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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North Korea People’s Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Army of the Republic of Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state of training of the ROK

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

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

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

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

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

Korean War: Invasion Across the Parallel (3)

Korean War: (1) Background to Conflict


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Attack at Fondouk el AouarebFalters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British 6th Armoured Division Breaks Out at Fondouk el Aouareb

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

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

The Enemy Slips Past Kairouan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (7-31) Allied Drive to Victory

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

World War Two: Bougainville (12); Invasion

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

The Decision To Bypass Rabaul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The General Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, he proposed the following outline plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Operations in October: The Fifth Air Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Command, Solomon’s

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

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

The Japanese

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

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

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

Forces and Tactical Plans The Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preliminary Landings

The Treasuries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Choiseul Raid

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

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

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

Seizure of Empress Augusta Bay

Supporting Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approach to the Target

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

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

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

The Landings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Attacks and Unloading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korean War: (1) Background to Conflict

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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