimeter line from western New Guinea through the Carolines to the Marianas. This was “the absolute national defense line to be held by all means.” The Southeast Area, including Rabaul, once the focus of such great but elusive hopes for victory, was now on the outpost line.

But the war was far from over for MacArthur’s and Halsey’s troops. General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka were no longer counted on to win decisively, but they were ordered to hold out as long as possible, and so delay the Allied advance. To strengthen the Southeast Area, Imperial Headquarters in September ordered the 17th Division from Shanghai to Rabaul “to reinforce the troops manning the forward wall.

Imamura and Kusaka determined to hold Bougainville, whose defenses they had been trying to build up during the long fight on New Georgia, to develop and strengthen Madang and Wewak, to develop the transport system connecting the main bases of the Southeast Area, and to hold Dampier and Vitiaz Straits. Control of these straits had been essential to nearly all Japanese movements to New Guinea and, as before, the Japanese were resolved to hold them in order to block any Allied westward advance.

To this end Imamura, who kept the 38th Division under his control to defend Rabaul, had previously dispatched the reinforced 65th Brigade to Tuluvu on the north coast of Cape Gloucester with orders to develop a shipping point there and to maintain the airfield. On 5 September he sent Major General Iwao Matsuda to Tuluvu to take command of the 65th Brigade, some elements of the 51st Division, and the 4th Shipping Group.
To Matsuda’s responsibility for handling shipping he added that of defending the coasts of western New Britain.

On the New Guinea side of the straits, the Japanese regarded Finschhafen as the key defensive position. Possessed of two good harbors—Finschhafen itself and Langemak Bay—and a small airfield, it had long been used as a barge staging point. In early August Adachi had been concerned about a possible attack against Finschhafen, but he did not have enough troops to strengthen its small garrison substantially while the 41st Division was defending Wewak, the 51st Division was defending the Lae-Salamaua area, and the 20th Division was working on the Madang-Lae road. He did, however, send the 80th Infantry and one battalion of the 21st Field Artillery Regiment of the 20th Division from Madang to Finschhafen. By the end of August Major General Eizo Yamada, commanding the 1st Shipping Group and the combat troops at Finschhafen, had about one thousand men.

When the 9th Australian Division landed east of Lae on 5 September, Adachi foresaw the danger, to Finschhafen. He suspended construction of the Madang-Lae road, which was now a twenty-foot-wide all-weather road running along the coast from Madang to Bogadjim, thence over the Finisterre Range at a defile named Kankirei and into the Ramu Valley to a point ten miles north of Dumpu. This decision freed the 20th Division for combat duty.

Adachi ordered a small force of the 20th Division, under Major General Masutaro Nakai, the divisional infantry commander, to advance to Kaiapit, which is on the uplands near the sources of the Markham and Ramu Rivers. The move was intended to keep the Allies from advancing through the Ramu Valley, over Kankirei to the coast, and on against Madang and Wewak, and was also to help cover the retreat of the 51st Division from Lae up the trough to Madang. When Adachi decided not to use the Markham and Ramu Valleys for the retreat he ordered Nakai north to hold the Kankirei defile.
Adachi ordered the main body of the 20th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Shigeru Kitagiri, to march to Finschhafen. The division departed Bogadjim on 10 September on its march of nearly two hundred miles, but was still far from its destination when the Allies struck the next blow.
Allied Decisions

General MacArthur’s ELKTON III called for the capture of Finschhafen as a step toward gaining control of Vitiaz and Dampier Straits. The plan had set the tentative date for the move against Finschhafen at six weeks after the invasion of Lae. At least two factors, however, impelled a speed-up in the timetable. The first was the quick fall of Lae and Salamaua after the landing on 4 September. The second was the 20th Division’s move toward Finschhafen. But before orders could be sent out for the capture of Finschhafen, it was necessary to consider this operation in relation to the larger problems involved in capturing Madang, an operation considered necessary to protect the left flank during the seizure of Cape Gloucester. Seizure of Finschhafen, Madang, and Cape Gloucester would of course give physical control of both sides of the straits to the Allies.

Capture of Madang was bound to be a large operation. Allied intelligence estimated that in late August a total of 55,000 Japanese held the regions between Lae and Wewak. At this time General Blarney, in a letter to MacArthur, held that the Japanese would exert every effort to defend the Markham and Ramu Valleys, Bogadjim (near the defile into the Ramu), Lae, Salamaua, and Finschhafen. Capture of Madang, which had been assigned to his New Guinea Force, would require as preliminary conditions complete air and naval superiority, support by the VII Amphibious Force, physical possession of Lae, the Markham Valley, Salamaua, and Finschhafen, and the neutralization of the Japanese in western New Britain.

Blarney set forth three steps to be followed after the capture of Lae. The first was the capture of Finschhafen by a seaborne assault Blarney recommended as the second step seizure of an intermediate objective between Finschhafen and Bogadjim, because 256 miles of water separated Lae from Bogadjim, 178 separated Finschhafen and Bogadjim, and these were long distances to travel with a flank exposed. The third and final step would be the capture of Madang by a combination of airborne invasion and amphibious assault coupled with pressure from troops advancing northwestward out of the Ramu Valley. To avoid exposing the right flank, he strongly urged capturing Cape Gloucester (which had been assigned to the ALAMO Force) before taking Madang. This would be feasible, he argued, because Madang was so much farther from Finschhafen than was Cape Gloucester.

These proposals received close study at the advanced echelon of GHQ, which had moved to Port Moresby during the planning for Lae and the Markham Valley. General Chamberlin looked on them as generally sound. Regarding Blamey’s concern over control of Cape Gloucester as well as the coasts of the Huon Peninsula, however, he pointed out to General Sutherland that “G-3 believes that a physical occupation of areas has little bearing on the control of Vitiaz Strait but considers that airfields strategically placed which cover the water areas north of Vitiaz Strait are the controlling considerations.”

As to the intermediate objective between Finschhafen and Bogadjim, which Chamberlin placed at Saidor (with a harbor and prewar airfield) on the north coast of the Huon Peninsula, he felt that little would be gained by seizing it as well as Madang. On the other hand it appeared that Saidor might prove a satisfactory substitute for Madang.

Timing of operations would be tricky, largely because the VII Amphibious Force lacked enough ships to conduct two operations at once. It would be committed to operations on the Huon Peninsula until mid-November. Therefore the Cape Gloucester invasion could not take place until about 1 December, but the attack against the north coast of the Huon Peninsula would also have to be launched about the same time if the New Britain offensive was to be protected effectively. For these reasons Chamberlin recommended deferring the decision on whether to move to New Britain before or after invading the north coast of the Huon Peninsula. For this latter operation, he proposed two alternatives: seizure of a prewar airfield at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley without operating on the coast at all, or seizure of the Saidor airfield without operating in the Ramu Valley.
The questions were threshed out at a conference at Port Moresby on 3 September.

MacArthur, Sutherland, Chamberlin, Kenney, Whitehead, Blamey, Carpender, and others attended. Blarney spoke strongly in favor of his recommendations. Kenney urged a deep penetration of the Ramu Valley all the way to Hansa Bay, which lies between Madang and Wewak. After Hansa Bay, he recommended, the advance could turn southward in co-ordination with the Cape Gloucester attack. Admiral Carpender wanted an operation somewhere between Madang and Saidor to precede Cape Gloucester. He received some support in his view from MacArthur, who asserted the necessity for seizing an area between Finschhafen and Madang before capturing Cape Gloucester, so as to assure the safe movement of supplies to support the latter operation. After a good deal of discussion, opinion crystallized in favor of covering the move to Gloucester by seizing the line Dumpu-Saidor. Dumpu would be seized at once by airborne and overland advances, and would then be used to cover simultaneous moves against Saidor and Gloucester. These moves, Chamberlin estimated on 3 September, would take place about1 November at the earliest, but 1 December was more probable.

Thus it was that on 15 September MacArthur ordered Blamey’s New Guinea Force, supported by Kenney’s forces, to seize Kaiapit at the head of the Markham Valley and Dumpu about thirty miles south of Bogadjim. Two days later he ordered the New Guinea Force, with naval support, to capture Finschhafen. It would serve as an advanced air base, and Allied Naval Forces, basing light naval craft there, would use it to cut off the Japanese from Cape Gloucester and Saidor. The attack on Madang was postponed.
Advance Through the Ramu Valley

With his forces converging on Lae from east and west General Blarney completed plans for Kaiapit and Dumpu. Tactically the initial phases of the task appeared fairly simple; patrols had reported the area between Nadzab and the Leron River, a tributary of the Markham, to be free of the enemy.

Logistics would present the greatest difficulty. No overland line of communications existed, and until roads were built all supplies for the advancing troops would have to be flown in. This fact limited the attacking force to one division (the 7th) of but two brigade groups. The 2/6th Australian Independent Company began the drive in September when Kenney’s transport planes landed it on a prewar airstrip in the Markham Valley some thirty miles northwest of Nadzab near the Leron River. The 2/6th then made its way eight miles up the river to Kaiapit, after a sharp encounter on 19 September, captured the village from a small group of Japanese, and held it against their repeated counterattacks. Two days later the Kaiapit strip saw the arrival, after a flight up from Nadzab, of the 21st and 25th Brigade Groups of General Vasey’s 7th Australian Division.

At the month’s end the 21st Brigade, followed by the 25th, left Kaiapit and entered the Ramu Valley. By 6 October the 21st was in possession of Dumpu, where 7th Division headquarters was established. The great Markham-Ramu trough had fallen with an ease that the Allies had not expected, an ease brought about by the hasty Japanese decision not to retreat through the trough.

Behind the lines engineers set to work building a truck highway from Lae to Nadzab along the prewar road, but rain fell during forty-six of the final sixty days of the project and it was December before the task was finally finished and large amounts of supplies could be sent to Nadzab. Nadzab and the other sites in the Markham and Ramu Valleys received all their supplies and equipment by airlift during the period the road was under construction.

By the end of December Allied Air Forces possessed three first-class air bases in full-scale operation in the Markham and Ramu Valleys: one at Nadzab, one at Lae, and one at the juncture of the Gusap and Ramu Rivers. The last site was selected in preference to Kaiapit, which proved too swampy and malarious for extensive development. Dumpu served as a staging field for fighter planes.

After establishing strong positions at Dumpu, the 7th Australian Division continued its part in seizing the Huon Peninsula. Marching north-northwest from Dumpu, it attacked Nakai’s positions in the defiles of the Finisterres. The defiles were secured in February after almost three months of the most arduous kind of fighting. Nakai retreated toward Madang while Vasey’s division broke out to the coast east of Madang.
The Coastal Advance

Finschhafen

Vasey’s operations through the Ramu Valley were co-ordinated with those of Wootten’s 9th Australian Division, which was operating on the coasts of the Huon Peninsula in a series of operations that began with Finschhafen. Before leaving Milne Bay for Lae, Wootten had been alerted to the possibility that he might have to send a brigade to Finschhafen.

Thus GHQ’s decision on 17 September to invade Finschhafen at once was no surprise to the veteran Australian commander. Admiral Barbey had just time enough, and no more, to assemble 8 LST’s, 16 LCI’s, 10 destroyers, and 4 APD’s for the invasion on 22 September, but “Uncle Dan” was now an old amphibious hand and he met the deadline. The LST’s loaded at Buna, and the whole task group assembled in the harbor at Lae on 21 September. General Wootten meanwhile had selected the 20th Infantry Brigade Group of his division to make the landing, and had ordered the 22nd Infantry Battalion to advance east along the coast to threaten Langemak Bay, just south of Finschhafen.

Elements of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade had been attached to Wootten, and these units also made ready. No close air support was planned for the invasion, but in the days preceding 22 September B-24’s and B-25’s bombed the Gasmata airfield on the south coast of New Britain. Daytime A-20’s and B-25’s struck at Japanese lines of communication to Finschhafen, and PT’s took over the work at night.

Troops of the 20th Brigade boarded their convoy on the afternoon of 21 September. The force included, besides the Australians and Barbey’s American sailors, one boat company, half the shore battalion of the 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, and medical and signal troops, or 575 men, 10 LCM’s, and 15 LCVP’s. The 22nd Battalion marched out of Lae en route to Langemak Bay on the 21st, and the same day the amphibious force sailed for Finschhafen, eighty-two miles distant.

The beach selected for the landing, designated Scarlet, lay six miles north of Finschhafen at the mouth of the Song River. It was nine hundred yards long (north to south), thirty feet wide, and was marked by coral headlands to the north and south. Destroyers bombarded Scarlet Beach on the morning of 22 September, and during darkness, at 0445, the first Australian assault wave touched down.

Coxswains had difficulty finding the right beach in the dark with the result that most landing craft carrying the first two waves lost direction and landed in a small cove south of Scarlet Beach. First light aided the LCI’s carrying the third wave; they landed at the right place. The waves that landed at the cove met some scattered but ineffective fire from enemy posts in the fringe of the jungle. The third wave met better organized opposition from log-and-earth pillboxes, but by 0930 all resistance had been overcome, all troops and supplies were ashore, and the landing craft retracted.

The Japanese survivors retired to rising ground about a half mile inland and some sharp fighting ensued before the 2/17th Battalion was in complete possession of the beachhead. The 2/13 Battalion meanwhile swung left (south) toward the village of Heldsbach, which was just north of the Finschhafen airstrip.

General Yamada had posted only a small part of his force at Scarlet Beach. He was keeping the rest of his 4,000-man command at Hanisch Harbor on the south coast of the peninsula and on Satelberg, a 3,240-foot peak which was about six miles west of Scarlet Beach, dominated the entire coastal region, and overlooked both Finschhafen and Langemak Bay. When General Adachi received news of the Allied landing he ordered Yamada to concentrate his force at Satelberg and attack at once. This attack was designed to hold or destroy the Australians pending the arrival of General Kitagiri’s 20th Division. By 21 September the 20th Division, advancing overland and hauling its heavy matériel on barges, had reached Gali, one hundred miles from Finschhafen; it expected to arrive at Finschhafen on 10 October. Adachi ordered Kitagiri to hurry.

Admiral Barbey’s retiring ships offered a tempting target to Japanese airmen, but the 7th Air Division, under orders to cover a Wewak-bound convoy, hesitated to leave it unprotected. The 4th Air Army headquarters ended this indecision by ordering the 7th out against Barbey, but bad weather over central New Guinea kept the Army planes on the ground. Those of the naval 11th Air Fleet at Rabaul went up and fiercely attacked the amphibious force on 22 and 24 September. But the vigilant destroyer Reid had given warning and Allied fighters, the ships’ own antiaircraft, and “good luck in addition to good ship maneuvering” kept the ships from harm.

At the beachhead the American engineers built roads and dumps and unloaded naval craft. The larger engineer craft carried additional supplies from Lae to Scarlet Beach, while the LCVP’s hauled supplies at night from Scarlet Beach to the Australians who were pushing south toward Finschhafen.

The 20th Brigade continued its move toward Finschhafen on the 23rd. It captured Heldsbach, the airfield, and part of the shore of the harbor before meeting stiff resistance at the Bumi River, where three hundred enemy sailors and one company of the 2nd Battalion, 238th Infantry, defended the south bank. Two companies of the 2/15th Battalion moved inland (right) to outflank the enemy, and the next morning the Australians forced their way over the river in the face of stalwart resistance. The brigade commander, who was becoming increasingly aware of the Japanese concentration at Satelberg, asked Wootten for one more battalion with which to hold Scarlet Beach while he concentrated his brigade against Finschhafen. Wootten assented.

The 2/43rd Battalion landed at Scarlet Beach on the night of 29-30 September to relieve the 2/17th, and the latter moved out at once for Finschhafen. Following air and artillery bombardment, the three Australian battalions—the 2/13th, 2/15th, and 2/17th—attacked on 1 October, fought all day, and overwhelmed the defenders. The next morning they occupied the village and harbor of Finschhafen and made contact south of Langemak Bay with patrols of the 22nd Battalion, which had advanced overland from Lae.
The Counterattack

To gain complete control of the New Guinea side of Vitiaz Strait, Generals MacArthur and Blarney had ordered that the capture of Finschhafen be followed by an advance along the coast to Sio, fifty land miles distant. But the advance could not be undertaken until the Japanese were driven from their dominating positions at Satelberg and on Wareo spur, a lower spur which lay north of the Song River from Satelberg.
On 26 September Yamada had launched an unsuccessful attack with the 80th Infantry against the Australian beachhead. After Finschhafen fell on 2 October, the 20th Brigade moved back to Scarlet Beach in preparation for an assault against Satelberg. Two battalions attacked but met stout resistance.

When General Wootten’s headquarters and the 24th Brigade arrived, Wootten decided that all signs indicated the Japanese would counterattack immediately, before he could complete his preparations for advancing to Sio. He decided to go on the defensive for the time being.

Meanwhile the 20th Division was on its way; advance elements totaling 2,354 men had reached Sio by 30 September. General Kitagiri decided to advance by an inland route rather than use the coastal track to Satelberg. Like so many other Japanese generals in similar circumstances during World War II, he decided not to concentrate all his forces before attacking but ordered his units to attack the Australians upon arriving. Japanese tactical doctrine warns of the dangers of such piecemeal commitment but Japanese generals frequently aided the Allied cause by putting aside their doctrine in favor of pell-mell, piecemeal attack.

For his main attack against Scarlet Beach Kitagiri decided to drive eastward from Satelberg with most of his forces while a small detachment aboard four landing craft attempted an amphibious assault But his division was no better at safeguarding important documents than was any other Japanese unit. On 15 October General Wootten received a captured Japanese order which warned him to expect a two-regiment attack from Satelberg, coupled with a seaborne assault The Australians made ready.
Next day the 9th Division, though suffering some local reverses, repulsed the 20th’s attack from Satelberg. At 0300, 17 October, Japanese planes bombed the Allies, whereupon 155 men of the 10th Company, 79th Infantry, attempted to land from their four craft. Two barges were sunk, one departed in haste, and the other reached shore in the vicinity of a .50-caliber machine gun position manned by Private Nathan Van Noy, Jr., of the 532nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, and one other American engineer.
As the enemy soldiers disembarked they hurled grenades, one of which wounded Van Noy before he opened fire. But Van Noy held his fire until the Japanese were visible, then opened up and killed about thirty of them. He died of his wounds, and for his gallant devotion was awarded the Medal of Honor.30 Though the Japanese claim that the few men who reached the shore wrought great damage, in actuality they were all quickly killed.

Later in the morning came another major attack from Satelberg. Wootten, who had no reserve brigade, asked for the 26th and Barbey’s ships transported it to Scarlet Beach on 20 October. The Japanese attacks continued through 25 October, but all failed. As his food supplies were exhausted, Kitagiri suspended the attacks and regrouped for another try. The Australians, losing 49 dead in these actions, reported killing 679 of the enemy.
General Adachi, who had often been in and out of Salamaua during the fighting there, traveled from Madang via Kiari and Sio to Satelberg. He arrived on 31 October, and stayed for four days. During this period Kitagiri made some hopeful estimates on the success of future, more gradual offensives.
Satelberg to Sio

But Wootten was now ready to assume the offensive. By 17 November one more brigade, the 4th, had arrived to hold the beachhead while the three infantry brigades of the 9th Division attacked. Meanwhile work on the airstrip and advanced naval base at Finschhafen had gone forward so quickly that PT boats from Finschhafen were now harrying enemy sea communications at night in consort with PBY’s (“Black Cats”). With the support of tanks and artillery, and rocket-equipped LCVP’s lying offshore, the 9th Division fought a major action starting on 17 November. By 8 December it had captured Satelberg and Wareo spur and was ready to push up the coast to Sio, whence the 20th Division was retreating on orders from General Imamura himself.

Wootten’s men advanced slowly but steadily against the retreating enemy, supported all the while by the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade craft.31 The Australians found many sick, wounded, and dead Japanese who had fallen by the way as the weakened 20th Division, which numbered 12,526 men on 10 September and only 6,949 men by December, laboriously marched along. On 15 January 1944 the 9th Division entered Sio, on the north coast of the Huon Peninsula.

Fighting on the peninsula was not yet over, but the main strategic objectives—the airfield sites and the coast of Vitiaz Strait—were now in Allied hands. When the Lae-Nadzab road and the airfields were completed, the Allies could control the air over the straits and bring a heavier weight of metal to bear on Japanese bases to the north and to the west.

In the Nassau Bay-Lae-Finschhafen operation the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade lost twenty-one dead, ninety-four wounded, and sixty evacuated sick. On the pursuit to Sio four LCVP’s were lost to enemy action, four more to surf and reefs.
SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Bougainville (12); Invasion

World War Two: Papuan Campaign(19); Final Offensive / Victory

World War Two: New Georgia (10) After Munda

The hardest slugging was over, at least on New Georgia. But several tasks faced the troops. The airfield had to be put into shape at once and the remaining Japanese had to be cleaned out of New Georgia and several of the offshore islands.

The Airfield

Repair and enlargement of the battered airstrip began immediately after its capture.”…Munda airfield looked like a slash of white coral in a Doré drawing of hell. It lay like a dead thing, between the torn, coffee-colored hills of Bibilo and Kokengolo.” Seabees of the 73rd and 24th Naval Construction Battalions began the work of widening, resurfacing, and re-grading the field. On 9 August additional naval construction battalions added their tools and men to the task. Power shovels dug coral out of Kokengolo Hill, and bulldozers, earth-movers, graders, and rollers spread and flattened it. Good coral was plentiful, as were men and tools, and the work moved rapidly forward. By 7 August the field, although rough, was suitable for emergency wheels-up landings.

Advance parties from General Mulcahy’s air headquarters moved from Rendova to Munda during the second week of August. On the 14th, the day after the first Allied plane landed, General Mulcahy flew from Rendova to Munda in his amphibian plane and opened Headquarters, Air Command, New Georgia, in a Japanese-dug tunnel in Kokengolo Hill.

Two Marine fighter squadrons (VMF 123 and VMF 124), with twelve Corsairs (F4U’s) each, arrived on the 14th and began operations at once. Together with the fighters based at Segi Point, which were also under Mulcahy, they and other Allied squadrons covered the Allied landing at Vella Lavella on 15 August. There were some difficulties at first. Maintenance crews were inexperienced, there were not enough spare parts, the field was not complete, and taxiways and dispersal areas were small and in poor condition. Japanese naval guns, promptly nicknamed “Pistol Pete,” shelled the airfield from the nearby islet of Baanga intermittently from 16 through 19 August. But conditions quickly improved, and Pistol Pete, which had not done much damage, was captured by elements of the 43rd Division on 19 August.

As the field was enlarged, more planes and units continued to arrive. Operations intensified, and as the Japanese were cleared from the central Solomons Mulcahy’s planes began to strike targets in the northern Solomons. For this reason his command was removed from the New Georgia Occupation Force on 23 September and assigned as part of the Air Command, Solomons. Mulcahy’s fighters escorted bombers to the Bougainville bases, and Munda-based bombers soon began dropping loads there too.

Munda airfield, which by mid-October had a 6,000-foot coral-covered runway and thus was suitable for bombers, became the best and most-used airfield in the Solomons. The rotation of Navy, Marine Corps, and Army Air Forces commanders that was standard in the South Pacific had brought about the relief of Admiral Mitscher as Commander, Aircraft, Solomons, by General Twining, the Thirteenth Air Force commander. General Twining moved his headquarters on 20 October from Guadalcanal to Munda and made the most intensive possible use of the new base.

Reinforcements

Airfield development, though of primary importance, could be of only minor interest to the ground troops who had the dreary task of slogging northward from Bibilo Hill in an attempt to trap the retreating Japanese. The job had been assigned to the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments, both operating under their parent command, the 25th Division.

Addition of the 27th Infantry to the New Georgia Occupation Force had come about because of General Griswold’s urgent requests for more men. During July the Western Force of Task Force 31 had carried fully 26,748 men to Rendova, but by the month’s end not that many men were available for combat. Many of the arrivals were service troops. Further, casualties and disease had weakened the infantry regiments.

The three infantry regiments in the 37th Division (less the two battalions with Liversedge) had an authorized total strength of about 7,000 men. But the 161st Infantry, which entered the campaign below strength, was short 1,350 men. The two-battalion regiments were short too, so that the 37th Division’s rifle regiments had only 5,200 men. And the 43rd Division was in worse shape. With an authorized strength of 8,000 men, its three rifle regiments had but 4,536 men. Griswold had asked Liversedge if he could release two infantry battalions for the Munda drive but Liversedge replied that that would be possible only if Enogai and Rice Anchorage were abandoned. His raider battalions were then only 60 percent effective.

[NOTE 10-5A: See XIV Corps G-3 Jnl File, 28-29, 31 Jul 43. By 14 August sickness and casualties had rendered the 4th Marine Raider Battalion practically unfit for fighting. The battalion surgeon, Lieutenant J. C. Lockhart, USNR, reported that out of 453 men present only 137 were fit for duty. Memo, 4th Mar Raider Bn Surgeon for CO 4th Mar Raider Bn, 14 Aug 43, sub: Health of Personnel of 4th Raider Bn, in XIV Corps G-3 Jnl File, 23 Aug 43.]

On 28 July Griswold asked Harmon for replacements or for a regimental combat team less artillery. This request posed a grave problem for Harmon and Admiral Halsey. The injunction against committing major forces to New Georgia was still in effect; at least it was theoretically in effect, for in small island warfare, especially in 1943, 26,000 men constituted a major force. The only immediately available division was the 25th, and one of its regiments, the 161st, had been sent in fairly early. Further, Halsey and Harmon had planned to use the 25th for the invasion of the Buin-Faisi area of Bougainville.

Yet as long as the high command retained confidence in Griswold, there could be but one answer. As Harmon wrote to his chief of staff, Brigadier General Allison J. Barnett, “…we have to make this Munda-Bairoko business go—and as quickly as possible. It is the job ‘in hand’ and whatever we use we have to get it done before we go on to the next step.” One of the major difficulties, according to Harmon, was the fact that the Americans had underestimated the job in hand. “Munda is a tough nut—much tougher in terrain, organization of the ground and determination of the Jap than we had thought. . . . In both Guadalcanal and New Georgia we greatly underestimated the force-require to do the job.” Thus Harmon alerted the 27th Infantry of the 25th Division for transfer to New Georgia and recommended to Halsey that the 25th Division be taken off the list for Bougainville. [He suggested substituting the 2nd Marine Division or the 3rd New Zealand Division.] As soon as he received Halsey’s approval Harmon ordered up the 27th Infantry. On 29 July Colonel Thomas D. Roberts of Harmon’s staff arrived at Griswold’s headquarters to announce the imminent arrival of the 27th Infantry and some replacements.

At this time the Japanese were still holding the Ilangana-Shimizu Hill-Horseshoe Hill-Bartley Ridge defense line, and no one was anticipating the rapid advances that characterized the first days of August. Thus on 30 July with Colonel Roberts’ concurrence Griswold asked for more 25th Division troops and Harmon promptly promised the 35th Infantry.

Advance elements of the 27th Infantry, and Headquarters, 25th Division, landed on the barrier island of Sasavele on 1 August, and in the next few days the regiment was moved to the right (north) flank of the Munda front to protect the XIV Corps’ right flank and rear.

The Cleanup; North to Bairoko

The Japanese withdrawal from Munda released a sizable body of American troops to attempt the cleanup of the Japanese between Munda and Dragons Peninsula. After the rapid advances began on 1 August the 27th Infantry, temporarily commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George E. Bush, sent out patrols to the north before advancing to clear out the Japanese and make contact with Liversedge.

Meanwhile General Griswold decided that mopping-up operations would have to include a drive from Bibilo Hill northwest to Zieta, a village on the west coast about four crow’s-flight miles northwest of Bibilo, to cut off the retreating Japanese. On 2 August the 37th Division had reported that Fijian patrols had cut the Munda-Bairoko trail but found no evidence of any Japanese traffic. Lieutenant Colonel Demas L. Sears, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, 37th Division, offered the opinion that if the Japanese were evacuating New Georgia they were moving along the coast to Zieta rather than to Bairoko. This opinion was buttressed by reports from Colonel Griffith of the Raiders who radioed on 2 August that there had been no traffic in or out of Bairoko.

Next day, on orders from Griswold, the 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry, left Enogai on a cross-country trek toward Zieta, a trek that was halted short of there on 5 August by additional orders Colonel Douglas Sugg had commanded the regiment until a few days before the move to New Georgia. He fell ill and was hospitalized, and his place was taken by Colonel Bush, the executive. Sugg resumed command of his regiment on 12 August from Griswold. He had decided to use the two 25th Division regiments under General Collins, the commander who had led the division on Guadalcanal, to drive to Zieta and Bairoko.

From then until 25 August, the 25th Division units slogged painfully along the swampy jungle trails in pursuit of the elusive enemy. The Japanese occasionally established roadblocks, ambushes, and defenses in depth to delay the Americans, but the worst enemy was the jungle. The terrain was, if anything, worse than that encountered on the Munda front. The maps were incorrect, inexact, or both. For example, Mount Tirokiamba, a 1,500-foot eminence reported to lie about 9,000 yards northwest of Bibilo Hill, was found to be 4,500 yards south by west of its reported position. Mount Bao, thought to be 6,000 yards east-northeast of Bibilo Hill, was actually 2,500 yards farther on.

As the regiments advanced, bulldozers of the 65th Engineer Battalion attempted to build jeep trails behind them. But the rain fell regularly and the trails became morasses so deep that even the bulldozers foundered. General Collins ordered the trail building stopped in mid-August. Now supplies were carried by hand and on men’s backs to the front, and when these methods failed to provide enough food and ammunition the regiments were supplied from the air.

The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, trekked north on the Munda-Bairoko trail and made contact on 9 August with Liversedge. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 27th Infantry, after some sharp fighting took Zieta on 15 August, then pushed northwest to Piru Plantation. The plantation lay about seven and one-half airline miles northwest of Bibilo Hill, but the regiment’s advance on the ground required a 22-mile march. The 161st Infantry, following the 1st Battalion, 27th, moved up the trail and after mid-August began patrolling to the west short of Bairoko Harbour. On 25 August, after Griffith had reported two nights of busy enemy barge activity in and out of Bairoko Harbour, the Americans bloodlessly occupied its shores.

The Japanese Evacuation

But the main body of Japanese survivors had slipped out of Zieta and Bairoko. Traveling light, they had evaded the slower-moving, more heavily encumbered Americans. On 5 August General Sasaki had decided that he could defend New Georgia no longer. He therefore sent the 13th Infantry and most of the Bairoko-based special naval landing force units to Kolombangara, the 229th Infantry, the 3rd Battalion, 230th Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Infantry, to Baanga, a long narrow island which lay across Lulu Channel from Zieta. These units, plus two 120-mm. naval guns, were ordered to defend Baanga, and the naval guns were to shell Munda airfield. Sasaki’s headquarters, having moved out of Munda, was established on Baanga until 7 August, and the next day he moved to Kolombangara.

Baanga

The islet of Baanga, 6,500 yards long and some 4,000 yards west of Kindu Point on New Georgia, was captured to extend Allied control over Diamond Narrows and to stop the shelling of Munda by the two 120-mm. guns nicknamed “Pistol Pete” by the American troops.

Seizure of Baanga was entrusted to the 43rd Division, briefly commanded by General Barker after 10 August, when General Hodge returned to the Americal Division. [Barker was replaced several days later, on orders from the War Department, by General Wing, who was senior to him.] Patrolling started on 11 August, but the Japanese on Baanga fought back hard, and the 169th Infantry, which Barker initially assigned to Baanga, gave a “shaky performance.” The 172nd Infantry (less one battalion) joined in, and the southern part of the island was secured by 21 August. The 43rd Division lost 52 men killed, no wounded and 486 non-battle casualties in this operation.

The Japanese, meanwhile, had decided to get off Baanga. General Sasaki had evolved a plan to use the 13th Infantry, then on Kolombangara, to attack New Georgia, and dispatched his naval liaison officer to 8th Fleet headquarters to arrange for air and fleet support. But he was to get none. Moreover, no more ground reinforcements were to be sent to New Georgia. The last attempted shipment consisted of two mixed battalions from the 6th and 38th Divisions, to be carried to Kolombangara on destroyers. [Each battalion consisted of four rifle companies, a machine gun platoon, and a small artillery unit.]

But Commander Frederick Moosbrugger with six destroyers surprised the Japanese force in Vella Gulf on the night of 6-7 August and quickly sank three Japanese destroyers. The fourth enemy ship, which carried no troops, escaped. Moosbrugger’s force got off virtually scot free, while the Japanese lost over fifteen hundred soldiers and sailors as well as the ships. About three hundred survivors reached Vella Lavella. When Sasaki’s request reached the 8th Fleet, Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, basing his decision on instructions from Imperial General Headquarters, ordered Sasaki to cancel his plan for attacking New Georgia and to concentrate the Baanga troops on Arundel to forestall further Allied advances. So the Japanese left on barges for Arundel, completing the movement by 22 August.

Vella Lavella: The Bypass

Meanwhile an Allied force had made a landing at Barakoma on Vella Lavella, which lay about thirty-five nautical miles northwest of Munda. This landing represented a major and completely successful departure from the original TOENAILS plan. The plan had called for the attack against Munda to be followed by the seizure of Vila airfield on Kolombangara, but the Japanese were now correctly believed to be established on Kolombangara in considerable strength.

Some estimates placed the enemy garrison at ten thousand, a little under the actual total. And Admiral Halsey did not want a repetition of the Munda campaign. As he later put it, “The undue length of the Munda operation and our heavy casualties made me wary of another slugging match, but I didn’t know how to avoid it.”

There was a way to avoid a slugging match, and that way was to bypass Kolombangara completely and land instead on Vella Lavella. The advantages were obvious: the airfield at Vila was poorly drained and thus no good while Vella Lavella looked more promising. Also, Vella Lavella was correctly reported to contain few Japanese. Vella Lavella, northwesternmost island in the New Georgia group, lay less than a hundred miles from the Japanese bases in the Shortlands and southern Bougainville, but a landing there could be protected by American fighter planes based at Munda and Segi Point.

The technique of bypassing, which General MacArthur has characterized as “as old as warfare itself,” was well understood in the U.S. Army and Navy long before Vella Lavella, but successful bypassing requires a preponderance of strength that Allied forces had not hitherto possessed. [N610-14] The first instance of an amphibious bypass in the Pacific occurred in May 1943 when the Allied capture of Attu caused the Japanese to evacuate Kiska.

[N610-14: Ltr, MacArthur to Smith, Chief of Mil Hist, 5 Mar 53, no sub, OCMH. In ground operations field orders usually specify that isolated pockets of resistance are to be bypassed, contained, and reduced later, so that the advance will not be held up.]

When members of Halsey’s staff proposed that South Pacific forces bypass Kolombangara and jump to Vella Lavella of the more euphonious name, the admiral was enthusiastic. On 11 July he radioed the proposal to Admirals Turner and Fitch. “Our natural route of approach from Munda to Bougainville,” he asserted, “lies south of Gizo and Vella Lavella Islands.” He asked them to consider whether it would be practicable to emplace artillery in the Munda-Enogai and Arundel areas to interdict Vila; cut the supply lines to Vila by artillery and surface craft, particularly PT boats; “by-pass Vila area and allow it to die on the vine”; and seize Vella Lavella and build a fighter field there. The decision on this plan would depend on the possibility of building a fighter field on Vella Lavella to give close fighter support for the invasion of Bougainville. Both Turner and Fitch liked the idea.

Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance was necessary first. Allied knowledge of Vella Lavella was limited. Coastwatchers, plantation managers, and such members of the clergy as the Rev. A. W. E. Silvester, the New Zealand Methodist missionary bishop whose see included New Georgia and Vella Lavella, provided some information but not enough to form the basis for the selection of an airfield site or an invasion beach. Colonel Frank L. Beadle, Harmon’s engineer, therefore took command of a reconnaissance party consisting of six Army, Navy, and Marine officers. Beadle was ordered to concentrate his reconnaissance in the coastal plain region of Barakoma and Biloa Mission on the southeast tip of Vella Lavella because it was closest to Munda, the natives were friendly, coastwatcher Lieutenant Henry Josselyn of the Australian Navy and Bishop Silvester were there, and the terrain seemed favorable. The Japanese had already surveyed the Barakoma area for a fighter strip.

Beadle’s party boarded a torpedo boat at Rendova on the night of 21-22 July and slipped through the darkness to land at Barakoma. Silvester, Josselyn, and two natives were on hand to meet the American officers. For six days Beadle’s party, the bishop, the coast-watcher, and several natives explored the southeast part of the island, and ventured up the west coast to Nyanga Plantation, about twelve crow’s-flight miles northwest of Barakoma. Returning to Rendova on 28 July, Beadle reported that the vicinity of Barakoma met all requirements, and that there were no Japanese on the southeast coast of the island. Beadle recommended that the landing be made on beaches extending some 750 yards south from the mouth of the Barakoma River, and suggested that an advance detachment be sent to Barakoma to mark beaches. These recommendations were accepted.

Admiral Wilkinson, Turner’s successor, chose an advance party of fourteen officers and enlisted men from the various units in the Vella Lavella invasion force and placed it under Captain G. C. Kriner, USN, who was to command the Vella Lavella naval base. This group proceeded from Guadalcanal to Rendova, then prepared to change to PT boats for the run through the night of 12-13 August toward Barakoma. The work of the advance party was of a highly secret nature. If the Japanese became aware of its presence, they could kill or capture the men and certainly would deduce that an Allied invasion was imminent.

On 11 August coastwatcher Josselyn radioed Guadalcanal to report the presence of forty Japanese. (Japanese survivors of the Battle of Vella Gulf, 6-7 August, had landed on Vella Lavella.) His message indicated that pro-Allied natives had taken them prisoner. From Koli Point General Harmon radioed General Griswold to ask for more men to accompany the advance party and take the prisoners into custody. Accordingly one officer and twenty-five enlisted men from E and G Companies, 103rd Infantry, were detailed to go along.

The whole party left Rendova at 1730 on 12 August. En route Japanese planes bombed and strafed the four torpedo boats for two hours. One was hit and four men were wounded but the other three made it safely. During the hours of darkness they hove to off Barakoma. Rubber boats had been provided to get the party from the torpedo boats to shore, but no one was able to inflate the rubber boats from the carbon dioxide containers that were provided. So natives paddled out in canoes and took the Americans ashore.

Meanwhile Josselyn had radioed Wilkinson again to the effect that there were 140 Japanese in the area; 40 at Biloa and 100 about five miles north of Barakoma. They were, he declared, under surveillance but were not prisoners. Once ashore Captain Kriner discovered there were many starving, ragged, poorly armed stragglers but no prisoners. He requested reinforcements, and in the early morning hours of 14 August seventy-two officers and enlisted men of F Company,103rd Infantry, sailed for Barakoma in four torpedo boats. This time the rubber boats inflated properly and the men paddled ashore from three hundred yards off the beach.

The advance party with the secret mission of marking beaches and the combat party with the prisoner-catching mission set about their respective jobs. Beach marking proceeded in a satisfactory manner although the infantrymen in that party were not completely happy about the presence of the 103rd troops. They felt that the two missions were mutually exclusive and that the prisoner-catching mission destroyed all hope of secrecy. Only seven Japanese were captured. F Company, 103rd, held the beachhead at Barakoma against the arrival of the main invasion force.

[NOTE: SOPACBACOM’s History of the New Georgia Campaign, Vol. I, Ch. VIII, pp. 20-21, OCMH, contains some fanciful data concerning the sinking of one PT boat and the killing of about fifty Japanese.]

Plans

Once Colonel Beadle had made his recommendations the various South Pacific headquarters began laying their plans. This task was fairly simple, for Admiral Halsey and his subordinates were now old hands at planning invasions. Actual launching of the invasion would have to await the capture and development of Munda airfield.

It was on 11 August that Halsey issued his orders. He organized his forces much as he had for the invasion of New Georgia. The Northern Force (Task Force 31) under Admiral Wilkinson was to capture Vella Lavella, build an airfield, and establish a small naval base. Griswold’s New Georgia Occupation Force would meanwhile move into position on Arundel and shell Vila airfield on bypassed Kolombangara. New Georgia-based planes would cover and support the invasion. South Pacific Aircraft (Task Force 33) was to provide air support by striking at the Shortlands-Bougainville fields. As strikes against these areas were being carried out regularly, the intensified air operations would not necessarily alert the enemy. Three naval task forces of aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, and the submarines of Task Force 72, would be in position to protect and support Wilkinson. On Wilkinson’s recommendation, Halsey set 15 August as D Day.

Admiral Wilkinson also issued his orders on 11 August. The Northern Force was organized into three invasion echelons (the main body and the second and third echelons) and the motor torpedo boat flotillas. Under Wilkinson’s direct command, the main body consisted of three transport groups, the destroyer screen, and the northern landing force. Each transport group, screened by destroyers, was to move independently from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella; departure from Guadalcanal would be so timed that each group would arrive off Barakoma just before it was scheduled to begin unloading. Three slow LST’s, each towing an LCM, would leave at 0300, 14 August, six LCI’s at 0800, and seven fast APD’s at 1600. The motor torpedo boat flotilla would cover the movement of the main body on D minus 1 by patrolling the waters east and west of Rendova, but would retire to Rendova early on D Day to be out of the way. Preliminary naval bombardment would in all probability not be necessary, but Wilkinson told off two destroyers to be prepared to support the landing if need be. Two fighter-director groups were put aboard two destroyers. Once unloaded, each transport group would steam for Guadalcanal.

The second echelon, composed of three LST’s and three of the destroyers that would escort the main body, was to arrive at Barakoma on D plus 2, beach overnight, and return to Guadalcanal. The third echelon consisted of three destroyers and three LST’s from the main body. Wilkinson ordered it to arrive on D plus 5, beach throughout the night, and depart for Guadalcanal the next morning.

The northern landing force, 5,888 men in all, consisted of the 35th Regimental Combat Team of the 25th Division; the 4th Marine Defense Battalion; the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop; the 58th Naval Construction Battalion; and a naval base group.[N100-20] Command of the landing force was entrusted to Brigadier General Robert B. McClure, assistant commander of the 25th Division, who as a colonel had commanded the 35th Infantry during the Guadalcanal Campaign. General McClure would be under Wilkinson’s control until he was well established ashore. He would then come under General Griswold.

[N100-20: The 35th Regimental Combat Team consisted of the 35th Infantry; the 64th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzer); C Company, 65th Engineer Battalion; Collecting Company B, 25th Medical Battalion, and detachments from other divisional services. Harmon, who had promised the 35th Infantry for New Georgia on 1 August, later considered using the 145th Infantry, but concluded that it could not be pulled out of New Georgia and brought back to Guadalcanal in time. Rads, Harmon to Griswold, 1 Aug and 6 Aug 43, in XIV Corps G-3 Jnl.]

The Japanese on Vella Lavella (no garrison at all but only a group of stragglers) were estimated to total about 250, with 100 more on nearby Ganongga and 250 at Gizo. Wilkinson warned that enemy air strength in southern Bougainville, less than a hundred miles away, and at Rabaul was considerable, and that naval surface forces were based at both places.

To carry off such a stroke almost literally under the enemy’s aircraft would require, besides fighter cover, considerable speed in unloading. Wilkinson planned to unload the main body in twelve hours. Troops debarking from APD’s were to go ashore in LCVP’s, forty to a boat. At the beach ten of each forty would unload the boat while the thirty pushed inland. Once emptied, LCVP’s were to return to their mother ships for the rest of the men and supplies. Sixty minutes were allotted for unloading the APD’s and clearing the beach. The LCI’s would then come in to the beach and drop their ramps. Passenger troops would debark via both ramps, ground their equipment, then re-board by the starboard ramps, pick up gear, and go ashore down the port ramps. One hour was allotted for the LCI’s. Then the LST’s, bearing artillery, trucks, and bulldozers, would ground. Trucks were to be loaded in advance to help insure the prompt unloading of the LST’s.

The 35th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Everett E. Brown, had been making ready for several days. It had been alerted for movement to Munda on 1 August, and on 9 August had received orders from Harmon’s headquarters to prepare for an invasion. The 1st and 2nd Battalions on Guadalcanal and the 3rd Battalion and the 64th Field Artillery Battalion in the Russells then began rehearsing landings. In the week preceding the invasion South Pacific Aircraft struck regularly at Kolombangara, Buin, Kahili, and Rekata Bay.

By 14 August the landing force and its supplies were stowed aboard ship, and all transport groups of the main body shoved off for Barakoma on schedule. Once on board, the men were informed of their destination. Japanese planes were reported over Guadalcanal, the Russells, and New Georgia, but Wilkinson’s ships had an uneventful voyage up the Slot and through Blanche Channel and Gizo Strait. The sea was calm, and a bright moon shone in the clear night sky. Northwest of Rendova the LCI’s overhauled the LST’s while the APD’s passed both slower groups.

Seizure of Barakoma

As first light gave way to daylight in the morning of 15 August, the APD’s carrying the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 35th Infantry arrived off Barakoma and hove to. General Mulcahy’s combat air patrol from Munda and Segi Point turned up on schedule at 0605. With part of the 103rd Infantry and the secret advance party already on shore and in possession of the landing beach, there was no need for support bombardment. The APD’s swung landing craft into the water, troops of the 2nd Battalion climbed down the cargo nets and into the boats, and the first wave, with rifle companies abreast, departed. The 2nd Battalion hit the beach at 0624 and at once pushed south toward the coconut plantation around Biloa Mission, about four thousand yards from the beach. The 1st Battalion, having left the APD’s at 0615, landed with companies abreast at 0630 and pushed northward across the waist-deep Barakoma River. Thus quickly unloaded, the APD’s cleared the area and with four escorting destroyers proceeded toward Guadalcanal.

The twelve LCI’s arrived on schedule and sailed in to the beach, but quickly found there was room for but eight at one time. Coral reefs a few yards from shore rendered the northern portion of the beach unusable. The remaining four LCI’s had to stand by offshore awaiting their turn. The 3rd Battalion started unloading but had barely gotten started when enemy aircraft pounced at the invasion force.

This time the Japanese were not caught so completely asleep as they had been on 30 June. In early August Japanese radio intelligence reported a good deal of Allied radio traffic, and the commanders at Rabaul were aware that ships were again concentrating around Guadalcanal. They concluded that a new invasion was impending but failed to guess the target. At 0300 of the 15th a land-based bomber spotted part of Wilkinson’s force off Gatukai. Six dive bombers and forty-eight fighters were sent out on armed reconnaissance, and these found the Americans shortly before 0800. Mulcahy’s planes and ships’ antiaircraft guns promptly engaged them. The Japanese planes that broke through went for the destroyers, which steamed on evasive courses and escaped harm. The Japanese caused some casualties ashore by strafing, but did not attack the LST’s and LCI’s. They ebulliently reported repulsing fifty Allied planes.

This attack, together with the limitations of the beach, delayed the unloading of the LCI’s, which did not pull out until 0915.21 The three LST’s then beached and began discharging men and heavy cargo. Unloading continued all day.

The Japanese struck again at 1227; eleven bombers and forty-eight fighters came down from the north. Some attacked the LST’s but these “Large, Slow Targets” had mounted extra antiaircraft guns and brought down several Japanese planes.

At 1724, some thirty-six minutes before the LST’s departed, the enemy came again. Forty-five fighters and eight bombers attacked without success. The Japanese pilots who flew against the Northern Force on that August day showed a talent for making unwarranted claims. A postwar account soberly admits the loss of seventeen planes, but claims the sinking of four large transports, one cruiser, and one destroyer. It states that twenty-nine Allied planes were shot down and that four large transports were damaged. The ships retiring from Vella Lavella were harried from the air almost all the way, fortunately without suffering damage.

D Day, a resounding success, had proceeded with the efficiency that characterized all Admiral Wilkinson’s operations. Landed were 4,600 troops (700 of whom were naval personnel) and 2,300 tons of gear including eight 90-mm. antiaircraft guns, fifteen days’ supplies, and three units of fire for all weapons except antiaircraft guns, for which one unit was landed. The 35th Regimental Combat Team established a perimeter defense.

Field artillery was in position by 1700, and by 1530 the 4th Marine Defense Battalion had sixteen .50-caliber, eight 20mm., and eight 40-mm. antiaircraft guns and two searchlights in place. The guns engaged the last flight of enemy planes. There were some problems, of course. The LST’s had been unloaded slowly, but supplies came ashore faster than the shore party could clear them off the beach. Boxes of equipment, ammunition, and rations were scattered about. The troops had brought their barracks bags and these lay rain-soaked in the mud. Unused field stoves stood in the way for several days.

The bypass to Vella Lavella was easier and cheaper than an assault on Kolombangara. Twelve men were killed and forty wounded by air bombing and strafing, but D Day saw no fighting on the ground. There was never any real ground combat on Vella Lavella, because Japanese stragglers were mainly interested in escape rather than fighting. When it became known that Wilkinson was landing on Vella Lavella officers of the 8th Fleet and the 17th Army went into conference. They estimated, with accuracy unusual for Japanese Intelligence, that the landing force was about a brigade in strength. With blithe sanguinity someone proposed sending a battalion to effect a counter-landing. General Imamura’s headquarters took a calmer view and pointed out that sending one battalion against a brigade would be “pouring water on a hot stone.” The 8th Area Army stated that two brigades would be needed to achieve success, but that not enough transports were available.

In view of the general Japanese strategy of slow retreat in the central Solomons in order to build up the defenses of Bougainville and hold Rabaul, it was decided to send two rifle companies and one naval platoon to Horaniu at Kokolope Bay on the northeast corner of Vella Lavella to establish a barge staging base between the Shortlands and Kolombangara.

The real struggle for Vella Lavella took place in the air and on the sea. Japanese naval aircraft made a resolute effort to destroy the American ships bearing supplies and equipment to Vella.

Fighters and bombers delivered daylight attacks and seaplanes delivered a series of nocturnal harassing attacks that were all too familiar to Allied troops who served in the Solomons in 1942, 1943, and early 1944.

The combat air patrol from Mulcahy’s command made valiant efforts to keep the Japanese away during daylight, but as radar-equipped night-fighters did not reach the New Georgia area until late September shore- and ship-based antiaircraft provided the defense at night. For daylight cover Mulcahy had planned to maintain a 32-plane umbrella over Barakoma, but the limited operational facilities at Munda made this impossible at first. On 17 August only eight fighters could be sent up at once to guard Barakoma. To add to the difficulties, the weather over New Georgia was bad for a week, the fighter-director teams on Vella Lavella were new to their task, and one of the 4th Defense Battalion’s radars was hit by a bomb on 17 August.

The Northern Force’s second echelon, under Captain William R. Cooke, having departed Guadalcanal on 16 August, beached at Barakoma at 1626 the next day. The fighter cover soon left for Munda and at 1850, and again at 1910, Japanese planes came over to bomb and strafe. General McClure ordered Cooke not to stay beached overnight but to put to sea. Escorted by three destroyers, the LST’s went down Gizo Strait where they received an air attack of two hours and seventeen minutes’ duration. The convoy sailed toward Rendova until 0143, then reversed and headed for Barakoma.

One LST caught fire, probably as a result of a gasoline vapor explosion, and was abandoned without loss of life. The other two reached Barakoma, suffered another air attack, unloaded, and returned safely to Guadalcanal.

Captain Grayson B. Carter led the third echelon to Vella Lavella. It was attacked by enemy planes in Gizo Strait at 0540 on 21 August; one destroyer was slightly damaged and two men were killed. Planes struck off and on all day at the beached LST’s, but men of the 58th Naval Construction Battalion showed such zeal in unloading that the LST’s were emptied by 1600. The next convoys, on 26 and 31 August, had less exciting trips. The weather had cleared and the air cover was more effective. During the first month they were there, the Americans on Vella Lavella received 108 enemy air attacks, but none caused much damage. In the period between 15 August and 3 September, the day on which Wilkinson relinquished control of the forces ashore, Task Force 31 carried 6,505 men and 8,626 tons of supplies and vehicles to Vella Lavella.

During that period General McClure’s troops had strengthened the defenses of Barakoma, established outposts and radar stations, and patrolled northward on both coasts. On 28 August a thirty-man patrol from the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop that had accompanied radar specialists of the 4th Marine Defense Battalion in search of a new radar site reported considerable enemy activity at Kokolope Bay.

Capture of Horaniu

Having decided to establish the barge base at Horaniu, the Japanese sent the two Army companies and the naval platoon, 390 men in all, out of Erventa on 17 August. Four torpedo boats, 13 troop-carrying daihatsu barges,[N101-25] 2 armored barges, 2 submarine chasers, 1 armored boat, 4 destroyers, and 1 naval air group from the Shortlands were involved. The destroyers were intercepted north of Vella Lavella in the early morning hours of 18 August. The daihatsus dispersed.

[N101-25: Daihatsu is an abbreviation for Ogata Hatsudokitei which means a large landing barge. The daihatsu was 41-44 feet long; it could carry 100-120 men for short distances, 40-50 on long trips. The sides were usually armored, and it carried machine guns.]

The Americans sank the 2 submarine chasers, 2 motor torpedo boats, and 1 barge. The Japanese destroyers, two of which received light damage, broke off the action and headed for Rabaul.26 Harried by Allied planes, the daihatsus hunted for and found Horaniu, and the troops were ashore by nightfall on 19 August. About the same time, General Sasaki took alarm at the seizure of Barakoma and sent the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, and one battery of the 6th Field Artillery Regiment from Kolombangara to defend Gizo.

When General McClure received the report from the reconnaissance troop patrol on 28 August, he ordered Major Delbert Munson’s 1st Battalion to advance up the east coast and take the shore of Kokolope Bay for a radar site. To take the 1st Battalion’s place in the perimeter defense, McClure asked Griswold for a battalion from New Georgia. The 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, was selected.

On the morning of 30 August Major Munson dispatched A Company up the east coast ahead of his battalion, and next day, after the arrival of the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, the main body of the 1st Battalion, 35th, started north. Josselyn and Bishop Silvester had provided native guides and the bishop gave Munson a letter instructing the natives to help the American soldiers haul supplies. C Company, 65th Engineer Battalion, was to build a supply road behind Munson.

By afternoon of 1 September A Company had reached the vicinity of Orete Cove, about fourteen miles northeast of Barakoma. The main body of the battalion was at Narowai, a village about seven thousand yards southwest of Orete Cove. The coastal track, which had been fairly good at first, narrowed to a trail that required the battalion to march in single file. Inland were the jungled mountains of the interior. Supply by hand-carry was impossible, and McClure and Colonel Brown, who had been informed that higher headquarters expected the Japanese to evacuate, decided to use landing craft to take supplies to Munson. On 2 September supplies arrived at Orete Cove along with seventeen Fiji scouts under Tripp, who had recently been promoted to major.

From that day until 14 September Munson’s battalion, supported by the 3rd Battalion, 35th, and C Battery, 64th Field Artillery Battalion, moved forward in a series of patrol actions and skirmishes.

Horaniu fell on 14 September. The Japanese did not seriously contest the advance. Instead they withdrew steadily, then moved overland to the northwest corner of the island. Up to now troops of the United States had borne the brunt of ground combat in the Solomons, but Admiral Halsey had decided to give the 3rd New Zealand Division a chance to show its mettle. He had earlier moved the division from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal. On 18 September Major General H. E. Barrowclough, general officer commanding the division, took over command of Vella Lavella from General McClure. On the same day the 14th New Zealand Brigade Group under Brigadier Leslie Potter landed and began the task of pursuing the retreating enemy.[N103-27] Battalion combat teams advanced up the east and west coasts, moving by land and by water in an attempt to pocket the enemy. But the Japanese eluded them and got safely off the island.

[N103-27: A brigade group was similar in strength and composition to a U.S. regimental combat team. For details of Potter’s operations see Oliver A. Gillespie, The Pacific, “The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-1945” (Wellington, New Zealand, 1952), pp. 125-42.]

The Seabees had gone to work on the airfield at once. As at Munda, good coral was abundant. By the end of August they had surveyed and cleared a strip four thousand feet long by two hundred feet wide. They then began work on a control tower, operations shack, and fuel tanks. The first plane to use the field landed on 24 September, and within two months after the invasion the field could accommodate almost a hundred aircraft.

The decision to bypass Kolombangara yielded this airfield in return for a low casualty rate. Of the Americans in the northern landing force, 19 men were killed by bombs, 7 died from enemy gunfire, and 108 were wounded. Thirty-two New Zealanders died, and 32 were wounded.

Final Operations Arundel

About the time that Vella Lavella was being secured, General Griswold’s forces on New Georgia were carrying out their part of Admiral Halsey’s plan by seizing Arundel and by shelling Kolombangara to seal it off. The attack on Arundel, which is separated from the west coast of New Georgia by Hathorn Sound and Diamond Narrows, proved again that it was all too easy to underestimate the Japanese capacity for resolute defense.

The 172nd Infantry invaded it on 27 August, but the Japanese fought so fiercely that the 27th Infantry, two battalions of the 169th Infantry, one company of the 103rd Infantry, B Company of the 82nd Chemical Battalion (4.2-inch mortars, in their South Pacific debut), the 43rd Reconnaissance Troop, and six Marine tanks had to be committed to keep the offensive going.

Resistance proved more intense than expected in part because the indefatigable Sasaki had not yet abandoned his hope of launching an offensive that would recapture Munda. On 8 September he sent the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, from Kolombangara to strengthen his forces on Arundel, and five days later, when Allied air and naval forces had practically cut the supply lines between Bougainville and Kolombangara and his troops faced starvation, he decided to attack Munda or Bairoko via Arundel and seize the Americans’ food. He therefore dispatched Colonel Tomonari (who was slain in the ensuing fight) and the rest of the 13th Infantry to Arundel on 14 September.

Thus the battle for Arundel lasted until 21 September, and ended then, with the Americans in control, only because Sasaki ordered all his Arundel troops to withdraw to Kolombangara.

The Japanese Evacuation

Sasaki had ordered the evacuation of Arundel because Imperial General Headquarters had decided to abandon the New Georgia Islands completely. While the Americans were seizing Munda airfield, the Japanese naval authorities in the Southeast Area realized that their hold on the central Solomons was tenuous. But they resolved to maintain the line of communications to Kolombangara, so that Sasaki’s troops could hold out as long as possible. If Sasaki could not hold out, the next best thing would be a slow, fighting withdrawal to buy time to build up defenses for a final stand on Bougainville.

Such events in early August as the fall of Munda and the Japanese defeat in Vella Gulf on 6-7 August precipitated another argument between Japanese Army and Navy officers over the relative strategic merits of New Guinea and the Solomons. This argument was resolved in Tokyo by the Imperial General Headquarters which decided to give equal priority to both areas. Tokyo sent orders to Rabaul on 13 August directing that the central Solomons hold out while Bougainville was strengthened, and that the central Solomons were to be abandoned in late September and early October. The decision to abandon New Georgia was not made known at once to General Sasaki.

Sasaki, with about twelve thousand men concentrated on Kolombangara, prepared elaborate defenses along the southern beaches and, as shown above, prepared plans for counterattacks. Finally on 15 September, after Sasaki had sent the 13thInfantry to Arundel, an 8th Fleet staff officer passed the word to get his troops out.

Southeastern Fleet, 8th Fleet, and Sasaki’s headquarters prepared the plans for the evacuation. A total of 12,435 men were to be moved. Eighteen torpedo boats, thirty-eight large landing craft, and seventy or eighty Army barges (daihatsus) were to be used.[N104-28] Destroyers were to screen the movement, aircraft would cover it, and cruisers at Rabaul would stand by in support.

[N104-28: 17th Army Operations, II, Japanese Monogr No. 40 (OCMH), 54, says 138 “large motor boats” were to be used; Southeast Area Naval Operations, II, Japanese Monogr No. 49 (OCMH), 52, lists 18 torpedo boats, 38 large landing barges, and about 70 Army craft]

The decision to use the daihatsus was logical, considering the destroyer losses in Vella Gulf and the success the nocturnal daihatsus had enjoyed. American PT boat squadrons, four in all, had been operating nightly against the enemy barges in New Georgian waters since late July, and had sunk several, but only a small percentage of the total. Destroyers and planes had also operated against them without complete success. The Japanese put heavier armor and weapons on their barges for defense against torpedo boats, which in turn replaced their torpedoes—useless against the shallow-draft barges—with 37-mm. antitank and 40-mm. antiaircraft guns. The barges were too evasive to be suitable targets for the destroyers’ 5-inch guns. Planes of all types, even heavy bombers, hunted them at sea, but the barges hid out in the daytime in carefully selected staging points. Those traveling by day covered themselves with palm trees and foliage so that from the air they resembled islets.

Sasaki ordered his troops off Gizo and Arundel; those on Arundel completed movement to Kolombangara by 21 September. The seaplane base at Rekata Bay on Santa Isabel and the outpost on Ganongga Island were also abandoned at this time. The evacuation of Kolombangara was carried out on the nights of 28-29 September, 1-2 October, and 2-3 October.

Admiral Wilkinson had anticipated that the enemy might try to escape during this period, the dark of the moon. Starting 22 September American cruisers and destroyers made nightly reconnaissance of the Slot north of Vella Lavella, but when Japanese submarines became active the cruisers were withdrawn. The destroyers attempted to break up the evacuation but failed because enemy planes and destroyers interfered. The Japanese managed to get some 9,400 men, or some 3,600 less than they had evacuated from Guadalcanal in February, safely off the island. Most of them were sent to southern Bougainville. Twenty-nine landing craft and torpedo boats were sunk, one destroyer was damaged, and sixty-six men were killed.

The final action in the New Georgia area was the Battle of Vella Lavella on the night of 6-7 October, when ten Japanese destroyers and twelve destroyer-transports and smaller craft came down to Vella Lavella to rescue the six hundred stranded men there. Facing odds of three to one, American destroyers engaged the Japanese warships northwest of Vella Lavella. One Japanese destroyer was sunk; one American destroyer was badly damaged and sank, and two more suffered damage. During the engagement the transports slipped in to Marquana Bay on northwest Vella Lavella and got the troops out safely.30 The last organized bodies of Japanese had left the New Georgia area.

When the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, landed at Ringi Cove on southern Kolombangara on the morning of 6 October, it found only forty-nine abandoned artillery pieces and some scattered Japanese who had been left behind. The long campaign—more than four months had elapsed since the Marines landed at Segi Point—was over.

Conclusion

New Georgia had been lengthy and costly. Planned as a one-division affair, it had used up elements of four divisions. It would be months before the 25th and 43rd Divisions were ready to fight again. American casualties totaled 1,094 dead, 3,873 wounded. These figures do not tell the complete story, for they count only men killed or wounded by enemy fire. They do not include casualties resulting from disease or from combat fatigue or war neuroses. For example the 172nd Infantry reported 1,550 men wounded or sick; the 169th Infantry, up to 5 August, suffered 958 nonbattle casualties. The 103rd Infantry had 364 “shelled-shocked” and 83 non-battle casualties.Japanese casualties are not known, but XIV Corps headquarters reported a count of enemy dead, exclusive of Vella Lavella, of 2,483.

The Allied soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors who suffered death, wounds, or illness, and those who fought in the campaign without injury, had served their cause well. New Georgia was a success. The bypassing of Kolombangara, though overshadowed by later bypasses and clouded by the fact that the bypassed troops escaped, was a satisfactory demonstration of the technique; the seizure of Vella Lavella provided Halsey’s forces with a good airfield for a much lower price in blood than an assault on Kolombangara. The Allies swiftly built another airfield at Ondonga Peninsula on New Georgia. This gave them four—Munda, Barakoma, Ondonga, and Segi. The first three, the most used, brought all Bougainville within range of Allied fighters. When South Pacific forces invaded the island, they could pick an undefended place and frustrate the Japanese efforts to build up Bougainville’s defenses and delay the Allies in New Georgia.

The New Georgia operation is also significant as a truly joint operation, and it clearly illustrates the interdependence of air, sea, and ground forces in oceanic warfare. Victory was made possible only by the close co-ordination of air, sea, and ground operations. Air and sea forces fought hard and finally successfully to cut the enemy lines of communication while the ground troops clawed their way forward to seize objectives intended for use by the air and sea forces in the next advance.

Unity of command, established from the very start, was continued stood off nearly four Allied divisions in throughout with obvious wholehearted-the course of the action, and then success by all responsible commanders. Successfully evacuated 9,400 men to fight No account of the operation should again. The obstinate General Sasaki, who be brought to a close without praising disappears from these pages at this point, the skill, tenacity, and valor of the deserved his country’s gratitude for his heavily outnumbered Japanese who gallant and able conduct of the defense.

SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Munda Trail (9); XIV Corps Offensive

World War Two: North Africa (6-28); Gafsa, Maknassy, and El Guettar (17-25 March)

18 Army Group’s Plan for II Corps The operations by II Corps in March were intended to accomplish a threefold purpose. Headquarters, First Army, issued a formal directive prescribing the corps mission shortly before II Corps passed to 18 Army Group’s direct control, The II Corps was to draw off reserves from the enemy forces facing the Eighth Army; to regain firm control of forward airfields from which to furnish assistance to Eighth Army; and to establish a forward maintenance center from which mobile forces of Eighth Army could draw supplies in order to maintain the momentum of their advance. This prospective supply point was to be established at Gafsa, which the II Corps was to retrieve from an Italian garrison by an attack to start not later than 15 March.

Troops not required for the defense of Gafsa could then demonstrate toward Maknassy as a menace to the enemy’s line of communications along the coast. In the meantime, the passes in the Western Dorsal from Sbiba southwestward to EI Ma el Abiod were to be firmly held, while the airfields at Thelepte, in front of the Allied defensive line, were to be regained for the use of Allied fighter units. Of the enemy’s combat troops, AFHQ estimated that 45,100 Germans and 28,000 Italians were in the Mareth-Matmata defenses, and 11,400 German and 12,800 Italians in the Gabes-Gafsa-Chott Position area. The garrison at Gafsa, with security forces to the west of it, amounted, AFHQ thought, to 7,100 Italians of the Centauro Division; eastward, from Sened to Maknassy were only 800 German and 750 Italian combat troops. If this appraisal of the opposing forces was correct, the enemy would be forced to send reserves to try to stop the II Corps. The American forces had chiefly to avoid being caught in a weak situation during an enemy spoiling attack or by a counterattack provoked by an initial American success. They were not expected to advance southeast of Gafsa.

The plans of 18 Army Group for the II Corps prescribed a subsidiary role which naturally disappointed its more confident American officers. The directive in effect prohibited an American advance to the sea and envisaged a hesitating movement subject at all times to 18 Army Group’s approval, a program which indicated lack of confidence in the capacity of II Corps to execute a full-scale operation on its own responsibility. The higher echelons of command apparently considered the capabilities of the American units to be only partly developed. The February setback had revealed deficiencies and had presumably shaken the morale of participants. The forthcoming operations were therefore designed to permit small successes and the application of training lessons taught in battle schools instituted by 18 Army Group during the preceding fortnight. A few such victories, it was hoped, even though minor, would bring the performance of American units up to the required level by developing their capacities and fortifying their self-respect.

But the Americans, particularly the more aggressive ones like the new corps commander, General Patton, tugged against the restraining leash from the start. Both 18 Army Group and Army Group Africa thought of the area in which the II Corps would undertake its March offensive operations as the deep northwestern flank of the Axis forces in the coastal region south of Gabes. A potential Allied thrust from the Tebessa area had available two major avenues of approach. The main route ran through the mountain-walled valley, north of the chotts. This valley could be entered at Gafsa and followed to either a southeastern or northeastern exit. The second route lay just to the north of that valley, and was separated from it by the long mountain ridge between Gafsa and Mezzouna. It too was protected throughout its eastern half by a mountain screen, for north of the ridge between Gafsa and Mezzouna a loop of somewhat lower hills extended between Djebel Goussa (625), near Station de Sened, and Djebel Zebbeus (451 ), north of Maknassy. The Allied forces intending to proceed along either of these avenues would necessarily begin by taking Gafsa.

That oasis was the key. It lay in an exposed position, from a military standpoint, and had changed hands several times. When Field Marshal Rommel broke off his February offensive, he left there elements of Division Centauro which were linked with the main body of Fifth Panzer Army by small forward defense units in the Faid-Maknassy area, and with the Army Group Africa reserves nearer Gabes. Whether in Allied or Axis possession, Gafsa was near the outer end of a line of communications, and correspondingly vulnerable. Tebessa was eighty-four miles to the northwest, while Sbeitla, either via Feriana and Kasserine, or by way of Bir el Hafey, was almost as far to the north. Faid pass, on the other hand, was seventy-two miles northeast by the most direct highway, and Maknassy was fifty miles east-northeast. Although American troops were relatively familiar with part of this area, they knew the Gafsa-Gabes valley chiefly from the maps, on which important topographical features were inexactly represented. Initially, Operation WOP, as the II Corps designated the undertaking, did not provide for sending American troops, except defensive and reconnaissance forces, beyond Gafsa into this valley. The 1st Infantry Division was to make the attack on Gafsa, with the 1st Armored Division initially protecting the northeastern flank of the advance, while troops of the French Southeast Algerian Command were to operate on the other flank south of the line Metlaoui-Djebel Berda (926).

If II Corps should continue toward Maknassy, an advance contemplated as the second phase of the attack, its elements would be on both sides of the mountain ridge extending between Gafsa and Mezzouna. At its western end the bare and rugged slopes of Djebel Orbata (1165) rose abruptly to a crest of about 3,500 feet. The contours of this somewhat twisting ridge softened, and the crests were lower, along its eastern half. Trails through its deeply eroded gulches and defiles were narrow and few. Contact between the two forces on either side would be restricted to the barest minimum from Gafsa to Sened village, that is, about halfway to Maknassy, and from that point to the tip of Djebel Bou Douaou (753), five miles east of Maknassy, would be severely limited. Simultaneous attacks along both sides of the ridge would have to be relatively independent of each other.

The Corps Plan: Operation WOP

General Patton took over command from General Fredendall at Djebel Kouif on the morning of 6 March, after conferences with Generals Eisenhower and Smith in Algiers and with his new superior, General Alexander, and others in Constantine. Time before the operation was to begin was already short, and plans and preparations had to be expedited and co-ordinated. The tentative plans for II Corps, 1st Infantry Division, and 1st Armored Division, were considered in a commanders’ conference on 8 March 1943, and with some minor modifications, were then approved by the new commanding general. General Alexander and the Chief of Staff, 18 Army Group, General McCreery, spent the next two days at II Corps headquarters while inspecting the principal elements of the corps. D Day was set back from 15 March to 17 March, closer to the Eighth Army’s scheduled attack, by army group orders of 13 March, despite Patton’s apprehensions that the enemy might strike first. The II Corps’ role in the forthcoming army group operations was, Patton decided, to be like that of Stonewall Jackson in the Second Battle of Manassas. The corps was to conduct a flank battle which would assist Eighth Army to break through enemy lines, as Jackson had aided Longstreet’s corps.

[NOTE 6-29NA2: (1) Patton Diary, 13 Mar 43. (2) The II Corps staff then included the following: chief of staff, Brigadier General Hugh J. Gaffey; G-l, Colonel Samuel L. Myers; G-2, Colonel B. A. Dickson; G-3, Colonel Kent C. Lambert; G-4, Colonel Robert W. Wilson; artillery, Colonel Charles E. Hart; antiaircraft, Colonel Robert H. Krueger. The staff of the 1st Armored Division included: chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Grant A. Williams; G-l, Lieutenant Colonel Loris R. Cochran; G-2, Lieutenant Colonel M. M. Brown; G-3, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton H. Howze; G-4, Lieutenant Colonel Percy H. Brown, Jr.; artillery, Colonel Robert V. Maraist. The staff of the 1st Infantry Division included: assistant division commander, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.; chief of staff, Colonel Stanhope B. Mason; G-l, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ware; G-2, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Porter, Jr.; G-3, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Gibb; G-4, Lieutenant Colonel C. M. Eymer; artillery, Brigadier General Clift Andrus. • Patton Diary, 14 Mar 43.]

The Axis top command had recognized the Allied threat to the garrison at Gafsa but discounted it a few days before the attack, after Kesselring’s assurances to Mussolini that the place was in no danger. The force there was strong, he declared, and the approaches were very heavily mined. Kesselring, in the same spirit of optimism, also advised the Duce to expect a defensive success even at the Mareth Position, where the British attack was expected as soon as the moon turned full. General von Arnim thought well of a project to make a swift spoiling attack through Gafsa as far, perhaps, as Tozeur. At his prompting, General Hildebrandt went to El Guettar and on beyond Gafsa toward Feriana on the morning of 15 March, arranging tentatively with General Calvi de Bergolo for an attack by his 21st Panzer Division and part of Division Centauro to take place about 19 March, and to extend to Feriana and MetIaoul.

The II Corps on 15 March consisted of the 1st, 9th, and 34th Infantry Divisions, the 1st Armored Division, the 13th Field Artillery Brigade (Brigadier General John A. Crane) and the seven battalions of the 1st Tank Destroyer Group (Colonel Burrowes G. Stevens), which had been parceled out to the four divisions and to corps reserves, plus corps troops-in all, 88,287 men. [NOTE 6-11NA] Army group retained control of the 9th Division (minus Combat Team 60), the 34th Division, and the 13th Field Artillery Brigade.

For training, 75 officers and 175 enlisted men of the U.S. 2nd Armored and U.S. 3rd Infantry Divisions were attached to II Corps. British raiding parties from Eighth Army were active in front of II Corps behind the enemy’s lines, while in the general area of the road through Bir el Hafey to Sidi Bou Zid and in the mountains to the south, two squadrons of the Derbyshire Yeomanry under II Corps control engaged in energetic reconnaissance.

[NOTE 6-11NA: (1) 1st TD Gp Outline Plan WOP, as given in M5g 1355, 12 Mar 43, Entry 64, in II Corps G-3 jnl. This lists the following tank destroyer battalions: 6015t attached to the lst Infantry Division, 701st and i76th attached to the 1st Armored Division, 811th attached to the 14th Infantry Division, 894th attached to the 9th Infantry Division, 805th and 899th in II Corps [(‘serves. (2) II Corps AAR,2 May 43, App. A,]

In the seizure of Gafsa, General Allen’s reunited 1st Infantry Division was to be reinforced by the 1st Ranger Battalion and by several battalions of field artillery and tank destroyers. Elements of General Ward’s 1st Armored Division, with Combat Team 60 attached, had the initial mission of providing protection against Axis attacks from the directions of Sidi Bou Zid or Maknassy.

Meanwhile the two reinforced divisions completed preparations behind the main line of defense at the Western Dorsal, which General Ryder’s 34th Infantry Division held in the Sbiba sector and General Eddy’s 9th Infantry Division (less the 60th Combat Team), from Kasserine to EI Mael Abiod. General Allen’s command was scheduled to approach Gafsa via Feriana on the night preceding its 17 March attack. General Wards forces were to emerge through Kasserine pass and via Thelepte move to an assembly area east of Djebel Souinia (679), near the Gafsa·Sidi Bou Zid road.

The spring rains began falling heavily a few days before 17 March, filling the gullies, soaking the ground, and confining heavy vehicles to the roads. The II Corps sent a provisional detached armored flank force to the Sbeitla area under command of Colonel Clarence C. Benson, Commanding Officer, 13th Armored Regiment, on the night of 14-15 March, while Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division started by daylight on 16 March to make certain of reaching its positions in time for the next day’s attack. The 19th Combat Engineers had in only three days graded a new dirt road from the vicinity of Thelepte directly to the Gafsa-Sidi Bou Zid road. This new route, named “the Welvert road,” was used by General Ward’s units. The 1st Engineer Battalion lifted some 2,000 mines along the routes of approach beyond Feriana used by General Allen’s attacking elements.

The Occupation of Gafsa

General Allen’s plan for taking Gafsa, in this first operation by his whole division against Axis troops, was thorough. Division intelligence estimates of the defending forces likely to be found there ran to only two battalions of infantry, one or two of field artillery, up to two companies of tanks, and a military police battalion-all Italian. The enemy troops at Gafsa could summon reinforcements from El Guettar (one infantry battalion), and from the stations along the railroad to Maknassy, or from the Faid area.

Within one day, troops from as far away as Gabes could be brought to Gafsa, provided they were not needed for the impending Mareth battle. But the enemy garrison at Gafsa was expected only to delay the American advance and then to fall back to prepared positions in the mountains either toward Gabcs or toward Maknassy. No enemy counterattack was deemed likely unless the Mareth Position was abandoned. Indeed, road traffic observed just before the day of the attack indicated that most of the Gafsa force had already withdrawn.

Following a half hour’s air bombardment, regimental combat teams of the 16th (Colonel d’ Alary Fechet) and 18th Infantry (Colonel Frank U. Greer) and one reinforced battalion of the 26th Infantry (Colonel George A. Taylor) were to make the assault. Five complete battalions of field artillery and one battalion of antiaircraft artillery were to be employed. The 1st Ranger Battalion would be ready, after first supporting the cast flank, to reconnoiter to El Guettar and to seize an area from which, subsequently, Combat Team 26 might attack beyond that village. Following the assault, the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion was to be ready to intervene south of Gafsa against any enemy mechanized forces that might arrive there next day. The 1st Armored Division would hold one combat command of three battalions ready to furnish support from the Station de Zannouch area. Participation by the 13th Field Artillery Brigade and by the 1st Battalion, 213th Coast Artillery (AA), was to be under corps control.

In preparation for the attack the 1st Infantry Division made an approach march of about forty-five miles during the night of 16-17 March, one that was executed speedily and on a close schedule. The attacking elements detrucked north of the Gafsa area before daylight. The artillery was ready to support an assault at 0800, but the infantry was held back until 1000, despite the enemy’s visible retreat, to await a scheduled preparatory air bombardment. By noon, 17 March, the 18th Infantry had reached the eastern edge of Gafsa; shortly thereafter Company I, 16th Infantry, was leading the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, into the village from the northwest; and the 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry (reinforced), was near the western limit. They had overrun enemy security detachments and although mines and booby traps were plentiful, they found Gafsa to be free of defenders. While 1st Armored Division reconnaissance entered Station de Zannouch northeast of Gafsa on the route to Maknassy, reconnaissance and outpost forces of the 1st Infantry Division continued toward EI Guettar and Djebel Mdilla. At Mdilla they made contact with some French troops, after initially mistaking them for an enemy group. The seizure of Gafsa was an encouraging exercise rather than a hard battle like those in which the 1st Infantry Division was later to earn fame.

During 18-19 March, a period marked by drenching rainstorms, the entire division occupied the place and organized for defense against counterattack or air bombardment. At the same time the 1st Ranger Battalion occupied El Guettar on 18 March and sent patrols to establish contact with the enemy who was holding prepared defense positions behind the Keddab wadi.

The Seizure of Station de Sened

The situation at Gafsa justified General Patton on 18 March in concluding that the second phase of the II Corps’ attack could be undertaken next day. While the 1st Infantry Division organized Gafsa strongly for defense, the 1st Armored Division (reinforced) could be committed to the seizure of Station de Sened. The bulk of General Ward’s division was already in areas selected with a view both to defense against incursion from the northeast and to the concentration needed to attack Station de Sened.

Although some elements, and in particular Benson’s armored task force directly under II Corps control, were in the vicinity of Sbeitla, and Combat Command B (Robinett) was near Bir el Hafey, Combat Command A (McQuillin) was in the Zannouch area and Combat Command C (Stack) with the 60th Combat Team (de Rohan) were southeast of Djebel Souinia. It was General Ward’s intention to bring Combat Command A northeastward along the railroad line from Gafsa toward Station de Sened in conjunction with an approach by Combat Command C and Combat Team 60 over hills north of the objective. But if the military situation near Gafsa permitted an immediate start of the second undertaking, the weather made postponement unavoidable. Much against his wishes, General Patton was forced to accept the fact that the mud had made an armored attack on 19 March out of the question.

[NOTE 679NA2: (1) II Corps AAR, 10 Apr 43. (2) Patton Diary, 19 Mar 43. (3) Msg, Entry 181, in II Corps G-3 J nl. This message reports the presence at Sbeitla at 1930, 14 March, of the following units of the 1st Armored Division: the 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (mediums); the 68th Field Artillery Battalion; Company A, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company C, 16th Armored Engineers (C). By an agreement between Generals Ward and Eddy, the 84th Field Artillery Battalion was to remain at Sbeitla. The 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry (9th Division), was already there. The 81st Reconnaissance Battalion moved to the area east and southeast of Sbeitla.]

Streams were full to overflowing. The earth was soggy and in many places there were extensive shallow pools. Bivouac areas were flooded. The soft roads were quickly cut into deep ruts by heavy trucks or churned into a viscous blanket by tank tracks. Travel cross-country became impossible for wheeled vehicles. Indeed, to assist them in reaching the roads from their parks required extraordinary effort and much extra time. The weather’s one compensation was the fact that it restrained enemy air activity.

While most of the 1st Armored Division remained immobilized on 19 March, Patton drove through the downpour to review the situation with Ward and Robinett. He was enthusiastic and confident, concerned only that the enemy should not be given opportunity for a spoiling attack while the Americans waited for conditions to be wholly satisfactory. He would have preferred to have the attack on Station de Sened made by as much infantry and artillery as could be moved on tracked vehicles rather than to wait for full co-ordination between the elements approaching Station de Sened from the north and McQuillin’s armored force from Zannouch. Ward’s orders for the attack to be made early on 20 March were issued to McQuillin, de Rohan, and Stack, while Robinett shifted his forces southwestward to the divisional assembly area, and Benson, under II Corps’ control, took up the position north and east of Djebel el Hafey (682) thus vacated by Combat Command B.

The plan of attack involved a march extremely taxing for de Rohan’s combat team. It was to climb the western slopes of Djebel Goussa to reach the dominating terraces along its southern face, which rises abruptly some 600 feet above the floor of the valley, in order to take the enemy’s hill positions from the rear. From the heights, the attacking force could command the entrenched positions which the enemy had constructed on the flats below them near Station de Sened. At the same time, Combat Command C would be crossing a difficult series of ridges and shoulders at the southwestern extremity of the Djebel Madjoura (874) across a valley from Djebel Goussa, protecting the northeastern flank and giving fire support. Its objective was the exit (three miles north of Station de Sened) from this valley to the broad Maknassy Valley, Working together, the 60th Combat Team and Stack’s force would be able either to cut off the enemy force defending Station de Sened or to compel it to hasten its retreat in order to avoid encirclement.

McQuillin’s armored force, which would at the same time attack the enemy with infantry and artillery from the west, might be the beneficiary of the outflanking movement by Stack’s and de Rohan’s commands, Combat Team 60 (9th Infantry Division) then consisted of: the 60th Infantry Regiment; the 60th Field Artillery Battalion; Company C, 15th Engineers: Company C, 9th Medical Battalion; three platoons, 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP): detachment, 9th Signal Company; Provisional Truck Company, Headquarters, 60th Infantry.

[NOTE 6-100NA: (1) Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, then consisted of the following: the 6th Armored Infantry (less the 2nd and 3rd Battalions): the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored; the 68th Field Artillery Battalion; Company B, 16th Engineers. It was reinforced for later operations east of Maknassy } the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry; the 58th Field Artillery Battalion: and Company B, 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion. (2) CCC 1st Armd Div AAR, 18 Apr 43. (3) 60th Inf Hist, 1943.]

General Ward’s plan for the seizure of Station de Sened worked in general as he had foreseen. The 60th Combat Team approached Djebel Goussa during the night of 19-20 March and throughout the next day pushed to the heights while Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, was gaining its objective somewhat earlier and holding positions from which to support Combat Team 60, if necessary. By evening of the same day Combat Command A had struggled from Zannouch to a mine field west of Station de Sened. The enemy was driven out by artillery fire, some fleeing northeastward at dawn of 21 March into the path of Combat Command C, which took seventy-nine prisoners and two 47 -mm. guns after a brief engagement. Another part of the garrison took refuge at Sened village, where it finally surrendered on 23 March to Company G, 60th Infantry, supported by elements of the 91st Field Artillery Battalion. A few escaped from Sened to Sakket on the other side of the mountains only to be captured there by troops of the 1st Infantry Division. Station de Sened had thus been taken on 21 March by maneuver rather than by storm, and without the losses normally to be expected in a frontal attack. But the exertion left the infantry, particularly of the 60th Combat Team, too tired to begin another attack effectively.

The Advance Beyond Maknassy

The capture of Gafsa and Station de Sened left only a demonstration to be made toward Maknassy, twenty miles farther east in order to complete execution of 18 Army Group’s original instructions to II Corps. But those instructions had already been changed. On 19 March, Patton returned to his headquarters in Feriana after his rain drenched visit to the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division to find General McCreery, Chief of Staff, 18 Army Group, with General Alexander’s new plans and orders for II Corps. The Corps was now to seize the high ground east of Maknassy and to send a light armored raiding party to the Mezzouna airfields to destroy enemy installations there. No large forces, however, were to pass beyond a line extending from Gafsa through Maknassy heights, Faid, and Fondouk el Aouareb. Later, after the British Eighth Army had passed up the coast beyond Maknassy, the II Corps was to be reduced by the transfer of its U.S. 9th Infantry Division to relieve the British 46th Division on the far northern flank and to operate under British 5 Corps within British First Army. The 34th Infantry Division would at about the same time sideslip to the north in order to attack Fondouk el Aouareb gap along the axis Maktar-Pichon.

It thus appeared that after the enemy had moved north of Fondouk el Aouareb, the II Corps would be faced with the ignominious prospect of being pinched out of the Allied line. These instructions would not only prohibit any American advance to the sea but would confine the role of II Corps to merely threatening the enemy’s western flank without ever actually attempting to cut him off; they would also prevent the corps, except for 9th Infantry Division, from participating in the last stage of the campaign. In accordance with orders, the II Corps sent attacking forces not only to Maknassy but to a defile east of El Guettar, on the southern side of Djebel Orbata, the purpose being- to draw off enemy troops which might otherwise strengthen the defense of the Mareth Position. There the main attack was to begin, it will be remembered, on the night of 20-21 March.

On 21 March General Patton drove to General McQuillin’s command post in order to hurry Combat Command A to a hill mass five miles northeast of Station de Sened which appeared to the corps commander a possible place of advantage which must be denied to Maknassy’s defenders. At the same time, Combat Command C moved northeastward, along a camel trail, and then swung south to reach the main route from Station de Sened to Maknassy at a point about halfway between the two places. For a stretch, Combat Command B followed, but instead of turning south, continued eastward in the valley to an area from which to guard the northern flank of the attack on Maknassy, and assist in preparatory artillery fire on the village. The exhausted troops of the 60th Combat Team, meanwhile, assembled just north of Sened station.

Advance elements of Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, approached Maknassy before midnight and subjected the place to an interdictory shelling, hoping to discourage the enemy from laying mines and booby traps before withdrawing. Colonel Stack received reinforcements during the night and disposed these troops for the approaching action. Not until 0715 next morning did reconnaissance discover that Maknassy was free of the enemy, whom some of the inhabitants declared to have withdrawn onto the hills near the road to Mezzouna, east of the village.

General Ward was then faced with a critical choice. He could attempt to occupy the hills five miles east of Maknassy in a daylight attack without waiting to reorganize or to prepare for stiff resistance. Enemy aviation could strike from airfields only a few minutes away, as it had during the battles along the Medjerda river in November and December. If General Ward waited until fully ready, the enemy might be able to strengthen his hold on the hill position controlling the exit from the Maknassy to the Mezzouna side of the mountains, so that the effort to dislodge him would be difficult and costly. The incentive to take great risks was slight, because of the orders the Americans were then operating under to threaten the Axis line of communications but not to commit any large force beyond the hills. Ward decided to make a deliberate, soundly organized attack. Although there is a certain amount of inconclusive evidence that this choice was approved at the time by General Patton, the stronger evidence is to the contrary, and Patton was later to conclude that the choice had been founded upon considerations which were unduly defensive in character, and to condemn himself for not having gone forward that day to urge on the advance.

18 Army Group Revises II Corps Mission, 22 March At this point, the role of the II Corps was again modified. On 21 March General Montgomery, when he recognized that the Eighth Army would be engaged for several days in trying to breach the main Mareth Position near the coast, and before he decided to shift the principal effort to the El Hamma gap, suggested to General Alexander that the U.S. II Corps could be of substantial assistance by a strong armored thrust through Maknassy to cut the Sfax-Gabes road. At 18 Army Group, such a project was considered to be too ambitious, particularly in view of the likelihood that the 10th Panzer Division would intervene during its execution. But General Alexander issued instructions to II Corps on 22 March to prepare for a possible effort to disrupt the enemy’s line of communications and destroy his supply dumps southwest of Mahares. General Patton was to make ready a strong mobile column for such a mission.

Meanwhile, the limited missions of the 1st Armored Division east of Maknassy and of the 1st Infantry Division east of EI Guettar remained unchanged. Only the tempo was accelerated somewhat. That afternoon General Patton gave oral instructions to General Ward to seize the heights from Meheri Zebbeus, north of Maknassy, to Djebel Bou Douaou, southeast of it; to organize and occupy that ground; to send a light mobile armored force to raid the Mezzouna airfields; and, in addition, to prepare a second armored force and keep it in readiness to harry the enemy’s lines of communications in the vicinity of Mahares, more than fifty miles east of Maknassy on the coast. Patton directed that the attack be made that night.

The enemy had already recognized the operations by Eighth Army and U.S. II Corps as concentric attacks upon General Messe’s First Italian Army. Kesselring decided to commit the reserves of the Fifth Panzer Army in holding the heights east of Maknassy and to release the 10th Panzer Division from Army Group Africa reserve, for a counterattack toward Gafsa under the control of General Cramer’s Headquarters, German Africa Corps. Colonel Dickson, G-2, II Corps, correctly concluded on 22 March that an attack by the 10th Panzer Division was imminent, either at Maknassy or El Guettar, and General Patton acted accordingly.

The day’s reconnaissance on 22 March confirmed the reports by inhabitants of Maknassy village that the enemy had retreated into the hills, or beyond. The main ridges of the Eastern Dorsal at this southeastern extremity are in the pattern of a large figure 5, with Maknassy directly south of the vertical stem and about five miles from the heights which form the curving section.

Djebel Zebbeus (451) and Djebel Djebs No.1 (369) are north of Maknassy. Djebel Dribica (209), Djebel Naemia (322), Djebel Bou Douaou (1753), and Djebel Bou Hedma (790) form the semicircle, with the latter’s long ridges extending far to the southwest of Maknassy. Between Djebel Djebs No.1 and Djebel Dribica, the Leben wadi, crossed by a railroad and by a highway bridge north of the village, drains from the Maknassy plain to the coastal flats. With its tributaries, the Leben wadi forms a lengthy tank obstacle north and northwest of Maknassy. Djebel Dribica leads southeasterly to Hill 322 on Djebel Naemia, with which it is connected by an L-shaped ridge.

The road and the railroad from Maknassy to Mezzouna and Mahares run side by side over the southern shoulder of Djebel Naemia, except for a distance of nearly two miles through an opening between Hill 322 and a second Djebel Djebs, where the railroad loops less than a mile south of the road. This Djebel Djebs No.2 (312) rises east of a broader gap between Hill 322 and Djebel Bou Douaou, like a stopper barely removed from a bottle, and is admirably situated to control movement through the defiles northwest or southwest of it. Djebel Bou Douaou and Djebel Bou Hedma extend south and west with crests somewhat higher than Maknassy’s other neighboring hills and with good observation of the “Gumtree road” running along their southern bases from El Guettar to Mahares.

Combat Command B’s reconnaissance observed a few groups of enemy vehicles pulling back through the gaps northeast of B, 1st Armored Division, on reconnaissance, Maknassy valley, MAknassy, and drew artillery fire from the yicinity of Meheri Zebbeus; but along the route of the road and railroad, the enemy kept out of sight.

Enemy Defense of Maknassy Pass,23-25 March

At 1415 on 22 March General Ward issued written orders for an assault at 2330 that night. a2 He specified that Colonel Stack’s forces should attack Djebel Dribica and Hill 322 north of the pass and Djebel Djebs (2), beyond and southeast of it, while Combat Team 60 (-) simultaneously gained control of Djebel Bou Douaou. He directed Combat Command B (General Robinett) to protect the northern flank in the vicinity of Djebel Zebbeus and the upper reaches of the Leben wadi. Of the two bare and rocky hills north of the pass, Djebel Dribica seemed the more imposing obstacle and was assigned to the more experienced 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (Colonel Kern), while Hill 322 on Djebel Naemia was to be taken by the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel John J. Toffey, Jr.), attached to Combat Command C. This battalion was still weary from climbing Djebel Goussa near Station de Sened, and from trying for most of the day to work through traffic-clogged roads to the assembly area after a night move toward Maknassy.

The attack beyond Maknassy was too late and too weak. The two battalions under Colonel de Rohan, to be sure, met no opposition in securing Djebel Bou Douaou, and next morning were ordered to occupy the area north of it as far as the road and railroad, and to assist by fire the southern wing of Combat Command C. On the northern flank after a three-battalion artillery preparation of thirty minutes duration, the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, took Djebrl Dribica in competent fashion against only light opposition. But the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, found that Diebel Naemia, with Hill 322 in the center, was by far the most strongly defended area. A mine field barred the approach to the crest, and was covered by concentrated fire from well placed machine guns both on the hill ahead and on adjacent slopes to the right and left. One company commander was killed. The battalion commander went forward to reconnoiter and was pinned down. The attack stopped. The men dug in to wait for daylight.

Next morning, 23 March, the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, pressed forward again. This time the attack was supported by the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, and by fire from the remainder of Combat Team 60, across the road. ] just as the enemy was beginning to fall back in the belief that the Americans were breaking through, Colonel Lang reached the battlefield and was able to make the small German force hold on until the first reinforcements arrived. At about the same time, on the Allied side, Colonel Toffey was wounded. The German force that held the vital Hill 322 was Rommel’s former personal guard. At the time of the imminent break-through it had been reduced to only eighty infantrymen. At another critical juncture the covering fire of a few tanks aided the enemy to occupy positions along the eastern edge of Djebel Dribica. Hill 322, dominating the pass, remained the objective of a succession of American attacks that evening, including one supported by four artillery battalions. Success seemed so likely that routes were reconnoitered for a light armored force preparing to raid the Mezzouna airfields during the night of 23-24 March.

After the first attacks were stalled on Hill 322, a stronger force concentrated for an assault at 0700, 24 March. Three battalions of infantry, supported by two companies of tanks and four battalions of artillery, plus some 75-mm. tank destroyers, attacked the defenders from the north, west, and south. The 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, on the west, and the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (less Company I), on the south, received direct supporting fire from a company of medium tanks, while the 1st Battalion plus companies G and I, 6th Armored Infantry, was protected by others on its eastern flank as it attacked along the ridges from the north.

[NOTE: The reinforcements hastily thrown into the threatened sector were elements of Kampfgruppe Lang (Colonel Lang, commanding officer of the 69th Panzer Grenadier Regimen(. 10th Panzer Division).These German units were nominally under General Imperiali’s 50th Special Brigade. See Fifth Panzer Army, KTB, 23 Mar 43, and is # D–166 (Lang), Part II.]

Throughout the night the enemy had been digging in while small groups of reinforcements built up his total number to an estimated 350. The Americans, their difficulties greatly increased because of the enemy’s excellent air-ground co-operation, were unable to dislodge these troops after hard ground fighting. Continued failure to gain Hill 322 threatened to frustrate that part of the mission assigned to II Corps which appealed most to General Patton. He had protested to General Eisenhower the prohibition On American advance beyond Fondouk el Aouareb. He probably counted on the raiding party from Maknassy to Mezzouna to demonstrate that if such an advance were authorized, it could lead to even bigger successes, and for that reason had instructed General Ward to prepare for an as yet unauthorized aggressive action in the area near Mahares. 

[NOTE: (1) Kampfgruppe Lang, sent to this area by Fifth Panzer Army on 22 March 1943, began arriving next day, and by 26 March consisted of: Regimental Staff and 1st Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment; 1st Battalion, 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment; 26th Africa Battalion; nine Mark VI plus fifteen Mark III and IV tanks of 501 st Panzer Battalion; 580th Reconnaissance Battalion; about thirty men from Kasla O. B. (Rommel) and one company of Kesselring’s headquarters guards, and of artillery, 9th Battery, 90th Artillery Regiment; one battery of Italian 105’s; two bat· teries of 210-mm. mortars supported by one 170-mm. gun; two batteries of 88-mm. dual-purpose Flak guns; and one platoon of 20·mm. antiaircraft guns. Hq, Fifth Panzer Army, KTB, 26 Mar 43. MS # D-166 (Lang), Part II. (2) Lang was correctly identified and his units ascertained in the 18 Army Group Appreciation, 2000, 25 March 1943. (3) Kampfgruppe Lang passed to the command of Headquarters, DAK (Cramer), on 28 March 1943. “Rpt, 1st Armd Div to II Corps, 1420, 24 Mar 43, Entry 211, in II Corps G-3 Jnl. ‘” (1) Patton Diary, 22 March 1943, says that he sent General Bradley to Algiers on this mission. (2) Bradley, A Soldier’s Slor}’, pp. 56-58, says that Bradley obtained Patton’s permission to go.]

He returned from the greatly extended 1st Infantry Division, where he had spent much of 24 March, to discover that Ward’s attack on the narrower front east of Maknassy was still unsuccessful. The tanks had thrown their tracks on the rough and rocky ground and had been of minor service. The infantry had lacked the impetus to carry the attack through to success. One estimate of the time still needed to get the pass was twenty-four hours. The enemy was described as “obviously moving to concentrate” on the 1st Armored Division’s front and as stepping up the pace of his frequent air attacks. General Ward made a request for “all available air cover for our troops moving up now, and for active reconnaissance, and strafing of the enemy moving up on our front this p. m. and tomorrow.

Calling General Ward to the telephone, General Patton ordered him personally to lead an attack next morning which had to succeed. The orders were partially carried out, for the division commander did lead an attack by three battalions of the 6th Armored Infantry, which began without artillery preparation, and won a brief success.

But they could not hold the hill under heavy fire from German mortars, machine guns, and artillery. By noon, 25 March, General Ward decided that he must suspend the attack while the troops recovered from near exhaustion and reorganized. In view of the enemy’s decision to concentrate mobile armored elements against the weakening American forces of the 1st Infantry Division east of El Guettar, II Corps ordered a provisional armored protecting force under Colonel Benson to be shifted to the vicinity of Gafsa. H The initiative at Maknassy was allowed to pass to the enemy while the situation east of El Guettar was being corrected.

The 1st Infantry Division Holds the Enemy Near El Guettar

The 1st Infantry Division’s part in the operations specified by 18 Army Group’s instructions of 19 March was an attack east of El Guettar along the Gumtree road south of the Gafsa-Melzouna mountains, to be launched after the 1st Armored Division had neutralized Station de Sened. This drive easterly from El Guettar was to be made down the great valley on a front which furnished a severe test of tactical efficiency and which broadened beyond the capacities of a single infantry division to defend or control.

From Gafsa to El Guettar, the road curves around the southwestern portion of Djebel Orbata (1165) and runs along its southern base past the Chott el Guettar to a road fork some twelve miles distant from Gafsa. At this fork, the road to Gabes branches off to the southeast, passing between the Djebel Berda (926) complex on the south and jumbled hills at the north which rise to the horseshoe-shaped Djebel cl Mchehat (482). The other branch, Gumtree road, continues along the southern base of Djebel Orbata and the ridge of which it is a part, and strikes across the coastal plain north of the Sebkret en Noual to Mahares on the sea coast. Three miles east of the El Guettar road fork, the Gumtree road enters a long narrow defile between a spur of the Djebel Orbata and the Djebel el Ank (621). Near the eastern end of the defile are the village of Bou Hamran and the junction with a track which leads through the mountain hamlet of Sakket and over the ridge to the village of Sened.

[NOTE: H ( 1) MS)2;, Col Akers to Col Benson, 2000, 21 Mar 43, Entry 56, in II Corps G~3 Jnl. (2) II Corps AAR, 24-25 Mar 43, 10 Apr 43. The provisional force, consisted of a battalion of medium tanks, a battalion of artillery, and a battalion of infantry.]

The 1st Infantry Division was expected to capture the defile at Djebel el Ank and to press eastward along the Gumtree road. It could not advance very far without becoming vulnerable to an attack up the road from Gabes on the southern side of Djebel cl Meheltat, an attack which could strike the division on the flank and either cut it off from Gafsa or force a withdrawl The road to Gabes was connected with the Gumtree road by a dirt road through El Hafay at the northeastern end of Djebel Chemsi (790) some twenty-five miles east of EI Guettar. A force from either Gabes or from a point much farther north could therefore approach El Guettar from the southeast, via the Gumtree road and its El Hafay connection with the Gabes-Gafsa road. The 10th Panzer Division, once it had assembled, could strike either at Maknassy or toward El Guettar and, if the latter, then by either the Gabes road or the Djebel el Ank defile.

After a day of reconnaissance, observation, and preparations, the 1st Infantry Division opened its attack on the night of 20-21 March. To capture the defile on the road to Mahares, the 1st Ranger Battalion was sent on a circuitous and difficult ten-mile detour over the shoulders of Djebel Orbata which brought it back to the road at a point east of the Italian defenders for a surprise attack from the north same time, the 26th Infantry, aided by artillery preparation and the cover afforded by foothills and great rocks, pushed straight along the road, closing in to gain a complete victory. The Americans took over 700 prisoners and after converting captured positions for defense toward the east, continued the attack in order to gain control over all of Djebel el Ank before going on to Bou Hamran.

 

The 18th Infantry’s attack moved southeastward along the road from El Guettar to Gabes and into the adjacent hills against dements of Division Centauro. At night, and under a hazy moon, the infantry crossed a plain where mere six-inch grass was the main cover, and where the enemy had already demonstrated that his observation in daylight was alert and accurate, and his artillery fire swift and precise. Getting through a mine field, the troops infiltrated past Hill 336 north of the road to take it at daybreak with a rush from the rear. General Patton and some of his staff visited the hill soon afterward. The first stage of the attack “according to plan” yielded 415 prisoners. During the remainder of 21 March, the 18th Infantry, limited by the enemy’s rapid laying of artillery fire on moving men, and by very active air strafing and dive bombing, particularly of command post and artillery positions, strove to press through foothills onto the Djebel el Mcheltat. Battery A of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion lost two 105’s and two vehicles in a direct hit. At noon, 21 March, the divisional objective was established as a line from a crest three miles northeast of Bou Hamran to a point about fourteen miles to the southeast of El Guettar, a road junction east of Djebel el Kheroua (369). Casualties by nightfall were fourteen killed and forty-one wounded.

 

The Americans during the next day consolidated their gains east of El Guettar, for the Italians made no resolute counterattack and were driven off by artillery fire and Allied air action whenever their guns opened up or small groups of their tanks assembled. American advance was not as rapid as had been expected. The troops improved their positions along the Gumtree road by having the 26th Infantry probe east of Bou Hamran. The 16th Infantry occupied the western foothills of the Djebel eI Mchehat, and two battalions of the 18th Infantry occupied heights south of the Gabes road, at the northeastern tip of Djebel Berda. Contact with the enemy in this area late in the day (22 March) promised action of about the same tempo for the following morning.”

The operations by II Corps had been so well correlated with attacks by British Eighth Army as to make 22 March a critical day for the enemy. The seizure of Gafsa on 17 March had coincided with initial British exploratory attacks in the Mareth coastal sector. The capture of Station de Sened on 20-21 March had occurred while British 30 Corps began trying to punch through the M1areth Line and when the New Zealand Corps was about to seize Hill 201 south of El Hamma. By the time the 1 st Armored Division reached Maknassy on 22 March and the 1st Infantry Division pushed beyond El Guettar, the enemy was committing some of his reserves near Mareth and sending others to the El Hamma gap. He had only one mobile division available with which to try to check the American approach to the Gabes area, the 10th Panzer Division (- ) (General Fritz von Broich).

On 21 March, as noted, Army Group Africa released the 10th Panzer Division to the German Africa Corps for employment in a counterattack toward Gafsa. It was not apparent to the Allies where this attack would be made, although they were aware that it was building up. Actually, the German force assembled during the night of 22- 23 March near Djebe1 Ben Kheir (587, east of El Hafay ) . At 0300 the 10th Panzer Division attacked along the axis of the Gabes- Gafsa road to push northwestward against the southern flank and perhaps the rear of the 1st Infantry Division before daylight.

Reinforced American Infantry Versus German Armor, 23 March General Allen that night had the 26th Combat Team advancing along the Gumtree road, while the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 18th Infantry, were engaged, as they had been since the preceding afternoon, in driving out Italian forces northeast of Hill 772 on Djebel Berda, thus widening the front considerably. The trains of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, barely reached the cover of the foothills, after crossing in darkness from the northern side of the valley, when sounds of motors to the northeast were followed by an eruption of tracer fire and the echoing rumble of guns. At 0500, while darkness was still complete, an enemy motorized force was reconnoitering by fire the southern slopes of Djebel el Meheltat.

Daylight revealed the presence of the 10th Panzer Division, which was methodically sweeping the foothills and the lower ground north of the road before undertaking bolder measures. The 3rd Battalions of both the 18th and 16th Infantry were under direct attack. A spearhead moving up the valley was engaged by the 60 1st Tank Destroyer Battalion until about 0700. The main body of the enemy force was in full view of American observers on heights above the valley on either side, and from the German Africa Corps’ command post on Hill 369.

At first the battle ran entirely in favor of the attacking Germans despite determined and courageous opposition. Their tanks and self-propelled guns, interspersed with infantry in carriers, rolled westward in a hollow square formation and at a slow but steady pace. Behind them, a column of trucks drove to a predetermined point at the western end of Djebel el Meheltat and unloaded more infantry, which followed closely the armored rectangle ahead of them. Then the mass of the enemy separated into three prongs. One group turned northwest among the foothills east of Hill 336 overrunning the 32nd Field Artillery and part of the 5th Field Artillery Battalions; another continued along the road; and the third, and much the largest, force tried to sweep the hills and northward along the edge of the Chott el Guettar.

German tank-infantry teams overran the American artillery and infantry positions east of Hill 336 in engagements which brought some hand-to-hand encounter, and heavy American losses. A curving belt of mines extended from Chott el Guettar across the road and along the Keddab wadi to the southeastern base of Hill 336. There the tide of battle changed. American artillery and the tank destroyers of the 601st and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions knocked out nearly thirty enemy tanks, and the mine field stopped eight more. Eventually, the morning attack was contained. The 10th Panzer Division pulled back a few miles to the east and prepared for a second attack. During this withdrawal enemy artillery and aviation harassed the American defenders, and Allied air units struck back repeatedly. The Germans towed their disabled tanks to a prepared maintenance point not far from where their infantry had first detrucked. During this interlude, and running a gantlet of enemy shells and Stukas, nineteen American jeeps rushed back for ammunition, all but six returning safely in time to oppose the next assault. Elements of the 16th Infantry and the 1st Ranger Battalion were put into the line along the Keddab wadi. Headquarters, 1st Division, was ready for the second attack (1645 hours) and aware of the enemy forces to be committed.

[Note: The 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion lost twenty-four guns, of which two were recoverable, and had only nine others after this action. The 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion lost seven tank destroyers (M10’s). ]

Preceded by a German air strike, and on the signal of a siren, the ground troops of the enemy attacked once more toward El Guettar. At 1830, word came that they were still advancing, with thirty-eight tanks in one group, but barely fifteen minutes later, an exultant report arrived from the 18th Combat Team: Enemy attacked as scheduled, preceded by dive-bombers which did little damage. Troops started to appear from all directions, mostly from tanks. Hit Anti-Tank Company and 3rd Battalion. Our artillery crucified them with high explosive shells and they were falling like flies. Tanks seem to be moving to the rear; those that could move. 1st Ranger Battalion is moving to protect the flank of the 3rd Battalion, which was practically surrounded. The 3rd Battalion and the Rangers drove them off and the 1st Battalion crucified them.

 [NOTE: (I) The enemy units were: 2nd Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment; 10th Motorcycle Battalion; 1st and 2nd Battalions, 7th Panzer Regiment; and the 4th Battalion, 90th Artillery Regiment.]

Thus at the close of 23 March, a reinforced American infantry division, well supported by Allied aviation, mainly by their artillery had stopped the bulk of an enemy armored division. Kesselring’s report to the OKW acknowledged substantial tank losses in the morning attack at the Keddab wadi; it called the efforts of the 601st and 899th Tank Battalions a counterattack with tanks against the German north wing which had been repulsed, and it attributed the failure of the afternoon attack to superior Allied forces and a threatened penetration through the Italian-held positions on the northern edge of Djebel Berda. Although the armored counterattacks of 23 March were beaten off, the enemy by no means lost his determination to maintain an aggressive defense of the routes of Allied approach to the rear of Italian First Army. He might not succeed in plunging through the Americans with his armor, but he held strong defensive positions and could nibble incessantly with infantry and artillery, and with tanks used as artillery, at the American positions in the hills north and south of the Gabes and Gumtree roads.

On 24 March he made some progress in each sector, especially in the high ground on opposite sides of the Gabes road, and on 25 March, he succeeded in recapturing from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 18th Infantry, their most exposed position on one of the northeastern buttresses of Djebel Berda. When a German patrol reached the bare summit of Hill 772 there, mortar fire brought it scampering down. But the two battalions of the 18th Infantry, even with the 1st Ranger Battalion, managed only to hold their position; they could not extend it without larger reinforcements, perhaps another entire regiment. With that much strength, they believed that they could take all of Djebel Berda and the hills east of it, and thus open the road to Gabes for American armor. Had such a regiment been sent, or had the two battalions simply remained in possession, the Germans might not have been able to withstand the 9th Infantry Division’s efforts later to drive them off. But during the night of 25-26 March the battalions were ordered to withdraw through the 1st Ranger Battalion. Colonel Darby’s Rangers, with a purely defensive role, held a south flank position in the foothills west of Djebel Berda for the next two days.

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 (6-27); From Mareth to Enfidaville – 8th Army

World War Two: Munda Trail (9); XIV Corps Offensive

The plan for the XIV Corps’ drive against Munda was completed shortly after Griswold took over. Colonel Eugene W. Ridings, Griswold’s assistant chief of staff, G-3, flew to Koli Point to confer with General Harmon and Admiral Wilkinson on naval gunfire and air support. Ridings also asked for, and obtained, a better radio (SCR 193) for Liversedge, to improve communications between him and Griswold. Harmon stressed the importance of submitting a precise plan for air support to Admiral Mitscher. Dive bombers would naturally be the best for close work, while mediums and heavies should be used for area bombing, he asserted. Harmon agreed to send in more tanks at Griswold’s request.
[4N2 It was at this conference that he approved the transfer of the 161st Regimental Combat Team to New Georgia.]

The American Plan

Naval support plans called for a seven-destroyer bombardment of Lambeti Plantation shortly before the infantry’s advance. Commander Arleigh A. Burke, the destroyer division commander, came to Rendova on 23 July to view Roviana Lagoon and select visual check points. Air support for the offensive would include, besides the normal fighter cover, pattern bombing by multiengine planes in front of the 43rd Division about halfway between Ilangana and Lambeti Plantation. Single-engine planes would strike at positions north and northeast of Munda field. Artillery spotting planes and liaison planes would be on station continuously.

Artillery support would be provided by Barker’s artillery from its island positions. Plans called for fairly standard employment of the field artillery, providing for direct and general support of the attack, massing of fires in each infantry’s zone of advance, counterbattery fire, and the defense of Rendova against seaborne and air attack. One 105-mm. howitzer battalion was assigned to direct support of each regiment, one 155-mm. howitzer battalion to general support of each division. Except for specific direct and general support missions, all artillery would operate as the corps artillery under Barker. The XIV Corps had neither organic artillery nor an artillery commander.

Griswold’s field order, issued on 22 July, directed his corps to attack vigorously to seize Munda airfield and Bibilo Hill from its present positions which ran from Ilangana northwest for about three thousand yards. The 37th Division was to make the corps’ main effort. Beightler’s division was to attack to its front, envelop the enemy’s left (north) flank, seize Bibilo Hill, and drive the enemy into the sea. At the same time it would protect the corps’ right flank and rear. The 43rd Division was ordered to make its main effort on the right. Its objectives were Lambeti Plantation and the airfield. Liversedge’s force, depleted by the abortive attack on Bairoko, was to continue patrolling and give timely information regarding any Japanese move to send overland reinforcements to Munda. The 9th Defense Battalion’s Tank Platoon would assemble at Laiana under corps control. The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 169th Infantry, at Rendova, constituted the corps reserve. The 37th Division was less the 129th Regimental Combat Team and the 3rd Battalions, 145th and 148th Infantry Regiments, and was reinforced by the 161st Regimental Combat Team (less its artillery) and a detachment of South Pacific Scouts. The 43rd Division was less nearly all its headquarters, whose officers were filling most of the posts in Occupation Force headquarters, and less two battalions of the 169th Infantry and the 1st Battalion,103rd Infantry.

All units were ordered to exert unceasing pressure on the enemy. Isolated points of resistance were not to be allowed to halt the advance, but were to be bypassed, contained, and reduced later. Griswold ordered maximum use of infantry heavy weapons to supplement artillery. Roads would be pushed forward with all possible speed.

D Day was set for 25 July. The thirty-minute naval bombardment was to start at 0610, the air bombing at 0635. The line of departure, running northwest from Ilangana, was practically identical with the American front lines except in the zone of the 161st Infantry where the existence of the Japanese strongpoint east of the line had been determined on 24 July.

The XIV Corps was thus attempting a frontal assault on a two-division front, with the hope of effecting an envelopment on the north. In the initial attack it would employ two three-battalion regiments (the 161st and the 172nd) and three two-battalion regiments (the 103rd, the 145th, and the 148th).

Enemy Positions and Plans

On 22 July the Japanese front line ran inland in a northwesterly direction for some 3,200 yards. This line was manned by the entire 229th Infantry, and at the month’s end the 2nd Battalion, 230th Infantry, was also assigned to it. In support were various mountain artillery, antitank, antiaircraft, and automatic weapons units. [4-n5: These included the Antitank Battalion, 38th Division; 2nd Independent Antitank Battalion; a detachment of the 2nd Battalion, 90th Independent Mountain Artillery Regiment; thirteen 7.7-mm. machine guns, and two 75-mm. antiaircraft units.] The positions were the same complex of camouflaged and mutually supporting pillboxes, trenches, and foxholes that had halted Hester in midmonth. The pillboxes started near the beach at Ilangana and ran over the hills in front of the 103rd, 172nd, 145th, and 161st Regiments.

A particularly strong series lay on a tangled set of jungled hills: Shimizu Hill in front of the 172nd Infantry and Horseshoe Hill (so named from its configuration) in front of the 145th and 161st Regiments. Horseshoe Hill lay northwest of Kelley Hill and west of Reincke Ridge. East of Horseshoe Hill lay the Japanese pocket discovered by the 161st. The pocket lay on a north-south ridge that was joined to Horseshoe Hill by a rough saddle. The pillbox line terminated at about the northern boundary of the 161st Infantry. When the 2nd Battalion, 230th Infantry, was committed it did not occupy carefully prepared positions. From the end of the pillboxes the line ran west to the beach, and this north flank does not seem to have been strongly held.

XIV Corps headquarters still estimated that four enemy battalions faced it; three at Munda and one at Bairoko. This was a fairly accurate estimate of strength on the enemy line, but Sasaki had an ace up his sleeve—the 13th Infantry. This regiment, which was not in full strength, was stationed on the American right flank about 4,900 yards west by north from Ilangana. Sasaki’s plans to use his ace were similar to his earlier plans. On the same day that Griswold issued his field order, Sasaki directed Colonel Tomonari to attack the American right flank in the vicinity of Horseshoe Hill on 23 July, then drive east along the Munda Trail. But the Americans struck before Tomonari made his move.

Ilangana and Shimizu Hill: The 43rd Division

In the 43rd Division’s zone, the offensive began as scheduled on the morning of 25 July. For once the weather was favorable. D Day dawned fair and clear, with visibility as good as could be expected in the jungle.

Naval gunfire, air, and artillery preparations went off as scheduled. Commander Burke’s seven destroyers had sailed up from Tulagi. At 0609 the two screening destroyers fired the first of four thousand 5-inch shells at Lambeti Plantation; these were followed by the main group at 0614. Visibility to seaward was good, but the morning haze still hung over Lambeti Plantation. Fifteen minutes later visibility had improved but now the target area was partly obscured by smoke and dust raised by the bombardment.Firing ceased at 0644.

[4-N6: When the infantrymen later reached Lambeti Plantation they found that although the bombardment had done extensive damage many positions, which could have been destroyed only by direct hits, remained intact. The theoretical density of this shelling was 70 rounds per 100 square yards. Admiral Wilkinson, who thought the target area was too far west of the front lines, later observed that 200 rounds per 100 square yards would be required to achieve complete destruction. Because of the difficulty in distinguishing targets in morning haze, Commander Burke recommended that shore bombardments should not start earlier than twenty minutes before sunrise. See CTF 31 (Com III AMPHFOR) Action Rpt for Morning 25 Jul 43, The Bombardment of Munda, 3 Sep 43, in Off of Naval Rcds and Library; and ONI USN, Operations in the New Georgia Area, pp. 53-54.]

From 0630 to 0700, 254 aircraft unloaded 500,800 pounds of fragmentation and high explosive bombs on their target area, a 1,500-by-250-yard strip beginning about 500 yards west of the 103rd Infantry’s front lines. No corps artillery concentrations were fired on 25 July, but the 43rd Division’s supporting artillery began before 0700 the first of more than 100 preparations that were fired that day. The 103rd and 152nd Field Artillery Battalions fired more than 2,150 105-mm. howitzer shells; the 155-mm. howitzers of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion threw 1,182 rounds at the enemy.

With the din subsiding as the artillery shifted its fire to positions farther west, the infantrymen of the 43rd Division moved to the attack at 0700. In the 172nd Infantry’s zone the 2nd and 3rd Battalions on the left and right attacked westward against Shimizu Hill. But by 1000 they had run into the enemy pillbox line and halted. Colonel Ross then requested tanks, got some from the corps reserve, and attacked again. By 1430 three tanks were disabled, and the attack stalled. A little ground had been gained on the regimental left.

The 103rd Infantry, now commanded by Colonel Brown, attacked alongside the 172nd with little more success. [4-N7: Colonel Brown, formerly commander of the 2nd Battalion, took over regimental command when Colonel Hundley replaced the 43rd Division chief of staff on 22 July.]The 3rd Battalion, on the left, pushed forward against machine gun and mortar fire, but immediately hit the Japanese line and stopped. The battalion attempted to move around the pillboxes but found that this maneuver took its men into other machine gun fire lanes.

The 2nd Battalion, 103rd, in the center of the 43rd’s zone, did better. It moved forward two or three hundred yards against light opposition. By 1040 E Company’s leading elements had advanced five hundred yards. The company kept moving until noon, when it had reached the beach near Terere. Here it set up a hasty defense position. But the companies on either flank had not been able to keep up, and the Japanese moved in behind E Company to cut the telephone line to battalion headquarters.

To exploit E Company’s breakthrough, General Hester took the 3rd Battalion, 169th Infantry, out of division reserve and ordered it to push through the same hole E Company had found. But the Japanese had obviously become aware of the gap, and as the 3rd Battalion marched to the line of departure it was enfiladed by fire from the south part of Shimizu Hill and from the pillboxes to the south. It halted. Five Marine tanks were then ordered to push over Shimizu Hill but could not get up the steep slopes. When three of them developed vapor lock all were pulled back to Laiana. In late afternoon the E Company commander decided to abandon his exposed, solitary position, and E Company came safely back through the Japanese line to the 2nd Battalion.

North of the 43rd Division the 37th Division had made scant progress.Thus the first day of General Griswold’s offensive found the XIV Corps held for little gain except in the center of the 43rd Division’s line.

The 43rd Division was weakened by almost a month’s combat, and its reduced strength was spread over a long, irregular, slanting front. It was obvious that combat efficiency would be increased by narrowing the front, and this could be done by advancing the left and straightening the line. Consequently Hester’s plan for 26 July called for the 172nd to stay in place while the 103rd Infantry attempted to advance the eight hundred yards from Ilangana to Terere.

Strong combat patrols went out in the morning of 26 July to fix the location of the Japanese pillboxes as accurately as possible. After their return, the artillery began firing at 1115, one hour before the infantry was to attack. At 1145 the 103rd’s front was covered with smoke and under its cover the front-line companies withdrew a hundred yards. At noon the artillery put its fire on the Japanese positions directly in front. As the tanks were not quite ready at H Hour, 1215, the artillery kept firing for ten more minutes. It lifted fire one hundred yards at 1225, and the 103rd started forward. The tanks led the advance in the center; behind them was the infantry. Attached to the 103rd for the attack were 2nd Lieutenant James F. Olds, Jr., the acting corps chemical officer, and six volunteers from the 118th Engineer Battalion. Each carried a flame thrower, a weapon which the 43rd Division had brought to New Georgia but had not used up to now. Griswold, whose headquarters had conducted flame thrower schools on Guadalcanal, was aware of the weapon’s possibilities. That morning the six engineers had received one hour of training in the use of the M1A1 flame thrower.

The flame throwers went forward with the infantry, which halted about twenty yards in front of the pillbox line and covered it with small arms fire. Under cover of this fire the flame thrower operators, their faces camouflaged with dirt, crawled forward. Operating in teams of two and three, they sprayed flame over three barely visible pillboxes in front of the center of the 103rd’s line. Vegetation was instantly burned off. In sixty seconds the three pillboxes were knocked out and their four occupants were dead. [4-N10: Captain James F. Olds, Jr., “Flamethrowers Front and Center,” Chemical Warfare Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 3 (June-July 1944), pp. 5-9. This account, while valuable, seems to have telescoped two situations and actions into one, for Olds asserts that the 103rd was at Lambeti Plantation on 26 July. From the fact that three pillboxes had only four occupants, it would seem that this part of the Japanese line was lightly manned.]

Operations of the infantry, tanks, flame throwers, and supporting heavy weapons and artillery met with almost complete success. The 103rd Infantry encountered seventy-four pillboxes on a 600-yard front, but by midafternoon, spurred on by pressure from General Wing, it had reduced enemy resistance at Ilangana. From there it continued its advance through underbrush and vines and gained almost 800 yards. By 1700 the left flank rested on the coastal village of Kia. The 43rd Division’s line, formerly 1,700 yards long, was now much straighter by 300 yards.

From 28 through 31 July, the 43rd Division inched slowly forward, a few yards on the right flank and about five hundred yards along the coast. This was accomplished by “aggressive action and small unit maneuver, combined with constant artillery and mortar action [which] gradually forced the enemy back from his high ground defenses.” The 172nd ground its way over Shimizu Hill, the last real ridge between it and Munda airfield, and in doing so it helped unhinge the main Japanese defense system in its zone, just as the 103rd’s drive through Ilangana had broken the enemy line on the left. [4-N12: Unfortunately the records are too scanty to provide details showing just how the 172nd took this position. During the attack 1st Lieutenant Robert S. Scott almost singlehandedly halted a Japanese counterattack and for his gallantry was awarded the Medal of Honor. WD GO 81, 14 Oct 44.]

Major Zimmer’s 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry, was brought over from Rendova on 29 July; the 3rd Battalion, now commanded by Major Ignatius M. Ramsey, was taken out of division reserve and the 169th (less the 2nd Battalion) was assigned a zone between the 172nd and the 103rd. [Colonel Reincke was now regimental executive officer.] As the month ended the 169th (less its 2nd Battalion in corps reserve) was in the process of extending to the northwest to pinch out the 172nd.

Command of the 43rd Division changed hands on 29 July when Major Gen. John R. Hodge, the tough, blunt commander of the Americal Division, came up from the Fijis to take over from Hester. This change was ordered by General Harmon who felt that Hester had exhausted himself. General Hodge had served as assistant commander of the 25th Division during the Guadalcanal Campaign, and thus had had more experience in jungle warfare than any other general then in New Georgia. Hodge, Harmon wrote, was the “best Div Comdr I have in area for this particular job.”

The 43rd Division, having cracked through the Shimizu Hill-Ilangana positions, was in a favorable position to drive against Munda under its new commander, while the 37th Division on its right fought its way through the enemy positions in its hilly, jungled zone.
The Attack Against the Ridges: The 37th Division

The dawn of D Day, 25 July, found the 43rd Division committed to a general attack, but the 37th Division was forced to postpone its advance. General Beightler had issued a field order on 23 July calling for a general attack by his three regiments, to start at 0700, 25 July. The 145th, 161st, and 148th Infantry Regiments were to attack due west, toward Bibilo Hill, on the division’s left, center, and right, with the 145th maintaining contact with the 172nd Infantry on its left and the 148th Infantry covering the corps’ right flank and rear. But the discovery of the strong Japanese position east of the 161st Infantry’s line of departure altered the plans.

On 24 July Beightler ordered Colonel Holland not to advance his 145th Infantry, but to stay in place. He told Colonel Baxter to move the 148th Infantry only up to the line of departure. The two regiments would hold while part of the 161st contained the Japanese position and the rest of the regiment bypassed it and came up on a line with the 145th and 148th.

After Baxter received the commanding general’s orders, he suggested that his regiment could perhaps help the 161st reduce the pocket by making a limited advance. Baxter hoped to establish an observation post on high ground from which both Munda airfield and the pocket in front of the 161st could be seen. Beightler assented to this request at 0910, 25 July. Patrols went out, and on their return the direct support artillery battalion laid a ten-minute preparation 400 yards in front of the line of departure while mortars covered the 400-yard gap. The 2nd Battalion, 148th, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Radcliffe, started forward, met no Japanese, and gained 500-600 yards. The 1st Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Vernor E. Hydaker commanding, moved up to the 2nd Battalion’s old positions.

Bartley Ridge and Horseshoe Hill

When I Company, 161st Infantry, had been unable to reduce the Japanese strongpoint on Bartley Ridge on 24 July, Colonel Dalton issued orders for its seizure on D Day.[Bartley Ridge was named in memory of 2nd Lieutenant Martin E. Bartley, a I Company platoon leader killed on 25 July.] I Company was to contain the Japanese pocket by attacking to its front while the 1st Battalion and the rest of the 3rd Battalion executed a double envelopment. The 1st Battalion was to move around the Japanese left (north) flank while the 3rd Battalion went around the right, after which the two battalions would drive southward and northward for two hundred yards. Fifteen minutes of mortar fire would precede these moves. Beightler arranged for the 145th and 148th Regiments to support the 161st with heavy weapons fire. He also asked corps headquarters for tanks to help the 161st, but the 43rd Division had been given the tanks for the D-Day attack.

From positions near the Laiana Trail eight 81-mm. mortars opened fire at 0745, 25 July, in support of Dalton’s attack. Heavy weapons of the adjoining regiments attempted to deliver their supporting fires, but the denseness of the jungle prevented forward observers’ controlling the fire. The unobserved fire began obstructing rather than helping the 161st, and that part of the plan was abandoned.

The 3rd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David H. Buchanan, was unable to gain. Shortly after 0800, when the attack began, I Company reported that its attack against the ridge strongpoint had stalled. A knob projecting east from Bartley Ridge and the heavy undergrowth provided enough cover and concealment to let the infantrymen reach the base of the ridge, but uphill from the knob, where the growth was thinner, all movement was halted by fire from the crest. The 161st Infantry had made plans to use flame throwers, and an operator carrying his sixty-five pounds of equipment made two laborious climbs and silenced an enemy machine gun, but many other Japanese positions remained in action. The main body of the 3rd Battalion, attempting to get around the south end of Bartley Ridge, was also halted.

The 1st Battalion was more successful. At 1035 its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Slaftcho Katsarsky, radioed Dalton that he had found the north flank of the Japanese position on Bartley Ridge, and that he was moving his battalion around it. Shortly afterward Beightler, Dalton, and staff officers conferred and decided that the 3rd Battalion should contain the strongpoint while the 1st Battalion pushed westward with orders to develop enemy positions but not to engage in full-scale combat. The 37th Division could not advance westward in force until Bartley Ridge had been cleared.

The 3rd Battalion established itself in containing positions north, east, and south of Bartley Ridge. E Company was released from reserve and sent into line on high ground just north of Bartley to secure the right flank in the 161st’s zone. The 1st Battalion advanced to a point about four hundred yards west of Bartley and halted on a small rise northeast of Horseshoe Hill. Tanks of the newly arrived 10th Marine Defense Battalion were to be committed to support the 37th Division the next day, and in the afternoon the tank commander made a personal reconnaissance of Colonel Buchanan’s zone in preparation for the attack.

Six light Marine tanks were to lead out in the attack at 0900, 26 July, after preparatory fire by machine guns and 81-mm. mortars. L and K Companies, in column, would move behind the tanks, which were supported by infantrymen armed with .30-caliber M1 rifles, .30caliber Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR’s), and two flame throwers. Tank-infantry communication was indirect. The tank radios formed a net within the Tank Platoon, and a 161st radio car maintained radio contact between the Tank Platoon commander and Colonel Buchanan.

When the tanks, with their hatches closed, got off the approach trail that had been bulldozed by members of the 65th Engineer Battalion, Colonel Buchanan directed the infantrymen to lead them forward. It was 0925 before the attack got started. In two lines of three vehicles each, the tanks lumbered over the littered undergrowth, steep slopes, and felled logs toward the southeast slope of Bartley Ridge. The Japanese quickly responded with fire from antitank and 70-mm. battalion guns, machine guns, and mortars.

The attack went well at first. About a dozen pillboxes were reported knocked out by 1110, and Buchanan ordered his men to occupy them to keep the Japanese from moving in again at night. Unfortunately, the tanks had encountered exactly the sort of difficulties that might be expected in tangled terrain with communications uncertain. In their lurches and frequent changes of direction they injured some of the accompanying foot troops. Poor visibility caused them to get into untenable positions from which they had to be extricated with consequent delays to the attack. During the morning a Japanese soldier stole out of the tangled brush and planted a magnetic mine that disabled one tank. A second tank was halted by a ruptured fuel line. The remaining four withdrew at 1110 to reorganize.

The flame thrower operators, carrying their bulky, heavy fuel tanks on their backs, were not properly protected by the riflemen and were soon killed.

In the course of the day’s fighting some fourteen pillboxes and a number of machine gun positions were knocked out, and the 3rd Battalion advanced about two hundred yards up Bartley Ridge.[4-N18] But it met such heavy fire from Bartley and Horseshoe Hill that its position clearly could not be held. Attempts to pull out the disabled tanks were unsuccessful. The battalion withdrew to its previous positions. The attack had disclosed the existence of so many more positions that Dalton received Beightler’s permission to make a thorough reconnaissance before attacking again.

[4-N18 In the course of the day’s action Captain Paul K. Mellichamp, battalion executive officer, picked up a radio from a wounded operator and directed mortar fire. He was wounded, but continued to direct the fire until he collapsed. He died shortly afterward, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.]

While the 161st was attacking Bartley Ridge on 25 and 26 July, Colonel Holland’s 145th Infantry stayed in its forward positions on Reincke Ridge and Kelley Hill. During this period it sent out patrols to the north and west to try to find the source of the 90-mm. mortar fire that had been hitting the regiment since 22 July. It received no artillery support at this time because its front line was considered too close to enemy targets for the artillery to fire without hitting American infantry. By the end of 26 July the 1st Battalion, 161st, had fought its way forward to come up on line north of the 145th, but near the regimental boundary the line sagged eastward in the shape of a great U. Colonel Parker’s 2nd Battalion, 145th, was occupying positions in rear of the 1st Battalion, 145th, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Richard D. Crooks.

General Beightler ordered Holland to commit his 2nd Battalion, in order to reduce the Japanese positions on Horseshoe Hill that had fired on the 3rd Battalion, 161st, during its 26 July attack against Bartley Ridge. Doubtless because troops of the 161st had not been able to get past the south end of Bartley, Colonel Parker’s battalion was to march northward right around the 3rd Battalion, 161st, push west around the north of the enemy positions on Bartley Ridge, then attack to the southwest. This maneuver would entail a march of about one and one-half miles to the assembly area.

Parker’s battalion moved out in the early morning of 27 July. It reached its assembly area on the north flank of Bartley Ridge without incident. After a preparation of one hundred rounds by the division artillery, which cleared some of the foliage, the battalion advanced to the attack in column of companies. “Having to fight every foot of the way,” it gained about three hundred yards before 1300, when E Company in the lead moved south off slopes of a ridge and started up a small knob projecting from Horseshoe Hill. As the company ascended the hill it was struck by fire from pillboxes. Among the first men killed was Captain Gardner B. Wing, E Company’s commander, in whose honor the 145th christened the knob.

On the same day, while American mortars fired intermittently at Bartley Ridge, patrols from the 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry, examined the Japanese lines to procure data for a preparation by the corps artillery. In the course of the reconnaissance Colonels Dalton and Buchanan observed enemy pillboxes on the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, and recommended that the attack be delayed until 29 July. General Beightler gave his assent. Dalton and Buchanan also decided to attack from the northwest instead of the southeast. Reconnaissance and pressure were to continue on the 28th.

On the morning of the 28th a ten-man patrol from I Company, led by Lieutenant Walter Tymniak, set out in a southerly direction toward the top of Bartley Ridge. To their surprise and satisfaction, the Americans met no fire, got safely to the top, and found several abandoned pillboxes. They occupied them, and I Company followed to the crest and began infiltrating the pillboxes. Not all were vacant, but the task of the attackers was eased as each pillbox was taken, for its fire could then no longer be used with that of its neighbors to make crossfire or interlocking bands of fire. Because the Japanese appeared to be evacuating and the American front was intermingled with the enemy front, the artillery preparation was called off. The 3rd Battalion continued its infiltration on 29 July. At the end of the day it was relieved by Major Francis P. Carberry’s 2nd Battalion and went into division reserve.

The 145th Infantry’s zone was shifted farther north on 30 July as part of a general shift in boundaries that General Griswold was making in order to widen the 43rd Division’s front. This move placed the southern half of Bartley Ridge within the 145th’s zone. Colonel Parker’s 2nd Battalion, 145th, had just completed its move around the 161st’s north flank, thence southwest against Horseshoe Hill. On 30 July it was attached to the 161st for the completion of the reduction of Bartley Ridge and Horseshoe Hill.

Carberry’s and Parker’s battalions pushed their attacks on 30 July. In contrast with Carberry’s battalion, which met little resistance, Parker’s men engaged in sharp fighting in the west. The Japanese who had evacuated the position facing Carberry had apparently moved into positions facing Parker. With grenade, rifle, machine gun, mortar, and flame thrower the two battalions fought all day and part of the next, until by midafternoon of 31 July the Japanese rear guards on Bartley Ridge were either dead or in flight, and the 2nd Battalion,161st, had advanced west and was on a line with the 1st. Bartley Ridge had contained forty-six log and coral pillboxes and thirty-two other lighter positions. First attacked by a company, it fell only after seven days’ fighting by two battalions.

On Horseshoe Hill the Japanese resisted from their pillboxes and foxholes with equal skill and enthusiasm. The Americans used small arms, grenades, automatic weapons, mortars, flame throwers, and field artillery as they systematically reduced the enemy positions, almost pillbox by pillbox.[4-N21] On 1 August Parker’s battalion received orders to attack in late afternoon, obeyed, and took Horseshoe Hill without firing a shot or losing a man. The Japanese had gone.

[4-N21: During these operations Private First Class Frank J. Petrarca, a medical aid man, so distinguished himself by gallant, selfless devotion to duty that he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. WD GO 86, 23 Dec 43.]

Advance and Withdrawal of the 148th Infantry

On 1 August, the day on which the Americans completely occupied the ridge positions, the 148th Infantry returned eastward to the 37th Division’s lines after an advance which had taken it almost to Bibilo Hill. The 148th Infantry was the only regiment not confronted by prepared enemy positions, and it had made comparatively rapid progress from the first. When Colonel Baxter moved his regiment forward on 25 July, it went around the north flank of the Japanese defense line and met no resistance. However, none of the Americans then knew that the major part of the enemy 13th Infantry lay to the north of Baxter’s right flank. Patrols, accompanied by Fiji scouts, went out and reported the presence of a few Japanese to the west, none to the south. Generals Griswold and Beightler had emphasized the importance of maintaining lateral contact and Beightler had expressly directed that the 148th was to maintain contact with the 161st, and that all units were to inform their neighbors and the next higher unit of their locations. The 148th, however, was not able to make contact on its left with the 161st Infantry.

Baxter’s two-battalion regiment advanced regularly for the next three days. Colonel Radcliffe’s 2nd Battalion led on 26 and 27 July; on 28 July Colonel Hydaker’s 1st Battalion bypassed the 2nd and led the advance to a point somewhere east of Bibilo Hill.[4-N22] Patrols went out regularly and at no time reported the presence of a sizable body of the enemy. On 27 July Baxter reported that he had established “contact with Whiskers.” Colonel Dalton, the “guest artist” regimental commander of the attached 161st Infantry, sported a beard and was dubbed “Whiskers” and “Goatbeard” in the 37th Division’s telephone code.

[4-N22: The total of daily yardage reported in the journals, if correct, would have placed the 148th west of Bibilo Hill on 28 July, but the 148th soldiers, like almost everyone else in the jungle, overestimated the distances they had traveled.]

But the 148th’s front was almost a thousand yards west of Whiskers’ 1st Battalion, and the contact must have been tenuous. Next day G Company was ordered to move to the left to close a gap between the two regiments, but the gap stayed open.

During the move troops of the 117th Engineer Battalion labored to push a supply trail behind the advancing battalions. The rate of march was in part geared to the construction of the supply trail. As Baxter told Radcliffe over the telephone on 27 July, “I am advancing behind you as fast as bulldozer goes.”

Next day, however, there occurred a disturbing event. A platoon from A Company, 117th Engineer Battalion, was using a bulldozer to build the trail somewhere north of Horseshoe Hill when it was ambushed by the enemy. Three engineers were killed and two were wounded before elements of the Antitank Company and of the 1st Battalion rescued the platoon and extricated the bulldozer.

Japanese movements during this period are obscure, but this and subsequent attacks were made by the 13th Infantry coming south at last in accordance with Sasaki’s orders.

The situation became more serious on 28 July, the day on which Baxter’s aggressive movement took him almost to Bibilo Hill. At this time the regiment was spread thinly about fifteen hundred yards beyond the 161st; its front lay some twelve hundred yards west of the regimental ration dump and eighteen hundred yards from the point on the supply line “which could be said to be adequately secured by other division units.” There was still no contact with the 161st, and in the afternoon a group of the 13th Infantry fell upon the ration dump. From high ground commanding it the enemy fired with machine guns, rifles, and grenade discharges at men of the regimental Service Company. The Service Company soldiers took cover among ration and ammunition boxes and returned the fire. The dump, under command of Major Frank Hipp, 148th S-4, held out until relieved by two squads of the Antitank Company and one platoon from F Company. East of the dump, troops of the 13th Infantry also forced the 148th’s supply trucks to turn back. Baxter, stating “I now find my CP in the front line,” asked Beightler to use divisional units to guard the trail up to the dump.

All the 148th’s troubles with the Japanese were in the rear areas. The westward push, which took the leading battalion as far as one of the Munda-Bairoko trails, had been practically unopposed. But early on the morning of 29 July General Beightler, unaware of the 13th’s position, telephoned Baxter to say that as the Japanese seemed to be moving from the southwest through the gap between the 148th and 161st Regiments, and around the 148th’s right, Baxter was to close up his battalions and consolidate his positions. At 0710 Beightler told Baxter to withdraw his battalions to the east, to establish contact with the 161st, and to protect his supply route. Baxter, who had sent patrols out in all directions early in the morning, at 0800 ordered one company of the 2nd Battalion to clear out the supply trail to the east. At 0941, with Japanese machine guns still dominating the supply trail, Beightler sent Baxter more orders similar to those of 0710, and also ordered forward a detachment of the 37th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop to help clear the east end of the supply trail. The telephone, so busy with conversations between Beightler and Baxter on 29 July, was then quiet for an hour.

Meanwhile Beightler had been conferring with Dalton, Holland, and members of the divisional general staff. As a result he had decided that the 161st should continue reducing Bartley Ridge, that the 145th should stay in place, and that the 148th would have to withdraw. So at 1055 Baxter ordered his regiment to turn around and pull back to the east. The 2nd Battalion, 148th, was to use at least one company to establish contact with the 161st while the rest of the battalion withdrew toward the ration dump. The 1st Battalion would move back to the 2nd Battalion’s positions. At 1150 Baxter reported the 2nd Battalion in contact with the 161st, and shortly afterward Beightler ordered Baxter to move the 1st Battalion farther east, putting it in position to deliver an attack the next morning against the rear of the Japanese holding up Dalton’s regiment.

The division commander again emphasized the necessity for maintaining firm contact with the 161st. [As the Americans still did not know the13th Infantry’s location, they thought the attack had originated from the southwest rather than from the north.] At 1305, with the 148th moving east, Colonel Katsarsky reported that his 1st Battalion, 161st, had as yet no contact with the 148th. Beightler at once told Baxter that, as Japanese machine gunners were operating between the two regiments, the gap must be closed before dark. An hour later Baxter called Beightler to say that he was too far west to close with the 161st before dark. When Beightler ordered him to close up anyway, Baxter demurred. Asking his general to reconsider the order, he stated that he could almost, but not quite, close the gap. Beightler thereupon told Baxter to comply with his orders as far as was physically possible.

The 2nd Battalion had meanwhile been pushing east, except for F Company’s main body, which was advancing west toward the ration dump. Both bodies were encountering enemy resistance, and the day ended before the Japanese were cleared out. The Reconnaissance Troop cleared some Japanese from the eastern part of the supply trail, but at 1758 Baxter reported that the trail had been closed by raiding Japanese.

The 148th Infantry, in examining the personal effects of some of the dead Japanese, found that the men belonged to the 13th Infantry. Some of them had been carrying booty taken in the raids east of the Barike several days earlier. Colonel Baxter later estimated that the enemy harrying his regiment numbered no more than 250, operating “in multiple small light machine gun and mortar detachments and . . . [moving] from position to position utilizing the jungle to its maximum advantage. You can well imagine what we could do with our M-1’s, BAR’s and Machine Guns if all we had to do was dig in and wait for the Jap to come at us.

General Beightler, a National Guardsman most of his life, was an affable man, but he was far from satisfied with the outcome of the day’s action. At 1832 he radioed Baxter that General Griswold had ordered the 148th to establish contact with the 161st early the next morning and to protect the supply route. “Use an entire battalion to accomplish latter if necessary. At no time have you been in contact on your left although you have repeatedly assured me that this was accomplished…Confirmation of thorough understanding of this order desired.” Baxter thereupon telephoned division headquarters and put his case before a staff officer. General Beightler’s criticism, he felt, was not justified. “Please attempt to explain to the General that I have had patrols in contact with the 161 and have documentary evidence to substantiate this. I have not, however, been able to maintain contact and close the gap by actual physical contact due to the fact that the 161st had been echeloned 600 to 800 yards to my left rear. I have been trying and will continue tomorrow morning to establish this contact. It is a difficult problem as I have had Japs between my left flank and the 161st.”

Rain and mud added to Baxter’s troubles on 30 July. Still harried by enemy machine guns and mortars, the 2nd Battalion pushed east and south toward the 161st as the 1st Battalion covered the left (north) flank. Elements of the 37th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, C Company, 117th Engineer Battalion, and the 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry, pushed north to give additional protection to the division’s right (north) flank and to protect the east end of Baxter’s supply route.

Baxter attempted to cut a new trail directly into the 161st’s lines, but Japanese rifle fire forced the bulldozer back. Some of the 148th’s advance elements side-slipped to the south and got through to the 161st that day, but the main body was still cut off. [F and H Companies, part of E Company, and the 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company were the elements that got through to the 161st] Some of the Japanese who were following the 148th attacked the 1st Battalion, 161st, but were halted. This action then settled down into a nocturnal fire fight. The plight of the rest of the regiment was still serious. Water was running low. Part of the Reconnaissance Troop tried to take water forward to the 148th on 30 July. It was stopped by Japanese fire. But rain fell throughout the night of 30-31 July and the thirsty men were able to catch it in helmets and fill their canteens.

On 31 July Beightler suggested that Baxter destroy heavy equipment and break his regiment into small groups to slip northward through the jungle around the enemy. The 148th blew up all the supplies it could not carry but it had to fight its way along the trail. It had over a hundred wounded men and could not infiltrate through the jungle without abandoning them.

Toward the end of the day B Company, which had been trying to clear the Japanese north of the supply trail, was ordered to disengage and withdraw slightly for the night. One of B Company’s platoons, however, had come under fire from a Japanese machine gun about seventy-five yards to its front and found that it could not safely move. Private Rodger Young, who had been wounded in the shoulder at the first attempt to withdraw, told his platoon leader that he could see the enemy gun and started forward. Although a burst from the gun wounded him again and damaged his rifle, he kept crawling forward until he was within a few yards of the enemy weapon. As a grenade left his hand he was killed by a burst that struck him in the head. But he had gotten his grenade away, and it killed the Japanese gun crew. His platoon was able to withdraw in safety. For his gallantry and self-sacrifice Young was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Colonel Baxter’s radio fairly crackled the next morning, 1 August, with orders from General Beightler: “Time is precious, you must move.” “Get going.” “Haste essential.” Thus urged on, Baxter ordered an assault by every man who could carry a rifle. He formed all his command—A, E, B, and G Companies—in a skirmish line with bayonets fixed, and assaulted by fire and movement at 0850. The attack succeeded. By 0930 the leading elements, ragged, weary, and muddy, reached Katsarsky’s area. The 148th was given fresh water and hot food, then passed into division reserve. As the men struggled in after their ordeal, all available ambulances, trucks, and jeeps were rushed up to transport the 128 wounded men to the 37th Division’s clearing station at Laiana.

Capture of the Airfield

The first day of August had broken bright and clear after a night of intermittent showers. It is likely that the spirits of the top commanders were also bright, for things were looking better. With Ilangana and Shimizu Hill reduced, the 43rd Division was in possession of the last piece of high ground between it and Munda airfield. Bartley Ridge had fallen; Horseshoe Hill was about to fall, and the 148th was completing its retirement.

General Griswold had issued no special orders for the day; the field order that had started the corps offensive was still in effect. In the 37th Division’s zone the most significant development was the return of Baxter’s men. The 145th Infantry was patrolling; the 161st was mopping up. In the 43rd Division’s area of responsibility, General Hodge had ordered an advance designed to bring his division up on line with the 145th Infantry.

The 103rd Infantry began its attack at 1100. E, G, and F Companies advanced in line behind patrols. Meeting practically no opposition, they gained ground rapidly and by 1500 were nearing Lambeti Plantation. The 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry, then in process of pinching out the 172nd, attacked northwest across the front of the 172nd and established contact with the 145th Infantry. The 172nd completed a limited advance before going into division reserve. The 3rd Battalion, 169th, on the left of the 2nd, attacked in its zone and at 1500 was still advancing. For the first time since it had landed on New Georgia, the 43rd Division could announce that the going was easy.

The day before, Generals Hodge and Wing, accompanied by Colonel Ross, had visited the command and observation posts of the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, from where they could see part of Munda airfield. They detected evidence of a Japanese withdrawal, which seemed to be covered by fire from the enemy still on Horseshoe Hill.

Thus at 1500, 1 August, with the 43rd Division still moving forward, General Griswold ordered all units to send out patrols immediately to discover whether the Japanese were withdrawing. “Smack Japs wherever found, even if late.” If the patrols found little resistance, a general advance would be undertaken in late afternoon. Colonel Ridings telephoned the orders to 37th Division headquarters, and within minutes patrols went out. They found no enemy. At 1624 Ridings called Beightler’s headquarters again with orders to advance aggressively until solid resistance was met, in which case its location, strength, and composition were to be developed. The 148th Infantry was to have been placed in corps reserve with orders to protect the right flank, patrol vigorously to the north, northeast, and northwest, and cut the Munda-Bairoko trail if possible. Since the 27th Infantry of the 25th Division was arriving and moving into position on the 37th Division’s right flank, Beightler persuaded corps headquarters to let him use the 148th Infantry. Ridings required, however, that the 148th be given the mission of protecting the right flank because the 27th Infantry would not have enough strength for a day or two.

All went well for the rest of the day. The 103rd Infantry reached the outer taxiways of Munda airfield; the 169th pulled up just short of Bibilo Hill. The 37th Division’s regiments plunged forward past Horseshoe Hill, which was free of Japanese, and gained almost seven hundred yards.

The Japanese Withdrawal

The Japanese positions facing the XIV Corps had been formidable, and the Americans had been held in place for long periods. But the Americans had wrought more destruction than they knew. The cumulative effect of continuous air and artillery bombardment and constant infantry action had done tremendous damage to Japanese installations and caused large numbers of casualties. By late July most of the Japanese emplacements near Munda were in shambles. The front lines were crumbling. Rifle companies, 160-170 men strong at the outset, were starkly reduced. Some had only 20 men left at the end of July. The 229th Infantry numbered only 1,245 effectives. Major Hara, Captain Kojima, and many staff officers of the 229th had been killed by artillery fire. Hospitals were not adequate to care for the wounded and sick. The constant shelling and bombing prevented men from sleeping and caused many nervous disorders.

To compensate for the diminution of his regiment’s strength, Colonel Hirata ordered the soldiers of his 229th Infantry to kill ten Americans for each Japanese killed, and to fight until death.

Higher headquarters, however, took a less romantic view of the situation. On 29 July a staff officer from the 8th Fleet visited Sasaki’s headquarters and ordered him to withdraw to a line extending from Munda Point northeast about 3,800 yards inland. The positions facing the XIV Corps, and Munda airfield itself, were to be abandoned. Sasaki and his subordinates thought that it would be better to withdraw even farther, but the views of the 8th Fleet prevailed over those of the responsible men on the spot. The withdrawal, which was deduced by XIV Corps headquarters on 1 August, was accomplished promptly, and except for detachments at Munda and in the hills the main body of Sasaki’s troops was in its new position by the first day of August.
Jungle Techniques and Problems

The Americans did not yet know it, but the worst was over. All regiments began making steady progress each day against light, though determined and skillful, opposition.

By now all regiments, though depleted by battle casualties and disease, had become veterans. Pockets that once would have halted an entire battalion or even a regiment were now usually reduced with speed and skill. The flame thrower, receiving its most extensive use in the Pacific up to this time, was coming into its own as an offensive weapon. All regiments employed it against enemy positions, both in assault and in mopping up. The flame thrower did have several important disadvantages. The equipment was large and heavy, and required the operator to get very close to enemy positions, then expose his head and body in order to use his weapon. He needed to be protected by several riflemen. But even with its disadvantages, it was useful in destroying enemy positions.

Tanks, too, were of great value. General Griswold felt that, despite the difficulties inherent in operations over hilly jungle, the actions of the Tank Platoons of the 9th and 10th Marine Defense Battalions had been successful. On 29 July,

looking forward to fighting over easier terrain around Munda airfield, he asked General Harmon for more tanks. Corps headquarters, he also announced, was preparing to mount flame throwers on tanks.[4-N36] The operation ended before flame throwing tanks could be used, but the idea was successfully carried out in later campaigns.

[4-N36: Rad, Griswold to Harmon, 29 Jul 43, in XIV Corps G-3 Jnl, 30 Jul 43. Part of the 754th Army Tank Battalion was alerted at Noumea for transfer to Guadalcanal to be equipped with flame throwers for employment in New Georgia but Munda airfield had fallen before it was moved.]

The technique of reducing a pillbox, whether isolated or part of a defensive system, was now mastered. The official records unfortunately do not give much exact information on the reduction of specific pillboxes, but after the battle the 37th Division gave a valuable general description of the methods employed.

The first essential was a complete reconnaissance to develop the position, intention, and strength of the enemy. This was quite difficult in the jungle. “To one unskilled in jungle fighting, it is inconceivable that well trained reconnaissance patrols insufficient numbers cannot develop the situation in front of the advancing forces.”  Because they could not see far enough, because they could not always get close enough, and because Japanese fire discipline was sometimes so good that a given position would not fire until actually attacked, reconnaissance patrols could not always develop positions. The next step was a reconnaissance in force by a reinforced platoon.

This often uncovered a portion of the enemy position but not all of it. Usually the complete extent of a center of resistance was determined only by the attack. The attack itself consisted of three parts: artillery preparation, 81-mm. mortar fire, and assault, the artillery preparation had a threefold effect. It improved visibility by clearing away brush and foliage. It destroyed or damaged enemy positions. And it killed, wounded, and demoralized enemy soldiers.

The 81-mm. mortars, using heavy shell that had a delay fuze, fired on observed positions and usually covered the area between the American infantry and the artillery’s targets. They frequently drove the Japanese soldiers out of their pillboxes into the open where they became targets for rifle and machine gun fire. The 60-mm. mortars, though more mobile than the 81-mm.’s, threw too light a shell to be very effective in these attacks. Their shells usually burst in the trees, but the 81-mm. heavy shells penetrated the treetops and often the tops of the pillboxes themselves before exploding.

The assault consisted of a holding attack by a company or platoon delivering assault fire to cover a close-in single or double envelopment. BAR’s, M1’s, and grenades were used extensively, and flame throwers were employed whenever possible. Units of the 25th Division, which later drove northward from Munda to Zieta, encountered pillbox positions that were too shallow, and in country too dense, for artillery and mortars to be used without endangering the attacking infantry. Men of this division therefore advocated flame throwers, infantry cannon, and tanks for pillbox reduction.

These techniques, which simply represented the application of established tactical principles, were being applied well in early August, but several problems remained. Because the infantry units did not advance at the same rate, the front line became irregular and the supporting artillery was thus unable to capitalize on the advantages of firing at right angles to the axis of advance. All unit commanders were eager to employ artillery and mortar support to the utmost, but they frequently complained that neighboring units’ supporting artillery and mortar fires were falling in their areas and endangering their troops. They had a tendency to forget that the enemy also used artillery and mortars and, when receiving American artillery fire, frequently lobbed 90-mm. mortar shells into the American front lines to convince the American infantrymen that they were being fired on by their own artillery. In most cases the complaints were probably caused by Japanese rather than American fire.

Because maps were inaccurate and reconnaissance was inhibited by poor visibility, it was extremely difficult to determine the exact location of friendly units. In the 37th Division’s zone several artillery preparations were called off because of uncertainty about the position of the 148th Infantry. Flares and smoke pots, and sometimes flame throwers, were used to mark flanks, but usually could not be seen by anyone not in the immediate vicinity. Griswold had ordered the front line battalions to mark their flanks daily with white panels twenty-five feet long by six feet wide. These were to be photographed from the air. Reconnaissance planes made daily photographic flights, but there were no clearings in the New Georgia jungle large enough to permit the panels to be spread out, and this effort failed. By plotting close-in defensive artillery fires, forward observers were able to provide some reliable information on the location of front lines. When the 37th Division rolled forward after 1 August, it estimated positions and distances on the basis of speedometer readings from locations that had been plotted by air photography and interpolated on maps.

The difficulties of scouting and patrolling naturally affected nearly every aspect of the operation. Because enemy positions could not be fixed in advance, the troops often attacked terrain rather than the enemy. This procedure resulted in slow advances and in a high expenditure of mortar ammunition on areas actually free of the enemy. And mortar ammunition supply was laborious; shells had to be hand-carried from trail-end to the mortar positions. Poor scouting caused battalions to advance on narrow fronts and thus be halted by small enemy positions. One regimental operations officer asserted that inadequate reconnaissance was due in part to the fact that “higher commanders” did not issue orders until the late afternoon preceding an attack. Thus battalions did not have time for full reconnaissance: “Many times, units were committed in an area which had not been reconnoitered. This fact resulted in commanders having to make decisions concerning a zone of advance in which he knew little or nothing about the enemy positions. Enemy strong points encountered in this fashion often times resulted in hasty withdrawals which were costly both in men and weapons.

“Munda is yours”

The XIV Corps maintained the momentum of its advance against the enemy delaying forces. On 2, 3, 4, and 5 August the advance continued all across the corps’ front. The 103rd and 169th Infantry Regiments, which had gained the outer taxiways of the airfield on 1 August, kept going. The 3rd Battalion, 172nd, was committed on the 169th’s right on 4 August. In the more open terrain around the airstrip the troops were able to use 60-mm. mortars effectively, and their advance was consequently speeded. Kokengolo Hill, the rise in the center of the airfield where a Methodist mission had once stood, held up the advance temporarily. Bibilo Hill, whose fortifications included six 75-mm. antiaircraft guns that the Japanese had been using as dual-purpose weapons, was reduced in three days of action by elements of the 169th, 172nd, 145th, and 161st Regiments, supported by Marine tanks. The 148th Infantry, on the north flank, established blocks and ambushes on a north-south track action near the base of Bibilo Hill. that was presumed to be the Munda-Bairoko trail.

On 5 August, with Bibilo Hill cleared, the units of the 37th Division crossed the narrow strip of land between the hill and the water. This tactical success had one effect of great personal importance to the soldiers: many had their first bath in weeks.

In the 43rd Division’s zone on 5 August, the infantry, with tank and mortar support, killed or drove the last Japanese from the tunnels, bunkers, and pillboxes of Kokengolo Hill. Here were found caves stocked with rice, bales of clothing and blankets, and occupation currency. Crossing the western part of the runway, with its craters, grass, and wrecked Japanese planes, the infantrymen secured it in early afternoon. General Wing telephoned General Hodge from Bibilo Hill: “Munda is yours at 1410 today.” Griswold radioed the good news to Admiral Halsey:”…Our ground forces today wrested Munda from the Japs and present it to you…as the sole owner…” Halsey responded with “a custody receipt for Munda…Keep ’em dying.”

The major objective was in Allied hands. The hardest part of the long New Georgia battle was over.
SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: New Georgia (10) After Munda

World War Two: Munda Trail (8); Griswold Takes Over

 

World War Two: Munda Trail (8); Griswold Takes Over

General Griswold at once concluded that he could not mount a large-scale offensive against Munda until he had received reinforcements and reorganized the Occupation Force. Estimating that four battalions of “Munda moles well dug in” faced him, he planned to keep “pressure on slant-eye,” and to gain more advantageous ground for an offensive, by using the 43rd Division in a series of local attacks. At the same time he would be getting ready for a full corps offensive to “crack Munda nut and allow speedy junction with Liversedge. In the rear areas, Griswold and his staff set to work to improve the system of supply and medical treatment.

The Attack on Bairoko

Meanwhile Colonel Liversedge, after taking Enogai and abandoning the trail block, was making ready to assault Bairoko. Liversedge’s operations against Bairoko were not closely co-ordinated with action on the Munda front. Upon assuming command Griswold directed Liversedge to submit daily reports, but radio communication between Liversedge and Occupation Force headquarters on Rendova had been poor. Curiously enough Liversedge’s signals from his Navy TBX radio could barely be picked up at Rendova, although the radio at Segi Point was able to receive them without much difficulty. As a result Liversedge had to send many messages through Segi Point to headquarters of Task Force 31 at Guadalcanal, from there to be relayed to Rendova, a slow process at best.

In the days following the fall of Enogai, Liversedge sent patrols out to cover Dragons Peninsula. They made contact with the Japanese only once between 12 and 17 July. Little information was obtained. “Ground reconnaissance,” wrote Liversedge, “. . . was by no means all it should have been.” Most patrols, he felt, were not aggressive enough, had not been adequately instructed by unit commanders, and were not properly conducted. “. . . some patrols were sent out in which the individual riflemen had no idea of where they were going and what they were setting out to find.”

There was always the problem of “goldbricking on the part of patrols who are inclined to keep their activity fairly close to their camp area. . . .” Patrols made “grave errors in distance and direction” and frequently were unobservant. Many returned from their missions unable to tell in what direction the streams flowed, whether there were fresh enemy tracks around a given stream, and the approximate dimensions of swamps they had passed through.

Prisoners might have supplied a good deal of information, but only two had been captured. Air photography, too, might have furnished Liversedge with data on strongpoints, gun emplacements, stores, and bivouac areas, but he complained that he had received practically no photos. One group of obliques received just before the landing at Rice Anchorage turned out to be pictures of marines landing at Segi Point. Thus, except for the map captured on 7 July, Liversedge had no sound information on the installations at Bairoko. He was aware only that the Japanese were digging in and preparing to resist. The Americans could only guess at Japanese strength at Bairoko, whither the survivors of the Japanese garrison at Enogai had gone. Harmon’s headquarters estimated that one Army infantry battalion plus two companies, some artillerymen, and part of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force were defending Bairoko. The actual strength of the garrison is not clear. It consisted, however, of the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, the 8th Battery, 6th Field Artillery (both of the 6th Division), and elements of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force.

Liversedge had few more than three thousand men to use in the attack. The move of Colonel Schultz’s 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry, to Triri and the 18 July landing of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion at Enogai gave him a force almost four battalions strong, although casualties and disease had reduced the three battalions that made the initial landing. M Company and the Antitank Platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 145th Infantry, were holding Rice Anchorage. The 1st and 4th Raider Battalions and L Company, 145th, were at Enogai. Schultz’s battalion and the remainder of the 3rd Battalion, 145th, were at Triri.

Liversedge called his battalion commanders together at 1500, 19 July, and issued oral orders for the Bairoko attack, which was to take place early next morning. The Raider battalions, advancing some three thousand yards southwest from Enogai along the Enogai-Bairoko trail, would make the main effort. One platoon of B Company, 1st Raider Battalion, was to create a diversion by advancing down the fifty-yard-wide sand-spit forming the west shore of Leland Lagoon. The 3rd Battalion, 148th, was to make a separate enveloping movement. Advancing southwest from Triri to the trail junction southeast of Bairoko, it was to swing north against the Japanese right flank. A and C Companies, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, and elements of the 3rd Battalion, 145th, formed the reserve at Enogai.

Late in the day the B Company platoon took landing craft from Enogai to the tip of the sandspit, went ashore, and moved into position for the next morning’s attack. The remainder of the attacking force stayed in bivouac. From 2000, 19 July, to 0500, 20 July, Japanese aircraft bombed and strafed Enogai, which as yet had no antiaircraft guns. No one was killed, but the troops had little rest.

The two Raider battalions started out of Enogai at 0800, 20 July, and within thirty minutes all units had cleared the village and were marching down the trail toward Bairoko. The 1st Raider Battalion (less two companies) led, followed by the 4th Battalion and regimental Headquarters. At 0730 Schultz’s battalion had left Triri on its enveloping march.

The Northern Landing Group was attacking a fortified position. A force delivering such an attack normally makes full use of all supporting services, arms, and weapons, but Liversedge’s men had little to support them. No one seems to have asked for naval gunfire. Liversedge, who had been receiving fairly heavy air support in the form of bombardments of Bairoko, is reported to have requested a heavy air strike to support his assauLieutenant His message reached the Guadalcanal headquarters of Admiral Mitscher, the Commander, Aircraft, Solomons, too late on the 19th for action next day.[N4] The marines definitely expected air support. The 4th Raider Battalion noted at 0900: “Heavy air strike failed to materialize.” 5 Artillery support was precluded by the fact that there was no artillery. Hindsight indicates that the six 81-mm. mortars of the 3rd Battalion, 145th Infantry, might have been used in general support of the attack, but these weapons remained with their parent battalion.

[N4: Major John N. Rentz, USMCR, Marines in the Central Solomons (Washington, 1952), p. 111. The XIV Corps G-3 Journal for 19 July contains a message from Liversedge, sent at 2235, 18 July, requesting a twelve-plane strike on 19 July, and a “large strike to stand by for July 20 A M and SBD’s to stand by for immediate call remainder of day.” XIV Corps headquarters replied that a “large strike stand by” for 20 July was “impracticable.” 5 4th Mar Raider Bn Special Action Rpt, Bairoko Harbor, New Georgia Opn, p. 3.

The Raiders advanced without meeting an enemy until 0955 when the 1st Battalion’s point sighted four Japanese. When the first shot was fired at 1015, B and D Companies, 1st Raider Battalion, deployed and moved forward. Heavy firing broke out at 1045. By noon the battalion had penetrated the enemy outpost line of resistance and was in the outskirts of Bairoko. When D Company, on the left, was halted by machine gun fire, Liversedge began committing the 4th Raider Battalion to the left of the 1st. Then D Company started moving again. Driving slowly but steadily against machine gun fire, it advanced with its flanks in the air beyond B Company until by 1430 it had seized a ridge about three hundred yards short of the shore of Bairoko Harbour. Liversedge ordered more units forward to cover D Company’s flank. These advances were made with rifle, grenade, and bayonet against Japanese pillboxes constructed of logs and coral, housing machine guns. The jungle overhead was so heavy that the Raiders’ 60-mm. mortars were not used. The platoon on the sandspit, meanwhile, was held up by a number of machine guns and was unable to reach the mainland to make contact with the main body.

So far the marines, by attacking resolutely, had made good progress in spite of the absence of proper support, but now 90-mm. mortar fire from Japanese positions on the opposite (west) shore of Bairoko Harbour began bursting around the battalion command posts and on D Company’s ridge. With casualties mounting, D Company was forced off the ridge. By 1500 practically the entire force that Liversedge had led out of Enogai was committed and engaged in the fire fight, but was unable to move farther under the 90-mm. mortar fire. Colonel Griffith, commanding the 1st Raider Battalion, regretted the absence of heavy mortars in the Marine battalions. Liversedge, at 1315, sent another urgent request for an air strike against the positions on the west shore of Bairoko Harbour, but, as Griswold told him, there could be no air strikes by Guadalcanal-based planes on such short notice. With all marine units in action, the attack stalled, and casualties increasing, Liversedge telephoned Schultz to ask if his battalion could make contact with the marines before dark. [N6] Otherwise, he warned, the attack on Bairoko would fail.

[N6: All men of Headquarters Company, 4th Raider Battalion, were engaged in carrying litter cases to the rear.]

Schultz’s battalion had marched out of Triri that morning in column of companies. Except for two small swamps, the trail was easy. By 1330 the battalion had traveled about 3,000 yards, passing some Japanese corpses and abandoned positions on the way, and reached the point where the Triri trail joined one of the Munda-Bairoko tracks. Here, about 2,500 yards south of Bairoko, the battalion swung north and had moved a short distance when the advance guard ran into an enemy position on high ground. Patrols went out to try to determine the location and strength of the Japanese; by 1530 Schultz was ready to attack. M Company’s 81-mm. mortars opened fire, but the rifle companies, attempting to move against machine guns, were not able to advance. One officer and one enlisted man of K Company were killed; two men were wounded. This was the situation at 1600 when Schultz received Liversedge’s call.

Schultz immediately told Liversedge that he could not reach the main body before dark. A few minutes later, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment’s executive officer, having been dispatched to Schultz to tell him to push harder, arrived at the battalion command post. According to the 3rd Battalion’s report, the executive agreed that contact could not be made before dark and he so informed Liversedge.

The group commander concluded that he had but one choice: to withdraw. He issued the order, and the marine battalions began retiring at 1700. Starting from the left of the line, they pulled back company by company. Machinegun and mortar fire still hit them, but the withdrawal was orderly. All uninjured men helped carry the wounded. The battalion retired about five hundred yards and set up a perimeter defense on the shore of Leland Lagoon. When L Company of the 145th came up from Enogai carrying water, ammunition, and blood plasma, it was committed to the perimeter. Construction of the defenses was impeded by darkness,but the task was completed and the hasty defenses were adequate to withstand some harassing Japanese that night.

Some of the walking wounded had been sent to Enogai in the late afternoon of the 20th, and at 0615 of the 21st more were dispatched. Evacuation of litter cases began at 0830, and an hour later a group of Corrigan’s natives came from Enogai to help. Carrying the stricken men in litters over the primitive trail in the heat was hard on the men and on the litter bearers. Liversedge therefore ordered that landing craft from Enogai come up Leland Lagoon and take the wounded back from a point about midway between Bairoko and Enogai. This evacuation was carried out, and by late afternoon, the withdrawal, which was covered by Allied air attacks against Bairoko, had been completed. All the marines were at Enogai, where they were joined by Schultz’s battalion, which had retired to Triri and come to Enogai by boat. The Raider battalions lost 46 men killed, 161 wounded. They reported counting 33 enemy corpses, but estimated that the total number of enemy dead was much higher.

Once again at Enogai, the Northern Landing Group resumed daily patrols over Dragons Peninsula.

Pressure on the Japanese

On the Munda front, meanwhile, the 169th and 172nd Regiments were engaged in their limited offensive to hold the Japanese in position and secure more high ground from which to launch the corps offensive that was to start on 25 July.

The 172nd Infantry

From 16 through 24 July the 172nd Infantry expanded the Laiana beachhead. It moved west about six hundred yards and established a front line that ran for about fifteen hundred yards inland from the beach near Ilangana. During this period it had the support of tanks for the first time. Reconnaissance had revealed some trails in front of the 172nd that the tanks could use. Therefore three M3 light tanks of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion were assigned to each of the 172nd’s battalions, and six riflemen were ordered to advance with and cover each tank.

In the zone of the 2nd Battalion, 172nd, on the beach, the tanks made good progress along a jeep trail on 16 July. But when they reached the trail’s end, their rate of advance slowed to about one mile an hour as logs, stumps, and trees caused constant backing, towing, and rerouting. About seventy-five yards beyond the 2nd Battalion’s front lines, in an area where artillery fire had partly cleared the vegetation, the tanks sighted Japanese pillboxes. They deployed into a wedge formation, then fired 37-mm. high explosive shells. As this fire cut down the underbrush other pillboxes became visible. Japanese machine gunners manning positions in grass shacks opened fire, but were immediately blasted by canister from the tanks.

Such heavy fire then struck the tanks that they were forced to close their turret hatches, but they found the source of much of the fire—a machine gun position at the base of a banyan tree. The marines shot at this position for some time, but as they killed one gunner, his replacement would bound forward from the rear, man the gun, and keep shooting until he was killed. At length the tanks destroyed the gun, drove the surviving crew members into a nearby pillbox, pulled up close, and demolished three pillboxes with short-range fire. Troops of the 2nd Battalion then moved forward to grenade the wreckage.

The three tanks operating with the 3rd Battalion, to the right of the 2nd, had less success, as the ridges in that zone were so steep that the tanks could not elevate or depress their guns enough to hit the enemy positions.

The destruction of the pillboxes near the shore gave the troops an opportunity to inspect the type of defenses they would have to overcome before they could take Munda. The pillboxes were not concrete, as had been feared, but were made of coconut logs and coral. From ten to twelve feet square, they had three or four layers of logs banked with six to eight feet of weathered coral. About ten feet from floor to ceiling, they were dug into the earth so that only two or three feet of pillbox projected above the ground. Each had several firing slits for riflemen as well as a firing platform for a heavy machine gun. Outside were foxholes among banyan and mahogany trees. Trenches connected all positions, which were well camouflaged. Besides employing terrain contours for concealment, the Japanese used earth, grass, vines, palm fronds, and leaves to such good effect that the American soldiers might receive fire from a pillbox and still not be able to see it. Soldiers of the 43rd Division remarked that the Japanese positions were easier to smell than see. As usual, the Americans reported the presence of many snipers in trees, but these reports had little basis in fact. No one ever seems to have actually seen one.

The tanks attacked again on the 17th, but lack of tank-infantry co-ordination hampered their efforts. The Marine tanks and the Army infantry had not trained together. Foot soldiers had no sure means of communicating with the tanks when they were closed up for action. Tank crews, with hatches closed, could see very little in the jungle. The tankers uttered the classic complaint that the riflemen did not give them proper support and protection, while the infantrymen claimed that the tanks did not always press forward to support them. Doubtless both accusations were based on truth.

Japanese antitank tactics, practically nonexistent at first, improved each day, for staff officers had hurried down from Rabaul to instruct Sasaki’s men in methods of dealing with tanks. The Japanese used mines, flame throwers, Molotov cocktails, and fuzed charges of TNT against the tanks, but apparently had no antitank guns. After two tanks were permanently disabled on 17-18 July, General Griswold withdrew the other tanks from the front to permit repairs. He ordered the 9th Marine Defense Battalion tank commander to reconnoiter for terrain suitable for tank action, and at the same time requested that the Tank Platoon of the 10th Marine Defense Battalion, then in the Russells, be sent to New Georgia.

Kelley Hill

In the 169th Infantry’s zone farther north, the 3rd Battalion’s seizure of Reincke Ridge was being exploited. The 2nd Battalion was able to capture the hill immediately north of Reincke Ridge, and on 15 July Major Joseph E. Zimmer, commanding the 1st Battalion, reconnoitered the high ground (Kelley Hill) four hundred yards southwest of Reincke Ridge in preparation for an attack.

At 0830 the next day, 16 July, the 155-mm. howitzers of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion and the 3rd Battalion’s mortars put fire on the objective. At the same time the 1st Battalion, fortified by hot coffee and doughnuts, passed through the 3rd Battalion’s lines and advanced to the attack. One platoon from C Company, carrying .30-caliber light machine guns, struck out down the west slope of Reincke Ridge and up the east slope of Kelley Hill, seized the crest, and set up machine guns to cover the advance of the battalion’s main body, which was to envelop Kelley Hill from the south. The whole effort was bloodless.

The battalion’s advance elements climbed the hill without meeting any opposition. They found only empty pillboxes and abandoned foxholes. By 1530 the entire battalion was on the ridge top. The men found they could look west and see the waters south of Munda Point, although the airfield was hidden from view. Because natives had formerly dug yam gardens on the ridge, there was an open area about 75 by 150 yards. Zimmer’s men, using Japanese positions when possible, started building an all-round defense in the clearing. Automatic rifles, machine guns, and M1903 and M1 rifles were posted on the line, with mortars in supporting positions in rear.

There was a brush with a Japanese patrol at 1650, and before dark, when the emplacements were still incomplete, Japanese artillery and mortar fire struck the battalion. Fourteen men died, including 1st Lieutenant John R. Kelley, in whose memory the hill was named. Just fifteen minutes after midnight part of the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, now commanded by Captain Kojima, assaulted the hill from positions on Horseshoe Hill. Beaten off, Kojima tried twice more against the right (north) and rear (east) but failed to dislodge Zimmer’s battalion.

The 1st Battalion held to the ridge, but as day broke on 17 July the troops realized that their situation was not enviable. That the Japanese were still active was indicated by their resistance to an attempt by the 2nd Battalion to drive into the draw between Reincke Ridge and Kelley Hill. This attempt was beaten back. The 1st Battalion’s rations and ammunition were running low; the battalion surgeon had no medical supplies. And when Japanese machine guns fired on a party carrying twenty wounded men to the rear and forced it to return west to Kelley Hill, the men of the battalion knew that they were virtually isolated. Fortunately the telephone line to the regimental command post was still operating, and Major Zimmer was able to keep Colonel Holland informed on his situation. As the hot day wore on, the supply of water dwindled. Some men left their positions to drink from puddles in shell holes.

Eight of those who thus exposed themselves were wounded by Japanese riflemen. In midafternoon succor came. A party of South Pacific Scouts, accompanied by Capt. Dudley H. Burr, the regimental chaplain, escorted a supply party through to Kelley Hill. The party brought ammunition, rations, water, blood plasma, litters, and orders from Holland to hold the hill. The wounded were carried out. The unwounded on Kelley Hill, securely dug in, made ready to meet the Japanese night attack which they had reason to expect.

The Enemy Counterattacks

Up to now, Japanese ground troops had harried the Americans at night with local attacks, but had not attempted any large co-ordinated offensives. They had manned their defensive positions, fired at the American infantry, and had received bombs, shells, and infantry assaults without retaliating very actively. This quiescence, so different from enemy reactions during the Guadalcanal Campaign, puzzled the American commanders. General Sasaki was well aware that only offensive action would destroy the Allied forces on New Georgia, and he had brought the 13th Infantry to Munda from Kolombangara for that purpose.

Sasaki ordered the 13th, acting in concert with as much of the 229th Infantry as he could spare from the defenses east of Munda, to assemble on the upper reaches of the Barike, fall upon the Allied flank and rear, and destroy the whole force.7 The 13th Infantry, having completed its march from Bairoko, assembled on the upper Barike on 15 July. It claims to have attacked the 43rd Division’s right flank on that date, a claim that is not supported by the 43rd Division records. Two days later the 13th made ready to attack from the upper Barike.

In the afternoon of the 17th American patrols operating on the practically open right flank reported that an enemy column, 250-300 men strong, was moving eastward. A platoon from the 43rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop went out to ambush the column but failed to intercept it. It was obvious that the Japanese had some sort of offensive action in mind.

It was equally obvious that the Allied forces in front of Munda were in a vulnerable position. Their right flank was in the air; the front line positions were exposed to envelopment from the north. The Japanese reinforcement route from Bairoko was still open, and 43rd Division rear installations, strung out from Zanana to the front, were unguarded except for local security detachments.

Movement was slow along the Munda Trail; the track north from Laiana was not yet completed. It would thus be difficult to send speedy reinforcement to any beleaguered unit. A resolute, skillful attack by the 13th Infantry, such as Sasaki had planned, could destroy the 43rd Division’s rear installations, cut the line of communications from Zanana to the front, and if co-ordinated with the efforts of the 229th Infantry might surround the American regiments on the front lines.

Captain Kojima was ready to do his part. He had prepared another attack against Kelley Hill. At 0015, 18 July, Japanese machine guns north of Kelley opened fire. They covered the advance of riflemen who were attempting an assault against the west slope of Kelley Hill. The 1st Battalion fired at the Japanese infantry with all weapons that would bear, including two captured Japanese machine guns. Tracers from Kojima’s machine guns revealed their location, and 3rd and 1st Battalion mortar crews put their fire on the Japanese positions to the north. Kojima’s first attack failed. His men pulled back, regrouped, and tried again, this time from the north. They succeeded in seriously threatening the line. The broken ground on the north slope of Kelley Hill provided some cover from the fire of one of the machine guns that was supposed to sweep the area. The Japanese, taking advantage of the dead space, crawled within grenade-throwing range of the northern line of the 1st Battalion. But mortar fire killed some of them and forced the others to withdraw. The 1st Battalion reported counting 102 Japanese bodies on the slopes of Kelley Hill after daybreak. A predawn attack by the 2nd Battalion, 229th Infantry, against the beach positions of the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, in the 172nd’s sector, was readily repulsed.

Elsewhere on the night of 17-18 July the Japanese caused alarms and uproar. They launched simultaneous raids against the engineer and medical bivouacs and the 43rd Division command post at Zanana. Near one of the Barike bridges they ambushed a party taking wounded of the 169th to the rear, then attacked the hasty perimeter set up by the party and killed several of the wounded.

The attacks against the engineer and medical bivouacs were easily beaten off, but at the command post the raiders’ first onslaught carried them through the security detachment’s perimeter and into the communication center where they ripped up telephone wires and damaged the switchboard before being chased off. The division artillery liaison officer, Capt. James Ruhlen, called for supporting fire from the 136th Field Artillery Battalion. Adjusting by sound, he put fire on a nearby hill where the Japanese were thought to be emplacing mortars and laid a tight box barrage around the command post. This fire was continued throughout the night. During the action Lieutenant Col. Elmer S. Watson, 43rd Division G-3, was wounded. Major Sidney P. Marland, Jr., his assistant, took his place.

Shortly after receiving word of the attack,General Griswold ordered a battery of artillerymen from Kokorana to Zanana to protect the command post, and on his orders Colonel Baxter selected the 1st Battalion of his 148th Infantry to move from Rendova to Zanana at daybreak.

The 13thInfantry then withdrew to the north. It had caused a few casualties but accomplished very little, certainly not enough to justify its trip from Kolombangara. As might be expected, General Sasaki was disappointed. Reincke Ridge, Kelley Hill, and Laiana beachhead remained in American hands.

Preparations for the Corps Offensive Commitment of the 37th Division

General Griswold, preparing for his corps offensive, needed fresh troops at the front. On 18 July he ordered Colonel Baxter to advance west with the 2nd Battalion of his 148th Infantry and relieve the 169th Infantry as soon as possible. Baxter, whose 1st and 2nd Battalions had arrived at Zanana that morning, effected the relief by 21 July after being delayed by Japanese detachments at the Barike.

After the 169th’s relief, regimental command changed again. Colonel Holland took over his old regiment, the 145th, while Lieutenant Col. Bernard J. Lindauer succeeded to command of the 169th. Lindauer’s regiment returned to Rendova for rest and reorganization. Its 3rd Battalion, after receiving 212 replacements, was sent into reserve at Laiana on 24 July.

By 23 July the major part of the 37th Division had arrived at New Georgia and was either in action or ready to be committed. Present were Division and Division Artillery Headquarters; the 145th and 148th Infantry Regiments less their 3rd Battalions, which were under Liversedge; the 135th and 136th Field Artillery Battalions; the 37th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop; and the signal, quartermaster, ordnance, engineer, and medical units (except B Company, 117th Engineer Battalion, and B Company, 112th Medical Battalion).

General Griswold, on 22 July, directed General Beightler to resume command at noon of all his units then on New Georgia except the 136th Field Artillery Battalion. To the 37th Griswold attached the 161st Regimental Combat Team less its artillery, and the 169th and 192nd Field Artillery Battalions of the 43rd Division. The 136th Field Artillery Battalion was serving as part of corps artillery. The other three organic and attached artillery battalions were under the 37th Division for direct fire support missions only; for all others they would be controlled by corps artillery, now commanded by General Barker.

Griswold, reshuffling units for the offensive, set the boundary between divisions along an east-by-south-west-bynorth line approximately thirteen hundred yards north of Ilangana. The 43rd Division was on the left (south), with the 103rd and 172nd Regiments in line from south to north.10 The 172nd moved right to establish contact with the 37th Division’s left.

The 37th Division, assigned an indefinite frontage north of the 43rd Division, gave the 145th Infantry a narrow front of 300 yards on the left, because only the 2nd Battalion, 145th, which had been covering the gap north of the 172nd Infantry, was immediately available. The 10 The 2nd Battalion, 103rd, having been relieved by the 1st Battalion, had come up from Wickham Anchorage.

1st Battalion was still holding the high ground taken over from the 169th Infantry. The 161st Infantry was given a 500-yard front in the center. One of its battalions constituted the corps reserve. The 148th Infantry was put on the right, with no definite frontage, and assigned the responsibility for protecting the corps’ right flank and rear.

All units had moved into position by 24 July. The 161st Infantry, whose transfer had been approved by General Harmon, had arrived at Baraulu Island on 21 July, moved to New Georgia the next day, and suffered its first casualties of the campaign when two captains of the regimental staff were killed on reconnaissance. On 23 July the regiment moved to assembly areas in preparation for the offensive. Most of the 161st’s zone of action lay north of the high ground taken by the 169th Infantry.

The corps line of departure ran northwest from a point near Ilangana. In the 161st’s zone, it lay about three hundred yards west of the assembly areas, and ran over Horseshoe Hill. Colonel Dalton, who had taken over command of the regiment in the closing days of the Guadalcanal Campaign, sent out patrols to reconnoiter for the line of departure.

These patrols were stopped short of the line by Japanese on a ridge that formed part of the northeast slope of Horseshoe Hill, and returned to report to Dalton that there were two pillboxes on the ridge. A reinforced platoon went out to deal with the enemy. This platoon came back and claimed the destruction of two positions but reported the presence of several more. Because Beightler did not want to commit the regiment to general action before 25 July, he ordered Dalton to use one rifle company to clear the ridge on 24 July. I Company, supported by M Company’s 81-mm. mortars, attacked and reported knocking out two more pillboxes, apparently by killing the occupants. But I Company also reported the presence of a dozen more pillboxes. Before nightfall, patrols reported that the Japanese had reoccupied the two positions I Company had attacked. Thus just before D Day the 161st Infantry was aware that a strong enemy position lay camouflaged between it and the line of departure.

Reorganization

In the days following his assumption of command, General Griswold and his staff were deeply occupied with administrative as well as tactical matters. Reinforcements from the 25th and 37th Divisions had to be received and assigned. The supply system was overhauled; medical services were improved.

General Griswold immediately designated Barabuni Island as supply dump for the 43rd Division, Kokorana for the 37th. Ships from Guadalcanal would land equipment and supplies in these islands, whence landing craft would transport them through the barrier islands to Laiana or to other positions on the barrier islands.

Hester’s move to Laiana was paying dividends. Although low, swampy ground had at first slowed construction of the trail from Laiana north to the Munda Trail, six hundred yards had been built by 17 July, and on 20 July the whole trail was opened to motor traffic.

As a result, Hester reported, his regiments would no longer need to be supplied from the air. The 43rd Division command post moved from Zanana to Laiana on 21 July. At the same time most of the 43rd Division’s service installations moved to Laiana. Two-lane roads were built within the dump areas, and additional trails out of Laiana, plus more trails to the various regiments, were also buiLieutenant Bulldozer operators working inland received fire from enemy riflemen on occasion. After one driver was wounded, the engineers fashioned shields for the bulldozers with steel salvaged from wrecked enemy landing craft. A D-4 and a much heavier D-7 bulldozer that came in with A Company, 65th Engineer Battalion, on 23 July, speeded construction of a trail to the 161st Infantry and of lateral trails in the 37th Division’s area. With the roads built it was possible to assemble supplies close behind the infantry regiments and to plan their systematic delivery in the future.

The XIV Corps and its assigned units also undertook the improvement of medical care. Several hours after he assumed command Griswold asked Harmon to send the 250-bed 17th Field Hospital from Guadalcanal to Rendova at once. Harmon approved. Because of physical frailty some medical officers had become casualties themselves, and the resulting shortage prevented careful supervision and handling of casualties. Griswold asked Harmon for fifteen medical officers physically able to stand the rigors of field service. To make sure that casualties being evacuated from New Georgia received proper medical attention during the trip to Guadalcanal, the corps surgeon arranged with naval authorities for a naval medical officer to travel on each LST carrying patients.

Finally, all units benefited by the 43rd Division’s experience in dealing with war neurosis. Rest camps, providing hot food, baths, clean clothes, and cots, were established on the barrier islands, and Colonel Hallam tried to see to it that more accurate diagnoses were made so that men suffering from combat fatigue were separated from true neurotics and sent to the camps.

Air Support

Air support of the New Georgia operation had been generally good, and the scale of bombing was increasing. Completion of the Segi Point field on 10 July and full employment of the Russells fields made it possible for fighters to escort all bombing missions. These missions could therefore be executed in daylight with resulting increases in accuracy. South Pacific air units were able to put more planes in the air at one time than ever before. Regular strikes against the Shortlands and southern Bougainville were intensified.

Allied fighters providing the 0700 to 1630 cover for the New Georgia Occupation Force also escorted the almost daily bombing attacks against Munda, Bairoko, and Vila. Fighter operations were proving especially effective in protecting the beachheads and shipping. On 15 July some seventy-five Japanese bombers and fighters were intercepted by thirty-one Allied fighters, who reported knocking down forty-five enemy craft at a cost of three American planes. Thereafter Japanese aircraft virtually abandoned daylight attacks against Rendova and New Georgia and confined their efforts to nocturnal harassment.

Bombing and strafing missions in support of the ground troops were numerous and heavy, considering the number of aircraft in the South Pacific. On 16 July 37 torpedo bombers and an equal number of dive bombers struck at Lambeti with thirty-six 1,000-pound, eighteen 2,000-pound, and eighty-eight 500-pound bombs at 0905. The strike was followed by another against Munda by 36 SBD’s and TBF’s. These dropped twelve 1,000pound and twelve 2,000-pound bombs at 1555. On 19 July 20 TBF’s and 18 SBD’s hit at positions north of Munda, and the next day 36 SBD’s dropped 1,000-pound bombs at suspected gun positions north of Lambeti. Two days later 36 SBD’s and 18 TBF’s again bombed the Munda gun positions, which were struck once more by 16 SBD’s on 23 July. On 24 July, the day before the corps offensive began, 37 TBF’s and 36 SBD’s with a screen of 48 fighters dropped thirty-seven 2,000-pound and thirty-six 1,000-pound bombs on Bairoko in the morning. In late afternoon 18 SBD’s and 16 TBF’s hit Munda and Bibilo Hill.

Most of the aircraft flying these missions were piloted by marines. It will be noted that this air support was, according to then current Army doctrine, direct air support. Most of these missions were flown as part of “a combined effort of the air and ground forces, in the battle area, to gain objectives on the immediate front of the ground forces.” But as most of the targets were several thousand yards from the front lines, this was not close air support, which was defined after the war as “attack by aircraft on hostile ground or naval targets which are so close to friendly forces as to require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of these forces.” 12 South Pacific commanders, including General Harmon, had hoped to make extensive use of close air support on New Georgia, and a few close air support missions such as that requested by Colonel Holland had been executed, but they were difficult for the air forces to execute and dangerous to the ground troops. There was, at that time, no systematized target marking system nor any good means of radio communication between the front lines and the aircraft. The Thirteenth Air Force had no tactical air communications squadron. The dense jungle and rolling terrain where the troops were operating had so few landmarks that pilots could not easily orient themselves. Nor could the ground troops orient themselves any more easily. Panels marking the front lines could scarcely be seen from the air.

Enemy positions could rarely be identified by spotters in observation planes or by air liaison parties on the ground. Because maps were inexact, and the troops had difficulty in locating themselves precisely, bombing missions executed close to the front lines resulted in casualties to American troops. Three soldiers of the 172nd Infantry were killed in that way on 16 July. For these reasons close air support was seldom used in any of the CARTWHEEL operations. The direct air support on New Georgia was, however, of great value, and General Griswold had every intention of following Harmon’s order that the New Georgia operation employ air support to the maximum degree.

Griswold, in the nine days following his assumption of command, had improved supply and evacuation on New Georgia. In spite of the failure at Bairoko, the tactical position, too, had improved. The tired 169th had been relieved, and fresh 25th and 37th Division regiments were ready to enter the fight. The troops had repulsed a counterattack, improved their position by seizing high ground, and now held a southeast-northwest line about three thousand yards from the east end of Munda field.

The XIV Corps could look forward to receiving the same resolute, effective air and naval support that had aided the 43rd Division. With the logistic and tactical situations of his troops thus improved, and sure of ample air and naval support, Griswold was ready to attack Munda.

SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Munda Trail (9); XIV Corps Offensive

World War Two: Munda Trail; Offense Stalls