The 6th Division’s 20th Infantry, together with the 6th Medical Battalion, the 1st and 51st Field Artillery Battalions, and miscellaneous other division units arrived at Toem on 11 June. The 1st Infantry and the 6th Engineers were already in the area and the rest of the division, including the 63rd Infantry and the 80th Field Artillery Battalion, began unloading on 14 June. With the 11 June convoy had come the division commander, Major General Franklin C. Sibert, and his headquarters. Under General Sibert’s command the TORNADO Task Force was to continue the drive westward toward Sarmi. The capture of Sarmi and the destruction of Japanese forces west of the Tor River were to be accomplished rapidly, for plans were already being made by ALAMO Force to employ the 6th Division in another operation which, scheduled for late July, involved seizure of an air-base site on the northwestern tip of the Vogelkop Peninsula.
The 6th Division Against Lone Tree Hill General Sibert assumed command of the TORNADO Task Force on 12 June. [n11-2] His first problem was to get the various units of the 6th Division unloaded. The division had been hastily and unsystematically loaded at Milne Bay, in eastern New Guinea, because the ships which were to carry it to Toem arrived at Milne Bay so late that comprehensive loading plans could neither be made nor executed. Moreover, the Toem beaches were mediocre, unloading and storing facilities inadequate, and lighterage was insufficient. Unloading therefore proceeded very slowly, and the 20th Infantry had to borrow many crew-served weapons from the 158th Infantry before it could relieve the latter unit at the Tirfoam.[n11-3]
[n11-2 On the same date Headquarters, 6th Infantry Division, began operating as Headquarters, TORNADO Task Force, in place of Headquarters, 158th Regimental Combat Team, which had held that role since it, in turn, had replaced Headquarters, 163rd Regimental Combat Team, on 25 May.]
[n11-3 Rad, TTF to ALAMO Adv Hq, Y-1117, 11 Jun 44, in ALAMO Adv Hq G-3 Jnl Wakde-Biak, 11-13 Jun 44; Ltr, General Sibert to General Krueger, 18 Jun 44, in ALAMO Rear Hq G-3 Jnl Wakde-Biak, 27-31 Jul 44. While in command of the TORNADO Task Force, General Sibert wrote almost daily personal letters to General Krueger.]
General Sibert believed that it would be tactically and logistically unsound for his division to engage in offensive action until all its units were unloaded, settled, and acquainted with the combat area. Therefore he planned to have the 1st Infantry mop up south of Toem and Arare until unloading was complete, and he instructed the 20th Infantry to limit its action to sending patrols west of the Tirfoam to locate enemy defenses. After the 20th received its own equipment, it would push westward in conjunction with a series of battalion shore-to-shore movements along the coast toward Sarmi. General Sibert’s staff estimated that unloading, mopping up, and patrolling would be completed in time for the 20th Infantry to begin a major offensive on 1 July.
General Krueger would not sanction such a delay in initiating an advance westward. Surf, beach, and terrain conditions in the Toem-Arare area had proved unsatisfactory for the establishment of a staging base, but it was known that the shore of Maffin Bay afforded better conditions. General Krueger realized that quick control over the Maffin Bay area was necessary if the theater were to make any use of the Wakde-Sarmi region as a staging base. On 18 June he therefore ordered General Sibert to start an immediate offensive, and the latter accordingly changed his plans.
The 1st Infantry was instructed to relieve 20th Infantry elements at the Tor bridgehead, and the 20th Infantry was directed to concentrate at the Tirfoam in time to attack westward on 20 June. The initial objective was the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225 area, but the advance was to continue until all Japanese in the coastal area between the Tirfoam and Sarmi town had been destroyed or dispersed inland.
The 158th Infantry had spent but four days in the vicinity of Lone Tree Hill and had not been able to explore the terrain thoroughly. Such information as the regiment had acquired was turned over to the 6th Infantry Division but proved sketchy and not altogether accurate. Beginning on 21 June, the 20th Infantry was to gain a new and more detailed picture of the Lone Tree Hill area.
At the top of Lone Tree Hill was a stretch of rough but generally level ground lying mostly along the western part of the hill. This flat ground, about 700 yards long north to south, was shaped like a crude dumbbell. At its northern end, the level area was about 300 yards wide. It narrowed at the center of the hill to less than 100 yards but broadened again on the south to a width of about 250 yards. There were many coral outcroppings, potholes, and small crevices, while on the north the hill terminated in a very rugged prominence called Rocky Point. This terrain feature, which extended into Maffin Bay from the central mass of Lone Tree Hill, was about 300 yards wide east to west. Its northern face was not as heavily overgrown as the rest of Lone Tree Hill. Although Rocky Point’s northeast slope was steep, foot troops could climb that face with more ease than they could approach the top of Lone Tree Hill from most other points.
A deep ravine ran southwest into the central mass of Lone Tree Hill from a sandy beach on the east side of Rocky Point. The floor of the ravine varied from 20 to 30 yards in width and its nearly vertical western wall was 40 to 50 feet high. Both sides were honeycombed with natural or man-made tunnels, caverns, and small caves, most of which were connected with each other by underground or deeply defiladed passages. Some caves reached a width of 40 feet, a depth into the hillside of 50 feet, and a height of 20 feet. The ravine terminated on the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill in a steep grade at the narrow central portion of the hilltop.
East of the ravine and extending to the west bank of the Snaky was an oval-shaped, low, and generally flat shelf about 250 yards wide east to west and almost 450 yards long. Its eastern and northern sides lay about 20 feet above the surrounding sea-level plain. The approaches from the beach or the Snaky River were very steep and in places were sheer, low cliffs. On its southwestern side the shelf led to precipitous grades reaching to the top of Lone Tree Hill. South of the narrow section of the hilltop plateau these grades flattened into a wide draw with gradual slopes.
West of Rocky Point was a beach not more than twenty feet deep, behind which was a vertical rock and clay ledge varying from three to five feet in height. Between the ledge and the western face of Lone Tree Hill was a heavily forested swampy area extending more than 300 yards inland. The western face of the hill was an almost vertical cliff, 60 to 80 feet high, and was rock-faced but covered with heavy jungle undergrowth. The steepest part, about 700 yards long, gave way at the southwest corner of Lone Tree Hill to less precipitous heavily forested slopes extending through the defile between Lone Tree Hill and Hill 225.
Lone Tree Hill contained a veritable maze of Japanese defenses. There were many caves and bunkers on the western cliff—positions which were hidden from ground observers by tall trees or undergrowth on the cliff face. There were also a few pillboxes or bunkers in the swampy area between the cliff and the beach west of Rocky Point. Two 75-mm. field pieces, defiladed by rocky outcroppings, were emplaced by the enemy on this beach. On the face of Rocky Point and on the rocky shore below were other defensive positions and at least one other artillery piece. In the ravine east of Rocky Point were five 75-mm. mountain guns hidden in various caves or crevices. Although none of these guns could be traversed, they were so emplaced that they covered most of the northwestern, northern, and northeastern land and sea approaches to Lone Tree Hill.
On the hilltop plateau Japanese defensive positions included log and earth dugouts which, presenting low silhouettes and covered with undergrowth, were very difficult to locate. Atop the hill rough holes were also dug under or between the roots of large trees. Some of these defenses were arranged in lines across the ravine and wide draw leading to the hilltop from the northeast and east, respectively. One of the most troublesome installations was a Japanese observation post at the northern part of the hilltop plateau. This post, about one hundred feet off the ground in the branches of a huge tree, was sturdily constructed and cleverly camouflaged. It had withstood air, naval, and artillery bombardments aimed at Lone Tree Hill prior to 20 June. From the post the Japanese could observe movements along the main road to the east of Lone Tree Hill, the entire beach area from Sarmi to Arare, and maneuvers on most of the hill itself.
Information available to the TORNADO Task Force on 20 June indicated that Lone Tree Hill was defended by 700 to 800 Japanese. Most of these troops were believed to be members of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, plus a few men and weapons of 36th Division artillery—75-mm. mountain guns. The strength estimate was reasonably accurate—there were actually near 850 Japanese on the hill—but it did not take into account the Japanese south of Lone Tree Hill on Hill 225 and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, from which enemy troops could move rapidly to reinforce Lone Tree Hill and from which they could defend the southern approaches to that hill. Moreover, there were elements of many more 36th Division units in the immediate Lone Tree Hill area.
Command in the area was exercised by Headquarters, Right Sector Force, now under Colonel Matsuyama of the 224th Infantry who, as his regiment arrived west of the Tor, took over the sector command from Major Matsuoka. By 20 June the troops on Lone Tree Hill proper comprised the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, less one company; the remnants of Captain Saito’s 300-man company of 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, riflemen and 36th Division artillerymen (Captain Saito had long since been killed); probably a company from the 3rd Battalion, 223rd Infantry; elements of the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit; 36th Division artillery weapons and crews; and, finally, a few men of antiaircraft and service units who had been armed as auxiliary infantry. South of Lone Tree Hill, on Hill 225 and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, were emplaced most of the rest of the 224th Infantry, the bulk of the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, probably another company of the 223rd Infantry, and an antiaircraft battery converted to infantry. The total Japanese strength in the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225-eastern nose area was probably at least 1,800 men. The 1st Company, 224th Infantry, down to about 30 men, was initially left east of the Tor to conduct reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare around the TORNADO Task Force beach positions, but moved across the river sometime after 20 June to rejoin the rest of the Right Sector Force. Two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Infantry, were between the Tirfoam and the Tor, with instructions to harass the Allied line of communications along the coastal road west from the Tor.
About the same time that Colonel Matsuyama assumed command of the Right Sector Force, the Yoshino Force and the new Yuki Group were apparently disbanded as such and combined to form a new Central Sector Force under Colonel Yoshino, the commander of the 223rd Infantry.
Colonel Yoshino’s new sector ran west from the west side of Lone Tree Hill to the old western boundary at Sawar Creek, where the Left Sector Force, still under General Yamada, took up. Except for the one or two companies assigned to the Right Sector Force, Colonel Yoshino’s entire 223rd Infantry was assigned to the Central Sector Force. Also under his command were various artillery, antiaircraft, and service units, including whatever was left of the 103rd Field Airdrome Construction Unit. The remnants of the 51st Field Road Construction Unit, formerly attached to the 224th Infantry, were sent to the area of the Left Sector Force. The bulk of Colonel Yoshino’s troops were on the western slopes of Mt. Saksin, although some were in defensive positions along the coast immediately west of Lone Tree Hill. The strength of the force was about 2,000 men.
To the Top of Lone Tree Hill
The attack west from the Tirfoam River jumped off on schedule at 0800 on 20 June. The 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, moved along the main coastal road. The 3rd Battalion followed closely, while the 2nd remained in reserve at Maffin No. 1. Shortly after 1200 the 1st Battalion, having encountered no opposition, reached the Snaky River. Company B pushed on toward the village at the entrance to the defile between Lone Tree Hill and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. This advance was greeted by a hail of fire from Japanese automatic weapons emplaced in the defile—fire reminiscent of the opposition encountered by Company B, 158th Infantry, at the same place more than three weeks earlier.
The 20th Infantry’s Company B tried to outflank the enemy position to the south but was halted by intense Japanese machine gun fire. Tanks sent forward to aid the infantry were unable to reach the enemy guns because the terrain was impassable to tracked or wheeled vehicles, which could scarcely negotiate the rough road, let alone the thick jungle and rising ground to the south. Late in the afternoon Company A was sent forward to Company B’s position, but both units encountered heavy fire and soon lost contact with the rest of the 1st Battalion.
The two companies remained for the night in an isolated perimeter near the village and about 400 yards west of the main body. The 3rd Battalion had moved north off the coastal road during the morning, and late in the afternoon it had established a perimeter extending south 200 yards from the beach along the east bank of the Snaky River. The battalion had encountered little opposition during the day, but patrols which had crossed the Snaky before dark reported finding many Japanese defensive positions on the eastern slopes of Lone Tree Hill. A gap which existed between the 1st and 3rd Battalions was partially filled just before nightfall by elements of the 2nd Battalion, which were sent forward late in the afternoon. Casualties during the day were four killed and twenty-eight wounded.
The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 1st Infantry, moved across the Tor River in the morning of 20 June and took over the positions in the vicinity of Maffin No. 1 vacated by the 20th Infantry. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, assumed responsibility for the protection of the bridgehead across the Tor. The regiment was to remain east of the Tirfoam in reserve on 21 June while the 20th Infantry moved on against Lone Tree Hill.
Operations of the 20th Infantry during the morning of 21 June consisted principally of patrolling designed to locate enemy strong points on and around Lone Tree Hill. The 1st and 3rd Battalions undertook most of this scouting while the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, together with the regimental Antitank Company, closed up on the 1st. Companies A and B moved south of the main road through the defile toward Hill 225, and both units encountered strong opposition. By the end of the day the 1st Battalion’s positions were essentially the same as they had been in the morning, except that Company B was south of the road and about 600 yards distant from the rest of the battalion.
The battalion’s mission was primarily defensive: to probe Japanese defenses on the southern side of Lone Tree Hill and protect the south flank of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions as the latter units assaulted the hill. Patrols of the 3rd Battalion reached the northeast face of Lone Tree Hill during the morning and observed enemy activity on the rough beach below Rocky Point. Other patrols, working toward the eastern slopes of the hill, brought back negative reports which contradicted those obtained at dusk the previous afternoon. However, as a result of these negative reports, it was decided that the 3rd Battalion should attack in force during the afternoon. At 1345, after a fifteen minute artillery and 4.2-inch mortar preparation, one company moved across the Snaky River, immediately finding the twenty-foot cliff along the eastern side of the shelf which lay between the Snaky River and the central mass of Lone Tree Hill. The morning patrols had not, apparently, reported the existence of this cliff, and naturally it was not known that Japanese defenses were established along it. Machine gun and rifle fire from the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, soon pinned down the 3rd Battalion’s leading platoon.
The company commander quickly sent part of his unit northward to find the Japanese left flank. Moving around the northeast end of the shelf, this group discovered the beach entrance to the deep ravine between the western side of the shelf and Rocky Point. Progress into or across the ravine was impossible in the face of the intense Japanese small arms fire which greeted the advancing American unit. Company B, 6th Engineers, then in the forward area to cut a road from the mouth of the Snaky River to Rocky Point, was brought up to the ravine to help clean out caves and crevices with flame throwers and demolitions, but could not reach the enemy positions through the continued machine gun, mortar, and rifle fire. Infantry bazooka squads also tried to blast the Japanese out of their caves but failed when their ammunition ran out. Since there was no time to bring additional rockets forward before dark, all elements of the 3rd Battalion and the engineer company were withdrawn to the east bank of the Snaky River for the night. The 20th Infantry was to continue the assault on the morrow with the 3rd Battalion moving against Lone Tree Hill from the northeast, the 2nd Battalion in reserve, and the 1st Battalion remaining in its holding position.
American casualties during the day were two men killed and twenty-four wounded. Initially it was thought that some of these casualties had been caused by friendly mortar fire covering the 3rd Battalion’s patrolling.
Later investigation proved, however, that the losses had been caused by enemy fire. Japanese artillery and mortars usually remained silent throughout the fighting on Lone Tree Hill except when American mortars and artillery began firing. The psychological effect of this trick on the troops of the 6th Division was obvious, and for a long while they thought that part of their losses resulted from friendly fire. It is probable that many Japanese were killed during the day but, because of the confused nature of the fighting along the cliff on the eastern shelf and in the ravine, the 3rd Battalion could attempt no estimate of Japanese losses in its zone. The 1st Battalion estimated that its patrols south of Lone Tree Hill had killed about thirty-five of the enemy.
Task force artillery and the 20th Infantry’s 81-mm. mortars fired on Lone Tree Hill intermittently throughout the night, concentrating on the Rocky Point area. Operations on 22 June started at 0800 when eighteen Wakde-based P-47’s strafed Lone Tree Hill, dropped full belly tanks, and set them afire. The air action, which ceased at 0820, was followed by an intense artillery concentration, of ten minutes’ duration, fired by two 105-mm. and one 155-mm. howitzer battalions. The artillery sent 720 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition and 360 rounds of 155-mm. shells into an area 400 yards wide and 600 long on the northeast side of the hill.
Infantry action started about 0830 with Company K, two platoons abreast, leading the advance and Company I following close behind. Company K approached the hill from the northeast and from a point on the beach just west of the deep ravine. Only scattered rifle fire marked the first part of the ascent, for the Japanese were stunned by the weight of the preparatory air and artillery fire. About 1115 the advance platoons had to seek cover from enemy light mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire, most of which seemed to originate in caves and crevices along the sides of the ravine. Company I, which had been waiting in reserve on the beach, was now dispatched up the hill to reinforce Company K. The combined fire power of the two units was sufficient to drive the Japanese back into their caves, and the assault companies reached the top of Lone Tree Hill just south of Rocky Point at 1240.
Company L, about 0930, had begun an attempt to reach the top of the hill from the southeast corner. The company passed through 1st Battalion units near the village at the entrance to the defile and pushed northwestward. Japanese infantrymen were seen moving about near the village, and Company M’s 81-mm. mortars were called upon to protect Company L’s rear by lobbing shells into the hamlet. Four tanks were also brought forward along the main road to aid in clearing the village and the ground between the settlement and Company L. Since marshy terrain and heavy undergrowth prevented the tanks from accomplishing their mission, Company F was called forward and attached to Company L to protect the latter’s flanks and rear.
Together the two companies tried to force their way up the southeast slope of Lone Tree Hill, but they were subjected to intense machine gun and rifle fire from the northwest, west, and southwest. The two units thereupon withdrew from that face, moved back to the eastern edge of the oval shelf, and marched north to the point at which Companies K and I had started up the hill. Company F followed K’s route to the hilltop, meeting little opposition on the way. Company L pushed across the ravine about 200 yards south of F’s line of march and, since the Japanese remained hidden in the ravine’s many caves, had little difficulty reaching the top of the hill. By 1500 Companies F, I, K, L, and part of Company M had established a common perimeter near the north end of the hilltop.
The 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, relieved during the morning by the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Infantry, had been sent forward about 1400 to complete the occupation of Lone Tree Hill. Following the route employed by Companies F and L in the forenoon, the battalion (less Company F) moved across the southern end of the shelf and along the southeastern slope. Advancing cautiously through heavily forested, tangled terrain, at 1700 the battalion reached the head of the wide draw which led to the narrow central part of the hilltop. Little opposition was encountered and the battalion moved up the hill and along the hill crest to a point about 400 yards south of the 3rd Battalion.
Increasingly strong enemy opposition made it impossible to close the gap between the two before dark. Hasty positions were set up for the night defenses. Despite the fact that part of Company K had been temporarily pinned down by enemy fire during the morning, neither that unit nor Company I had had any real difficulty reaching the top of Lone Tree Hill. Companies F and L, after they had changed their direction of attack, had also made their way to the top against negligible opposition, and the 2nd Battalion had been delayed more by the terrain than by enemy action. For the second day in succession the task force commander had reason to believe that the Lone Tree Hill area was not strongly held, and he expected that the hill would be secured shortly.
The 3rd Battalion, during the afternoon, found indications that the Japanese had other plans. The battalion perimeter was within sight of the enemy’s observation post, which was almost continuously manned although four or five Japanese were shot out of it in the course of the afternoon. So close was the observation post to the 3rd Battalion’s perimeter that friendly artillery was unable to fire on it, but well-directed enemy artillery fire, which harassed the 20th Infantry’s rear installations, indicated that the Japanese were putting their observers to good use. There was also some reason to suspect that the many caves and crevices along the ravine and Rocky Point contained numerous enemy troops who had apparently deliberately permitted the 3rd Battalion to reach the top of the hill without offering serious battle. The suspicion proved well founded.
About 1730 approximately two companies of Japanese, under the personal leadership of Colonel Matsuyama, poured out of hidden positions on Rocky Point or in the ravine and fell upon the 3rd Battalion’s perimeter with suicidal fury. Confused fighting, sometimes hand-to-hand, continued well into the night, until it was thought that every Japanese soldier in the northern section of Lone Tree Hill must have been killed.
Although the 2nd Battalion’s positions were not attacked, the unit could not move to the 3rd Battalion’s aid. Such a maneuver would have been foolhardy in the darkness and tangled undergrowth, and the 2nd soon found that it, too, was surrounded. Thus, by 2400, the Japanese had completely reversed the tactical situation atop Lone Tree Hill. Early in the afternoon the 20th Infantry had been at the Japanese rear. Now the enemy was at the 20th Infantry’s rear, had isolated both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of that regiment, and had cut all lines of communication to the base of the hill.
Casualties on the 22nd could not be counted because of the confusion resulting from the night attack. However, it was estimated that about 30 Americans had been killed and another 100 wounded, most of them in the 3rd Battalion, before the enemy attack waned at midnight. There were but 40 known Japanese dead, the majority of whom had been counted by 1st Battalion patrols on the southern side of Lone Tree Hill. The number of the enemy killed by the 3rd Battalion after 1730 could not be estimated, but it is known that Colonel Matsuyama was wounded during the action.
Holding Lone Tree Hill
The 3rd Battalion expected that the enemy withdrawal during the night presaged reorganization for another attack. This expectation was correct, for Colonel Matsuyama did have plans to continue the attack. On the 22nd the two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Infantry, which had been east of the Tirfoam, had arrived to reinforce him, as had the 7th Company of the same regiment, previously on detached duty at an inland post.
Action on the 23rd began at dawn when Japanese troops, some of whom were using American weapons and wearing parts of American uniforms, attacked the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, from the deep ravine. The battalion initially held its fire, thinking that the enemy force might be a friendly patrol, and the Japanese were able to advance to within fifteen yards of the battalion lines before being recognized. It was an hour before the results of this error could be corrected—an hour during which both the 2nd Battalion and the Japanese suffered heavy losses. The hour ended with an enemy retreat.
At 0800 the 2nd Battalion was instructed to make contact with the 3rd, clear the Japanese from the rest of the northern section of the hilltop plateau, and form a two-battalion’ perimeter. Moving north along the hill crest soon proved impracticable, for the Japanese held strong positions in the 400-yard interval which still separated the two battalions. The 2nd Battalion therefore decided to bypass the opposition. The unit marched back down the hill, crossed the oval shelf, and turned north along the west bank of the Snaky. About 250 yards south of the beach, the battalion turned west and, at 1000, was held up by enemy fire from the same twenty-foot-high cliff which had stalled the 3rd Battalion’s attack on 21 June.
The 2nd Battalion then withdrew from the cliff north to the beach east of Rocky Point and reorganized. At 1120 the movement up Lone Tree Hill was resumed, this time along the same route employed by Companies I and K on the previous day. The advance was opposed by enemy machine gun, mortar, artillery, and rifle fire, but the 2nd Battalion, with Company G suffering especially “heavy casualties,” slowly fought its way upward by fire and movement. At 1400 the leading elements began reaching the top of the hill, but it was not until 1630 that the battalion had assembled in an organized perimeter. The new position was just northwest of the 3rd Battalion’s lines, overlooked the west cliff of Lone Tree Hill, and apparently was not connected with the 3rd Battalion perimeter. The latter unit had held and strengthened its positions during the morning while it sought cover from continuous Japanese mortar and rifle fire and awaited the arrival of reinforcements before beginning mopping-up operations.
The 3rd Battalion had received few supplies since reaching the top of Lone Tree Hill on 22 June. The unit had run out of water, and only a heavy rainfall during the night of 22-23 June had prevented thirst from becoming a major problem. To relieve this situation Company L, 1st Infantry, was ordered to take ammunition, water, and rations to the hilltop plateau. The company received the order late on 22 June but managed to move only as far as the northeastern corner of Rocky Point before dark. At 0800 the next morning the relief company started up the hill, meeting little opposition until it reached the top of Rocky Point. There it was pinned down as Japanese forces moved in behind it to cut the line of communication down the hill. Company L soon ran out of ammunition for, in addition to the supplies, the men had carried to the hilltop only their loaded weapons, with no extra ammunition. Despite help from elements of the Antitank and Service Companies, 20th Infantry, Company L was able to maintain only intermittent contact with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry.
It was not until late afternoon, after the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, had arrived atop Lone Tree Hill that Company L, 1st Infantry, was relieved. By that time the company had suffered many casualties and had lost much of the matériel it had been carrying up the hill. Neither the 2nd nor 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, received appreciable amounts of supplies during the day, and only the heroic efforts of small volunteer groups kept these units supplied with enough food and ammunition to carry on the fight.
The 1st Infantry, to support the operations of the small carrying parties, sent two machine gun platoons and two 37-mm. antitank guns forward to the foot of Rocky Point. With this cover the supply groups managed to fight their various ways up and down the hill and evacuated 300 wounded men during the day.
The evening of 23 June brought another 224th Infantry counterattack which was aimed at both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions’ perimeters. These attacks came from the east side of Lone Tree Hill, the Japanese apparently having moved around the north side of the hill along Rocky Point. The initial assault culminated in a bayonet charge, which was repulsed by rifle and machine gun fire with heavy losses to the Japanese. Despite this defeat, small groups of the enemy continued suicidal attacks throughout the night of 23-24 June.
It would probably have been much easier to bypass Lone Tree Hill, isolate it, and starve out the Japanese garrison, but there were two reasons why General Sibert did not do so. First, as long as the Japanese held Lone Tree Hill, which dominated the Maffin Bay area, the shores of that bay could not be safely employed for a staging area. Second, operations from 20 to 22 June had apparently convinced the task force commander that Lone Tree Hill was not strongly held, and he had therefore ordered the frontal assault. That this estimate was in error was realized when dawn of 23 June brought with it the information that the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 20th Infantry were cut off atop Lone Tree Hill. When the hill had still not been captured by dark on 23 June the general decided to outflank it by a shore-to-shore maneuver and then continue the attack from both west and east. He ordered the 1st Infantry, reinforced by the 6th Reconnaissance Troop, to seize the beach just west of Rocky Point on the morning of 24 June. The regiment was to clean out the western side of Lone Tree Hill and prevent any more Japanese reinforcements from reaching it.
For the shore-to-shore maneuver, the 1st Infantry chose Companies K and I. Company K boarded ten LVT’s at the beach near the Tirfoam River and moved to the west side of Rocky Point. The LVT’s were protected by the 6th Reconnaissance Troop aboard thirteen LVT(A)’s armed with 37-mm. guns. Both groups of amphibian vehicles were fired on by Japanese 75-mm. guns emplaced on Rocky Point, but Company K made a safe landing at 0900 hours. Attempting to move inland, the company was immediately pinned down on the narrow beach by enemy fire of all types which originated along the west face of Lone Tree Hill and Rocky Point.
The LVT’s, again protected by the LVT(A)’s, made a return trip with Company I, 1st Infantry, which landed on the right of Company K at 1200. About 1330 four tanks of Company C, 44th Tank Battalion, transported by LCT’s, arrived at the hard-pressed beachhead, which was subjected to ever increasing machine gun and rifle fire. Upon their arrival the tanks covered the evacuation of wounded and the landing of supplies by firing on Japanese positions in the swampy woods between the beach and the west cliff of Lone Tree Hill.
One LVT, loaded with wounded men, was sunk about 175 yards off Rocky Point by Japanese 75-mm. fire. All the men were rescued by an LVT (A), which succeeded in silencing the enemy artillery weapon. Companies I and K were unable to make any progress inland. Japanese defensive positions in the swampy woodland, occupied by elements of the 223rd Infantry, prevented an advance. The four tanks attempted to move off the beach to attack these positions but found that they could not negotiate the low clay and rock bank behind the shore line. The tanks remained on the beach for the night to protect the exposed infantrymen, but the 6th Reconnaissance Troop returned to the vicinity of the Tirfoam River mouth at darkness.
On top of Lone Tree Hill during the day the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, in the face of enemy mortar, rifle, and machine gun fire, began to clear the Japanese from the many caves and crevices on Rocky Point, the deep ravine east of the point, and the hilltop plateau. For the mission of clearing Rocky Point, assault teams were formed by personnel of the Antitank Company, Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, Company H, and a few men from Company F. Elements of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, including most of Company L, also were engaged in the mopping up. The assault teams were armed with a variety of weapons, including flame throwers, bazookas, rifle grenades, hand grenades, BAR’s, TSMG’s, high explosives, and even gasoline. While this action continued, the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, aided by Company L of the 1st Infantry, secured the supply route up the hill.
By nightfall there were definite signs that Japanese resistance in the northern section of Lone Tree Hill was weakening, and during the night of 24-25 June there were no major counterattacks, although harassing mortar, grenade, and rifle fire continued. Headquarters of the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry, and Company M of the same regiment moved across the Snaky River in the afternoon and established a perimeter on the beach at the east side of Rocky Point, from which Company M’s heavy weapons could aid in the mopping-up operations.
Despite the weakening of Japanese resistance, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, and Company L, 1st Infantry, continued to suffer heavy casualties during the day. At dusk 2nd Battalion effectives numbered only 330 men, and the 3rd Battalion had only 322 effectives left. The losses of Companies I and K, 1st Infantry, could not be ascertained because not all the wounded and dead had been evacuated and because communications had broken down at intervals throughout the day. However, it was known that at least 9 men had been killed and 37 wounded, and that the dead included 2 Company K officers.
The next day, 25 June, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, now reinforced by both Companies L and M, 1st Infantry, and Company B, 6th Engineers, continued clearing Rocky Point, the deep ravine, the northern part of the hilltop plateau, and the eastern shelf, where a few scattered Japanese still held positions along the twenty-foot-high cliff. Flame throwers, demolition charges, bazookas, and hand grenades all proved successful in eliminating Japanese resistance and sealing or clearing caves and crevices.
The task was easier on the 25th, for the Japanese slowly gave up the fight and were killed or sealed off in their caves. Casualties continued to mount—the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, had only about two hundred effectives by the end of the day—but many of the losses were not due to Japanese action.
Many men were evacuated over the now secured supply route to the top of the hill as they fell from exhaustion or became sick. On the beach west of Rocky Point Companies I and K, 1st Infantry, had little success in expanding their beachhead. The tanks proved useless in the area and were therefore withdrawn to Maffin No. 1. The two infantry companies, pinned down during the morning, kept up a continuous mortar barrage against Japanese positions in the swamp to the south, against the western cliff of Lone Tree Hill, and, when certain such fire would not endanger troops atop the hill, against the northwest comer of Rocky Point. This mortar fire, coupled with the operations on the plateau, began to have the desired effect during the afternoon, and Companies I and K were able to push their defenses beyond the narrow beachhead slightly southward and westward and toward the shore beneath Rocky Point. Once or twice during the afternoon, patrols were able to reach the top of Lone Tree Hill from the northwest corner of the point and established contact with 20th Infantry units.
Late in the afternoon Company M, 1st Infantry, operating from the east side of the point, managed to push a patrol around the shore to establish contact with Company K. Though Companies I and K could find little tangible evidence of the results of their operations, they had actually wiped out the 223rd Infantry’s defense force in the area just west of Lone Tree Hill. By dusk on the 25th, it had become obvious that the combined efforts of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, had either cleared out the northern half of Lone Tree Hill or had forced the Japanese to withdraw. The latter conclusion was the more nearly correct. The 36th Division decided on 25 June to withdraw the bulk of the Center and Right Sector Forces west of the Woske River and establish new defensive positions, thereby keeping the 223rd Infantry, the bulk of which had not been committed to action in the Lone Tree Hill area, more or less intact. Only the remnants of the 224th Infantry were to remain east of the Woske, and they were to withdraw into rough terrain southwest of Mt. Saksin.
At nightfall on the 25th, General Sibert estimated that his three forward battalions had lost approximately 140 men killed and 850 wounded and evacuated, including those who had to be sent back to the rear because of wounds, sickness, heat exhaustion, or psychoneurotic disorders. Known Japanese dead in the northern part of the hill numbered 344, but it could not be estimated how many more had been thrown over the west cliff, sealed in caves, or carried off by withdrawing remnants of the Japanese defense force. According to Japanese sources, the Japanese had lost about 500 men killed and another 300 wounded in the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225-Mt. Saksin area. By noon on 25 June it was apparent to General Sibert that only mopping-up operations remained to be accomplished on and near Lone Tree Hill. For all practical purposes, that area had been secured.
Final Operations in the Wakde-Sarmi Area Mopping Up by the 6th Division As the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, were in no condition to undertake the mopping up, General Sibert decided to relieve those two units with the 3rd Battalion, 63rd Infantry.14 The latter unit and the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, were to clear the Lone Tree Hill area and all enemy west to the Woske River and inland for a distance of 800 yards. The 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, was to continue its holding mission south of Lone Tree Hill and, in co-operation with the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry, was to clear the defile, Hill 225, Mt. Saksin, and Hill 265, which lay about 1,000 yards southwest of Hill 225. The relief of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, was accomplished by 1500 on 26 June. To that time the regiment had lost 83 men killed, 484 wounded, and 10 missing. The unit estimated that it had killed 781 Japanese, by far the majority of them in operations on Lone Tree Hill during the period 22 through 25 June.
On 27 June the 3rd Battalion, 63rd Infantry, began mopping up on the top of Lone Tree Hill. These operations proved more difficult than anticipated, for a few Japanese machine gun nests were still active on the southern section. But by dusk on 30 June, no more live Japanese were to be found. On the same day the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, pushed through the defile south of the hill and found only a few stragglers in its zone. A continuous perimeter, running from the western exit of the defile north along the main road to the beach, was now established around Lone Tree Hill.
During operations at the Lone Tree Hill area from 20 through 30 June, American losses were approximately 150 killed, 550 wounded, and 400-500 evacuated from the forward area as a result of sickness, noncombat injuries, and combat fatigue. During the same period, the TORNADO Task Force claimed, 942 dead Japanese were actually counted in the area from the Snaky River west to the Woske and from the beach to the southern slopes of the defile, and the TORNADO Task Force estimated that 400 more had been sealed in caves at Lone Tree Hill. How these casualties were divided among the Japanese units is impossible to ascertain, but it is probable that at least 750 of the dead were members of the 224th Infantry and most of the rest from other units of the Right Sector Force. The 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, for instance, had been practically wiped out, as had the two companies of the 223rd Infantry which had been placed under Colonel Matsuyama’s command. That over 1,300 Japanese were killed in the coastal area from the Tor to the Woske by 30 June does not appear to be an exaggerated claim.
Although clearing enemy forces from the Lone Tree Hill area practically assured the security of the Maffin Bay staging area, General Sibert believed that in order to make the region entirely safe, it would be necessary to drive the enemy out of the terrain between the Woske and Tor for a distance of at least 3,000 yards (about one and three-fourths miles) inland. Operations for this purpose began on 1 July when the 1st Infantry extended the perimeter along the coast to the Woske. On 4 July elements of the 63rd Infantry occupied Hill 225 and on the next day seized the crest of Mt. Saksin.
Both these terrain features were found to contain numerous well-organized, strong defensive positions, all of which had been abandoned. Hill 265, southwest of Hill 225, proved a tougher nut to crack because of Japanese opposition and terrain difficulties. But on 8 and 9 July the 1st Battalions of the 1st and 63rd Infantry Regiments finally secured the hill crest, which had been held by elements of the 224th Infantry. With the fall of Hill 265, the last enemy strong point in the Maffin Bay region had been taken.
Meanwhile, the remaining Japanese forces were busily withdrawing west of the Woske. On 12 July General Sibert sent a reconnaissance in force (comprising Company A, 1st Infantry, the 6th Reconnaissance Troop, and elements of Company C, 44th Tank Battalion) across the river. This force moved rapidly beyond Sawar Drome and across Sawar Creek, which lay a little over three miles beyond the Woske, At the banks of Metimedan Creek, about 1,500 yards beyond Sawar Creek, the force was halted by Japanese fire from positions held by the Left Sector Unit and the 3rd Battalion, 223rd Infantry, along the Metimedan and from highlands beyond that stream. The 6th Division group returned to the Woske before dark, there to receive the welcome news that elements of the 31st Infantry Division were about to reach Maffin Bay to relieve the 6th Division.
The End of the Operation
When General Krueger chose the 6th Division to seize an air-base site on the Vogelkop, he decided to retain one of the division’s regimental combat teams at Wakde-Sarmi as a reserve. But even if this combat team were not required on the Vogelkop, it would hardly suffice to defend the Maffin Bay-Wakde area and, at the same time, undertake the offensive patrolling necessary to maintain contact with Japanese forces in the area and to keep those forces away from Maffin Bay. Both the 25th and 33rd Infantry Divisions could be moved to Maffin Bay, but neither could arrive by 15 July, when the 6th Division had to start loading for the Vogelkop operation. However, the 31st Infantry Division, which was scheduled to stage at Hollandia for another operation in September, could be moved to Maffin Bay by the 15th. General Krueger therefore recommended that the 31st Division (less the 124th Regimental Combat Team, at Aitape) be sent to Maffin Bay. General MacArthur quickly approved this proposal.
The 31st Division began unloading at Maffin Bay on 14 July and by the 18th, when the division commander, Major General John C. Persons, assumed the position of Commander, TORNADO Task Force, all the 6th Division, with the exception of the 20th Regimental Combat Team, had been relieved. The latter unit remained attached to the 31st Division until 21 August and left the area for the Vogelkop on the 26th. The remainder of the 6th Division began leaving on 27 July. Except for the 124th Regimental Combat Team, the 31st Division closed in the Wakde-Sarmi area by 15 August.
The two regimental combat teams of the 31st Division, the 155th and the 167th, which operated at Wakde-Sarmi had no previous combat experience but received much valuable training in a series of patrol actions, company-sized scouting missions, and battalion reconnaissance’s in force. General Persons wanted to mount an offensive to drive the Japanese from a main line of resistance which they had established in the low hills between Metimedan Creek and Sarmi, but the demands for labor at the Maffin Bay staging area and the necessity for committing many troops to the defense of that area made it impossible to assemble sufficient strength for such an attack. Then, by the time the 6th Division’s requirements had been met, the 31st Division itself had to begin preparations for another operation. The 31st Division therefore had to confine itself principally to its patrolling missions, both west and east of the perimeter.
Patrols east of the perimeter were sent out to hunt down stragglers from the Japanese Hollandia garrison, and most of them, comprising armed natives of the Wakde-Sarmi area, were led by a Dutch officer, 1st Lieutenant C. J. Sneeuwjagt. Meanwhile, work went on at the Maffin Bay staging area, and during the period 18 July-31 August there was unloaded at Maffin Bay a daily average of 2,500 tons of various supplies. During the same period the 31st Division lost 39 men killed, 195 wounded, 34 injured, and 3 missing. The division killed 294 Japanese, found 497 dead, and captured 14 others.
Since the 31st Division would need protection as it staged for its mid-September invasion of Morotai Island, northwest of the Vogelkop, General Krueger recommended to General MacArthur that a regimental combat team of the 33rd Infantry Division (another unit without combat experience) be moved from eastern New Guinea to Maffin Bay. The theater commander approved this suggestion, and the 123rd Regimental Combat Team, under Brigadier General Donald J. Myers (also assistant division commander), arrived at Maffin Bay on 1 September. The next day General Krueger declared that the Wakde-Sarmi operation was over.
All elements of the 31st Division left Maffin Bay early in September and on the 25th of the month the TORNADO Task Force was disbanded as such, Headquarters, 123rd Regimental Combat Team, assuming all operational and administrative duties in the area. Late in September the Allied Air Forces began to close out the Wakde Island air base and to move its men and equipment forward until, by December, the Wakde field was relegated to the status of an emergency strip.
In October, command of all American forces left in the Wakde-Sarmi area passed from General Krueger to the recently established U. S. Eighth Army, which was commanded by Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, formerly the commander of the RECKLESS Task Force and I Corps. The 123rd Regimental Combat remained in the region until relieved by a composite battalion combat team from the 93rd Infantry Division on 26 January 1945. The 93rd Division elements undertook some local security patrolling, but their main mission was to speed the evacuation of remaining supplies from the Maffin Bay staging area. This job was finished by 6 February, when all the remaining troops left the mainland for Wakde Island. One company of the 93rd Division remained on Wakde, sending a few amphibious patrols to the mainland, until the first week in October 1945. Then the company—the last American troops in the area—left to join its division in the Philippines.[n11-20]
The Results of the Wakde-Sarmi Operation Though the importance of the Wakde-Sarmi operation cannot be measured in terms of casualties, the casualty figures are of interest. From 17 May through 1 September American losses in the area were approximately 400 men killed, 1,500 wounded or injured in action, and 15 missing. [n11-21] During the same period about 3,870 Japanese had been killed in the area and 51 Japanese had been taken prisoner. How many more of the original Japanese garrison of some 11,000 had died of sickness and starvation, or had been buried in caves at Lone Tree Hill, could not be determined. It was estimated, however, that as of 1 September only 2,000 effective Japanese combat troops were left in the Wakde-Sarmi area. [n11-22] Much more important than of ending certain requirements for historical records. Again, this termination coincided with an administrative change in the area concerned, for on 1 September General Myers assumed the duties of Commander, TORNADO Task Force, in place of General Persons.
[n11-20 368th RCT Opns Rpt, 5 Jan 44-1 Sep 45, pp.3-9; 368th Inf Opns Rpt Maffin Bay, 19-24 Mar 45, pp. 1-3. One other infantry unit also spent a little time at Maffin Bay. This was a battalion of the 136th Infantry, 33rd Division, which spent about a month, September-October 1944, working as a labor organization at the Maffin Bay staging area. ]
[n11-21 TTF G-3 Per Rpt 107, 1 Sep 44; TTF G-1 Per Rpts 15 and 16, 30 Aug and 5 Sep 44, respectively; TTF G-1 Sum, 18 Jul-1 Sep 44, p. 2. The G-1 and G-3 figures do not agree and cannot be reconciled. Furthermore, various sets of G-3 figures are mutually irreconcilable as are different sets of G-1 figures. The figures given in the text are the author’s approximations from the sources cited.]
[n11-22 ALAMO Force, G-2 Wkly Rpt 57, 30 Aug 44, copy in G-2 DofA files; Ltr, Persons to Ward, 6 Nov 50; 123rd RCT Opns Rpt Maffin Bay, 1 Sep 44-27 Jan 45, p. 2. The last ALAMO Force figures for Japanese casualties (from ALAMO Force G-2 Wkly Rpt 61, 4 Oct 44, copy in G-2 DofA files) are 3,963 Japanese killed and 55 captured. In addition, according to various sources, there were 2 Korean, 2 Javanese, 1 Chinese, and 36 Formosan prisoners. Total known casualties were thus 4,059; Colonel Yoshino, Colonel Matsuyama, and General Yamada.]
The enemy casualties was the fact that two reinforced Japanese regimental combat teams had been destroyed as effective fighting forces and eliminated as a threat in the Southwest Pacific. In return for their losses, the Allies had obtained a valuable staging and air-base site. The Wakde Island airdrome quickly proved its value by enabling the Allied Air Forces to support not only operations within the Southwest Pacific but also those in the Central Pacific. The Fifth Air Force flew bombardment missions from Wakde against Biak, Noemfoor, enemy installations on the Vogelkop, Halmahera, Morotai, and, in the Central Pacific Area, against the Palaus and other islands in the Carolines. Fifth Air Force planes and Seventh Fleet land-based reconnaissance bombers from Wakde made substantial contributions to the success of the Central Pacific’s mid-June invasion of the Marianas by striking enemy air and fleet installations in the Palaus and reporting the movements of Japanese fleet units within flying range. Since the Japanese fields on Biak were not captured in time for Southwest Pacific aircraft to undertake from that island any missions in support of the Mariana operation, the Wakde field had to carry a far greater load than was originally intended for it. Finally, from Wakde, Seventh Fleet PB4Y’s initiated the first regular air reconnaissance of islands in the Philippines since early 1942.
The Fifth Air Force controlled operations from Wakde until late August, when the Thirteenth Air Force took over the field. The latter unit afterwards supported the mid-September invasions of Morotai and the Palaus with numerous bombing and reconnaissance missions from Wakde.
For ground forces, the Wakde-Sarmi area proved equally valuable. In operations there the 6th Infantry Division, the 31st Infantry Division (less one regimental combat team), the 123rd Regimental Combat Team of the 33rd Infantry Division, part of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, and innumerable attached units received their first combat experience. The value of the area for training was thus obvious, but the region was equally valuable as a staging base. The whole or parts of five different task forces—sent to Biak, Noemfoor, the Vogelkop Peninsula, and the Philippines—were staged from the Arare-Toem beaches or the shores of Maffin Bay. Had available assault shipping been used for long trips from eastern New Guinea bases to objectives beyond Wakde, the pace of operations in the Southwest Pacific would certainly have been slowed. Instead, many units were moved to Maffin Bay by noncombatant vessels, picked up there by assault ships, and taken on to new objectives to the north and west, the nearest of which was Biak Island. survived the war, but what happened to General Tagami cannot be ascertained from available documents.
Source: Approach to the Philippines: BY; Robert Ross Smith (United States Army Center of Military History)