Phase I: The 18th Army Attacks; Withdrawal of the PERSECUTION Covering Force Action During the Night of 10-11 July : The first Japanese unit to swing into action against the Driniumor defenses of the PERSECUTION Covering Force was the 1st Battalion, 78th Infantry, which, about 2355, charged across the river along a narrow front against Company G, 128th Infantry.[N7-1] The Japanese attacked in two or three screaming waves, broadening the front after the first assault by throwing in the rest of the 78th Infantry and possibly elements of the 80th Infantry. Japanese reconnaissance had been good—the attackers knew the locations of company and battalion command posts all along the American defenses—but not quite good enough. The enemy did not know that Company G had been reinforced during the afternoon of 10 July nor, apparently, had he discovered that the company’s front was protected by low barbed wire.
The attacks of the 78th Infantry were thrown back with heavy losses. Machine gun and mortar fire from the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, accounted for many Japanese, numbers of whom were caught as they tried to cross the barbed wire in front of Company G. According to Japanese sources, the results of American artillery fire were even more disastrous. As soon as the enemy attack had begun, the 120th and 129th Field Artillery Battalions had started firing previously prepared concentrations along the bed and east bank of the Driniumor.
[N7-1 Information in this subsection is based principally on: 2nd Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-27 Jul 44; 3rd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; PCF G-3 Jnls, 9-12 and 12-14 Jul 44; PTF G-3 Jnls, 8-11 and 11-15 Jul 44; Interv, author with Gen Hall, 27 Mar 47; Interv, author with Capt Lowry, Apr 47; 18th Army Opns, III, 109-14; 2nd Bn 80th Inf Field Diary, 31 May-14 Jul 44. The narrative after action reports of American units for this and most other phases of the operations along the Driniumor are inadequate and sometimes misleading, and it was necessary to reconstruct the action from journals and journal files.]
The Japanese units in or near the impact areas suffered heavy casualties. The 1st Battalion, 78th Infantry, was quickly reduced from 400 to 30 men, principally as a result of the American artillery fire, which also destroyed large numbers of artillery weapons, machine guns, and mortars.
Late arrival of many units on the line of departure across the Driniumor, together with confusion among elements of the 78th and 80th Infantry Regiments, prevented the Japanese from executing their planned attack of three regiments abreast. Thus, about twenty minutes after the initial attack and while fighting continued in front of Company G, 128th Infantry, another enemy force struck Company E. This assault probably marked the entry of the 80th Infantry’s main body into the action. Although Company E’s men were spread thinly over a front of 1,250 yards, the initial attack was thrown back. But a second wave of attackers, probably comprising the 237th Infantry and heretofore uncommitted elements of the Right Flank Unit, began pouring across the Driniumor toward Company E at approximately 0200. The new attackers overran the company command post and surrounded most of the unit’s widely separated strong points. Fighting continued in the company sector for a little while, but the unit could not long withstand the overwhelming enemy pressure. Company organization and communications broke down. Worse still, the troops began to run out of ammunition. A general withdrawal commenced.
Company E’s headquarters, the 1st Platoon, and the Weapons Platoon retreated northwest. About dawn on 11 July they moved into the 2nd Battalion’s command post, which had been forced to move 500 yards northwest of its original position to get out of the impact area of Japanese artillery and mortar fire. About twenty-five men of the 2nd and 3rd Platoons withdrew north to Company F’s positions, as did a few Company H troops who had been manning supporting weapons in the Company E sector. Some Company E men made their way independently to the coast up the Anamo-Afua trail, and a few stragglers found refuge with Company G, to the south. Some Company E troops remained hidden in the midst of the Japanese for three days. No accurate count of the unit’s casualties is available, but it appears that the company suffered about 10 men killed and 20 wounded. Casualties had not caused the withdrawal. The main factors were lack of ammunition and the physical impossibility of holding an extended line against the numbers of Japanese who pushed across the Driniumor. On its immediate front, Company E had probably been outnumbered nearly ten to one. By 0300 the Japanese had punched a hole some 1,300 yards wide in the American lines and had physically occupied that area.
The initial impetus of the enemy attack had been spent, and the scene of action quieted down for about two hours. Company G took this opportunity to restore some of its left flank positions while Company F discovered and reported to General Martin’s headquarters that Company E had disappeared from the river line. All units remaining on the Driniumor prepared for further attacks. These began on the left of Company G and the right of Company F about 0500, and continued in Company G’s area until after dawn.
This second Japanese outbreak probably marked the movement across the Driniumor of rear elements of the assault regiments, headquarters personnel, medical troops, and artillery units. The new action may also have entailed movements by the 237th Infantry, which had become confused during the initial attack. Reorganization of that regiment was no easy task. The Japanese were in unfamiliar terrain and Colonel Nara, who had lost his way, did not rejoin his regiment until 12 July. The two assault regiments of the 20th Division had less trouble once they had crossed the Driniumor. By dawn on 11 July the remaining men of these two units had reassembled on heavily forested high ground about 800 yards northwest of Company G, 128th Infantry.
Other than the action in the areas of Companies E and G, 128th Infantry, there had been very little fighting along the Driniumor during the night. Company F had a few minor skirmishes at its right flank positions. Units south of the 128th Infantry’s battalion were struck only by stray artillery shells or machine gun and rifle fire.
Much of the night had been moonlit, though a tropical ground haze somewhat limited visibility. Men of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, could see some of the action on their left, but the battalion could not leave its positions to succor the units on its flank, for it had its own defensive missions. Communications had been disrupted all alongthe Driniumor during the action, and the battalion commander had no way of learning the extent of the attack nor, for some time, of finding out where or when to move. Finally, the battalion could not leave its positions without orders from higher headquarters, and such instructions were not immediately forthcoming.
The Decision to Withdraw
General Martin, of course, knew that the Japanese were attacking, and he knew that the attack was taking place near the middle of the Driniumor line. [N7-2] The covering force commander soon learned that the Japanese had broken through his Driniumor defenses, but he did not know how large was the gap in the lines. He had no reserve with which he could close the gap, unless he pulled the reconnaissance-in-force units back from their positions east of the Driniumor. Feeling that the Japanese had themselves accomplished the principal missions of the reconnaissance in force by revealing their locations and intentions, General Martin obtained permission from General Hall to pull back to the Driniumor the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, and the 2nd Squadron, 112th Cavalry. Since it would take some time for the two links to move west, he determined to wait until dawn before making any attempt to restore the Driniumor line.
The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, received its withdrawal orders from General Martin about 0135. Rapidly assembling from its night defensive dispositions, the battalion started westward at 0200. Because of communications difficulties, the 2nd Squadron, 112th Cavalry, did not receive the word until 0800, 11 July. After a forced march along the coast, the 128th Infantry’s unit reached Anamo about 0530, just as dawn was breaking. General Martin ordered the battalion to counterattack down the Anamo-Afua trail to restore the 2nd Battalion’s lines.
Movement south started at 0700, and there was no opposition for the first 1,500 yards. But about 1030 machine guns manned by elements of the 237th Infantry opened fire on the 1st Battalion’s leading platoon from positions on the south bank of a small stream which cut the trail. The terrain and enemy small arms fire made it impossible to attempt wide, rapid flanking maneuvers, and the advance platoons soon found themselves in an ambush. A few Japanese, who had been in the area at least since dawn, threatened to cut the leading company’s line of communications. The unit withdrew from its exposed salient just as Japanese infantry attacked out of the jungle on both sides of the trail and up the stream bed from the southwest. Realizing that the trail was held by a strong Japanese force, the intentions of which were unknown, General Martin ordered the entire 1st Battalion back to Tiver. The abortive action cost the unit 13 men wounded, 3 killed, and 3 missing. [N7-3]
[N7-2 This subsection is based on: 1st Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-27 Jul 44; 112th Cav Sum of Msgs, 1-29 Jul 44; PTF G-3 Jnls, 8-11 and 11-15 Jul 44; PCF G-3 Jnl, 9-12 Jul 44; Martin Comments, pp. 12-15; 18th Army Opns, III, 111-14.]
[N7-3 For covering the withdrawal of the leading platoon and helping to bring out wounded, Staff Sergeant Gerald L. Endl of Company C was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sergeant Endl was himself killed bringing out one of the wounded.]
Even before the 1st Battalion’s attack had been launched, General Martin had believed that strong Japanese forces were across the Driniumor, and the opposition encountered by the 1st Battalion convinced him that his forward dispositions were not favorable for further counterattack measures. The enemy’s Kawanaka Shima salient threatened the rear of American units still on the Driniumor and, worse still, provided the enemy force with an opportunity to push directly westward, almost unmolested, to the Tadji strips. Since his mission was to delay any such westward movements, General Martin decided to remove the rest of his forces from the Driniumor quickly and to reorganize along the second delaying position at the X-ray River-Koronal Creek line, there to await the Japanese and prepare for further counterattacks.
Withdrawal to the Second Delaying Position
The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, quickly withdrew up the Anamo trail and moved west along the coast to Tiver, from which village it pushed a new defense line about 1,500 yards south along the west bank of Koronal Creek.[N7-4] Company F, 128th Infantry, which held its positions near the mouth of the Driniumor until the 1st Battalion started withdrawing up the Anamo trail, was assigned part of the new line. Other elements of the 2nd Battalion, as they straggled into Tiver during the 11th, strengthened the 1st Battalion’s lines.
The 2nd Squadron, 112th Cavalry, arrived back at Afua, at the southern end of the Driniumor line, shortly after 1000 on the 11th. Less than an hour later General Martin alerted General Cunningham, the commander of the 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team, to prepare the 112th Cavalry and the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, for movement back to the second delaying line. The movement was scheduled to start at 1500, but General Cunningham requested and received permission to withdraw in two echelons. The first, comprising regimental and combat team headquarters and the 1st Squadron, was to begin moving as soon as possible. The second echelon was to comprise the 2nd Squadron and the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry.
The first echelon cleared Afua about 1130 and closed on the X-ray River at the Afua-Palauru trail crossing about four hours later. The 2nd Squadron started west over the trail about 1500, by which time a rainstorm had turned the track into a quagmire. Leading elements of the 2nd Squadron took more than five hours to reach the X-ray, and the regimental Weapons Troop did not arrive at the stream until 2330. Troup F remained on the trail about midway between Afua and the X-ray and did not join the rest of the regiment until 0730 on the 12th.
Once on the X-ray, the cavalry units spread themselves over their portion of the second delaying line. This sector, some 4,500 yards long, ran along the west bank of the river northward from a point nearly 1,500 yards south of the trail-crossing to a swamp where the X-ray divided to form Akanai and Koronal Creeks. This long defense line could not be fully manned because a change in plans had delayed the arrival of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, at the X-ray. Any concerted Japanese attack along the Afua-Palauru trail could probably have driven the 112th Cavalry still farther west, but the night of 11-12 July proved quiet at the X-ray.
[N7-4 Information in this subsection is from: PTF G-3 Jnl, 11-15 Jul 44; PFC G-3 Jnl, 9-12 Jul 44; 1st Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 2nd Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape; 112th Cav Opns Rpt Aitape, p. 6: 112th Cav, Sum of Msgs, 1-29 Jul 44; Interv, author with Colonel Hooper, 25 Mar 47; Interv, author with General Cunnin gham, Apr 47; Interv, author with Captain Lowry, Apr 47; Martin Comments, pp. 14-15; 3rd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; MO Opn Orders 5, 3 Jul 44, and 15 and 16, 10 Jul 44, in 18th Army Opns, III, 100-106; 18th Army Opns, III, 109-11.]
While the main body of the regiment was withdrawing, small patrols were sent east of the Driniumor and up the west bank of that river south of Afua. A patrol east of Afua saw many signs of enemy activity and was followed back to the village late in the afternoon by a strong party of Japanese which, however, did not choose to engage in a fire fight. Another patrol, late in the morning, had a brush with an enemy party near a waterfall of the Driniumor about 2,000 yards south of Afua. This enemy group appeared to be the point of a much larger force. About 1500, other patrols reported that the Japanese were crossing the river in some strength about 500 yards south of Afua. It was the opinion at General Cunningham’s headquarters that this enemy force, the strength of which was estimated as high as 1,200 troops, [N7-5] was a strong flanking unit.
Efforts were made to delay the enemy movement by placing artillery fire on the suspected crossing point. Rear guard patrols reported at dusk that the Japanese forces had moved up to the Afua-Palauru trail from the south and were occupying the Kwamagnirk area, about one and one fourth miles northwest of Afua.
No Japanese accounts of the action, captured documents, nor interrogations of prisoners tell of any large enemy force being south of Afua on 11 July. It is probable that the Japanese unit was merely a reconnaissance group probing the south flank of the PERSECUTION Covering Force in conjunction with action in the center of the Driniumor line or in preparation for flanking movements. Had any large enemy force been in the Afua area on the 11th, it would undoubtedly have followed the retreating 112th Cavalry toward the X-ray River, for the Japanese had orders to move on to Chinapelli as soon as possible.
General Cunningham originally planned to have the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, close to the right on Afua and follow the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry, to the X-ray. But poor communications between General Cunningham’s headquarters and the infantry unit, together with infiltration of Japanese patrols between the infantry and cavalry organizations, prevented execution of such a plan. Finally, General Cunningham ordered the 3rd Battalion to move directly overland to the X-ray. By 1530 Colonel Bloch had gathered his headquarters and the bulk of Companies K, M, and L on high ground about 800 yards west of Company K’s river position and had begun moving that group westward. Terrain difficulties, aggravated by the rain, forestalled progress that night, and at 1845 Colonel Bloch’s group bivouacked for the night on East Branch, Koronal Creek, only one and a half miles west of the starting point. The group started moving again at 0700 on the 12th and about 1400 that day reached the X-ray at a point some 1,000 yards north of the Afua-Palauru trail crossing. The group, which had met no Japanese on its way westward, then went into defensive positions on the left of the 112th Cavalry.
The remainder of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, together with Company G, 128th Infantry (which had been attached to the battalion for the purpose of withdrawal) and miscellaneous other groups such as field artillery forward observer parties, was led back to the X-ray by Captain Leonard Lowry, 5 This high estimate was made by one of the patrols and no such figure was relayed to higher headquarters.the commanding officer of Company I, 127th Infantry. [N7-6]
Captain Lowry’s force, numbering about 500 men of all ranks, withdrew westward overland from Company K’s river positions. This group, which had to fight its way through a Japanese trail block, spent two nights in the jungle. The leading elements did not reach the X-ray until 0730 on 13 July, and it was midafternoon before the entire force had closed on the river. Then Captain Lowry found that the rest of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, and most of the 112th Cavalry had already started back to the Driniumor. His force was instructed to rest and regroup along the X-ray and to follow the rest of the command to the Driniumor on the 14th.
Restoration of the Driniumor Line
By morning on 12 July the PERSECUTION Covering Force was redisposed in positions favorable to stopping any further Japanese advance. The 112th Cavalry was on the X-ray north and south of the Afua-Palauru trail crossing and part of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, was on the cavalry’s left. The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, and available troops of the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment were along the west bank of Koronal Creek south from Tiver. In the center of the new line was a gap almost 4,000 yards long, but the terrain in this area was very swampy, heavily jungled, and impassable for any large body of troops. During the 12th, patrols maintaining contact over this gap encountered only a few enemy stragglers. [N7-7]
Preparations for Counterattack
General Krueger did not believe that the withdrawal from the Driniumor had been necessary. He felt that the troops at General Hall’s disposal, plus available air and naval support, should have enabled the PERSECUTION Task Force to halt the Japanese at the Driniumor. Acting on this assumption, he ordered General Hall to take aggressive action to drive the enemy back across the river.[N7-8]
[N7-6 Captain Lowry, an American Indian of California’s Modoc Tribe, had a heterogeneous force under him which comprised: Company I, 127th Infantry Company G, 128th Infantry HMG Platoon, Company M, 127th Infantry HMG Platoon, Company H, 128th Infantry 81-mm. Mortar Observer Party, Company M, 127th Infantry 81-mm. Mortar Section, Company H, 128th Infantry Forward Observer Party, 120th Field Artillery Battalion Forward Observer Party, 129th Field Artillery Battalion Ten or twelve stragglers of Companies E and H, 128th Infantry]
[N7-7 PCF G-3 Jnl, 9-12 Jul 44; PTF G-3 Jnl, 11-15 Jul 44; 1st Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape.]
[N7-8 Rads, ALAMO to PTF, WF-1545 and WF-1498, 11 Jul 44, in ALAMO G-3 Jnl Hollandia, 10-12 Jul 44.]
Even before receiving these orders, General Hall had taken preliminary steps to launch a counterattack. He attached the 124th Infantry (less one battalion) to the PERSECUTION Covering Force in preparation for a counteroffensive. The regiment was to move to Tiver, clear the coast between that village and Anamo, and, on the morning of the 12th, attack south along the Anamo-Afua trail. About the same time General Hall ordered General Martin to retire no further except before overwhelming enemy pressure, and he forbade the withdrawal of any unit not in actual contact with superior forces.[N7-9]
With the addition of the 124th Infantry to the PERSECUTION Covering Force, the latter unit would approximate the size of a division. To take charge of this enlarged force and to give General Martin a rest from long duty in the front lines, General Hall decided to place General Gill, the commander of the 32nd Division and the Eastern Sector, in control of the covering force. At the same time General Martin took General Gill’s place as the commander of the Eastern Sector.[N7-10]
Taking part of Headquarters, 32nd Division, forward with him, General Gill set up a new PERSECUTION Covering Force headquarters at Tiver. The covering force he now divided into two sections—North Force and South Force. General Stark, previously in charge of the Western Sector, was placed in command of North Force. Units under his control were the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 124th Infantry. South Force was assigned to General Cunningham, who was to control the 112th Cavalry and the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry. PERSECUTION Covering Force Reserve was the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, which was to reorganize at Tiver and hold a perimeter around that village. The 120th Field Artillery Battalion was to support South Force, while the 129th and the 149th (the latter of the 31st Division) were to support North Force. These three battalions were equipped with 105-mm. howitzers. Their fires would be augmented as necessary by the 155-mm. howitzers of the 181st Field Artillery Battalion. [N7-11]
General Gill found it expedient to postpone the counterattack. The two battalions of the 124th Infantry could not get into position in time to start an attack early on 12 July, and the other elements of the PERSECUTION Covering Force could well use an extra day for reorganization and resupply. General Gill therefore decided to delay the 124th Infantry’s movement in favor of a co-ordinated counterattack by the entire PERSECUTION Covering Force (with the exception of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry) at 0800 on 13 July.
[N7-9 Rads, PTF to ALAMO, AE-1052 and AE-1512, 12 Jul 44, in ALAMO G-3 Jnl Hollandia, 1-12 Jul 44; 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-10 Aug 44; Ltr, General Hall to General Ward, 29 Nov 50, in OCMH files.]
[N7-10 Rad, PTF to ALAMO, AE-1550, 12 Jul 44, in ALAMO G-3 Jnl Hollandia, 10-12 Jul 44; PTF FO 7, 12 Jul 44, in PTF G-3 Jnl, 11-15 Jul 44; Martin Comments, pp. 16-21; Ltr, General Hall to General Ward, 29 Nov 50, and Ltr, Gen Krueger to Gen Ward, 2 Jan 51, no sub, copies of last two in OCMH files. The exact terms and chronology of changes incident to this change in command later created some confusion at higher headquarters because the initial orders were so phrased as to make it appear that General Gill had been relieved of the command of the 32nd Division. Such, of course, was not the intent, and on 20 July FO 7 was changed to clarify the situation. General Martin remained on as Commander, Eastern Sector, and Assistant Division Commander, 32nd Division. Sometime after the Aitape operation, he was promoted to major general and given the command of the 31st Infantry Division.]
[N7-11 PCF FO 1, 12 Jul 44, in PTF G-3 Jnl, 11-15 Jul 44. General Stark’s post as Western Sector commander was taken over by Brigadier General Joseph C. Hutchinson of the 31st Division, who had arrived at Aitape with the 124th Infantry. South Force was also called Baldy Force—a rather uncomplimentary reference to the condition of General Cunningham’s pate.]
Then the two battalions of the 124th Infantry were to clear the Anamo-Afua trail south to the point at which that track met the Driniumor. The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (attached to the 124th Infantry), was to clear the coast from Anamo to the mouth of the Driniumor and then move down the west bank of the river and establish contact with the 124th Infantry. South Force was to start moving east at 1000 on the 13th. It was to attack along the Afua-Palauru trail to the Driniumor and restore the river line from Afua north to the 124th Infantry’s positions.[N7-12] Action in the Coastal Sector
In order to secure a line of departure for the 1st Battalion’s attack on 13 July, Company B, 128th Infantry, moved from Tiver to Anamo just before dark on the 12th. [N7-13] At 0730 on the 13th the rest of the 1st Battalion, supported by a platoon of Company B, 632nd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and from offshore by fire from LCM’s, moved out of Tiver toward the east. The 1st Battalion marched through Anopapi and Anamo, passing through Company B, without incident. About 1000, Companies A and C arrived at Chakila, 1,000 yards east of Anamo. On the far side of a small stream entering the ocean just east of Chakila, the jungle grew almost to the edge of the beach and at the stream crossing only one platoon could be deployed. The rest of the battalion had to follow in narrow column. The leading platoon crossed the stream about 1050 and immediately found itself in the midst of a Japanese ambush.
Major Hoshino’s Coastal Attack Force had crossed the Driniumor during the night of 11-12 July, bringing 70-mm. and 75-mm. weapons across the river and setting them up to support an advance by the 237th Infantry to the Paup villages and the Nigia River. Apparently communications to the Coastal Attack Force had broken down, and the morning of 13 July found Major Hoshino’s unit dug in along the coast east of Chakila awaiting further orders and preparing to defend the beach approach to the Driniumor.
The Coastal Attack Force let the leading platoon of the 128th Infantry pass through its first defenses. As the rest of the advance company started to cross the small stream, Major Hoshino’s men opened up with rifles, machine guns, light mortars, and 75-mm. howitzers. The American platoon hastily retreated into the bed of the small stream, where banks five feet high afforded protection from the Japanese fire. Another platoon deployed along the west bank of the creek to establish a base of fire. Tank destroyers were brought up to the west bank and began bombarding the Costal Attack Force’s positions. One tank destroyer was almost immediately damaged by Major Hoshino’s artillery, the fire from which soon became so intense that the tank destroyers and LCM support craft were forced to retire to the west.
[N7-12 PCF G-3 Jnl, 11-15 Jul 44; 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-10 Aug 44; PCF FO 1, 12 Jul 44; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape.]
[N7-13 The principal source for the operations of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, described in this subsection is a narrative account of the action written by the 1st Battalion S-3 and filed in the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, Journal, 28 June-25 August 1944. Information on the Japanese side of the story is taken principally from 18th Army Operations, III, 111-14.]
Artillery counterbattery fire was called for, and the 129th Field Artillery Battalion was quickly successful in putting out of action most of Major Hoshino’s field pieces. The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, then resumed its advance behind continuing field artillery fire which was placed as close as fifty yards in front of the leading troops.
Two infantry platoons, one each from Companies A and C, forced a second crossing of the creek at 1300. Two tank destroyers followed immediately and, from the beach, delivered enfilade fire on positions of the Coastal Attack Force at the edge of the jungle. As the rest of the 1st Battalion crossed the stream, Major Hoshino and his men, having lost their artillery, fled inland.
Behind an improvised rolling barrage, Companies A and C pushed on eastward. One tank destroyer moved along the beach and another along the coastal track, which here ran through the jungle about seventy-five yards inland. The two forward companies reached the mouth of the Driniumor about 1800 and the rest of the battalion closed on the river shortly thereafter. Company A pushed down the west bank of the river about 2,000 yards without finding any sign of the 124th Infantry, which was driving south along the Anamo-Afua trail.
Since it was getting dark, the company set up night defenses. Company B moved into position on A’s right rear to refuse the battalion’s south flank, and the rest of the battalion dug in near the mouth of the Driniumor.
In the course of the day’s fighting the Coastal Attack Force had lost all its artillery and had suffered heavy casualties (the 1st Battalion had counted over sixty dead Japanese during the day). Additional losses were sustained on succeeding days, but Major Hoshino and his men were not completely removed as an irritant until the night of 16-17 July. During that night remnants of the Coastal Attack Force, about thirty-five men strong, attacked North Force and 124th Infantry command post installations at Anamo. At 2300 the group charged out of the jungle southwest of the Anamo perimeter. Repulsed by machine gun fire, the enemy temporarily disappeared, only to reappear at 0300 on 17 July moving west against Anamo along the beach. Machine gun fire from the American positions broke up this second attack, but about ten minutes later the Japanese tried again, this time moving on Anamo from the north by wading in from the sea.
Once ashore, Major Hoshino’s men broke up into small groups, attempting to destroy mechanized equipment, automatic weapons positions, and communications installations. The Coastal Attack Force remnants had apparently scouted well, for they were reported to have moved purposefully toward the most important installations and they easily found their way about in terrain they had vacated only four days previously. Whatever Major Hoshino’s plans were, they were not realized. About forty of his men were killed and the rest dispersed.[N7-14]
While this final debacle wiped out the Coastal Attack Force, that unit had ceased to exist as an effective support force on 13 July, when its artillery was destroyed or lost. Without the artillery support it had expected, the 237th Infantry, still somewhere south of Anamo and west of the Driniumor, could no longer seriously endanger PERSECUTION Covering Force positions on the coast.
The Attack South from the Paup Villages
The 124th Infantry (less the 2nd Battalion) had started its attack toward the Driniumor about 0700 on 13 July.[N7-15] The 3rd Battalion struck south from Anopapi along a route 1,000 yards west of the Anamo-Afua trail. The 1st Battalion began moving down that trail from Anamo about 1000 hours. Documents captured by early morning patrols disclosed that the 237th Infantry was preparing an attack on Anamo, and both 124th Infantry units expected some fighting.
[N7-14 The story of the attack on Anamo is reconstructed from: PTF G-2 Daily Rpt 17, 17 Jul 44, PCF G-2 Daily Rpt 18, 17 Jul 44, and Msg, G-2 Eastern Sector to 126th and 128th Inf Regts, 17 Jul 44, all in 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-27 Jul 44; ALAMO Force, G-2 Wkly Rpt 58, 13 Sep 44, copy in G-2 DofA files; 18th Army Opns, III, 111-14. Allied estimates of the strength of the Japanese force engaged in this action range from 35 to 80 men. The Japanese source gives a figure of “Major Hoshino and 30 survivors.” Major Hoshino was himself killed during this action.]
Shortly after 0800 the 3rd Battalion began to encounter opposition, and not more than 500 yards south of Anopapi the point was held up by a Japanese force of platoon strength. In the dense jungle it was almost an hour before the Japanese could be dispersed and the advance continued. Half an hour and another 500-odd yards later, a well-concealed but lightly held enemy ambush again halted the battalion. Allowing the bulk of the unit to pass through the ambush position, Japanese machine gunners and riflemen opened fire on the rear guard. Finally Company L drove the enemy force (probably elements of the 1st Battalion, 237th Infantry) into the jungle and at 1000 the advance was resumed. Now the 3rd Battalion swung southeast toward the Anamo-Afua trail, encountering only scattered rifle fire the rest of the day.
The 1st Battalion had met no strong, organized resistance as it advanced south along the Anamo-Afua trail, but there was a good deal of scattered rifle fire from Japanese stragglers. Somehow the battalion had moved off the main trail during the early afternoon and when, about 1700, it reached the Driniumor, it was at a point some 1,500 yards north of the trail-river junction. Its position in relation to that of the 3rd Battalion is not clear. Apparently the 3rd Battalion had crossed the 1st’s axis of advance to the 1st Battalion’s rear sometime during the afternoon and at 1700 hours reached the Anamo-Afua trail at a point about 1,000 yards west of the Driniumor and 2,000 yards north of the trail-river junction. So much, at least, seems clear from the 3rd Battalion and regimental records, although the 1st Battalion’s records indicate that the 3rd bivouacked at a point about 2,000 yards due west of the 1st’s position on the river. Suffice it to say that 1st Battalion patrols could find no trace of the 3rd Battalion before dark on the 13th.
During the night of 13-14 July, there were four separate perimeters in the North Force sector of the Driniumor line. The battalions of the 124th Infantry, with Colonel Starr’s approval, remained out of contact with each other, although both had radio contact with North Force headquarters. Companies A and B, 128th Infantry, were in a separate perimeter on the river some 600 yards north of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry. Patrol contact was established between the two perimeters before dark but, again with Colonel Starr’s approval, no attempt was made to set up a firm line between the two for the night. Instead of spreading men thinly along the river, the units in the two perimeters set up all-around defenses against the possibility of Japanese attack from the west. The fourth perimeter was that of the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, at the mouth of the Driniumor. The 128th Infantry units, like those of the 124th, had radio contact with North Force headquarters.
[N7-15 Information in this subsection is from: 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-10 Aug 44; 124th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 5-6; Ltr, CO 124th Inf to CG 31st Inf Div, 22 Jul 44 (copy of this ltr was lent to the author by Colonel Edward M. Starr, CO 124th Inf, but no copy exists in official files) ; PTF G-3 Jnls, 11-15 and 15-19 Jul 44; PCF G-3 Jnl, 14-16 Jul 44; 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-27 Jul 44; 1st Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 2nd Bn 128th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; Ltr, Colonel Starr to General Ward, 21 Aug 51; Ltr, Major Edward A. Becker [S-3 1st Bn 124th Inf] to Colonel Starr, 13 Nov 50, atchd to Ltr, Starr to Ward, 21 Aug 51, copies of both ltrs in OCMH files; Contribution of First Battalion 124th Infantry in Aitape Campaign, British New Guinea, 1944, pp. 4-8. The latter document, essentially the diary of the S-3 1st Bn 124th Inf, was lent to the author by Major Becker through Colonel Starr, and no copy exists in official files. It is cited hereafter as 1st Bn 124th Inf in Aitape Campaign. The principal source of Japanese information is 18th Army Opns, III, 111-14.]
Early on the morning of 14 July the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, moved on to the Driniumor to the right of the 1st Battalion of that regiment. During the same time the 1st Battalion extended its left northward while the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, pushed its right south to establish a firm line along the river, simultaneously consolidating its own lines.
The attack of the 124th Infantry had disrupted plans of the 237th Infantry to clear the Paup villages, but not before that unit had caused some trouble at Tiver. There the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, reorganizing after its withdrawal from the Driniumor, had established a defensive perimeter. Colonel Nara, commanding the 237th Infantry, had rejoined his regiment (having been lost since the night of 10-11 July) about noon on 12 July. In compliance with previous orders, he immediately sent scouts out toward the Nigia River. Finding the new Allied defensive line around Tiver and south along Koronal Creek, he ordered his 1st and 2nd Battalions to attack. Shortly after dark on 12 July the 1st Battalion struck Company F, 128th Infantry, and succeeded in overrunning one machine gun position. A sharp fire fight continued and Company F was ultimately reinforced by Company A, which, however, did not arrive until most of the Japanese had already withdrawn.
Colonel Nara tried to organize more attacks for the 13th, but his deployment was partially frustrated by the advance of the 124th Infantry’s battalions, which struck his right flank. Finally, late on the afternoon of the 13th, the 2nd Battalion, 237th Infantry, bypassing 124th Infantry elements, fell upon the lines of Company E, 128th Infantry, a few hundred yards south from Tiver.
Giving ample proof that it had not lost its combat effectiveness after its disaster during the night of 10-11 July, Company E held firm and drove off the Japanese. But the 237th Infantry elements now swung to the northeast in an attempt to reach less swampy terrain near the beach. By 1900 the entire front of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, was being subjected to a series of small-scale attacks which, combined with sporadic outbreaks of enemy machine gun fire, continued throughout the night of 13-14 July.
At dawn on the 14th the remaining elements of the 237th Infantry withdrew into the jungle south and southeast of Tiver. They had suffered heavy losses and had found the combination of swampy ground along the Koronal and the defensive fires of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, too much for them. Colonel Nara abandoned his plans to clear the Paup villages, and after 14 July only a few minor patrol skirmishes occurred in the Tiver area.
South Force and the Gap
General Cunningham’s South Force had begun moving eastward from the X-ray River on schedule at 1000 on 13 July. [N7-16] The 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry, led out over the Afua-Palauru trail, followed by the 2nd Squadron and part of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry. At a stream-crossing on the trail about 2,200 yards east of the X-ray, the leading troop was halted by approximately seventy-five Japanese who were dug in across the track. This force, probably elements of the 78th Infantry, faded away as Troop A crossed the stream at a point north of the trail and threatened the enemy’s right.
[N7-16 This subsection is based on: 112th Cav Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 6-8; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape; 112th Cav Sum of Msgs, 1-29 Jul 44; 124th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, p. 6; 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-44]
A second Japanese position was encountered at another stream-crossing about 1,500 yards west of Afua, but the 1st Squadron, after a short but sharp fire fight, broke through this opposition also. About 1430 Australian aircraft based on the Tadji strips bombed and strafed the Afua area. Fifteen minutes later the South Force column reached the Driniumor at the village.
The 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry (less Captain Lowry’s group), pushed north up the Driniumor to its old defensive positions, while the 112th Cavalry spread out along the Driniumor near Afua. Patrols of the 3rd Battalion moved down the river as far as the junction of the Anamo-Afua trail with the Driniumor, but could find no sign of the 124th Infantry. The latter unit had reported earlier in the day that it had reached the trail-river junction, but, unfamiliar with the terrain along the Driniumor, had undoubtedly erred in estimating its position. On the morning of 14 July General Cunningham sent patrols 1,500 yards north of the junction, but still no trace of the 124th Infantry could be found. The South Force commander thereupon dispatched Troop E, 112th Cavalry, north beyond the lines of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, to close the wide gap which obviously existed in the Driniumor line. The gap had probably been at least 2,500 yards wide during the night of 13-14 July but was narrowed on the latter day by South Force’s extension northward. However, it remained about 1,500 yards wide at nightfall on the 15th.
The Japanese had some knowledge of this weakness in the American lines and took advantage of it, especially during the hours of darkness. During daylight the enemy stayed away from the river for the most part, permitting American forces to move through the gap with only occasional rifle fire to oppose them. Their own use of the gap sometimes cost the Japanese dearly, and during the night of 14-15 July about 135 of the enemy were killed in the area by the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry.[N7-17]
By nightfall on the 15th General Cunningham was becoming sensitive about the gap. He could not convince General Gill, at PERSECUTION Covering Force headquarters, that South Force had already extended its lines almost 1,000 yards beyond its assigned sector without finding any elements of the 124th Infantry. General Cunningham felt that the 124th Infantry was not giving him much co-operation. He claimed that without his permission the infantry regiment had held Troop E within its lines during the night of 15-16 July and he complained that the infantry was giving no protection to South Force wire parties which were trying to establish telephone communications with headquarters installations on the coast. [N7-18]
[NOTE: 10 Aug 44; 3rd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; Interv, author with Gen Cunningham, Apr 47; Interv, author with Col Hooper, 25 Mar 47; Interv, author with Captain Lowry, Apr 47; PTF G-3 Jnls, 11-15 and 15-19 Jul 44; PCF G-3 Jnls, 14-16 and 16-20 Jul 44; 18th Army Opns, III, 107-15; Ltr, Becker to Starr, 13 Nov 50; 1st Bn 124th Inf in Aitape Campaign, pp. 7-9. Additional information was supplied by General Cunningham and Colonel Hooper who, during January 1950, read and made notes on draft chapters concerning operations at Aitape. These notes, a copy of which is in the OCMH files, are hereafter cited as Cunningham Notes.]
[N7-17 This enemy casualty figure is from Ltr, CO 124th Inf to CG 31st Div, 22 Jul 44.]
PERSECUTION Covering Force headquarters was also critical of South Force’s communications, but General Cunningham did not believe criticism was justified. He pointed out that his wire parties received no help, that wire was continually being cut by the enemy or by accidents, and that atmospheric conditions caused radio malfunctioning in the South Force area after dark. In view of his communications difficulties and the trouble in closing the gap, General Cunningham requested that South Force be reinforced by an infantry battalion. This request could not be complied with for some days.
Meanwhile the 124th Infantry continued to report that it had pushed far south of the trail-river junction without encountering any troops except Japanese stragglers. Headquarters, PERSECUTION Covering Force, apparently accepted the 124th Infantry’s reports at face value, but there is little doubt that the 124th Infantry incorrectly reported its locations. On the other hand, the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, had been operating along the river since late June. It can be presumed that the men of that unit could recognize on 13 July the positions they had occupied as late as the morning of the 11th.
On the afternoon of 15 July, Colonel Starr, commanding the 124th Infantry, apparently concluded that his regiment had not moved as far south as earlier reported. At that time he ordered the unit to adjust its lines to the south and extend its defenses up the Driniumor to the left flank of South Force.
At 0800 on the 16th, the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, using Troop E of the 112th Cavalry as point and guide, started moving south to close the gap. Troop E had scarcely moved out of its night bivouac when it was met by heavy fire from enemy positions on both sides of the Driniumor. Learning that the 237th Infantry was in serious danger of being cut off west of the Driniumor by the American restoration of the river line, the 18th Army had made efforts to keep the original crossing point open. For this purpose two companies of the 1st Battalion, 239th Infantry, had been hurriedly sent forward from the Marubian area. At the same time, Colonel Nara, defeated in his attempts to clear the Paup villages, had turned the 237th Infantry back toward the Kawanaka Shima area and ordered the remnants of his 3rd Battalion to attack the American rear.
Most of the fire on Troop E evidently came from the two companies of the 1st Battalion, 239th Infantry, on the east side of the river. While Troop E was seeking cover from this fire and fighting off a few Japanese who attacked from the left flank, the 3rd Battalion, 237th Infantry, hit the right of the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, close behind Troop E. The Japanese succeeded in splitting the American force.
[N7-18 Major Becker, S-3 of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry, indicates (in Ltr, Becker to Starr, 13 Nov 50) that he feels some of General Cunningham’s remarks were unjustified: first, because it would have been impossible for Troop E to have returned to South Force before dark; second, because the Troop E commander was only advised to stay in North Force’s lines; and third, because the 124th Infantry had not been asked by South Force to provide protection for wire parties.]
Companies I and K, 124th Infantry, halted to face the enemy attack from the west, while Troop E, Company L, and most of Company M pushed on southward through increasing opposition from the 239th Infantry’s companies. Fighting every foot of the way, the three American units reached South Force lines about 1500. They killed about forty Japanese during the move south and closed the larger portion of the gap.
To the north, Companies I and K, 124th Infantry, dug in for the night. During the next day, 16 July, attempts made to close a remaining 500 yards of the gap were unsuccessful, although an additional forty-five Japanese were killed as elements of the 237th or 239th Infantry Regiment continued their efforts to keep the gap open. Late on the 17th the gap was temporarily closed, but it was reopened during the succeeding night for a distance of about 300 yards, probably by elements of the 237th Infantry. The last small portion of the gap was closed by the 124th Infantry on the morning of 18 July. Then the remnants of the 3rd Battalion, 237th Infantry, withdrew to the west, while the 239th Infantry’s force, its commander killed, withdrew eastward. The PERSECUTION Covering Force’s Driniumor River line was once again solid from Afua to the coast, a week after the 18th Army had made its first break-through.
Operations West of the Driniumor
General Hall realized that the re-establishment of the Driniumor line might leave strong Japanese units west of the river. These enemy troops, although cut off from their sources of supply, could harass the rear of the Driniumor line, move south to cut the Afua-Palauru trail, or continue to annoy the North Force command post area. Notwithstanding the fact that he had been ordered to counterattack when the impetus of the 18th Army’s initial assault had been spent, General Hall did not feel that the time for counterattack beyond the Driniumor was at hand but decided that the most immediately pressing problem was to clear all Japanese units from the area west of the river. Furthermore, he wished to await the arrival at Aitape of at least one regimental combat team of the 43rd Division, a reinforcement which would make possible the release of units already acquainted with the terrain in the Driniumor area from positions on the main line of resistance. Finally, the task force commander believed it necessary to locate the main body of the 20th Division before launching a counterattack. Only the 78th Infantry of that division had so far been identified in the Driniumor area, but it was believed that the rest of the division had participated in the attack during the night of 10-11 July.[N7-19]
For the purpose of clearing the enemy from the area west of the Driniumor, General Hall released the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 127th Infantry, from their positions on the main line of resistance and placed them under General Gill’s control. [N7-20] By morning of the 16th, both battalions had closed at Tiver. The 2nd Battalion was to clear the Japanese from an area between Koronal Creek and the Driniumor to a depth of one and a half miles inland, while the 1st Battalion was to set up a patrol base south of the 2nd between the two streams. After clearing its sector, the 2nd was to follow the 1st south and aid the latter in driving any Japanese it could find south into the Torricelli Mountains.
[N7-19 Interv with Gen Hall, 27 Mar 47; Rads, PTF to ALAMO, AE-1914, 14 Jul 44, and AE-2145, 16 Jul 44, both in ALAMO G-3 Jnl Hollandia, 13-16 Jul 44.]
[N7-20 The action behind North Force is based on: PTF G-3 Jnls, 12-14 and 15-17 Jul 44; PGF G-3 Jnl, 16-20 Jul 44; 127th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, Sec. II, pp. 4-6; 127th Inf Jnl file, 10-31 Jul 44; 1st Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 2nd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 124th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 6-8; 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-10 Aug 44. There now remained on the main line of resistance the 126th Infantry and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry. The 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry, was being held by General Hall at Blue Beach as a mobile reserve.]
In a series of complicated and sometimes un-co-ordinated company actions on 16-18 July, the 2nd Battalion overran the area assigned to it, encountering a few small groups of the 237th Infantry and helping to disrupt that regiment’s plans for continuing attacks on the Paup villages and keeping open a crossing over the Driniumor. The activities of the 2nd Battalion actually resulted in a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the battalion cleared many Japanese from the rear of North Force, but on the other, in driving elements of the 237th Infantry south and eastward, it inadvertently caused the 124th Infantry much difficulty in its mission of closing and keeping closed the gap in the Driniumor line.
After the operations of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, and the closing of the gap between North and South Forces on 18 July, the 124th Infantry’s sector remained quiet for a few days. [N7-21] On the 21st, the 2nd Battalion of the 169th Infantry, 43rd Division, arrived on the Driniumor to strengthen the 124th Infantry. [N7-22] The new arrivals took over about 1,000 yards of the river line on the right of the 124th Infantry. They had arrived none too soon.
General Adachi still had plans to reopen a crossing of the Driniumor near Kawanaka Shima in order to send supplies across the river and to continue efforts to divide the Allied defenders. For this purpose he instructed the 239th Infantry, supported by elements of the 238th Infantry and the 41st Mountain Artillery, to move against the Kawanaka Shima area on 27 July. For reasons unknown, he changed these orders on the 19th and ordered the same 41st Division elements to strike immediately and dispatched the 66th Infantry, 51st Division, westward to participate in the attack.
It was not until the night of 21-22 July that the Japanese forward units were able to organize for any sort of attack. During that night, elements of the 124th Infantry received considerable mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire from east of the Driniumor.
This fire increased the next morning, and about noon the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, was attacked from the west by elements of the 237th Infantry. The first Japanese attack was“… finally broken up by a bayonet charge …” [N7-23] conducted by elements of the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, but other attacks followed as troops of the 1st Battalion, 239th Infantry, tried to move across the Driniumor from the east, striking both the 124th Infantry’s unit and part of the 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry. Before dark on the 22nd, the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry, counted 155 new Japanese dead in its area. That unit and the 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry, reported their own losses as five killed and twenty-five wounded. [N7-24]
[N7-21 The following story of Japanese attempts to reopen a crossing of the Driniumor is based on: 2nd Bn 169th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 2-3; 124th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 6-9; 124th Inf Jnl, 12 Jul-10 Aug 44; PCF G-3 Jnl, 22-26 Jul 44; 3rd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 18th Army Opns, III, 114-20; PW interrogs and trans of captured docs in PTF and Eastern Sector G-2 Jnls, Jul and Aug 44.]
[N7-22 The 169th Infantry had arrived at Blue Beach from New Zealand on 20 July.]
[N7-23 124th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, p. 8.]
[N7-24 The report of the 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry, states that 274 Japanese were killed in the area of the night and day action. This figure appears to be a rather high estimate. The American figure is that given in the Journal of the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry. A 124th Infantry regimental report, later on the 22nd, gives total American casualties in the 24-hour action as 11 killed, 24 wounded, and 20 non-battle.]
Further attempts to reopen the river crossing were made by the 1st Battalion, 239th Infantry, on the night of 23-24 June, but these efforts were thwarted by the troops along the river and support fire by the 149th Field Artillery Battalion from the coast near Anamo. There was another minor flare-up the next night near the point where the lines of the 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, joined. With this last effort, the 18th Army gave up attempts to reopen a river crossing in the North Force area, which remained relatively quiet thereafter.
Meanwhile, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 127th Infantry, had continued mopping-up operations west of the Driniumor. [N7-25] From 16 through 18 July the 1st Battalion had moved slowly south from Tiver along Koronal Creek, driving scattered elements of the 237th Infantry before it or pushing them eastward toward the river lines of the 124th Infantry. On the 18th the 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, now on the X-ray River some 6,000 yards south of Tiver, started moving east to set up a patrol base on East Branch, Koronal Creek, at a point about 2,000 yards north of the Afua-Palauru trail and an equal distance east of the X-ray. Patrolling thoroughly in heavily jungled terrain, the battalion bivouacked for the night of 18-19 July some 400 yards west of its objective.
During the evening, Headquarters, PERSECUTION Covering Force, informed the battalion that the 78th Infantry, 20th Division, was located between East Branch and the 112th Cavalry’s positions at Afua, to the southeast. This was easy to believe, for the 1st Battalion’s right flank patrols had encountered many Japanese during the afternoon, and the 112th Cavalry reported that its patrols had discovered large groups of Japanese in the vicinity of Kwamagnirk, about midway between the 1st Battalion and Afua. Although opposition was expected, the 1st Battalion moved on to its patrol base site during the 19th without encountering any Japanese. The unit was joined at its new base on the 20th by the 2nd Battalion, which had moved south from Tiver against little opposition.
The two battalions were now isolated in a heavily jungled area and insofar as they knew might have been surrounded by a strong enemy force. Overland supply was both dangerous and slow, and for the next two days the units were supplied principally by airdrop. Communications with Headquarters, PERSECUTION Covering Force, or with units along the Driniumor were at best sporadic. Telephone lines could not be kept in service and radios would not work much of the time.
The battalions had not yet located any large body of enemy troops west of the Driniumor. Therefore, on the morning of 20 July, General Gill ordered the units to prepare to move southeast toward the 112th Cavalry and Afua, where a great deal of enemy activity had broken out two days earlier. Time was to be taken before departure from the patrol base to co-ordinate plans with South Force and to make additional attempts to locate the main body of the 20th Division, which, General Hall still suspected, might be west of the Driniumor.
During the next three days the two 127th Infantry battalions sent out patrols in all directions. No large bodies of Japanese troops were located, but a number of small parties of the 78th Infantry, 20th Division, were encountered. This patrolling continued while efforts were made by Headquarters, PERSECUTION Covering Force, to obtain some understanding of the steadily deteriorating situation of South Force in the Afua area.
[N7-25 Information on further operations of the 127th Infantry west of the Driniumor is based on: 127th Inf Jnl file, 10-31 Jul 44; 1st Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 2nd Bn 127th Inf Jnl, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44; 127th Inf Opns Rpt Aitape, Sec. II, pp.4-6; PTF G-3 Jnls, 15-19 and 19-21 Jul 44.]
The Japanese Attack on the South Flank Even while South Force had been going about the business of restoring its section of the Driniumor line and helping to close the gap between South and North Forces, the Japanese had begun new offensive maneuvers in the Afua area. The night of 13-14 July—South Force’s first night back on the Driniumor—was quiet, and only scattered contacts were made with enemy forces the next day. But on the 15th there was a noticeable increase in Japanese activity in South Force’s area, especially in the vicinity of Afua.
Japanese Attack Preparations
On 15 July patrols of the 112th Cavalry encountered many small parties of Japanese near Afua and found indications that many more enemy troops were in the same region. [N7-26] The next day, groups of Japanese were observed crossing the Driniumor in both directions at a fording point about 2,500 yards south of Afua. About the same time it was discovered that the enemy had blazed a rough track south of the Afua-Palauru trail and running along the foothills of the Torricelli Mountains from the Driniumor to the headwaters of the X-ray River.
While it would obviously have been desirable to block this new trail, especially at the point where it crossed the Driniumor, General Hall did not feel he could spare any troops for the task. He was not greatly concerned about enemy movements on the right of South Force and he did not believe that the enemy could or would move any large force west along the new trail. He also knew that the enemy could find other routes to bypass South Force even if the one trail were cut. Nevertheless, South Force was ordered to do everything in its power to stop Japanese westward movements. General Cunningham was instructed to send strong patrols south of Afua to harass Japanese forces on the new trail and he was also ordered to keep the Afua-Palauru trail clear of enemy troops in order to keep open the overland line of communications to Blue Beach via Chinapelli and Palauru.
Before receiving these instructions, General Cunningham, who believed that South Force was being outflanked by large numbers of Japanese, had wanted to shorten his lines by retiring north of Afua. The new orders disapproved such a withdrawal. In order to protect his south flank, General Cunningham therefore bent his right back along the Afua-Palauru trail west approximately 600 yards from the Driniumor. On high ground at the western extremity of this new line he stationed Troop A, 112th Cavalry.
[N7-26 Information in this and the following subsection is based principally on: 112th Cav Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 7-9; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape; 112th Cav Sum of Msgs, 1-29 Jul 44; PTF G-3 Jnls, 15-19, 19-21, and 21-26 Jul 44; PCF G-3 Jnls, 14-16, 16-20, and 20-22 Jul 44; Interv, author with Gen Cunningham, Apr 47; Interv, author with Colonel Hooper, 25 Mar 48; 18th Army Opns, III, 110-23. In the last-named source, upon which reconstruction of Japanese plans is principally based, are cited MO Opn Orders 17, 14 Jul; 21, 16 Jul; 22, 19 Jul; 23, 21 Jul; and 24, 21 Jul 44.]
The remainder of the 1st Squadron was posted at Afua and along the Driniumor to a point about 800 yards north of that village. All South Force units were alerted to the possibility of attack from the south and west. The Japanese had been preparing just such an attack.
On 11 July the assault units of the 20th Division had begun assembling on the high ground west of the Driniumor and had started preparations for further movement westward. The overland withdrawal of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, and Company G, 128th Infantry, on 11-13 July had apparently prevented the Left and Right Flank Units from reorganizing as rapidly as planned. The return of South Force to the Driniumor, beginning on the 13th, had found the two Japanese attack forces still trying to concentrate for movement westward. On the 15th the two units were combined as the Miyake Force under General Miyake, who was ordered to secure Afua and the high ground to the west in preparation for a concerted drive northward toward the coast when the rest of the 20th Division arrived in the forward area.
Although General Miyake was unable to organize any rapid assault on Afua—his first objective—the contacts which the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry, made with Japanese units in the Afua area on 15 and 16 July probably marked Miyake Force preparations for attack. By evening of the 16th, however, General Adachi realized that the 18th Army’s initial break-through along the Driniumor had not achieved decisive results.
Instead, the PERSECUTION Covering Force had managed to wipe out the Coastal Attack Force, cut off and inflict heavy losses on the 237th Infantry, greatly reduce the 78th Infantry’s strength, restore the Driniumor line with greater strength than had been employed on the river prior to 10 July, and seriously threaten the Miyake Force’s lines of communication. Under such conditions the 18th Army commander knew it was impossible to execute an attack on the Allied main line of resistance around the Tadji airfields, in preparation for which the Miyake Force’s drive to the coast had been ordered. General Adachi therefore abandoned his original plan in favor of another attack against the United States forces along the Driniumor, forces which he now believed to comprise most of the Allied troops in the Aitape area.
To start this new attack, those elements of the 20th Division still east of the Driniumor were ordered to cross the river and drive on Afua from the south. Earlier orders to the 66th Infantry, 51st Division, to aid the forward elements of the 41st Division to the north were canceled, and the regiment was attached to the 20th Division for operations in the Afua area. The new efforts by the 20th Division were to be carried out in conjunction with the attack against Afua which the Miyake Force had already been ordered to undertake.
The Japanese Retake Afua
On 17 and 18 July the Miyake Force slowly maneuvered into position to the right and rear of the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry. On the evening of the 18th the 3rd Battalion, 78th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 80th Infantry, poured out of the jungle west and northwest of the 1st Squadron’s command post and the contiguous perimeter held by Troop A, west of Afua. The two South Force units were pushed 250 yards to the northeast, where they rapidly established new positions. Reinforcements—two rifle platoons from the 1st Squadron and one from the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry—arrived at the new perimeter at dusk. The next morning the composite force attacked south and regained the ground vacated theprevious night. The Miyake Force units fled northwest into the jungle without firing a shot.
Early in the afternoon of 19 July fresh Japanese units began to surround the Troop A position, moving in from the north, northwest, west, and southwest. The 1st Squadron commander called for artillery fire to break up this enemy maneuver. Upon cessation of the fire, Troop A attacked to the south and west for a second time. Driving at least a company of Japanese before it, the troop pushed 600 yards southwest of its original positions astride the Afua-Palauru trail and temporarily disrupted enemy plans to seize the position. [N7-27] About 140 Japanese had been killed during the two days’ operation around Troop A. South Force, at the same time, lost 8 men killed and 29 wounded, all from the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry. [N7-28] There were strong indications that more attacks might occur in the 1st Squadron area, but Troop A was not destined to take part in any of these actions.
It was replaced on the 21st by Troop C. After this change, South Force positions were as follows: The 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, held about 1,200 yards along the river south from the junction of the Anamo-Afua trail with the Driniumor. On the right of the 3rd Battalion was the 2nd Squadron, 112th Cavalry, with two troops on the river. Troop E was in reserve about 200 yards west of the river near an open space employed for air-dropping supplies to South Force. In a patch of banana trees just south of this dropping ground were Headquarters, South Force, and Headquarters, 112th Cavalry.
The 1st Squadron defended the west bank of the river north from Afua 1,200 yards, tying its left into the right of the 2nd Squadron. About 550 yards west and slightly north of Afua were Troop C and Headquarters, 1st Squadron. Most of Troop C’s defenses faced north and northwest. The troop’s southeast flank was tied loosely into the lines of Troop B, at Afua, but this connection was more theoretical than actual and contact between the two was maintained principally by patrols and sound-powered telephone. Even as Troop C was replacing Troop A, the Japanese were making new plans for attack.
Orders were issued on 19 July for the entire 20th Division immediately to attack and clear the Afua area. The Miyake Force (to which was now attached the remnants of the 237th Infantry, 41st Division, in addition to the 78th and 80th Infantry Regiments of the 20th Division) was to attack from the north and west, while the rest of the 20th Division, including the 79th Infantry, was to attack from the south. The 66th Infantry, having difficulty moving forward and suffering from a series of changes in orders, was to remain in reserve east of the Driniumor and turn its supplies over to the Miyake Force.
[N7-27 The Japanese account has these actions occurring on 17 and 18 July but all American sources state that the attacks against Troop A and the 1st Squadron command post occurred on the 18th and 19th of the month.]
[N7-28 The American casualty figures are from 112th Cavalry records. According to the Cunningham Notes, the figure for Japanese casualties is based on a count of Japanese dead by Colonel Miller, the commander of the 112th Cavalry Regiment. For a series of heroic actions and outstanding leadership during the period 16-19 July, 2nd Lt. Dale Eldon Christensen, a platoon leader of Troop A, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Christensen was killed on 4 August while leading his platoon in another attack.]
Although the co-ordinated Japanese attack was to have been on 19 July, only the isolated action in the area of Troop A, 112th Cavalry, occurred that day. Probably the Japanese were unable to get organized on schedule, an occupational disease which marked all Japanese operations in the Aitape area. The 79th Infantry and Headquarters, 20th Division, did not cross the Driniumor until 18 and 19 July. Moreover, the 237th Infantry remnants had not yet joined the Miyake Force, the other two components of which apparently had some difficulty reorganizing after their operations on the evening of the 18th and the morning of the 19th. By evening on 21 July, however, the Japanese were ready.
At 1645 a Japanese 75-mm. mountain gun opened point blank fire on the semi-isolated perimeter of Troop C, 112th Cavalry. After a few rounds from this weapon, an enemy force (estimated by the cavalrymen to be about a battalion strong and probably part of the 79th Infantry) attacked Troop C from the south and west, cutting it off from the rest of South Force. Troop B, at Afua, tried to re-establish contact with Troop C, but was prevented from so doing by enemy parties now stationed along the Afua-Palauru trail. Two rifle platoons of Company I, 127th Infantry, were sent southwest from their river positions to aid Troop C. One reached the cavalry unit during the night, but the other was forced to fall back to South Force’s command post. [N7-29] Heavy rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire, and even hand-to-hand fighting, continued in the Troop C area throughout the night. At the same time elements of the Miyake Force attempted to overrun the South Force command post area.
At dawn on the 22nd Troop B made several more efforts to reach Troop C and General Cunningham sent out his reserve, Troop E, in another attempt to relieve the beleaguered unit. Both actions were futile, for the Japanese had managed to secure control over all the commanding ground west and northwest of Afua. Not knowing what other plans the Japanese might have in mind, General Cunningham was unwilling to pull any more troops away from the river defenses.
Moreover, he now considered the position of his right flank untenable. He therefore withdrew Troop B north of Afua about 1,000 yards and used the unit to form a new defense line which ran westward about 500 yards from Troop A’s right flank, anchored on the Driniumor. South Force’s right flank was now refused and additional protection had been secured for medical, supply, and command post installations at the dropping ground banana patch. Troop C was left isolated behind Japanese lines, and Afua was again released to the enemy.
Changes in PERSECUTION Task Force Plans
American forces had been back on the Driniumor since 13 July and the Driniumor line had been restored from Afua to the coast by evening on the 18th. Only four days later, the PERSECUTION Covering Force had found it necessary to give up a portion of the restored line. Even before this second retreat, General Hall had again considered strengthening the units along the Driniumor, a step made possible when, on 20 July, elements of the 43rd Infantry Division began arriving at Aitape. General Hall decided that he could employ the fresh units to stabilize the situation in the Afua area and to stop Japanese attempts to seize control of the Afua-Palauru trail.
[N7-29 On 22 July Private Donald R. Lobaugh of Company I, 127th Infantry, succeeded, at the cost of his life, in knocking out a Japanese machine gun nest which held up the withdrawal of the Company I platoon that had been forced back toward the command post, an action for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The platoon had spent the night of 21-22 July on an isolated perimeter, surrounded by enemy units.]
At first General Hall planned to move the 112th Cavalry west from Afua to new positions astride the Afua-Palauru trail about midway between the Driniumor and X-ray Rivers. The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 127th Infantry, were then to move to the Driniumor from their recently established patrol base on the East Branch of Koronal Creek, join the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, on the river, and take over all of South Force’s Driniumor defenses. The 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry, still in reserve at Blue Beach, was to join the rest of its regiment on the Driniumor while one battalion of the 169th Infantry, 43rd Division, was to move to Palauru to provide additional outer security southwest of the airfield main line of resistance. The remainder of the 43rd Division, upon its arrival at Blue Beach, was to man defenses along the main line of resistance or stand by in task force reserve.[N7-30]
These plans were never realized. First, it was discovered that the 169th Infantry had brought to Aitape many unserviceable or badly worn automatic weapons and mortars. Then it was found that days would be required to unload many of the regiment’s crew-served weapons. The unit had not been combat loaded, since it and the rest of the division had moved forward from New Zealand expecting to stop at Aitape only for staging, and not for combat with the PERSECUTION Task Force. [N7-31] Some replacements for unserviceable weapons could be found in limited stocks at Aitape, but the rest had to await shipment from Services of Supply bases in eastern New Guinea.
The condition of the 169th Infantry’s weapons, combined with the delays in unloading the regiment, limited that unit’s usefulness. General Hall, who deemed the immediate dispatch of one battalion to Palauru to be urgently necessary, therefore sent the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry, to that village, where it arrived on the afternoon of 21 July. The 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry (first unit of the 43rd Division to arrive at Aitape), was sent to Anamo the same day and on the 22nd had moved to the right flank of the two 124th Infantry Battalions already on the Driniumor. [N7-32]
[N7-30 PTF G-3 Jnl, 19-21 Jul 44; PTF FO 9, 20 Jul 44, in PTF G-3 Jnl, 19-21 Jul 44.]
[N7-31 43rd Div MO 16, 17 Jun 44, in 43rd Div Opns Rpt Aitape; Interv, author with Major Joseph L. Manz, ex-Adj, 169th Infantry, 11 May 48, copy in OCMH files; Interv, author with Gen Hall, 27 Mar. 47.]
[N7-32 PTF G-3 Jnl, 19-21 Jul 44; Interv, author with Gen Hall, 27 Mar 47. From internal evidence in task force documents, it appears that the 2nd Battalion, 169th Infantry, was originally moved to Anamo as reserve for the PERSECUTION Covering Force. General Gill moved it into the line, still without some of its crew-served weapons, possibly to strengthen the 124th Infantry’s two battalions with the leaven of a more experienced unit. The 169th Infantry’s battalion had had a good deal of combat in the South Pacific, while the 124th Infantry was in its first combat.]
[N7-33 PCF Fragmentary FO, no number, 22 Jul 44, in PGF G-3 Jnl, 27-31 Jul 44; PTF G-3 Jnl, 21-26 Jul 44. The original plans for the employment of the 127th Infantry were never formally revoked but seem to have died a natural death after it proved impracticable to move the 112th Cavalry away from the Driniumor. Plans for the movement of the 127th Infantry’s two battalions were drawn up by General Cunningham and Colonel Howe (the commander of the 127th Infantry) during the afternoon of 22 July. Colonel Howe, with a small escort, made his way overland through enemy-infested territory from the East Branch patrol base to South Force headquarters during the morning of the 22nd.]
While these dispositions were being effected, Japanese activity in the Afua area so increased that General Hall decided that it would be unwise to move the 112th Cavalry away from the Driniumor. Instead, he now ordered the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 127th Infantry, to move southwest from their East Branch patrol bases to strengthen South Force and relieve Troop C, 112th Cavalry.33 The 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, left its East Branch base at 0745 on 23 July and moved directly eastward through dense jungle to the lines of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry. Then the unit turned south and about 1530 reached the South Force command post area at the banana patch.
The battalion’s arrival was welcome and timely. Troop E, 112th Cavalry, had been attempting all day to move south from the command post to relieve Troop C, which was still cut off. But Troop E had met with little success and was pushed back by increasingly aggressive Japanese units which now threatened to attack the South Force command post, capture the dropping ground, and overrun the entire right flank of the PERSECUTION Covering Force.[N7-34]
The 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, crossed to the right bank of East Branch about 0800 on the 23rd and struck southeast toward the Afua-Palauru trail, passing through many recently abandoned Japanese bivouacs. In midmorning the battalion found a narrow track leading toward Kwamagnirk and at 1200 the unit was atop a low ridge just south of that village, which had been obliterated by artillery and mortar fire. The 2nd Battalion was now almost within view of Troop C’s isolated perimeter and had attained an apparently excellent position from which to launch a counterattack to relieve the cavalry unit.[N7-35]
[N7-34 127th Inf Jnl file, 10-31 Jul 44; 112th Cav Opns Rpt Aitape, pp. 9-10; 112th Cav Opns and Int Diary Aitape; PTF G-3 Jnl, 21-26 Jul 44.]
[N7-35 127th Inf Jnl file, 10-31 Jul 44; 2nd Bn 127th Inf, 28 Jun-25 Aug 44. Kwamagnirk was originally a hamlet of five or six native huts. It and two other even smaller settlements in the same area had been so pounded by artillery and mortar fire that its exact location was and is impossible to determine, but it is assumed to be in the position depicted on the 1:63, 360 map used by the PERSECUTION Task and Covering Forces.]
Source: Approach to the Philippines: BY; Robert Ross Smith (United States Army Center of Military History)