Although enemy resistance had been ineffective, and casualties in TOENAILS were relatively few, the Japanese were not finished. They planned to hold New Georgia. The New Georgia Occupation Force had had difficulties, but greater troubles were in store for it.
On 2 July, with the Americans in possession of Rendova, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor, the Japanese altered their command on New Georgia. By mutual agreement Major General Noboru Sasaki, commander of the Southeastern Detachment, took over direction of all Army and Navy forces in New Georgia. This action brought Rear Adm. Minoru Ota’s 8th Combined Special Naval Landing Force under Sasaki, who was under the tactical control of the 8th Fleet. Except for small detachments on Vella Lavella, Gizo, and other islands, the 10,500 men in Sasaki’s joint force were about evenly divided between Kolombangara and Munda. At Kolombangara, under Colonel Satoshi Tomonari, were two battalions of the 13th Infantry, most of the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, the Yokosuka 7th Special Naval Landing Force (less elements), and artillery and engineer units.
Guarding Munda, where Sasaki and Ota maintained their headquarters, were Colonel Genjiro Hirata’s 229th Infantry (less two battalions) and artillery, engineer, communication, and medical units. The main body of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force was concentrated at Bairoko.
Sasaki was well aware that the Americans would attack Munda. He could see the troops moving from Rendova to the mainland. Munda field was receiving shellfire from the American 155’s. If further proof was needed, Japanese patrols had brushed with the Allies near Zanana on 3 July, and the next day the 229th Infantry reported a clash with about five hundred Americans in the same place.
Immediately after the invasion of Rendova Sasaki had instructed Tomonari to alert his units for possible transfer to Munda and directed that two 140-mm. naval guns and two mountain guns be moved from the Bairoko area to Munda. After receiving the 229th’s report he brought the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, from Kolombangara through Bairoko to Munda to rejoin the regiment on 4 July.
On the same day, Sasaki proposed a counter-landing against Rendova. As their artillery pieces lacked the range to hit Rendova, the Japanese on Munda could not retaliate when shells from American 155’s crashed on Munda field. Sasaki therefore suggested that the main body of the Munda garrison board landing craft, avoid recognition by mingling with American craft, and assault Rendova amid the resulting confusion. This interesting plan might have succeeded and caused a disaster to the Allies. More probably, by removing the Munda troops from their strong defense positions, it would have saved the Americans a lot of fighting. 8th Fleet Headquarters apparently vetoed the proposal.
Also on Independence Day General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka, who wished to hold New Georgia at all costs as a key outpost for Bougainville, considered the problem of holding the island in relation to the general defense of the Southeast Area. They decided to strengthen New Georgia and to hold New Guinea with the troops already there. Imamura agreed to give four thousand more 17th Army troops to Sasaki. These, including additional units from the 13th and 229th Infantry Regiments plus artillerymen, engineers, and medical men, were to be shipped in echelons from Erventa in the Shortlands to Kolombangara. Warships would transport them. It was the first echelon of these troops that Admiral Ainsworth’s task force kept from landing on the night of 4-5 July.
On 5 July the Japanese naval officers’ worries regarding New Georgia were increased by Hester’s build-up at Zanana and Liversedge’s landing at Rice Anchorage. The Japanese assigned ten destroyers to transport the second echelon, which was to be put ashore at Vila in the early morning hours of 6 July.
Informed that Japanese warships were getting ready to sail from the Shortlands, Halsey ordered Ainsworth’s task group to intercept, reinforced by two destroy destroyer Chevalier. Ainsworth, retiring from the Kula Gulf, was in Indispensable Strait when Halsey’s orders reached him. He reversed course and entered Kula Gulf about midnight, a few minutes behind the Japanese destroyers. In the ensuing Battle of Kula Gulf, the veteran cruiser Helena was sunk. The Japanese lost the destroyers Niizuki and Nagatsuki, but put 850 soldiers ashore at Vila. This addition of 850 men enabled Sasaki to send part of another battalion from Kolombangara to Munda that same day.
Admiral Kusaka, who moved his headquarters from Rabaul to Buin “to alter the grave situation and raise the morale of all the forces,” wanted still more troops for New Georgia. On 7 July he asked Imamura for 11,000 more soldiers. The general, who had just approved sending 4,000 men to New Georgia, now stated that he doubted that even Bougainville could be made secure. Although willing to consider sending another division to Bougainville, he refused to provide 11,000 more troops for New Georgia.
It was well for the Americans that Imamura refused the 11,000 men. Blasting the existing garrisons out of Munda and Bairoko was to prove sufficiently difficult and bloody.
Operations of the Northern Landing Group
The March to Dragons Peninsula At 0600 of 5 July, with nearly all his Northern Landing Group ashore and in hand, Colonel Liversedge ordered his troops to move out. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, and K and L Companies of the 145th Infantry were to advance southward toward Dragons Peninsula, the piece of land lying between Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbour. Once they had reached the head of Enogai Inlet, the Raiders and K and I Companies, 145th, were to swing right to take the west shore of Enogai Inlet prior to assaulting Bairoko, while the 3d Battalion, 148th, advanced southwest to block the Munda-Bairoko trail. M, L, and Headquarters Companies of the 3rd Battalion, 145th Infantry, were ordered to stay and defend Rice Anchorage under Lieutenant Colonel George C. Freer, the battalion commander.
The pre-invasion reconnaissance parties, after examining the ground between Rice Anchorage and Dragons Peninsula to determine whether an overland attack would be practicable, had reported the country generally level with sparse undergrowth. There were no swamps. Enogai Inlet, with a good anchorage, had a mangrove-covered shore line except at its head where firm ground rose steeply to an elevation of about five hundred feet. Dragons Peninsula itself was hilly, swampy, and jungled, but on the inland shore of Leland Lagoon a ridge ran from Enogai to Bairoko village. Bairoko Harbour was deep, and was backed by swamplands.
The advance to Dragons Peninsula began immediately after Liversedge issued his orders. Guided by natives, the troops moved along the three parallel trails—the original track and the two cut by Corrigan’s natives. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith, III, commanding, led the way, followed in order by K and L Companies, 145th, under Major Marvin D. Girardeau, and Lieutenant Colonel Delbert E. Schultz’s 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry. The patrols’ reports had implied that the going would be easy, but the march proved difficult. The rough trails, winding over hills and ridges, were obstructed by branches, roots, and coral outcroppings. Rain wet the troops all day. The Raiders, whose heaviest weapon was the 60-mm. mortar, made fairly steady progress, but the soldiers of M Company, 148th Infantry, fell behind as they floundered through the mud with their heavy machine guns, 81-mm. mortars, and ammunition.
At 1300 part of D Company of the Raiders, the advance guard, was sent on ahead to secure a bridgehead on the far bank of the Giza Giza river. Three hours later the Raiders’ main body and the companies of the 145th Infantry arrived at the river and bivouacked there overnight. They had covered five and one-half miles in the day’s march without meeting a single Japanese. Colonel Schultz’s battalion camped for the night about one and one-half miles to the north.
Next morning, 6 July, the Raiders led out again, and D Company pushed ahead to secure a crossing over the Tamakau River. The rains had flooded the river; it was now nine feet deep. Without tools or time to build a proper bridge, the Raiders threw a log over the stream, and improvised rafts from poles and ponchos to ferry over their heavy equipment.
After several rafts had capsized, they gave up and carried everything over on the log. Several men slipped off the log and fell into the swollen river; a few had to be rescued from drowning. The crossing had started before noon, but not until dusk did the last man cross the river. Schultz’s battalion, also delayed by high water, caught up with the Raiders and bivouacked near them for the night.
On the morning of 7 July the Raiders and Girardeau’s companies set out for Enogai, while Schultz’s battalion pushed south toward the Munda-Bairoko trail. The country was rough, the going hard for both forces. The Raiders took five hours to cover the 2,500 yards between their bivouac and the east end of Enogai Inlet. The 3d Battalion, 148th, reached the trail at 1700. In the afternoon the two hundred men who had been landed astray on 5 July caught up with the main body. There had been no opposition from the Japanese; a patrol was observed but kept its distance.
Capture of Enogai Inlet
When the Marine Raiders and Girardeau’s two companies reached Enogai Inlet, one platoon, again from D Company, pushed forward to secure the deserted village called Maranusa. From there a patrol marched toward Triri, another village which was hardly more than a clearing. Up to now the marines had not seen any Japanese, but as the patrol approached Triri its point detected five Japanese ahead. The marines ambushed the party and killed two of its members. They belonged to the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force. The other three fled. When Liversedge heard about this action, which made it obvious that his force had been discovered, he ordered Griffith to secure Triri at once in order to prepare to repel a counterattack.
Griffith dispatched the demolition platoon from battalion Headquarters Company with orders to pass through D Company and seize Triri. On the way up, the platoon ran into a strong enemy patrol which opened fire. The marines retired to a defensive position on the bank of a stream and kept the enemy in place with fire. At this point D Company appeared on the scene, swung to the left, struck the Japanese on their inland (right) flank, and drove them off. Three marines and ten Japanese were killed in this skirmish. One of the dead Japanese had on his person a defense plan which showed the exact location of the heavy guns at Enogai. By 1600 all elements of the Enogai attacking force were installed at Triri.
At dawn the following morning—8 July, the day on which Schultz’s battalion completed its block on the Munda-Bairoko trail—two Raider combat patrols went out of Triri. B Company sent one out to ambush a trail which led northwesterly to Enogai, and a D Company patrol advanced south along a cross-country track leading to Bairoko to lay another ambush. This patrol had advanced a short distance by 0700, when it ran into an enemy force of about company strength. A fire fight broke out, and at 1000 Griffith sent C Company to drive the enemy back a short distance.
In the meantime, the patrol which had advanced toward Enogai reported no contact with the enemy. In order to assemble all companies of the 1st Raider Battalion for the attack against Enogai, Griffith sent K and L Companies of the 145th south to take over from C Company. C Company then disengaged, moved back to Triri, and in the early afternoon the 1st Raider Battalion marched northwest toward Enogai. But the trail led the marines into an impassable mangrove swamp. The battalion therefore retired to Triri, while scouts hunted for a better route to use the next day.
In the south sector, the fight between the Japanese and K and L Companies had continued. The Japanese in repeated assaults struck hard at K Company which was on the right (west). Captain Donald W. Fouse, commanding K Company, was wounded early in the action but stayed with his company until the fight was over. When the Raider battalion retired to Triri, the Demolition Platoon was committed to the line, and when K Company was hard hit a platoon from B Company of the Raiders swung wide around the Japanese left flank and struck them in the rear. This maneuver succeeded. The enemy scattered.
The 1st Raider Battalion resumed its advance against Enogai the next morning, using a good trail, apparently unknown to the Japanese, that led over high ground west of the swamp. K and L Companies remained to hold Triri, the site of Liversedge’s command post. Griffith’s battalion, meeting no opposition, made good time. By 1100 the marines were in sight of Leland Lagoon. They swung slightly to the right toward Enogai Point and at 1500 ran into two Japanese light machine guns which opened fire and halted the advance. Griffith deployed, with A Company on the left, C in the center, B on the right, and D in reserve. The companies then assaulted, but the Japanese defended so resolutely that no further progress was made that day.
Patrols reconnoitered vigorously so that by 0700, 10 July, Griffith had been informed that the Japanese were strongest in front of his center and left, and that there were no Japanese directly in front of B Company. The battalion resumed the attack at 0700. C and A Companies advanced slowly against rifle and machine gun fire. Supported by 60-mm. mortars, B Company drove forward rapidly, cleared the village of Baekineru, and captured two machine guns. Then A Company, strengthened by one platoon from battalion reserve, pushed over Enogai Point to the sea. By 1500 all organized resistance had ended except for a pocket in front of A Company. When D Company started establishing beach defenses, it was troubled by three machine guns from another enemy pocket. Mopping up these two groups of Japanese took until 11 July.
The Raiders had run out of food and water by midafternoon of 10 July, but were succored by L Company, 145th, which brought rations and water up from Triri. These had been dropped, at Liversedge’s urgent request, by C-47’s from Guadalcanal.
By 12 July Enogai was organized for defense against land or seaborne attacks. Estimates of Japanese casualties ranged from 150 to 350. Postwar Japanese accounts assert that Enogai was defended by one platoon of soldiers and 81 men of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force. The marines lost 47 killed, 4 missing, and 74 wounded. They captured 3x.50-caliber antiaircraft machine guns, 4 heavy and 14 light machine guns, a searchlight, rifles, mortars, ammunition, 2 tractors, some stores and documents, and the 4×140-mm. coastal guns that had harassed the landing at Rice Anchorage. The guns were intact except that their breechblocks had been removed. Luckily, a marine digging a foxhole uncovered one, and a hasty search of the area turned up the other three. The marines used these guns to help guard the seaward approaches to the newly won position.
Roadblock North of Munda
While the Raiders were thus engaged, the soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, were deep in the jungle holding their block. The block, completed on 8 July, was set up on a well-used trail some two miles southeast of Enogai Inlet and eight miles north of Munda. I Company, with one M Company platoon attached, faced toward Bairoko; K Company faced Munda. L Company covered the flanks of I and K, and extended its lines back to protect the battalion command post. M Company, with the Antitank Platoon attached, was in a supporting position to the rear. Each rifle company held one platoon in reserve under battalion control. All positions were camouflaged. Colonel Schultz ordered his men to fire at enemy groups larger than four men; smaller parties were to be killed with bayonets.
The battalion held the block from 8 through 17 July. Patrols went out regularly. General Hester had ordered patrols to push far enough to the south to make contact with the 43rd Division’s right flank as it advanced westward against Munda, but this was never done. Schultz was strengthened on 11 July by the addition of I Company, 145th Infantry, after a group of Japanese had overrun part of L Company’s positions in a series of attacks starting 10 July.
Except for this, the Japanese made no effort to dislodge Schultz’s men, whose greatest enemy proved to be hunger. The troops had left Rice Anchorage carrying rations for three days on the assumption that Enogai Inlet would be taken in two days and that American vessels could then land stores there. These could be delivered to the troops after a relatively short overland haul. But Enogai was not secured until 11 July. The 120 native carriers thus had to carry food all the way from Rice Anchorage. Although, according to Colonel Liversedge, the natives “accomplished an almost superhuman task,” they could not carry supplies fast enough to keep the troops fed.
By 9 July the food shortage was serious. Only 2,200 D rations had been delivered. Late that evening, with food for the next day reduced to one ninth of a D and one ninth of a K ration per man, Schultz radioed to Liversedge an urgent request that food be brought in by carrier. He also hoped the natives could carry out two badly wounded men who were being cared for in the battalion aid station. But as there were not enough natives, C-47’s dropped food, as well as ammunition, to the battalion the next afternoon. Much of the food fell far beyond the 3rd Battalion’s lines, and some of the ammunition was defective. Schultz was forced to cut the food allowance for the next twenty-four hours to one twelfth of a K ration. Fortunately Enogai had now fallen, and on 13 July Flight Officer Corrigan’s natives carried in three hundred pounds of rice which the men cooked in their helmets, using salt tablets for seasoning. The next day, though, was another hungry one; one D and one K ration was the allowance for each eighteen men. Thereafter, until the block was abandoned, carrying parties and air drops kept food stocks high enough. During the nine days it held the block, the 3rd Battalion lost 11 men killed and 29 wounded; it estimated it had killed 250 Japanese.
At the time it was believed that the blockers had cut off Munda from reinforcement via Bairoko, and that they held the Japanese Bairoko force in place, prevented Enogai from being reinforced from either Munda or Bairoko, and protected Griffith’s right flank and rear. Knowledge gained after the event indicates that none of these beliefs was warranted.
That Munda was not isolated is demonstrated by the fact that the Japanese reinforcement of Munda was in full swing, and all the reinforcements seem to have reached Munda without much trouble. The enemy obviously stopped using the blocked trail after 8 July and shifted to another one farther west. Meanwhile, reinforcement by water continued.
On 9 July, when 1,200 Japanese from the Shortlands landed on Kolombangara, 1,300 of the 13th Infantry transferred by barge to Bairoko. Three days later, on 12 July, a Japanese ten ship force left Rabaul to carry 1,200 more soldiers to Kolombangara, and Halsey sent Ainsworth’s task force to intercept again. The two forces collided early on 13 July northeast of Kolombangara in a battle named for that island. The Allies lost the destroyer Gwin; the New Zealand light cruiser Leander and the American light cruisers St. Louis and Honolulu suffered damage. The Japanese flagship, the light cruiser Jintsu, was sunk, but 1,200 enemy soldiers were landed on the west coast of Kolombangara.
At Bairoko, during this period, the 13th Infantry made ready to go to Munda. It was part of this regiment which attacked the trail block on 10 July. On 13 July, when the Bairoko garrison was strengthened by the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, and a battery of artillery, the 13th Infantry marched south to the Munda front.
As far as pinning down the Bairoko troops was concerned, the block lay more than two miles from Bairoko, and thus could not have affected the Bairoko garrison very much. And surely, had the Japanese desired to reinforce Enogai from Bairoko, they would have used the direct trail along the shore of Leland Lagoon rather than going over the more roundabout route which was blocked.
In view of the American strength at Rendova and Zanana, the thesis that the Japanese might have sent troops from Munda to Enogai is equally untenable, even if it were not known that the Japanese were reinforcing Munda, not Enogai. Finally, Schultz’s battalion was too far from Griffith’s to render much flank protection in that dense, dark jungle.
It is clear that the trail block failed to achieve results proportionate to the effort expended. So far, the principal effect of the entire Rice Anchorage-Enogai-Bairoko operation had been to employ troops that could have been better used at Munda.
By 11 July, with Enogai secured, Liversedge was five days behind schedule. Casualties, illness, and physical exhaustion had reduced the 1st Raider Battalion to one-half its effective strength. Considering that two fresh battalions could reduce Bairoko in three days, he asked Admiral Turner, with Hester’s approval, for additional troops. There were not two more battalions to be had, Turner replied, but he promised to land the 4th Raider Battalion at Enogai by 18 July, and authorized a delay in the assault against Bairoko until then. Thus short one battalion, Liversedge directed Schultz to abandon his block and march to Triri on 17 July. The 3rd Battalion, 148th, was to join the Raiders and part of the 3rd Battalion, 145th, in the Bairoko attack.
The Northern Landing Group had accomplished the first phase of its mission by capturing Enogai, but was behind schedule. On the Munda front, General Wing’s Southern Landing Group was also behind schedule.
Operations of the Southern Landing Group
From Zanana to the Barike River Once the 169th and 172nd Regiments had landed at Zanana, General Hester had originally planned, the two regiments were to march overland about two and one-half to three miles to a line of departure lying generally along the Barike River, then deploy and attack west to capture Munda airfield. The regiments were directed to reach the line of departure and attack by 7 July, but by the time the two regiments had reached Zanana all operations were postponed one day.
The overland approach to Munda involved a march through the rough, jungled, swampy ground typical of New Georgia. The terrain between Zanana and Munda was rugged, tangled, and patternless. Rocky hills thrust upward from two to three hundred feet above sea level, with valleys, draws, and stream beds in between. The hills and ridges sprawled and bent in all directions. The map used for the operation was a photomap based on air photography. It showed the coast line and Munda airfield clearly, but did not give any accurate indication of ground contour. About all the troops could tell by looking at it was that the ground was covered by jungle.
The difficulty of travel in this rough country was greatly increased by heat, mud, undergrowth, and hills. Visibility was limited to a few yards. There were no roads, but a short distance north of Zanana lay Munda Trail, a narrow foot track that hit the coast at Lambeti Plantation. Engineers were making ready to build a road from Zanana to Munda Trail, and to improve the latter so that it could carry motor traffic.
Having made their way from Zanana to the line of departure on the Barike, the two regiments would, according to Hester’s orders, deliver a co-ordinated attack against Munda airfield, which lay about two and one-half miles westward. The 172d Infantry on the left (south) would be responsible for a front extending inland from the coast. The 169th Infantry’s zone of action lay north of the 172d’s; its right flank would be in the air except for protection given it by South Pacific Scout patrols operating to the north. The attack would be supported by General Barker’s artillery and by air and naval bombardments.
Two days after the beginning of the two-regiment attack, a heavy naval bombardment would prepare the way for an assault landing by the 3rd Battalion, 103nd Infantry, and the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s Tank Platoon at 0420, 9 July, at the west tip of Munda Point. Hester and Wing did not expect to meet any serious opposition between Zanana and the Barike River, and their expectations must have been confirmed by the experience of the 1st Battalion, 172nd. On 3 July Colonel Ross had ordered this battalion to remain at Zanana, making every effort at concealment. The message was apparently not received, for on 4 July the battalion, accompanied by A Company, 169th Infantry, easily marched to the Barike River, meeting only small Japanese patrols on the way. It was this premature move that helpedto alert Sasaki.
Next morning Captain Sherrer of the G-2 Section led a patrol of six New Zealanders, twelve Americans, and eighteen Fijians from his base camp toward the upper reaches of the Barike River. They intended to set up a patrol base on high ground suitable for good radio transmission and reception. Normally they would have avoided detection by moving off the trails and striking out through the wilderness, but, laden with radio gear, they followed Munda Trail. As they approached a small rise that lay about two miles from Zanana, and about eleven hundred yards east of the line of departure, they met enemy machine gun fire. They replied with small arms, and the fire fight lasted until dusk when Sherrer’s group disengaged and went south to the bivouac of the 1st Battalion, 172nd, near the mouth of the Barike. B Company, 172nd, went out to investigate the situation the next morning and found the Japanese still occupying the high ground, astride the trail. Attacks by B Company and by A Company, 169th, failed to dislodge the Japanese. By afternoon of 6 July, however, the three battalions of the 172nd Infantry were safely in place on the Barike, the 1st and 3rd on the left and right, the 2nd in regimental reserve.
But the 169th Infantry, commanded by Colonel John D. Eason, was not so fortunate.
That regiment’s 3nd Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel William A. Stebbins, set out along the trail from Zanana to the line of departure on the morning of 6 July. Natives guided the battalion as it moved in column of companies, each company in column of platoons, along the narrow trail. The men hacked vines and undergrowth to make their way more easily. Shortly after noon, General Wing ordered Stebbins’ battalion to destroy the point of Japanese resistance that Sherrer had run into.
It was estimated, correctly, that about one platoon was trying to block the trail. General Sasaki, aware of the Allied activity east of him, had ordered part of the 11th Company, 229th Infantry, to reconnoiter the Barike area, clear fire lanes, and establish this trail block with felled trees and barbed wire.
The 3nd Battalion, 169th, apparently did not run into the block on 6 July. It dug in for the night somewhere east of the block, but does not seem to have established the sort of perimeter defense that was necessary in fighting the Japanese in the jungle. Foxholes were more than six feet apart. The battalion laid no barbed wire or trip wire with hanging tin cans that rattled when struck by a man’s foot or leg and warned of the approach of the enemy. Thus, when darkness fell and the Japanese began their night harassing tactics—moving around, shouting, and occasionally firing—the imaginations of the tired and inexperienced American soldiers began to work.
They thought the Japanese were all around them, infiltrating their perimeter with ease. One soldier reported that Japanese troops approached I Company, calling, in English, the code names of the companies of the 3nd Battalion, such stereotypes as “come out and fight,” and references to the Louisiana maneuvers. The men of the battalion, which had landed in the Russells the previous March, must have been familiar with the sights and sounds of a jungle night, but affected by weariness and the presence of the enemy, they apparently forgot. In their minds, the phosphorescence of rotten logs became Japanese signals. The smell of the jungle became poison gas; some men reported that the Japanese were using a gas which when inhaled caused men to jump up in their foxholes.
The slithering of the many land crabs was interpreted as the sound of approaching Japanese. Men of the 169th are reported to have told each other that Japanese nocturnal raiders wore long black robes, and that some came with hooks and ropes to drag Americans from their foxholes. In consequence the men of the battalion spent their nights nervously and sleeplessly, and apparently violated orders by shooting indiscriminately at imaginary targets.
Next day, the shaken 3rd Battalion advanced with I Company leading followed by L, M, Battalion Headquarters, and K Companies. It ran into machine gun fire from the Japanese trail block at 1055. I Company deployed astride Munda Trail, L Company maneuvered to the left, K was initially in reserve. M Company brought up its 81-mm. mortars and heavy machine guns but could not use them profitably at first as banyan trees and undergrowth blocked shells and bullets. The mortar platoon then began clearing fields of fire by cutting down trees. B Company of the 172nd also attacked the block from the south.
I Company launched a series of frontal assaults but was beaten back by machine gun fire. Three platoon leaders were wounded in these attacks. K Company came out of reserve to deliver a frontal assault; its commander was soon killed. Neither it nor any of the other companies made progress. The Japanese were well dug in and camouflaged. Riflemen covered the automatic weapons. Fire lanes had been cut. The enemy weapons had little if any muzzle blast, and the Americans had trouble seeing targets.
Some tried to grenade the enemy but were driven back before they could get close enough to throw accurately. At length the 81-mm. mortars got into action; observers operating thirty yards from the Japanese position brought down fire on it. Some Japanese are reported to have evacuated “Bloody Hill,” as the Americans called it, that afternoon. At 1550 the 3d Battalion withdrew to dig in for the night. After dark the Japanese harassed the 3d Battalion again. According to the 169th Infantry, “a sleepless night was spent by all under continued harassing from enemy patrols speaking English, making horror noises, firing weapons, throwing hand grenades, swinging machetes and jumping into foxholes with knives.”
On 8 July, the 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry, which had been behind the 3nd within supporting distance, was ordered to bypass the 3d and move to the Barike while the 3d Battalion reduced the block. On 7 July General Wing had ordered Colonel Ross to use part of the 172nd against the block, but apparently by the afternoon of 8 July no elements of the 172nd except B Company had gone into action against it. On 8 July the 3rd Battalion, 169th, and B Company, 172nd, struck the block after a mortar preparation and overran it. The 3rd Battalion lost six men killed and thirty wounded, and suffered one case diagnosed as war neurosis, in reducing the block. The trail from Zanana to the Barike was open again, but the attack against Munda had been delayed by another full day.
By late afternoon of 8 July, the 1st Battalion, 169th, had reached the Barike River and made contact on its left with the 3rd Battalion, 172d; A Company, 169th, had been returned to its parent regiment; the 3rd Battalion, 169th, was behind and to the right of the 1st Battalion. With the two regiments on the line of departure, Hester and Wing were ready to start the attack toward Munda early on 9 July. Hester told Wing: “I wish you success.”
The Approach to the Main Defenses By 7 July General Hester, after conferences with General Wing and Colonels Ross and Eason, had abandoned the idea of the amphibious assault against Munda by the 3rd Battalion, 103nd Infantry, and the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s tank platoon. He was probably influenced in his decision by the strength of the Munda shore defenses.
The plan for the attack on 9 July called for the 169th and 172nd Regiments to advance from the Barike, seize the high ground southwest of the river, and capture the airfield. On the high ground—a complex of ridges that ran from Ilangana on the beach inland in a northwesterly direction for about three thousand yards—were the main Japanese defenses.
The 172nd Infantry was to move out astride the Munda Trail with the 1st and 3d Battalions abreast. Each battalion zone would be three hundred yards wide. Battalions would advance in column of companies; each rifle company would put two platoons in line. The 169th Infantry, maintaining contact on its left with the 3d Battalion, 172d, would advance echeloned to the right rear to protect the divisional right flank. The 1st Battalion was to advance abreast of the 172nd; the 3rd Battalion would move to the right and rear of the 1st. The regimental commanders planned to advance by 200-yard bounds. After each bound, they intended to halt for five minutes, establish contact, and move out again. They hoped to gain from one to two thousand yards before 1600.
The division reserve consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 169th, which was to advance behind the assault units. Antitank companies from the two regiments, plus Marine antiaircraft artillerymen, were defending the Zanana beachhead. In Occupation Force reserve, under Hester, was the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, on Rendova. H Hour for the attack was set for 0630.
General Barker’s artillery on the offshore islands inaugurated the first major attack against Munda at 0500 of 9 July with a preparation directed against rear areas, lines of communication, and suspected bivouac areas and command posts. After thirty minutes, fire was shifted to suspected centers of resistance near the line of departure. In one hour the 105-mm. howitzers of the 103d and 169th Field Artillery Battalions, the 155-mm. howitzers of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, and the 155-mm. guns of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion fired over 5,800 rounds of high 15 explosive.
Starting at 0512, four destroyers from Admiral Merrill’s task force, standing offshore in the Solomon Sea, opened fire at the area in the immediate vicinity of the airfield in accordance with plans prepared in consultation with General Barker. Naval authorities had originally wanted to fire at targets close to the line of departure as well, but the 43d Division, fearing that the direction of fire (northeast to east) might bring shells down on its own troops, rejected the proposal. Between 0512 and 0608, the destroyers fired 2,344 5-inch rounds.
At 0608, four minutes before the bombardment was scheduled to end, some Japanese planes dropped bombs and strafed one ship; the destroyers retired. Then Allied planes from Guadalcanal and the Russells took over. Fifty-two torpedo bombers and thirty-six dive bombers dropped seventy tons of high explosive bombs and fragmentation clusters on Munda. Now it was the infantry’s turn.
H Hour, 0630, came and went, but not a great deal happened. The 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry, reported that it was ready to move but could not understand why the 172d Infantry had not advanced. At 0930, General Wing was informed that no unit had yet crossed the line of departure. Several factors seem to have caused the delay. Movement as usual was an ordeal. The Barike was flooded. Soldiers, weighted with weapons, ammunition, and packs, had to wade through waist-to-shoulder-deep water. The river, which had several tributaries, wound and twisted to the sea. It crossed the Munda Trail three times; the spaces between were swampy. The men, sweating in the humid heat, struggled to keep their footing, and pulled their way along by grabbing at roots and undergrowth. Leading platoons had to cut the wrist thick rattan vines.
Although patrols of New Georgians, Fijians, Tongans, New Zealanders, and Americans had reconnoitered the area, their information could not always be put to good use. There was no accurate map on which to record data, nor were there any known landmarks.
In the jungle, orthodox skirmish lines proved impractical. As men dispersed they could not be seen and their leaders lost control. At any rate, movement off the trails was so difficult that most units moved in columns of files, the whole unit bound to one trail. Thus one or two Japanese, by firing on the leading elements, could halt an entire battalion.
The Occupation Force intelligence officer had estimated that the main Japanese defenses lay 1,600 yards from the Barike, anchored on Roviana Lagoon and extending inland to the northwest. This was correct, except that the defense line on the ridges was actually about 2,500 yards from the Barike’s mouth. Beyond the main defenses, the Japanese outposts, using rifles, machine guns, and sometimes mortars and grenade dischargers, were well able to delay the advance.
At 1030 General Barker returned tothe 43rd Division command post from a tour of the front and reported that at 1000 the 172nd Infantry was a hundred yards beyond the Barike, but that the 169th was still east of the river. The only opposition had come from the outpost riflemen that the Americans usually called “snipers.” At the time these were believed, probably erroneously, to be operating in the treetops.
Japanese fighter aircraft appeared over New Georgia during the day; the Allied air power prevented any from getting close enough to strafe the attacking troops.
By 1630, when it dug in for the night, the 172d had gained some eleven hundred yards. The 169th had made no progress to speak of. The 1st Battalion got one hundred yards west of the Barike; the other two apparently remained east of the river.
The 169th was facing about the same obstacles as the 172nd, but it is possible that the 169th was a badly shaken regiment before the attack began. The night before the attack, 8-9 July, the 3rd Battalion was bivouacked near Bloody Hill, and the other two lay to the west. When the Japanese made their presence known to the three battalions, or when the Americans thought there were Japanese within their bivouacs, there was a great deal of confusion, shooting, and stabbing. Some men knifed each other. Men threw grenades blindly in the dark. Some of the grenades hit trees, bounced back, and exploded among the Americans.
Some soldiers fired round after round to little avail. In the morning no trace remained of Japanese dead or wounded. But there were American casualties; some had been stabbed to death, some wounded by knives. Many suffered grenade fragment wounds, and 50 percent of these were caused by fragments from American grenades. These were the men who had been harassed by Japanese nocturnal tactics on the two preceding nights, and there now appeared the first large number of cases diagnosed as neuroses. The regiment was to suffer seven hundred by 31 July. The 43rd Division resumed the attack on 10 July. The 172nd Infantry, reporting only light opposition, advanced a considerable distance. The 169th Infantry, with the 1st Battalion in the lead and the 2nd Battalion to its right rear, advanced successfully until it reached the point where the Munda Trail was intersected by a trail which ran southeast to the beach, then circled to the southwest to the native villages of Laiana and Ilangana.
Reaching this junction about 1330 after crossing a small creek on two felled tree trunks, the leading battalion was halted by machine gun fire. This fire came from rising ground dominating the trail junction, where Captain Bunzo Kojima, commanding the 9th Company, 229th Infantry, had established a camouflaged trail block. He employed one rifle platoon, reinforced by a machine gun section, some 90-mm. mortars, and elements of a 75-mm. mountain artillery battalion. When the 1st Battalion was stopped, Colonel Eason decided to blast the strong point. While the infantry pulled back a hundred yards, the 169th’s mortars and the Occupation Force artillery opened fire.
Barker’s guns fired over four thousand rounds of 105-mm. and 155-mm. high explosive, shattering trees, stripping the vegetation, and digging craters. Coincident with this bombardment, eighty-six Allied bombers (SBD’s and TBF’s) unloaded sixty-seven tons of bombs on Lambeti Plantation and Munda. During the artillery bombardment Kojima’s men lay quiet but when the fire ceased they immediately stood to their guns and halted the American infantrymen when they attacked. At the day’s end, the Japanese were still on the high ground; the 169th Infantry, after advancing about fifteen hundred yards, was forced to bivouac in a low swampy area. The American commanders concluded that they were nearing a main defensive line. They were right. The high ground to their front contained the main Japanese defenses that were to resist them for weeks.
By 11 July the advancing regiments were still in trouble. Progress had been slowed by the enemy, and also by the supply problems arising from the fact that the troops had landed five miles east of their objective and thus committed themselves to a long march through heavy jungle. Now the regiments, in spite of their slow advance, had out distanced their overextended supply line.
The 118th Engineer Battalion had made good progress in building a jeep trail from Zanana to the Barike River. Using data obtained from native scouts, the engineers had built their trail over high, dry ground, averaging one half to three quarters of a mile per day. There was little need for corduroying with logs, a time-consuming process. When they ran into trees too big to knock down with their light D-3 bulldozers, the engineers blasted them with dynamite.
Lacking heavy road-graders, the 118th could not make a two-lane, amply ditched road, but it managed to clear a one-lane track widened at regular intervals to permit two-way traffic. Near a five-foot-deep, fast-running stream east of the Barike the engineers hit soft mud. To get to ground firm enough to permit construction of footbridges and two thirty-foot trestle bridges, they were forced to swing the road northward parallel to the river for two and one-half miles to get to a firm crossing. The advancing regiments crossed the Barike on 9 July, but several days were to elapse before the bridges were completed.
Thus there was a gap between the end of the road and the front. To bridge the gap, nearly half the combat troops were required to carry forward ammunition, food, water, and other supplies, and to evacuate casualties. Allied cargo planes were used to parachute supplies to the infantry, but there were never enough planes to keep the troops properly supplied.
With fighting strength reduced by the necessity for hand carry, with his right flank virtually exposed, and his extended supply line open to harassment by the enemy, Hester decided, on 10 July, to change his plan of attack in order to shorten the supply line. If a new beachhead could be established at Laiana (a native village about two miles east by south from Munda airfield), some five thousand yards would be cut off the supply line. Patrols, operating overland and in canoes, examined Laiana beach at night and reported that it was narrow but suitable, with a coral base under the sand. Unfavorable aspects included a mangrove swamp back of the beach and the fact that the Japanese main defenses appeared to start at Ilangana, only five hundred yards southwest of Laiana, and arch northwest toward the Munda Trail.
But the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Hester ordered the 172d Infantry to swing southward to Laiana, seize and hold a beachhead from the land side, then advance on Munda. The 169th Infantry was to continue its attempt to drive along the Munda Trail. Hester ordered the reinforced 3rd Battalion, 103d Infantry, at Rendova, to be prepared to land at Laiana after the 172d had arrived.
At 1000, 11 July, the 172nd Infantry disengaged from the attack, turned south, and started moving toward shore through knee-deep mud. The regiment tried to keep its move a secret, but Japanese patrols quickly observed it, and mortar fire soon began hitting it. The wounded were carried along with the regiment. The advance was halted about midafternoon after a gain of some 450 yards. Both 1st and 3d Battalions (the 2d had remained behind to block the trail and thus cover the rear until the 169th could come up) reported running into pillboxes. Aside from the mortar shelling and some infiltration by patrols between the 172d and the 169th, the Japanese appeared to have stayed fairly
The march was resumed on 12 July with the hope of reaching Laiana before dark, for the regiment had not re ceived any supplies for two days. Colonel Ross reported that the carrying parties equaled the strength of three and one-half rifle companies. Despite this fact, and although food and water were exhausted, the regiment kept moving until late afternoon when leading elements were within five hundred yards of Laiana. There machine gun and mortar fire halted the advance. At this time scouts confirmed the existence of pillboxes, connected by trenches, extending northwest from Ilangana. The pillboxes, which the Americans feared might be made of concrete, housed heavy machine guns, and were supported by light machine guns and mortars.
That night (12-13 July) Japanese mortars registered on the 172nd’s bivouac, and the troops could hear the Japanese felling trees, presumably to clear fields of fire.
His hungry, thirsty regiment was without a line of communications, and Colonel Ross, concerned over the Japanese patrols in his rear, had to get to Laiana on 13 July. With the artillery putting fire ahead, the 172nd started out through mangrove swamp on the last five hundred yards to Laiana. The enemy fire continued. The advance was slow, but late afternoon found the 172nd in possession of Laiana. It organized the area for defense while patrols sought out the Japanese line to the west. That night twelve landing craft left Rendova to carry food and water to Laiana and evacuate the wounded. For some reason the 172nd failed to display any signals.
The landing craft, unable to find the right beach, returned to Rendova. When the 172nd was nearing Laiana on 13 July, General Hester ordered the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, 43nd Division, to be prepared to land at 0900 the following morning. The Tank Platoon of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion was attached; to help the tanks and to aid in the reduction of fixed positions, engineers (bridge builders, demolitions men, flame thrower operators, and mine detector men) were also attached.
The reinforced battalion, loaded in LCP(R)’s and LCM’s, rendezvoused at daybreak of 14 July in Blanche Channel. When the daily fighter cover arrived from the Russells, the landing craft started for Laiana. With the 172nd already holding the beachhead, the first wave landed peacefully at 0900. Reefs forced some craft to ground in waist-deep water, but the hungry soldiers of the 172nd helped unload them. As the LCM’s neared shore Japanese artillery shells began falling on the water route and on the landing beach. To blind the Japanese observers, the field artillery fired more than five hundred white phosphorous rounds as well as high explosive at suspected Japanese gun positions and observation posts on Munda Point and on the high ground (Bibilo Hill) northeast of Munda field. The Japanese artillery did no damage.
General Sasaki reported that he had repulsed the landing, and that the Americans had lost, of seventy landing craft, thirteen sunk and twenty damaged. Nevertheless, 8th Area Army headquarters appears to have learned that the landing had succeeded.
Once ashore, 43rd Division engineers began building a jeep trail from Laiana north to the 169th Infantry. Supplies came in for the 172nd, and its wounded men were evacuated. Telephone crews laid an underwater cable between Zanana, Laiana, and General Barker’s artillery fire direction center.
The 3d Battalion, 103rd, was still in division reserve, but Colonel Ross was authorized to use it in case of dire need. He committed L Company to fill a gap between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 172nd on the morning of 15 July when the 172nd was making an unsuccessful attack toward Ilangana. Soldiers of the Antitank Platoon of the 3d Battalion, 103rd, disassembled a 37-mm. gun, carried it forward, reassembled it on the front line, and destroyed three pillboxes with direct fire. This was the only success; the day’s end found the 172nd still facing the main enemy defense line.
The Seizure of Reincke Ridge
While the 172d had been driving to Laiana and getting ready to attack westward,
the 169th Infantry was pushing against the high ground to the north. On 10 July, the day before the 172d turned southward, the 169th had been halted. It faced Japanese positions on the high ground which dominated the Munda-Lambeti trail junction. The Munda Trail at this point led up to a draw, with hills to the north (right) and south (left). The Japanese held the draw and the hills.
The regiment renewed the attack on 11 July just before General Hester replaced Colonel Eason with Colonel Temple G. Holland, but made no gains. When Holland took over the regiment, he ordered the advance postponed until the next morning. The exact nature of the Japanese defenses was not yet completely clear, but it was evident that the Japanese had built mutually supporting pillboxes on the hills.
Holland’s plan for 12 July called for the 1st Battalion to deliver the attack from its present position while the 2nd Battalion enveloped the Japanese left (north) flank. The 3rd Battalion, temporarily in division reserve, would be released to the regiment when the trail junction was secure. The 169th attacked as ordered but bogged down at once, partly because it became intermingled with elements of the 172nd, which was starting for Laiana. When the units were disentangled the two battalions attacked again. The 1st Battalion ran head on into Japanese opposition but reported a gain of three hundred yards. The 2nd Battalion received enfilading fire from the northernmost ridge but kept its position.
A second attack, supported by a rolling barrage, was attempted in the afternoon. The infantry, unable to keep pace with the barrage which moved forward at the rate of ten yards a minute, fell behind and halted. At the day’s end, Holland, who reported to Hester that his regiment was badly disorganized, asked General Mulcahy for air support the following day.
Next morning, 13 July, after thirty minutes of artillery fire and a twelve plane dive-bombing attack against the south ridge, the 169th attacked again. All three battalions were committed. The 2nd Battalion, in the center, was to assault frontally up the draw while the 1st Battalion, on the right, and the 3nd Battalion on the left, moved against the north and south ridges with orders to envelop the Japanese.
The 3d Battalion, with I and L Companies in line and M in support, struggled forward for four hours. It pushed four hundred to five hundred yards into the Japanese lines and managed to secure its objective, the south ridge, which it named Reincke Ridge for Lieutenant Colonel Frederick D. Reincke, who had replaced Stebbins in command on 8 July.
The other two battalions were not as successful. The 2nd Battalion, with E and F Companies in line and G in support, met machine gun fire in the draw, halted, was hit by what it believed to be American artillery fire, and pulled back.
The 1st Battalion, attacking the north ridge, found it obstructed by fallen limbs from blasted trees and by shell and bomb craters. The Japanese who had survived the bombardments opened fire from their pillboxes and halted the assaulting companies. The battalion, now operating without artillery or mortar support, tried to assault with rifle and bayonet. Some men started to climb to the ridge crest but were killed or wounded by machine gun fire. B Company lost three of its four officers in the attempt. Japanese artillery and mortar fire cut communication to the rear. The battalion returned to its original position.
The 1st and 2d Battalions took positions on the flanks and rear of the 3d Battalion, which held Reincke Ridge. The Japanese held the north ridge and the draw. To the west they held the higher ground called Horseshoe Hill. To the south was the gap left by the 172nd when it turned south. In spite of the 3rd Battalion’s exposed situation Holland and Reincke decided to hold the hard won position which was the only high ground the 169th possessed. Its possession was obviously vital to the success of an attack against the main enemy defenses.
All that night and all the next day (14 July) the Japanese tried to push the 3d Battalion from Reincke Ridge. I Company was hit hard but held its ground with the loss of two men killed and nineteen wounded. Artillery and mortar shells kept exploding on the ridge top, while Japanese machine guns covered the supply route to the rear. During its first twenty-four hours on the ridge, Reincke’s battalion suffered 101 casualties; L Company consisted of just fifty-one enlisted men by the end of 14 July. During part of the time no medical officer was present, but the battalion medical section under Staff Sergeant Louis Gullitti carried on its duties of first aid and
On the same day Holland reorganized the other two battalions. The regimental Antitank Company had landed at Zanana on 13 July and been assigned the task of carrying supplies forward from the trail’s end. This task had eased, because the engineers finished bridging the Barike on 12 July and by 14 July had extended the trail to within five hundred yards of the 169th’s front lines. Rations, water, and ammunition were parachuted to the regiment on 14 July.
Colonel Holland relieved part of the Antitank Company of its supply duties and assigned sixty of its men to the 2nd Battalion, twenty to the 1st. He also sent patrols south to cover the gap to his left. Late in the afternoon he reported to Hester that morale in his regiment had improved.
Next day the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, landed at Zanana and was immediately
attached to the 43rd Division with orders to advance west and relieve part of the 169th on the line. The battalion reached the regiment at 1700. Colonel Holland put it in regimental reserve pending the completion of the operations against the hills in front of him.
Operations against Munda airfield had gone very slowly but by 15 July had achieved some success. Liversedge had captured Enogai and while waiting for another battalion was getting ready to attack Bairoko. The 169th Infantry had some high ground and was in contact with the main enemy defense line. The 172nd Infantry was also in contact with the main Japanese defenses, and the new beachhead at Laiana would soon shorten the supply line.
While Hester’s men had been attaining limited tactical successes, unusual medical problems had appeared within his division. Enemy resistance was not great at first. Some 90 men of the 43rd Division were killed up to 17 July; 636 were wounded. Other men had been injured by vehicle collisions, falling trees, accidental explosions, and the like. Disease had put over 1,000 men out of action. Diarrhea and dysentery, ailments helped along by improper field sanitation, were prevalent in early July. They put men on the sick list for several days. Skin fungus infected about one quarter of the men. And there was always malaria. Although malaria control measures seem to have been carried out so conscientiously that few new cases broke out in the Occupation Force, all the troops had been in the Solomons for some time and there were always recurrent cases.
An especially large number of casualties was caused not by wounds or infectious disease but by mental disturbance. Between fifty and a hundred men were leaving the line every day with troubles which were diagnosed as “war neuroses.” Colonel Franklin T. Hallam, surgeon of the XIV Corps, arrived in New Georgia on 14 July when mental troubles were at their height. In Hallam’s opinion, “war neurosis” was a “misnomer in most instances,” because men suffering simply from physical exhaustion “were erroneously directed or gravitated through medical channels along with the true psychoneurotic and those suffering with a temporary mental disturbance currently termed ‘WAR NEUROSIS.’ “
These unfortunate men “who had not changed clothes or had two continuous hours of sleep all had the same expression. Their hair was matted and muddy, and beards were ½ inch in length, eyes were sunk in, dark, and had a strained expression. Gait was plodding and methodical, no spring or bounce. When they stopped walking they fell in their tracks, until it was time to proceed again.” Colonel Hallam’s description is even more graphic: At least 50% of these individuals requiring medical attention or entering medical installations were the picture of utter exhaustion, face expressionless, knees sagging, body bent forward, arms slightly flexed and hanging loosely, hands with palms slightly cupped, marked coarse tremor of fingers . . ., feet dragging, and an over-all appearance of apathy and physical exhaustion. About 20% of the total group were highly excited, crying, wringing their hands, mumbling incoherently, an expression of utter fright or fear, trembling all over, startled at the least sound or unusual commotion, having the appearance of trying to escape impending disaster. Another 15% showed manifestations of the various types of true psychoneurotic complexes. The remaining 15% included the anxiety states, and those with various bizarre somatic disturbances. These were the individuals whose symptoms were of insidious onset, starting with insomnia, vague digestive symptoms, bad dreams, frequency of urination, irritability, diminished ability to concentrate, and a generally reduced efficiency in the performance of assigned duties.
Of about 2,500 men in the New Georgia Occupation Force whose troubles were diagnosed as “war neuroses” between 30 June and 30 September, the 43d Division contributed 62 percent during the period 30 June-31 July. About 1,500 cases came from the three infantry regiments of the 43d Division: 700 from the 169th Infantry, 450 from the 172nd Infantry, and 350 from the 103rd Infantry.
Attempting to explain this mental trouble, Hallam divided the causes into two groups he termed “basic causative factors” and “precipitating causative factors.” Basic causes involved leadership, orientation, discipline, and physical fitness. Units with poor leaders were more apt to have trouble than those in which the standard of leadership was high. In some units there was a direct correlation between the incidence of mental troubles among the leaders and among the led. When soldiers were not adequately oriented—not told what was going on, what their objectives were, and what they were expected to do—they were more apt to become excited by loose talk and wild rumors. The significance of lack of proper discipline and physical fitness in any military organization, but especially in one engaged in battle, is perfectly obvious.
Interestingly enough, however, Hallam noted that men “with borderline physical defects, consisting principally of eye, teeth, joint, weight, and feet defects, did not break, but did some of the best fighting.” Remarkably few men wounded in action became neurosis cases, perhaps because their knowledge that they would be evacuated eased their mental strain.
The basic causes, of course, were present in some units when they came to New Georgia. It was Hallam’s opinion that men affected by any of the basic causes were triggered into mental disturbance by the precipitating factors, which were combat fatigue, enemy action, noise, and mass hysteria. Combat fatigue, the almost unutterable physical and mental weariness that comes from long stress and strain in battle, probably accounted for half the diagnoses of war neuroses. The most effective enemy action was the kind which so seriously disturbed the 169th Infantry—the real, and occasionally the wholly imaginary, nocturnal harassing tactics of the Japanese.
Although aerial bombardment was also effective, the noises to which Hallam referred were not the sounds of guns firing and shells bursting, but the natural sounds of a jungle night, the breezes, branches, birds, and land crabs. These caused great anxiety among men to whom they were unfamiliar. On occasion mass hysteria took over; mental breaks spread like infection among troops.
Most of the mental cases, and especially those caused by fatigue, Hallam believed, could have been cured by a few days in a rest camp in the combat area. Sedatives, sleep, clean clothes, baths, shaves, good food, relief from duties, and recreation would soon have enabled the men to return to their units.
But up to mid-July there were no rest camps, nor even any real hospital facilities, in New Georgia. The 43rd Division, about 30-35 percent understrength in medical officers and enlisted men, had only a 125-bred clearing station to care for casualties. Men requiring more than twenty-four hours of medical treatment were being evacuated, usually by water, to Guadalcanal, with the result that casualties frequently did not reach hospitals until three days after they had been taken out of the line. These medical problems, coupled with the slow progress of ground operations up to mid-July, caused serious concern to all the responsible higher commanders.
Command and Reinforcements
As early as 10 July, Generals Hester and Wing were far from pleased with the performance of all units and commanders. On 10 July Wing, who had visited the command post of the 3rd Battalion, 169th Infantry, on 8 July, directly ordered the regimental commander to relieve the 3d Battalion’s commander and put Colonel Reincke in his place.
Three days prior to this relief, the 145th Infantry Regiment (less the 3rd Battalion, serving under Liversedge) of the 37th Division, which had been standing by on Guadalcanal in area reserve, had been dispatched to Rendova. The first echelon sailed on 7 July, the second two days later. The regimental commander, Colonel Holland, had hardly arrived on Rendova when Hester relieved the commander of the 169th Infantry and ordered Colonel Holland to take over the regiment temporarily. Also relieved were the executive, intelligence, and operations officers of the 169th. Leaving Lieutenant Colonel Theodore L. Parker in command of his old regiment, Holland took his own executive, intelligence, and operations officers and eighteen enlisted men from the 145th to headquarters of the 169th.
Meanwhile problems of higher command for New Georgia had not ceased to concern Admirals Halsey and Turner and especially General Harmon. On 5 July Harmon was on Guadalcanal, as were Turner and General Griswold. After informing Turner and Griswold of his views, he radioed to Halsey a recommendation that the forward echelon of the XIV Corps staff be sent to New Georgia about 8 July to prepare, under Hester, to take over supply, administration, and planning. Once Munda airfield fell, Harmon urged, Griswold should become commander of the New Georgia Occupation Force. This would free Hester to reorganize his main striking force and directly command the attack against Vila in Kolombangara. Such a change was necessary, Harmon explained, because Hester’s small staff was not capable of bearing the responsibilities that would soon be thrust on it.
Admiral Turner was not a man given to avoiding responsibility or yielding authority. Harmon wrote later, in explaining his reasons for urging a change in command, that Turner was “inclined more and more to take active control of land operations.” In his message to Halsey, he did not make this point. The South Pacific commander replied to Harmon the next day, telling him to augment Hester’s 43d Division staff as he saw fit. Halsey wished to discuss with Harmon the recommendations on superseding Hester before reaching a decision. On the same day Halsey directed Turner to prepare plans for Kolombangara in consultation with Hester.
The next day the irascible Turner presented his views to Halsey in very mild terms. Expressing regret over the necessity for disagreeing with Harmon, he strongly urged that Hester retain command of the New Georgia Occupation Force. Griswold and his staff were excellent, Turner agreed, but Hester was conducting operations “in a manner much to be admired.” Superseding him would hamper the operation “by inducing a severe blow to morale.”
At this point Harmon, a peppery, wiry man, grew impatient. He boarded his B-17 and flew to Halsey in Noumea. “. . . before nightfall,” he later related, “Admiral Halsey approved the course of procedure I had recommended.”
Griswold received instructions on 10 July to take six officers from his staff and fly to New Georgia on 11 July in an amphibian plane. The remainder of the XIV Corps staff would follow by water on 12 July. On orders from Halsey, which the admiral expected to issue after the capture of Munda airfield, Griswold would assume command of the New Georgia Occupation Force. Turner’s authority over the Occupation Force would cease, but he was to continue to support the operation. Halsey repeated to Turner his instructions regarding plans for taking Kolombangara, and told him that, if Griswold approved the idea, Hester would command the ground forces in the attack.
Griswold arrived at Rendova on 11 July just as Hester and Wing were changing their plan of attack against Munda and sending the 172nd Infantry to seize the Laiana beachhead. The XIV Corps commander was not long in reaching a judgment regarding operations to date.
General Harmon, at his headquarters in Noumea, wrote an optimistic letter to Washington on the morning of 13 July. He reported that operations in New Georgia seemed to be progressing favorably. He did not send the letter, for later in the morning he received a radiogram from General Griswold, who said, “From an observer point of view things are going badly.” Griswold urged that the 25th Division and the remainder of the 37th Division be sent into the battle at once. Although he reported, “Enemy resistance to date not great,” he did not think the 43rd Division would ever take Munda. It was, he declared, “about to fold up.”
This message had an immediate effect. Halsey met with Harmon and informally appointed him as his deputy. He ordered Harmon to “assume full charge of and responsibility for ground operations in New Georgia,” and “to take whatever steps were deemed necessary to facilitate the capture of the airfield.”
Before leaving for Koli Point on Guadalcanal to be nearer the scene of action, Harmon ordered Griswold to hasten his preparations for assuming command on New Georgia. All ground forces assigned for the operation, he told Griswold, would be available by the time he assumed command. Harmon promised to alert one regimental combat team of the veteran 25th Division for movement, but it would be dispatched to New Georgia only if he specifically approved.
Of the assigned 37th Division forces, the 145th Infantry, like the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, was already on hand in New Georgia, the 1st and 2d Battalions at Rendova and the 3rd Battalion under Liversedge along with 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry. Admiral Turner at once ordered Col. Stuart A. Baxter, commanding the 148th Infantry in the Russell Islands, to alert Headquarters, the 1st and 2d Battalions, and the Antitank Company of his regiment for immediate movement to New Georgia. These movements would put two full infantry regiments of the 37th Division in New Georgia.
On the 16th, Griswold proposed that the 37th Division units operate under control of their division commander, Major General Robert S. Beightler, and that Beightler and his senior staff officers fly to New Georgia for conferences and personal reconnaissance. Harmon agreed, and Beightler left for New Georgia in a PBY on 19 July.
On arriving at Guadalcanal, Harmon ordered Major General J. Lawton Collins, commanding the 25th Division, to get one regimental combat team ready for transfer to New Georgia. Collins, who on Griswold’s departure had become island commander and as such responsible for Guadalcanal’s defense, decided that the 161st Regimental Combat Team could most easily be spared from its defense missions. On 14 July he directed Colonel James L. Dalton II, regimental and combat team commander, to be ready to move on twelve hours’ notice.
The next day Admiral Turner was relieved of his posts of Commander, South Pacific Amphibious Force (III Amphibious Force and Task Force 32), and Commander, New Georgia Attack Force (Task Force 31). This relief apparently had nothing to do with recent events on New Georgia. Admiral Nimitz, then preparing for the great Central Pacific drive that was to start with the invasion of the Gilberts in November 1943, had directed Halsey to send Turner to Hawaii. Turner departed on the 15th, and during the next two years commanded the V Amphibious Force in the invasions of the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. His posts in the South Pacific were taken over by Admiral Wilkinson, until then Halsey’s deputy commander.
On the day Turner left, Harmon ordered Griswold to assume command of the New Georgia Occupation Force at midnight of 15-16 July, and to seize Munda and join forces with Liversedge as soon as possible. Griswold took over command as ordered. Hester reverted to command of the 43rd Division.
Thus by mid-July Turner and Hester, the two officers most responsible for the execution of the New Georgia tactical plans, had been replaced. With the offensive stalling, General Griswold was facing his first experience in commanding a corps in combat. His problems were formidable, although some progress had been made. Liversedge’s three battalions were behind schedule but had taken Enogai and were preparing to attack Bairoko. On the Munda front the 169th and 172nd Infantry Regiments, also behind their schedule, had laboriously made their way from Zanana across the Barike to Laiana and the vicinity of Reincke Ridge and were in contact with the main Japanese defenses. These forces were obviously not adequate to break through and capture the airfield, but additional regiments were on their way.
Aside from the difficulties presented by the enemy and the terrain, Griswold was confronted by an abnormally high rate of mental illness, and by the need to improve the Occupation Force supply system so that the regiments would be taken care of in the normal manner instead of by emergency air drop. Obviously, it was a case calling for generalship of a high order.
SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)