The Japanese at Wakde-Sarmi Japanese Plans for Western New Guinea, April-May 1944: When in late 1943 and early 1944 the Japanese had withdrawn their strategic main line of resistance westward to Wakde-Sarmi, Lt. General Fusataro Teshima’s 2nd Army had been ordered to hold that area at all costs, employing for this purpose the 36th Division, less the 222nd Infantry on Biak Island. But with the loss of Hollandia in April, Wakde-Sarmi had become an exposed salient without protection from the east, north, or south. The next base westward was 200-mile-distant Biak Island, only partially developed. With the Wakde-Sarmi area no longer defensible, Imperial General Headquarters on 2 May informed the 2nd Area Army that the strategic main line of resistance in the New Guinea area was to be withdrawn to the line Biak-Manokwari.
On 2 May it probably appeared to Imperial General Headquarters that this new line might be held for some time. The 32nd and 35th Divisions (the latter minus the 219th Infantry, reinforced, sent to the Palaus) had been dispatched from China to western New Guinea in mid-April and, at the time of their sailing, it seemed probable that they had a good chance to arrive safely at their destinations. But from the beginning, bad luck dogged the path of the Takeichi Convoy, as the two-division lift was called. One regimental combat team of the 32nd Division was practically wiped out when the ship carrying it was sunk in the South China Sea by an American submarine on 26 April. The remaining ships stopped at Manila, in the Philippines, before sailing on for Halmahera and western New Guinea.
The Takeichi Convoy suffered further disasters on 6 May, when three more ships were sunk by American submarines off Manado in the Celebes. These losses left the 32nd Division with but two infantry regiments (one of which lacked a battalion) and about one half its normal artillery. The 35th Division (exclusive of the units in the Palaus) was reduced to four complete infantry battalions and little more than a single battery of division artillery.
After the Takeichi Convoy disasters, Lieutenant General Korechika Anami, commanding the series of redisposition’s for western New Guinea. He suggested that the 219th Infantry be brought from the Palaus to Biak and that another regiment of the 35th Division be dispatched from Halmahera, where its remnants had finally landed, to New Guinea. General Anami also had some plan to send one regiment of the 32nd Division to Biak to reinforce the 222nd Infantry or at least to move the division to the Vogelkop Peninsula. He also proposed that the 2nd Amphibious Brigade, a recently organized unit trained for small-boat transportation and amphibious warfare, be moved from the Philippines to Manokwari or Biak.
General Anami’s plans were overambitious, for, as Imperial General Headquarters well knew, shipping simply was not available to undertake all the redispositions he had suggested. Moreover, Imperial General Headquarters was convinced that it would be foolhardy to risk any large ships forward of Sorong. The high command therefore approved only the concentration of the 35th Division at Sorong, which was accomplished by the end of May. Higher headquarters also decided to keep the 32nd Division at Halmahera and reorganize it there.
Meanwhile, Allied Air Forces bombers and long-range fighters, based on the newly won Hollandia fields, had begun to appear over Wakde, Sarmi, Biak, Noemfoor, and Manokwari in such large numbers that the Japanese found it next to impossible to use those bases for air operations or supply storage. Even Sorong, the Japanese knew full well, was within range of Allied attack bombers from Hollandia. These Allied air operations, coupled with increasing Allied submarine activity, such as that which had caused the 6 May disaster to the Takeichi Convoy in waters which had previously been relatively safe for Japanese shipping, convinced Imperial General Headquarters that another strategic withdrawal was necessary.
Accordingly, on 9 May, the high command informed the 2nd Area Army that a new strategic main line of resistance was to be set up along the line Sorong-Halmahera. The new line represented a strategic withdrawal of nearly 600 miles from the Wakde-Sarmi area since March. Biak and Manokwari, forward of the new line, were to be held as long as possible as an outpost line of resistance. But the Wakde-Sarmi area forces were for all practical purposes written off as a loss and instructed to hold out as best they could. This high command attitude duplicated that taken earlier in the year when the Japanese had recognized that the 18th Army was irredeemably lost.
The Japanese garrison at Wakde-Sarmi was commanded by Lieutenant General Hachiro Tagami, who was also the commander of the 36th Division. That division had begun arriving in western New Guinea from North China in December 1943, and by mid-January 1944 the 223rd and 224th Infantry Regiments (less small detachments left at Manokwari or sent inland) had closed at Wakde-Sarmi and the 222nd Infantry had reached Biak Island. In addition to the organic units of the 36th Division, General Tagami had under his command in the Sarmi area some antiaircraft units and miscellaneous airdrome engineer, medical, and other service organizations, including men of naval guard detachments. The entire force in the Sarmi area was designated the Yuki Group.
Dispositions of the Yuki Group It will be recalled that when the Allies had landed at Hollandia, the 2nd Army had sent the Matsuyama Force (comprising the headquarters and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions (less two rifle companies) of the 224th Infantry and a battalion of 36th Division mountain artillery) toward Hollandia from Sarmi. This group, commanded by Colonel Soemon Matsuyama, the commanding officer of the 224th Infantry, was at Armopa, about half-way between Sarmi and Hollandia, when the Allies landed on the mainland opposite Wakde Island on 17 May. The 51st Field Road Construction Unit, which had been building roads and bridges for the Matsuyama Force, was also in the Armopa area.
Almost coincident with the departure of the Matsuyama Force for Hollandia, General Tagami divided the Wakde-Sarmi area into three defense sectors. The Right Sector Force was responsible for Wakde Island and for thirteen miles of coast line from Tementoe Creek west to the Woske River. Besides the Wakde Island garrison, the Right Sector Force comprised 300 men of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, under a Captain Saito, the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, and a five-gun battery of 75-mm. mountain artillery. It was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel Kato, also the commander of the airdrome engineers, and numbered (not counting the troops on Wakde) about 1,200 men. The bulk of the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, was also in the same area, but it was apparently engaged in moving supplies forward to the Matsuyama Force and was not under Colonel Kato’s control.
West of the Woske River was the area of the Central Sector Force, under Colonel Naoyasu Yoshino, also commanding officer of the 223rd Infantry. The sector ran from the Woske west about four and a half miles to Sawar Creek and included within its boundaries Sawar Drome. The principal combat forces comprised the 223rd Infantry, less the 2nd Battalion and the 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion. Other units were a battery of three 75-mm. mountain artillery guns, the 103rd Field Airdrome Construction Unit, some antiaircraft organizations, and possibly a platoon of light tanks. The strength of the Central Sector Force was approximately 2,500 men.
The Left Sector Force, also about 2,500 men strong, was responsible for a defense sector extending westward from Sawar Creek six and a half miles to Tevar Creek, which empties into the sea immediately west of Sarmi. Troops consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry (less two companies but with a company of the 1st Battalion attached), most of a battalion of 75-mm. mountain guns, a number of engineer units, and some antiaircraft artillery. The commander was Major General Shigeru Yamada, also the commander of the 4th Engineer Group, a headquarters which controlled the activities of many engineer and other service units in the area. The commander of the 223rd Infantry’s battalion was Captain Yoshio Toganae.
In addition to the three defensive sectors and the Matsuyama Force, there were a number of detached units operating under the Yuki Group. Some of these units patrolled the coast far west of Sarmi, while others were stationed at points deep inland. Service troops not specifically assigned to the defensive sectors were concentrated for the most part near Sarmi or bivouacked along the banks of the Orai River, which entered the ocean about two miles east of Sarmi.
The total Japanese troop strength in the Sarmi area, including the temporarily absent Matsuyama Force, was about 11,000 men. Of these, a little more than half were trained and effective combat troops. The most accurate Allied estimates made prior to 17 May accounted for a total of 6,500 Japanese, of whom about 4,000 were thought to be combat troops.
Reactions to the Allied Landings After the Allied landings, the first action taken by General Tagami was to instruct the Matsuyama Force to retrace its steps to Sarmi. This order was issued on 17 May, but for the next two days the general took no other decisive steps. He had lost about 250 men killed and a like number wounded before 17 May as a result of Allied air action. Operations on the 17th had caused many more casualties and had created a great deal of confusion. On that day, troops of the Right Sector Force in the Toem-Arare area fled beyond the Tor River and Tementoe Creek. On a hill near Maffin Drome, General Tagami could but sit helplessly by and watch as his 800-man garrison on Wakde Island was annihilated. Continued Allied air and naval bombardments added to his casualties, and the Yuki Group probably lost over 1,000 men from the 17th through the 20th of May. General Tagami’s food and ammunition supply, already low, was being destroyed by Allied naval and air operations and by such shore-based artillery fire as the TORNADO Task Force was able to bring to bear on his storage dumps.
His situation was anything but enviable. On 19 May the 2nd Army ordered him to attack. General Tagami planned a pincers movement. The Matsuyama Force was ordered to concentrate at Masi-masi, a coastal village about four and a half miles east of Tementoe Creek, and to prepare to attack the Allied positions at Toem. On the west flank, the Central Sector Force was reorganized. The service troops were placed under the command of a Captain Fujimura while the combat elements (two battalions of the 223rd Infantry with supporting artillery) were assigned to Colonel Yoshino for offensive operations. The new combat organization, designated the Yoshino Force, was to cross the Tor at the confluence of that river and the Foein (a point about four miles upstream) during the night of 22-23 May. From the ford, the force was to attack the Toem area from the south and southwest. Simultaneously, the Matsuyama Force was to attack from the east. The double envelopment was set for the night of 25-26 May.
While the two arms of the pincers were moving into position, the reorganizing Right Sector Force assembled along the west bank of the Tor River to prevent Allied advances toward the Maffin and Sawar airdromes. The rest of the combat troops and armed service personnel that General Tagami was able to muster he organized as a new battle force to which he gave the confusing title Yuki Group, a name which by now apparently bore three connotations—the new force, the entire garrison of the Sarmi area, and the 36th Division. The nucleus of the new Yuki Group was probably the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry,11 which was reinforced by parts of various units from the Left and Central Sector Forces. The Yuki Group was to move into the hills south and southeast of Maffin Drome to defend that area in cooperation with the Right Sector Force, to which was also temporarily attached the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry. Within a few days the TORNADO Task Force was to be put on the defensive by the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces. But before that happened, one part of the task force was to encounter the well-prepared and skillfully manned defenses of the new Yuki Group and the Right Sector Force.
[NOTE: There is some confusion as to whether the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry, was initially assigned to the new Yuki Group or to the Yoshino Force. In any case it did not join the Yoshino Force during the offensive phase of Japanese operations in the Sarmi area. The name Central Sector Force was retained by Captain Fujimura’s organization of service troops.]
The 158th Infantry against Lone Tree Hill As they awaited the outcome of the battle for Wakde Island, TORNADO Task Force units on the mainland had restricted combat operations to patrolling. Engineers had continued construction and road improvement, and the D plus 1 convoy had arrived and had been unloaded without incident. The 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, sent patrols across Tementoe Creek on the east flank without finding any signs of organized enemy units. The 3rd Battalion, on the west flank, was ready to move across the Tor River to expand the initial beachhead and discover enemy intentions.
Preliminaries to a Mainland Campaign
Since there was a possibility that strong enemy forces might oppose an advance west of the Tor, General Doe, who did not believe it prudent to commit his small task force to more than one offensive at a time, postponed movement across the Tor until the capture of Wakde Island was assured. Late on the afternoon of 18 May, when it appeared to the task force commander that the situation on Wakde was well in hand, he gave the 3rd Battalion permission to push patrols to the west side of the river, but before dark there was only time for one platoon to cross. That unit established a bridgehead on the west bank in preparation for a crossing by the rest of the battalion.
On the 19th, 3rd Battalion patrols found evidence that the Japanese intended to hold the ground west of the river. Two organized and well-armed enemy patrols were encountered near Maffin No. 1, a native village on the beach about 3,000 yards beyond the Tor, and another enemy patrol was located at Maffin No. 2, a hamlet about 2,500 yards upstream. The next day a Japanese infantry force supported by mortars and machine guns launched a series of small attacks against the 3rd Battalion’s bridgehead but failed to dislodge the Company I platoon which was holding the river crossing. Intermittent Japanese machine gun and mortar fire continued throughout the 20th, and three rifle platoons of Company K were sent across the river to relieve the Company I unit. There was a threat of more serious fighting. ALAMO Force, on the basis of new, special intelligence, radioed to the TORNADO Task Force that the Japanese were planning a major counterattack against the Toem-Arare beachhead.
The night of 20-21 May passed quietly, but about midmorning on the 21st the 3rd Battalion’s positions at the mouth of the Tor were bombarded by large-caliber mortar or high-angle artillery fire. The battalion was alerted to expect an enemy attack, but no assault materialized. The remainder of the day was therefore spent in strengthening defenses, while at the Arare area the time was devoted to reorganizing and re-equipping the various 163rd Infantry units which had by now returned to the mainland from Wakde, Insoemanai, Liki, and Niroemoar Islands.
Early on the morning of 21 May the convoy bearing the 158th Regimental Combat Team, ALAMO Force Reserve, for the Wakde-Biak operation arrived off Toem. The 158th Infantry went into bivouac near Arare, while the combat team’s 147th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) quickly set up its guns near the same village to reinforce the 191st Field Artillery Group’s fire on targets west and south of the bridgehead across the Tor River.
Almost coincident with the arrival of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, the mission of the TORNADO Task Force was enlarged. Originally the task force had been charged only with the seizure of Wakde Island and the immediately adjacent mainland area. These tasks had been accomplished by 22 May, but on the same date General Krueger changed the mission and assigned a new one which was reminiscent of the original concept of the Wakde-Sarmi operation. General Krueger now felt that Wakde Island would not be secure until more information concerning Japanese intentions could be obtained. Furthermore, he believed that the arrival of the 158th Regimental Combat Team would allow the task force to mount an offensive which would break up the known Japanese attack plans and would place the enemy on the defensive.
[n10-14 The Provisional Groupment on Insoemanai had been disbanded on 19 May and its troops either returned to the mainland or sent to Wakde. Liki and Niroemoar had been captured according to plan by Companies E and I on 19 May. The two companies had been transported to the objectives by two APD’s and two LCT’s, protected by DD’s. The islands proved to be unoccupied by the Japanese and the Fifth Air Force radar detachments were immediately set up. The only casualty was the native chieftain of Liki, who was wounded by the pre-assault naval bombardment. Detachments of the 163rd Infantry were left on both islands to protect the radar installations. TTF G-3 Jnl, 6-25 May 44; 163rd Inf Jnl, 13-30 May 44.]
[n10-15 The unit reached the area a day ahead of schedule, thereby causing some confusion. The beaches were not ready to receive the troops and supplies, and some of the ships, without awaiting instructions from task force headquarters, started unloading over the wrong beaches. TTF G-3 Jnl, 6-25 May 44.]
Accordingly, he ordered the TORNADO Task Force to institute a vigorous overland drive toward Sarmi, sixteen miles west of the Tor River. This decision, based upon the scanty, incomplete information concerning Japanese strength and dispositions available to General Krueger at the time, was destined to precipitate a protracted and bitter fight. The Japanese had no intention of abandoning Sarmi and the two airstrips between the town and the Tor without a desperate struggle. The fighting was not, however, to be carried out under the direction of General Doe or by the 163rd Regimental Combat Team. The task force commander decided to use the 158th Infantry to start the westward drive which ALAMO Force had ordered, and elements of the recently arrived regiment began relieving the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, at the mouth of the Tor River on 23 May.
Meanwhile the 41st Division, scheduled to invade Biak Island on 27 May, had found that it needed another general officer for that operation. General Doe, whose administrative assignment was assistant commander of the 41st Division, was the logical choice to fill the division’s command requirement. Accordingly, on 25 May, he left the Wakde area and his place as commander of the TORNADO Task Force was taken by Brigadier General Edwin D. Patrick.
The 158th Regimental Combat Team was organized on 11 May 1944 at Finschhafen in Australian New Guinea. At that time its component parts were the 158th Infantry Regiment, the 147th Field Artillery Battalion, the 506th Medical Collecting Company, and the 1st Platoon, 637th Medical Clearing Company. Other units were assigned to the combat team from time to time during its combat operations. In the Wakde-Sarmi area the combat team commander was General Patrick and the commander of the 158th Infantry was initially Colonel J. Prugh Herndon.
West to the Tirfoam River
On the morning of 23 May Company L, 158th Infantry, began advancing westward from the Tor River bridgehead. Plans for the day were to complete the relief of the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, extend the bridgehead to the west, and establish a road block at Maffin No. 1. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, was to cross the Tor during the day and follow Company L to Maffin No. 1. At that village the battalion was to assemble and prepare to attack westward toward Sarmi at daylight on 24 May. This attack was to be supported by the remainder of the 158th Infantry, which was scheduled to move across the Tor on the 24th and 25th.
During the 23rd the advance of Company L met increasingly strong resistance. Japanese defenses were centered around three small, brush-bordered lakes near the beach about 1,800 yards west of the Tor. The rest of the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, across the Tor before 1130, quickly moved forward to assist Company L, which had been pinned down along the main coastal track west of the lakes by Japanese machine gun and rifle fire. Company K pushed up to the left flank of Company L, while Company I moved toward L’s rear. With the aid of mortar fire from the 81-mm. weapons of Company M, Companies K and L were able to push gradually forward during the afternoon, advancing on a front about 400 yards wide.
Finding that the attack was not progressing as rapidly as he had expected, Colonel Herndon ordered his 1st Battalion across the Tor. The 1st Battalion did not start moving until 1400 and could not get far enough forward to join the attack before dark. Tanks would probably have been of great help to the 3rd Battalion, but by the time the mediums of the 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, moved across the Tor, the forward infantry troops had already halted for the night.
Companies L and K dug in for the night across the main coastal track at a point about 400 yards east of Maffin No. 1. Here the road swung away from the beach, and Company L extended the perimeter about 500 yards north to the shore of Maffin Bay. Company I was in position along the road east of Companies L and K. The 1st Battalion bivouacked for the night on the west bank of the Tor at the river’s mouth. The 3rd Battalion had lost 8 men killed, 12 wounded, and 1 missing during the day, while 6 Japanese had been killed and 1 captured. Plans for the morrow were to have the battalion continue the attack westward.
Shortly after 0700 on the 24th, the 81-mm. mortars of Company M laid down a brief concentration in front of Companies K and L, and at 0715 the 147th and 218th Field Artillery Battalions began a fifteen-minute support bombardment. When a few artillery shells fell on Company L, the 3rd Battalion commander thought that his own artillery was falling short, and he had the fire stopped quickly. Actually, this was Japanese artillery fire. The infantry unit was mistaking Japanese artillery for its own, a failing not uncommon with troops not previously subjected to enemy artillery fire. Despite the lack of extended artillery support, Companies K and L moved out as planned at 0730. Company L, on the right, advanced along the beach encountering only scattered rifle fire but Company K, on the main road, had hardly started when Japanese machine gun and rifle fire from concealed positions in a wooded area on the left front halted its advance. Unable to gain any ground, Company K called for tank support. Two tanks, together with a flame-thrower detachment from Company B of the 27th Engineers, arrived at Company K’s lines about 1000.
With the flame throwers and tanks blasting the way, the infantrymen overran the Japanese defenses, killing ten of the enemy and capturing two machine guns. The remainder of the Japanese force, probably originally some forty men strong, disappeared into the jungle south of the road, whence scattered rifle fire continued to harass Company K. Company L reached the outskirts of Maffin No. 1 about 1400. The movement had been slow, not as a result of Japanese opposition but because the battalion commander did not believe it prudent for Company L to advance far beyond Company K. Deploying to find a crossing over the Tirfoam River, just west of Maffin No. 1, Company L was subjected to intense machine gun fire from enemy positions on the west bank. The company then moved southwest away from the beach toward the main road and up the Tirfoam. This maneuver was greeted with new outbursts of machine gun fire from Japanese positions on both sides of the river. The company commander called for tank support, and the 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, sent four of its mediums forward.
As the tanks moved into position elements of the Right Sector Force, comprising Captain Saito’s men of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, and a company of the 223rd Infantry, charged out of the jungle. The Japanese were under Colonel Kato, Right Sector Force commander, who was killed as he personally led a small detachment against the American tanks. The enemy was quickly thrown back with heavy losses by the combined fire of the four tanks and Company L’s riflemen and machine gunners. However, under cover of their infantry attack, the Japanese had dragged a 37-mm. antitank gun forward out of the jungle. As the enemy infantrymen withdrew to the southwest after the death of Colonel Kato, the antitank gun opened fire. It was soon destroyed and its crew killed, but not before three of the American tanks had been so damaged that they had to be withdrawn for repairs.
The separate actions of Companies L and K during the morning had created a gap between those two units, and the battalion commander sent Company I forward to fill the Void. The reinforcing company moved west along the road to Company K’s right rear. The latter had been unable to advance because of continued enemy fire from its left flank, and, therefore, shortly after 1200, Colonel Herndon ordered the 1st Battalion forward. The 1st was to bypass opposition on Company K’s left by a deep envelopment to the south across the Tirfoam. Once beyond the river the battalion was to push northwest to a jetty which projected into Maffin Bay about 600 yards west of the Tirfoam’s mouth.
Company A started the flanking maneuver about 1330 but was soon halted by machine gun and rifle fire from dense jungle south of the main road. Company C was ordered to reinforce Company A. However, by the time Company C got into position to continue the attack, darkness was approaching and the battalion commander stopped the flanking maneuver for the night. Meanwhile, Company K, upon the arrival of Company A at its left flank, had extended its right front to Maffin No. 1, establishing contact there with Companies L and I. Company L had sent patrols across the Tirfoam late in the afternoon, but these parties were withdrawn before dark and the company began setting up night defenses about 200 yards east of the river.
For the night Company L’s right flank rested on the beach, and the unit’s left was tied into Company Fs perimeter farther inland. To the left rear of Company I was Company K, with its lines stretching across the coastal track. Companies A and C were south of the road on K’s left. Company B had moved forward late in the day to rein-force the 3rd Battalion’s three rifle companies and was apparently located for the night near Companies I and L.
Casualties during the day had been heavy—28 men were killed and 75 wounded. Many others, including the commander of Company I, had dropped from heat exhaustion and had to be evacuated. The officer strength of Company I was reduced to two. Japanese casualties were undoubtedly higher, especially as a result of the Right Sector Force’s suicidal attacks against the four American tanks. Colonel Kato’s place as Right Sector Force commander was taken by Major Yasake Matsuoka, formerly a battalion commander of the 233rd Infantry, who was ordered to continue to defend the approaches to Maffin Strip.
The sacrifices of the Right Sector Force had not been in vain. Under cover of the unit’s holding action the Yoshino Force continued its wide envelopment south of the 158th Infantry toward Toem and Arare, a maneuver of which the TORNADO Task Force was as yet unaware. At the same time the delaying action of the Right Sector Force gave the Yuki Group ample time to move into the hills south and east of Maffin Strip. The 158th Infantry, ordered to continue the advance on the 25th, was soon to engage the Yuki Group and the remnants of the Right Sector Force, which had withdrawn south into the jungle and west into hills beyond the Tirfoam.
Discovering the Japanese Defenses Action on the 25th started with the withdrawal of the 158th Infantry’s forward units to a point 350 yards east of the Tirfoam, while artillery and mortar concentrations were laid on the banks of the river and on suspected enemy defenses west of the stream. Under cover of these fires the 1st Battalion relieved the 3rd, and Company E was sent forward to reinforce the left of the 1st Battalion. The 3rd Battalion reverted to regimental reserve.
Patrols of the 1st Battalion moved out about 0830, and the main body followed fifteen minutes later. The artillery and mortar fire had been effective. Japanese defenses east of the Tirfoam, strongly held the previous day, were found to be destroyed or abandoned. With only scattered rifle fire opposing its movement, the 1st Battalion reached its initial objective—a bridge which crossed the Tirfoam about 200 yards inland—at 0915. Patrols moved north and south along the east bank, dispersing enemy stragglers and securing Maffin No. 1. At 0930 Colonel Herndon decided to send the battalion across the river. The next objective was the jetty 600 yards to the west.
Preparatory to movement across the Tirfoam, the 1st Battalion’s machine guns and 60-mm. mortars (the latter attempting to get tree bursts) sprayed a heavily wooded area just west of the bridge. Patrols crossing the river shortly after 0930 reported only sporadic rifle fire which did not seem to represent an organized defense, and Companies B and C crossed the bridge without incident about 1115. Company E followed and deployed on the left flank of the 1st Battalion.
By noon Company B had reached the jetty. There the 1st Battalion paused to reorganize and lunch while the 2nd Battalion crossed the Tirfoam. By 1300 both battalions had been fed and were ready to push onward. Colonel Herndon set the next objective as Lone Tree Hill, a terrain feature which rose from the flat coastal plain about 2,000 yards west of the jetty.
Lone Tree Hill had been named for a single tree which was depicted on its crest by the map then employed by TORNADO Task Force. Actually, the hill’s coral mass was covered with dense rain forest and jungle undergrowth. Lone Tree Hill was about 175 feet high, 1,200 yards long north to south, and 1,100 yards wide east to west.
The north side dropped steeply to a rocky shore on Maffin Bay. The hill’s eastern slope was fronted by a short, violently twisting stream which was promptly dubbed the “Snaky River” by the 158th Infantry. The main road curved away from the beach to pass south of the Snaky River and Lone Tree Hill through a narrow defile. The southern side of this defile was formed by two noses of Mt. Saksin, a terrain feature about 100 feet higher than Lone Tree Hill.
The more westerly of these noses was named “Hill 225” after its height in feet. No name was given to the eastern ridge line, which pointed toward Lone Tree Hill from the southeast. There was a small native village at the eastern entrance to the defile and another at the pass’s western outlet.
Mt. Saksin was a name given to an indefinitely outlined hill mass which forms the northern extremity of the Irier Mountains, extending inland from the coast at Lone Tree Hill. The name Saksin was specifically applied to a prominent peak about 2,000 yards due south of Lone Tree. On or about 23 May General Tagami had moved his headquarters into the Mt. Saksin area, apparently on the southwest side of the central peak. As the 158th Infantry pushed forward on the 24th, elements of the Yuki Group and Right Sector Force moved onto Hill 225 and Lone Tree Hill. On these two terrain features the Japanese began constructing hasty defensive positions. These, together with the natural terrain barriers in the area, effectively guarded the land approaches to Maffin Strip, which lay less than 1,000 yards west of Lone Tree Hill.25 A sea approach was at least temporarily out of the question, since the TORNADO Task Force did not have sufficient landing craft to execute and support such a maneuver. Finally, it was not considered probable at task force headquarters that the Japanese land defenses of the Maffin Strip area would be strongly held. On the other hand, Colonel Herndon, as the result of patrol reports, did believe that a large Japanese force might be on Hill 225 or Mt. Saksin’s eastern nose.
About 1500 on 25 May, Companies B and C had reached a point on the main road a few yards below the southernmost bend of the Snaky River. There, enemy machine gun fire from the native village at the eastern entrance to the defile between Lone Tree Hill and the two noses of Mt. Saksin halted the advance. As the forward troops deployed to find cover from the Japanese fire, they were subjected to an intermittent artillery bombardment, which the battalion thought was coming from TORNADO Task Force weapons emplaced east of the Tor River; but no American artillery unit was placing fire within 1,000 yards of the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, at the time. For a second time part of the regiment was mistaking Japanese artillery fire for its own.
General Patrick, who had succeeded to the command of the TORNADO Task Force during the morning, was informed of the opposition encountered by the 1st Battalion. He ordered the advance stopped for the night and instructed the 158th Infantry to remain well east of the Snaky River so that American artillery could register on the native village and the defile without endangering the forward troops. Harassed by a few artillery shells, which by now had been recognized as originating from Japanese 70-mm. or 75-mm. weapons, the 1st Battalion pulled back about 500 yards east of the Snaky. A perimeter was set up with the battalion’s left resting on the road and its right on the beach. The 2nd Battalion established a series of company perimeters back along the road to the east. Casualties for the day had been 22 men killed and 26 wounded, almost all in the 1st Battalion, while about 50 Japanese had been killed.
When the attack orders for the day had been issued, it had been hoped that the 1st Battalion could reach the top of Lone Tree Hill before nightfall. Since the unexpectedly strong enemy opposition had prevented the realization of this hope, plans were made to continue the advance westward on the 26th. The ultimate objective was the east bank of the Woske River, 2,000 yards west of Lone Tree Hill, and the intermediate objective was the native village at the eastern entrance to the defile. The advance was to be preceded by naval shelling of the northern slopes of Lone Tree Hill from 0630 to 0700. A fifteen-minute artillery preparation was also to precede the advance, and the infantry was to start moving at 0845.
On the morning of the 26th the naval fire started ten minutes late. Two destroyers lying offshore shelled the northern slopes of Lone Tree Hill and the Maffin Bay area, firing on known or suspected enemy defensive positions and assembly points. After a twenty-minute bombardment the two support vessels withdrew. Artillery fire did not begin until 0830. The time lag gave the Japanese ample opportunity to prepare for the infantry attack which had been heralded by the destroyer fire. The artillery, aiming its shells into the defile and against the eastern slopes of Lone Tree Hill, ceased firing about 0845. A few moments later the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, Company B again leading, started moving westward. The infantry’s line of departure was nearly 1,000 yards east of the village at the southeast foot of Lone Tree Hill, and the advance had to be slow because the road ran through heavily jungled terrain. The enemy therefore had sufficient time to reoccupy positions in the defile and on Lone Tree Hill which might have been vacated during the American artillery barrage. The value of both the naval and artillery bombardment had been lost.
Company B moved forward to the point at which it had been held up the previous afternoon and was again stopped—this time by fire from the southeastern corner of Lone Tree Hill. Company D’s heavy machine guns were brought up to spray a densely wooded area in front of the point rifle platoon. The fire dispersed the Japanese riflemen, and Company B moved forward again. Less than 100 yards of ground had been gained when the company again encountered machine gun and mortar fire originating in the native village.
Company A, initially off the road to the right rear of Company B, turned north to the mouth of the Snaky River. One platoon crossed at the river mouth at 1030 but was quickly forced back to the east bank by Japanese machine gun fire from the rocky beach below the north face of Lone Tree Hill. Artillery support was called for, supplied, and proved successful in stopping the enemy fire, and about 1350 all Company A crossed the Snaky. Orders were to move down the west side of that stream to establish contact with Company B and to send one platoon up the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill to probe enemy positions.
Other efforts were meanwhile being made to scatter the Japanese opposing Company B. Company E (less a platoon which was patrolling on Mt. Saksin) moved up to the left flank of Company B and on the south side of the main road. The combined efforts of the two rifle companies proved insufficient to dislodge the Japanese from their positions at the eastern entrance to the defile, and the enemy fire forced the American units to seek cover. Company F was therefore ordered to pass through B’s left flank and proceed to Hill 225 to take the Japanese positions from the rear.
Company F’s attack could not be started before dark and Company A, moving up the west side of the Snaky, was unable to relieve much of the pressure on Company B. Finally, Company A was forced for a second time to withdraw to the east bank of the river as a result of enemy fire from Lone Tree Hill. Tanks would have been of great help to Company B, but the bridge over the Tirfoam could not bear their weight, and the road west of the stream was in such disrepair that tanks probably could not have negotiated it.
Casualties on the 26th had been lighter—only 6 men were killed and 10 wounded—while an estimated 35 Japanese had been killed. To prevent further casualties from being inflicted by Japanese patrols which were expected to roam around the flanks of the forward elements during the night, a semicircular perimeter was established. Company B anchored its right flank near the eastern edge of the native village and extended its lines southwest across the road for a distance of about 100 yards. Company E refused the south flank by stretching the line southeast from B’s left, 500 yards up the slope of Mt. Saksin’s eastern nose. Company A tied its left into B’s right and extended the defense northeast about 300 yards from the road to a large bend in the Snaky River. The remainder of the 1st and 2nd Battalions was strung out along both sides of the main road to the rear of the three forward companies.
Operations during the day had secured less than 1,000 yards of ground in a westerly direction and about the same distance inland from the beach. However, the 158th Infantry had located and probed some of the principal Japanese defenses in the area—defenses which indicated that the Japanese guarding the land approaches to Maffin Strip were in greater strength than had been expected. Company B had discovered that the enemy was firmly dug in along both sides of the defile. A platoon of Company A had found Lone Tree Hill to be honeycombed with enemy defensive positions, especially on its northern and northeastern faces. The regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and a platoon of Company E patrolled in the vicinity of Mt. Saksin and Hill 225. The Company E platoon found many deserted Japanese positions along the eastern slopes of Mt. Saksin and on that hill’s eastern nose, but the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon had a less optimistic report. Probing into rugged, heavily forested terrain between the east nose and Hill 225, the platoon had been ambushed. Extricating itself with difficulty, it reported that the Japanese were dug in in great strength all over Hill 225.
Orders for the next day reflected a still prevailing notion at task force headquarters that the Japanese defenses were weak. The 1st Battalion was to push on through the defile and at the same time secure Lone Tree Hill. The 2nd Battalion was to clear Hill 225. Prior to the 26th, field artillery had been supporting the 158th Infantry from positions 8,000 to 10,000 yards to the east. Once the infantry had debouched from the western end of the defile, it would move into an area beyond the most effective range of artillery support. Therefore the 147th Field Artillery Battalion’s 105-mm. howitzers were displaced forward to Maffin No. 1 to support the advance of the 158th Infantry on the 27th.
At 0700 hours on 27 May two destroyers, firing on Lone Tree Hill and the Maffin Strip area, started scheduled fire support for the day’s advance. Artillery and infantry action on this morning was much more closely co-ordinated than on the previous day. The destroyer fire lasted until 0745, at which time the field artillery and all the 81-mm. mortars of the 158th Infantry laid concentrations on suspected and known enemy positions in the defile, on Lone Tree Hill, and on Hill 225. At 0830 Company F, moving around Company E on the south flank, started its attack. Behind close artillery support, apparently controlled by artillery liaison planes for the most part, Company F pushed up a terrain feature initially believed to be Hill 225. It was not discovered until late the next day that F Company was actually on the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin and about 700 yards east of its reported location.
Since artillery fire had knocked out two enemy machine gun nests which had been delaying the advance, patrols of Company F were able to reach the top of the eastern ridge. The rest of the company moved up the hill at 1000, encountering scattered rifle fire from enemy positions to the southwest. Company E, just before noon, arrived atop the same hill on F’s right. Company E had orders to secure the southern slopes of the defile between Hill 225 and Lone Tree Hill. Company B, still at the eastern entrance to the defile, was again unable to make any progress and during the morning was held up by machine gun and mortar fire from concealed enemy positions on the southern and southwestern slopes of Lone Tree Hill.
No sooner had some of these positions been eliminated by American artillery and mortar fire than Company B was subjected to enemy machine gun and mortar fire originating from the northeast side of Hill 225, the reported location of Companies E and F. Actually, the artillery fire had not been entirely effective, because it had not reached into deep draws or caves in which many of the Japanese weapons were emplaced. Company E, attempting to move down the northern slopes of the eastern ridge to Company B’s aid, was soon forced back by enemy rifle fire and infantry counterattacks from the west. At the same time small parties of Japanese, under cover of their own machine guns, started a series of minor counter-attacks against Company B. Company F did not become engaged in this action. Instead, the company dug in on the ridge it was holding and sent patrols to the south and west to probe Japanese defenses. It was soon discovered that the combination of rugged terrain and Japanese machine gun and rifle fire limited patrolling to a very small area.
North of Company B, Company A patrolled along the west bank of the Snaky River and on the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill during the morning and early afternoon. About 1630 the company moved in force up Lone Tree, finding the eastern slope of the hill to be unoccupied. Most of the fire that had harassed the company during the morning had apparently originated on the beach below the northern face of Lone Tree Hill. For the night the unit dug in at the crest of the hill. Again, little ground had been gained, although the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin and Lone Tree Hill had been at least partially occupied.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 158th Infantry had now been engaged in heavy combat for three days against an enemy force which was aggressive and clever on the defense. The combined Right Sector Force-Yuki Group troops were well led, taking every advantage of heavily forested terrain for cover and concealment, yet retaining their mobility. The Japanese were tried and trained troops, having had considerable experience in China and having been in the Sarmi area for over six months. The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, on the other hand, was in combat for the first time.
The 2nd and 3rd Battalions had been in combat on New Britain against lesser opposition and in different terrain, and both had undergone some reorganization and had received many untried replacements since. By evening on 27 May the 158th Infantry had lost almost 300 men killed, wounded, or evacuated as nonbattle casualties—the latter principally as a result of heat exhaustion. American artillery support had not been all that could be desired. Maps were so inaccurate that the artillery had difficulty finding designated targets, and it was impossible, even with the aid of spotting aircraft and forward observers, to lay fire into the enemy’s defile positions without endangering the forward troops. Finally, tank support had not been obtainable, much as it was needed by Company B, which was bearing the brunt of the defile warfare.
So important did Colonel Herndon now consider tank support that he secured permission to have two tanks brought forward to the beach at the mouth of the Snaky River. The tanks were to be transported by LCM’s (all of which were badly needed at the Arare-Toem beachhead and at Wakde Island for lightering purposes) to the mouth of the Snaky on the morning of the 28th and were to move south along the stream to aid the units trying to break through the defile.
Two rifle companies, one each from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, were assigned to the defile battle on the 28th. Two other rifle companies of the 1st Battalion were to advance over Lone Tree Hill and down its western slopes. The first objective of the latter units was the point at which the main road, after winding south around Lone Tree Hill, again reached the shores of Maffin Bay. This point was about 700 yards northwest of the hill crest and about 100 yards from the northeastern edge of Maffin Strip. In a simultaneous movement the 2nd Battalion (less one rifle company) was to move across Hill 225 to the western outlet of the defile. Thence the battalion was to strike north along the road to the eastern end of Maffin Strip toestablish contact with the 1st Battalion’s two companies.
This two-pronged attack was designed to seal off Lone Tree Hill and render Japanese positions on the hill untenable. At the same time, combined infantry-tank action was to clear the defile and open the main overland supply route to Maffin Strip. The road, which engineers had been repairing forward from the Tor for the last three days, would then be opened for traffic from the river to the airfield. The ultimate regimental objective was still the east bank of the Woske River.
On the 28th, after a well-timed preliminary artillery bombardment, Company C moved forward to the crest of Lone Tree Hill and joined Company A. The latter unit then attempted to move down the steep northern face of the hill to the rocky beach below. Japanese defenders in caves and crevices on this cliff like side stopped the attack before it was well under way. It was impossible to place fire on the Japanese positions from above, and Company A had to withdraw to the crest of Lone Tree. Company C, at midmorning, started moving in densely jungled, irregular terrain along the western slope of the hill, attacking generally to the north. About 1300 a Japanese patrol, coming out of a wooded area at the western base of the hill, fell upon Company C’s left flank. The American unit beat off this attack, principally by rifle fire, without too much difficulty, but as soon as the enemy party was dispersed Company C was pinned down by mortar and machine gun fire originating near the eastern edge of Maffin Strip. Elements of Company A then tried to move down the west side of the hill along a route south of Company C’s positions. This effort was also greeted with Japanese machine gun and rifle fire and was abandoned.
The two companies could now see Japanese movements to the southwest, movements which seemed to presage an imminent enemy attack in force against the west side of Lone Tree Hill. The terrain on the west side of Lone Tree was not well suited for defense. Moreover, both Company A and Company C were running low on water and ammunition and the 1st Battalion commander considered it probable that the terrain would prevent successful resupply efforts. He therefore ordered the two companies to withdraw to the line of the Snaky River. This maneuver began about 1600.
Meanwhile, south of Lone Tree Hill, Companies B and E had been making determined efforts to break through the defile. Patrols probing forward during the morning reported steadily increasing Japanese resistance on both sides of the pass. About noon further efforts were temporarily abandoned, while the heavy weapons of Company H and the 81-mm. mortars of Company D laid a new barrage into the Japanese positions. After this fire, B Company moved west along the road and Company E, attempting to clear ravines on the south side of the defile, followed along to B’s left rear. Company B could not get beyond the native village and the attack was unsuccessful. For the fourth or fifth time in three days the Japanese had thrown back an assault at the defile.
At 1145 Company E relieved Company B near the village. The latter unit was ordered to move to the beach at the west side of the Snaky River. There the company was to set up a defensive perimeter to protect an engineer platoon which was blasting out of the beach coral an approach for the two tanks scheduled to be unloaded there from LCM’s. While Company B was digging in at its new location it was subjected to heavy mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire from Japanese on the north face of Lone Tree Hill. At 1800 the company therefore withdrew to the east side of the river mouth. The engineer platoon withdrew from the Snaky River about the same time, but not before a tank approach had been completed on the beach east of the river mouth.
On the southern flank Company F had run into strong enemy opposition during the morning. In the afternoon the company discovered that it had not been on Hill 225, but that it was now in a difficult position in a ravine between that hill and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. When it was noticed during the afternoon that enemy troops on Hill 225 were maneuvering to attack, Company F withdrew up the western slopes of the eastern nose. The Japanese, forestalled in their attempt to trap Company F in the ravine, then turned their attention to Company E at the native village. An enemy force estimated to be fifty men strong moved from the southwest against Company E, which drove the Japanese back only after a sharp fire fight.
Colonel Herndon now felt that his forward positions were rapidly becoming untenable. The Japanese were apparently moving eastward and northward in some strength and the terrain west of the Snaky River made supply of the two forward battalions extremely difficult. The colonel therefore radioed to the task force commander that he intended to withdraw to the line of the Snaky River for the night. The 1st Battalion was to be on the north of the night’s defensive positions and the 2nd Battalion was to refuse the left flank by extending the lines south of the road along the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. Colonel Herndon also planned to relieve the 1st Battalion with the 3rd on the morrow. These plans were approved by General Patrick who, early the next morning, also ordered Colonel Herndon to cease offensive efforts.
The 158th Infantry Withdraws
On 27 May General Patrick had been informed by General Krueger that two battalions of the 163rd Infantry, which was still protecting the Toem-Arare beachhead, were soon to be shipped to Biak. At the same time General MacArthur’s headquarters and ALAMO Force were considering plans to stage a division in the Wakde-Sarmi area in preparation for operations farther to the west. The two headquarters decided that the 6th Infantry Division, which had recently completed jungle and amphibious training in eastern New Guinea, would be the most logical unit to send forward.
General Krueger knew that the 163rd Regimental Combat Team was scheduled to leave the Wakde-Sarmi area for Biak, but he did not want operations in the former region to be halted for lack of troops. He therefore recommended that a combat team of the 6th Division be dispatched to Wakde-Sarmi immediately, even without its artillery if leaving the latter out of the shipment would speed the movement of the infantry regiment.
Because of the danger of overextending his lines, General Patrick had already decided to halt the westward movement of the 158th Infantry. He felt that with a garrison of two regimental combat teams the fifteen mile-long perimeter which the TORNADO Task Force was occupying could be held. Before westward advance could be resumed, however, Japanese forces which were harassing the southern and eastern flanks of the Toem-Arare beachhead defenses would have to be dispersed. As a result of an attack by some 200 Japanese on Toem during the night of 27-28 May and because there were indications that the enemy was to make further assaults against the beachhead, the task force commander recommended that no elements of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team be shipped to Biak until after the arrival at Toem of a combat team of the 6th Division.
But on the morning of 29 May, General Krueger notified General Patrick that the two battalions of the 163rd Infantry would have to leave for Biak the next day. General Patrick considered that the one remaining infantry battalion of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team would not be sufficiently strong to hold the Toem-Arare beachhead area. He therefore ordered the 158th Infantry to send one of its battalions back across the Tor River.
On the morning of 29 May the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, relieved the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, at Arare. General Patrick ordered the rest of the 158th Infantry to improve its positions along the Snaky River and to defend that line until the arrival of a 6th Division regimental combat team on or about 4 June. The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, was replaced on the Snaky River line by the 3rd Battalion of the same regiment.
Early the same morning Company F of the 158th Infantry, holding an exposed position on the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, found itself surrounded by enemy patrols. The Japanese appeared to be maneuvering for an attack and Company F hurriedly withdrew. The unit had to fight its way back to the perimeter of Company G, which was located on the main road about 800 yards northeast of the eastern nose.
As a result of this action, and because the Japanese were continuing pressure against the 3rd Battalion’s Snaky River lines from both the south and west, Colonel Herndon felt that his river positions could not be held much longer. Worse still, from his point of view, his 1st Battalion had been withdrawn east of the Tor. Without this strength he believed his forces insufficient to hold the line at the Snaky and, at the same time, prevent the Japanese from outflanking his units to the south and cutting his line of communications back to the Toem-Arare beachhead area. Therefore, after consultation with his battalion commanders, he ordered the 2nd and 3rd Battalions to withdraw to the east bank of the Tirfoam River, 2,000 yards to the rear, and form a new defense line.
Just past 1500 Colonel Herndon informed General Patrick of the decision to redispose the forward area forces. At first General Patrick was not inclined to consent to this withdrawal, but upon reconsideration gave his approval. The movement began immediately, under continuing Japanese pressure from the south. About 1600 General Patrick arrived at Colonel Herndon’s command post, which by then had been moved away from the Tirfoam, where the new defense line was taking shape, to a point approximately 1,800 yards east of that stream. Shortly thereafter General Patrick reported to General Krueger: “Investigation convinced me that [the] withdrawal [was] unwarranted.” General Patrick relieved Colonel Herndon and placed in command of the 158th Infantry Colonel Earle O. Sandlin, who had recently arrived in the area and who had been acting as his chief of staff.
Meanwhile, under Colonel Herndon’s direction and in the face of continued harassing from Japanese on the south flank, the withdrawal had been completed without the loss of a single man or piece of equipment. Companies E, K, L, and M set up defenses along the east bank of the Tirfoam, with Company E echeloned slightly to the left rear of the other three. Within the perimeter were 3rd Battalion headquarters, the Cannon Company, and Company C, 27th Engineers, the latter about 900 yards east of the Tirfoam. The rest of the 158th Infantry maintained defenses back along the main road to the mouth of the Tor, where were located the 147th Field Artillery, Company I, and various medical units.
At the Tirfoam Company E had not completed digging in when it was subjected to heavy mortar and machine gun fire. The troops manned their weapons, but the Japanese withdrew without attacking. About midnight approximately fifty Japanese bypassed Company E and fell upon Company C, 27th Engineers. Colonel Herndon’s fears of attack along his line of communications had been well taken, for the Right Sector Force had begun flanking movements designed to recapture the entire Maffin Bay area. However, the combat engineers quickly proved their versatility by driving off the enemy force with rifle, carbine, and machine gun fire. Five of the engineers were killed. Enemy casualties could not be estimated since the Japanese removed their dead and wounded during the night.
The remainder of the night was more quiet, and the next morning the defenses along the Tirfoam were improved. There were a couple of minor attacks during the afternoon and desultory rifle and 70-mm. or 75-mm. artillery fire was directed against all American units still west of the Tor. The 147th Field Artillery Battalion, withdrawing to the east bank of the Tor late in the afternoon, was struck by some of this enemy artillery fire and lost one man killed.
Final Operations of the 158th Infantry While the new line along the Tirfoam was being developed on 30 May by the 158th Infantry, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 163rd Infantry, together with regimental headquarters, departed for Biak. The 2nd Battalion remained on the west bank of Tementoe Creek, which marked the eastern flank of the TORNADO Task Force, but it and the rest of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team were soon to follow the other battalions. Through 30 May, after which elements of the 163rd Infantry engaged in little activity in the area, the regiment had lost 46 men killed and 154 wounded. Other elements of the combat team lost 8 men killed, 10 wounded, and 1 missing.
Redisposition’s of the TORNADO Task Force
Upon the departure of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 163rd Infantry, many changes were made in the dispositions of the TORNADO Task Force until, by the end of the day, the task force was spread out over almost twelve miles of coast line between Tementoe Creek and the Tirfoam River. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 158th Infantry, and other attached or organic units held perimeters west of the Tor. Various field artillery units were emplaced at the east side of the Tor’s mouth. Task force headquarters was at Arare, close to the principal supply and ammunition dumps, and was protected by the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry. At no point did the lines of any task force elements extend inland as much as a mile from the beach.
At dusk there were twenty-one perimeters of varying sizes, strengths, and distances from each other. Antiaircraft units were especially spread out in an effort to secure the maximum possible protection against low-flying Japanese planes. The 40-mm. guns and some .50-caliber weapons of Batteries A and B, 202nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, were strung out in beach emplacements between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek. Between the task force headquarters perimeter at Arare and the position of Headquarters, 191st Field Artillery Group, near the mouth of the Tor, a distance of almost 5,000 yards, there were six separate antiaircraft gun emplacements. Only one of these perimeters, that at the mouth of the Unnamed River west of Arare, contained other than antiaircraft troops, and these were men of the Cannon Company, 163rd Infantry, and Battery A, 167th Field Artillery Battalion. The fifteen other perimeters included infantry positions or some engineer and artillery posts which were over 2,000 yards from the nearest infantry units. The perimeters east of the Tor were all-around defenses, and those west of the river were oriented principally toward the west, where most of the Japanese strength was apparently located. These widespread dispositions presented the Japanese with an opportunity to destroy all or parts of the TORNADO Task Force in detail.
Even while the 158th Infantry had been engaged in heavy fighting around Lone Tree Hill, the two arms of General Tagami’s planned double envelopment had been slowly closing in on the Toem-Arare area. Bypassing the 158th Infantry by moving along routes up to four miles inland, the Yoshino Force had crossed the Tor at the junction of the river with the Foein on the night of 25-26 May. On the 26th, leading elements of the Matsuyama Force, advancing from the east, had moved into position about two and a half miles south of Toem. About 200 men of the Matsuyama Force had attacked the positions of the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, near Toem during the night of 27-28 May and had killed two Americans and wounded fourteen others. Friendly fire during the confusion of the night action killed four other American soldiers.
The 1st Battalion killed about thirty Japanese by rifle and machine gun fire and hand grenades, and before dawn on the 28th the enemy had withdrawn southeastward. It was this attack, coupled with a suspicion that such assaults might be repeated in the near future, that had prompted General Patrick’s 28 May request that the 163rd Regimental Combat Team be retained in the Wakde area until a regiment of the 6th Division arrived. But, despite the fact that this request was disapproved and the bulk of the 163rd Infantry left his area on 30 May, it appears that General Patrick was not particularly alarmed about Japanese forces on his south flank. He had halted the advance westward until the few Japanese he believed to be on the south flank could be dispersed, and he had brought one battalion of the 158th Infantry east of the Tor to replace the two of the 163rd Infantry which had left for Biak. On 28 May General Patrick estimated Japanese strength in his area to be 2,000-3,000 on the west flank, 300 east of Tementoe Creek, and 300 “in roving bands” south of Toem and Arare.
The TORNADO Task Force had underestimated the strength of Japanese forces in the area. The figure for the number of enemy east of Tementoe Creek was three or four days old on 28 May and, apparently, had been estimated on the basis of a single aerial reconnaissance. Instead of roving bands south of the Toem-Arare perimeter, there were over 2,000 organized troops of the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces within three miles of the coast at Toem. Total enemy strength in the Wakde-Sarmi area was still over 8,000 men rather than the maximum of less than 4,000 estimated by the TORNADO Task Force.
American patrols found no signs of large, organized enemy forces south of the central perimeter for the two or three days following the attack during the night of 27-28 May, an attack which marked the beginning of a series of minor assaults against the Toem-Arare area. As a matter of fact, few American patrols were sent out. On the 28th a party from Company F, 163rd Infantry, moving about three quarters of a mile up
the east bank of Tementoe Creek, found one small Japanese bivouac area. A patrol of Company B, 163rd Infantry, found a recently cut trail 1,200 yards south of Arare, but saw no Japanese. The next day the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, sent two patrols up and across Tementoe Creek, but neither encountered any Japanese.
The only patrol which operated in the area west of Tementoe Creek on the 29th seems to have been sent out by the 218th Field Artillery Battalion. This party moved about 3,000 yards up the east bank of the Tor past Maffin No. 2. Thence the patrol marched overland back to its base, where it reported that it had found no signs of enemy activity. There are no indications in the TORNADO Task Force’s records that any American patrols were sent south in the area between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek on 30 May.
Japanese Attacks East of the Tor Gun position No. 6 of Battery B, 202nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, was located in an isolated perimeter on the beach about 900 yards west of Arare. The position was approximately 500 yards distant from the two nearest friendly units, both of which were other isolated antiaircraft gun posts.
At 1830 on 30 May, No. 6 gun position was attacked by a squad of Japanese infantrymen from the Yoshino Force. The antiaircraft artillerymen, after losing one man killed, killing ten of the enemy, having their .50-caliber machine guns jam, and running out of rifle ammunition, retired to gun position No. 7 of Battery A, 500 yards to the east. The latter position was attacked intermittently from 1840 to 0430, but the combined gunners of the two positions threw back each assault with rifle and machine gun fire. About 500 yards west of Battery B’s No. 6 position was situated Battery A’s No. 6. The latter perimeter was harassed by mortar, rifle, and machine gun fire from shortly after 1830 hours throughout the night. It was attacked by Yoshino Force troops at least twice, but the antiaircraft gunners managed to drive the enemy back each time. Gun position No. 8 of Battery B, another 400 yards to the west, was also attacked about 1830. The .50-caliber multiple machine gun in the position became overheated and jammed. The men in the position, running low on rifle ammunition, scurried out of the gun pit and took cover in the brush along the beach. Here they stayed until the enemy withdrew at 0430.
In the action against the four gun positions, the Japanese captured one .50-caliber machine gun, damaged a multiple .50-caliber mount and removed the gun barrels, damaged two 40-mm. guns, and destroyed miscellaneous electrical and communications equipment. Using the captured .50-caliber machine gun to good advantage, the enemy force which attacked Battery B’s No. 6 position and A’s No. 7 moved away from those two gun pits toward the task force supply dump and the perimeter of Company B, 158th Infantry.
One group from the Yoshino Force began delivering machine gun and rifle fire on the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, about 1900, and at 2200 the Yoshino Force launched a furious, suicidal attack against Company B. This assault continued until 0430, while the Japanese tried to fire the task force supply dumps with “Molotov Cocktails” and demolition charges and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the men of Company B, who used rifles, hand grenades, pistols, knives, and bayonets to beat off the assault. At 0430 the attack abated and the enemy withdrew to the south. Total American losses during the night action were twelve killed and ten wounded. At daylight fifty-two dead Japanese were counted in front of the antiaircraft and infantry positions. There were signs that the enemy had carried away dead or wounded men and it was therefore estimated that the Japanese losses were much higher than those actually counted.
On the morning of 31 May the TORNADO Task Force, in expectation of more night attacks, set to work to strengthen the defenses between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek and to reduce the number of separate perimeters along the beach. This action was given added impetus during the day by receipt of a message from ALAMO Force which was interpreted to mean that the remainder of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team (the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, the 167th Field Artillery, engineer units, etc.) was to be sent to Biak immediately.45 General Patrick thereupon ordered the elements of the 158th Infantry still west of the Tor to withdraw to the east side of that river and take over the perimeters still held by parts of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team. A bridgehead was to be maintained on the west bank of the Tor, but the main task force perimeter was to be reduced to the area between Tementoe Creek and the Tor and no further offensive efforts westward were to be undertaken until the arrival of a combat team from the 6th Division.
Colonel Sandlin, commanding the 158th Infantry, was made responsible for setting up the new task force defenses. He decided to leave the 2nd Battalion, 158th Infantry, west of the Tor. The 3rd Battalion, less Company K, was to move to Tementoe Creek to relieve the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, while Company K was to reinforce the perimeter around the task force supply and ammunition dumps at Arare. The total number of separate perimeters was to be drastically reduced and those left were to be strengthened. All units assigned defensive missions, especially the infantry elements, were to undertake intensive patrolling south of the Toem-Arare beachhead area.
By nightfall redisposition’s had been completed. In contrast to the situation the previous night there were now only eight separate perimeters. One, held by the 2nd Battalion (reinforced) of the 158th Infantry, was west of the Tor. General Patrick decided to keep the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, ashore during the night. Therefore, the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, did not move to Tementoe Creek but remained on the east bank of the Tor at the river’s mouth. In the same perimeter were regimental headquarters and field artillery, antiaircraft, and engineer units.
The next perimeter to the east was at the mouth of the Unnamed River, west of Arare. At the latter village and at Toem were other defensive positions. Another large perimeter stretched back along the beach from the mouth of Tementoe Creek. The antiaircraft gun positions, with but two exceptions, were well within the perimeters of larger units and the two exceptions were within 400 yards of supporting forces. The precautions taken by Colonel Sandlin were undoubtedly well advised, but in comparison with the previous night, the night of 31 May-1 June proved abnormally quiet.
The Japanese Withdraw
On the morning of 1 June General Patrick was informed by ALAMO Force that the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, and the other remaining elements of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team were not to leave for Biak until a regimental combat team from the 6th Infantry Division arrived at Toem. General Patrick, who by now considered that the Japanese operations on the south constituted a real threat to the TORNADO Task Force, decided to make no major changes in dispositions until the arrival of the 6th Division unit. Instead, for the next few days the task force further strengthened its positions in expectation of strong Japanese attacks.
But the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces had already missed whatever chance they may have had to destroy the TORNADO Task Force in a piecemeal fashion. Apparently neither Colonel Yoshino nor Colonel Matsuyama could co-ordinate operations of the two arms of the double envelopment, and because of communication and supply difficulties and the distance involved, General Tagami, still ensconced in his command post in the Mt. Saksin area, could exercise no tactical control over the two forces, which could organize no more effective attacks. The Japanese, having suffered heavy losses in vain, now decided that further efforts to seize the Toem-Arare beachhead would be futile.
On 10 June the Yoshino Force started withdrawing southwest across the Tor to take up new positions in the Maffin Bay area. The Matsuyama Force, having difficulty reorganizing and collecting food, did not begin retiring westward until two days later. Meanwhile, the TORNADO Task Force had settled down to await the arrival of a combat team from the 6th Infantry Division before resuming offensive operations.
While enemy attacks east of the Tor gradually stopped after 1 June, many small attacks had to be beaten back west of the river at the bridgehead held to 3 June by the 2nd Battalion, 158th Infantry, and after that by the 3rd Battalion. During the first week in June, all elements of the TORNADO Task Force undertook extensive patrolling which was productive of definite evidence that the entire 223rd Infantry, 36th Division, was in the Sarmi area.
Prior to the landings near Wakde on 17 May, the Allies had believed that only parts of the 223rd and 224th Infantry Regiments were stationed in the Sarmi area, but shortly after D Day all three battalions of the 224th Infantry had been accounted for. On the basis of this information and the discovery during the first week of June that the entire 223rd Infantry was also in the area, Allied intelligence officers raised their pre-assault estimates of Japanese strength from 6,500 men to 10,776—the latter estimate being remarkably close to the Japanese figure of 11,000. The Allies believed that of the original 10,000-odd less than 4,750 Japanese, including 3,500 combat troops, were still alive by the end of the week. According to Japanese sources, this estimate was low and should have read a total of 8,000 men and over 4,000 combat troops.
The Relief of the 158th Infantry
General Patrick now believed, as Colonel Herndon had previously, that the enemy would maintain a strong defense against any new offensive westward from the Tor and considered it probable that resistance would center in the Lone Tree Hill area. He had already made plans to bypass that area by a shore-to-shore movement to Sarmi Peninsula, whence Lone Tree Hill could be attacked from the rear. This plan had been temporarily abandoned when the 163rd Infantry left for Biak Island and the Japanese started their attacks east of the Tor. However, the new strength estimates, coupled with his belief that Lone Tree Hill and Hill 225 would be strongly held, prompted General Patrick to revive the bypassing plan. The imminent arrival of reinforcements from the 6th Division would, he thought, provide the troop strength necessary to carry out the maneuver.
The TORNADO Task Force commander planned to send one battalion to Sarmi Peninsula on 9 June and another the following day. Scouts had already landed on the peninsula and had reported it undefended. It therefore seemed possible that the proposed movement would meet with no opposition. Once the peninsula had been secured, the two battalions (both of which were to be from the 6th Division) were to move southeast down the coast ten miles to Lone Tree Hill. This movement was to be coordinated with a simultaneous drive westward from the Tor River by the 158th Infantry.
Again the shore-to-shore movement had to be postponed when it was discovered that necessary naval support vessels could not be made available because they were engaged in operations off Biak Island, 200 miles to the northwest. Then, when the 6th Division began to reach Toem on 5 June, that division’s commander requested that none of his troops be employed offensively until at least two regimental combat teams were ashore and his men could become acquainted with the terrain and situation in the area. Finally, landing craft to be used in the bypassing maneuver had to be used to unload the large ships which brought the 6th Division to Toem. The first units of the 6th Division to arrive in the Wakde-Sarmi area were the 1st Infantry Regiment and the 6th Engineer Battalion (C). The 1st Infantry immediately relieved that part of the 158th Infantry which was holding the Toem-Arare beachhead perimeter.
General Patrick, although he had canceled the amphibious movement to Sarmi Peninsula, now decided to resume the advance westward with the 158th Infantry moving overland from the Tor. This attack was to begin on the morning of 7 June. The first regimental objective was the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225 area, and the final objective was the Woske River, as it had been on 25 May.
The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, crossed the Tor on 6 June and relieved the 3rd Battalion, which moved back to the east bank, and the 2nd Battalion joined the 1st on the next day. The enemy west of the Tor remained inactive on 7 June while the 1st and 2nd Battalions patrolled toward Maffin No. 1 and made preparations to move westward in force the next morning. The 1st Battalion was to advance along the coastal road while the 2nd, on the left, was to push cross-country in a deep enveloping maneuver south of the beach. The advance was to be cautious, and the progress of the 1st Battalion was to depend upon that of the 2nd. All units were to halt at 1600 each day to begin organizing night defensive positions. Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 158th Infantry, jumped off in the attack at 0830 hours, 8 June. The advance was supported by a platoon of the 603rd Tank Company and was preceded by a brief concentration fired by the 167th Field Artillery. During most of the morning there was little opposition. About 1100, however, enemy rifle and machine gun fire began forcing the 2nd Battalion back toward the main road, and Company E, south of the main body of the battalion, lost contact with the rest of the attacking force for two or three hours.
After 1200, resistance also began to stiffen on the 1st Battalion’s front. The attack bogged down at a line of bunkers and pillboxes which guarded the coastal road just west of the small lakes 1,500 yards east of the Tirfoam. These defensive positions had been constructed, repaired, or reoccupied since the last time the 158th Infantry had covered the same terrain. Tank support was requested.
Two tanks arrived at the front late in the afternoon and soon reduced the pillboxes, but by the time this mission had been accomplished, it was time to start digging in for the night. The 1st Battalion set up its defenses along the line of destroyed positions and extended its perimeter from the road north to the beach. The 2nd Battalion, reassembled on the road by 1600, refused the south flank. Casualties during the day had been 4 men killed and 13 wounded, while 27 Japanese had been killed and 1 captured. A quantity of enemy arms and ammunition had also been seized.
The night passed without incident and early on 9 June patrols began to probe westward toward the Tirfoam. Scouts reported that the Japanese were holding another defense line, including reoccupied bunkers, on a slight rise at the west bank of the river.
About 1000 hours, tank-infantry teams began to destroy the Japanese-held positions along the new line. While tank 75-mm. fire was destroying bunkers or forcing the Japanese to seek cover, infantrymen crept forward to toss grenades into bunker gun ports or shoot down Japanese who tried to escape from the area. While these tank-infantry team operations were taking place, the rest of the two infantry battalions rested. Japanese 75-mm. fire, from a weapon emplaced on the beach between the Snaky River and Lone Tree Hill, harassed the 1st Battalion for a while, but this fire was summarily stopped when a 155-mm. howitzer of the 218th Field Artillery Battalion scored a direct hit on the enemy piece. By 1130 the enemy defensive positions had been cleaned out and the 1st and 2nd Battalions resumed the advance westward.
Aided by fire from the 147th Field Artillery, which had supplanted the 167th in the close support role, the two infantry units probed cautiously forward, and it was not until 1530 that both reached the east bank of the Tirfoam. Opposition was scattered, but the American units lost 6 men killed and 6 wounded. It was estimated that 50 of the enemy had been killed and one was captured.
Undoubtedly the 158th Infantry could have crossed the Tirfoam River during the afternoon, but, late in the morning, the unit’s mission had been changed as a result of new orders from General Krueger, who planned to employ the 158th Infantry for an assault on Noemfoor Island, 300 miles northwest of Sarmi, in late June or early July. It was necessary that the unit be prepared to move from Wakde-Sarmi on short notice and General Krueger ordered General Patrick not to involve it deeply in offensive operations. Advances west of the Tirfoam had therefore been postponed until a second combat team of the 6th Division could arrive in the area to relieve the 158th Infantry.
On 10 and 11 June the 158th Infantry limited its activities to patrolling, consolidating defensive positions, and driving Japanese outposts westward. One outpost, lying southeast of the 2nd Battalion, was manned by about a hundred Japanese and had to be cleared by tank fire and infantry assault. The Japanese, who were members of a 223rd Infantry company assigned to the Right Sector Force, fled toward Mt. Saksin, leaving behind 4 heavy machine guns, 1 light machine gun, 270-mm. howitzers, and 137-mm. antitank gun. Patrolling after the 11th was productive of one strange piece of enemy equipment—a pair of Japanese ice skates.
On 14 June the 20th Infantry, 6th Division, relieved the 158th Infantry at the Tirfoam. The 158th recrossed the Tor and went into a defensive perimeter on the west bank of Tementoe Creek. Patrols sent south and east during the next week encountered a few stragglers from the Japanese garrison at Hollandia or from the Matsuyama Force. On the 22nd the entire regimental combat team was relieved of all combat responsibility in the Wakde-Sarmi area and began final preparations for the Noemfoor Island operation.
During its operations in the Wakde-Sarmi area the 158th Regimental Combat Team lost 70 men killed, 257 wounded, and 4 missing. The unit took 11 Japanese prisoners and estimated that it killed 920 of the enemy.
Source: Approach to the Philippines: BY; Robert Ross Smith (United States Army Center of Military History)