World War Two: North Africa (5-22); Axis Turn Allied Southern Flank

The Decision To Fall Back to the West: On 15 February, General Anderson concluded that his attempt to hold onto forward positions had been too ambitious, that “a very exposed southern Rank” existed in the light of current and impending operations, and that the whole Allied force was in danger of being outflanked and cut off from the south. The threat could be covered by strong armored forces in the Sbeitla-Sbiba areas, but since U.S. II Corps would have “other responsibilities to the south,” such a concentration of armor would be impracticable.

“I feel therefore,” he wrote to General Eisenhower, “that it is wise to consider in good time whether we should not voluntarily withdraw to the main ridge of the Grande Dorsale from Djebel Bargou (1266) southwards, linking up with Kef el Ahmar and down to the Sbeitla area.” He also pointed out that an early withdrawal intact would be preferable to a costlv effort to hold the Pichon area and the Eastern Dorsal. On the other hand, he continued, “I think it is essential that we hold the Grande Dorsale itself, and I am prepared to fight all out to insure this.” He stated further that to hold the Grande Dorsale might not be possible if the Allies first lost heavily while being driven out of their easterly positions.

The decision was submitted to the commander in chief as a matter of major policy and received his approval. First Army sent a warning to II Corps at 1700, 15 February, that early withdrawal had been determined and that General Anderson would send instructions governing the methods to be employed to cover the withdrawal and to establish the new line. In the meantime, the first task of II Corps would be to extricate the infantry from the hills near Sidi Bou Zid, and then to pull back to positions insuring the security of Sbeitla, Kasserine, and Feriana, while retaining a mobile reserve capable of operating to the northeast, east, south, and southwest. First Army expected II Corps to be prepared to engage the enemy should he move west or southwest from Fondouk el Aouare Pichon gap, or northward toward Hadjeb el Aloun from the Faid area.”

The decision to fall back to the Western Dorsal was a hard one. It meant the abandonment of a forward base for both American and French units at Sbeitla, and of the newly constructed air base at Thelepte. It required hasty improvisation of defenses at a number of passes in the western chain. It required troops only recently brought eastward to meet the severe test of large-scale retirement. An orderly withdrawal under enemy pressure would require valor, skill, and good leadership. On the other hand, the decision was bound, if satisfactorily executed, to make the enemy exert a prodigious effort if he was to obtain from it any further advantage. With what the Allies estimated as an unfavorable Axis supply situation, and with the British Eighth Army’s advance against the Mareth Position scheduled to occur soon, the enemy would be obliged to gain his successes quickly. To fight his way through the Western Dorsal could be made very costly to him and might, indeed, be prevented. Nevertheless, General Anderson’s decision to commit his reserves to cover the withdrawal in the critical area on the southern flank left him without the means to make, as General Eisenhower had suggested, any diversionary attack in the north in order to lighten the pressure which the enemy could exert from Pichon to Feriana.

During the next night, 15-16 February, the force under attack on Djebel Lessouda (644) attempted to escape the encirclement. A substantial group infiltrated through the enemy’s outpost line before daylight. Before dawn, 231 succeeded in reaching Djebel Hamra (673), bringing with them some enemy prisoners. Others got through to the north or south. Three American officers and 58 men were captured at once and later a few more, including Colonel Waters. The troops still stranded in two groups on Djebel Ksalra (560) and Djebel Garet Hadid (620) were kept under relentless attack until, thristy and hungry, they had been crowded on 16 February into limited areas on each hill” They were ordered to withdraw during the night of 16-17 February. Each force destroyed all of its weapons and equipment except what could be carried to advantage. The men worked their way down the slopes and out across ploughed fields onto the plain, continuing toward Djebel Hamra, about fifteen miles away, in complete darkness. In a weakened condition, they jettisoned heavy pack weapons but were still a few miles short of the hills at dawn. Before they could leave the plain, they were observed and pursued by motorized troops, who circled out of range, cut them down with heavy machine gun fire, drove most of those surviving into a large cactus patch, and eventually captured all but a few. Both groups had similar experiences. About 800 prisoners were taken in the first group and 600, including Colonel Drake. in the second.

The Axis Attack Pauses

The Kampfgruppe from the German Africa Corps which Rommel had placed under command of Colonel von Liebenstein approached Gafsa from Gabes cautiously, for Rommel was disturbed by his lack of reserves, convinced that a serious reverse would have catastrophic consequences, and still inclined to overestimate the Allied strength in the Gafsa area. [NOTE 6-6A] The actual attack on Gafsa was scheduled to begin only after Ziegler had released the 21st Panzer Division (reinforced) to participate in it by converging on the objective from the northeast as Kampfgruppe DAK was approaching through El Guettar. When Axis troops discovered the Allied evacuation of Gafsa on 15 February, they occupied the town that same evening. Rommel sent reconnoitering elements southwest toward Metlaoui-Tozeur, and northwest toward Feriana, while Division Centauro established positions in the heights around Gafsa. The 21st Panzer Division which was to have reinforced Kampfgruppe DAK for the battle at Gafsa was held in the vicinity of Sidi Bou Zid until its next commitment had been determined.

 [NOTE 6-6A: The German forces were: Headquarters, German Africa Corps; Panzer Grenadier Regiment Afrika; 1st Luftwaffe Jaeger Brigade (two weak battalions); one armored battalion (twenty-six tanks) of the 15th Panzer Division; 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion; Headquarters and 1st Battalion, 1st Artillery Regiment Afrika; 1st Battalion, 190th Artillery Regiment; 3rd Battery, 71st Rocket Projector Regiment; 1st Company, 200th Engineer Battalion; 1st Panzer Jaeger Company (75-mm. antitank guns); Headquarters, 135th Flak Regiment (with five heavy and two light antiaircraft batteries) ; and medical service. The Italian reinforcements were from Division Centauro: two infantry battalions, two artillery battalions, one motorized battalion (Bersaglieri) , one tank battalion (23 tanks) and one assault gun battery. Rpt, German-Italian Panzer Army to Comando Supremo, 16 Feb-13, in Panzer Army Africa, KTB, Anlagenband 9, Anlage 1081/4.]

With Sidi Bou Zid and Gafsa in enemy hands, what would be his next aggressive move? If command of the Axis forces had been unified, exploitation of the first successes might have been much more energetic and effective. As matters actually were, most of 16 February passed in efforts to clear the Americans from Djebel Ksaira and Djebel Garet Hadid, and to ascertain Allied intentions. During a flying visit to Hitler’s headquarters, Kesselring had to order the attack on Sbeitla to proceed. General Ziegler, shortly after midnight 15–16 February, directed the 10th Panzer Division to reconnoiter toward Sbeitla early in the morning and be prepared to attack the town during the day. At about the same time Ziegler conferred by telephone with von Arnim and pointed out that he would not be able to attack toward Hadjeb el Aioun in the general direction of the Fondouk el Aouareb gap unless he could retain command over the 21st Panzer Division.

At 0745 von Arnim informed the Kampfgruppe DAK that he would not send the 21st Panzer Division to the Gafsa area now in Axis possession. Immediately thereafter he called Ziegler and ordered him to strike against Sbeitla with a brief, but powerful blow, destroy Allied supply dumps, and then turn north against Fondouk el Aouareb with the mission of destroying the Allied forces south of the gap. This second phase would be executed on 17 February. Elements of the 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions were meanwhile still engaged in the final effort to eliminate the stubbornly defended Allied strongholds on Djebels Lessouda, Garet Hadid, and Ksaira. The main bodies of both divisions were assembled in the vicinity of Sidi Bou Zid.

The Allied screening force in the vicinity of Djebel Hamra and Kern’s Crossroads impeded the morning’s reconnaissance. The American troops on the hills south of Sidi Bou Zid refused to yield although under persistent pressure and short of rations. When Ziegler conferred with his commanders at noon in F aid over plans to attack Sbetla, he could not count on keeping the 21st Panzer Division from Rommel indefinitely. Neither could he count on using all of 10th Panzer Division because of von Arnim’s projected employment of at least an armored task force to cut off the Allied units defending the mountainous positions south of Pichon. But what concern Ziegler may have had was lessened after Gerhardt’s afternoon attack on Kern’s Crossroads, and after he received intelligence that the Allied forces had been instructed to avoid battle at Sbeitla.

The Allied plan to evacuate Sbeitla altered the enemy’s situation drastically and its discovery brought about a swift change in General Ziegler’s arrangements for the attack. Since he had not been obliged to send the 21st Panzer Division to join in seizing Gafsa or for other commitment in that area he could therefore use it against Sbeitla, thus freeing the 10th Panzer Division for the next phase of its operations. In support of this operation Fifth Panzer Army ordered Group Buhse (47th Grenadier Regiment) to pin down the Allies by a frontal attack. With this operation von Arnim returned to an earlier concept, planned for the end of January, that had been frustrated when the Americans had struck against Maknassy.

For the immediate drive on Sbeitla, General Ziegler initially was forced to employ Group Gerhardt (10th Panzer Division). But after the first contact with the Americans had been made at the outer defenses of Sbeitla, the 21st Panzer Division passed through the advanced force and Colonel Hildebrandt assumed responsibility for the operations there. Gerhardt and other elements of General von Broich’s 10th Panzer Division assembled during the night of 16-17 February near Kern’s Crossroads for the thrust toward Fondouk. Using the less mobile elements of both panzer divisions, Colonel Rudolph Lang organized the defense of the Sidi Bou Zid-Faid pass area.

While Ziegler’s advance detachments were probing the defenses at Sbeitla, finding them too strong to risk an attack that night, Colonel Pomptow, his chief of staff, briefed Rommel’s headquarters on the situation. As a direct result, Rommel ordered Colonel von Liebenstein to advance from Gafsa without delay and capture Feriana by surprise, but avoid being tied down in a costly battle.

In striking for Feriana and Sbeitla Rommel and von Arnim were going beyond the mission assigned to them by Comando Supremo and anticipating instructions for the second phase of the offensive. At 2250, 16 February, Comando Supremo directed von Arnim to exploit the successes in his sector with the strongest possible forces that supplies and available mobile reserves would permit. Rommel’s mission-securing the Gafsa area was left unchanged.

The Axis Forces Squander a Day

As Sbeitla, Feriana, and Thelepte were being seized on 17 February, the Axis forces were at the threshold of a much deeper penetration into the Allied southern flank than that for which any firm plans existed. Rommel was inclined to encourage a thrust against Tabessa, perhaps advancing the entire Axis forward line to the westward. He asked von Arnim if he intended to exploit his successes in such a way. The latter replied that he intended to use the 21st Panzer Division around Sbeitla and the 10th Panzer Division, as originally planned, in the Fondouk-Pichon area. He would advance his main line of resistance only to the crests of the Eastern Dorsal in view of the state of his forces and supplies.

The thrust which Rommel had in mind would have required combining the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions with the Kampfgruppe DAK. In the absence of authoritative co-ordination from above, the two commanders made no preparations on 18 February to press beyond the Western Dorsal but merely reconnoitered from Sbeitla and Thelepte. Rommel even started his only substantial reserves on the route back to the Mareth Position, while von Arnim committed the 10th Panzer Division with Group Buhse near Fondouk as described above. One reconnaissance detachment of the Kampfgruppe DAK drove Allied defenders back into the passes near El Ma el Abiod, and another entered the undefended village of Kasserine. There it captured about sixty French soldiers as they arrived from farther east, and welcomed a reconnaissance unit from the 21st Panzer Division which had come to Kasserine from Sbeitla. In dismal rainy weather which greatly curtailed air activity, Axis air reconnaissance west of Kasserine showed that the Allies were not yet assembling at any point for a strong counterattack.

The opportunity for exploitation beyond the Western Dorsal was still available, but the Allies had gained time for partial recovery while the Axis forces had become more dispersed. The momentum of the attack had slackened. Could it now be renewed? If so, what would be the objective? Would it be to weaken more severely the Allied ability to interfere with the Axis line of communications to their forces in the south, or would it be to threaten the Allied line of communications to the British First Army in the north? At what point could an Axis attack now bring about the westward withdrawal of the Allied forces in northern Tunisia?

The Allied Line Swings Back

The night of 16-17 February, on which the U.S. 1st Armored Division defended Sbeitla, was the second night of extensive and complicated Allied troop movements carrying out the Allied decision of 15 February to swing the front from the Eastern to the Western Dorsal. The innumerable transfers of smaller units fell into a general pattern. This pattern consisted of southward shifts by British armored forces in order to cover westward withdrawals through these elements by American and French units, after which the British forces also moved west and southwest to join in defending critical points along the new line.

The easterly bulge in the Allied front north of Sbeitla–Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February was flattened out first at the south, where it was largest. North of this point the bulge rolled like a shrinking wave as far as the Ousseltia valley, where French and American troops simply moved back a short distance to the heights fringing the valley on the west. Just before the decision to pull back, General Ryder’s 34th Infantry Division (less the 168th Combat Team and the 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry) had assumed responsibility for the Pichon-Djebel Trozza (997) section of the Allied front under General Koeltz. On 16-17 February it began shifting to Sbiba gap.

The shortened Allied line resulting from the changes in the Ousseltia-Pichon area permitted the subsequent withdrawal of the 16th Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division from the Ousseltia heights southwestward to the II Corps area between Tebessa and Feriana. The exigencies of the situation during the week of 17-23 February brought elements of the British 6th Armoured Division and British 1st Guards Brigade into Sbiba and Thala, and hastened the arrival at Thala of the artillery of the U.S. 9th Infantry Division after a dramatically timed march from beyond Oran.

First Army finally released Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, to II Corps on 15 February for employment at Sbeitla. During the following night the unit moved by two routes to Sbeitla, where it passed to division control. Late on 16 February it moved into position southeast of the village. Sbeitla, site of an ancient Roman town, lies about one mile south of a tip of Djebel Mrhila (1378), a long and lofty ridge extending eighteen or more miles north-northeastward. About five miles south of Sbeitla is a lower chain of hills, with widely spaced crests, running roughly westward from Djebel Hamra (673). To the northeast of these hills, Combat Command A, reinforced on 15-16 February, maintained its covering outer line. Thus Sbeitla lies in a wide gap between hills, approached from the east over a rising plain. It has at its back another wide expanse of open plateau reaching to the base of the Western Dorsal, from Kasserine village north to Sbiba. Two streams, one the Sbeitla river, the other a tributary from the southwest, converge some five miles east of the village and drain northeasterly, eventually joining the Zeroud river, which flows through the Eastern Dorsal near Hadjeb el Aioun. The Sbeitla river runs in a deep-sunk channel along the northeastern side of the town. Olive groves and cultivated fields are plentiful along these streams. A narrow-gauge railway which connects Sousse on the coast with the mining town of Metlaoui in the southwest runs through Sbeitla to Kasserine and beyond. A railroad bridge and another of three arches, formerly an aqueduct, cross the Sbeitla river about half a mile east of the modern village. For almost two miles east of the highway bridge, the road from Faid runs through olive groves. The Allies expected the attack to come along this road, first to a bridge five miles east-southeast of Sbeitla, and thence perhaps fanning out on either side of the road to find any weak point in the main defense line nearer the village.

First Army needed time to organize the defense of Sbiba gap with troops which were to move in on the night of 16-17 February and on the following night. The 1st Armored Division had to cover from the south the organization at Sbiba until all these troops had come in. As long as First Army set no specific time for evacuating Sbeitla, II Corps was obliged to leave the 1st Armored Division in the dark, or at least in the fog of war, about it. Meanwhile the division had the problem of adapting its defensive tactics to the requirements of a situation in which it was not only expected to gain an indefinite amount of time but also to preserve itself “as a fighting force.”

The defending troops must neither be pinned down nor enveloped and cut off. The delaying action had to be conducted in an area where Djebel Mrhila on the north and the lower ridge on the south protected the flanks, but which had very little depth, since the loss of Sbeitla would immediately open the northward route to Sbiba. From Djebel Hamra westward for about eight miles, there was little cover and there were no strong positions. Three miles east of Sbeitla, at the edge of extensive olive groves, General Ward elected to establish his main line of resistance, with Combat Command B holding the southern sector and Combat A, upon withdrawal from the Djebel Hamra line late on 16 February, the northern sector. The Faid—Sbeitla road was the boundary between them. Throughout the day Combat Command C was attached to General McQuillin’s force.

The Attack on Sbeitla Begins 16 February

During 15 and 16 February, with the enemy’s intentions still uncertain, Sbeitla remained screened by the forward line near Kern’s Crossroads and Djebel Hamra.16 On 16 February all counterattacks were prohibited by General Anderson’s orders; General Fredendall’s forces were henceforth to concentrate on defending Sbeitla, Kasserine, and Fériana.

Enemy tanks of Group Gerhardt crept over the plains southweosft Djebel Lessouda (644) toward the forward defenses of Sbeitla during 16 February, and in midafternoon, it seemed apparent that others farther southwest were assembling for an attack. Colonel Crosby’s 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (less Company G), was sent forward at 1600 from a position in reserve south of Sbeitla to reinforce the screen and prolong the defense until Combat Command A could move into the positions which General McQuillin [NOTE 6-7A]and Colonel Hains had reconnoitered earlier that afternoon and had assigned to the various units. The infantry and artillery, under orders to withdraw to these new positions, started back in the latter part the afternoon, leaving as a covering force Colonel Hightower’s provisional unit and Company G (Captain Herman McWatters), 13th Armored Regiment, and for lack of orders to move back, elements of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion on the southern flank. The enemy’s

forward elements attempted to turn the northern flank of McWatters’ company about 1700, but the reinforcements led by Colonel Crosby arrived at an opportune time to catch the Germans by surprise and quickly drive them back. Hightower’s tanks successfully stopped another German column and then withdrew. Darkness was. falling, but the troops saw a strong enemy armored force in three columns approaching along the axis of the Faid-Sbeitla road behind Company G, as that unit followed the remainder of the 3d Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, toward Sbeitla. A rear guard action with sporadic firing ensued, while the bulk of Combat Command A, after replenishing fuel and ammunition supplies from dumps in the olive grove about two miles east of Sbeitla, moved into new defensive positions. The tank destroyers, after being cut off on the south flank at Djebel Hamra, dispersed and filtered back farther south during the night.

[NOTE6-7A: Units under McQuillin’s command were: his own Combat Command A with 1st Armored Regiment (-1st Battalion), 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (—), 91st Field Artillery Battalion, one battery, 68th Field Artillery Battalion, C Company, 16th Engineer Battalion, five guns, 106th Coast Artillery, one battery, 213th Coast Artillery (90-mm. guns); and Combat Command C consisting of 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (—), 68th Field Artillery Battalion (—), 16th Engineer Battalion (—), elements 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, one company, 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion. 1st Armd Div G-3 Jnl.]

The attacking force, Group Gerhardt, was heading for the bridge on the Faid-Sbeitla road about five miles east-southeast of Sbeitla. A second group (Pfeiffer’s), consisting of one tank battalion, one armored infantry battalion, two field batteries, and some antitank units of the 21st Panzer Division, was expected to pass through the advanced force near the bridge and make the attack. The Germans expected the Allies to abandon Sbeitla, and hoped to hasten the process by following closely on the heels of Colonel Crosby’s command.

It was a frosty night with a pale moon showing between patches of moving overcast. When Pfeiffer’s forward detachment came near enough to the American rear guard to see the dim outlines of its vehicles, the Germans opened fire. Some fire carried into the olive groves beside the highway and fell either near the command post of Combat Command A, or among troops refueling vehicles, or on supply dumps under the trees.

An improvised mine-laying unit which had been sent out that night to strengthen the defense line was dispersed, with its work barely begun. On the southwestern side of a wide, deep, straight-sided wadi about one mile east of Sbeitla, General McQuillin’s command had emplaced some 90-mm. dual-purpose guns. The 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion had its 105-mm. howitzers under olive trees along the Faid-Sbeitla road, and the 91st Field Artillery Battalion was expected to take adjacent positions when it arrived in the area. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, had the mission of protecting this artillery and of supporting Combat Command A’s armor, which was assigned to defensive positions at various points along the line north of the Faid road, astride the railroad, and in front of the artillery and which was ordered to keep in readiness to counterattack. The main line of resistance was to be held until a time to be set by corps order.

Combat Command B under General Robinett, south of the Sbeitla-Faid road, had already moved into its area during the afternoon in time to reconnoiter and organize for an active defense by maneuver and counterattack. Co-ordination between the combat commands remained to be arranged during the night. Most of Combat Command A was not yet well established in its new positions, which many of its units reached in the dark after their withdrawal from the Djebel Hamra line, and the situation was being straightened out, when the enemy’s reconnaissance by fire neared the line. General McQuillin shifted his command post west of Sbeitla, and for a time he was out of communication with division headquarters. Colonel Hains remained temporarily in the Combat Command A’s advance command post at the old location two miles east of Sbeitia, although small arms fire had begun falling in the vicinity. At this juncture the situation suddenly got out of hand.

For most of the troops it was a first experience under night attack. They were hit at a time when the effect of defeats and exhaustion during the past three days was intensified by a pervading sense of confusion, a belief that those in command were at best “playing by ear.” The firing could be widely heard. Some vehicles moved from the olive groves, where scattered enemy fire was falling, onto the road and started westward. Soon others joined them. Before long the road was a dense mass of churning traffic which streamed through Sbeitla in the darkness, choking the roads and threatening to leave Sbeitla half-defended. Other important elements of Combat Command A stood fast, including many of the tanks of the 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, and the provisional company, 1st Armored Regiment.

Many troops who heard the explosions and saw the fire attributed the demolition of a water pumping station, an ammunition dump, and the railroad bridge to enemy action. The enemy force, apparently unaware of the actual situation, recognized that Sbdtla was being evacuated but reported that the Allies were still resisting strongly rather than making a full withdrawal. It received orders to wait for daylight. By then, the Allied situation at Sbeitla had been clarified and improved.

General Ward, for a time without enough accurate knowledge of the situation to exert control, received some first-hand oral reports about midnight and concluded that Combat Command A was under imminent attack by a very large armored force. After taking appropriate steps to meet the immediate problems, he reported to General Fredendall that the situation was extremely grave, since the Germans were at the edge of Sbeitla with about nine Mark VI and eighty Mark IV tanks, a spearhead of that force having already pierced the covering line three miles to the east. This dire estimate was transmitted to Brigadier C. V. McNabb at Advance Headquarters, First Army, to General Anderson, and to General Truscott at the Advance Headquarters, AFHQ. Truscott had sent Colonel Carleton to Sbeitla during the day, and received a confirmatory report from him shortly after hearing from Fredendall. By 0130, 17 February, Anderson via McNabb authorized Fredendall to withdraw Ward’s command from Sbeitia and from Fcriana a force under Colonel Stark that had previously withdrawn from Gafsa.

Now satisfied that this attack was the main enemy offensive, he had taken steps to expedite the reinforcement of Sbiba through emergency daylight moves by the British 1st Guards Brigade (less one battalion), with Combat Team 18, U.S. 1st Infantry Division, attached, supplemented first by General Ryder’s U.S. 34th Infantry Division (less 168th Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 133rd Infantry), and next, by the British 26th Armoured Brigade (less 16/5 Lancers) under command of Brigadier Charles Dunphie. Somewhat later in the day, General Keightley’s Headquarters, 6th Armoured Division, was transferred to XIX Corps with the mission of defending Sbiba gap. The corps boundary was redefined to extend from a point four miles south of Sbiba to Hadjeb el Aioun.

General Fredendall instructed Colonel Stark to place a small covering detachment of infantry, light tanks, and heavy artillery ( 155’s) in defense of Feriana until 1800, 17 February, while the remainder of his command, with elements of the Constantine Division, took position on the heights north of Thelepte. He alerted Colonel Paul L. Williams, of the XII Air Support Command at Thelepte, that his planes must be flown off at daybreak. He ordered Colonel Anderson T. W. Moore’s force (19th Engineers and 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry) defending a line east of Kasserine village to hold it until General Ward’s force had passed through, and then to organize Kasserine pass for defense. During the night of 17-18 February this order was executed.

Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, received a division order at about 0300, 17 February, which indicated that Sbeitla must be held at all costs until 1100. It was superseded by another about an hour later which directed it to hold on a line south and east of the town until ordered to withdraw. This change reflected a disagreement between Fredendall and Anderson, who had wanted Sbeitla held all day. General Robinett reorganized his command for static defense. He placed his tanks (2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment) in defiladed positions about four miles southeast of Sbeitla and brought the guns of the 27th Armored Field Artillery back of the tanks. He designated the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion to man the outpost line a few miles east of the main line of resistance. Using every opportunity to hide, hit, and maneuver, it was to help hold off the expected enemy onslaught. Two companies of the 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Elton W. Ringsak), 6th Armored Infantry, were placed on the high ground of Djebel El Koumin (698) and Djebel Sabel Dilou ( 811 ) in position to command a road which ran between them northward to Sbeitla.

The enemy did not attack Sbeitia at dawn, as the Allies had expected. At 0715, the advanced element of the attacking force stayed in contact, watching Allied truck trains leave Sbei’tia, while the main force waited for additional units from Sidi Bou Zid in order to make a full-scale assault at noon. Both sides kept up harassing artillery fire. Probing attacks during the morning indicated that the terrain of the northeastern approaches was not suited for a largescale tank attack. Colonel Hildebrandt therefore decided to launch his main effort with Group Stenkhoff south of the Sbeitia-Sidi Bou Zid road. At the same time Pfeiffer’s infantry would attack directly from the east. Shortly after noon the assault was launched against Combat Command B at Sbeitia.

The armored attack (Stenkhoff’s) came over the rough plain, the wadies, and other impediments, on a broad front. It was supported by enemy aviation, but exposed to Allied artillery. The defenders were organized in depth and had taken advantage of all the cover and defilade available. The enemy found the tanks in sand dunes, hull down, and interspersed with antitank guns. The German tanks first hit Combat Command B’s north flank, screened by the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Herschel D. Baker), in overwhelming strength. Three groups of enemy tanks converged on the American half-tracks in quick succession. Some of the tank destroyers fired smoke shells and gained a chance to shift position and continue firing for about half an hour. By that time, others, and soon all the vehicles, were streaking back to a designated rally point only to find it under enemy fire.

One platoon was extricated from envelopment by the courageous guidance of the battalion executive, Captain Edward Austin. The bulk of the battalion passed out of control and hurried toward Sbeitla. Some were stopped by staff officers of Combat Command B near its command post. Those who may have planned to reorganize near Sbeitla and swing back into battle found that place under fire and in a turmoil of traffic and air bombardment. They then allowed themselves to be swept along in the stream of vehicles toward Kasserine. A few emerged west of the town and circled back to the southeast but were of no benefit to the forces engaged there. The remainder continued to Kasserine and joined in the defense arrangements at that point.

During the latter part of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion’s delaying action, and while it was falling back, another encounter, the critical episode in the defense of Sbeitla by Combat Command B, was being stubbornly fought farther south. The tanks of the 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Gardiner), 13th Armored Regiment, had been placed hull down in a wadi from which they could oppose heavier German armor trying to break through. A frontal attack against their position about 1315 by Stenkhoff’s much superior tank group gave them the opportunity for which they had hoped. Waiting until the range was very close, they fired a volley which instantly knocked out five or more tanks and completely disrupted the enemy formation. Stenkhoff’s force, recognizing that it had entered a trap, pulled back under fire from the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion.

An hour after the frontal attack on Gardiner’s tanks, the enemy had reorganized and was threatening Robinett’s south flank. At this point his troops received orders to begin a gradual withdrawal, taking care not to uncover the most forward artilIery battery, and to use routes south of Sbeitla to reach new positions south and east of Kasserine village. The shift to the west began about 1430. One platoon of medium tanks under Lieutenant John C. Gleason was sent to cover the north flank in Sbeitla, which had been uncovered when Combat Command A had begun to withdraw at 1130. The 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, pulled out of its hill positions and followed a trail between Djebel Sabel Dilou and Djebel Rheradok (791) into Kasserine. Company A, 16th Engineers, marched independently to Kasserine pass with one of Colonel Ringsak’s companies. Last to leave were Gardiner’s tank battalion, along with Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and the Reconnaissance Company, 13th Armored Regiment. Between 1730 and darkness, which came about 1900, they disengaged with a loss of nine tanks, among them Colonel Gardiner’s. Their route brought them to the Sbeitla-Kasserine road about five miles east of Kasserine. They swung into a divisional gasoline dump north of the highway and in blackout gassed up their vehicles and piled on all possible five-gallon containers before continuing through Kasserine pass to a bivouac on the road between it and Thala.

[NOTE: (1) CCB 1st Armd Div AAR, 1 Mar 43. (2) Brigadier General Paul M. Robinett (Ret.), Among the First, MS. In private possession. (3) The Germans reported counting twenty-seven disabled or destroyed American tanks and tank destroyers on the battlefield southeast of Sbeitla. They could salvage all their own losses and had sixty-five tanks ready for action]

Combat Command A, now much reduced, meanwhile continued its withdrawal under a dive-bomber attack after noon along the road leading northward through Sbiba. After stopping here during the night to cover the withdrawal of Allied units into the Sbiba position, it swung westward in a wide loop to Tebessa. Combat Command C, after short movements by some of its elements during the morning to get out of enemy artillery range and after covering McQuillin’s withdrawal, made its first westward bound toward Kasserine at 1430. In successive jumps of 1,000–1,200 yards, the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, and elements of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, then the 68th Field Artillery Battalion, and finally the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (less two companies), broke contact with the enemy in Sbeitla and withdrew on division orders to new positions northwest of SbeItla covering the road to Kasserine village. At midnight these troops, with whom were intermingled rear elements of Combat Command B, began the march down the last stretch to Kasserine. The enemy, moving into Sbeitla after 1700, organized his defense without interrupting the Allied withdrawal.

With the loss of Sbeitla, the II Corps had experienced the consequences of an overextended defense and a successful concentration of enemy force. It could gain some satisfaction in the fact that the enemy found no booty in the almost deserted town. Most supplies had been removed or destroyed. The Allies had blown up bridges, water mains, and the aqueduct supplying Sfax. They had placed obstacles and mines on some of the approaches. Shells had fallen on the city all day, and from time to time, enemy aircraft had bombed it. The great Roman arch and temples, which earlier had loomed up now and then, as intermittent showers of cold rain cleared the air of a pall of smoke and dust, were now concealed by darkness despite the smoldering fires.

The 1st Armored Division’s withdrawal, although protected by only a few Allied Spitfires, was carried through on the whole in an orderly and effective manner. All trains, even those in the Sidi Bou Zid area, had been ordered out in time. Enemy aircraft had inflicted considerable damage along the roads but the enemy had captured very little equipment which he could use.

The 21st Panzer Division claimed that it had wrecked the American 1st Armored Division and the U.S. 168th Infantry Regiment. Others were to share this view, but the fact was that Combat Command B had emerged from one defensive battle in shape to fight another, and by 1800 on 18 February had been brought through Kasserine pass and Tebessa to the forested mountains near El Ma el Abiod. Combat Commands A and C were again consolidated in positions a little farther south along the mountain chain. The division, after trooping back in low spirits near columns of French infantry and cavalry, took up positions on the plain southeast of Tebessa, and during the night of 18-19 February received the mission of protecting Tebessa from the east and south in co-ordination with other Allied units which had withdrawn from Gafsa and Feriana.

[NOTE 6-8A: The 21st Panzer Division concluded the day’s action on 17 February with 65 tanks ready for action and with a record for the past four days which it tabulated as follows: 2,546 Allied prisoners; 103 tanks and 5 aircraft destroyed; 280 v(“hicks, 18 field guns, 3 antitank guns, 1 antiaircraft battery, and equipment from 1 service and 1 medical company captured or destroyed. (1) Msg, 21st Panzer Div to Panzer Army Africa, 2359, 17 Feb 43, in Panzer Army Africa, KTB. Anlagenband 9, Anlage 1090;5. (2)Anlage zurn Divisionsbefehl Nr. 4, 21st Pzr Div, 18 Feb 43, 21st Panzer Diu, KTB. Anlagenband 9.]

Withdrawal to Sbiba-Loss of Feriana and Thelepte

While the 21st Panzer Division was capturing Sbeitla on 17 February, Group Gerhardt of the 10th Panzer Division began its northward march toward Pichon in conformity with General von Arnim’s plan for what should follow Operation FRUEHLINGSWIND. His intention was to have this force and Group Buhse, attacking from the east, seize Pichon and cut off the Allied forces in the Eastern Dorsal. Group Gerhardt, advancing via Hadjeb el Aioun, and Group Buhse established contact at 1600 on 17 February. But their advance was slowed down by mines, and except for a rear guard at Pichon the Allies extricated themselves from both positions well in advance of the move to cut them off. General von Arnim’s mistaken estimate of Allied strength and intentions and the delayed movement of the 10th Panzer Division had turned the drive to the north into a blow at thin air.

The Allies completed their withdrawal to the Western Dorsal during the night of 17-18 February. At Sbiba, after Combat Command A passed through the defile on the 17th, British engineers closed the gap in the mine field. The Sbiba position, thus protected, was held at first by two units under command of Headquarters, British 6th Armored Division-the 1st Guards Brigade, and the 18th Infantry, U.S. 1st Infantry Division. On a line to the northeast of Sbiba, three battalions of the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, one from the 133rd Infantry (Colonel Fountain) and two from the 135th Infantry (Colonel Ward), and attached French troops, were moved into position. The 135th Infantry was in contact with elements of the 1st U.S. Infantry Division farther north. Not until late on 18 February did the enemy begin to probe these new lines of defense.

Meanwhile, Kampfgruppe DAK on 17 February captured Feriana, as Allied rearguards after a short fight pulled out about noon. Continuing the pursuit DAK pushed on to Thelepte. Allied demolitions left the Thelepte airbase with little of military value. Thirty-four planes which could not be flown away were demolished. The Germans captured some French ammunition stocks and fuzes. At the fuel depot, they salvaged 20 tons of aviation gasoline and 30 tons of lubricants. In these engagements Liebenstein was wounded by a mine and turned his command over to General Karl Buelowius, formerly artillery commander of the Afrika Korps.

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 (5-23); Rommel’s Thrust Through Kasserine Pass

World War Two: North Africa (5-21); Axis Strike II Corps


World War Two: Burma (1); 5307th Merrill’s Marauder’s

The 5307th COMPOSITE UNIT (Provisional) of the Army of the United States was organized and trained for long-range penetration behind enemy lines in Japanese-held Burma. Commanded by Brigadier General (now Major General) Frank D. Merrill, its 2,997 officers and men became popularly known as “Merrill’s Marauders.” From February to May, 1944 the operations of the Marauders were closely coordinated with those of the Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions in a drive to recover northern Burma and clear the way for the construction of the Ledo Road, which was to link the Indian railhead at Ledo with the old Burma Road to China. The Marauders were foot soldiers who marched and fought through jungles and over mountains from the Hukawng Valley in northwestern Burma to Myitkyina on the Irrawaddy River. In 5 major and 30 minor engagements they met and defeated the veteran soldiers of the Japanese 18th Division. Operating in the rear of the main forces of the Japanese, they prepared the way for the southward advance of the Chinese by disorganizing supply lines and communications. The climax of the Marauders’ operations was the capture of the Myitkyina airfield, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma. This was the final victory of the 5307th Composite Unit, which was disbanded in August, 1944.

The War in Burma, January, 1942 March, 1943

Burma had been conquered by the Japanese 2 years before the Marauders’ operations. During the 6 months between December, 1941 and May, 1942 the enemy had overrun the Philippines, much of Oceania, all of the Netherlands East Indies, all of the Malay Peninsula, and almost all of Burma. In the Pacific Ocean his advance threatened communications between the United States and Australasia. On the Asiatic mainland his occupation of Burma menaced India, provided a bulwark against counterattack from the west, cut the last land route for supply of China, and added Burma’s raw materials to the resources of an empire already rich.

For the conquest of Burma the Japanese had concentrated two divisions in southern Thailand. In mid-January, 1942 they struck toward Moulmein, which fell on the 30th. British, Indian, and Burmese forces, aided by the Royal Air Force and the American Volunteer Group, resisted the Salween and Sittang river crossings but were overwhelmed by enemy superiority in numbers, equipment, and planes. Rangoon, the capital and principal port, was taken on 8 March. The Japanese then turned north in two columns. One division pushed up the Sittang where Chinese forces under Major General (now General) Joseph W. Stilwell were coming in to defend the Burma Road.’ The other Japanese division pursued the Indian and Burmese forces up the Irrawaddy Valley. On 1 and 2 April, the enemy took Toungoo on the Sittang and Prome on the Irrawaddy. From Yenangyaung, north of Prome, a column pushed westward and on 4 May took the port of Akyab on the Bay of Bengal. The conquest of southern Burma was complete.

A third enemy column of two divisions, which had landed at Rangoon on 12 April 1942, was now attacking on the east from the Shan States into the upper Salween Valley and driving rapidly northward to take Lashio, junction of the rail and highway sections of the Burma Road. Mandalay, completely out flanked, was evacuated by its Chinese defenders and occupied by the Japanese on 1 May. From Lashio the Japanese pushed up the Salween Valley well into the Chinese province of Yunnan. In north central Burma they sent” small patrol northward along the Irrawaddy almost to Fort Hertz, and to the west they took Kalewa on the Chindwin. The main remnants of General Stilwell’s forces retired from north Burma to India by way of Shingbwiyang, while British, Burmese, and Indian survivors withdrew up the valley of the Chindwin and across the Chin Hills. The Allied withdrawal was made on foot, for no motor road or railway connected India with Burma.

When the monsoon rains came in June the Japanese held all of Burma except for fringes of mountain, jungle, and swamp on the north and west. General Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake it.” But this counteroffensive could not start at once, and the Japanese were able to make further advances in the next fighting season.

At the end of October they pushed northwestward along the coast from Akyab toward Bengal. Approximately a month later British forces counterattacked strongly along this same coast, but their gains could not be held, and the Japanese force reached the frontier of Bengal. In February of the next year the enemy began to drive northward from Myitkyina. He had covered some 75 air miles by early March and was closing in on Sumprabum, threatening to occupy the whole of northern Burma and to destroy the British-led Kachin and Gurkha levies which had hitherto dominated the area. The Allies were in no position to stop this advance. Their regular forces had retired from the area to India in May and were separated from the Japanese by densely forested mountain ranges and malarial valleys. The enemy was apparently secure in Southeast Asia. The question of the moment was whether his advance would halt at the Burma border or would continue into India.

From Defense to Offense

The strategic situation in Burma began to change in the spring of 1943 when the Allies assumed the offensive with an experimental operation behind the enemy lines. This operation, foreshadowing the part the Marauders were to take in the larger offensive of 1944, was an expedition commanded by Major General (then Brigadier) Orde C. Wingate, who led long-range-penetration units of the 77 Indian Infantry Brigade across the natural barrier between Wingate’s forces consisted of eight jungle columns totaling 3,200 men, assembled from British, Indian, Burmese, and Gurkha troops. Directed by radio and supplied by air drops, in a period of 4 months (February to June, 1943) his columns covered a distance of 1,000 miles. In the area of northern Burma, from the Chindwin River eastward to China, they gathered topographical and other intelligence, harassed and confused the Japanese forces, and cut enemy lines of communication. The columns put the Mandalay-Myitkyina railway out of action for 4 weeks and engrossed the efforts of six to eight enemy battalions. When ordered to return, the columns dispersed in small groups, each of which successfully fought its own way out of Burma.

After this first penetration the seasonal rains again restricted ground activity. However, Allied bombers of the Tenth Air Force continued their attacks on Japanese supply lines in both Burma and Thailand with steadily increasing strength. Major General George E. Stratemeyer’s force had established definite superiority over Burma by November, 1943, the beginning of the dry season during which a ground offensive was possible.

At this time many indications pointed to a resumption of the Japanese offensive against India. Since the fall of 1942 the enemy had brought two more divisions into the area, making a total of five distributed along the India border. The one division (55th) on the front beyond Akyab was extremely aggressive. In the Chin Hills three others (the 15th, 31st, and 33d) were organizing for a strong offensive into Manipur Province. The 18th Division, in northern Burma, was ready to oppose any advance from Assam.

The Allies, too, were preparing for major offensive operations from both India and China. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten; commander in Southeast Asia, was· assembling troops and supplies in Bengal and Manipur. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was strengthening his forces along the Salween River in Yunnan. The first Allied blow was to come from the north, led by General Stilwell, Deputy Commander in the Southeast Asia Command and Chief of Staff for Allied operations in the Chinese theater. Operating from bases in the upper Brahmaputra Valley, General Stilwell had mounted an offensive to carryover the Patkai Range, conquer northern Burma, and open a new land route to China. American-trained Chinese divisions constituted his main striking force. In immediate support of his advance, long-range-penetration operations were to be carried out by combat teams of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) under General Merrill.

By February, when the 5307th arrived in the area of operations, General Stilwell’s offensive had made good progress. The Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions had crossed the Patkai barrier and were engaging the Japanese forces in the flood plains of the Hukawng Valley. Covered by this advance, United States engineers had pushed the road over the Patkais to Shingbwiyang, 100 miles from the starting base at Ledo. However, the main enemy resistance and strongest prepared positions were still to be met.

Secondary Allied operations had been planned to support the main drive into north Burma. General Wingate’s jungle columns of the 3 Indian Division were ready to thrust into central Burma, with the aim of cutting enemy communications far south of General Stilwell’s objectives. On the Irrawaddy headwaters in northeast Burma the Allies had a base at Fort Hertz, in wild country which the Japanese had never been able to conquer. Here, Gurkha and Kachin levies from the native tribes were harassing Japanese outposts in the Sumprabum-Myitkyina corridor.

Origin and Training of the American Force

The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was organized to participate in the Burma operations as the result of a decision made at the Quebec Conference in August, 1943. Five months later, on 1 February 1944, the three battalions comprising the provisional unit had been transported to India, organized, trained, and equipped for employment. They were the only American ground combat troops designated at this time for the China-Burma-India Theater.

On 1 September 1943, when the size of the battalions had been fixed at 1,000, the War Department began recruiting personnel from jungle-trained and jungle-tested troops, primarily infantrymen. General George C. Marshall requested 300 volunteers “of a high state of physical ruggedness and stamina” from the Southwest Pacific, 700 from the South Pacific, and 1,000 each from the Caribbean Defense Command and the Army Ground Forces in the United States.

In answer to General Marshall’s request the South and Southwest Pacific commands selected 950 men from veterans of Guadalcanal, New Guinea, and other operations in those theaters. The Caribbean Defense Command secured 950 more troops who had served on Trinidad and Puerto Rico, and a similar number came from highly trained units within the United States. The Caribbean volunteers Hew to Miami, crossed the continent by rail, and assembled in San Francisco with the volunteers from the States. These men formed two battalions; the third from the South and Southwest Pacific areas was to join the force on the way to Bombay.

Colonel Charles N. Hunter, the senior officer among the volunteers, was appointed commander of the battalions. He was ordered to prepare the men while en route for the performance of their mission, to keep General Stilwell informed of the progress of the movement, and to report to the General upon arrival in the theater.

On 21 September, the two battalions sailed from San Francisco on the Lurline. As much of their equipment as could be loaded aboard went with them; the remainder was sent to San Diego, and from there it was to be forwarded in one shipment to Bombay.’ The Lurline proceeded to Noumea, New Caledonia, where 650 officers and men from the South Pacific Theater carne aboard. The contingent from the Southwest Pacific joined the ship at Brisbane, Australia. After a brief stop at Perth, the Lurline steamed across the Indian Ocean and up the Arabian Sea to Bombay, where the three battalions disembarked by 31 October.

Organizing and training of the 5307th began immediately. Colonel (now Brigadier General) Francis G. Brink, selected because he had trained Chinese troops in India, instructed the unit in long-range-penetration tactics. After meeting the Lurline at Bombay, he accompanied the troops to a British camp at Deolali and 3 weeks later moved with them to Deogarh, close to an area suitable for jungle training. From the end of November, 1943 to the end of January, 1944 the 5307th remained at Deogarh and trained intensively. On the advice of General Wingate, who supervised the over-all preparation of the unit, each battalion was formed into two jungle columns, called “combat teams” by the Americans. These were not combat teams in the accepted American sense, for their organization represented only a division of each battalion into two smaller units, without any addition of elements not organic to the battalion. The division was made in such a manner that each “combat team” had its share of the heavy weapons and other organic battalion elements and thus was able to operate as a self-contained unit.

Lieutenant Colonel William L. Osborne was assigned command of the 1st Battalion, and its two combat teams, Red and White, were placed under Major Edward M. Ghiz and Major Caifson Johnson, respectively . Lieutenant Colonel George A. McGee, Jr., became commanding officer of the 2d Battalion, which was composed of Blue Combat Team under Major Richard W. Healy and Green Combat Team under Captain Thomas E. Bogardus. The 3d Battalion was placed under command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Beach and comprised Orange Combat Team under Major Lawrence L. Lew and Khaki Combat Team under Major Edwin J. Briggs. Colonel Brink, assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel E. Still, delegated supervision of training to the battalion commanders, who were encouraged to add their own ideas to the program. For slightly more than 2 months they prepared the men for the problems of operating in dense tropical jungles defended by a stubborn and skillful enemy. Individual training emphasized marksmanship, scouting and patrolling, map reading, and jungle navigation. A normal amount of calisthenics was included in the daily routine, and the length and pace of marches were increased in order to make the men physically hard. Classes always marched to and from ranges and training areas, no matter how far they were from camp. Packs were worn whenever possible.

Platoon tactics were stressed in every training operation. Company, combat team, battalion, and unit exercises were also held, but time was short and attention had to be directed mostly toward molding squads and platoons into highly efficient and well-coordinated teams. Each small unit was familiarized as much as possible with the normal combat activities of other types of units. Rifle platoon leaders and noncommissioned officers were instructed in directing mortar fire, and all men were taught the rudiments of voice radio procedure. In general, the heavy weapons, intelligence and reconnaissance, pioneer and demolition, and communications personnel were already well trained in their special functions. Taking part in all training of their combat teams, they became physically hardened to the same extent as the rest of the men. Rear echelon personnel, including parachute packers, riggers, and kick-out crews, were trained separately by the unit 5-4.

Ten days spent on maneuvers with General Wingate’s troops brought to light minor deficiencies. There was a shortage of pack animals, and the changes which had been made in organization and equipment required final adjustments. After the commanders within the unit had been assigned, General Merrill was placed in charge of the entire force. He appointed Major Louis J. Williams as his executive officer, in charge of the Command Post group.

On 8 January 1944, the completely organized and trained unit was assigned to General Stilwell’s field command in northern Burma He expected to use it in conjunction with the Chinese forces which were beginning their drive against the Japanese 18th Division. In accordance with General Stilwell’s concept of the use of long-range penetration units, the 5307th was to be sent on bold missions against assigned objectives behind the enemy lines in order to facilitate the seizure of key points by the main Chinese forces.

General Stilwell’s immediate orders to the 5307th were to close in on Ledo by 7 February and from there to march over the trail as far as Ningbyen. The unit started at once from the training area in order to arrive on schedule. The 1,000-mile trip by train and boat to Ledo consumed a month; the last 100 miles on foot took 10 days. On 19 February the 1st Battalion, head of the column, arrived at Ningbyen. It was followed 2 days later by the 3d Battalion, tail of the column. The men had been thoroughly tested by the 10-day march and were ready for their first assignment.

Area of Operations

Plans for the Ledo Road are the key to an understanding of the 1944 campaign in northern Burma. Reopening land communications with China had become a main aim of Allied strategy, but only the total reconquest of Burma would give the Allies control of the old route from Rangoon. The Ledo Road constituted a daring effort to drive a new route from northeast India across north Burma, tapping the Burma Road at the frontier of China. The base of departure, at Ledo in the Brahmaputra Valley, had rail and water connections with Bengal. Nearly 300 air miles separated Ledo from tbe projected point of link-up with the Burma Road near Bhamo. The plans for the Ledo Road included the laying of pipe lines, designed to relieve the road and air traffic of carrying fuel from Assam to China. Once the construction of the road was settled, it was decided that two 4-inch lines from Tinsukia, 30 air miles northwest of Ledo, would follow the road. They were to be fed by gasoline pumped from Calcutta to a station near their starting point.

Military conquest of north Burma was a prerequisite for operations of the engineers, and for either infantry or engineers, the area presented major difficulties in terrain and climate. Abutting to the north on the impassable ranges of the Himalayas, where peaks rise to 20,000 feet, north Burma is separated both from India and China by massive frontier mountains. On the India side, a continuous range runs southwest from the Himalayas along the Assam border in parallel ridges reaching heights of 10,000 feet; in the Patkai portion of this range, southeast of Ledo, the Pangsau Pass at about 4,300 feet leads into Burma, making a gateway for the projected road. On the east, the Himalayas curve south along the China frontier to ·the region of Bhamo. Boxed in on three sides by these main barriers, north Burma is essentially a rugged hill country divided into two compartments by the north-south Kumon Range, with elevations over 10,000 feet. To the east of the Kumon’s, the Irrawaddy pushes a narrow valley north from Myitkyina into the Himalayas; Sumprabum was the main enemy outpost in this valley. In the other compartment, the headwaters of the Chindwin River have carved out fairly extensive lowlands in the hill country; one of these plains, the Hukawng Valley, lies near the Pangsau Pass over the Patkai Range. Reference to the physiographic map will show the geographic features that governed both the plans for the Ledo Road and the plans for the military operations that would clear the way for this new route to China. Once over the Patkai Range, the essential problem was to get from the Hukawng lowlands over into the upper Irrawaddy plains near Myitkyina. The best route was by a natural corridor, the narrow Mogaung Valley. This skirted the southwest side of the Kumon Mountains, then passed between them and the lower hills to the southwest to reach a tributary of the Irrawaddy River.

It was in this area of about 5,000 square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut, that the Marauders were to operate. When the three battalions of the 5307th arrived at Ningbyen, they had marched through a typical portion of north Burma and had experienced the regional conditions under which they were to fight. They had struggled over the ridges of the Patkai Range, where, even in the relatively low country of the pass, they doubted whether “those goddam hills would ever level out.” They had been impressed by the tropical ralli forests characteristic of western mountain slopes in Burma, where trees 20 feet in diameter at the base rose straight and clean of branches to a dense roof of foliage at 80 or 100 feet. Brush was scant in the gloom of these forests, but the footing was poor in a mould of rotting vegetation 3 to 4 feet deep. In the Hukawng lowlands, the Marauders entered the typical jungle country of north Burma, and veterans of Guadalcanal soon learned that this jungle outmatched that of the Solomon Islands for difliculty. Trees were smaller and more scattered than in the mountains, permitting a rank growth of underbrush, often briary and tangled with vines. Patches of bamboo were sometimes so dense that to chop a trail involved cutting away the lower part of the growth to make a tunnel under the matted plant tops. Growth in the occasional clearings might consist of kunai (“elephant”) grass, 4 to 6 feet high and sharp-edged. Everywhere in this country, whether on hills or in the river flood plains, men found that their clothes were damp all the time, even in the driest period of the year, and that their weapons rusted if not disassembled and oiled daily.

In a country of many large and small streams, heavy jungle, and rough hills, the problems of movement and transportation were made even more diflicult by the absence of roads. North Burma is an undeveloped frontier country, and native footpaths and cart tracks provided the only means of communication in most of the area. The one road suitable for motor traffic, and then only in the. dry months, ran north from Kamaing via the Mogaung corridor and into the Hukawng plain. The nearest railhead was at Myitkyina, reached by a single-track line connecting with central and southern Burma.

Burma has a tropical monsoon climate with clearly marked wet and dry seasons. From June to the end of September the moisture laden southwest monsoon brings extremely heavy rains to the western and southern flanks of the highlands; annual precipitation on the westernmost hills varies from 150 to 250 inches. In northern Burma, slopes which face the monsoon also receive abundant rain, ranging between 75 and 100 inches. In the months from January to April, many of the innumerable small streams dry up, and only the large rivers present difficulties for crossing. During the wet period, lowlands such as the Hukawng Valley and even the Mogaung corridor are flooded to the point where movement is greatly restricted; the Ledo Road was to provide the first all-weather route that northern Burma had seen. Temperatures are high throughout the year at lower altitudes but from October to February are not excessive, ranging from 60′ to 90′ in the lowlands, and during these months the weather is clear and pleasant. Though the dry season does not end lIntil June, the weather becomes increasingly hot and humid from March until the monsoon rains finally hreak.

The heavily forested hills and valleys of north Burma are thinly populated by pagan Kachins, wbo have lived in almost complete independence of the government in Rangoon. In 1931 Myitkyina, the largest town, had only 7,328 people in comparison with Mandalay’s 134,950 and Rangoon’s 398,967. Localities named on maps in territory where the Marauders operated might turn out to be less than hamlets; Lagang Ga has fewer than five houses, and Inkangahtawng, only a jungle clearing, has not a single bash a (hut) . The settlements usually consist of from 12 to 100 or more huts, built of timber uprights and bamboo. To protect the inhabitants against wild animals the villages are often surrounded by bamboo and wooden stockades. Many of the primitive tribesmen living in this area first came into contact with people of the outside world when their country became a battleground for Allied and Japanese armies.

The vegetation in north Burma is limited almost entirely to large trees and dense underbrush. Wild nuts, fruit, or edible growths, usually found in quantities in jungle areas, are rare in the Hukawng and Mogaung valleys. In small clearings around the viUages only enough rice is raised to provide food for the local inhabitants. Cultivated areas increase as southern Burma is approached, where the densely populated valleys and coastal plains show an intricate pattern of paddies producing ti,e great staple crop of the country. The Kachins are active as traders and mine the amber and jade found in the Hukawng Valley and around Myitkyina. They practice nature worship, in contrast to the Buddhism of the more civilized Burmans who occupy the lowlands to the south. When organized by Americans and British, the Kachins proved very helpful as guides and auxiliary troops in the campaign against the Japanese.

In the hot and humid climate of Burma, disease was a greater peril to our men than the enemy. Almost everywhere malaria and dysentery were endemic. Many of ti,e volunteers from the Pacific theaters had malaria before they reached India, and very few men were uninfected by the end of the campaign. Immunization treatments were not effective against a variety of typhus fever, communicated by mites. The Marauders’ long and exhausting marches in rain and tropical heat, th eir inadequate nourishment, and their inability to take even the simplest precautions against infection resulted in a high percentage of casualties from disease.

The mountains, forests, and rivers of north Burma often seemed imposing and sometimes beautiful to our men. But hard experience proved that the land was no tropical paradise. It literally swarmed with enemies. Diseases and hardships of war in the jungle combined to sap the strength of the Marauders until they reached Myitkyina too exhausted to continue as a fighting force.


Normal methods of supply were impractical for a highly mobile force operating behind the enemy’s forward defensive positions. Any attempts to maintai.n regular land supply lines, even if adequate roads had been available, would have greatly reduced tactical mobility and would have made secrecy impossible, contradicting the express purposes of the operation. Air dropping of food and munitions, though still in an experimental stage of development, had been satisfactory for General Wingate’s expedition of 1943 and was adopted for the long-range-penetration missions of the Marauders.

The experience of General Wingate’s expedition had disclosed both the possibilities of air supply and the major difficulties to be overcome. Adequate air and radio equipment, as well as competent air liaison and communications personnel, were absolute essentials. If air supply was to be a success it had to be planned with the utmost care and foresight. Adequate quantities of supplies had to be available at a base for shipment on a moment’s notice. Means must be provided for accurate and quick radio communication between the units in the field and the supply base, since exact information regarding requirements, dropping area, and time of drop was necessary. Correct and careful packaging and loading of the supplies, whether to be dropped with or without parachutes, were required if safe delivery was to be assured. The actual dropping called for skilled pilots and crews who could approximate low-level bombing accuracy over the small jungle fields. Cargo planes had to be of types suitable for the kind of work anticipated, and fighter protection was necessary because interference by enemy planes was to be expected. Success would depend on attainment of the closest cooperation between air and ground forces. Air force and supply personnel had to realize that the outcome of the whole enterprise was completely dependent on teamwork of the highest order. The needs of the ground troops for food and ammunition could not wait on good living conditions.

Bamboo warehouses at Dinjan, 32 miles west of Ledo, were Glade available to Major Edward T. Hancock, supply officer for the 5307th. Good air strips were nearby at Cbabua, Tinsukia, and Sookerating. Arrangements were made for coded communication by SCR 284 trom General Merrill’s headquarters to Dinjan through Combat Headquarters at Ledo. Eventually the base at Dinjan monitored all messages from General Merrill to Headquarters, thus eliminating the loss of time involved in relaying requisitions. Standard units of each category of supplies, based on estimated requirements for 1 day, were packaged ready for delivery. Requisitions were submitted on a basis covering daily needs or were readily adapted to this basis.

At the beginning of the Marauders’ operation the 2d Troop Carrier Squadron and later the 1st Troop Carrier Squadron carried the supplies from the Dinjan base to forward drop areas. They dropped by parachute engineering equipment, ammunition, medical supplies, and food from an altitude of about 200 feet; clothing and grain were dropped without parachute from 150 feet. They Hew in all kinds of weather. During March alone, in 17 missions averaging 6 to 7 planes, they ferried into the combat area 376 tons of supplies.

The squadrons using C-47’s had only one complaint about their transports. Because the planes lacked a drop port in the door, the supplies, “kicked” out of the side door, sometimes struck the left horizontal stabilizer if the pilot could not maintain level Height. One plane was lost and two were damaged by parachutes catching on the stabilizer. Fighter protection was seldom requested for the drop planes, and only two were lost by enemy action during the campaign. Where no open space or paddy field was available for the drop, it was necessary to prepare a field, but in the majority of cases the route of march and the supply requirements could be so coordinated that units were near some suitable Hat, open area when drops were needed.

This was an advantage, not only because it relieved the troops of the hard work of clearing ground, but because it enabled the pilots to use aerial photographs and maps to identify their destinations. The packages, attached to A-4 and A-7 parachutes, weighed between 115 and 125 pounds. Containers of this size were easily manhandled. As soon as they reached the ground, two of them were loaded on a mule and transported to a distributing point in a relatively secure area. There they were opened and the men filed by, each one picking lip an individual package of rations or ammunition. Rations, wrapped in a burlap bag, contained food, salt tablets, cigarettes, and occasionally halazone tablets for purifying drinking water.

The rations delivered to the Marauders were 80 percent “K,” 5 percent “C,” 5 percent ” 10-in-1 ,” and 10 percent ” B.” A variety in this diet was provided only once when the rear echelon prepared a mess of fried chicken and apple turnovers which was dropped to the 2nd Battalion during its darkest days at Nhpum Ga.

When the situation permitted, the practice was to send back to the Dinjan base in the evening the radio request for supplies to be dropped the following afternoon. In emergency cases the service could be speeded up. Special material not available at the Dinjan base was sometimes procured, transported, and dropped 12 hours after the original request was made. The shortest time for a supply mission was recorded on 6 May when a C-47 reached the drop area, 128 miles from Dinjan, just 2 hours and 22 minutes after the message had been filed in the field.

Tabulations were prepared for determining readily the weight of each delivery so that the air liaison officer would know how many planes were needed at any time. A situation map, posted in Major Hancock’s office, was kept up to date, and, in a number of instances, anticipatory planning was carried to such an extent that ammunition was actually loaded on trucks kept ready to dash for the airfield. At the destination, air-ground communication with the unit being supplied was used to achieve the greatest possible coordination of effort.

Careful planning, supplemented by speedy adoption of lessons learned from experience, paid big dividends in terms of efficient operation of the air supply system. About 250 enlisted members of the 5307tb, including packers, riggers, drivers, and food droppers, were responsible for the job; everyone realized the importance of his role and felt a personal obligation to get the supplies to his comrades in the field at the time and place and in the quantities required. Major Hancock, commander of the base detachment, was assisted by Captain Willard C. Nelson who was executive officer, Lieutenant Robert O. Gardiner who supervised the packing of parachutes, and 1st Lieutenant Marian E. Lowell who handled air liaison. These officers and their enlisted personnel never allowed any obstacle to interfere with the delivery of supplies. Their outstanding performance and that of pilots and air crews resulted in a smoothly functioning supply system. The high degree of mobility and secrecy which resulted from air supply was one of the chief reasons for the success of the Marauders.

 The 71st Liaison Squadron, using L-4’s and L-5’s based at Ledo, evacuated the great majority of Marauder casualties from the combat zone after they had been treated by Medical corpsmen or surgical teams. The light liaison planes, landing on drop area’s, rice paddies, or gravel bars along the rivers, flew the wounded, often within a period of a few hours after injury, to rear air strips or to collecting and clearing companies along the Ledo Road. From the air strips, ambulance planes (C-47’s) transported the casualties to the 20th General Hospital, the 14th Evacuation Hospital, or the 111th Station Hospital in the Ledo area. After the capture of Myitkyina airfield both C-46’s and C-47’s, landing on the strip, were regularly assigned to evacuating Americans. Speed in carrying the wounded where they could receive hospital treatment saved the lives of many men who could not have withstood the journey overland through the jungle.

Before entering the area of operations, the 5307th arranged to carry long- and short-range radios providing constant communication with higher headquarters for orders, supply arrangements, and air cooperation, and within the unit itself for control of the columns. Since the battalions were to be always on the move and most of the time behind enemy lines, it was necessary to carry wherever they went even the heavier, more powerful radio sets. They left Ledo equipped with six radios (three long-range AN/ PRC-1’s and three SCR 284’s) mounted on mules. Each battalion had an AN/PRC-1, for communication to the base station at Dinjan and to the liaison station at General Stilwell’s forward headquarters and an SCR 284 (20-mile range), for signaling transport and fighter planes Aying missions for the ground troops. During the latter part of the operation the unit used an SCR 177-S,” converted for mule pack, to contact rear and forward units and the temporary command base then located at Naubum. From Ledo to Myitkyina all headquarters within the battalions had SCR 3OO’s (Walkie-Talkie).” Since this voice instrument proved most reliable for distances up to 3 and sometimes 10 miles in level country, the headquarters used it for quick column contact, supplementing their runners. Except on long marches, the men packed these 32-pound sets on their backs to relay information about enemy movements and to direct mortar and artillery fire. The communications men found the long-range radios more difficult tioned best only in the daytime when the signals of other stations were generally silent. The AN/ PRG-l’s required manpower, not always available, to crank their hand generators.

The operators, at first an inexperienced cross section of the services, learned to get the messages through. They often marched all day and then worked most of the night sending out and receiving communications or repairing their equipment. Upon the communications sections rested the responsibility for keeping channels open to coordinate the unit’s operations with those of the main Chinese force, to requisition food and ammunition for the unit’s existence in the enemy’s jungle, and to call for air support at critical moments. All this they did effectively.

SOURCE: Merrills Marauders (United States Center of Military History)

World War Two: Operation Toenails; Landings New Georgia

The South Pacific’s tactical and logistical planning for the invasion of New Georgia (TOENAILS, or Operation A) involved all the major echelons of the complex command that was Admiral Halsey’s. Halsey’s position was somewhat unusual. As he phrased it, the Joint Chiefs’ orders of 28 March “had the curious effect of giving me two ‘hats’ in the same echelon.” His immediate superior in the chain of command was Admiral Nimitz, who was responsible, subject to decisions by the Joint Chiefs, for supplying him with the means of war. For the strategic direction of the war in the Solomons MacArthur was Halsey’s superior.

South Pacific Organization

Whereas MacArthur’s headquarters followed U.S. Army organization, Halsey’s followed that of the Navy. There were many more subordinates, such as island commanders, reporting directly to Halsey than reporting to MacArthur, and the South Pacific was never organized as simply as the Southwest Pacific. Halsey, by the device of not appointing a single tactical commander of all naval forces, retained personal control of them.

There was a single commander of landbased aircraft, but there was never a single ground force commander with complete tactical authority. Naval forces, designated the Third Fleet in March 1943, came generally from the U.S. Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy. Except for New Zealand ships, no warships were ever permanently assigned; as need arose Nimitz dispatched warships to the South Pacific.
The South Pacific Amphibious Force (Task Force 32), on the other hand, was a permanent organization to which landing forces were attached for amphibious operations. In command was Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner who had led the Amphibious Force in the invasion of Guadalcanal the year before. Land-based air units from all Allied services in the South Pacific were under the operational control of the Commander, Aircraft, South Pacific, Admiral Fitch. Fitch’s command, Task Force 33, was made up of Royal New Zealand and U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps air units. Principal administrative organizations within Task Force 33 were General Twining’s Thirteenth Air Force and the 1st and 2d Marine Air Wings. The most important tactical organization in Fitch’s force was the interservice, international outfit known as Air Command, Solomons, that had grown out of the exigencies of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Fitch issued general directives which were executed under the tactical direction of the Commander, Aircraft, Solomons, who until 25 July 1943 was Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher.

There were two principal ground force commanders in early 1943. The first, General Harmon, an experienced airman who had served as Chief of Air Staff in Washington, was the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area; his command embraced air as well as ground troops. His authority was largely administrative and logistical, but he also advised the area commander on tactical matters and Halsey throughout the period of active operations relied heavily on him. Under Harmon, in early 1943, were four infantry divisions, the Americal, 25th, 37th, and 43rd, as well as the Thirteenth Air Force. The Americal and 25th Divisions had fought in the Guadalcanal Campaign.

The 43rd Division had seen no fighting but had received valuable experience when elements of the division took part in the invasion of the Russells. The 37th, which had gone out the year before to garrison the Fijis, was as yet untried. In addition to these divisions, which usually fought under the tactical command of the XIV Corps, there were, in Harmon’s command, the Army garrison troops in the island bases and a growing number, but never enough to satisfy the local commanders, of service units. By mid-1943 Harmon’s command embraced about 275,000 men.

The Marine Corps counterpart to Harmon’s command, as far as ground forces were concerned, was the I Marine Amphibious Corps. This organization, under Major General Clayton B. Vogel, USMC, had administrative responsibility over all Marine Corps units, except ships’ detachments and certain air units, in the South Pacific—two Marine divisions, one raider regiment, six defense battalions, one parachute regiment, and service troops. The 1st Marine Division in the Southwest Pacific was nominally administered by the I Marine Amphibious Corps but drew its supplies from Southwest Pacific agencies.

The highest logistic agency, the Service Squadron, South Pacific Force, operated directly under Halsey. It controlled all ships, distributed all supplies locally procured, assigned shipping space, designated ports, and handled all naval procurement. An equally important logistic agency was the Army’s Services of Supply, South Pacific Area. In early 1943 under Major General Robert G. Breene it was an expanding organization which was playing an important part in South Pacific affairs.

The organization of the South Pacific, as set forth on paper, seems complicated and unwieldy. Perhaps it could have functioned awkwardly, but the personalities and abilities of the senior commanders were such that they made it work. There is ample testimony in various reports to attest to the high regard in which the aggressive, forceful Halsey and his subordinates held one another, and events showed that the South Pacific was able to plan and conduct offensive operations involving units from all Allied armed services with skill and success.
Preparations and Plans

Admiral Halsey and his officers had begun planning and preparing for New Georgia in January 1943, before the end of the Guadalcanal Campaign. This process, which involved air and naval bombardments, the assembly of supplies, and reconnaissance of the target area, as well as the preparation and issuance of operation plans and field orders, continued right up to D Day, 30 June.

The Target

In climate, topography, and development, the Solomons are much like New Guinea and the Bismarcks. Their interiors were virtually unexplored. They are hot, jungled, wet, swampy, mountainous, and unhealthful. New Georgia is the name for a large group in the central Solomons which includes Vella Lavella, Gizo, Kolombangara, New Georgia (the main island of the group), Rendova, and Vangunu, Simbo, Ganonnga, Wana Wana, Arundel, Bangga, Mbulo, Gatukai, Tetipari (or Montgomery), and a host of islets and reefs. From Vella Lavella to Gatukai, the cluster is 125 nautical miles in length. Several of the islands have symmetrical volcanic cones rising over 3,000 feet above sea level.

In addition to the multitude of small channels, narrows, and passages, navigable only by small craft, there are several large bodies of water in the group. The Slot, the channel sailed so frequently by the Japanese during the Guadalcanal Campaign, lies between New Georgia on one side and Choiseul and Santa Isabel on the other. Marovo Lagoon on New Georgia’s northeast side is one of the largest in the world. Vella Gulf separates Vella Lavella from Kolombangara, which is set off from New Georgia by Kula Gulf. Blanche Channel divides New Georgia from Rendova and Tetipari.

The island of New Georgia proper, the sixth largest in the Solomons, is about forty-five statute miles long on its northwest-southeast axis, and about thirty miles from southwest to northeast. It is mountainous in the interior, low but very rough in the vicinity of Munda Point.

New Georgia proper was difficult to get to by sea except in a few places. Reefs and a chain of barrier islands blocked much of the coast line, which in any event was frequently covered by mangrove swamps with tough aerial prop roots. The best deepwater approach was the Kula Gulf which boasted a few inlets, but Japanese warships and seacoast guns defended much of the shore line of the gulf. There were protected anchorages in the southeast part of the island at Wickham Anchorage, Viru Harbor, and Segi Point. Munda Point, the airfield site, was inaccessible to large vessels.
East and west of the point visible islets and reefs, and also invisible ones, barred Roviana and Wana Wana lagoons to large ships. Rounding the lagoons like a crude fence on the seaward side is a tangled string of islands, rocks, and coral reefs—Roviana, Sasavele, Baraulu, and others, some with names, some without. These all have cliffs facing the sea (south) and slope down to sea level on the lagoon side. The channels between the barrier islands were too shallow for ships. Nor could ships reach Munda Point from Kula Gulf and Hathorn Sound. Diamond Narrows, running from Kula Gulf to the lagoons, was deep but too narrow for large vessels.

Across Blanche Channel from Munda and her guardian islands lies mountainous Rendova, which could be reached from the Solomon Sea. Rendova Harbor, though by no means a port, offered an anchorage to ocean-going ships. During the first months of 1943 coastwatchers covered the Solomons thoroughly. Buka Passage, between Bougainville and Buka, and Buin on southern Bougainville had been the sites of coastwatching stations for several months, and in October 1942 flying boats and submarines took watchers to Vella Lavella, Choiseul, and Santa Isabel.

At Segi Point on New Georgia was Donald G. Kennedy, a New Zealander who was District Officer in the Protectorate Government. Like Resident Commissioner William S. Marchant, the Anglican Bishop of Melanesia, and various other officials and members of religious orders, Kennedy remained in the Solomons when the Japanese came. At Segi Point Kennedy organized a network of white and Melanesian watchers covering Kolombangara, Rendova, Vangunu, Santa Isabel, and Roviana. A Euronesian medical practitioner was posted on Santa Isabel. On Roviana Sergeant Harry Wickham of the British Solomon Islands Defense Force organized the natives to keep watch over Munda Point.

Kennedy raised a guerrilla band to protect his hideout at Segi Point, for the Japanese occasionally sent out punitive expeditions to hunt him down. The primary mission of the coastwatchers was watching, not fighting, but Kennedy and his band were strong enough to wipe out several patrols that came too close. On one occasion Kennedy and his men, aboard the ten-ton schooner Dadavata, saw a Japanese whaleboat systematically reconnoitering the islets in Marovo Lagoon. They attacked with rifles, rammed the whaleboat, sank it, and killed or drowned its company.

In addition to gaining information from terrain studies, interrogation of former residents, and coastwatchers’ reports, South Pacific headquarters was able to augment its knowledge of New Georgia by a series of ground patrols. The first such expedition was directed by General Vogel. Four officers and eight enlisted men from each of the four battalions of the 1st Marine Raider Regiment assembled on Guadalcanal on 17 March, then sailed to Florida to board amphibian patrol planes (PBY’s) which took them to Segi Point. After Kennedy furnished them with native scouts and bearers, patrols went out to reconnoiter Kolombangara, Viru Harbor, Munda Point, and other areas. Traveling overland and by canoe, they carefully examined caves, anchorages, and passages. Their mission completed, all parties reassembled at Segi Point on 9 April. The raiders’ reports indicated that troops in small craft could be taken through Onaiavisi Entrance to a 200-yard-long beach at Zanana, east of the Barike River. From there they could strike westward toward Munda. Before D Day, additional patrols from the invading
forces went to New Georgia and stayed.

From November 1942 until D Day, Munda and Vila airfields were continuously subjected to air and naval bombardments. Vila, located in a swampy region, was practically never used by the enemy. From January until D Day, Allied cruisers and destroyers shelled Munda four times at night, Vila three times. The net result of the continuous air bombardment and the sporadic naval shelling was that the Japanese could not base planes permanently at Munda. It was used, and only occasionally, as a forward staging field.

Logistic Preparations

On Halsey’s orders South Pacific agencies had begun assembling supplies and developing bases and anchorages for the invasion of New Georgia as early as January 1943. Admiral Turner, remembering his experiences in the Guadalcanal Campaign, suggested that supplies for the invasion be stockpiled on Guadalcanal, and in February movement of supplies to Guadalcanal (under the appropriate code name DRYGOODS) began.

In spite of the fact that the port of Noumea, New Caledonia, was jammed with ships waiting to be unloaded, in spite of the fact that port facilities at Guadalcanal were so poor, and in spite of a bad storm at Guadalcanal in May that destroyed all the floating quays, washed out bridges, and created general havoc, enough supplies for the invasion were ready on Guadalcanal by June. This was accomplished by Herculean labor at Noumea, by routing some ships directly to Guadalcanal, and by selective discharge of cargo from other ships. The effects of the storm at Guadalcanal were alleviated by using the ungainly-looking 2½-ton, six-wheel amphibian truck (DUKW) to haul supplies from ships to inland dumps over open beaches. By June 54,274 tons of supplies, exclusive of organization equipment, maintenance supplies, and petroleum products discharged from tankers, had been put ashore. In addition many loaded vehicles, 13,085 tons of assorted gear, and 23,775 drums of fuel and lubricants were moved from Guadalcanal to the Russells in June. Bulk gasoline storage tanks with a capacity of nearly 80,000 barrels were available on Guadalcanal. Although Noumea and Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides were still the main South Pacific bases, Guadalcanal was ready to play an important role. The South Pacific commanders had insured that haphazard supply methods would not characterize TOENAILS.

Tactical Plans

Final plans and orders for TOENAILS were ready in June. Halsey had hoped to invade New Georgia in April, but could not move before the Southwest Pacific was ready to move into the Trobriands and Nassau Bay. The general concept of the operation was worked out by Admiral Halsey, a planning committee, and members of Halsey’s staff. The committee consisted of General Harmon, the Army commander; Admiral Fitch, the land-based air commander; Admiral Turner, the amphibious commander; and General Vogel of the I Marine Amphibious Corps. The principal staff officers concerned were Admiral Wilkinson; Captain Browning, Halsey’s chief of staff; and General Peck, Halsey’s war plans officer. By May agreement was reached on the general plan. It called for the simultaneous seizure of Rendova, Viru Harbor, Wickham Anchorage, and Segi Point. A fighter field would be built at Segi Point. After the initial landings small craft from Guadalcanal and the Russell’s would stage through Wickham Anchorage and Viru Harbor to build up Rendova’s garrison. Munda’s field would be harassed and neutralized by 155-mm. guns and 105-mm. howitzers emplaced on Rendova and the nearer barrier islands. These moves were preparatory to the full-scale assaults against Munda and Vila, and later against southern Bougainville.

Assigned to the operation were South Pacific aircraft, warships, the South Pacific Amphibious Force, and the heavily reinforced 43rd Division with its commander, Major General John H. Hester, in command of the landing forces. The 37th Division, less elements, was in area reserve to be committed only on Halsey’s orders.

Final plans and tactical organization were complicated, as TOENAILS called for four separate simultaneous invasions (Rendova, Wickham Anchorage, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor) with the Rendova landing to be followed by two more on the same island.

Admiral Halsey’s basic plan, issued on 3 June, organized the task forces, prescribed their general missions, and directed Admiral Turner to co-ordinate the planning of the participating forces. Four task forces were assigned to the operation: Task Force 33, the Aircraft, South Pacific, under Admiral Fitch; Task Force 72, a group of Seventh Fleet submarines commanded by Capt. James F. Fife and now under Halsey’s operational control; Task Force 36, the naval covering force commanded, in effect, by Halsey himself; and Task Force 31, the attack force.

Task Force 33, to which Halsey temporarily assigned planes from Carrier Division 22 (three escort carriers), was to provide defensive reconnaissance for New Georgia operations and the Southwest Pacific’s seizure of Woodlark and Kiriwina, and to cover the area northeast of the Solomons (Southwest Pacific planes were responsible for the Bismarcks). It was to destroy enemy units which threatened South and Southwest Pacific forces, especially Japanese planes operating from New Georgia and southern Bougainville. Fitch’s planes were also to provide fighter cover, direct air support, and liaison and spotting planes for the attack force. Starting D minus 5, Task Force 33 would attempt to isolate the battlefield by attacking the Japanese air bases at Munda, Ballale, Kahili, Kieta, and Vila, and by striking at surface vessels in the Bougainville and Munda areas. During daylight, fighters would cover ships and ground troops, and antisubmarine patrols would be maintained for convoys. Black Cats (PBY’s) would cover all night movements. Striking forces at all times were to be prepared to hit enemy surface ships. Beginning on D Day, eighteen dive bombers would remain on stand-by alert in the Russells. Medium bombers were to be prepared to support the ground troops. Finally, arrangements were made for air dropping supplies and equipment to the ground troops in New Georgia.

One innovation in the command of supporting planes had apparently arisen from Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift’s recommendations based on his experiences in invading Guadalcanal. Halsey directed that on take-off from Guadalcanal and Russells fields planes assigned to missions in the immediate area of operations would come under control of the local air commander (the Commander, New Georgia Air Force). Direction of fighters over Task Force 31 was to be conducted by a group aboard a destroyer until direction could be conducted ashore on Rendova. Similarly, bomber direction for direct air support would be handled aboard Turner’s flagship McCawley until bomber director groups could establish themselves ashore.

In early June, Fitch issued orders concentrating most of his strength in the Guadalcanal area under Admiral Mitscher. Totals for aircraft involved were fairly impressive. On 30 June Fitch had on hand for the operation 533 planes, of which 213 fighters, 170 light bombers, and 72 heavy bombers were ready to fly.

Task Force 36 included part of the 37th Division on Guadalcanal in area reserve, besides all Halsey’s naval strength except that assigned to the attack force. Naval units, including aircraft carriers (two CV’s and three CVE’s), battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, would operate out of Noumea, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides into the Coral and Solomon Seas to intercept and destroy any Japanese forces which ventured out. The reserve 37th Division forces were to be committed, on five days’ notice, on orders from Halsey.

Captain Fife’s submarines would at first conduct offensive reconnaissance from about latitude one degree north southward to the prevailing equatorial weather front. Once the Japanese were aware of the invasions, Fife’s boats were either to concentrate on locating enemy vessels or to withdraw south to cover Bougainville Strait and the waters between New Ireland and Buka. This reconnaissance would be in addition to patrols by Central Pacific submarines, which would keep watch over any Japanese surface forces approaching the South from the Central Pacific.

Admiral Turner’s attack force (Task Force 31) consisted of ships and landing craft from the South Pacific or III Amphibious Force (Task Force 32), plus the ground troops. These troops, designated the New Georgia Occupation Force, initially included the following units:
43d Division; 9th Marine Defense Battalion; 1st Marine Raider Regiment (less two battalions); 136th Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm. howitzers), 37th Division; Elements of the 70th Coast Artillery Battalion (Antiaircraft) One and one-half naval construction battalions; Elements of the 1st Commando, Fiji Guerrillas; Radar units; Naval base detachments A boat pool. Creating the New Georgia Occupation Force, and attaching all ground troops to it (instead of attaching the supporting units to the 43rd Division), made another headquarters necessary, and threw a heavy burden on 43rd Division headquarters. General Hester commanded both force and division, and the 43rd Division staff was, in effect, split into two staffs. The 43rd Division’s staff section chiefs (the Assistant Chiefs of Staff, G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4), as well as officers from Harmon’s headquarters, served on the Occupation Force staff sections, and their assistants directed the division’s staff sections. Brigadier General Harold R. Barker, 43rd Division artillery commander, commanded all Occupation Force artillery—field, seacoast, and antiaircraft.

From the start General Harmon was dubious about the effectiveness of this arrangement. He was “somewhat concerned that Hester did not have enough command and staff to properly conduct his operation in its augmented concept.” On 10 June, with Halsey’s concurrence, he therefore told Major General Oscar W. Griswold, commanding the XIV Corps and the Guadalcanal Island Base, to keep himself informed regarding Hester’s plans in order to be prepared to take over if need be.

The general plan of maneuver called for assault troops from Guadalcanal and the Russells to move to Rendova, Segi Point, Wickham Anchorage, and Viru Harbor on APD’s, transports, cargo ships, minesweepers, and minelayers. Segi, Wickham, and Viru would be taken by small forces to secure the line of communications to Rendova while the main body of ground forces captured Rendova.

Artillery on Rendova and the barrier islands was to bombard Munda, an activity in which ships’ gunfire would also be employed. On several days following D Day, slow vessels such as LST’s and LCT’s would bring in more troops and supplies. They would travel at night and in daylight hours hide away, protected from Japanese planes by shore-based antiaircraft, in Wickham Anchorage and Viru Harbor. About D plus 4, when enough men and supplies would be on hand, landing craft were to ferry assault troops from Rendova across Roviana Lagoon to New Georgia to begin the march against Munda. Coupled with this advance would be the amphibious seizure of Enogai Inlet in the Kula Gulf to cut the Japanese reinforcement, supply, and evacuation trail between Munda and Enogai, and thus prevent the Japanese on Kolombangara from strengthening their compatriots on New Georgia. Once Munda and Enogai were secured, it was planned, Vila on Kolombangara would be seized and further advances up the Solomons chain would follow.

Turner organized his force into five groups. The Western Force (Task Group 31.1), which Turner commanded in person, would seize Rendova and make subsequent assaults against Munda, Enogai, and Kolombangara. The Eastern Force, under Rear Admiral George H. Fort, was to take Segi, Viru, and Wickham. Task Group 31.2, consisting of eight destroyers, would cover the transports. No ships’ gunfire support was planned in advance, but all ships, including transports, were ordered to be ready to deliver supporting and counterbattery fire if necessary.

The New Georgia Occupation Force, under General Hester, included the Western Landing Force (under Hester), which during the amphibious phase would function as part of Turner’s Western Force; the Eastern Landing Force (under Colonel Daniel H. Hundley), which during the amphibious phase would be part of Fort’s Eastern Force; naval base forces for all points to be captured; the reserve under Colonel Harry B. Liversedge, USMC; and two more whose designations are not self-explanatory—the New Georgia Air Force and the Assault Flotillas.

The New Georgia Air Force, led by Brigadier General Francis P. Mulcahy, USMC, consisted initially of Headquarters, 2nd Marine Air Wing. In contrast with the system in the Southwest Pacific, this air headquarters was under the landing force commander. Mulcahy was to take over control of New Georgia air operations during the amphibious phase once that control was relinquished by Turner; he would take command of the planes from Guadalcanal and the Russells that would be supporting the attack, once they were airborne. He was eventually to command the air squadrons to be based at Munda and Segi Point. The Assault Flotillas consisted of landing craft to be used to ferry the assault troops from Rendova to New Georgia proper when the attack against Munda was ready to begin.

Two ground force units which Turner retained temporarily under his direct control were small forces designated to make covering landings. The Onaiavisi Occupation Unit, composed of A and B Companies, 169th Infantry, was to land from two APD’s and one minesweeper on Sasavele and Baraulu Islands on either side of Onaiavisi Entrance to hold it until the day of the assault against the mainland through the entrance. The landing of the occupation unit was scheduled for 0330, 30 June. The Rendova Advance Unit, C and G Companies (each less one rifle platoon), was to land from two APD’s on Rendova at 0540 to cover the landing of the main body of the Western Landing Force. The latter, about 6,300 strong, was to start landing on Rendova at 0640, 30 June.

Command over all air, sea, and ground forces in New Georgia would pass from Turner to Hester on orders from Halsey. The presence of the DRYGOODS stockpiles on Guadalcanal greatly simplified logistical problems. Three Army units of fire and thirty days’ supplies were to be put ashore at Rendova, and five units of fire and thirty days’ supplies at Viru, Segi, and Wickham. Supply levels were to be built to a sixty-day level out of the DRYGOODS stocks. General Griswold was told to make the necessary quantities available to Turner. Turner was responsible for the actual movement of supplies to New Georgia.

Directions for unloading during the assault phase were simple and clear. Turner instructed all vessels to be ready for quick unloading. All ships were to square away before reaching the transport areas offshore, and if possible to work all hatches from both sides. Unloading parties included 150 men for each cargo ship and transport, 150 men per LST, 50 men per LCT, and 25 men per LCI. The shore party totaled 300 men. Once ashore, cargo was to be moved off the beaches and into inland dumps as fast as possible.

Secondary Landings

With tactical plans for TOENAILS largely ready by mid-June, the invasion forces spent the rest of the month making final preparations—checking weapons and supplies, conducting rehearsals in the New Hebrides, and studying orders, maps, and photographs. South Pacific aircraft pounded Vila, Munda, and the Shortlands-Bougainville bases while Southwest Pacific planes continued their long-range strikes against Rabaul.

Segi Point

In the midst of these preparations, Admiral Turner received disquieting news about Segi Point, which was scheduled to furnish the Allies with an airfield. Coastwatcher Donald Kennedy reported on 20 June that the Japanese were moving against his hideout and that he was heading for the hills. He requested help. Kennedy’s report was correct. In early June a small Japanese force had gone to the southeast part of Vangunu to deal summarily with disaffected natives, and on 17 June half the 1st Battalion, 229th Infantry, under a Major Nagahara or Hara had moved from Viru Harbor southeast toward Segi Point.
As loss of Segi Point prior to D Day would deprive the Allies of a potential air base, Turner, a man of fiery energy and quick decision, abruptly changed his plans. He had originally intended to land the heavily reinforced 1st Battalion, 103d Infantry, at Segi on 30 June to build the fighter field and establish a small naval base. But on receipt of Kennedy’s call for aid, he hurriedly dispatched the handiest force available, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion (less N and Q Companies), from Guadalcanal in the fast destroyer-transports Dent and Waters to seize Segi and hold it. Ships and marines wasted no time. By 2030 of the same day—20 June—the ships were loaded and under way. Before dawn next morning they had safely worked their way through Panga Bay, though both vessels scraped bottom in the reef- and rockfilled waters. Kennedy, still safe, had lit bonfires on the beach and when the marines started ashore at 0550 he was there to meet them. There were no Japanese. The major and his men were still in the vicinity of Lambeti Village.

Next morning the APD’s Schley and Crosby brought A and D Companies of the 103d Infantry and an airfield survey section to Segi Point. Though alerted several times against enemy attack, the Segi garrison was undisturbed until 30 June, when a series of Japanese air attacks made things lively. Construction of the airfield began on 30 June. Using bulldozers and power shovels, and working under floodlights at night, the Seabees of the 20th Naval Construction Battalion had the strip ready for limited operations as a fighter staging field by 11 July.

Wickham Anchorage

The force selected for the seizure of Wickham Anchorage by Vangunu Island was ready to sail from the Russells on 29 June. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lester E. Brown, the force included Colonel Brown’s 2nd Battalion, 103d Infantry, reinforced, and N and P Companies, plus a headquarters detachment, of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion. Under Admiral Fort aboard the Trever, the convoy consisted of the destroyer-transports Schley and McKean, carrying marines, and seven LCI’s which bore soldiers. The ships cast off shortly after 1800 and set course for Oleana Bay, about two and one-half miles west by south from Vura village.

Allied scouting parties had reported that the main Japanese concentration at Wickham Anchorage—one platoon of the 229th Infantry and a company of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force—was near Vura, and had also reported that on the east shore of Oleana Bay a 500-yard-long strip of solid sand offered a good landing beach. It had therefore been decided to land the troops at Oleana Bay and then march overland and outflank the enemy positions from the west. There were two trails from Oleana Bay to Wickham Anchorage. One, which followed the shore line, was believed used by the Japanese, but a shorter one had been cut farther inland in April by Kennedy’s men in order to get scouts into the Vura area. This trail was thought to be unknown to the Japanese, and troops following native guides could be expected to cover it in five or six hours.

Visibility was practically nonexistent for the Wickham-bound convoy on the night of 29-30 June. Rain, lashed by a stiff wind, fell throughout the night, and continued as the vessels threaded their cautious way through the shoals and reefs into Oleana Bay. At 0335, 30 June, the ships hove to. Shortly afterward the first wave of marines began to debark from the destroyer-transports into LCVP’s, a task complicated by darkness, rain, high wind, and heavy seas. Two LCVP’s were almost loaded when the APD commanders discovered they were lying off the west rather than the east shore of the bay. The marines reboarded the destroyer-transports which then moved a thousand yards eastward.

Again the marines loaded into LCVP’s and started for the beach, which was obscured by rain and mist. Beach flares which had been set by members of the scouting party were invisible. Only the noise of the breakers indicated the direction of the shore. But things got worse. As the first wave of LCVP’s blindly made their way shoreward, the LCI’s broke into the formation and scattered it. Unable to re-form, or even to see anything, the LCVP coxswains proceeded on their own. The result was exactly what might be expected from a night landing in bad weather. The assault wave of marines landed in impressive disorganization. Six LCVP’s smashed up in the heavy surf that boiled over coral reefs. Fortunately, the Japanese were not present to oppose the landing. There were no casualties.

The LCI’s, landing in daylight, found the proper beach, and by 0720 the Army troops were ashore. More marines had begun landing at 0630 at the correct beach. With all landing operations concluded by 1000, the ships departed. Three officers of the reconnaissance party had met the landing force and informed Colonel Brown that the Japanese main strength was at Kaeruka rather than Vura. Once the scattered troops had been collected, the overland advance began with a small column moving toward Vura along the coastal trail while the main column marched against Kaeruka over Kennedy’s trail. The marines and soldiers first met the enemy in early afternoon.

Then ensued four days of fighting in the sodden jungles, with the Americans receiving support from dive bombers and warships, from their own heavy weapons, and from the 105-mm. howitzers of the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion on the beach at Oleana Bay. By the end of 3 July the Americans, having blasted the Japanese out of their entrenchments, were in complete possession of Wickham Anchorage. Many of the Japanese garrison had been killed; some escaped by barge, canoe, or on foot. In the seizure of this future staging point for landing craft, the marines lost twelve killed, twenty-one wounded. Army casualties are not listed.

Viru Harbor

When the Viru Occupation Force, the reinforced B Company, 103rd Infantry, on board three destroyer-transports, sailed into Viru Harbor before daylight on 30 June, lookouts vainly scanned the shore line for a white parachute flare. This was to have signaled that the marine raider companies that landed at Segi Point had moved against Viru from inland and seized positions flanking the harbor, for it had been agreed that attempting to land the infantry in frontal assault against the high cliffs surrounding the harbor would be too risky. But Lieutenant Colonel Michael S. Currin, commanding the 4th Marine Raider Battalion, had warned that his overland march was going slowly and that he might not arrive and take the harbor by 30 June. Thus the destroyer-transports waited just outside the harbor, beyond range of a Japanese shore battery (Major Hara had left part of his battalion at Viru) and at noon went to Segi Point where with Turner’s approval the troops went ashore. The attack force commander agreed that in view of the delay B Company should follow the marine raiders in their overland march.

Currin’s men had begun the first leg of their twelve-mile advance from Segi Point to Viru Harbor in rubber boats on 27 June. They landed near Lambeti Plantation that night, and the next morning set out on their overland march. Skirmishes with the Japanese, coupled with the difficulty of walking through the jungle, slowed them down. They forded streams, knee-deep in mud and shoulder high in water. The leading elements of the column churned the trail into slippery ooze, so that the rear elements floundered and stumbled along. Thus it was evening of 30 June before the marines reached Viru Harbor, which they took handily the next day by a double envelopment supported by dive bombers that knocked out the Japanese shore battery. On 4 July B Company, 103rd, which had come up from Segi Point, took over the defenses of Viru Harbor from the marines.

Thus were the operations of the Eastern Force conducted, separately from each other and separately from those of the Western Force, but under Admiral Turner’s general supervision in his capacity of attack force commander. They had provided one airfield and two staging bases. While important, they were undertaken only to support the seizure of Rendova by a substantial force, which was then to assault Munda and Vila.


Admiral Turner’s ships that were assigned to Rendova arrived off Guadalcanal in the morning of 29 June. They had come up from Efate bearing the assault troops of the Western Landing Force’s first echelon. They weighed anchor late that afternoon and made an uneventful journey through the mist and rain to Blanche Channel between Rendova and New Georgia.

No enemy warships were there to oppose them. Their absence had been ensured by a group of cruisers, destroyers, and minelayers from Halsey’s Task Force 36 under Rear Adm. Aaron Stanton Merrill. Merrill’s ships, on the night of 29-30 June, had bombarded Munda and Vila, then ventured northwest to the Shortlands to shell enemy bases and lay mines. This action inflicted damage to the Japanese while placing a surface force in position to cover Turner’s landings. The bad weather canceled the air strikes against the Bougainville-Shortland bases, but Allied planes—dive and torpedo bombers—were able to hit Munda and Vila on 30 June.

The night of 29-30 June was short for the six-thousand-odd troops aboard Turner’s ships. Reveille sounded at 0200, more than four hours before the ships hove to off Renard Entrance, the channel leading to Rendova Harbor. First landings were made by the Onaiavisi Occupation Unit—A and B Companies, 169th Infantry. These had come from the Russells in the destroyer-transport Ralph Talbot and the minesweeper Zane to land on Sasavele and Baraulu Islands before daylight in order to hold Onaiavisi Entrance against the day that the New Georgia Occupation Force made its water-borne movement against the mainland. Later in the morning B Company’s 2nd Platoon out-posted Roviana Island and the next day wiped out a Japanese lookout station. These landings were not opposed. The Japanese had maintained observation posts on the barrier islands but had not fortified them. The only mishap in this phase of TOENAILS occurred early in the morning of 30 June, when the Zane ran on a reef while maneuvering in the badly charted waters in the rain. She was pulled free by the tug Rail in the afternoon.

The landing of the 172nd Infantry on Rendova was somewhat disorderly. C and G Companies, guided by Major Martin Clemens and Lieutenant F. A. Rhoades, RAN, of the coastwatchers, and by native pilots, were to have landed from the destroyer- transports Dent and Waters on East and West Beaches of Rendova Harbor at 0540 to cover the main body of the 172d Infantry when it came ashore.

But again the weather played the Allies foul. The mist and rain obscured the Renard Entrance markers and the white signal light on Bau Island that the reconnaissance party, present on Rendova since 16 June, had set up. As a result the APD’s first landed C and G Companies several miles away, then had to re-embark them and go to the proper place.

Meanwhile, the six transports took their stations north of Renard Entrance as the destroyers took screening positions to the east and west. By now the clouds had begun to clear away, and visibility improved. The troops gathered on the transport decks, and the first wave climbed into the landing craft at the rails, carrying their barracks bags with them. The order “All boats away, all troops away” was given aboard Turner’s flagship, the transport McCawley, as the sun rose at 0642. Four minutes later Turner warned the first boats as they headed for shore, some three thousand yards to the south: “You are the first to land, you are the first to land—expect opposition.”

As the landing craft moved shoreward the waves became disorganized. When the craft reached Renard Entrance between Bau and Kokorana Islands, there was confusion and milling about until they began going through the entrance two abreast toward the narrow East and West Beaches that fronted Lever Brothers’ 584-acre plantation.

As the first landing craft touched down about 0700, the troops sprang out and ran across the beaches into the cover of the jungle. C and G Companies reached Rendova Harbor about ten minutes after the troops from the transports, and they joined with the main body and moved inland toward the Japanese.

The Japanese Rendova detachment—about 120 troops from the 229th Infantry and the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force—had been alerted early during the morning of 30 June. The alert proved to be a false alarm and they went back to sleep. The next alert—their first realization that they were being attacked—came when the American assault craft hit the beach. As it was too late for the Japanese to man their beach defense positions, they posted themselves in the coconut plantation about one hundred yards behind East Beach. Radiomen tried to warn Munda but could not get the message through. A lookout at Banieta Point fired four blue flares and signaled headquarters by blinker.

The Japanese could not hope to do more than harass the Americans. The special naval landing force commander, hit in the face by a burst from a BAR, was an early casualty. When about a dozen men were dead, the disorganized Japanese fell back into the jungle. They are reported to have lost some fifty or sixty men, while killing four Americans and wounding five, including Colonel David M. N. Ross, the 172nd’s commander. By the end of the day the Americans had pushed inland one thousand yards. The 105-mm. howitzers of the 103rd Field Artillery Battalion were in position to cover Renard Entrance, the north coast of Rendova, and the barrier islands.

All troops except working parties on board ship were ashore within thirty minutes after the landing of the first wave. This number included General Harmon who went along to observe operations. In the absence of strong enemy resistance on Rendova, the chief problem that confronted the invaders was unloading supplies, getting them ashore, and moving them inland. Less than half an hour after they had been lowered into the water, the first landing craft returned to the ships for cargo. No landing waves were formed; each craft moved cargo ashore as soon as it was loaded by its mother ship.

The first real delay in unloading was caused by shallow water. Many tank lighters (LCM’s) grounded on reefs in the harbor and lost time refloating and finding passages through deeper water. Many lighters, grounding about fifty feet offshore, had to lower their ramps in water while the troops waded ashore with cargo in their hands or on their shoulders. In consequence, disorderly stacks of gear began piling up near the shore line. The beachmaster attempted, with only partial success, to prevent this.

During most of the morning the Japanese did little. The Rendova garrison had not amounted to much; after the war the Japanese explained that the Munda and Rabaul commanders had not expected the Americans to land on the offshore islands. “Therefore,” a postwar report states, “the landing on RENDOVA Island completely baffled our forces.” When it became clear that the Americans were indeed landing on Rendova, 120-mm. and 140-mm. naval coast defense batteries at Munda and Baanga Island opened up on the ships, and they immediately replied with 5-inch fire. The destroyer Gwin was soon hit. She was the only casualty in the exchange of fire between ships and shore batteries that continued all day. But Turner and General Hester were operating very close to the Japanese air bases in southern Bougainville and the Shortlands, and these presented the greatest danger. Fortunately for the Americans, the Japanese were not prepared to counterattack at once.

The commanders at New Georgia were not the only Japanese surprised by the invasion. Those at Rabaul were taken equally unaware. They had, of course, known that some form of Allied activity was impending in late June. The move to help Kennedy, the increasing tempo of Allied air and naval action, and intercepted Allied radio traffic told them as much. So Admiral Kusaka gathered air attack forces together and sent them to the airfields around Buin. But after 26 June, when Allied movements seemed to slow down (Turner’s task force was then rehearsing in the New Hebrides), the Japanese command concluded that the Allies had been simply reinforcing Guadalcanal on a grand scale. Kusaka pulled his air units back to Rabaul. Thus it was that although a submarine had sighted Turner’s ships south of New Georgia about midnight, Kusaka, with sixty-six bombers, eighty-three fighters, and twenty reconnaissance seaplanes at his disposal, could do nothing about the invasion for several hours.

Turner, whose plans called for unloading to be completed by 1130, was first interrupted by a false air raid alarm at 0856. The ships stopped unloading and steamed around in Blanche Channel while the thirty-two fighter planes covering the landing got ready to intercept. The reported enemy planes failed to appear, and unloading was resumed. The first real enemy air attack, a sweep by twenty-seven fighters, came just after 1100. The Allied fighter cover shot most of them down before they could do any damage, but Turner’s schedule was further delayed by the necessity for going to general quarters and getting under way.

By about 1500 all but about fifty tons of gear had been unloaded. Turner ordered the transports and screening destroyers back to Guadalcanal and they speedily took their departure. Shortly afterward twenty-five Japanese bombers, escorted by twenty-four fighters, came down from Rabaul. The majority of the bombers were shot down, but one managed to put a torpedo into the flagship McCawley. At 1715 eight more bombers struck at the retiring task force but failed to score. That evening overeager American PT boats, mistaking the crippled McCawley for an enemy, put two more torpedoes into her sides and she sank in Blanche Channel, fortunately without loss of life.

Meanwhile the landing and handling of supplies on Rendova had been less than satisfactory. The invading forces had hoped to use Rendova Plantation to store supplies, although the pre-invasion patrols had not been able to investigate it thoroughly because the Japanese were there. As the rain continued, the streams flooded, and the red clay of the plantation turned into mud. The mile-long prewar road that linked East and West Beaches served well early in the day, but soon heavy truck traffic ground it into a muddy mess. Seabee drivers of the 24th Naval Construction Battalion had to hook their truck cables to trees and winch their 2½-ton, 6×6 trucks along in order to haul supplies from the heaped beaches to the cover and safety of high ground farther inland.

They cut hundreds of coconut logs into twelve-foot lengths and tried to corduroy the roadbed, but the mud seemed to be bottomless. One bulldozer sank almost out of sight. To add to the supply difficulties, many containers were inadequately marked and medical supplies became mixed among rations, fuel, and ammunition. The Rendova naval base force could not find all its radios, and little was known regarding the progress of operations at Wickham and Viru. The clutter and confusion caused by bogged trucks on the muddy roads and trails finally became so bad that the next day General Hester requested Turner to stop further shipments of trucks until the beachhead could be better organized.

Despite the confusion ashore and the loss of the McCawley, operations on 30 June were largely successful. Six thousand men of the 43rd Division, the 24th Naval Construction Battalion and other naval units, and the 9th Marine Defense Battalion had come ashore with weapons, rations, fuel, ammunition, construction equipment, and personal baggage. The Japanese had lost Rendova and several planes, and although they enthusiastically reported inflicting heavy damage to Turner’s ships, they admitted that, “due to tenacious interference by enemy fighter planes, a decisive blow could not be struck against the enemy landing convoy.” “The speedy disembarkation of the enemy,” they felt, “was absolutely miraculous.”

With the capture of the beachhead, General Hester dissolved the 172nd. Regimental Combat Team and returned the field artillery, engineers, and medical and communications men to divisional control. The build-up of troops and supplies for the attack against Munda and Vila was ready to begin.

The second echelon of the Western Force came in on LST’s the next day. This echelon included the 155-mm. howitzers of the 192nd Field Artillery Battalion and the 155-mm. guns of A Battery, 9th Marine Defense Battalion. Succeeding reinforcements continued to arrive at Rendova, Segi Point, Viru, and Wickham through 5 July until virtually the entire New Georgia Occupation Force as then constituted was present in New Georgia, with the main body at Rendova.

The Japanese were unable to do anything to prevent these movements, and did little damage to the beachhead. Only Japanese aircraft made anything like a sustained effort. Storms and poor visibility continued to prevent Allied planes from striking at the Shortlands-Bougainville fields, although they were able to hit the Munda and Vila airfields as well as Bairoko. The Japanese reinforced their air strength at Rabaul and sent planes forward to southern Bougainville and the Shortlands.

On 2 July Admiral Kusaka had under his command 11 fighters and 13 dive bombers from the carrier Ryuho, 11 land-based twin-engine bombers, 20 fighters, 2 reconnaissance planes, and a number of Army bombers that were temporarily assigned. The same day foul weather began closing in the rearward Allied bases. About noon the Commander, Aircraft, Solomons, from his post on Guadalcanal, ordered all Allied planes back. This left New Georgia without air cover. To make matters worse, the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s SCR 602 (a search radar designed for immediate use on beachheads) broke down that morning, and the SCR 270 (a long-range radar designed for relatively permanent emplacement) was not yet set up.

Kusaka sent all his planes to New Georgia. They reached the Rendova area in the afternoon, circled behind the clouded 3,448-foot twin peaks of Rendova Peak, then pounced to the attack. Many soldiers saw the planes but thought they were American until fragmentation clusters dropped by the bombers began exploding among them. The Rendova beachhead, with its dense concentrations of men and matériel, was an excellent target. At least thirty men were killed and over two hundred were wounded. Many bombs struck the fuel dumps, the resulting fires caused fuel drums to explode, and these started more fires. Three 155-mm. guns of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion were damaged.

Much of the equipment of the 125-bed clearing station set up by the 118th Medical Battalion was destroyed; for a time only emergency medical treatment could be rendered. The wounded had to wait at least twenty-four hours before they could receive full treatment at Guadalcanal.

That night nine Japanese destroyers and one light cruiser shelled Rendova but hit nothing except jungle. The Japanese, it was clear, did not intend to land troops on Rendova, but they did not intend to allow the Americans to remain there unmolested. The air attacks, while serious, did not disrupt preparations for the next phase of TOENAILS.

The Move to Zanana

After the occupation of Rendova, the next tasks facing the invaders were the movement to the New Georgia mainland and the assault against Munda airfield. On 2 July Admiral Halsey, doubtless encouraged by the lack of effective Japanese opposition, directed Turner to proceed with plans for the move against Munda. To carry out these plans, Turner on 28 June had reorganized the Western Force into five units: the transport unit consisting of destroyer-transports and high-speed minesweepers; a destroyer screen; a fire support group, eventually consisting of three light cruisers and four destroyers; two tugs; and the Munda-Bairoko Occupation Force under General Hester.

The Munda-Bairoko Occupation Force was further divided into five components. The Northern Landing Group, under Colonel Liversedge, was to operate against Bairoko. The Southern Landing Group (the 43rd Division less the 1st Battalion of the 103rd Infantry, the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, the 9th Marine Defense Battalion less elements, and the South Pacific Scouts) under Brigadier General Leonard F. Wing, assistant commander of the 43rd Division, was to attack Munda. The New Georgia Air Force, the Assault Flotillas (twelve LCI’s, four LCT’s, and native canoes), and a naval base group comprised the remaining three components. The Southern Landing Group was to land at Zanana Beach about five air-line miles east of Munda and attack westward to capture Munda while the Northern Group landed at Rice Anchorage in the Kula Gulf and advanced southward to capture or destroy the enemy in the Bairoko-Enogai area, block all trails from there to Munda, and cut off the Japanese route of reinforcement, supply, and escape.

The troops on Rendova had been making ready since 30 June, but some of their efforts were marked by less than complete success. Hester had ordered aggressive reconnaissance of the entire area east and north of Munda. Starting on the night of 30 June-1 July, patrols from the 172nd Infantry were to pass through Onaiavisi Entrance and Roviana Lagoon, land at Zanana, and begin reconnoitering, while Marine patrols pushed south from Rice Anchorage. The 43rd Division patrols were to operate from a base camp west of Zanana established on the afternoon of 30 June by Capt. E. C. D. Sherrer, assistant intelligence officer of the New Georgia Occupation Force.

At 2330, 30 June, despite a false rumor that Onaiavisi Entrance was impassable for small boats, patrols left Rendova on the eight-mile run to the mainland. The next morning regimental headquarters discovered that the patrols, unable to find the entrance in the dark, had landed on one of the barrier islands. The next evening the 1st Battalion, accompanied by Colonel Ross, shoved off for the mainland but could not find its way. Thus it was concluded that the move should be made in daylight. Accordingly A Company, 169th Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry, moved out for Zanana on the afternoon of 2 July. Native guides in canoes marked the channel.

Everything went well except that about 150 men returned to Rendova at 2330. Questioned about their startling reversal of course, they are reported to have stated that the coxswain of the leading craft had received a note dropped by a B-24 which ordered them to turn back. By the next morning, however, the entire 1st Battalion was on the mainland. The build-up of supplies on Rendova continued to be difficult; the rain and mud partially thwarted the efforts of the 118th Engineer and the 24th Naval Construction Battalions to drain the flat areas. East Beach was finally abandoned. The Occupation Force supply officers, after examining the solid coral sub-surfaces under the sandy loam of the barrier islands, began using the islands as staging points for supplies eventually intended for the mainland.

On the other hand, the artillery picture was bright. General Barker, the artillery commander, had never planned to make extensive use of Rendova for artillery positions, as the range from Rendova to Munda was too great for all weapons except 155-mm. guns. Such barrier islands as Bau, Kokorana, Sasavele, and Baraulu could well support artillery, and these islands, open on their north shores, possessed natural fields of fire. The field artillery could cover the entire area from Zanana to Munda, and initially would be firing at right angles to the axis of infantry advance and parallel to the infantry front. This would enable the artillery to deliver extremely accurate supporting fire, since the dispersion in artillery fire is greater in range than in deflection. On the other hand, it would increase the difficulty of co-ordination between artillery and infantry, for each artillery unit would require exact information regarding not only the front line of the unit it was supporting, but also the front line of the unit’s neighbors. Three battalions of artillery were in place in time to cover the move of the 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry, to Zanana, and by 6 July two battalions of 105-mm. howitzers (the 103rd and 169th), two battalions of 155-mm. howitzers (the 136th and 192nd), and two batteries of 155-mm. guns (9th Marine Defense Battalion) were in place, registered, and ready to fire in support of the infantry.

Antiaircraft managed to make a tremendous improvement over its performance of 2 July, and celebrated Independence Day in signal fashion when a close formation of sixteen unescorted enemy bombers flew over Rendova. This time radars were working, the warning had been given, and fire control men and gunners of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s 90-mm. and 40-mm. batteries were ready. The Japanese flew into a concentration of fire from these weapons, and twelve immediately plunged earthward in return for the expenditure of eighty-eight rounds. The fighter cover from the Russells knocked down the remaining four.

Meanwhile, at Zanana, the 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry, established a perimeter of 400 yards’ radius, wired in and protected by machine guns, 37-mm. antitank guns, and antiaircraft guns. Here General Wing set up the 43rd Division command post, and to this perimeter came the remaining troops of the 172nd and 169th Infantry Regiments in echelons until 6 July when both regiments had been completely assembled. Ground reconnaissance by 43nd Division soldiers, marines, and coastwatchers, aided after 3 July by the 1st Company, South Pacific Scouts, under Captain Charles W. H. Tripp of the New Zealand Army, was still being carried on. The advance westward was ready to begin.

Rice Anchorage

While 43rd Division troops were establishing themselves at Zanana, Colonel Liversedge’s Northern Landing Group was boarding ships at Guadalcanal and making ready to cut the Japanese communications north of Munda. The Northern Landing Group was originally to have landed on 4 July, but the delays in getting a foothold at Zanana forced Turner to postpone the landing, and all other operations, for twenty-four hours. Because the Bairoko-Enogai area, the New Georgia terminus of the Japanese seaborne line of communications, was strongly held, and because pre-invasion patrols had reported the Wharton River to be unfordable from the coast to a point about six thousand yards inland, Turner and Liversedge had decided to land at Rice Anchorage on the south bank of the river about six hundred yards in land. Supervised by Captain Clay A. Boyd, USMC, and Flight Officer J. A. Corrigan of the RAAF and the coastwatchers, native New Georgians cleared the landing beach and bivouac areas inland, and began hacking two trails from Rice Anchorage to Enogai to supplement the one track already in existence.
The organization of Liversedge’s Northern Landing Group was somewhat odd; the group consisted of three battalions from three different regiments. The 3rd Battalions of the 145th and 148th Infantry Regiments of the 37th Division and the 1st Raider Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment, made up the force. And the force was lightly equipped. In order to permit rapid movement through the thick jungles and swamps of the area north of Munda, the troops took no artillery of any kind. Machine guns and mortars were their heaviest organic supporting weapons.
The battalions boarded the APD’s, destroyers, and minesweepers at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of 4 July. The troops carried one unit of fire and rations for three days; five days’ rations and one unit of fire were stowed as cargo. Escorted by Rear Adm. Walden L. Ainsworth’s three light cruisers and nine destroyers, the speedy convoy started up the Slot at dusk. Shortly before midnight of a dark, rainy night, the ships rounded Visuvisu Point and entered Kula Gulf.
Ainsworth bombarded Vila and then Bairoko Harbour with 6-inch and 5-inch shells, while the transport group headed for Rice Anchorage. As the cruisers and destroyers were concluding their bombardment, the destroyer Ralph Talbot’s radar picked up two surface targets as they were leaving the gulf. These were two of three Japanese destroyers which had brought the first echelon of four thousand Japanese Army reinforcements down from the Shortland Islands. The Japanese ships had entered Kula at the same time as Ainsworth; warned by his bombardment, they were clearing out, but fired torpedoes at long range. One scored a fatal hit on the destroyer Strong. As two other destroyers were taking off her crew, four 140-mm. Japanese seacoast guns at Enogai opened fire, joined soon by the Bairoko batteries, but did no damage.
Liversedge’s landing started about 0130, just after Ainsworth’s bombardment ceased. The APD’s unloaded first, then destroyers, finally minesweepers. Each LCP (R) towed one ten-man rubber boat to shore. The way was marked by native canoes and shore beacons. The Japanese batteries harassed the troops but did not hit anything. There were no Japanese on the landing beach.
Nonetheless the landing was attended by troubles. A shallow bar obstructed the mouth of the Wharton River so effectively that many boats were grounded and later craft got over the bar only by coming in with lighter loads. The landing beach was too small to accommodate more than four boats at once, and the river mouth was thus continually jammed with loaded boats waiting their turns at the beach. Also, about two hundred men of the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, were landed at Kobukobu Inlet, several hundred yards north of Rice Anchorage, a mishap which may have occurred because of the darkness of the night. Some days elapsed before the two hundred men made their way through the jungle to catch up with their battalion.
As dawn of 5 July was breaking, the volume of fire from the Enogai batteries against the ships was increasing, and it seemed unwise to risk this fire in daylight as well as to invite air attack. All but seventy-two troops and 2 percent of the cargo had been put ashore. Therefore, the convoy commander withdrew. Liversedge, with nearly all his three battalions ashore and under his control, made ready to move south. Thus by 5 July TOENAILS was over.
Throughout the complicated series of operations certain characteristics stood out. The weather had been consistently foul. The Japanese had not been able to resist effectively. The American performance, in spite of several instances of confusion, was very good, in that six landings in all had been carried out according to a complicated schedule that called for the most careful co-ordination of all forces. Clearly, Admiral Turner’s reputation as an amphibious commander was well founded.
The Americans had now established themselves in New Georgia. Viru Harbor and Wickham Anchorage were secure points on the line of communications. The airfield at Segi Point was nearing completion. And at Rice Anchorage and Zanana General Hester’s Munda-Bairoko Occupation Force was making ready to strike against Munda airfield.

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

World War Two: Munda Trail; Offense Stalls