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

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

The Attack on Bairoko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pressure on the Japanese

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

The 172nd Infantry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelley Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enemy Counterattacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparations for the Corps Offensive Commitment of the 37th Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World War Two: Munda Trail; Offense Stalls


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