World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11B); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the left)

Things had gone no better on General Harding’s left flank. Colonel Smith’s 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, had begun moving from Ango toward Buna during the morning of 21 November. The battalion’s orders were to advance on Buna Mission by way of the Triangle, the jungle-covered track junction from which the Dobodura-Buna track forked to Buna Village and Buna Mission.

Captain Yasuda, whose Yokosuka 5th, Sasebo 5th, and supporting naval pioneer troops totaled more than double the strength of Smith’s battalion, was ready. He had a series of concealed machine gun positions south of the Triangle covering the track, and an elaborate system of bunkers in the Triangle itself. There was heavy swamp on either side of the Triangle, and the bunkers had the effect of turning it into a position of almost impregnable strength. Strong bunker positions in the Coconut Grove north of the Triangle, and in the Government Gardens northeast of it, lay astride the trails leading to the village and the mission, both of which were also honeycombed with bunkers.

Yasuda’s defensive position was excellent. His short, secure, interior lines of communication enabled him to concentrate almost his full strength at any threatened point and, when the threat passed, or he chose to withdraw, to use the same troops to beat off another attack elsewhere.

The 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, moving forward toward the Triangle along the Dobodura-Buna track, knew nothing of the Japanese defenses in the area and very little about the terrain. At 1330 Sergeant Irving W. Hall of Company F, leading the point, caught a swift glimpse of an enemy machine gun about fifty yards away. Coolly turning his back on the gun so as to give the impression that he had not seen it, Hall motioned his men off the track. Before the Japanese knew what he was up to he turned around and fired a burst at them from his submachine gun. In the heavy fire fight that ensued, the point suffered one casualty.

Stopped on the trail by apparently strong enemy positions, Colonel Smith at once began flanking operations. Company G was ordered to move out on the right and Company F on the left. Company H was given orders to engage the enemy frontally, and Company E went into reserve.

At 2130, Colonel Smith reported to General Harding that he had run into opposition at the junction and that, while he was moving forward slowly on either side of that position in an attempt to flank it, he was being delayed by heavy swamp which was causing him more trouble than the enemy. General Harding immediately asked New Guinea Force to reinforce Smith with a battalion of the 126th Infantry from the other side of the Girua. Harding pointed out that it could march directly to Buna via the Soputa-Buna track.

[NOTE: Msg, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert A. Smith to General Harding, Ser 1100, 1101, 21 Nov 42; Msg, General Harding to NGF, No. 1099 [sic], 21 Nov 42. Both in 32nd Div G-2, G-3 Jnl. The fact that the serial of General Harding’s message to New Guinea Force is lower than the serials on the messages from Colonel Smith to General Harding was apparently due to an error in filing, since the messages from Smith were received at 32nd Division headquarters at 2130, and Harding’s message to New Guinea Force did not go out until 2205—thirty-five minutes later.]

General Herring quickly acceded to General Harding’s request and ordered the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, across the river. Major Herbert M. Smith, commanding officer of that battalion, reached Colonel Smith’s command post at 0930, 23 November. The two 2nd Battalions thereupon took the name of Urbana Force, and Colonel Smith, as senior officer present, took command. To avoid confusion in radio messages, General Harding designated Colonel Smith as White Smith, and Major Smith as Red Smith.

The terrain Urbana Force had run into, especially on the right, was (as Colonel Smith had already intimated to General Harding) appalling. The main track was deep in mud, and Company G, 128th Infantry, attempting to advance on the right, hit stretches of swamp in which the troops sometimes found themselves up to their necks in water. Company F, 128th Infantry, met better terrain on the left but discovered that Entrance Creek, which paralleled the left-hand fork of the Triangle, not only was tidal and unfordable but seemed to be covered by enemy machine guns at every likely crossing.

Company G’s experience in the swamp had been particularly wearing. The men had moved out into the swamp to the right of the Triangle in the late afternoon of 21 November. As they made their way eastward, darkness fell. The acting company commander, 1st Lieutenant Theodore Florey, decided to go on, but the swamp kept getting deeper. Since there seemed to be little chance of reaching dry ground before morning, Florey finally called a halt at 2100. The company spent a miserable night. A few of the men were able to find perches on the roots of trees, but the rest waited in the mire for morning. Wet to the skin and in need of sleep, the men started moving again at daybreak.

After a slow and difficult march, they hit dry land at about noon. Taking their bearings, the troops discovered that they were on one of two kunai flats running southeast of the Triangle, and that only about 200 yards of sago swamp lay between them and the flat adjacent to their objective.

Though he now had a company in position to strike, Colonel Smith had grave doubts whether an attack from that quarter would be practicable. Reports from Company G, from the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, which was carrying rations forward to it, as well as from wire-laying parties of Headquarters Company, which were having a difficult time laying wire on the right, convinced him that it would be virtually out of the question to try to supply Company G in the terrain in which it found itself. Since the reports from Company F were much more favorable and indicated that the swamp on the left of the Triangle was never more than waist-deep, he decided to pull Company G back from its untenable position on the right and concentrate his entire force on the left where the going, though far from good, was obviously much better.

On 23 November Colonel Smith sent a message to division headquarters informing it of his plan. The supply route to Company G, he wrote, was “neck-deep in mud and water,” and he asked permission for the company’s withdrawal. After waiting until about 1400 for a reply and receiving none, Smith ordered the company to pull out of the swamp and report to him for further orders. So ordered, the company severed its wire connection with battalion headquarters and started for the rear. Division headquarters had received Smith’s message about 1400 and, because of an error on the part of the decoding clerk, understood it to say that the supply route to Company G was “knee-deep in mud and water,” and not, as Colonel Smith sent it, “neck-deep.” The headquarters replied at 1425 that Smith was under no circumstances to with- draw, but was instead to proceed with the attack.

Colonel Smith sent a messenger to intercept Company G and return it to its former position. Having only limited knowledge of the enemy positions he was supposed to attack, he asked division for a delay of a day or two in which to learn more about the enemy and the terrain, and perhaps find a better route of supply to Company G. Division would not give him the time. At 2045 it informed him that there would be an air strike on the Triangle at 0800 the next morning, 24 December, following which he and Major Smith were to attack.

At 2330 the two Smiths held a staff meeting at Colonel Smith’s command post, 1,200 yards south of the nearest Japanese positions below the Triangle. There they worked out a plan which envisaged simultaneous thrusts at the Triangle from left, front, and right. The three-way attack would be preceded by air bombardment and strafing scheduled for 0800, and the troops were to jump off as soon as the air attack was over. Four 25-pounders which had just reached Dobodura that day would fire from Ango in support of the attack as soon as they got the range.

The attack opened at 0800 the next morning with an attempt by the air force to strafe the Triangle. Twelve P-40’s made one pass over the objective and missed it altogether. No bombers followed the fighters, and there was no attempt by the P-40’s to try to hit the Triangle again, since they apparently thought they had executed their mission.

Because the air attack had been a complete failure, the ground attack was held up to give the air force a chance to try again. It was arranged that this time eight P-39’s and four P-40’s would attack at 1355. There was to be no bombardment, since no bombers were available.

At the appointed time only the four P-40’s showed up. Instead of strafing the Japanese in the Triangle, they strafed Colonel Smith’s command post. Fortunately only one man was wounded in the strafing, and he only slightly, but the Japanese positions in the Triangle were left completely untouched.

After the last of the P-40’s had finished strafing his command post, Colonel Smith waited a few moments to see if any more planes would follow. No more planes arrived; so he ordered the attack to begin without further support from the air force. Following a short mortar preparation, principally by the 60-mm. mortars (the two battalions then had only two 81-mm. mortars apiece and little ammunition for them), the troops jumped off at 1428. At 1437 the 25-pounders at Ango found the range, and joined in the attack.

On the left, Company E, 126th Infantry, began by swinging wide around Entrance Creek; then it moved north about 400 yards and turned northeast. Just as it had finished covering another 400 yards and was approaching a small bridge over the creek northwest of the Triangle, a strong Japanese force struck with accurate machine gun fire. The troops dug in at once in foxholes which immediately filled with water. They went no further that day.

Company F, 126th Infantry, though soon joined by Company H, Colonel Smith’s heavy weapons company, did little in its frontal attack on the Triangle. It moved forward about 300 yards, only to find heavy barbed wire entanglements strung across the track. The enemy covering the wire was laying down intense fire. Having neither wire cutters nor the materials with which to make Bangalore torpedoes, the Americans dug in and requested engineers with explosives to clear the way.

Companies E and G, 128th Infantry, on the right, fared worst of all. Using newly found short cuts through the deep swamp, Company E managed to reach the kunai flat in much less time than Company G had taken to reach it after its groping efforts of 21 November. The men of Company E therefore joined up with Company G in plenty of time for the attack.

Leaving its weapons platoon on the flat with Company E, Company G under Lieutenant Florey started moving northwest through the sago swamp to flank the Triangle. A little less than 200 yards out, the leading platoon came upon a small grassy area, just outside the Triangle, where it surprised a group of Japanese working on what appeared to be an antiaircraft position.

The Americans opened fire, but there were more Japanese about than they thought, and the company, after suffering several casualties, was forced back into the swamp. Attempts to maneuver around the grassy strip were unsuccessful because of intense automatic weapons fire which greeted the company at every turn. Darkness found the troops pinned down at the edge of the strip, where the slope of the ground leading into the swamp afforded them a little cover.

While the main body of Company G was held up just outside the right-hand fork of the Triangle, the Japanese from the Government Gardens moved forward to within firing distance of the kunai flat held by Company E and the weapons platoon of Company G. They attacked just as it was turning dark, killing one man and wounding five others and greatly disheartening the troops on the flat, most of whom were under enemy fire for the first time.

The weapons platoon of Company G had had two days to get its weapons in order after its march through the swamp, and Company E had been on the kunai flat five or six hours, long enough for it to do the same. But the Americans apparently lacked oil, and parts of the equipment were wet, and they may have been negligent. Whatever the reason, when they were caught in the open, with the sounds of Japanese yells coming from a short distance away, the men tried to hit back at the unseen enemy as best they could, only to find that their weapons would not function properly. “. . . Mortars fell short because increments [the propelling charges in the mortar ammunition] were wet. Machine guns jammed because web belts were wet and dirty and had shrunk. Tommy guns and BAR’s were full of muck and dirt, and even the M1’s fired well only for the first clip, and then jammed because clips taken from the belts were wet and full of muck from the swamp.” Low on ammunition, completely out of food, and fearing that they had been ambushed, the troops pulled back hastily into the swamp, leaving some of their crew-served weapons behind them.

Colonel Smith in the meantime had been in communication with Company E by telephone. Learning that the Japanese attack had driven the company off the flat and into the swamp, he ordered the troops to remain where they were until he could come up in the morning and give them further instructions. At that point the phone went dead, and Smith could make no further contact with the two companies.

Company E was at this time strung out in a single file all the way back from the kunai flat, with the weapons platoon of Company G somewhere in the middle of the line. At the far end of the line, nearest to battalion, was the executive officer of Company E, 1st Lieutenant Orin Rogers, and at the head of it, nearest to the flat and the dead telephone, was the commanding officer of Company E, Captain A. T. Bakken.

Shortly after darkness fell, an order passed along the line to Lieutenant Rogers to move back to the battalion command post. Rogers assumed at the time that the phone at Captain Bakken’s end of the line was working again and that there had been a change in orders. He nevertheless made it a point to ask if the order had come from the captain. The answer came back a few minutes later that it had. Thinking no more of the matter, Rogers started the lead troops back to the command post. At the other end of the line, Captain Bakken had also received an order to move to the rear. Knowing that the phone near him was out, he assumed that a messenger from battalion headquarters had delivered such a message to Lieutenant Rogers. Just to make sure, he asked whether the message had come from battalion headquarters. The answer came back (again via the chain method) that it had, and the entire column started moving to the rear, the weapons platoon of Company G with it.[NOTE 39C]

[NOTE 39C: Ltr, Colonel Herbert A. Smith to author, 20 Jan 50. Despite a thorough investigation of the matter, Colonel Smith was never able to find out who originated the message for the troops to return to the rear. As he put it in the letter cited above: “A number of men told of passing the messages back and forth, but no one could say definitely where they originated, and many of the men did not even know who stood next to them, especially where Company E and the Weapons Platoon of Company G were badly intermingled.”]

The rest of Company G, under Lieutenant Florey, still pinned down just outside the grassy strip leading to the Triangle, had sent a runner back with orders to the weapons platoon to bring up more mortars. The runner returned with the report that Company E and the weapons platoon were gone. An officer was sent back to the kunai flat to check. When he returned with confirmation of the report, Company G, after waiting for further orders and receiving none, also began to move to the rear.

Company E, 128th Infantry, and the weapons platoon of Company G reached Colonel Smith’s command post in the early morning hours of 25 November, and Company G, except for a few stragglers, arrived there by 1007. At 1020 Colonel Smith, who only the night before had informed General Harding that he had instructed the men to remain near the edge of the kunai flat until morning, gave “faulty communication” as the reason for their return to the rear in apparent contravention of his orders.

Because the men were exhausted and hungry, and also because he did not believe that an attack on the right would succeed, Smith decided against ordering the men back into the swamp. His decision, as he himself phrased it, was “to abandon for the time being any action on the right and concentrate on the left, and to continue patrolling on the right in the hope of finding a more suitable route forward.”

Though he now shared Colonel Smith’s views about the impracticality of an attack on the right and the need to make the main effort on the left, General Harding had gone one step further in his thinking. A study of the trail which led from the left hand fork of the Triangle to Buna Village and Buna Mission had convinced him that it would be possible to bypass the Triangle and at the same time take both the village and the mission, if troops could be gotten onto the large grassy area northwest of the Triangle through which, in his own phrase, “the left hand road to Buna” ran. He therefore ordered Smith to contain the Triangle with a portion of his troops and to deploy the rest in the swamp south of the grassy area in question, preparatory to seizing it and moving westward on Buna Village.

Smith began deploying his troops in accordance with this tactical plan early on 26 November. Company F, 128th Infantry, and Company G, 126th Infantry, moved into the area west of the bridge over Entrance Creek which had been occupied and patrolled by Company E, 126th Infantry, since 24 November.

The troops had scarcely begun moving when General Harding, who had for some time felt that the attack on the Urbana front was not being pressed with sufficient vigor, ordered his chief of staff, Colonel John W. Mott, to that front. Mott’s instructions were to take strong action when he got there and, if he thought the situation required it, to take command.

Colonel Mott reached Colonel Smith’s command post on the afternoon of the 27th. Surveying the situation quickly, he came to the conclusion that he would have to assume command and did so at once. He relieved the captains of Companies E and G, 128th Infantry, of their commands and ordered them to take patrols into the area forward of the kunai flat from which the Japanese had driven Company E and the weapons platoon of Company G two days before. In addition, he ordered Companies E and G under their new commanders to retrieve their abandoned weapons on the kunai flat. They did so by sundown, but Company E returned without one of its mortars and had to be sent back a second time to get it.

Mott at once prepared to attack. He adopted a suggestion made to him by Major Smith, that the attack on the grassy strip leading to the village be mounted initially from two smaller grass strips just south of the larger kunai patch, and made his dispositions accordingly. Major Smith’s battalion was ordered to assemble near the Girua River, directly below the two strips that Smith had proposed as the jump-off point for the attack. Company F, 128th Infantry, occupied the area west of the bridge over Entrance Creek. Companies G and H, under Colonel Smith, were ordered to take over the positions south of the Triangle in order to contain the enemy there. Company E, left in reserve, was deployed around task force headquarters.

Mott reported his dispositions to General Harding on the evening of 28 November, and the division commander approved them. Following a suggestion from General Herring that he try night attacks, Harding ordered an attack on Buna Village that night. Pleading that he was not ready to attack, Mott asked for a twenty-four-hour delay. Harding granted his request, and the attack was set for the last night of the month—29-30 November.

The Attacks of 30 November: Integrating the Attacks

On the Warren front, a two-day lull had followed the reverse of 26 November. On the 28th General Harding ordered Colonel Hale to prepare to attack the next day. A report that evening, subsequently found to be false, that the Japanese were making a ground attack on Dobodura caused General Harding to postpone the attack to the early morning of the 30th.

Both Urbana Force and Warren Force were now scheduled to attack on the 30th, Urbana Force a few hours before Warren Force. Each was still suffering from the most acute deficiencies of supply, all but one of the luggers that had come in on 21 November having by this time either gone aground or been destroyed by the enemy.

Colonel Mott’s Attack

Preparations for the attack on the Urbana front were complete by evening of the 29th. In a large coconut tree that overlooked the front, Colonel Mott had an observation post connected by telephone with the artillery at Ango and the mortars. Both artillery and mortars were registered on the objective—the large grassy area just north of the two clearings below which Urbana Force was preparing the attack. Mott’s command post was a hundred yards behind the most forward element of Company E, 126th Infantry. His aid station and part of a collecting company were in place near the Girua River.

The final details of the attack were worked out with Major Smith. The troops would move off toward the main strip as soon after midnight as possible. A thirty minute mortar and artillery preparation would be laid down on the strip. Immediately afterward the men would proceed to their objective in darkness. Lacking white material for armbands, even underwear, the men would have to keep in close contact with one another. Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, would attack in a northeasterly direction and occupy the main strip, making sure that they first secured that part of it which was nearest to the Coconut Grove, a small coconut plantation immediately north of the bridge over Entrance Creek. Company G, 126th Infantry, would attack along the track and take Buna Village. Company F, 128th Infantry, after being relieved in its present positions by Company E, 128th Infantry, would proceed to Siwori Creek, seize the crossing near its mouth, and outpost the area between the creek and the Girua River. Company H, 128th Infantry, would be immediately behind Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, and would support them with fire. Company E, 128th Infantry, operating immediately to the right of Company E, 126th Infantry, would clear the Japanese out of the Coconut Grove. Company G, 128th Infantry, under Colonel Smith, would operate south of the Triangle and thus cover the track, the artillery at Ango, and the rear of the forces attacking toward Buna Village.

The jump-off was delayed. Enemy fire from the strip, flares from enemy aircraft that flew over the area during the night, the rising tide in the swamp, and the confusion attendant upon moving so many men through the treacherous swamp terrain in the dark held up the attack for several hours.

Robert H. Odell, then a lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 126th Infantry, has this recollection of the matter: As soon as it was dark, preparations began. When these were completed, we each grasped the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly shuffled forward in the pitch black of the night. Our only guide was the telephone wire leading to the jump-off point, and the troops in the foxholes along the way who had been holding the ground recently captured. There was no trail and consequently several hours were required to travel as many hundreds of yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was forbidden until after the attack was well under way. Japs encountered along the way were to be dealt with silently.

At 0400, Companies E, F, and G, 126th Infantry, finally attacked. It was still dark, and about one hundred yards out, they made their first enemy contact—a line of machine gun posts dead ahead. At that moment, Odell recalls: All hell broke loose. There was more lead flying through the air … than it’s possible to estimate. Machine gun tracers lit the entire area, and our own rifle fire made a solid sheet of flame. Everywhere men cursed, shouted, or screamed. Order followed on order. . . .Brave men led and others followed. Cowards crouched in the grass literally frightened out of their skins. . . .The attack gathered momentum. The two companies—E and F, 126th Infantry—overran the enemy outposts and gained their objective—the eastern end of the main strip. There they found and dispatched an indeterminate number of Japanese, and began to consolidate.

Company G, 126th Infantry, which was to have taken the track to Buna Village as soon as it gained the western end of the strip, accomplished only part of its mission. Led by its commander, 1st Lieutenant Cladie A. Bailey, it overran strong enemy opposition on its part of the strip but lost its way when it tried moving toward the village. When daylight came, the company found itself in the swamp along the northern edge of the strip. Finding Company G out of reach, Colonel Mott immediately assigned Company E, 126th Infantry, to the task of taking the village. Moving directly on Buna Village by way of the main track, the company attacked at 0600. About 300 yards out of the village, it ran into a well-manned enemy bunker line and found itself unable to advance because of enemy crossfire.

On Major Smith’s orders Captain Harold E. Hantlemann of Company H came up with Lieutenant Nummer, commanding officer of Company F, and some troops from Headquarters Company. Putting Hantlemann in charge of the mortars, and Nummer in command of front-line action, Smith made a determined effort to take the village. Preceded by the heaviest concentration of mortar fire yet seen on the Urbana front, the second attack met even fiercer resistance than before. Again the troops could make only slight advances. When the attack was finally called off that afternoon, they had taken considerable casualties but gained very little ground. [Note 51C]

[NOTE 51C: 2nd Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 30 Nov 42; Colonel Mott’s Memo; Gen Harding’s Diary, 30 Nov 42; Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Smith to author, 16 Mar 50. Lieutenant Nummer was wounded in the course of the attack but continued in command in spite of his wounds. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The same award, though posthumous, went to Sergeant Boyd L. Lincoln, a squad leader of Company E, 126th Infantry, who was killed that afternoon after leading his squad with great distinction all day against the enemy outpost on the outskirts of the village. Nummer’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 3, 6 Jan 43; Lincoln’s, in GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43.]

Company F, 128th Infantry, which had been given the task of securing the left flank of Urbana Force from enemy attack and cutting the enemy’s land communications between Buna and Sanananda, succeeded in its mission. It secured the crossing over Siwori Creek and out-posted the trail between it and the bridge over the Girua River. The troops east of Siwori Village had already killed several Japanese from Buna who had tried to cross the bridge, presumably to get to Giruwa or Sanananda.

The other companies of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, had been less successful. Company E, attacking from the southeast end of the strip, failed to take the Coconut Grove, and Company G had very little success in its attacks into the southern tip of the Triangle. Both were subsequently ordered by Colonel Mott to contain these ob jectives and to make no attacks upon them until otherwise ordered.

In the mop-up of the large grassy strip, the troops overran a Japanese headquarters area from which apparently a considerable number of troops had very recently fled. The place consisted of a headquarters building, an infirmary, and several huts containing weapons, ammunition, food, and medicine. The two main buildings had bunkers to the rear with which they connected by tunnels. The buildings were of canvas and frame construction and had wooden floors covered with floor mats. When overrun, the headquarters building was strewn with military documents, codes, and diaries, and contained a large radio set which took eight men to carry. After removing the papers, the radio, the food, and the medical supplies, the buildings were burned to the ground and the connecting bunkers blown up.

Colonel Hale’s Attack

The attack on the Warren front, though more heavily supported than that on the Urbana front, was even less successful. By this time General Waldron and his second-in-command, Colonel McCreary, had opened an artillery command post at Dobodura and had established firing data for all known targets in the area. The Australian artillery consisted of the eight 25-pounders and two 3.7-inch mountain howitzers of the Manning, Hall, and O’Hare Troops. The Manning Troop, four 25-pounders, was north of Ango; the Hall Troop, the remaining 25-pounders, and the O’Hare Troop, the two mountain howitzers, were at Boreo.

A flight of Australian Wirraways had just arrived from Port Moresby to aid the artillery in its spotting of enemy targets, and one 105-mm. howitzer of Battery A, the 129th U.S. Field Artillery Battalion (the only U.S. field piece to be used in the campaign) had reached Debodura by air the day before with its crew and 400 rounds of ammunition. The gun, under command of Captain Elmer D. Kobs, was emplaced at Ango on the 30th, too late however to take part in the attack.

General Harding, more than ever convinced that it would take tanks to clean out the enemy bunker defenses in the Duropa Plantation, had meanwhile continued to plead for armor. He radioed General Johns of the Combined Operational Service Command (COSC) on 27 November and asked him to do his best to get the tanks at Milne Bay to him. He suggested that Johns try to get some of the Japanese landing barges captured on Goodenough Island in the hope that they might prove big enough for the task. New Guinea Force replied for Johns that there were no barges anywhere in the area big enough to carry the tanks, and that they were sending him Bren carriers instead. Thirteen carriers, tracked, lightly armored reconnaissance vehicles mounting Bren machine guns, arrived with their crews at Porlock Harbor from Milne Bay the same day, 27 November. Advised that at least four of the carriers would reach him in the next couple of days, Harding immediately drew up plans for their use by Warren Force on the 30th.

The plan of attack on the Warren front called for Colonel McCoy’s battalion (reorganized into two rifle companies and one heavy weapons company) to move straight up the track in column of companies, with Company A leading. The advance would be on a 350-yard front, and two of the Bren carriers would spearhead the attack. Colonel Carrier’s troops with the two remaining Brens leading, and the 2/6 Independent Company on its left, were to strike westward in the area immediately below the New Strip preparatory to a break-through in that area. Besides the Australians and the Bren carriers, four 81-mm. mortars from Company M, 128th Infantry, would support Carrier’s force. Colonel Miller’s battalion, less Company I, would be in reserve, ready to assist either McCoy or Carrier, as required. Company I would remain in its blocking position astride the Dobodura-Simemi track, a few hundred yards south of the bridge between the strips.

H Hour was to be 0630. Between H minus 15 and H Hour, the 25-pounders would lay down fire on the southwest end of the New Strip. Thereafter they would fire on the woods northeast of the strip to knock out known Japanese mortar and artillery concentrations. The 3.7-inch mountain guns would first fire a preparation on Cape Endaiadere and then switch to local support of Colonel McCoy’s advance. The air force, then fighting off an enemy convoy bound for Buna, would bomb and strafe enemy positions whenever it could find the planes to do so.

Because of an acute shortage of shipping at Porlock Harbor, the Bren carriers failed to arrive as scheduled, and the attack was launched without them. The 105-mm. howitzer was not yet ready to fire and took no part in the attack. Nor was there the usual preliminary air bombardment, since the air force was still busy with the enemy convoy.

The 25-pounders, the mountain guns, and the mortars opened up at 0615, and the troops jumped off at the appointed time, 0630. Allied bombers, after successfully chasing the enemy convoy back to Rabaul, joined in the fray at 0900. At 0945 there was a further friendly artillery barrage, and at 1345 and 1448 Allied planes came over again, strafing and bombing.

Despite this support, Warren Force made very little progress that day. Pressed tightly against the Japanese defensive positions and without tanks or enough heavy artillery using projectiles with delayed fuse to demolish the enemy fortifications, the Americans could make little headway. The troops fought desperately, but could not get through the enemy’s protective fire.

Company A, 128th Infantry, leading the attack along the coast, advanced less than a hundred yards when it ran into a massive log barricade which Colonel Yamamoto’s troops had thrown across the trail. Automatic fire from behind the barricade and from concealed positions on its left soon brought the company’s advance to a complete halt The artillery at Boreo was unable to reduce the barricade, and sustained fire from 81-mm. mortars and from a 37-mm. gun brought up specifically for the purpose seemed to make no impression upon it. By noon Company A had been definitely stopped, and the men began to dig in, in the intense heat of the day. When Company A was relieved by Company B that night, it was about 900 yards south of the Cape. Its right flank was still in front of the barricade, and its left, which had not kept up, was curved almost all the way back to the line of departure.

Colonel Carrier, on McCoy’s left, facing west, had fared a little better. Ordered to infiltrate the eastern end of the New Strip with a view to striking along its northern edge, Company B tried to fight north into the fork but was stopped by enemy fire from a strongpoint dominating the spur and the strip. Company C, with the Independent Company on its left, was to flank the strip by advancing westward along its southern edge. It advanced to about the center of the strip before enemy fire became so heavy that it too had to dig in. Except for the slight progress on Colonel Carrier’s front, the attack had again failed.

The situation was serious. Despite repeated attacks on it, the Japanese line stood intact. In the two weeks since the 32nd Division had marched out so confidently on the enemy positions at Buna, it had sustained 492 battle casualties but had made not so much as a single penetration of the enemy line. It was obvious that something would have to be done to intensify the attack. The bodies of many of those listed as missing in action were later recovered and went to swell the number killed.

SOURCE: Victory in Papua, BY: Samuel Milner (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11A); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the right)

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World War Two: Guadalcanal (9); Situation in December-General Patch Takes Command

By the end of November, the higher commanders in the Pacific clearly recognized that the 1st Marine Division needed to be relieved and evacuated to a healthier climate. The division had begun the first offensive undertaken by American ground troops in World War IL Despite the lack of the powerful air and surface support that American infantrymen in later campaigns were to take almost for granted, and in spite of air raids, naval bombardments, inadequate diet, inadequate armament, and resolute Japanese infantry attacks, it had captured and successfully defended an airfield of great importance. Its achievements were rewarded by the Presidential Unit Citation.

Marine battle casualties had not been excessive. Over 600 men of the division were killed in action or died of wounds and other causes between 7 August and 10 December 1942. During the same period the dead of other American units on Guadalcanal totaled 691. Over 2,100 sick and wounded men of the 1st Division had already been evacuated.

In the Solomon’s battle casualties did not accurately reflect a unit’s losses. Hospital admissions resulting from sickness must also be taken into account. Up to 10 December 1942, of the 10,635 casualties in the division, only 1,472 resulted from gunshot wounds; 5,749 malaria cases had put men out of action. In November malaria alone sent 3,283 into the hospital. Gastro-enteritis, which had struck nearly 500 men during August and September, materially decreased during the following months and in December only 12 cases appeared. War neuroses afflicted 100 during October when enemy bombardments had been heaviest, but in November only 13 were affected. These figures are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many malaria victims were hospitalized more than once; many of the same men were also later killed or wounded. Thus the number of men in the division who were not hospitalized may have been larger than the statistics indicate. Yet many other malaria victims did not report for treatment, and many milder cases were not hospitalized.

The men who had remained on duty were ready for relief. They had endured months of intermittent combat, air raids, and naval attacks. Inadequate diet had caused nearly every man to lose weight. Secondary anemia was common. Weakness resulting from malnutrition, heat, and disease was causing an excessive number of march casualties in all units. Merely living in the Lunga perimeter was an ordeal in itself. Water was insufficient for bathing and laundry, and fungi frequently infected those who bathed in the rivers. The old October perimeter had included less than thirty square miles, so there were no real rest areas, nor any recreational facilities. Flies, attracted by unburied enemy corpses lying beyond the perimeter, harassed the troops constantly. They clustered so thickly that men messing in the open had to brush flies off their food with one hand while eating with the other.

As early as 3 November Halsey had wished to relieve the worn-out division, but he was unable to do so until he could send more fresh troops to Guadalcanal. The 43rd Division was already on its way to the South Pacific; the first elements of the division had arrived in the area in early October. On 3 November Harmon repeated an earlier request that General Marshall send the 25th Division, then assisting in the defense of the Hawaiian Islands, to the South Pacific.

While General Marshall had alerted the 25th Division for movement as early as 19 October, it was not then definitely decided whether the division was to go to the South or to the Southwest Pacific Area. One combat team of the 25th Division was to have left Pearl Harbor in November, but it was delayed when the ship aboard which it was to sail, the President Coolidge, sank on 26 October when it struck two U. S. mines off Espiritu Santo. The Coolidge was carrying the 172nd Regimental Combat Team of the 43rd Division.

On 30 November the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to send to the South Pacific the 25th Division, commanded by Major General J. Lawton Collins. The 1st Marine Division was to be relieved, with the first echelon leaving in early December. It was to go to the Southwest Pacific Area to be rehabilitated and to provide General MacArthur with a division having amphibious training.

On Guadalcanal staff officers of the Americal Division, who had arrived in November and been working closely with the Marine division staff, were preparing to take over. At the beginning of December they moved into the Marine staff sections to acquaint themselves with the problems peculiar to Guadalcanal. The Americal Division’s supply sections completed an inventory of the stocks on the island, and on 1 December they assumed responsibility for supply. By 8 December all Army staff officers had assumed complete responsibility.

The selection of a commander to succeed General Vandegrift was left to General Harmon. He chose Major General Alexander M. Patch, commanding general of the Americal Division, to direct tactical operations on Guadalcanal. On 9 December General Patch relieved General Vandegrift, who was to leave with his division. The evacuation of the 1st Division began on the same day, when three ships carrying the 5th Marines sailed out of Sealark Channel for Australia. By the end of the month the rest of the division had followed.

General Patch, the new commander, born in 1889, was graduated from the U. S. Military Academy in 1913. He saw active service in France during World War I, taught military science and tactics at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia during three separate tours of duty, and was graduated from the Command and General Staff School and from the Army War College. From 1936 to 1941, he served on the Infantry Board at Fort Benning, with the 47th Infantry, and commanded the Infantry Replacement Training Center at Camp Croft in South Carolina. Early in 1942 he had been ordered, as a brigadier general, to command the American force which had been organized to defend New Caledonia.

On 10 December 1942 the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area assumed somewhat the same status as the other island commands in the South Pacific. General Harmon became responsible for providing supplies for the troops. Admiral Turner was relieved of responsibility for defending Guadalcanal but was to retain responsibility for transporting troops and supplies to the area. General Patch was responsible to Admiral Halsey. His command included the Guadalcanal airfields, the seaplane base at Tulagi, and the naval bases as well as the troops of all services. The troops were then occupying Tulagi, the adjacent islands, and Koli Point, Lunga Point, and the Matanikau River-Point Cruz area on Guadalcanal. The mission given him was clear and direct: “eliminate all Japanese forces” on Guadalcanal.

Troop Strength

For the Americans on Guadalcanal October and November had been primarily periods of stubborn defense interspersed with hard-fought local offensives. The first half of December was a period of transition, a time of organization for offensive action while reinforcements were on their way. Prior to the relief of the 1st Marine Division American forces had included almost 40,000 men. Although in December there were about 25,000 Japanese troops on Guadalcanal, the Americans were not sure of the 17th Army’s precise strength or dispositions, and there always remained the dangerous possibility that it might be reinforced by the nocturnal Tokyo Express.

Prior to his assumption of command General Patch had estimated that he would require at least two reinforced divisions to hold the airfields, and three to prevent the Japanese from making any more landings. But there were then no other divisions in the South Pacific which could be spared. The 37th Division, the only other complete U. S. Army division in the South Pacific except the Americal, was then holding the strategically important Fiji Islands and could not be moved. The departure of the 1st Marine Division reduced troop strength so much that no major offensives could be undertaken until the 25th Division arrived. The Americal Division, the 147th Infantry, the reinforced 2nd and 8th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division, and the Marine defense battalions were the only ground forces available to General Patch during most of December, and most of these were needed to hold the ground already gained.

Most of the remaining units of the Americal Division reached Guadalcanal in December. The 132nd Regimental Combat Team (less the 1st Battalion and A Battery of the 247th Field Artillery Battalion) landed on 8 December. The 2nd Marine Division Signal Company and the 18th Naval Construction Battalion landed on 12 December, followed on 13 December by the 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry, and C Company, 2nd (Marine) Engineer Battalion. The next day more Americal Division units landed—the Mobile Combat Reconnaissance Squadron, the 1st Battalion, 132nd Infantry, A Battery of the 247th Field Artillery Battalion, and a detachment of the 39th Military Police Company. The 221st Field Artillery Battalion did not arrive until January 1943. These units were inexperienced, but the 164th and 182nd Regiments had seen heavy fighting.

The Americal Division was a unique Army unit, for it bore a name instead of a number and had been activated in New Caledonia instead of on United States territory. The name “Americal” is a contraction of the words America and New Caledonia. The division, activated in May 1942, was composed of elements of the force sent to defend New Caledonia in the early months of the war. Composed of infantry, artillery, and supporting units and led by General Patch, this task force had left the United States on 23 January 1942. After a short stay at Melbourne, Australia, it had reached Noumea, New Caledonia, on 12 March, to occupy and defend that island. New Caledonia, valuable as a military base and source of nickel, was a French colony held by the Vichy government during the first years of World War II until a popular uprising overthrew the Vichy governor and installed a member of General Charles de Gaulle’s Fighting French Forces. In co-operation with the Fighting French authorities, General Patch’s force had organized the defense of New Caledonia.

The main units of the Americal Division were the 132nd, 164th, and 182nd Infantry Regiments; the 221st, 245th, 246th, and 247th Field Artillery Battalions; the 57th Engineer Combat Battalion; the 101st Quartermaster Regiment; the 101st Medical Regiment; the 26th Signal Company, and the Mobile Combat Reconnaissance Squadron. The division, which had been widely dispersed in New Caledonia, was to operate on Guadalcanal as a complete division for the first time.

The first element of the division to land on Guadalcanal was the 164th Infantry, a part of the North Dakota National Guard. It was followed by a Massachusetts National Guard regiment, the 182nd Infantry. The units of the Americal which served with the 1st Marine Division also received the Presidential Unit Citation. The 132nd Infantry, of the Illinois National Guard, arrived last. The division’s artillery battalions came from the old 72nd and 180th Field Artillery Regiments. The Mobile Combat Reconnaissance Squadron, equipped with jeeps, rifles, machine guns, automatic rifles, mortars, and 37-mm. antitank guns, was a special unit which had been organized in New Caledonia by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander M. George to provide a mobile striking force to strengthen the defense of the island. Guadalcanal’s terrain was too rough and densely jungled for motorized combat units, however, and the squadron fought on foot.

Brigadier General Edmund B. Sebree, then assistant division commander and soon to command the division, was by December a veteran of Guadalcanal. He had reached the island in early November, had conducted the closing phase of the Koli Point action, and had commanded part of the perimeter defense. On General Vandegrift’s order he had directed the offensive of 18 November which, though it bogged down short of the Poha River, succeeded in establishing the American lines west of the Matanikau River.

There were no experienced fresh troops on Guadalcanal in early December. The 132nd Infantry was fresh but untried, and the veteran Marine and Army units were in little better condition than the 1st Marine Division. All were suffering from general debility, battle weariness, and malaria, and most of the Americal Division units were understrength. On 11 December the Americal Division numbered 13,169 men—23 officers and 3,102 enlisted men below full strength. The 132nd, 164th, and 182nd Infantry Regiments, with an authorized strength of 3,325 men each, lacked 329, 864, and 869 men, respectively.

General Harmon resorted to emergency measures to increase the strength of the forces on Guadalcanal. With Admiral Halsey’s approval, he ordered the ships bearing the 25th Division from Hawaii to sail to Guadalcanal without reloading at New Caledonia. In doing so General Harmon knowingly took a risk, for, as General Marshall warned him on 7 December, shipping space had been too limited for combat-loading, or even unit-loading the ships before they left Pearl Harbor. Discharging these ships in the forward area would be dangerous.

But in view of General Patch’s urgent need for more troops, combat-loading the 25th Division’s ships at Noumea, where dockside congestion had caused a crisis, would delay the landing of the division on Guadalcanal by six weeks—until early February 1943. General Harmon therefore carried out his plan despite the dangers involved, and the 25th Division, protected by air and surface forces, went to Guadalcanal without taking time to reload at Noumea. The 35th Regimental Combat Team landed at Beach Red on 17 December; it was followed by the 27th Regimental Combat Team on 1 January 1943, and by the 161st Regimental Combat Team on 4 January. All units landed without loss. On 4 January 2nd Marine Division headquarters and the 6th Marines, Reinforced, having moved up from New Zealand, also landed, thereby bringing the 2nd Marine Division to nearly full strength. General Patch had now, in addition to miscellaneous units, three divisions.

The additional duties assumed by General Patch’s staff during December imposed heavy burdens upon it. Americal Division headquarters, the highest headquarters on Guadalcanal in December, had been acting as a full corps headquarters—acting simultaneously as island headquarters, Americal Division headquarters, and headquarters for part of the 2nd Marine Division. To remedy this situation, General Harmon recommended to General Marshall that a corps headquarters be designated for the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area. General Marshall, who on 5 December had informed General Harmon that all Army Air Force units in the South Pacific Area were to be designated the Thirteenth Air Force, acceded to this request, and on 2 January 1943 General Harmon activated the XIV Corps. The Corps consisted of the Americal and 25th Divisions, with the 2nd Marine Division and other Marine ground forces attached.

General Patch was given the command of the XIV Corps, and General Sebree succeeded to command of the Americal Division. Headquarters and Headquarters Company, VIII Corps, then in the United States, was re-designated and assigned to the XIV Corps, and in late December Brigadier General Robert L. Spragins arrived to assume his duties as XIV Corps chief of staff. The XIV Corps’ staff section chiefs assumed their duties on 5 January 1943, but most of the posts at XIV Corps headquarters were manned by Americal Division staff officers. The Americal Division staff section chiefs acted simultaneously for their division and as assistant staff section chiefs for the Corps. As late as 1 February 1943 XIV Corps headquarters proper consisted of only eleven officers and two enlisted men. The Corps was not only insufficiently staffed, but also lacked service troops and organic corps artillery. It used the 155-mm. guns of the defense battalions and the Army coast artillery battery as corps artillery.

The arrival of reinforcements in late December and early January increased American strength on Guadalcanal sufficiently to make possible the opening of large-scale offensive operations. By 7 January 1943 Allied air, ground, and naval forces in the Guadalcanal area totaled about 50,000 men. The Americal Division numbered about 16,000; the 25th Division, 12,629; the 2nd Marine Division, 14,733.25

Air Power

By December the difficulties and shortages which had limited the campaigns in the South and Southwest Pacific were partially overcome. In the Solomon’s, Allied air strength was on the increase. Control of the air and the sea in the southern Solomon’s enabled Halsey and Turner to send troops and supplies to Guadalcanal regularly. The number of heavy Army bombers in the South Pacific had increased. The veteran 11th Heavy Bombardment Group had been operating in the theater since July, and in November it was reinforced by the 5th Heavy Bombardment Group and the 12th and 44th Fighter Squadrons, which arrived at Espiritu Santo from Hawaii.

By November forty B-17’s of the two groups were operating in the Solomon’s, and General Harmon released heavy bombers of the 90th Bombardment Group which he had been authorized to divert en route to the Southwest Pacific. On 20 October twin-engined Army fighter planes (P-38’s) had arrived in the South Pacific, but not until November, when Henderson Field was safe from shell fire, could they be based at Guadalcanal. When heavy bombers from Henderson Field raided Buin on 18 November, P-38’s escorted the B-17’s all the way for the first time.

Unfortunately the B-17’s frequently had to be diverted from bombardment to patrol missions. The Navy’s twin-engined flying boats (PBY’s) were too vulnerable to enemy attack. The B-17’s, on the other hand, could patrol over long stretches of water, locate enemy convoys, and beat off attacking Japanese fighter planes. The effectiveness of heavy bombers was also diminished by the fact that most fixed enemy objectives lay beyond the range of bombers based at spiritu Santo. The heavy bombers when not flying patrol missions were usually limited to the bombardment of shipping and thus did not meet with conspicuous success as compared with the dive bombers and torpedo bombers which the Navy had designed for just such work. A sustained air offensive against the enemy in the northern Solomon’s could not be mounted until a strong bomber force was permanently based at Henderson Field.

[NOTE-25XK: XIV Corps Strength Rpt, 7 Jan 43, in Amer Div Strength Rpt. Figures in the Corps report, incorrectly totaled, have been corrected. The Corps’ report does not show the 221st Field Artillery Battalion, which landed on 4 January 1943. As strength figures for this battalion for 7 January 1943 have not yet been found, those for 1 February 1943 have been used to reach the approximately correct figure.]

Allied air power on Guadalcanal had greatly increased since the grim days in October. On 23 November General Vandegrift reported that eighty-four U. S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand Air Force planes were operating from Guadalcanal. By 29 November there were 188 aircraft of all types. By December the 1st Marine Air Wing included Marine Air Group 14, with elements of the 12th, 68th, and 339th Fighter Squadrons and of the 70th Medium Bombardment Squadron (equipped with B-26’s) of the Army Air Forces attached. The advance elements of Brigadier General Francis P. Mulcahy’s 2nd Marine Air Wing, which was to relieve the 1st Wing, arrived on 26 December.

By December, in spite of all difficulties, air and naval power had almost, but not completely, isolated the Japanese on Guadalcanal. The Tokyo Express could slip through on occasion, but the island’s air forces limited its trips. Allied air power was also able to prevent Japanese aircraft from successfully attacking ground installations in force during daylight and from using aircraft for daylight reconnaissance.

Henderson Field was in fair condition by December. Although its operational facilities were still crude, it could support the efficient operation of eighty planes. On returning to the United States after his tour of duty as commander of land-based aircraft in the South Pacific, Admiral McCain had recommended building gasoline storage tanks with a minimum capacity of half a million gallons. He had recommended storage tanks with a million-gallon capacity if Guadalcanal was to be used as a base for further advances, and by December construction of storage tanks with that capacity had begun. Henderson Field could be used in all weathers. By 10 January steel mats had been laid over 320,750 square feet of runway but 600,000 square feet remained without mats.

Fighter Strip No.1, east of Henderson, was being regraded in December but 1,800,000 square feet of matting were required. It was later to serve Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. The coral-surfaced Fighter Strip No. 2 southwest of Kukum was nearly complete by the end of December. It was to furnish U. S. Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots with an excellent runway. At Koli Point naval construction forces, unhindered by enemy ground forces, had nearly completed the bomber strip, Carney Field.

The daylight air attacks, naval shellings, and artillery fire that had pounded Henderson Field so heavily in October were over, although harassing air raids continued to take place at night. Antiaircraft guns of the Marine Corps defense battalions and, until its relief, of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion defended the airstrips. Automatic weapons ranging in size from .30-caliber water-cooled antiaircraft machine guns to 20-mm. and 37-mm. antiaircraft guns beat off strafers and dive bombers, and 90-mm. guns and searchlights defended the field against high-level bombers.

One of the features of the campaign was the nightly nuisance attacks by the Japanese planes, which the troops called “Louie the Louse,” or from the engines’ sound, “Washing-machine Charley” and “Maytag Charley.” Charley bombed at random and caused little damage, but the bombs forced the troops to take cover in dugouts and foxholes, losing sleep and exposing themselves to malarial mosquitoes. Charley was a difficult target for the antiaircraft guns since he usually flew high and maneuvered violently when searchlights and guns went into action. Night fighting, radar-equipped planes, which would have been effective against him, were not to reach the South Pacific until late in February 1943. On several occasions air forces and antiaircraft batteries successfully coordinated fighter attacks with searchlight illumination.

The long-range radar used on Guadalcanal, the SCR 270, functioned fairly well, although the antiaircraft batteries’ fire control radar, the SCR 268, was too primitive for accurate fire control. The coast-watching stations supplemented radar to warn the Lunga area of approaching enemy planes, for the enemy occasionally attacked Lunga Point from the south and southwest over the mountains which screened the planes from radar beams.

The American Situation on Guadalcanal

The area of Guadalcanal which was held by American troops in December was not much greater than that captured in the assault landing. The Lunga perimeter had been enlarged in the November offensive to include the Matanikau River and the area west to Point Cruz. By December the American lines extended from Point Cruz south to Hill 66, from there were refused east across the Matanikau River, and joined the old Lunga perimeter line east of the river. At Koli Point Colonel Tuttle’s 147th Infantry, the 9th (Marine) Defense Battalion, and the naval construction battalion had established a perimeter defense.

Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo, successfully stormed on 7-8 August, were in American hands. The Japanese had shelled and bombed these islands but had directed all their ground assaults against Henderson Field. Tulagi Harbor provided a good anchorage for warships and transports. American patrols from Tulagi regularly visited Florida Island across the channel from Guadalcanal, to check on possible enemy forces.

The fundamental importance of health and supply in the American situation on Guadalcanal had not diminished. But by December supply had greatly improved over that of the early days, and a major crisis at Noumea had been surmounted. In November, a break-down in the handling of incoming ships at Noumea threatened to cut off supplies for the Army troops on Guadalcanal.

The South Pacific Amphibious Force was already short of ships, and with the torpedoing of the Alchiba off Guadalcanal in November Admiral Halsey reported that only four undamaged cargo ships were left in the South Pacific Force. At Noumea the increased flow of supplies and troops from the United States had resulted in a serious congestion of the harbor, where 91 vessels carrying 180,000 tons of cargo were waiting to be unloaded. Eighty-three of the vessels carried supplies and equipment which Were to be trans-shipped to the New Hebrides and to Guadalcanal. Noumea, like the few other partially developed ports in the South Pacific, lacked enough men, equipment, and storage and berthing space to unload the ships. Army, Navy, and Marine Corp units had formerly each handled their own supplies, but in late November Admiral Halsey suggested that the Army assume responsibility for loading and unloading ships at Noumea. The Army took over the task immediately. In November 34,327 long tons of cargo had been discharged at Noumea, and in December the amount rose to 126,216 long tons. Cargo shipments to Guadalcanal, which had totaled 5,259 long tons in November, increased to 7,271 long tons in December.

Once supplies reached Guadalcanal, however, further difficulties arose. In the absence of docks, all supplies had to be unloaded from ships standing off-shore, lightered to the beaches, unloaded, reloaded on trucks and hauled inland to the dispersed dumps. Since the shortage of shipping space stripped units traveling to Guadalcanal of much of their motor transport, there were never enough trucks. As the number of service troops was also inadequate, combat troops as well as native laborers were forced to handle cargo, a duty for which the combat soldiers showed a marked lack of enthusiasm. As General Patch wrote, combat troops were “apathetic toward labor.”

Moreover, poor roads hindered the movement of supplies inland. Engineers and pioneers of the 1st Marine Division had built roads and some bridges, and the 57th Engineer Battalion was continuing the work. Known before the war as Government Track, the coast road served as the main route between the Ilu River and Point Cruz. An additional road net served Henderson Field and the infantry positions to the south. The marines had begun a jeep trail southwest from the perimeter toward Mount Austen; the 57th Engineers were to complete this trail, over which supplies for the forthcoming attack on Mount Austen were to be carried. A permanent motor bridge enabled heavy vehicles using the coast road to cross the Matanikau. The coast road supplied the troops near Point Cruz, while jeeps carried supplies to Hill 66 on a trail leading over Hills 73 and 72.

These roads, which rain turned into mudholes, were never completely adequate even in dry weather for the supply of front-line units. Before the American invasion no real motor roads had existed. The Japanese had hacked trails through the jungle but many had been obliterated by the trees and undergrowth. When American troops advanced, the engineers would build supply roads behind them, but since they were muddy and narrow, small supply dumps, widely dispersed as a protection against bombing and shell fire, were situated well forward. Jeeps and hand-carriers usually brought supplies to the units in the front lines. Despite these efforts, American troops in January were frequently to outrun their supplies and in some instances were even to fight for considerable periods without water.

Malaria, too, affected operations. By December 1942 the problem of malaria control had not been solved, nor was it to be solved until after the campaign. Malaria, the greatest single factor reducing the effectiveness of South Pacific troops, caused five times as many casualties as enemy action in the South Pacific. No malaria control personnel had been permitted on Guadalcanal until mid-November. The island had been occupied almost a year before sufficient aerosol dispensers and insect repellent were available. Quinine was scarce; suppressive atabrine treatment had been inaugurated but had not halted the spread of the disease. Many men swallowed atabrine tablets reluctantly if at all. Many falsely believed that it was poisonous, that it caused sexual impotence, or that it stained the skin permanently. Little had been done to check the breeding of mosquitoes. The natives were all heavily infected, as were the Japanese. Each rain filled the numerous swamps, streams, lagoons, craters, and foxholes, and provided ideal breeding areas for mosquitoes. Malaria discipline had been lax in all units.

Of the ineffective troops in the Army units on Guadalcanal, nearly 65 percent were put out of action by disease as compared with about 25 percent wounded in action. The rate of malaria per 1,000 men per year for units of all services on Guadalcanal was high. It rose from 14 cases per 1,000 in August to 1,664 per 1,000 in October, 1,781 in November, 972 in December, and 1,169 in January 1943. The hospital admission rate from malaria in Army units alone on Guadalcanal from 1 November 1942 to 13 February 1943 averaged 420 admissions per 1,000 men per year.

The Japanese Situation

As the American situation on Guadalcanal improved, the enemy’s situation correspondingly deteriorated. By piecemeal commitment the Japanese had dissipated their air, surface, and troop strength. Hard fighting with Americans of all services had cost the enemy dearly, as had his own lack of perception, demonstrated by repeated attacks, without sufficient artillery support, against superior forces. Malnutrition and disease exacted a heavy toll from the enemy on Guadalcanal.

The Japanese Army command in the South Pacific was altered in December when a higher headquarters than that of the 17th Army moved into Rabaul. On the orders of Imperial General Headquarters, General Hitoshi Imamura, commanding the 8th Area Army, left Java for Rabaul to assume command of army operations. General Imamura reached Rabaul on 2 December 1942 and was followed later by his army. On Guadalcanal the forward echelon of 17th Army Headquarters continued to direct operations. General Hyakutake, the army commander, and his staff remained on the island until February 1943. In December, the 17th Army kept the bulk of its combat forces between Point Cruz and Cape Esperance, while patrols covered the south coast. The Japanese front lines extended from the Point Cruz area to the high ground about 4,500 yards inland, curving east about 3,000 yards to include Mount Austen. The only Japanese troops east of the Lunga in December were stragglers.

[NOTE-40ZL: USSBS, Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, p. 9. This source occasionally calls Imamura’s command the 8th Group Army, 17th Army Opns, I, states that Headquarters, 8th Area Army reached Rabaul on 22 November. 17th Army Opns, I, II. Many Allied sources affirm that Hyakutake left the island well before February. According to the XIV Corps and Americal Division’s intelligence reports, Maruyama directed operations in Hyakutake’s absence.]

On the island were the remnants of General Maruyama’s 2nd Division, General Sano’s 38th Division, and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki Forces. Major General Takeo Ito, Infantry Group commander of the 38th Division, commanded about 1,000 troops of the 124th and 228th Infantry Regiments and supporting units on an inland line extending from Mount Austen to a point about 3,000 yards west. Of this force, Major Takeyosho Inagaki with the 2nd Battalion, 228th Infantry, occupied the northeast slopes of Mount Austen. Colonel Oka, with part of the 124th Infantry and other units, held the center of the line between Mount Austen and the Matanikau, while Colonel Masaichi Suemura commanded the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 228th Infantry on the high ground west of the Matanikau. In the coastal area, part of the 2nd Division, operating occasionally under 38th Division command, and units of the latter division faced the Americans along the Point Cruz-Hill 66 line, while the rest of the 2nd Division was concentrated farther west. In early December the Americans were not completely aware of Japanese strength and dispositions on Guadalcanal, especially on Mount Austen and the hills to the west.

Japanese troop strength had declined from the peak of 30,000 men, reached briefly in November, to average about 25,000 in December. Almost no reinforcements had arrived since the 38th Division survivors had come ashore from their blazing transports on 15 November. During the entire campaign about 33,600 troops of the 17th Army and 3,100 of the Special Naval Landing Forces saw action on the island at various times. In December the Americans underestimated the total strength of the Japanese on Guadalcanal; their estimates varied from 9,100 to 16,000. But all Japanese units were understrength, and many soldiers were unfit for duty.

In all sectors the enemy, incapable of offensive action, had dug in for defense. The front-line troops especially were in poor physical condition. The increasing shortage of supplies had reduced rations to a bare minimum, to less than one-third the regular daily allowance. Stealing of food was common. As the few supplies which were brought in were usually landed near Cape Esperance and carried by hand to the front, rear-area troops fared best. Front-line troops were often reduced to eating coconuts, grass, roots, ferns, bamboo sprouts, and what wild potatoes they could find. There are even a few apparent instances of cannibalism on Mount Austen.

[NOTE-47ZL: Interv with Colonel Stanley R. Larsen, 19 Aug 46. Colonel Larsen commanded the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, on Mount Austen and saw butchered corpses. See also statements by Colonel R. B. McClure (CO, 35th Inf), 20 Jan 43; Lieutenant Colonel James L. Dalton, II, 31 Jan 43; Major Lome S. Ward, 29 Jan 43; and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart F. Crawford, (G-2, 25th Div), in 25th Div FO’s, in misc USAFISPA docs in files of Hist Div, SSUSA.]

But hunger was not the only serious problem. If malaria decimated the American ranks, it caused havoc among the enemy. Among the Japanese probably every man was a victim. They had no systematic malaria control, few mosquito nets, and inadequate field hospitals. While American troops operated and bivouacked on high open ground whenever possible, the enemy’s need for security from air attack made him travel, bivouac, and fight in the jungles, where the Anopheles mosquito breeds in the sluggish streams and swamps. According to enemy figures, of 21,500 casualties, 9,000 died of disease—malaria, malnutrition, beri-beri, and dysentery. [NOTE-48KL] Illness and malnutrition weakened the troops so much that late in the campaign one Japanese officer is reported to have classified his men in three groups: those who could move and fight, those who could fight only from emplacements, and those who could not fight at all. In several instances when hospitals moved west during the retreats in January and February the medical personnel apparently evacuated only ambulatory patients. That the others were left behind to die or be captured was indicated by the fact that American troops, during the January offensives, were to find numbers of unwounded enemy corpses in abandoned hospital sites.

[Note-48KL: 1st Demob Bureau table, attached to Interrog of Hyakutake, et al. 17th Army Opns, II, gives figures which substantially agree, but shows the total dead as 21,600. Amer Div Int Rpt, Tab B, gives 27,000 enemy dead; Japanese Medical Problems, p. 11, estimates that 2/3 of enemy deaths were caused by illness; XIV Corps, Enemy Opns, gives larger figures—42,554 committed; 24,330 killed; 3,000 evacuated; 14,724 died of wounds or sickness.]

The Japanese troops lacked food because air and naval power had almost completely isolated them from their bases. They could not use transports for supply and reinforcements. The nocturnal Tokyo Express was able to bring in only a scattering of supplies and reinforcements. The Express made about eleven trips to Guadalcanal between 16 November 1942 and 9 February 1943, and lost ten destroyers sunk and nineteen damaged in the process. To deliver food to Guadalcanal, the Japanese at Rabaul packed rice in empty gasoline drums, roped fifty together, and loaded four of these 50-drum bundles on the deck of each destroyer. The destroyers would then sail down the Slot, arrive at Cape Esperance at night, and throw the drums overboard to float in with the morning tide. Destroyers transported over 20,000 drums, but the troops ashore recovered less than 30 percent. Some were destroyed on the coral reefs, the ropes often broke, and Allied fliers on dawn patrol strafed them whenever possible. When the drum method failed the Japanese tried supply by submarine, but with little success. According to former 17th Army officers, the Japanese on Guadalcanal not only failed to receive the greater part of their heavy equipment, but also lost all but 10 percent of their ammunition.

Thus it was impossible for the Japanese to undertake offensive operations. Not only were the soldiers too weak, but ammunition stocks were too low. Enemy artillery lacked shells to hit Henderson Field, and Allied aircraft and counterbattery artillery made the extensive use of artillery dangerous. Farther north, however, enemy activity was increasing. After their failure to retake the Lunga airfields in November, the Japanese had begun to build an airfield at Munda Point on New Georgia, just 207 miles from Henderson Field. It was so well camouflaged that it was not discovered by the Americans until 3 December. Despite almost daily attacks by aircraft, the field was completed by 29 December. Thereafter Guadalcanal-based aircraft struck it regularly to prevent its fighters escorting the Tokyo Express or intercepting Allied bombing formations bound for the Shortlands and Bougainville, and to discourage its bombers from attacking the Lunga airfields.

An Allied victory on Guadalcanal seemed to be assured by December, but only at the cost of more hard righting. Though weak from hunger and disease, the Japanese were not disposed to surrender and were to continue to fight with bravery and skill.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (8); Advances Toward Kokumbona

World War Two: Guadalcanal (8); Advances Toward Kokumbona

In November, General Vandegrift had been able to resume the attempt to extend the western line beyond Kokumbona. The 17th Army had been decisively defeated in October, and was unable to mount another counteroffensive until it could receive strong reinforcements. More American troops and planes were soon to be sent to Guadalcanal, and the offensive could be resumed with good prospects of ultimate success.

Operations 1-11 November: Kokumbona Offensive, 1-4 November

The first offensive move was begun before the mid-November naval battle. The objectives were about the same as those of the Marine offensive which opened on 7 October—first, the trail junction and landing beaches at Kokumbona, over 8,000 yards west of the Matanikau, and second, the Poha River, about 2,600 yards beyond Kokumbona. Once the Poha River line had been gained, theLunga airfields would be safe from enemy artillery fire.

The infantry forces selected for the attack were the 5th Marines, the 2nd Marines (less the 3rd Battalion), and the Whaling Group, which now consisted of the Scout-Sniper Detachment and the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Supporting the offensive were to be the 11th Marines and attached Army artillery battalions, aircraft, engineers, and a boat detachment from the Kukum naval base.

The infantry forces were to attack west in column of regiments on a 1,500-yard front from the Matanikau River, the line of departure. The 5th Marines, closely followed by the 2nd Marines in reserve, would make the assault The Whaling Group would move out along the high grassy ridges on the left (south) of the assault forces to protect the left flank. Colonel Edson was to command the attacking force. The time for the attack was set for 0630, 1 November.

Full use was to be made of supporting artillery and mortar fire. The 11th Marines and attached battalions were to mass fire first in front of the 5th Marines. Artillery and mortar fire were to be placed on each objective and on each ravine and stream approached by the infantry. At least two battalions of artillery were to fire at targets as far west as the Poha, displacing their howitzers forward as the need arose. Aircraft were to strike enemy troop concentrations and artillery positions. Spotting planes for the division artillery would be furnished by the 1st Marine Air Wing.

On the night before the assault, the 1st Engineer Battalion was to construct footbridges across the Matanikau, and an additional bridge suitable for vehicles on the day of the attack. The naval boat detachment was to provide boats for amphibious supply and evacuation as the troops advanced up the coast.

In preparation for the attack, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 2nd Marines were brought to Guadalcanal from Tulagi. The 3rd Battalion, which had served as division mobile reserve for six weeks, was sent to Tulagi to rest. The 5th Marines moved to the forward Matanikau position to relieve the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; responsibility for the 5th Marines’ old sector in the perimeter defense was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines. Detachments from the heavy weapons companies of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, remained in position along the Matanikau to cover the attacking forces as they made the crossing on 1 November. The 2nd Marines (less the 3rd Battalion) meanwhile moved into bivouac east of the Matanikau River.

The engineers salvaged and prepared material for the bridges between 25 and 31 October. On the afternoon of 31 October they hauled the material to the east bank of the river. Early on the morning of 1 November E Company of the 5th Marines crossed the river to outpost the west bank in order to cover the troops constructing the bridges. Between 0100 and 0600, 1 November, A, C, and D Companies of the 1st Engineer Battalion laid three footbridges over the river. Each bridge had a 40-inch-wide treadway which was supported by 2-by-4-inch stringers lashed to a light framework which in turn was lashed to floating fuel drums.

At daybreak on 1 November the 11th Marines, assisted by the 3rd Defense Battalion’s 5-inch guns, fired the preliminary bombardment. The cruisers San Francisco and Helena and the destroyer Sterrett had been sent up by Admiral Halsey, and they shelled the areas west of Point Cruz. P-39’s and SBD’s from Henderson Field struck Japanese artillery positions, while nineteen B-17’s from Espiritu Santo dropped 335 100-pound bombs on Kokumbona.

When the artillery fire lifted, the three battalions of the 5th Marines started across the Matanikau bridges. (Map 9) By 0700 the move had been completed successfully, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions, on the right and left respectively, deployed to the attack. Their left was covered by the Whaling Group, which had crossed the river farther upstream. The 1st Battalion of the 5th, advancing over the flat ground along the beach, met the heaviest opposition as the Japanese, yielding ground slowly and reluctantly, fought a delaying action. The 2nd Battalion, moving over higher ground, pushed ahead rapidly and lost contact with the 1st shortly after 1230. The advancing forces halted for the night short of Point Cruz, having gained slightly more than 1,000 yards in the day’s action. During the day the engineers, using a 10-ton temporary pier, had put a vehicular bridge across the Matanikau about 500 yards from the mouth. Although completed that day the bridge could not be used until the following afternoon, when a new road from the coast road to the bridge was completed.

The next morning Colonel Edson committed the reserve 3rd Battalion to assist the 1st Battalion on the right, while the 2nd Battalion, having advanced beyond Point Cruz, turned to the right to envelop the enemy by attacking northward. By 1042 the 2nd Battalion had reached the beach west of the Point and trapped the Japanese who were still opposing the 1st and 3rd Battalions.

During the afternoon of 2 November the two battalions of the 2nd Marines passed by on the left of the 5th Marines to continue the westward push the next day. On 3 November the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, and the Whaling Group, which had continued its advance inland, led the assault The 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and the 1st Battalion, 164th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Frank C. Richards commanding), which had been ordered forward from its positions on the Ilu River, were in reserve. Meanwhile the 5th Marines successfully reduced the pocket at Point Cruz; the regiment killed about 350 Japanese and captured twelve 37-mm. guns, one field piece, and thirty-four machine guns. In the final phases of the mop-up the 5th Marines delivered three successful bayonet assaults,5 and drove the surviving Japanese into the sea. After the reduction of the pocket the 5th Marines and the Whaling Group were ordered back to the Lunga area, and Colonel Arthur, commanding the 2nd Marines, took over tactical direction of the offensive from Colonel Edson.

The next day the 1st Battalion of the 164th Infantry and the 2nd Marines (less the 3rd Battalion) resumed the advance. By afternoon they had moved forward against the retreating Japanese to a point about 2,000 yards west of Point Cruz, or about 4,000 yards short of Kokumbona. At that point division headquarters halted the advance. Enemy troops had landed east of the perimeter defense, and there could be no further westward movement until the threat had been removed. At 1500 the three battalions dug in at Point Cruz to hold part of the ground they had gained.

Koli Point

Division headquarters had been expecting a Japanese landing in early November at Koli Point east of the Lunga perimeter. To forestall the attempt, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines, Lieutenant Colonel H. H. Hanneken commanding, had been ordered out of the Lunga perimeter to make a forced march to the Metapona River, about thirteen miles east of the Lunga. By nightfall of 2 November, when the 5th Marines had reduced the Point Cruz pocket, the battalion had established defensive positions east of the Metapona’s mouth near the village of Tetere. About 2200 on 2 November the silhouettes of one Japanese cruiser, one transport, and three destroyers appeared offshore in the rainy darkness to land supplies and about 1,500 soldiers from the 230th Infantry at Gavaga Creek, about one mile east of Colonel Hanneken’s position. Hyakutake had ordered these troops, with ammunition and provisions for 2,000 men, to land, join Shoji’s force in the vicinity of Koli Point, and build an airfield.

[NOTE: 17th Army Opns, I; Amer Div Int Rpt, Tab A; XIV Corps, Enemy Opns, which states that landing craft brought the Japanese from the western beaches of Guadalcanal, asserts that two battalions landed. Brigadier General E. B. Sebree, when Military Attache to Australia, interrogated the prisoner of war Major General Takeo Ito (former CG, 38th Div Inf Gp) at Rabaul in 1947. Ito stated that the only troops at Koli Point then were the 230th infantry survivors who had come there in October; the ships landed only supplies on the night of 2-3 November 1942. Interv with Gen Sebree, 19-20 Jun 43, who lent his notes of the interrogation of Ito to the author.]

 

By the time the Japanese were landing, Colonel Hanneken’s radio communication had failed, and he was unable to inform division headquarters of his situation. The next morning the Japanese force moved west. The Marine battalion engaged the enemy, and was hit by artillery and mortar fire. When one Japanese unit pushed southwest to outflank the marines, the battalion, fighting as it went, withdrew slowly westward along the coast, crossed the Nalimbiu, and took a stronger position on the west bank. Colonel Hanneken, whose troops were running short of food, attempted to radio information about his situation to division headquarters but was not able to get his message through until 1445.

When headquarters received Hanneken’s message, arrangements for support and reinforcement were quickly completed. Aircraft from the Lunga airfields bombed and strafed enemy positions, but as no targets were visible from the air results were probably insignificant. The cruisers San Francisco and Helena and the destroyers Sterrett and Lansdowne, which had been supporting the Kokumbona attack, sailed eastward to shell Koli Point. The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, with the regimental commander Colonel Amor L. Sims, immediately embarked on landing craft to reinforce the 2nd Battalion at Koli Point. The 164th Infantry (less the 1st Battalion) was ordered out of its positions along the Ilu to march east to a point about 4,000 yards south of the 7th Marines at Koli Point to be in position to envelop the Japanese left (south) flank.

General Rupertus, assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division, took command of the Koli Point operation, his first tactical experience on Guadalcanal. On 4 November, the day on which the Kokumbona attack was halted, the Lunga perimeter command was reorganized. General Rupertus was transferred from the relative quiet of Tulagi to Guadalcanal. The Lunga area was divided into two separate sectors, one east of the Lunga and one west of the river. General Rupertus took the east sector. Brigadier General Edmund B. Sebree, assistant commander of the Americal Division, who had just landed on the island to prepare for the arrival of the remainder of his division, took the west sector. Both generals reported directly to division headquarters, which thus operated as a small corps headquarters.

On 4 November General Rupertus, and regimental headquarters and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines reached Koli Point. The 164th Infantry (less the 1st Battalion) and B Company of the 8th Marines left the Ilu River line at 0600 to march to their objective about seven miles to the east. General Sebree accompanied the 164th to gain close experience with jungle warfare. At the same time, 1st Marine Division headquarters issued orders to the 2nd Raider Battalion, which had just landed at Aola Bay with the 147th Infantry, to advance overland toward Koli Point to intercept any Japanese detachments moving eastward.

The 164th Infantry progressed slowly on its inland march through swampy jungles and hot stretches of high kunai grass. As there were no inland roads, trucks carried some supplies along the coast to Koli Point, but inland the soldiers of the 164th Infantry, wearing full combat equipment, had to hand-carry all their weapons and ammunition. It was noon before the regiment reached the first assembly area on the west bank of the Nalimbiu River. While regimental headquarters and the 3rd Battalion bivouacked for the night, the 2nd Battalion advanced northward in column of companies along the west bank of the Nalimbiu. After advancing about 2,000 yards, the 2nd Battalion bivouacked. It had not established contact with the 7th Marines. Patrols had met only a few small Japanese units.

On the following morning, 5 November, General Rupertus ordered the 164th Infantry (less the 1st Battalion) to cross to the east bank of the Nalimbiu, and then to advance north to Koli Point to destroy the Japanese facing the 7th Marines at Koli Point. The 3rd Battalion crossed the flooded Nalimbiu about 3,500 yards south of Koli Point, then swung north to advance along the east bank. Again no large organized enemy force appeared. The battalion advanced against occasional rifle and machine-gun fire. Machine-gun fire halted two platoons of G Company for a time until American artillery and mortar fire silenced the enemy guns. The 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry, which had withdrawn to the south from its bivouac positions, followed on the right and rear of the 3rd Battalion.

Action on 6 November was indecisive. The 7th Marines crossed the flooded Nalimbiu with difficulty, while the 164th Infantry’s battalions moved slowly through the jungle. The 3rd Battalion found an abandoned Japanese bivouac about 1,000 yards south of Koli Point, but the enemy had escaped to the east. The 3rd Battalion reached Koli Point at night on 6 November and was followed by the 2nd Battalion the next morning. During the night of 5-6 November the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, mistaking each other for the enemy, exchanged shots. Regimental headquarters and the Antitank and E Companies of the 164th Infantry, together with B Company of the 8th Marines, followed a more circuitous route, and reached Koli Point later in the morning.

The combined force then advanced eastward to a point about one mile west of the wide mouth of the Metapona River. Again there was no enemy resistance, possibly because the Japanese were preparing defenses east of the Metapona to permit the main body to escape. The Americans dug in to defend the beach west of the Metapona against an expected landing on the night of 7-8 November, but it failed to materialize. On 8 November the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry was attached to the 7th Marines and placed in reserve. To surround the Japanese, who had dug in along Gavaga Creek at Tetere about one mile east of the Metapona, the three battalions left their positions west of the wide, swampy mouth of the Metapona and advanced to the east and west of Gavaga Creek. The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, occupied the west bank and took positions running inland from the beach. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, was posted on the east to hold a shorter line between the east bank of Gavaga Creek and the beach. When dengue fever put General Rupertus out of action on 8 November, General Sebree took command on orders from Vandegrift.

With the Japanese force located and surrounded, the size of the American force at Koli Point could be safely reduced. Since General Vandegrift desired to commit a large part of the 164th Infantry to the attack against Kokumbona, regimental headquarters, the Antitank Company, and the 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry and B Company of the 8th Marines were brought back to the Lunga perimeter by boat and truck on 9 November.

On that day, at Koli Point, the 2nd Battalion (less E Company) of the 164th Infantry took positions on the right of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. During the night E Company was committed to the left flank of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines. The Americans now held a curved line from the beach around a horseshoe bend in Gavaga Creek. The Japanese, blocked on the east and west, repeatedly attempted to break out of the trap. They used machine guns, mortars, and hand grenades in their attempts to drive the Americans back. One gap in the American lines remained open in the south, for F and E Companies of the 164th, which were separated by the swampy creek, had failed to make contact. Although wounded seven times by mortar shell fragments, Colonel Puller remained in command of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines.

The marines and soldiers, supported by 155-mm. gun batteries, two 75-mm. pack howitzer batteries, and aircraft, began to reduce the pocket. The Japanese resisted vigorously with grenades, mortars, automatic weapons, and small arms. On 10 November F Company of the 164th Infantry attempted to close the gap and join flanks with E Company. The attempt failed, and the commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 164th was relieved.16 On the next day G Company drove east to close the gap. As the Marine battalions closed in from the east and west, the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry pushed north to reach the beaches in the late afternoon of 11 November. By 12 November the pocket had been entirely cleared. About forty Americans had been killed, 120 wounded; 450 Japanese had been killed. The captured materiel included, besides stores of rations and fifty collapsible landing boats, General Kawaguchi’s personal effects.

Hyakutake apparently abandoned the idea of building an airfield near Koli Point, for he ordered Shoji’s troops to return via the inland route to Kokumbona. Some of the Japanese had escaped through the gap between the two companies, and some others had apparently withdrawn inland about 7 November. These forces, retreating south and west toward Mount Austen, were harried by Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson’s 2nd Raider Battalion which had marched west from Aola Bay. The raiders, in a remarkable 30-day march outside the American lines, covered 150 miles, fought 12 separate actions, and killed over 400 enemy soldiers at a cost of only 17 raiders killed before they finally entered the Lunga perimeter on 4 December.19 Of the estimated 1,500 Japanese soldiers who may have landed at Koli Point, probably less than half survived to rejoin the main forces at Mount Austen and the hills to the west.

Resumption of the Kokumbona Offensive

On 10 November, with the trapping of the Japanese at Koli Point, it became possible to renew the westward offensive toward Kokumbona. Under Colonel Arthur’s command, the 1st Battalion of the 164th Infantry, the newly arrived 8th Marines, and the 2nd Marines (less the 3rd Battalion) moved west from Point Cruz on 10 November. Supported by fire from the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Battalions of the 11th Marines, the composite force executed a frontal attack on a three-battalion front. The 1st Battalion, 164th Infantry, advanced on the right along the beach; the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, advanced in the center, and the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, was echeloned to the left and rear in the attack. On 11 November the advance was resumed against rifle, machine-gun, and mortar fire. By noon the troops had fought their way to a point slightly beyond that which they had reached on 4 November.

The Japanese were grimly determined to prevent the Americans from taking Kokumbona. This village was the site of the 17th Army command post, and also the terminus of the main supply trail to the positions which the Japanese were secretly preparing on Mount Austen. Accordingly Hyakutake assigned the mission of halting the American attack to a new general, Major General Takeo Ito, Infantry Group commander of the 38th Division and a veteran of the fighting in China. Ito had landed at Tassafaronga from a destroyer on 5 November to take command of a reserve force of 5,000 men. Believing that the American front west of Point Cruz was so narrow that he could easily outflank it, he moved his force to a concealed position in the jungled hills on the left flank of the Americans, about 5,000 yards south of the beach. From this point he planned to strike the American left flank and rear.

Before Ito could attack, and before the Americans were even aware that their left was in danger, Vandegrift was once more forced to halt the offensive when he received word that the Japanese were preparing to bring large troop convoys to Guadalcanal in mid-November. To meet the threat of another counteroffensive, all troops were needed within the Lunga perimeter.

The battalions disengaged; the 2nd and 8th Marines retired toward the Matanikau, covered by the 1st Battalion of the 164th Infantry. The marines re-crossed the Matanikau on 11 November, followed next day by the Army battalion. The entire 164th Infantry, having returned from its operations across the Matanikau and Metapona Rivers, went into division reserve. Once safely across the Matanikau, the Americans destroyed the bridges and held their lines while the air and naval forces fought desperately to keep the Japanese away.

Push Toward the Poha

As a result of the naval victory in mid-November and the arrival of the 182nd Infantry, commanded by Colonel Daniel W. Hogan, the offensive toward Kokumbona and the Poha Rivers was resumed. The 1st Marine Division headquarters, which ordered the attack, placed General Sebree, commander of the western sector, in tactical command. Available troops in the west sector included the 164th Infantry, the 8th Marines, and the two battalions of the 182nd Infantry. To support operations in any direction, all artillery battalions remained grouped within the perimeter under del Valle’s command.

General Sebree planned first to gain a line of departure far enough west of the Matanikau and far enough south of the beach to provide sufficient room for the regiments to maneuver. Once the line of departure had been gained, a full-scale offensive could be opened. The line which General Sebree planned to capture first ran about 2,500 yards inland from Point Cruz to the southernmost point (Hill 66) of a 1,700-yard-long ridge (Hills 66-81-80).

It was thought that the west bank of the Matanikau was not occupied by the Japanese during the second week of November. This belief was confirmed by infantry and aerial reconnaissance patrols, and General Sebree and Colonel Whaling of the Marines personally patrolled the ground as far west as Point Cruz without meeting any Japanese.

Once the line of departure had been gained, the assault units were to move west, followed by the 1st Marines on the inland flank. The latter regiment was to turn northward to envelop any Japanese pockets as the 5th Marines had done so successfully earlier in the month, while the assault units continued to advance westward. This part of the plan was canceled when the 1st Marine Division was alerted for departure from Guadalcanal.

The 2nd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry was to cross the Matanikau on 18 November to seize Hill 66, the highest ground north of the northwest Matanikau fork, and the 1st Battalion of the 182nd Infantry would advance across the river and west to Point Cruz the next day. As the American forces which had withdrawn on 11-12 November had destroyed all the Matanikau bridges, engineers were to bridge the river, improve the coast road, and build a trail over the ridges to Hill 66.

The terrain west of the Matanikau differs from the deep jungles of the inland areas. The coast is flat and sandy. South of the beach rocky ridges, covered with brush and coarse grass, thrust upward to heights of several hundred feet. These ridges, running from north to south, rise near the beach and increase in height toward the south. Between these steep ridges are deep, jungled ravines which the Japanese could exploit to good advantage. The ridge line formed by Hills 80, 81, and 66 faces northwest and turns sharply eastward at Hill 66 toward the Matanikau River’s main stream. It is separated from the high hills on the south by the valley cut by the northwest Matanikau fork.

Unknown to the Americans, the 17th Army had also been planning for local offensive action. While the shattered 2nd Division assembled near Kokumbona, the 38th Division had been ordered to advance east from Kokumbona, cross the Matanikau, and seize the high ground on the east bank for artillery positions and as a line of departure for another assault against the Lunga airfields. At the same time troops under Ito’s command had been ordered to occupy Mount Austen.

On 18 November the 2nd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Bernard B. Twombley commanding), covered by the 8th Marines on the east bank of the Matanikau, crossed a footbridge about 700 yards from the Matanikau’s mouth to seize Hill 66. (Map IX) The battalion climbed to the top of the first ridge on the west bank (Hill 75) and advanced southwest behind the ridge crest toward Hill 66, about 2,000 yards from Hill 75. There were no Japanese on the ridges, but the inexperienced battalion made slow progress. The men, having landed only six days before, were not yet accustomed to the moist heat.

Since landing, most of them had been unloading ships and moving their supplies. They carried full loads of ammunition, water, and food. Many who had not swallowed salt tablets collapsed, exhausted from the hard climb. The 2nd Battalion did not reach Hill 66 until noon. Having taken the objective, the men dug foxholes and gun emplacements on the west and south military crests of Hill 66. On the left was G Company, and F on the right. Battalion reserve consisted of E Company, and H Company put its mortars in a gully behind the battalion command post.

In the afternoon a detail of two officers and thirty enlisted men from G Company went into the valley on the south to fill canteens at a water hole. They reached the spring safely, but failed to post sentries as they filled the clanking canteens. As one man in the group glanced up, he saw a Japanese officer and about twenty soldiers deploying in the jungle nearby. The Japanese promptly opened fire. The water detail scattered, each man taking cover as best he could. When a rescue party from the 2nd Battalion later made its way to the spring, the enemy patrol withdrew and the water party straggled back to the crest of Hill 66. One officer and one enlisted man had been killed. There were no more encounters with the Japanese that day.

The 1st Battalion of the 182nd Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francis F. MacGowan, crossed the Matanikau the next morning (19 November). The battalion advanced along the flat ground between the northernmost hills and the beach, while B Company of the 8th Marines, acting on Sebree’s orders, advanced over the most northerly hill (Hill 78) to cover the battalion’s left flank. About 400 yards west of the river the battalion met fire from small enemy groups, but there was no heavy fighting. The battalion moved slowly and cautiously, fighting a series of skirmishes as it moved toward Point Cruz.

B Company of the 8th Marines also met enemy fire west of Point Cruz and withdrew to the vicinity of Hill 78 to take cover. The company again attempted to advance, but could not gain ground. About noon Colonel MacGowan’s battalion halted just east of Point Cruz; it dug in along a 700-yard line from the beach east of the point to the west tip of Hill 78, refusing the left flank eastward a short distance along the south slopes of the hill. The Marine company then withdrew across the Matanikau to rejoin its regiment. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 182nd Infantry were then separated by a gap of over 1,000 yards.

Japanese troops had been secretly moving east from Kokumbona. These forces took positions west of the 1st Battalion during the night of 19-20 November, while artillery and mortars fired on the American lines. About dawn on 20 November part of this force struck suddenly at the 1st Battalion’s left flank. The troops holding high ground on the battalion’s left held their line, but as the attack developed along the 1st Battalion’s line the troops on the low ground fell back about 400 yards. General Sebree, Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Gavan, the operations officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Daly, the assistant intelligence officer, of the Americal Division, came forward and found the battalion “somewhat shaken.” They halted the withdrawal and reorganized the companies.

Planes and artillery then struck at the Japanese, who had not exploited their advantage by advancing east of Point Cruz, and the 1st Battalion again moved west and by 0900 had regained its position. C and A Companies of the 182nd attacked west after the recapture of the initial line and advanced to the beach just west of Point Cruz. There the attack stalled after the companies had been hit hard by Japanese artillery and mortar fire. There was “considerable confusion and some straggling” in the 182nd Infantry, and it was only after order had been restored that the 1st Battalion organized a disciplined firing line. The Japanese retained Point Cruz itself.

By afternoon on 20 November it had become obvious that more American troops were needed west of the Matanikau. The Japanese were known to be moving more troops forward into the engagement. General Sebree therefore ordered the more experienced 164th Infantry out of reserve to fill the gap between the two battalions of the 182nd Infantry. The 164th Infantry was to enter the line under cover of darkness and attack the next morning. The 1st Battalion of the 164th Infantry entered the line on the left of the 1st Battalion of the 182nd Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion of the 164th moved in between the 2nd Battalion, 182nd Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 164th. Each battalion of the 164th took over about 500 yards of the line, and the 182nd Infantry battalions, on either side of the 164th Infantry, extended their flanks to join with those of the 164th.

During the first three days of the operation supplies for the units west of the Matanikau had been carried forward by hand from the river line. The engineers finally succeeded in building a footbridge over the flooded Matanikau, but the bridge for heavy vehicles was not completed until 21 November. The 1st Battalion of the 182nd attacked west from the Point Cruz area on 21 November. It met heavy artillery and mortar fire, as well as small-arms fire from some Japanese entrenched on Point Cruz itself, the beach on the west, and the near-by hills and ravines. The battalion reduced Point Cruz, but failed to advance west.

The battalions of the 164th Infantry also attacked to the west on 21 November from the Hill 80-81 ridge line. A ravine about 200 feet deep, varying in width from 150 to 300 feet, lay directly in front of Hills 80 and 81. A series of steep ridges (Hills 83 and 82) lay west of the ravine. To get through the ravine and gain the ridges on the west, it would be necessary for the 164th Infantry to cross about fifty yards of open ground on the ridge. Between 11 and 18 November the Japanese had built strong positions, containing a large number of automatic weapons, in the hills and ravines and on the flat ground west of Point Cruz. The hill positions, well dug in on the reverse slopes, were defiladed from American artillery and mortar fire. Machine guns sited at the head of each ravine could put flanking fire into advancing troops. The ravine in front of Hills 81-80 was especially well defended. On the flat ground in places where a thin layer of earth covered a coral shelf, the Japanese had dug shallow pits with overhead cover, as well as foxholes under logs and behind trees. These positions, organized in depth, were mutually supporting. Small arms supported the automatic weapons, and artillery and mortars could cover the entire American front.

Japanese fire quickly halted the 164th Infantry after it had made an average gain of less than forty yards. The 182nd and 164th Regiments attacked again on 22 November but failed to make progress. In the afternoon the 8th Marines was notified that it was to pass through the 164th Infantry the next day to attack toward Hill 83.

After the infantry had withdrawn 300 yards behind the front lines early on 23 November, the 245th Field Artillery Battalion and L Battery and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 11th Marines fired a 30-minute concentration on the Japanese lines. The 8th Marines then passed through the 164th Infantry and delivered successive attacks against the Japanese throughout the day. The regiment was supported by the artillery which fired 2,628 rounds of all calibers. During the bombardment, Hyakutake and the 17th Army chief of staff were slightly injured at their command post near Kokumbona. The American forces failed to gain. The Japanese, defending vigorously, put fire all along the entire American lines. The 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry was hit by accurate fire. In the afternoon of 23 November mortar fire struck the command posts of L, I, and K Companies, and killed the battalion surgeon, four lieutenants, and one 1st sergeant.

American headquarters concluded that “further advance would not be possible without accepting casualties in numbers to preclude the advisability of [continuing] this action.” The troops were ordered to dig in to hold the Hill 66-80-81-Point Cruz line. The attack had ended in a stalemate.

Operations up to 23 November had demonstrated that frontal assault would be costly. By 25 November less than 2,000 men of the 164th Infantry were fit for combat. Between 19 and 25 November 117 of the 164th had been killed, and 208 had been wounded. Three hundred and twenty-five had been evacuated from the island because of wounds or illness, and 300 more men, rendered ineffective by wounds, malaria, dysentery, or neuroses, were kept in the rear areas. The 1st Marine Division was soon to be relieved, and its impending departure would reduce American troop strength too greatly to permit the execution of any flanking movements over the hills south of Hill 66. Until reinforcements could be brought in, the westward offensive had to be suspended.

The attacks on 18-23 November had, however, achieved some success. Hyakutake’s plan to recapture the Matanikau’s east bank had been thwarted, although in November he secretly began to increase his strength on Mount Austen.[NOTE 41-41] American troops had finally established permanent positions west of the Matanikau. The Americans and the Japanese now faced one another at close ranges, the Americans on high ground, the Japanese on reverse slopes and in ravines. Each side could cover the opponent’s lines with rifle, automatic, mortar, and artillery fire, and put mortar and artillery fire on the trails and rear areas. Americans and Japanese were to hold these static but dangerous lines until the beginning of the XIV Corps’ general offensive in January.

[NOTE 41-41: On 30 November 1942, 8 enemy destroyers attempted to land reinforcements and supplies. Intercepted by 5 U.S. cruisers and 6 destroyers off Tassafaronga, they failed, but sank 1 and damaged 3 American cruisers, suffering 1 destroyer sunk and 1 damaged. See USSBS, Campaigns of Pacific War, pp. 139-40, and ONI, USN, Combat Narratives: Solomon Islands Campaign, VII, Battle of Tassafaronga, 30 November 1042 (Washington, 1944).

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (9); Situation in December-General Patch Takes Command

World War Two: Guadalcanal (7); Decision at Sea

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11A); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the right)

On 16 November the troops east of the Girua River started for the positions from which they were to attack the enemy in the Cape Endaiadere-New Strip area. The 128th Infantry moved out to the attack in early morning. Colonel McCoy’s 1st Battalion (less Company A which was still at Pongani) advanced up the coast from Embogo, crossed the Samboga River, and by nightfall was in position at Boreo, a creek mouth about a mile north of Hariko where General MacNider now had his headquarters. Colonel Miller’s 3rd Battalion, with Colonel Smith’s 2nd Battalion marching immediately behind it, moved up from Warisota Plantation—three miles west of Embogo—and Embi, scattered a small Japanese patrol at Dobodura that afternoon, and started for Simemi, its jump-off point for the attack on the bridge between the strips. The troops still at Pongani—Company A, 128th Infantry, Company A, 114th Engineer Battalion, Colonel Carrier’s 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, and Major Harcourt’s 2/6 Australian Independent Company—were to leave for the front the next day, in the same luggers which were bringing forward the supplies. Artillery was already in place.

Using a Japanese barge captured at Milne Bay, General Waldron, the division artillery officer, had come in during the night with the two Australian 3.7-inch mountain howitzers allotted to the operation, their crews, and 200 rounds of ammunition. Waldron had left before daybreak for Oro Bay to pick up the 25-pounders that were waiting there. His executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Melvin McCreary, who had been put ashore at Hariko with the two mountain guns, had them assembled and ready to fire from an advanced position at Boreo that evening.

General Harding Readjusts His Plans; The Disruption of the Supply Line

It was clear as the advance got under way that the 32nd Division’s weakest point was its supply line. Until an airfield was completed at Dobodura the division’s supply, except for emergency dropping from the air, would be entirely dependent upon the six remaining luggers or trawlers with which Colonel McKenny was carrying supplies up the coast from Porlock Harbor, as well as upon the Japanese barge General Waldron was using to bring in the 25-pounders from Oro Bay. The boats had thus far not been interfered with by the enemy, but Japanese naval aviation at Lae had marked the Allied coastal movements well, and struck the very day the advance began.

In the late afternoon of 16 November three of Colonel McKenny’s luggers—the Alacrity, the Bonwin, and the Minnemura—joined by the Japanese landing barge, which had just come in from Oro Bay, left Embogo for Hariko. The Alacrity was carrying ammunition, and the equipment and personnel of the 22nd Portable Hospital. The Bonwin was loaded with rations and ammunition, and the Minnemura, largest of the three luggers, held ammunition, rations, radio supplies, 81-mm. mortars, .50-caliber machine guns, and other heavy equipment not easily carried by the troops.

The Japanese barge, also heavily laden, carried two 25-pounders, their crews, and all the 25-pounder ammunition for which space could be found. General Waldron and Colonel H. F. Handy, an Army Ground Forces observer, were on the barge. General Harding, who was on his way to the front, was on the Minnemura, as was another AGF observer, Colonel Herbert B. Laux.

The luggers and barge, protected only by machine guns mounted on their decks, were proceeding without air cover. Though it was still light, Allied fighter aircraft patrolling the coast had left for Port Moresby sometime before in order to get back to their bases before dark. While the boats were rounding Cape Sudest, and a small lighter from the shore was off-loading ammunition from the Alacrity, which had stopped momentarily for that purpose, the flotilla was attacked by eighteen Japanese Zero-type fighters that appeared without warning from the northwest. The enemy planes gave the ships a thorough strafing. The troops aboard replied with machine guns and rifles but their fire was entirely without effect.

In a few moments the barge and all three luggers were ablaze. The ammunition began to explode and all aboard had to take to the water. General Harding, General Waldron, and Colonel Handy swam ashore. Colonel Laux, who was no swimmer, got there safely in a dinghy which had been riding behind the Minnemura.

 The luggers, the Japanese barge, and virtually all of the cargo they were carrying were a total loss. The lighter that had been loading ammunition from the Alacrity reached shore under fire. At great personal risk 1st Lieutenant John E. Harbert, a divisional ordnance officer, went aboard and took off the ammunition. Casualties were heavy. Colonel McKenny and twenty-three others were killed, and there were many wounded.

The loss of life would have been even greater but for a number of daring rescues from the shore. Braving the enemy fire, the exploding ammunition, and the flaming debris, rescue parties under Colonel Carew, commanding officer of the 114th Engineer Battalion, and 1st Lieutenant Herbert G. Peabody, of Division Headquarters Company, saved the lives of many who might otherwise have drowned or burned to death. [NOTE 2D]

The next morning, in attacks which took place before the air force could intervene, four Zeros hit two of the remaining three luggers, one at Embogo, and the other at Mendaropu. The first lugger, the Two Freddies, was badly smashed up and had to limp back to Milne Bay for repairs; the second lugger, the Willyama suffered even greater damage and had to be beached, a total loss. Only one small lugger, the Kelton, was left to supply the troops east of the river.

[NOTE 2D: Major Parker’s Buna Rpt; Colonel Handy’s Buna Rpt: General Harding’s Diary, 16 Nov 42. Colonel Carew and Lieutenants Harbert and Peabody were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, as were the following enlisted men who participated in the rescues: Staff Sergeant John R. MacGowan, Sergeant Howard J. Weiss, Corporal Gordon C. Snyder, Private First Class Donald R. Price, Private Maro P. Johnson, Private Homer McAllister, and Private Cloyd G. Myers. Price, Johnson and McAllister were from the 107th QM Battalion; the others were from Headquarters Company and Companies I and H, 128th Infantry. The citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 64, 28 Dec]

The loss of the boats was a catastrophe of the first magnitude. There were no replacement vessels immediately in sight, and artillery pieces, mortars, machine guns, and other essential matériel, which could not be replaced for days, had been lost on the very eve of the attack. The whole supply plan for the operation had been disrupted. Since the stores of rations and ammunition actually at the front where the troops could use them were in dangerously short supply, and the one small remaining lugger could not possibly handle more than a small fraction of the division’s immediate requirements, Major Ralph T. Birkness, Colonel McKenny’s successor, then at Port Moresby, at once arranged with the air force to have the most critically needed items dropped from the air.

The dislocation caused by the loss of boats and cargo on 16 and 17 November forced General Harding to make some last-minute changes in plan. General MacNider was ordered to hold up his advance until the Kelton could come in and make up at least part of his supply deficiencies, and the troops at Pongani who were to have been moved to Embogo by boat were ordered instead to proceed to the front on foot. Except for the engineer company which was sent to Dobodura, the troops were ordered to Boreo where they were to join with Colonel McCoy’s battalion in the attack toward Cape Endaiadere.

Colonel Smith Is Ordered to the Left

On 18 November, with the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 128th Infantry, in position at Boreo and Simemi respectively, General Harding set H Hour as 0700 the following morning, 19 November. Three companies of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, which were to be in division reserve, were ordered from Dobodura to Ango in order to cover the junction of the Soputa-Buna and Ango-Dobodura tracks until such time as the 126th Infantry could come in and take over the left-flank attack on Buna Village and Buna Mission. The remaining company, joined by the engineer company when it came in from Pongani, was to remain at Dobodura to help prepare an airfield there.

The diversion next day to General Vasey’s command of the 126th Infantry, even as it was marching from Inonda toward Buna to attack on Harding’s left, upset these plans. Robbed at the last minute of his left-flank force, General Harding had to commit his reserve, the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry. In ordering Colonel Smith to take Buna, General Harding was well aware that he was sending a battalion to do a job to which a full regiment had previously been assigned. He had no other force available, however, and sent Smith forward anyway, hoping apparently that he might, with luck, do the job. The company at Dobodura was immediately ordered to Ango, and the battalion moved out on the 20th with orders to attack Buna Mission.

The Battle Opens; The Attacks on the Right

Torrential rains that lasted all day began early on 19 November, the day of the attack. The troops were drenched to the skin, and all aircraft were grounded. At 0700, after the two mountain guns fired a few unobserved rounds, the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, under Colonel McCoy, moved forward from Boreo, and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, under Colonel Miller, marched out from Simemi. Because of the supply dislocation, the men had only one day’s rations with them, and only as much ammunition as was immediately available—little more than a day’s supply. Colonel McCoy’s troops, in column of companies, with Company C leading, crossed the creek mouth near Boreo, and began moving along a narrow, muddy path in the jungle about twenty yards inland. Their objective was Cape Endaiadere, two miles away.

Colonel Yamamoto was ready. He had had two full days to get his fresh, well-armed 144th and 229th Infantry troops into position. His main line of resistance, between 750 and 800 yards south of Cape Endaiadere, ran from the sea through the Duropa Plantation to the eastern end of the New Strip and past it to the bridge between the strips. At the immediate approaches to this well-built and strongly held defense system he had an outpost line of emplacements. Although not continuous like the main line, it was very strong because of its cleared fields of fire. It was covered by troops who manned concealed and cleverly disposed machine gun nests along the track at the lower (southern) end of the Duropa Plantation, and in the plantation itself.

The 1st Battalion made its first enemy contact halfway between Boreo and the plantation. It was met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire from hidden enemy machine gun positions west of the track. The troops deployed and attacked, but the heavy overhead jungle growth made it difficult for them to use their mortars effectively and their grenades were of little use because they did not know where the enemy was or where the fire was coming from. The Japanese weapons gave off no flash, and the reverberation of their fire in the jungle made it impossible to ascertain their whereabouts by sound. To complicate matters, the Japanese made it a practice to rotate their weapons among several hidden positions, causing the inexperienced Americans, until they saw through the trick, to imagine themselves covered by automatic weapons from all sides.

Major David B. Parker, an engineer observer who was present wrote: The first opposition from the enemy here was a surprise and shock to our green troops. The enemy positions were amazingly well camouflaged, and seemed to have excellent fields of fire even in the close quarters of the jungle. . . . Snipers were everywhere, . . .and they were so well camouflaged that it was nearly impossible to discern them. The enemy habitually allowed our troops to advance to very close range—sometimes four or five feet from a machine gun post—before opening fire; often they allowed troops to by-pass them completely, opening fire then on our rear elements, and on our front elements from the rear.

Major Parker was particularly impressed by “the deadly accuracy and strength of the enemy machine gun and rifle fire from their camouflaged positions.” He added: . . . Our troops were pinned down everywhere by extremely effective fire. It was dangerous to show even a finger from behind one’s cover, as it would immediately draw a burst of fire. It was impossible to see where the enemy fire was coming from; consequently our own rifle and machine gun [fire] was ineffective during the early stages. . . . Grenades and mortars . . . were difficult to use because, first, it was difficult to pick out a nest position to advance upon with grenades, second, the thick jungle growth, and high grass, made throwing and firing difficult, and, third, because it was nearly impossible to observe our fire.[Note 7D]

[NOTE 7D: Major Parker’s Buna Rpt. During this attack, T/5 Edwin C. De Rosier, a medical aid man from the 107th Medical Detachment, moved out into the open in the face of intense enemy fire and repeatedly went to the aid of the wounded, saving the lives of several. Killed in action two weeks later, De Rosier was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43.]

Yielding a dozen or so yards at a time when strongly pressed, the Japanese covering troops gradually fell back. Out of rations, and with the greater part of its ammunition used up, the 1st Battalion ended the day a badly shaken outfit. The troops had entered the battle joking and laughing, and sure of an easy victory. Now they were dazed and taken aback by the mauling they had received at the hands of the Japanese.

Nor did it escape them that the bodies of the few Japanese left on the field were those of fresh, well-fed, well-armed troops—not, as they had been led to expect, the tired, emaciated, and disease-ridden survivors of the fighting in the Owen Stanleys. It was to be some time before they and their fellows recovered from the shock of finding that the battle was to be no pushover and that, instead of a short and easy mop-up, a long cruel fight lay ahead of them. Colonel Miller’s troops had an even ruder awakening. As the 3rd Battalion approached the trail junction between the Old and New Strips, the Simemi trail degenerated into a narrow causeway with swamp on either side. Attempts to get the troops through an open area about 300 yards south of the junction were met by such intense fire from the western end of the New Strip, from behind the bridge between the strips, and from machine guns forward of the junction itself that no further advance was possible that day.

Nor could Miller do much to blast out the enemy with fire. He had no 81-mm. mortars; a large percentage of his grenades failed to go off; his .30-caliber ammunition ran dangerously low, and he had to call for a fresh supply to be dropped to him from the air. A member of the regimental staff recalled the situation in the following words: Miller had to attack through swamps which were sometimes waist and chest deep, and through which it was impossible to carry any but light weapons. Here too, grenades (Mills bombs obtained from the Australians) became ineffective when wet. One of Miller’s patrols threw seven grenades into a group of ten or twelve Japs whom they stalked only to have all the grenades fail to explode and to suffer about 30 percent casualties from return grenade fire.

At the end of the day, Miller’s troops were still at the edge of the clearing south of the junction. The battalion had suffered heavy casualties, and made no further gain. As Colonel Miller himself put the matter late that afternoon, it had been “stopped cold.” Pinned down on a narrow front, out of rations, and with nearly all the ammunition expended, Miller’s troops made no progress whatever the next day. They were fortunate that Colonel Yamamoto did not counterattack.

McCoy, better supplied with ammunition, resumed his attack on the 20th. After a sketchy preparation which included some unobserved fire from the mountain guns and a brief bombardment of the Cape Endaiadere area by a few B-25’s and A-20’s, the battalion attacked from a point about 1,800 yards south of the cape. Company C was on the right, along the coast; Company B was on the left, a short distance inland.

The enemy was as well-hidden and as well prepared as before, but the Americans had a better idea by this time what they were about. Led by 1st Lieutenant John W. Crow, who was reported missing in action that afternoon, Company C succeeded in infiltrating and knocking out several enemy machine gun nests. The line moved forward several hundred yards—as far as it was to go that day. [NOTE 12D]

[NOTE 12D: 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1, 7, 11, 20 Nov 42; Ltr, Colonel MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. Lieutenant Crow, last seen charging an enemy machine gun post, submachine gun in hand, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43.]

Rations and ammunition had been dropped at Hariko and Simemi that morning and by late afternoon had been distributed to both McCoy and Miller. In the evening, Colonel Carrier’s battalion and Major Harcourt’s Independent Company reached the 1st Battalion’s front and went into bivouac immediately to McCoy’s rear. The incoming troops, who arrived at the front exhausted after a twenty-five mile march from Pongani with full pack, were to join McCoy’s battalion in a further attack on Cape Endaiadere in the morning.

The attack of 21 November was to be in greater strength, better supported, and better supplied than the efforts of 19 and 20 November. The plan of attack called for McCoy’s and Carrier’s battalions (the 128th Infantry troops on the right, and those of the 126th Infantry on the left) to move north on Cape Endaiadere on a 300-yard front. While the attack was proceeding along the coast, the 2/6 Independent Company would infiltrate the eastern end of the New Strip, and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, from its position astride the Dobodura-Simemi track, would attempt to seize the bridge between the strips. The attack would be preceded by a heavy air bombardment, following which the troops would attack. The time of the attack would be communicated to the battalion commanders as soon as it was definitely learned from the air force when the bombers would come over.

The air attack, executed by A-20’s and B-25’s, took place at the appointed time, and a few enemy machine gun nests were knocked out from the air. However, no ground attack followed the bombardment. Because of faulty co-ordination—apparently an oversight on the part of regimental headquarters—neither Colonel McCoy nor Colonel Miller received prior notice of the bombardment or, for that matter, orders telling them when to attack. Worse still, one of the planes, instead of dropping its bombs on the Japanese, dropped them on some of Colonel Miller’s forward troops, killing four and wounded two others.

Orders from regiment calling for an attack at 0800 were finally received by Colonel Miller at 0840, and by Colonel McCoy at 0850—forty and fifty minutes, respectively, after the air bombardment had ceased. General Harding arranged to have the air force attack again at 1245. The air attack was to be followed by an artillery and mortar barrage, and the troops would jump off at 1300.

This time, no planes showed up for the attack. Fearing that it would not be able to complete the attack within the appointed time the air force had held its planes back rather than run the risk of again hitting friendly troops.

Determined that there would be an attack that day, General Harding got the air force to try again. The air bombardment, as before by A-20’s and B-25’s, began at 1557 and was over by 1603. It was not a success. Most of the planes were unable to find the target area, and a flight of A-20’s that did overshot the beachhead and dropped its bombs into the sea. One B-25 unloaded its bomb load squarely in the midst of Colonel McCoy’s two lead companies—Companies B and C—killing six, wounding twelve, and almost burying seventy others. This accident had a most disheartening effect on the 1st Battalion. Some of the men withdrew from the line of departure, and their commanders had to order them to return.

The attack finally got under way at 1630, after a short unobserved artillery preparation by the mountain guns and a brief barrage by the mortars. As soon as the advance began, it was discovered that the preparation had done the well dug in enemy little or no harm. Once again the troops had to attack an enemy who was virtually untouched by Allied fire.

The attackers had few heavy weapons. Most of their 81-mm. mortars and heavy machine guns either had been lost or had not arrived. All the mortar shells reaching the front—including the light 81-mm. mortar shell, the only shell available at the time for the mortars—were fused super-quick so that the shells went off on contact and had little effect against the Japanese bunkers. Forward observers were handicapped by the heavy jungle growth, Japanese camouflage discipline, and communications failures. The SCR 536, the small handset radio with which the mortar platoons were equipped, refused to work in the jungle.

The troops along the coastal track fought desperately with rifles, Thompson submachine guns, light machine guns, and hand grenades. They knocked out a few machine gun nests during the day, as did the Australian Independent Company which was operating near the eastern end of the strip. Otherwise there was little progress. Casualties were heavy. In three days of combat, Company C lost sixty-three men, including all four of its officers. Two sergeants, killed within a few hours of each other, commanded it on the 21st. [NOTE 15D]

[NOTE 15D: 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 339 through 350, 21 Nov 42; 1st Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 21 through 25, 21 Nov 42; 3rd Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 8, 11, 21 Nov 42; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 21 Nov 42; Ltr, Col MacNab to author, 15 Nov 49. The two sergeants, 1st Sergeant Reuben J. Steger, and Staff Sergeant Carl Cherney, both from Marshfield, Wisconsin, were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Steger’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 1, 1 Jan 43; Cherney’s is in GO No. 14, 30 Jan 43.]

Colonel Miller’s battalion failed even to reach the bridge between the strips. A twenty-round barrage by the 60-mm. mortars, fired without observation and with the aid only of a photomap, had followed the air bombardment. The troops had jumped off at 1628 and at first had made good progress. They moved through the clearing where they had been held up on the 19th and 20th, swept past the junction, and several of the lead platoons actually advanced to within a short distance of the bridge.

At its approaches a withering crossfire completely pinned them down. The battalion lost forty-two killed, wounded, and missing in the attack and, try as it would, could not advance. At 1750, Colonel Miller ordered the troops to pull back to a less-exposed position south of the track junction. It was clear by this time that the 3rd Battalion was not going to take the bridge.

At 2015 that night Colonel Miller was ordered to leave one company suitably provided with ammunition and supplies to hold the existing position. The rest of the battalion was to march to the coast, where it was to operate thenceforward on the right flank, against Cape Endaiadere. The march was to be accomplished as swiftly as possible and in such a way that the Japanese would be unaware of the transfer. Company I, under 1st Lieutenant Carl K. Fryday, was chosen to stay behind, and the rest of the battalion was moved back to Simemi early the following morning. By 1800 that evening the troops were bivouacked to the rear of the position held by Colonel McCoy’s battalion.

The supply picture had brightened slightly. The airstrip at Dobodura opened for limited traffic on 21 November, and five additional luggers arrived on the scene from Milne Bay the same day. One of them broke up on a reef immediately upon arrival, but the remaining four brought in their cargo safely. With the Kelton, Major Birkness now had five luggers for the coastwise operation. There was still a chance that the division’s supply, disrupted though it was, could be put on an even keel.

The artillery picture had also improved. On 21 November General Waldron brought in the two remaining 25-pounders, their Australian crews, and 200 rounds of ammunition. Japanese Zeros came over just as the guns were ready to be emplaced and knocked the sights off one of them, putting it out of action for several days. This left only three guns—the two mountain guns and a 25-pounder—immediately available for the attack on the powerful Japanese positions in the Duropa Plantation.

It had not taken General Harding long to realize that he was up against a strong enemy bunker line, and that the only way to reduce it in a hurry was with tanks. Judging correctly that the Duropa Plantation was suitable for tank action, he asked Milne Force (which then had some light General Stuart tanks on hand) to send three of them to Oro Bay by barge. General Clowes did his best to comply with the request, but when the first of the tanks were loaded on some captured Japanese barges-—the only craft available for the purpose—the barges sank, taking the tanks with them. Advised that there was no way to get the tanks to him, Harding was left with the task of trying to reduce the formidable Japanese positions without armor.

Dissatisfied with the co-ordination between the various units of Warren Force, Harding ordered Lieutenant Colonel Alexander J. MacNab, executive officer of the 128th Infantry, an experienced and aggressive soldier in whom he had great confidence, to report to General MacNider, under whom he was to co-ordinate the coastal drive. MacNab reached the front on 22 November and at once began laying plans for a stepped-up attack.

One of the first things that MacNab did was to place all the available mortars at the front in battery, connecting them by field telephone with a central observation post in a tall coconut tree overlooking the front. It was not a very good observation post—a much better one was to be found later—but it gave the mortars and the artillery infinitely better observation than was obtainable before. Next morning the artillery pieces registered on the enemy positions along the coastal track and in the New Strip area. The fire was to such good effect that, when Colonel McCoy’s and Colonel Carrier’s lead companies attacked that day, they were able to push the Japanese back against their main line of resistance. The 2/6 Independent Company, operating off the eastern end of the strip, also made a little progress that day. Ordered to hold tight, Lieutenant Fryday’s unit, Company I, 128th Infantry, still in position off the southwest end of the New Strip, remained where it was.

General MacNider had come up during the afternoon from his headquarters at Hariko to observe the fighting. He was wounded at 1830 by an enemy rifle grenade while inspecting the front lines and was immediately evacuated. On General Harding’s instructions, Colonel Hale succeeded him as commander of Warren Force.

The next two days, 24 and 25 November, were quiet. Colonel Miller’s troops relieved Colonel McCoy’s in the front lines, but no advance was attempted either day. The lull was being used to prepare for a co-ordinated attack on Cape Endaiadere and both ends of the New Strip, on the 26th, Thanksgiving Day.

This was to be a strong effort. Eight artillery pieces—six 25-pounders and the two 3.7-inch howitzers—would be in support, four more 25-pounders having been brought in by air on the 25th and emplaced near Ango. A dozen 81-mm. mortars and several more heavy machine guns would be available, as well as thirty-five planes—the largest concentration of aircraft for an attack to date. The action would open with a thorough bombing and strafing of enemy positions in the Cape Endaiadere-New Strip area.

When the air attack was over, the mountain guns would fire on Cape Endaiadere and the 25-pounders would let loose on the bridge between the strips and on the western end of the New Strip. The troops would start from a line of departure about 900 yards south of the cape. Colonel Miller’s 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry (less Company I), would thrust directly north along the coastal track and Cape Endaiadere.

Colonel Carrier’s battalion would move out on Miller’s left. Colonel McCoy’s troops were to follow Colonel Carrier’s at an interval of 1,000 yards, prepared to push through them if necessary. The 2/6 Independent Company would continue attacking on the eastern end of the New Strip, and Company I, 128th Infantry, from its position below the track junction, would attempt to establish itself on the western end of the strip.

High hopes were held for the success of the attack. General Harding left his headquarters at Embogo the night before to observe it personally. Having no motor boat for command use, he caught a ride on the lugger Helen Dawn, which was carrying ammunition to the forward dump at Hariko. About seven miles out the lugger ran onto a sand bar, and General Harding had to complete the remaining three miles of his journey in a row boat, with which, fortunately, the Helen Dawn had come equipped. Harding arrived at Colonel Hale’s command post at Hariko at 0445. After visiting Colonel McCoy and Colonel Carrier in their command posts, he moved on to Colonel Miller’s CP.

The attack went off as scheduled. It opened with strafing by Beaufighters and P-40’s, and bombing by A-20’s and B-25’s. At 0930, after a short preparation by artillery, mortars, and heavy machine guns, Colonel Miller’s battalion moved forward on the right. Fifteen minutes later Colonel Carrier’s troops jumped off on the left. Allied preparatory fire had hit the target area but had done the enemy troops little harm. Retiring into their bunkers, the Japanese waited until it was over, and then emerged unscathed to meet the American infantry attack from hidden firing positions that commanded every approach.

Colonel Miller’s troops, coming up against the strongest section of the Japanese line, were stopped almost at once. They suffered fifty casualties by noon and could not move forward. Company K, which had sustained the bulk of the casualties, was pinned down completely, and Company L, out of contact with Carrier’s battalion, was immobilized.

Japanese fighter planes from Lae (which destroyed the Helen Dawn when they found it still caught on the sand bar succeeded in bombing and strafing Miller’s battalion despite Allied attempts at interception.

Carrier’s attack was also a disappointment, and narrowly missed being a fiasco. Moving through waist-deep swamp, Carrier’s lead troops, though following a compass course, seem to have misjudged both their direction and their distances. Turning apparently too sharply to the west, and then cutting too soon to the east, they managed to get themselves completely turned around.

At 1400 Carrier reported that his troops were nearing the sea, and at 1503 he found to his embarrassment that they were coming out on the coast on Miller’s rear. Realizing his error, Carrier resumed the attack, this time striking toward the Duropa Plantation. He made some minor gains against strong enemy opposition, and by morning the two battalions presented a continuous front to the enemy.

Nor did the Australian Independent Company and Company I, 128th Infantry, to the east and west respectively of the New Strip, make any gains that day. Both were stopped in their tracks almost as soon as they tried to move forward. The attack on which so much hope had been placed had been a complete failure.[Note 23D]

[Note 23D: 1st Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, Sers 392, 393, 396, 26 Nov 42; 3rd Bn, 128th Inf, Jnl, Sers 1 through 12, 15, 17, 26 Nov 42; Msgs, 32nd Div to NGF, Sers 1476, 1477, 26 Nov 42; Allied Air Forces Opns Rpt, 26 Nov 42; Gen Harding’s Diary, 26 Nov 42; Ltr, Colonel Miller to General Ward, 27 Mar 51. During the heavy fighting on Colonel Carrier’s front that afternoon, Private Howard M. Eastwood of Company C, 126th Infantry, single-handedly attacked a ten-man party of the enemy whom he had discovered to his front on a scouting mission. Standing upright in the tall grass, he engaged the Japanese with fire from his submachine gun, killing several and dispersing the others. Killed by an enemy sniper in the area, Eastwood was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.]

The next day, Allied aircraft in the course of bombing Japanese positions along the New Strip dropped a string of demolition bombs on Lieutenant Fryday’s position southwest of the strip. Three men were seriously wounded, and Fryday temporarily pulled his company back into the jungle, south of the position from which the first attack of the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, had been launched on 19 November.

SOURCE: Victory in Papua, BY: Samuel Milner (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11B); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the left)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (10);Opening Blows in General Vasey’s Area

World War Two: North Africa (1); Setting the Stage; The Axis 1940-42

American soldiers began striding through the surf to the beaches of Northwest Africa before dawn on 8 November 1942. They were the first of more than one million Americans to see service in the Mediterranean area during World War II-men of the II Army Corps in Tunisia, the Seventh Army in Sicily, the Fifth Army in Italy from Salerno to the Alps, and an elaborate theater organization.[N-1] The stream of American military strength which was to pour into that part of the world during the next two and one half years would include the Twelfth, Ninth, and Fifteenth Air Forces; the U.S. Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters; the Eighth Fleet; and a considerable American contribution to Allied Force Headquarters.

[N-1: At the time of the attack, French North Africa was within the boundaries of the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army. On 4 February 1943, a separate North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army was established. On 1 November 1944, this area (with modified boundaries) was renamed the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, U.S. Army.]

These first Americans to arrive in Northwest Africa were part of an Allied expeditionary force which linked ground, sea, and air units from both the United States and the British Commonwealth. They were participants in the first large-scale offensive in which the Allies engaged as partners in a common enterprise, an operation which transformed the Mediterranean from a British to an Allied theater of war. Occupying French North Africa was actually to be the first of a considerable series of undertakings adopted, planned, mounted, and executed under the authority of the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff. [N-2] Succeeding operations in the Mediterranean area proved far more extensive than intended. One undertaking was to lead to the next, each based upon reasons deemed compelling at the time, until at the end of hostilities Allied forces dominated the Mediterranean Sea and controlled most of its coastal region.

[N-2: The Combined Chiefs of Staff was an agency created in response to decisions reached at the ARCADIA Conference of American and British leaders in Washington in January 1942. The agency’s headquarters was in Washington, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with the British Joint Staff Mission (representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee), but a large number of its sessions took place at special conferences attended by the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Combined Chiefs of Staff acquired a structure of subordinate planners and a secretariat.]

After liberating French North Africa and clearing the enemy from the Italian colonies, the Allies sought to bring the entire French empire effectively into the war against the Axis powers. They reopened the Mediterranean route to the Middle East. They went on from Africa to liberate Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. They caused Mussolini to topple from power, and they brought his successors to abject surrender.

They drew more and more German military resources into a stubborn defense of the Italian peninsula, and helped the Yugoslavs to pin down within their spirited country thousands of Axis troops. Eventually, the Allies delivered a solid blow from southern France against the German forces which were opposing the Allied drive from the beaches of Normandy! They made Marseilles available for Allied use and they occupied northern Italy and Greece. In Italy they forced the first unconditional surrender by a large German force in Europe. The events following the invasion of French North Africa thus made of the Mediterranean a major theater in World War II’s titanic struggle. The momentous first step though not timorous, was hesitant, and somewhat reluctant; like the first step of a child it was more a response to an urge for action than a decision to reach some specific destination. The responsibility for this beginning rested more with the civilian than with the professional military leaders of the two countries. Whether the decision was wise or not, the critical factors affecting success, like those inviting the attempt, were largely political rather than military.

Axis involvement in the Mediterranean theater of war likewise mounted from small beginnings and after periodic inventories of the general military situation. Since the German Führer, Adolf Hitler, had precipitated the war much earlier than the Duce Benito Mussolini, had agreed to be ready; Italy remained a nonbelligerent until June 1940, and participated then very briefly in the attacks which led to French surrender.

The Mediterranean escaped major hostilities during this period of Italian preparations. Italian forces were assembled in eastern Cyrenaica for an eventual attack on Egypt in conjunction with an attack from the south to be launched from Ethiopia, while British forces were gathered to defend Egypt. But actual conflict was deferred.

After France’s capitulation in June 1940, and after the British Government refused to make peace by negotiation, Hitler reluctantly concluded that the war must be carried to British soil. His project for invading the United Kingdom was frustrated at an early stage by the failure of Reichsmarschall Hermann Gӧring’s Luftwaffe to eliminate the Royal Air Force and by the irreconcilable discrepancies between what the German Army required and what the German Navy could furnish for transport and escort shipping. He repeatedly postponed a decision to attack across the English Channel and eventually abandoned the idea. If he could not strike his enemy at home, he proposed instead to inflict a vital injury by seizing Gibraltar in co-operation with Spain and Italy and by supporting the Italians in their drive toward Egypt and the Suez Canal. He tried, mainly in this connection, to construct an anti-British alliance of Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, thus gaining for the Axis the French fleet along with French and Spanish strategic areas. His efforts failed.

Marshal Henri Petain engaged in an endless, elastic contest with the Nazis to hold fast to all things that were French. His government, ever under threat of military occupation of all of France at the Führer’s signal, served Hitler’s purpose by preventing the creation in the French colonies of an independent anti-Nazi French government.

Whatever concessions beyond the armistice agreements Petain might make at Nazi insistence and in return for the release of German held French prisoners, for example, the old Marshal would never commit French forces to fight beside the Germans. The French Navy, bitter as it was toward the British, would have scuttled its warships before allowing them to be used to advance Hitler’s aspirations. France, therefore, was not available for an alliance against the British and was left in control of its Northwest African colonies under pledge to defend them against attack from whatever side.

Francisco Franco set such an exorbitant territorial price upon a partnership with Germany as to make impossible an alliance which included Spain and France, and he engaged in such elaborate and effective procrastination as to render any genuine military contribution to the seizure of Gibraltar a matter for Nazi despair. When Hitler went to meet the Caudillo at Hendaye, France, on 29 October 1940, the Spanish dictator subjected him to the unusual experience of being a listener for hours. Rather than undergo such pain again, Hitler told Mussolini he would prefer to have several teeth pulled.

The fact that a new alliance of the four governments could not be attained became evident at a time when even the existing arrangement between Germany and Italy was somewhat strained. Although the two dictators had a friendly personal relationship, the Italians intended to wage a separate and parallel war in the Mediterranean. Hitler had always accepted the principle that the Mediterranean was an area of paramount Italian interest just as, farther north, German interests were exclusive.

He received in the autumn of 1940 clear indication that the Italians wished to proceed independently. Initially the Italians refused a German offer of an armored unit for use in the planned Italian campaign from Libya against Egypt. It was only after the campaign, begun on 12 September under the command of Maresciallo d’Italia Rudolfo Graziani, had bogged down that the Italians reluctantly accepted the German offer. On 28 October, moreover, although knowing Hitler’s opposition, and therefore dissembling their intentions, the Italians attacked Greece from Albania.

Hitler’s disgust at the opening of this new front in the Balkans by the Italians led him to withdraw temporarily his offer of German armored support for the Italian forces in Libya. This decision was confirmed during the Innsbruck conference of 4 and 5 November between Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht-OKW) and Maresciallo d’Italia Pietro Badoglio, the Chief of the Supreme General Staff (Stato Maggiore Generale). When both these adventures became engulfed in failure, the Italians on 19 December abandoned their reluctance to accept German reinforcements which Hitler, despite his irritation with Italian behavior, had again offered to supply for reasons of high military policy.

Hitler was already planning a Blitzkrieg against Russia to be executed during the summer of 1941. For that attack his Balkan flank had to be secure. He believed that the free use of the Mediterranean route by the British was equivalent to a large extra tonnage of transport shipping and the release of naval warships for other operations, an advantage to his major enemy which might make a complete Axis victory unattainable. He also wished to prevent the detrimental effect upon Italian morale and the severe loss of prestige for the Axis which would result from the loss of Libya and the related possibility of a separate Italian peace.

One large aviation unit (X. Fliegerkorps) received orders to shift to southern Italy in December 1940 and a small armored force began crossing from Naples to Tripoli in February, There it was to be combined with Italian mobile units under the command of Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel in an aggressive rather than a static defense. Rommel was subordinated to the Italian Commander in Chief Libya (Commandante del Comando Superiore Forze Armate Libia), Generale d’Armata Italo Gariboldi, who replaced Graziani in early February 1941. Rommel’s command, the German Africa Corps (Deutsches Afrika Korps), shortly reinforced by the addition of an armored division, received general directives from Hitler only after Mussolini had approved them, for the German forces were considered as agents of Italian military policy within the Axis partnership.[N-3]

[N-3: Hitler’s Order, 10 Dec 40, and Dir, 11 Jan 41 OKW/WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 33400/40 and OKW/ WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 44018/41; Orders signed by Keitel, 13 Jan and 3 Apr 41, OKW/WFSt/Abt L, Nr. 00 94/41; Order signed by Col Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of OKW/WFSt, 19 Feb 41, OKW/WFSt/Abt L (I Op), Nr. 44189/41. All in ONI, Führer Directives, 1939–1941.]

The German Africa Corps prepared for its eastward thrust toward Egypt while other German troops extended their hold over the Balkans and prepared to subjugate Greece. Some of the limited British forces in northern Africa were diverted to Greece to aid its defenders, but not enough to prevent the Peloponnesus from being swiftly overrun in April 1941, while almost simultaneously Rommel’s force swept across Libya with surprising speed to the Egyptian border. Only the port of Tobruk remained in British possession in the rear of the Axis units, where it was a continual threat to their long line of supply. The British Eighth Army, which was formed during the next few months of 1941, was not ready for another offensive to the westward before November, but Rommel also was obliged to pause. If these Axis thrusts in the Balkans and northern Africa were, on the one hand, followed by the dramatically successful airborne assault on Crete in May, they were, on the other hand, somewhat offset shortly afterward by the British and Gaullist-French seizure of Syria and by the British military occupation of Iraq. Turkey remained resolutely neutral.

All Axis operations in 1941 were overshadowed by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June. The requirements and preparations for this colossal effort precluded any extensive German commitments in the Mediterranean. Franco’s delays dragged out negotiations over German seizure of Gibraltar beyond the time when anything could be done about it without detriment to the impending attack against Russia. Throughout most of the year; therefore, the principal feature of the war in the Mediterranean was the battle over supply lines. German naval units were drawn into this struggle, like the ground troops, in a role at least nominally subordinate to the Italian Supreme Command.[N-4]

 [N-4: (1) The Italian Supreme General Staff was reorganized in June 1941. Its powers were greatly increased and it became the most important organ of command. Thereafter it was known as the Comando Supremo (Supreme Command). See Howard McGaw Smyth, “The Command of the Italian Armed Forces in World War II,” Military Affairs, XV, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 38. (2) Hitler’s Order, 29 Oct 41, WFSt/Abt L (I Op), Nr. 441794/41, in ONI, Führer Directives, 1939–1941. (3) Vice Admiral. Eberhard Weichold (German Admiral, Rome), The War at Sea in the Mediterranean. U.S. Navy Press Release 26 Feb 47.]

German aviation harassed British shipping. German submarines joined Italian naval units in policing the waters of the Sicilian straits. The occupation of Crete, costly as it was, improved the Axis position greatly in the violent effort to strangle the connection between Malta and the eastern Mediterranean. The British island of Malta, between the Sicilian straits and Crete, was a base for aircraft, destroyers, and submarines which severely curtailed the flow of supplies and reinforcements from Italy to Tripoli. The fortunes of Rommel’s command seemed almost directly proportional to Axis success in neutralizing Malta.

If the Soviet Union had succumbed to the gigantic attack which began in June 1941, Hitler would presumably have undertaken in November an elaborate attack upon the Near East and have forced Spain to allow an attack against Gibraltar. Concentric drives by Rommel through Egypt, by a second force from Bulgaria through Turkey, and, if necessary, by a third element from Transcaucasia through Iran were also contemplated.

Success in these operations would have broken the British hold on the Middle East. But when, despite the heightened German need for petroleum from the Middle East for operations in 1942, the attack against the Russians fell short of success, the program scheduled for November was necessarily delayed. The British began a counteroffensive in northern Africa at that point which relieved the garrison cut off in Tobruk and drove Rommel’s forces back on EI Agheila. This advantage was abruptly canceled in January 1942, when Rommel made a second advance to the east which regained much of the lost ground. His command was renamed Panzerarmee Afrika, and received reinforcements and additional equipment to resume the attack against the British Eighth Army. From the EI Gazala Line he was expected to gain Tobruk and the coast directly east of it. [N-5]

[N-5: A panzer group headquarters (Panzergruppe Afrika) was created for Rommel in August 1941 with command over the German Africa Corps, Italian XXX Corps, and some small miscellaneous units. Rommel was promoted to General der Panzertruppen 1 July 1941 and to Generaloberst on 1 February 1942. (1) OKW, Kriegstagebuch (hereafter cited as OKW, KTB), I.IV.-3/’VI.42, Entries 21, 30 Apr, and 1, 7 May 42. Great Britain, Exhibit 227, USC, Rg 238. This document appears to be the only one of those comprising the text of the OKW war diary that was not destroyed. The OKW war diary, prepared by Hitler’s Plenipotentiary for Military History, Oberst Walter Scherff, was to be the basis for a history of the war as seen from the highest German level. (2) Rommel, Krieg ohne Hass, pp. 111-26. (3) MS # T- 3-PI (Kesselring), Pt. I.]]

Rommel’s success and the capture of Malta [The planned operation for Malta was Operation HERKULES] were interdependent, a fact which produced a decision to undertake seizure of the island. Heavy air attacks would be made upon it in April 1942 to cover the shipment to Tripoli, Bengasi, and Derna of the means required for the first phase of Rommel’s offensive. After he had seized Tobruk and pushed to Marsa Matriih, thus holding the area from which Malta might be helped by British land-based airplanes, he was to pause while mixed German and Italian forces, partly airborne and partly seaborne, gained possession of the island.

Supplies to Rommel could thereafter go forward from Italy to the African ports in sufficient volume and his offensive would be resumed. While these plans were maturing, more German forces reached the Mediterranean basin.

The German X. Fliegerkorps was replaced, beginning late in 1941, by the Second Air Force (Luftflotte 2) over which Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring exercised command as Commander in Chief South (Oberbefehlshaber Sued) from a new headquarters at Frascati, near Rome.

Kesselring, subordinated to the Duce, was expected to employ his aviation in conformity with directives issued or approved by Mussolini, and to have a relationship as air commander to the Italian Supreme Command similar to that of Rommel as ground commander to the Italian Commander in Chief in Libya. Kesselring as senior German officer also assisted Generalleutnant Enno von Rintelen, Commanding General, Headquarters, German General at the Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces (Deutscher General bei dem Hauptquartier der italienischen WehrmachtGerman General, Rome) in conveying German views to the Italians. If the action of the Italian Supreme Command was influenced by a spirit of deference to German military enlightenment, the Italians nonetheless insisted that the Germans at all times adhere strictly to the form of Italian control, and Hitler supported this arrangement.

Axis operations in 1942 began with marked successes and brought the coalition to the zenith of its fortunes in World War II. Rommel’s late May attack went much more rapidly than had been expected and succeeded in taking Tobruk in June almost immediately instead of being delayed by the kind of stubborn defense which had kept that port from the Germans in early 1941.

British losses of men and materiel were great, but the loss of Tobruk’s port was equally serious. Rommel believed he could continue to Cairo before meeting effective resistance. At that juncture, Hitler was lured into a serious blunder. He had been unable to quiet his misgivings over the projected seizure of Malta, for he felt that the assault was inadequately planned and subsequent support perilously undependable. He therefore proposed to Mussolini that Operation HERKULES, the seizure of Malta, be postponed in favor of a continued drive into Egypt, and Mussolini, despite the demurrer of some of his military advisers, consented.

A new line of supply to Rommel was to run via Crete to Tobruk. Malta was allowed to recover. In July 1942, Rommel’s army got as far inside Egypt as the El Alamein position, some sixty miles southwest of Alexandria, before being held up by lack of supplies and the opposition of the British Eighth Army. On the Eastern Front, the German attacks on the southern sector pressed speedily toward the Don River, heading beyond it toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

The Allied Decision To Occupy French North Africa

The Allies were drawn to the Mediterranean by the fact that the British Eighth Army was arrayed against Panzer Army Africa near Egypt and by the military potentialities of the French colonies in northwestern Africa either as friend or foe. These potentialities had been considered well before the United States became a belligerent. American military planners studied the requirements of operations designed to prevent enemy use of air or naval bases on the Atlantic African coast as far south as Dakar.

At the end of 1940, when the British had defeated Graziani’s army, they held six divisions in readiness to join the French in defending Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in case Petain agreed to resume the war against the Axis. After that opportunity failed to materialize, the British planned in October 1941, in case of a success against Rommel in Cyrenaica, to capture Tripoli and, subsequently, to support French North Africa in a renewal of hostilities. Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill brought to the ARCADIA Conference in Washington in December, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, his own strategic analysis for 1942 and 1943 containing strong arguments for giving the liberation of French North Africa the highest priority in the Atlantic area. President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed marked interest in the project.

The guiding principle of Allied strategy in 1942 in the Atlantic and European areas was to close and tighten the ring around Germany, while achieving readiness for an invasion to destroy her military power. Anglo-American leaders hoped that by 1943 the way would be clear for an Allied return to the Continent, either across the Mediterranean, or via the Aegean and the Balkans, or by landings in western Europe. A friendly occupation in 1942 of French North Africa was recognized to be “of the first strategical importance in the Atlantic area,” and plans to achieve this were in preparation for several weeks following the conference. Influences attracting the Allies toward the Mediterranean, strong as they were in January 1942, were for a time counterbalanced by other factors of greater strength. The competing claims upon Allied resources were numerous and very powerful.

The line of communications through the Hawaiian Islands to Australia had to be maintained, and in the face of continued Japanese successes in their drive southward, various points along the line had to be reinforced. China could not be abandoned while it absorbed so large a number of Japanese troops and persevered in the war which it had waged since 1931. Russia was engaging by far the largest proportion of the German strength for the second year, and required the shipment of munitions over long and expensive routes. Iceland and the British Isles were to receive American garrison forces in order to release British units for service elsewhere. The Battle of the Atlantic ran in favor of the German U-boats, which achieved appalling successes close to the eastern coast of the United States.

The Americas had to be defended. A large portion of the munitions and men prepared for combat in the United States had to be devoted to the expansion program of all the armed services. Lack of shipping precluded any operation in French North Africa until still more pressing demands elsewhere were met.

Before the shipping situation eased, the Allies in April revised the program outlined at the ARCADIA Conference, adopting as the new major objective the concentration of forces in the British Isles for a cross-Channel attack in 1943 against the heart of Germany through France and the Low Countries.

Frequent Commando raids against the French coast would be made during the period of preparations; the heavy bombers of the U. S. Eighth Air Force being organized in the United Kingdom were to supplement those of the Royal Air Force in striking German industrial targets with increasing severity; but the main effort of the American forces in the Atlantic area in 1942 would be to transfer units and materiel from the United States to the United Kingdom, there to complete training for the ultimate assault during the following year. Measured by the reasoning underlying these plans, an expedition to French North Africa would be a diversionary undertaking, inevitably weakening the projected main effort.

Militating against the program of concentration which the Allies adopted in April were several strong influences. The main attack in 1943 could not succeed unless the Soviet Union were still engaging on the Eastern Front much of the German strength. The ability and the determination of the Russians to maintain resistance to the Axis forces might not survive the German offensive of 1942. A preliminary attack across the English Channel in 1942, had to gain a continental bridgehead for subsequent expansion in 1943 was contemplated by the Allies as a means of aiding the Russians without forfeiting the ability to make the main attack on schedule. If the Germans should fall suddenly into internal political convulsion, the same plan could be used to grasp that advantageous opportunity. But the measure of relief for the hard-pressed Russians would be determined by the size of the German forces diverted to western France from the Eastern Front to oppose the Anglo-American landings, so that genuine assistance to Russia was tantamount to inviting defeat.

The forces available would be preponderantly British. The British were unwilling to make a sacrifice attack for such a purpose. In view of the President’s encouragement to Molotov in May 1942 to expect a “second front” before too long, some Anglo-American offensive in 1942 seemed imperative in order to sustain Russian faith in the western Allies. The President was determined that American units go into combat against the Germans before the end of the year, presumably for the effect such a situation would have on American morale. The Prime Minister was ready for an Anglo-American operation in Norway in conjunction with the Russians, and eager for an invasion of northwestern Africa, but on 8 July notified the President that the British saw no possibility of making a preliminary attack in 1942 to gain a beachhead across the Channel. The British decision against Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was based not only on the undue risk of defeat in such an undertaking, but also on doubt whether there were enough resources, particularly the craft and crews required for the amphibious phase of the attack.

It may also have found some support in the Prime Minister’s determination, as he has written in his memoirs, to bring about an Allied occupation of French North Africa and perhaps of Norway. After the British refusal to proceed with Operation SLEDGEHAMMER was received, the Joint Chiefs of Staff contemplated adherence to the principle of concentration of force against a major adversary by switching the main American effort to that in the Pacific against Japan: The President rejected this proposal, particularly because no large-scale beginnings could be made there before 1943, but also because of his conviction that Allied strategy was sound and should not be abandoned.

 

He did, however, make a final effort to reconcile the British authorities to the course of action urged upon him by his own military advisers. On 18 July he sent Mr. Harry Hopkins, George C. Marshall, and Admiral Ernest J. King to London with instructions to make certain that every means would be considered for a small-scale attack on the Continent in 1942. If convinced that such an operation could not be mounted with any reasonable chance of “diverting German air forces from the annihilation of Russia,” they were to proceed with the consideration of other projects involving combat with German ground forces in 1942, either in North Africa or the Middle East. It was understood that preparations for ROUNDUP (a full-scale continental attack) in 1943 were to continue without interruption.

The President Commits the United States to Operation TORCH

The Allied military chiefs in London failed to reconcile their disagreement over the feasibility of SLEDGEHAMMER in 1942, a fact which was then reported to the President.

The operation could not be undertaken without agreement and was therefore abandoned, except that, mainly for appearance’s sake, planning operations and some preparations were continued.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff had been unable to agree and had divided along national lines. Here then was a critical test of the Anglo-American capacity to function as a military coalition. Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt broke the deadlock. The President, as Mr. Churchill had discovered, was more favorably inclined toward an operation in Northwest Africa than his military advisers, especially General Marshall. The President on 23 July sent supplementary instructions to the American members of the Combined Chiefs directing them to arrive at an agreement on some operation to be launched in 1942, and listing possibilities among which the occupation of French North Africa was given the top priority.

Bound by these instructions, the American chiefs agreed that using American forces in Northwest Africa was preferable to sending them to the Middle East. Thereupon, on 25 July, the Combined Chiefs reached a compromise. The U. S. members agreed to accept Operation TORCH on condition that a final decision by the Combined Chiefs be postponed.

According to this agreement, planning would start at once in London, but final decision to mount the invasion would be reserved until 15 September. If it then appeared likely that the Russians could actively resist German military power in the spring of 1943, the ROUNDUP operation would retain its priority over any other undertaking. If the Russians, on 15 September, seemed about to collapse, the invasion of North Africa would be mounted in time for landings before 1 December. Some of the heavy bomber groups and other air units previously destined for action in 1942-1943 over Europe would be shifted to North Africa, and others, to the Pacific where they were greatly needed.

On 25 July the Combined Chiefs of Staff named the prospective operation TORCH and agreed to a system of command to be in effect in one phase during the planning, and in another, “after the decision to mount.” But the President disregarded the conditional nature of the Combined Chiefs’ decision, and on the same day informed Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Admiral William D. Leahy, Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, and Lieutenant General Joseph T. McNarney, when they met him at the White House, that he had already committed the United States unconditionally to the North African operation.

After General Marshall and Admiral King returned from London, the former apparently still believing that the final decision to mount the North African invasion was to be reached on 15 September, the President repeated “very definitely” to a special conference of representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House “that he, as Commander-in-Chief, had made the decision that TORCH should be undertaken at the earliest possible date, He considered that this operation was now our principal objective, and the assembling of means to carry it out should take precedence over other operations. . . .”

President Roosevelt’s action amounted to a modification of the Combined Chiefs of Staff’s recommendation so drastic as to be almost a rejection. He did not then realize, as he came to appreciate later, that a campaign to seize French North Africa would preclude an attack across the English Channel toward the heart of Germany in 1943, and that he had made a choice in favor of the strategy of encirclement rather than that of a direct and central thrust. But he could indeed have pointed out that the decision to penetrate the Mediterranean conformed to the grand strategy formulated in January at the ARCADIA Conference if not to the modification of April. The Allies would be closing the ring around Germany, tightening it, and achieving readiness for an invasion to destroy her military power.

Such was the situation in the Mediterranean when the Allies faced the question where to attack in 1942.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West by George F. Howe

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Isolation of Java Completed

Timor, the largest and Most southeasterly of the Lesser Sunda Islands, belonged partly to Portugal and partly to the Dutch. The Portuguese capital was Dili, and the Dutch capital was Kupang. Most of the population was primitive, and Timor contained little in the way of needed resources; but, just as Bali had been a staging area for large ABDA plane reinforcements to Java, Timor was the only staging area for short range ANDA fighter planes. Although a flight from Timor to Java was longer than one from Bali, Timor was the only place in the Lesser Sunda Islands within fighter-plane range of Australia. That marked it for invasion by the Japanese, because it’s possession would destroy the fighter-plane support for Java’s defenders.

The troops carried in fourteen transports, one carrying paratroopers, landed on 20 February. The paratroopers were landed, and after the airfield was captured, they were picked up by landing planes and dropped over Kupand. Both jurisdictions of the island were fully under Japanese control by 24 February, despite fierce resistance by ABDA forces. The Portuguese had some troops en route to defend Dili, but the Japanese arrived before them. Cut off effectively from Australia at all points, Java was about to be forced to fight alone for it’s existence–the eastern pincer on Java had been established.

Dutch Borneo

Simultaneously with the Eastern Force’s southward sweep Admiral Takahashi sent his Central Invasion Force from Davao to capture Dutch Borneo, to assist his Eastern Force if necessary, and then to wait to invade east Java–the invasion timed to take place when Admiral Ozawa would be able to cover the invasion of west Java.

Tarakan Island is isolated on the east coast of Borneo, just south of what was British Borneo. The Japanese wanted it because of it’s rich oil fields, and because its capture would provide a base and airfield from which Japanese forces could be covered in their next advance. Tarakan was defended by a Dutch garrison of 1,300 men.

The Tarakan Invasion Force sailed from Davao on 7 January 1942. En route, it was bombed without result by three of Air ANDA’s B-17’s based in Java. The speed of Japanese operations had made it impossible for ANDA Command to position intercepting submarines. By the after noon of 10 January the convoy, with fourteen transports carring Army and Marine troops, was just off Tarakan Island. The Dutch garrison commander, on his on initiative, immediately set fire to the Tarakan’s oil fields and sabotaged it’s airfield. At 2400, the landing troops began a double envelopment, and on the morning of 12 January the small Dutch garrison at Tarakan surrendered, facing overwhelming odds, without any hope of reinforcements. Dutch planes attacked the invaders on 13 and 14 January, further damaging Tarakan’s airfield. But by 17 January, Japanese Navy’s 23rd Air Flotilla was using a repaired Tarakan airfield as its headquarters.

Balikpapan-Bandjarmasin

The next targets, which would put all of Borneo in Japanese hands, were the port of Balikpapan and the island settlement of Banjarmasin, both of which had oil fields. The Japanese had begun gathering a Balikpapan Occupation Force at Tarakan, and had ordered the Balikpapan authorities to surrender their oil fields, and installations un-sabotaged. The invasion ships had only intermittent air cover because foul weather; however, because of the weather, and scarcity of ABDA planes, they were not attacked until they arrived off Balipapan. As fifteen transports prepared to anchor 23 January, great columns of fire and smoke covered the Balikpapan oil fields. The local Dutch commander had not heeded the Japanese order.

Admiral Shoji Nishimura, the escort commander, was to have a busy afternoon and night. First, beginning at 5125, the convoy was attacked by three B-17’s flying from Surabaja; the transports Tatsugami Maru and Nana Maru were hit and damaged. Nevertheless, anchorage was made at 1945 on 23 January, and the troops were landed, screened by the light cruiser Naka and he squadron of destroyer’s. Despite Nishimura’s screen, the Dutch submarine K-XVIII torpedoed and sank the transport Tsuruga Maru, around 2400. The night was dark with thunderclouds, and Nishimura’s primary concern was additional submarine attacks; he certainly was not expecting an attack by ABDA surface ships.

Naval Battle off Balikpapan 

The threat to Balikpapan, however, had caused considerable anxiety at ABDA Command. The American naval force at Timor under Vice Admiral W. A. Glassford, was available to contest the landings. It consisted of the light cruisers Boise, Marblehead, and the destroyers Pope (flagship), Parrott, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones. When ABDA Command first heard of the convoy headed south 20January, it ordered the American ships to sail at once to intercept and destroy the transports. But on the next day, Boise hit an uncharted reef and had to retire, while the Marblehead developed engine trouble and could only make 15 knots; she continued north, however in order to provide a rendezvous point for the returning destroyers. The four destroyers making 27 knots, headed for Balikpapan on a course which would bring them into the area at about 0000hrs, on a north-northwesterly course. The burning oil fields would silhouette a relatively unguarded transport force.

The American force, holding course in column, mad a parallel attacking run. In the first attack, from 0316 to 0325, three destroyers fired ten torpedoes at close range. None found a mark, or did not explode. The Americans had attacked quickly and boldly, and a more stealthy and calculated approach would probably have yielded better results. They were unaware, however of the precise location of Nishimura’s protecting force.

The destroyers reversed course to the south in a second more deliberate attack. At 0330, the Pope torpedoed the Sumanoura Maru, which immediately exploded and sank. The John D. Ford used main batteries at close range on the transports, and at 0345 she torpedoed and sank the Kuretake Maru. The last two destroyers in column, torpedoed and sank the Tatsugami Maru at 0335, and continuing south, they exchanged fire with two patrol boats. The Battle of Balikapapan was over at 0350.

With the first intimation of enemy action, Admiral Nishimura in the Naka had taken his destroyers even father away from the transports, to the east in an antisubmarine sweep. Such amove was understandable, for it must have seemed inconceivable to him that a hard-pressed ABDA navy would attack his large force with surface ships. His transports had already been attacked by at least two submarines, and he knew that ABDA had about forty, so his movement to the east was a proper antisubmarine tactic. This course, however, allowed the American force to slip in between Nishimura’s force and the transports. Such are the gambles of war.

The Japanese landed at Balikpapan in the early morning of 24 January. They were resisted by the Dutch garrison until the Dutch commanding officer received permission to withdraw his 200 men to an airfield at Ulin, 120 miles west of Samarinda. Realizing the Japanese would soon discover the new Dutch position, the Dutch commanding officer had already destroyed the nearby oil fields on 20 January, with drawn his troops, this time to Muaranmuntai. The Balikapan garrison was finally trapped there by the Japanese Army, and it surrendered 8 March.

The Japanese Troops, taken by barges from Balikpapan, disembarked 50 miles south-southeast of Bandjarmasin. From this point they marched overland to Bandjarmasin. Another column marched 160 miles overland, directly from Balikpapan. Bandjarmasin was captured on 16 February; by 28 January Air Flotilla 23 was operating from the Balikpapan airfield and by 23 February also from the Bandjarmasin airfield. The arc of air protection available to the Japanese Navy had been expanded by occupation of Borneo. The sea lanes for the Japanese attack on Singapore, Sumatra, and west Java were now protected by the occupation of Borneo and Malaya. The line of advance for the attack on east Java was secured by the seizure of the Celebes and the key islands in the Molucca Sea and Flores Sea.

SOURCE: Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1941-45; BY: Paul S. Dull

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy: Battle of Badung Strait 19-20 February 1942

World War Two: Guadalcanal (7); Decision at Sea

On 18 October Admiral Ghormley was relieved and the South Pacific Area received a new commander—Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Admiral Halsey, then fifty-nine years of age, was one of the most experienced officers of the U. S. Navy. Graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1904 as a passed midshipman, Halsey was commissioned as an ensign in 1906. During World War I he commanded destroyers in British waters. He attended the Navy and Army War Colleges in 1933 and 1934, and then successfully completed the naval aviator’s course at Pensacola.

His career thereafter had been chiefly concerned with aircraft and aircraft carriers. From 1935 to 1937 he commanded the carrier Saratoga. After serving for a year as commanding officer at Pensacola, he took command, as a rear admiral, of Carrier Division 2 (Yorktown and Enterprise) in 1938. The next year he led Carrier Division 1 (Saratoga and Lexington), and in 1940, a vice admiral, he led the Aircraft Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet. Halsey had been on the high seas with a carrier task force at the time the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and his undamaged task force was fortunately available for a series of raids against the Gilbert, Marshall, Wake, and Marcus Islands in the spring of 1942. He also commanded the task force which took Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle’s medium bombers to within striking distance of Tokyo in April 1942. Illness had kept him out of the Battle of Midway. But the aggressive admiral had now returned to active service, and his audacious spirit was to have a dynamic effect upon the South Pacific.

Although he was unable to visit Guadalcanal until 8 November, Admiral Halsey was well aware of the difficulties which faced him. He had at once to decide whether Guadalcanal should be evacuated or held. On 20 October, following the heavy bombardments and the landings of Hyakutake’s troops, General Vandegrift had reported in person to Admiral Halsey aboard the flagship Argonne in Noumea Harbor. Present at the meeting were Lieutenant General Thomas H. Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was on a tour of inspection, General Harmon, Admiral Turner, and Major General Alexander M. Patch, who commanded the Americal Division. Vandegrift informed Halsey that he could hold Guadalcanal if he was given stronger support. The Admiral knew that Guadalcanal must be held, and promised the support of all his available forces. One of his first orders sent Kinkaid’s force to the Santa Cruz Islands where it engaged the Japanese on 26 October.

The South Pacific Area was soon to receive additional means by which the aggressive spirit could be transformed into action. President Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recognized that the situation on Guadalcanal was extremely serious. On 21 October Admiral King, after an urgent request from the South Pacific for more forces, notified Admiral Nimitz that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved a much stronger air establishment for the South Pacific, to be based there by 1 January 1943. On 24 October President Roosevelt, in a memorandum for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed a desire that the Joint Chiefs send every possible weapon to Guadalcanal and North Africa even if additional shipments meant reducing commitments elsewhere. In reply, Admiral King stated that a considerable force would be diverted, including one battleship, six cruisers, two destroyers, and twenty-four submarines., plus torpedo boats, seventy-five fighter aircraft, forty-one dive and fifteen torpedo bombers. Thirty transports had been allocated to the South Pacific for November, and twenty additional 7,000-ton ships would be diverted later.

In his reply to the President, General Marshall stated that the situation in the South Pacific depended upon the outcome of the battle then in progress for Guadalcanal. The ground forces in the South Pacific were sufficient for security against the Japanese, he felt, and he pointed out that the effectiveness of ground troops depended upon the ability to transport them to and maintain them in the combat areas. Total Army air strength in the South Pacific then consisted of 46 heavy bombers, 27 medium bombers, and 133 fighters; 23 heavy bombers were being flown and 53 fighters shipped from Hawaii to meet the emergency. MacArthur had been directed to furnish bomber reinforcements and P-38 replacement parts to the South Pacific. General Marshall had taken the only additional measures which, besides the possible diversion of the 25th Division from MacArthur’s area to the South Pacific, were possible—the temporary diversion of three heavy bombardment squadrons from Australia to New Caledonia, and the release of P-40’s and P-39’s from Hawaii and Christmas Island.

Reinforcements; Air Power

In October the Japanese had come perilously close to destroying American air strength on Guadalcanal. Despite their utmost efforts the airfield remained in American hands and recovered from the heavy blows, although Guadalcanal’s air strength, impaired by operational losses and Japanese bombardment, remained low during the rest of October. Only thirty-four aircraft were fit to fly on 16 October, but were reinforced on that date by the arrival of twenty F4F’s and twelve SBD’s. By 26 October, after a series of bombing raids and shelling’s, there were but twenty-nine operational aircraft at Henderson Field—twelve F4F’s, eleven SBD’s, three P-400’s, and three P-39’s.

By the end of November, with the lessening of Japanese attacks against the Lunga area and the increase of Allied strength in the South Pacific, the Guadalcanal air force had increased in size although as late as 10 November the shortage of fuel prevented heavy bombers from using Henderson Field. General MacArthur on 14 November promised to send eight P-38’s to the South Pacific.

By the middle of November a total of 1,748 men in the aviation units were operating at the Lunga airfields—1,261 of Marine Air Group 14; 294 of Marine Air Group 14; 33 naval pilots; 144 of the 347th (Army) Fighter Group, and 16 of the 37th (Army) Fighter Squadron.9 By 21 November the entire 5th (Army) Heavy Bombardment Group, which like the 11th had participated in the Battle of Midway, had reached the South Pacific to operate from Espiritu Santo. P-38’s had reached Guadalcanal to be based there permanently, and B-17’s were using the field regularly although the fuel shortage still limited operations. On 24 November 94 aircraft on Guadalcanal were operational, including 15 P-39’s, 1 P-40, 8 B-17’s, 11 P-38’s, 9 TBF’s, 6 New Zealand Hudsons, 29 F4F’s, and 15 SBD’s, and by 30 November additional reinforcements had increased the total to 188 planes of all types.

Aola Bay

By November plans for building an additional airfield on Guadalcanal were ready to be put into effect. Prior to Admiral Halsey’s assumption of command, the 1st Battalion of the 147th Infantry, a separate regiment, had sailed from Tongatabu with the mission of occupying Ndeni. General Harmon had not changed his conviction that the occupation of Ndeni would be a needless waste of effort. He presented his opinions to Halsey, who, after conferring with his subordinates, accepted Harmon’s views. On 20 October he directed the 147th Infantry to Guadalcanal. The Ndeni operation was never carried out.

Halsey decided to send the 147th Infantry to Guadalcanal to cover the construction of an air strip at a point far enough east of the Lunga to give fighter planes at Lunga Point enough time to rise to the attack if the Japanese attacked the eastern field. Aola Bay, lying about thirty-three miles east-southeast of Lunga Point, was selected by Admiral Turner as the landing and airfield site. The Aola Bay landing force, as finally constituted, was under command of Colonel W. B. Tuttle and included 1,700 men of the 1st Battalion, 147th Infantry; two companies of the 2nd (Marine) Raider Battalion; a detachment of the 5th Defense Battalion; Provisional Battery K of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion of the Americal Division, which was equipped with British 25-pounders; and 500 naval construction troops.

While the practicality of taking Ndeni was being considered, Halsey’s headquarters had completed plans for moving strong reinforcements to Lunga Point. On 29 October Admiral Turner informed General Vandegrift that his requests for more ammunition, materiel, and support were being seriously considered.

The admiral planned to have two ships land stores, ammunition, and two batteries of 155-mm. guns on 2 November. Provision for the movement of the 8th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to Guadalcanal was being given the highest priority, and that regiment was to land on 3 November. Turner expressed the desire, somewhat gratuitously, that Vandegrift take the offensive after the arrival of the 8th Marines. Another Army regiment and the 1st (Marine) Aviation Engineer Battalion, Turner announced, were to arrive about 10 November, and the 2nd Raider Battalion might possibly land at Beaufort Bay on the south coast about the same time. A task force commanded by Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan was constituted to transport the 8th Marines and the Aola Force to Guadalcanal.

The Aola Force, carried on three transports and two destroyer-transports, landed unopposed at Aola Bay on 4 November. It established a 600-yard-long beachhead a short distance east of the Aola River. When the beachhead had been established, command of Colonel Tuttle’s landing force passed from Admiral Callaghan to General Vandegrift. The transports unloaded continuously until 0200, 6 November, and then withdrew. Admiral Halsey directed the raider companies to remain at Aola Bay, instead of leaving with the transports as originally planned.

The troops established a perimeter defense, and on 29 November four transports landed the 3rd Battalion of the 147th Infantry, additional elements of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 9th (Marine) Defense Battalion, and more Seabees.

The Seabees had begun work on an airfield immediately after the landing on 4 November, but the entire area proved to be unsatisfactory. The earth was swampy, and tree stumps with deep, tangled roots slowed the process of clearing the ground. On 22 November Vandegrift, who from the first had opposed the selection of Aola Bay, recommended to Turner that the area be abandoned. Admiral Fitch, the commander of South Pacific land-based aircraft, also disapproved of the Aola Bay site; Halsey assented to its abandonment, and the Aola Force, less the 2nd Raider Battalion, was later removed to Volinavua at Koli Point to build an airfield on a grassy plain. The movement to Koli Point was completed by 3 December, and there the force was joined by the 18th Naval Construction Battalion and the rest of the 9th Defense Battalion.

Reinforcement of the Lunga Garrison, 2-4 November

While the initial landings at Aola Bay were being effected on 4 November, more American troops and weapons were strengthening Lunga Point. The Alchiba and the Fuller landed stores and ammunition, together with one Army and one Marine Corps 155-mm. gun battery at Lunga Point on 2 November. These batteries—F Battery of the 244th Coast Artillery Battalion, and another battery of the 5th Defense Battalion—brought in the heaviest American artillery which had been sent to Guadalcanal up to that time, the first suitable for effective counterbattery fire.

After the landing of a Japanese force east of Koli Point on the night of 2-3 November, Vandegrift asked Halsey to hurry the arrival of the 8th Marines. Callaghan’s task force, which had been delayed by the proximity of enemy forces, sailed into Sealark Channel on 4 November to debark the reinforced 8th Marines, including the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, and the Aola Force as shown above. The regular noon Japanese air attack forced the transports to disperse, and the Lunga Point section of Callaghan’s task force withdrew to the southeast for the night. It returned the next morning to complete the unloading before sailing for Noumea.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal; Japanese Plans

Following their defeat in the night battles of 23-26 October, the Japanese began preparing for a second major counteroffensive. Staff representatives from the Combined Fleet hurried to Guadalcanal by destroyer to help complete the plans. On 26 October General Hyakutake decided to send the 38th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Tadayoshi Sano, and its heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal on transports instead of aboard the Tokyo Express. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commanding the Combined Fleet, approved of these plans.

The Japanese organized four naval task forces for the November operation. Two bombardment forces were to neutralize Henderson Field; a third was to transport the 38th Division and heavy equipment from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, while a fourth force from the Combined Fleet gave general support. The 17th Army had first decided to land the 38th Division at Koli Point, whereupon the entire 17th Army was to attack the Lunga area from the east and west. But Imperial General Headquarters, disapproving of the dispersion of forces, directed that the 38th Division deliver its attack from the Matanikau area, where it could receive the maximum support from 17th Army artillery.

The 17th Army, however, did land a small force at Koli Point in early November to deliver supplies to some of Shoji’s troops who had retreated there after the October disaster. Orders directing these forces to build an airfield on the flat plain south of Koli Point were also issued. A part of the 230th Infantry of the 38th Division had already landed on Guadalcanal in October and on 2-3 November, and the Tokyo Express landed elements of the 228th Infantry along the beaches from Kokumbona to Cape Esperance between 28 October and 8 November.

Japanese naval units assembled in the harbors between Buin and Rabaul during the first days of November. By 12 November Allied reconnaissance planes reported that two aircraft carriers, four battleships., five heavy cruisers, and thirty destroyers, besides transports and cargo ships, had been assembled. There were sixty vessels in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolei anchorages alone. But there was to be one vital difference between the October and November Counteroffensives. The Japanese, who had previously been using their aircraft carriers with some success, did not commit them to action in November.

American Plans

American naval forces, though still inferior in number to those of the Japanese, were again to prove their effectiveness. Twenty-four submarines had been patrolling the Tokyo Express routes, and had destroyed or damaged a number of Japanese ships. Besides the submarines, the naval forces under Halsey’s command included the aircraft carrier Enterprise, two battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, one light antiaircraft cruiser, twenty-two destroyers, and seven transports and cargo ships, organized into two task forces.

Because the lack of gasoline at Henderson Field was limiting the operations of B-17’s, Admiral Halsey requested the Southwest Pacific Air Forces to bomb shipping around Buin, Tonolei, and Faisi between 11 and 14 November, as well as to reconnoiter the approaches to Guadalcanal. Beginning on 10 November, South Pacific land-based aircraft, including those at Henderson Field, were to cover the northern and western approaches and to protect the Lunga area. The plans for the land-based aircraft of the South Pacific did not assign to them new missions, but restated their continuing missions in specific terms. On Guadalcanal the situation was more hopeful than it had been in October.

Pistol Pete could no longer shell the airfields with impunity. The arrival on 2 November of the 155-mm. guns of F Battery, 244th Coast Artillery Battalion, and the battery of the 5th Defense Battalion had provided effective counterbattery artillery. Less than four hours after it had begun debarkation at Lunga Point, F Battery of the 244th was in action against Pistol Pete. Troop strength had increased with the addition of the 8th Marines on 4 November, and still more reinforcements were expected soon.

The addition of more New Zealand troops and of the first elements of the 43rd (U. S.) Division to the South Pacific force had made it possible to relieve the Americal Division of its mission of defending New Caledonia. The complete division was to be committed to Guadalcanal, where one of its regiments, the 164th Infantry, was already engaged.

Reinforcement by the 182nd Infantry

The next Americal Division unit to be shipped to Guadalcanal was the 182nd Regimental Combat Team, less the 3rd Battalion which was still in the New Hebrides. The movement of this unit to Guadalcanal by Turner’s task force was to be a larger operation than the dispatch of the Aola Bay Force and the 8th Marines.

One of the two South Pacific naval task forces, under command of Admiral Turner, was charged with the dual responsibility of defending Guadalcanal and of transporting troops and supplies to the island. Admiral Kinkaid’s carrier task force at Noumea was available to support Turner’s force. These forces, though limited in numbers, had to stop the Japanese unless the U. S. Navy was to be driven out of the Solomon’s.

Turner’s task force was organized into three groups. Three transports, one cruiser, and four destroyers under Admiral Scott constituted one group. Scott’s ships were to carry marines, ammunition, and rations from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Admiral Callaghan commanded the second group of five cruisers and ten destroyers which were to operate out of Espiritu Santo and cover the movement of the third group from Noumea to Guadalcanal. Admiral Turner assumed direct command of the third group, consisting of four transports which were to transfer the 182nd Regimental Combat Team (less the 3rd Battalion), Marine replacements, naval personnel, and ammunition from Noumea to Guadalcanal.

Admiral Kinkaid’s force at Noumea, consisting of the carrier Enterprise, two battleships, two cruisers, and eight destroyers, was to support Turner’s force. In addition all aircraft in the South Pacific were to cover the movement of Turner’s ships and to strike at any approaching Japanese vessels. Turner expected that a Japanese invasion fleet would soon be approaching Guadalcanal.

He planned to land the 182nd Infantry at Lunga Point and move the transports out of danger before the enemy could arrive. The ships under his direct command sailed from Noumea at 1500, 8 November. The next day Scott’s group left Espiritu Santo; Callaghan’s warships followed on 10 November. Callaghan’s and Turner’s groups rendezvoused off San Cristobal the next morning.

Scott’s group arrived off Guadalcanal at 0530 on 11 November. The Zeilin, Libra, and Betelgeuse began unloading but were interrupted twice during the day by enemy bombers which damaged all three ships. At 1800 the group withdrew to Indispensable Strait. Damage to the Zeilin was found to be serious, and with one destroyer as escort she returned to Espiritu Santo. Scott’s warships, at 2200, joined Callaghan’s group, which had been preceding the advance of Turner’s transports. The Libra and Betelgeuse later joined Turner’s group. The warships, under Callaghan’s command, then swept the waters around Savo Island, and remained in Sealark Channel for the rest of the night of 11-12 November.

The transports anchored off Lunga Point at 0530,12 November. Covered by the warships, they began discharging troops and cargo. A Japanese shore battery in the vicinity of Kokumbona opened fire on the Betelgeuse and Libra at 0718 but missed; it ceased firing when one cruiser, two destroyers, and counterbattery artillery on shore replied. About twenty-five enemy torpedo bombers attacked in the afternoon, and forced the ships to cease unloading and get under way. The cruiser San Francisco, which was Callaghan’s flagship, and the destroyer Buchanan were damaged but the transports were not hit, and all but one bomber were shot down. The transports re-anchored at 1525, having been forced to halt unloading for two hours.

At 1035 on the same morning American planes patrolling north of Malaita sighted a Japanese force, including two battleships, sailing south toward Guadalcanal. A convoy of transports carrying the 38th Division troops, replacements, and naval troops followed farther to the north. By late afternoon Admiral Turner had concluded that 90 percent of the supplies carried by the ships under his direct command could be unloaded that day, but that several more days would be required to unload the Betelgeuse and Libra. To avoid destruction by the enemy battleships, he decided to withdraw all the cargo ships and transports. The warships were to remain to engage the approaching enemy.

The cargo ships and transports, escorted by destroyers, withdrew at 1815, 12 November. Callaghan’s and Scott’s warships preceded them to Indispensable Strait, then reversed their course and returned to protect Guadalcanal. The McCawley and the President Jackson had been completely unloaded; percent of the President Adams’ cargo had been landed, 50 percent of the Crescent City’s, 40 percent of the Betelgeuse’s. and 20 percent of the Libra’s. All the troops, numbering about 6,000 men, had debarked.31 The forces which had been landed by Scott’s group consisted of the 1st (Marine) Aviation Engineer Battalion, ground crews of the 1st Marine Air Wing, and marine replacements.

Turner’s ships had landed 1,300 marine replacements, 372 naval personnel, L Battery, 11th Marines (155-mm. howitzers), some 164th Infantry casuals, and the 182nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team. The combat team was made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 182nd Infantry; the 245th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers), plus engineer, medical, quartermaster, and ordnance personnel—3,358 men.

Cruisers Versus Battleships, 12-13 November

The Japanese force which had been sighted consisted of the battleships Hiei and Kirishima, one light cruiser, and fifteen destroyers. This force had orders to enter Sealark Channel and neutralize the airfields on Guadalcanal by bombardment. Once enough aircraft and supplies had been destroyed, and the airfield pitted, Japanese troops could be transported to Guadalcanal in safety. The fact that the battleships carried high explosive ammunition for bombarding the airfield instead of armor-piercing shells reduced the margin of superiority of their 14-inch guns in the ensuing battle, for the battleships’ shells did not always penetrate the cruisers’ armor plate. This was fortunate, for to withstand the enemy force Admiral Callaghan had only two 8-inch gun cruisers, one 6-inch gun cruiser, two light antiaircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers. Callaghan led his light forces toward Savo after dark to engage the battleships.

At 0124 on 13 November Helenas radar located Japanese ships 27,000 yards away, between Savo and Cape Esperance. A warning was immediately transmitted to the flagship San Francisco, but the cruiser’s search radar was inadequate. As a result Admiral Callaghan, like Admiral Scott at Cape Esperance one month earlier, did not know the exact location of either his own or the enemy ships.

The American destroyers closed to short range to fire torpedoes. The vans of the opposing forces intermingled, and the American column penetrated the Japanese formation. The Japanese illuminated the American cruisers, then opened fire at 0148. The outnumbered Americans replied, firing to port and starboard. The American column became disorganized as destroyers maneuvered to fire torpedoes, and both cruisers and destroyers swerved off their courses to avoid collisions. The engagement became a melee in which the desperate American ships engaged the enemy individually. In the confusion both sides occasionally fired on their own vessels. As far as they could, the American ships concentrated their fire on the battleship Hiei.

 Admiral Scott, aboard the Atlanta, was killed by fire from a cruiser. Later a salvo from the Hiei struck the San Francisco and killed, among others, Admiral Callaghan, and mortally wounded her commanding officer, Capt. Cassin Young. The San Francisco continued to engage the Hiei as long as her main battery would bear. The Hiei fired several salvos, then ceased. The San Francisco, having received fifteen major hits from heavy guns, withdrew. The Atlanta caught fire, and several American destroyers blew up, but about 0300 the Japanese abandoned their attempt to break through the tenacious American force, and retired northward. Two Japanese destroyers had been sunk, and four were damaged.

The gallantry of the light American forces in this desperate action had saved Henderson Field from a battleship bombardment, but the cost was heavy. Of the thirteen American ships, twelve had been either sunk or damaged. The antiaircraft cruisers Atlanta and Juneau, and the destroyers Barton, Gushing, Laffey, and Monssen sank in the channel. The heavy cruisers San Francisco and Portland and the destroyers Aaron Ward, O’Bannon, and Sterrett, which all had suffered serious damage, retired with the two other surviving ships toward Espiritu Santo during the morning of 13 November.

The battleship Kirishima had escaped, but at daylight on 13 November American air forces located the battleship Hiei near Savo. Crippled and on fire, she was cruising slowly in circles. The Hiei, the principal American target, had been struck eighty-five times in the battle, and was out of control. Planes from Henderson Field attacked her steadily all day, and on the night of 14 November she was scuttled by her crew.

Bombing the Japanese Transports, 14 November

Meanwhile Admiral Kinkaid had led his carrier task force from Noumea toward Guadalcanal. At daylight on 14 November search planes from the Enterprise sighted a group of Japanese cruisers near New Georgia. These ships belonged to a second Japanese force which, consisting of three heavy and two light cruisers and four destroyers from the Outer South Seas Supporting Unit of the 8th Fleet, had entered Sealark Channel early on the morning of 14 November.

When American motor torpedo boats sortied from Tulagi, the Japanese retired without having inflicted much damage to Henderson Field. Later, when the search planes found this force, aircraft from Guadalcanal and from the carrier attacked it and sank one heavy cruiser and damaged one heavy and one light cruiser and a destroyer.

After these attacks the planes from the Enterprise flew to Guadalcanal to operate temporarily from Henderson Field. This permitted the Enterprise, the only remaining carrier in the South Pacific, to withdraw to the south out of range of hostile aircraft.

Disregarding the fact that the American airfields on Guadalcanal were still in operation, the Japanese determined to bring the troop convoy to Guadalcanal. On 14 November it left the waters near northern New Georgia, where it had been standing by since 13 November, to sail southward down the Slot. Consisting of eleven transports and cargo ships and twelve escorting destroyers, this convoy was the largest the Japanese had yet employed in the Solomon’s. The ships carried about 10,000 troops of the 229th and 230th Regiments of the 38th Division, artillerymen, engineers, replacement units, a naval force of between 1,000 and 3,500 men, weapons, and 10,000 tons of supplies. The Japanese had not committed aircraft carriers to close support of operations, and the convoy’s air cover was weak.

A Southwest Pacific patrol plane, lending support to the South Pacific, discovered the convoy at 0830, 14 November, about 150 miles from Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal aircraft and the Enterprise air group made ready to attack with torpedoes, bombs, and machine guns. Ground crews servicing the planes rolled bombs across the muddy runways, lifted them into the bays, and fueled the planes entirely by hand. The planes took off and struck the transports continuously throughout the day with outstanding success. They hit nine transports. Seven sank at sea, and the four remaining afloat sailed on toward Guadalcanal under cover of darkness.

Night Battleship Action, 14-15 November

Strengthened and reorganized, the heavy bombardment force which had fought the American cruisers on the night of 12-13 November turned back toward Guadalcanal to cover the approach of the transports. It consisted of the battleship Kirishima, two heavy and two light cruisers, and nine destroyers. To combat this force and to attack any surviving transports, Admiral Halsey sent the battleships Washington and South Dakota and four destroyers from Kinkaid’s force to the north. Under the command of Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., the two battleships and four destroyers passed the southeastern tip of Guadalcanal about noon on 14 November. Shortly before midnight, they entered the channel. As the Washington neared Savo in the darkness at 0001, 15 November, her radar located an enemy ship. The Washington opened fire at 0016, at a range of 18,500 yards, and the South Dakota and the destroyers entered the action immediately thereafter. The Japanese fought back vigorously, but by 0142 the long-range gun fight in the narrow waters had ended. It was one of the few engagements between battleships of the entire war. The Japanese retired northward, having again failed to hit the airfields. The badly damaged Kirishima was scuttled by her crew; one Japanese destroyer sank. Three of the American destroyers sank, and the South Dakota and the other destroyer suffered damage.

When day broke on 15 November the Americans saw, lying at Tassafaronga in plain view, the four surviving transports of the force which had been hit the day before. The transports had no air cover. Three were beached and unloading, while the fourth was slowly pulling northward toward Doma Reef. F Battery of the 244th Coast Artillery Battalion had moved two of its guns from their field artillery positions on the west bank of the Lunga to the beach. These guns opened fire at 0500 and hit one beached transport 19,500 yards away; the ship began to burn. The 3rd Defense Battalion’s 5-inch batteries opened fire forty-five minutes later on a second ship 15,800 yards away and hit her repeatedly.

The beached target burned and listed to port. The destroyer Meade sailed over from Tulagi to shell both the ships and the landing areas, while aircraft from Henderson Field and bombers from Espiritu Santo attacked the remaining ships. By noon all four had been turned into burning, useless hulks which were abandoned to rust in the shallow water. The planes then turned their attention to the Japanese supplies which had been landed, and started tremendous fires among the piles of materiel. One blaze was 1,000 yards long.

Cost and Results

Of the ill-fated convoy’s 10,000 or more troops, about 4,000 had landed safely on Guadalcanal, but without sufficient supplies and rations. Only five tons of the 10,000 tons of supplies aboard the ships were landed safely. Of the rest of the troops, some had drowned at sea, but a large number were rescued by the Japanese.

The destruction of the convoy brought the November counteroffensive to a quick end. For the Japanese the failure had been expensive. Besides the troops and supplies lost at sea, they had lost two battleships, one heavy cruiser, and three destroyers sunk. Equally serious had been the destruction of the eleven ships in the convoy, a total loss of 77,609 shipping tons. Two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and six destroyers had been damaged. The U. S. Navy had lost one light cruiser, two light antiaircraft cruisers, and seven destroyers sunk, and one battleship, two heavy cruisers, and four destroyers damaged.

This was the last major effort by the Japanese Army and Navy to recapture the Lunga area by a co-ordinated attack. The November battle had made the task of reinforcing Guadalcanal much less dangerous. The movement of the 182nd Infantry was the last shipment of troops to Guadalcanal in the face of enemy forces. Thereafter American troops were to be landed on Guadalcanal fairly regularly, and although enemy air attacks continued, and the Alchiba was torpedoed by a submarine on 28 November, the danger of attack by enemy warships lessened. The Lunga area was now securely held, for by the end of November Vandegrift’s force totaled 39,416 men.

The November battle had been the most decisive engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign. It had almost “sealed off” the Japanese on the Guadalcanal battlefields from their rear bases. After November, the most important factor of the campaign was to be the long hard ground fighting on the island itself.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (8); Advances Toward Kokumbona

World War Two: Guadalcanal (6); October Counteroffensive

World War Two: Guadalcanal (6); October Counteroffensive

The Japanese, who had been planning for a full-scale counteroffensive ever since August, had completed their preparations by October, and were ready to strike. The first attempts by the inadequate Ichiki and Kawaguchi Forces had failed to dislodge the marines from their defenses around the airfield. The early Japanese estimates of American strength had proved to be disastrously low. Major General Shuicho Miyazaki wrote later that, while in Tokyo prior to becoming Chief of Staff of the 17th Army, he had lacked exact knowledge of American strength. “Does the American force which landed on Guadalcanal on August 7th,” he had asked himself, “represent the entire enemy force committed to this campaign, or is it only the spearhead of a large counter-offensive? If it is the former, our operations will most certainly be successful. But if it is the latter, victory or defeat hangs in the balance.”

When the Japanese planned their operation in the spring of 1942, Miyazaki wrote, they hoped to sever the line of communications between the United States and Australia with two separate thrusts. One had as its goal Port Moresby in New Guinea, while the other, an advance through the Solomons, was aimed at the Fijis, Samoa, and New Caledonia. The Allied offensive in August, however, had turned these two thrusts into a single campaign. Operations against Port Moresby, which had been repulsed in May at the Battle of the Coral Sea, had meanwhile been resumed by one small force moving overland across the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea.

After August, 17th Army Headquarters at Rabaul raised its estimates of American strength on Guadalcanal but still made serious miscalculations. It believed that 7,500 American troops were holding Lunga Point on 19 September. Actually, U. S. strength on Guadalcanal at the end of September was above 19,000 and rose to over 23,000 on 13 October.

Japanese Strategy

On the basis of erroneous estimates, General Hyakutake had been preparing elaborate plans for the recapture of Lunga Point even before the Kawaguchi Force had reached Guadalcanal. The first plan, issued on 28 August and altered several times afterward, established the basic concept for the Japanese counteroffensive which was to begin in October. General Hyakutake intended to command the operation on Guadalcanal personally. The Kawaguchi Force was to secure positions east and west of the Matanikau to cover a projected landing by a fresh division, to secure a line of departure, and to harass the Lunga defenses while a strong artillery force prepared to neutralize Henderson Field. The 17th Army was to arrange for the transport of the necessary troops from Rabaul. Once the troops reached Guadalcanal and completed their preparations for the attack, they were to “… capture the enemy positions, especially the airfield and artillery positions in one blow.” General Hyakutake also considered sending one force in an amphibious assault “behind the enemy.” “The operation to surround and recapture Guadalcanal,” he grandiloquently announced, “will truly decide the fate of the control of the entire Pacific area ….”

Once Lunga Point was retaken, the Japanese planned to seize Rennell, Tulagi, and San Cristobal. During this phase, 17th Army reserve forces and the Imperial Navy were to intensify the attacks against General MacArthur’s force in New Guinea. Port Moresby was to be taken by the end of November. Because the importance of Guadalcanal prevented planes, warships, and troop transports from being sent from the Solomons to New Guinea, the Japanese were forced to finish the Guadalcanal campaign before attempting to reinforce New Guinea.

The Japanese offensive against Guadalcanal was to be a joint operation. In September 17th Army representatives met at Truk with the commanders of the Combined and the Southeastern Fleets to plan the attack, which was tentatively set for 21 October. Japanese warships were to co-operate fully until two weeks after the fresh division had landed.

Drawing troops for the projected operation from China, the East Indies, the Philippines, and Truk on orders from Imperial General Headquarters, the Japanese assembled, by October, a strong force in Rabaul and the Solomons under the 17th Army’s command. The infantry units consisted of two divisions, one brigade, and one reinforced battalion. Supporting them were three independent antiaircraft artillery battalions, three field antiaircraft artillery battalions, one field antiaircraft artillery battery, one heavy field artillery regiment plus extra batteries, one tank regiment and one tank company, one independent mountain artillery regiment and one independent mountain artillery battalion, one engineer regiment, one trench mortar battalion, and a reconnaissance plane unit. Of these, the brigade and the reinforced battalion (Kawaguchi and Ichiki Forces) and additional battalions of the 4th Infantry had already met defeat on Guadalcanal.

The 2nd and 38th Divisions, forming the bulk of the main infantry force which had been assembled, had formerly belonged to the 16th Army. In March 1942 the 2nd Division, which had been recruited in Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture of Honshu, had moved from Manchuria to Java as a garrison force. In July 1942 the 4th Infantry was detached for service in the Philippines, while the 16th and 29th Regiments remained in Java. In August 1942 the entire division was transferred to Rabaul and the Shortland Islands.

The 38th Division had been organized in September 1939 in Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture of Honshu. A triangular division, it consisted of the 228th, 229th, and 230th Infantry Regiments. In 1941, it took part in the siege of Hong Kong, after which its regiments were detached. One detachment, the reinforced 228th Infantry under Major General Takeo Ito, assisted in the capture of Amboina and Timor. One battalion of the 229th Infantry also helped to take Timor, while the

remainder of the regiment campaigned in Sumatra. The 230th Infantry had served in the Java campaign. The division then reassembled at Rabaul in late September 1942. The 4th Heavy Field Artillery Regiment (150-mm. howitzers) was dispatched from China in September 1942, arriving at Rabaul in early October.

Although the 17th Army was composed of veteran regiments, it had seldom operated as one unit. Likewise, the infantry divisions had seldom seen action as divisions. Individual regiments and battalions had campaigned actively, but had never fought against a foe who possessed superior numbers, equipment, or strong defensive positions.

The movement of Japanese forces from Rabaul and the northern Solomons to Guadalcanal, already begun in August, increased rapidly during September and October. By destroyer, by landing craft, by cargo ship and transport the enemy soldiers sailed down the inter-island channels to land on the beaches west of the Matanikau River under cover of darkness, while destroyers covered the landings by bombarding Lunga Point. The Allied forces which might have opposed them were too few in number to be risked in action north of Guadalcanal, and at night the darkness and clouds helped to hide the Japanese ships from Henderson Field aircraft.

By mid-October General Hyakutake had assembled a sizable portion of his army, except the main body of the 38th Division, on Guadalcanal. The 2nd Division and two battalions of the 38th Division were ready to fight beside the survivors of the Ichiki and Kawaguchi Forces. In addition there were present one regiment and three batteries of heavy field artillery, two battalions and one battery of field antiaircraft artillery, one battalion and one battery of mountain artillery, one mortar battalion, one tank company, and three rapid-fire gun battalions. Engineer, transport, and medical troops, and a few Special Naval Landing Force troops were also on the island. These forces, about 20,000 men, though below full strength, represented the largest concentration of Japanese troops on Guadalcanal up to that time.

The U. S. Situation

The Americans on Guadalcanal thus faced a serious enemy threat. Yet as late as 5 October South Pacific Headquarters had not definitely decided to send additional reinforcements to the 1st Marine Division. Though deferred, the plans for occupying Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands had not been canceled. The purpose of holding Ndeni, 335 nautical miles east-southeast of Henderson Field and about 300 nautical miles north-northwest of Espiritu Santo, was threefold: to deny it to the Japanese; to protect the right flank of the Allied line of communications to Guadalcanal; and to provide an intermediate airfield for short range aircraft to stage through while en route from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Admiral Nimitz had recommended early in September that Ndeni be occupied sometime later at a date to be determined by Admiral Ghormley. Dispatches between Admirals King and Ghormley in late September discussed the possibility of using the 8th Marines of the 2nd Marine Division for the Santa Cruz operation. On 29 September Admiral Ghormley announced that he was planning to occupy Ndeni with a part of that regiment, which was then in need of more training. On the same day he rejected Admiral Turner’s suggestion that one battalion of the 2nd Marines be withdrawn from the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area for Ndeni. Admiral Turner then suggested transporting one Army infantry battalion, some Army field artillery, a detachment of the 5th (Marine) Defense Battalion, and naval construction forces to Ndeni in two transports and one cargo ship. These forces were to be followed by a second Army infantry battalion, one Army antiaircraft artillery regiment, and one Army coast artillery battery, transported in five ships.

General Harmon, the Army commander in the South Pacific, regarded the entire Ndeni project as unsound and unnecessary. When Admiral Ghormley tentatively agreed to Admiral Turner’s proposal, General Harmon, in a letter to Admiral Ghormley dated 6 October 1942, reviewed the reasons for the Ndeni operation in the light of the situation on Guadalcanal. Ndeni, he wrote, would yield sparse results for two or three months, and was not vital to the security of the South Pacific. As long as Allied forces could operate from Espiritu Santo, the Japanese could not operate in strength from Ndeni. Since nearly all Allied aircraft could fly directly from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal, Ndeni was not needed as a staging base.

Occupation of Ndeni, General Harmon pointed out, would divert strength from the main effort. The situation on Guadalcanal was exceedingly grave, for if the Japanese were to use artillery against the airfield they could cause serious damage. If the beachhead on Guadalcanal fell, then the Ndeni operation would be a complete waste. The main effort must be in the Solomons. If the beachhead on Guadalcanal did not hold, the Japanese would have an outpost to protect the Bismarcks and to cover New Guinea, as well as a point of departure for advances to the south. “It is my personal conviction,” he wrote, “that the Jap is capable of retaking Cactus-Ringbolt [Guadalcanal-Tulagi] and that he will do so in the near future unless it is materially strengthened.” But if Guadalcanal was strengthened, the airfield improved for heavy bombers, and naval surface operations intensified, the enemy would not make the costly attempt to retake Lunga Point.

General Harmon therefore recommended: (1) that the Ndeni operation be deferred until the southern Solomons were secure, (2) that Guadalcanal be reinforced by at least one more regimental combat team, (3) that naval surface operations in the Solomons be increased, and (4) that sufficient airdrome construction personnel and equipment be sent to Guadalcanal. What was needed at Henderson Field, he stated, was two all-weather runways, improved dispersal facilities and fueling systems, a standing fuel supply of at least 250,000 gallons, and intensive air operations from Guadalcanal against the northern Solomons.

After Admiral Ghormley received this letter he conferred with Admiral Turner and General Harmon on the evening of 6 October. After the conference Admiral Ghormley announced his intention to proceed with the plan to occupy Ndeni and build a landing strip. As it seemed likely that the Japanese would try to recapture the Lunga airfield, he accepted General Harmon’s recommendations that Guadalcanal be reinforced by one Army regiment and that the island’s airdrome facilities be improved.

Reinforcements would prove valuable, for General Vandegrift could then safely enlarge the defense perimeter around Henderson Field to protect it from enemy fire. Although casualties from enemy action had not been prohibitive—by 18 September 848 wounded had been evacuated—the 1st Marine Division was beginning to suffer heavily from tropical diseases. The enervating, humid heat, skin infections caused by fungi, and inadequate diet had weakened the troops. A mild form of gastro-enteritis had appeared in August. Although it caused only one death, this disorder made many temporarily unfit for duty and lowered their resistance to other diseases. During the third week in August malaria had first appeared among the troops. Suppressive atabrine treatment had been inaugurated on 10 September, but the disease had gained such a foothold that it was to become the most serious medical problem of the campaign. It sent 1,960 men of the division into the hospital during October.

The force selected for the reinforcement of Guadalcanal was the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division, which was then in New Caledonia. The regiment was immediately alerted for movement, and began loading the Zeilin and the McCawley, the flagship of the South Pacific Amphibious Force, at 0800,8 October, at Noumea. The 147th Infantry (less two battalions), Colonel W. B. Tuttle commanding, which was then at Tongatabu, was selected for Ndeni. The McCawley and Zeilin, loaded on 8 October, sailed from Noumea the next morning with the troops, weapons, and supplies of the 164th Infantry, 210 men of the 1st Marine Air Wing, 85 Marine casuals, and cargo for the 1st Marine Division. Three destroyers and three mine layers escorted the transports, while four cruisers and five destroyers under Rear Admiral Norman Scott covered their left flank.

The McCawley and the Zeilin sailed safely from Noumea to Guadalcanal, and arrived off Lunga Point to discharge troops and cargo at 0547, 13 October. Though interrupted twice during the day by Japanese bombing raids, the ships landed 2,852 men of the 164th Infantry, 210 of the 1st Marine Air Wing, and 85 casuals, plus forty-four ¼-ton trucks (jeeps), twenty ½-ton trucks, seventeen 1½-ton trucks, sixteen British Bren gun carriers, twelve 37-mm. guns, five units of fire, seventy days’ rations, sixty days’ supplies, complete tentage, and 1,000 ships’ tons of cargo for the 1st Marine Division and the naval units. The 164th Infantry supplies which were landed totaled over 3,200 ships’ tons. The McCawley and Zeilin, completely unloaded, embarked the 1st Raider Battalion and sailed out of Sealark Channel before nightfall to return to Noumea.

The first naval craft to be permanently based at Tulagi, aside from harbor patrol boats, were four boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, which the destroyers Southard and Hovey had towed in on 12 October. The Jamestown, arriving at Tulagi on 22 October, stayed there as a service ship for the torpedo boat squadron, which was brought to full strength on 25 October by the arrival of four more boats.

Before the Japanese counteroffensive in late October, therefore, the 1st Marine Division had been materially strengthened. With these reinforcements, troop strength on Guadalcanal and Tulagi totaled 27,727 of all services: 23,088 men were on Guadalcanal, the remainder on Tulagi.

When Admiral Ghormley ordered the 164th Infantry to Guadalcanal, General Vandegrift decided to establish permanent positions on the east bank of the Matanikau River, occupied in the offensive of 7-9 October. Domination of the mouth of the Matanikau was essential to the defense of Henderson Field. The rough terrain and thick jungles on the Matanikau effectively prevented heavy equipment from crossing the unbridged river at any point except over the sand bar at the mouth. Since tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces could cross the river over the bar, the Japanese, had they been able to dominate the position, could have put their tanks across it to deploy for attack against the perimeter defense. Had they been able to emplace artillery on the east bank, they might have damaged the Lunga positions and the airfield even more heavily than they did in October.

Two infantry battalions and elements of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion were assigned to hold the Matanikau. They established a horseshoe-shaped position, running from the mouth along the east bank to a point about 2,000 yards inland. They refused the right flank along the beach and the left flank east along the ridge line of Hill 67, a strong defensive position. The marines cleared fields of fire, rigged booby traps, and laid personnel and antitank mines in front. Several 37-mm. antitank guns, with 75-mm. tank destroyers concealed nearby in support, covered the sand bar, which was illuminated at night by headlights salvaged from damaged amphibian tractors. There were not enough troops to hold the beach and jungle between the forward Matanikau position and the perimeter defense; patrols covered the gaps each day.

The arrival of the 164th Infantry on 13 October permitted General Vandegrift to make further changes in the Lunga perimeter defense. The 22,000-yardlong perimeter line was divided into five regimental sectors. As it was believed that the enemy would be most likely to attack from the west, the heaviest strength was concentrated in the western sectors. In Sector One, 7,100 yards of beach on Lunga Point, the 3rd Defense Battalion, with the 1st Special Weapons Battalion attached, had tactical command, and co-ordinated the related functions of beach defense and antiaircraft fire. The amphibian tractor, engineer, and pioneer troops continued to hold the beach lines at night.

The 164th Infantry, Colonel Bryant E. Moore commanding, and elements of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion were assigned to Sector Two, the longest infantry sector. This 6,600-yard line extended along the beach from the 3rd Defense Battalion’s right flank to the Ilu River, inland along the Ilu about 4,000 yards, and west through the jungle to the left flank of the 7th Marines. The 7th Marines (less one battalion) occupied Sector Three, about 2,500 yards of jungle between the 164th Infantry’s right and the Lunga River, including the south slopes of Bloody Ridge. The 1st Marines (less one battalion) held Sector Four, about 3,500 yards of jungle between the Lunga and the left flank of the 5th Marines, who held Sector Five, the western corner of the perimeter.

The 3rd Battalions of both the 1st and 7th Marines held the Matanikau line, and were supported by parts of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion and one battalion of the 11th Marines. The 1st Air Wing was to continue to provide air cover, close ground support, and longer-range bombardment and reconnaissance. The 1st Tank Battalion, then held in division reserve, was to continue to reconnoiter areas suitable for tank action. Each sector was placed under the command of the respective regimental commander. Division headquarters again directed each sector commander to maintain one battalion in reserve to be available to the division if needed. These were the defenses with which the Lunga garrison was to meet the Japanese counteroffensive in October.

Air and Naval Preparations

While the 17th Army troops had been landing on Guadalcanal’s north coast, Japanese fleet units had been preparing to execute their part of the plan. The strongest Japanese naval force assembled since the Battle of Midway left Truk to assemble at Rabaul for the offensive. Bombers from the Southwest Pacific had been attacking Rabaul regularly, but they had inflicted little damage and presented no great threat to the assembling fleet. Japanese submarines had deployed southward in August and September to try to cut the American supply lines leading to Guadalcanal, and warships escorted 17th Army convoys to Guadalcanal and shelled the airfield almost every night. As long as American aircraft could operate from Henderson Field the Japanese could not safely bring troops and heavy equipment to Guadalcanal in transports and cargo ships. The nocturnal Tokyo Express could deliver troops in relative safety but could not carry heavy equipment or large amounts of supplies. The Tokyo Express warships and the daylight bombers therefore made a concerted effort in October to neutralize the Lunga airfield.

Admiral Ghormley’s naval forces were still smaller than those that the Japanese could muster, but, determined to stop the nightly naval bombardments and the flow of enemy reinforcements to Guadalcanal, he ordered the four cruisers and five destroyers under Admiral Scott to sail from Espiritu Santo to Savo by way of Rennell to intercept any Japanese naval units moving on Guadalcanal. Scott’s force was also to cover the left flank of the convoy carrying the 164th Infantry to Guadalcanal.

Battle of Cape Esperance

At 1345, 11 October, patrol planes from Guadalcanal discovered a Japanese force of four cruisers and one destroyer sailing south through the Slot toward Guadalcanal. The Japanese had dispatched them to neutralize Henderson Field and thus provide greater safety for the landing of additional troops and supplies. The force was sighted again at 1810 about 110 miles from Guadalcanal.

Informed of the approaching Japanese, Admiral Scott sailed from the vicinity of Rennell toward Cape Esperance to be in position to stop them about midnight. As Scott’s force neared the channel between Cape Esperance and Savo about 2232, the screens of the radars on the cruisers Boise and Helena showed five Japanese ships 18,000 yards to the northwest. Search planes from the cruiser San Francisco also reported about 2300 that one Japanese transport and two destroyers were in Sealark Channel, but Scott decided to attack the larger force of cruisers and destroyers. The transport and the two destroyers escaped. The Boise and Helena reported the presence of the Japanese cruisers and destroyers by voice radio to Admiral Scott aboard the San Francisco, but he did not attack at once. The flagship’s radar was older and less efficient than that aboard the other cruisers, and Scott was not sure of the location of the destroyers of his force. He feared that the destroyers reported by the Boise and Helena might be his own. The American destroyers, having recently changed their course, were then to starboard (north) of Scott’s cruisers, which were sailing on a southwesterly course. The American destroyers thus lay between the opposing cruiser forces.

The Helena opened fire on the Japanese at 2346, 11 October; her fire was followed by that of the cruiser Salt Lake City, the Boise, and the destroyer Farenholt The Japanese were caught completely by surprise. The American column executed the classic naval maneuver of crossing the enemy’s “T”, by sailing in column at a right angle to, and ahead of the approaching Japanese column. The entire American force was thus able to concentrate salvoes on each ship as it came forward. Each Japanese ship, on the other hand, masked the guns of the ships in its rear. Two Japanese vessels sank at once; the flagship Aoba was badly damaged, and the cruiser Kinugasa suffered light damage. The surviving Japanese ships retired northward after thirty-four minutes of battle. The destroyer Marukamo was joined by the destroyer Natsugumo, and they returned to Savo to rescue survivors in the water, but both were sunk the next morning by dive bombers and fighters from Henderson Field.

Scott’s losses were light by comparison. The Boise, Salt Lake City, and Farenholt suffered damage. The destroyer Duncan, which had pulled close to fire torpedoes at the enemy, was caught between the American and Japanese forces, hit by fire from both, and sank on 12 October.

The victory at Cape Esperance, whose flames lit the night skies west of the Lunga, cheered the men in the Lunga perimeter, but its effects were short-lived. Two days after Admiral Scott’s force stopped the Tokyo Express, the Japanese hit the airfield with damaging blows. Guadalcanal’s air situation had steadily improved during September, for more planes had been arriving. On 22 September Vandegrift reported to Ghormley that thirty F4F’s, twenty-two SBD’s, seven TBF’s, and five P-400’s were operational. The Naval Advanced Base at Kukum included an aviation unit and the 6th Construction Battalion. Air squadron personnel totaled 1,014—917 men of Marine Air Group 23, 33 of the 67th Fighter Squadron, and 64 from the naval carrier squadrons. The P-400’s had proved so valuable that Vandegrift requested more to support ground operations.

By 10 October twelve P-39’s of the 67th Fighter Squadron had reached Henderson Field but had not yet gone into action. B-17’s were now occasionally being staged through Henderson Field. But these operations were soon to end. On 13 October there were ninety operational aircraft under General Geiger’s command at Henderson Field—thirty-nine SBD’s, forty-one F4F’s, four P-400’s, and six P-39’s. At 1200 twenty-two Japanese bombers, escorted by fighters, flew over to bomb Henderson Field from 30,000 feet. They were almost unchallenged.

The PAGO’S could reach only 12,000 feet; the P-39’s could climb to 27,000. The F4F, a relatively slow climber, could not reach the enemy in time to intercept him. Between 1330 and 1400 all the American planes were forced to land for more gasoline. While they were being refueled, a second wave of about fifteen bombers attacked the field. The men of the 6th Construction Battalion worked throughout the afternoon in an effort to keep the field in operation. They had loaded their dump trucks with earth well in advance to speed the task of filling the bomb craters. But their efforts did not avail. The Japanese did not completely neutralize the runway on 13 October, but they inflicted such severe damage that General Geiger was forced to broadcast the information that Henderson Field could not be used by heavy bombers except in emergencies.

After the last bomber had retired, the long-range 150-mm. howitzers which the Japanese had been landing opened fire on the airfield and Kukum Beach from positions near Kokumbona. They first made Kukum Beach untenable. The 1st Marine Division had no sound-and-flash units to locate the enemy howitzers, or suitable counterbattery artillery with which to reply to “Pistol Pete,” as the troops called the enemy artillery. The field artillery units were armed with 75-mm. pack and 105-mm. howitzers, and the 3rd Defense Battalion had emplaced its 5-inch gun batteries on the beach. On 13 October and the days that followed, the 5-inch guns and the 105-mm. howitzers attempted to silence Pistol Pete. But the trajectory of the 5-inch guns was too flat for effective counterbattery fire. Some of the 105’s were moved up to the Matanikau River, but they were too light for effective counterbattery fire. Aircraft also attempted to silence the Japanese artillery, but were no more successful than the artillery.

Shortly before midnight of 13 October, a Japanese naval force which included the battleships Haruna and Kongo sailed unchallenged into Sealark Channel. While a cruiser plane illuminated the target area by dropping flares, the task force bombarded the airfield for eighty minutes, the heaviest shelling of the campaign. The battleships fired 918 rounds of 360-mm. ammunition, of which 625 were armor-piercing and 293 high explosive. They covered the field systematically. Explosions and burning gasoline lit the night brightly. In the words of a Japanese report, “explosions were seen everywhere, and the entire airfield was a sea of flame.” Forty-one men were killed, and many aircraft damaged. When the shelling had ceased, enemy bombers raided the airfield intermittently until daylight.

On 14 October only forty-two planes would fly—seven SBD’s, twenty-nine F4F’s, four P-400’s and two P-39’s.43 An American report states: When the men could finally come from their foxholes and survey the damage they knew what had hit them. They found jagged noses of shells’ measuring 14 inches in diameter—the shells from battleships’ guns—and smaller pieces of shrapnel [sic]. Bits of clothing and equipment were hanging from telephone wires. The field itself was in shambles. . . . The 67th [Fighter Squadron] was fortunate—only two P-39’s were damaged, and, miraculously, not one of the old P-400’s was hit. The next morning a few B-17’s which had been operating temporarily from Henderson Field took off safely from the 2,000 feet of usable runway to return to Espiritu Santo. The bombardments had rendered the airfield unusable as a base for heavy bombers. Moreover the presence of Japanese aircraft and warships over and in Sealark Channel prevented cargo ships from bringing in fuel, so that the perpetual shortage of aviation gasoline on Guadalcanal had now become more acute. As a result B-17’s could no longer be staged through Henderson Field.

By the afternoon of 14 October Japanese bombing and shelling had knocked Henderson Field out of action. Pistol Pete prevented aircraft from using the runway. Fortunately the construction battalion had laid out a rough grassy runway southeast of Henderson Field. When dry this runway, Fighter Strip No. 1, could be used by light planes and it served for a week as the main airfield. Aviation gasoline supplies had fallen to a critically low level. On the afternoon of 14 October a Marine staff officer informed the 67th Fighter Squadron that there remained just enough gasoline to mount strikes against a Japanese force, including transports, which patrolling SBD’s had found sailing toward Guadalcanal. The 67th was ordered to load its planes with 100-pound bombs and to join the SBD’s in striking at the oncoming ships. The aircraft took off and located the enemy before nightfall. They sank one ship and set another on fire, but failed to halt the convoy, which continued on toward Guadalcanal under cover of darkness.

Tassafaronga

When day broke on 15 October, five Japanese transports and their eleven escorting warships were plainly visible from Lunga Point as they lay ten miles away at Tassafaronga unloading troops, weapons, supplies, and ammunition. The runway was pitted with shell and bomb craters. Only by searching wrecked planes and hunting in the jungles beside the runway for stray gasoline drums was enough fuel obtained for the planes to take off from the pitted runway to strike at the ships. The searches had yielded 400 drums, or about enough for two days’ operations. On the same day Army and Marine Corps transport planes (C-47’s) began flying gasoline from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal, despite the fire from Pistol Pete. Each C-47 carried twelve drums. The seaplane tender MacFarland also ran in a load of gasoline from Espiritu Santo. Caught by Japanese planes in Sealark Channel on 16 October, she was seriously damaged but was salvaged by her crew in an inlet on Florida Island.

American fighters and dive bombers attacked the Japanese ships on 15 October, and, despite antiaircraft fire and the opposition of Japanese planes, sank one transport and set two more afire by 1100. The remaining ships and their escorts, under attack from both Guadalcanal aircraft and B-17’s and SBD’s from Espiritu, then put out to sea. One ship fell victim to the B-17’s near Savo. Although the air attacks seriously damaged the Japanese transports, they succeeded in landing all the troops—between 3,000 and 4,000 men51—and 80 percent of their cargo. The soldiers included part of the 230th Infantry of the 38th Division as well as seven companies of the 16th Infantry of the 2nd Division, the last Japanese infantry units to land prior to the opening of the ground offensive against Lunga perimeter.

That the Japanese were preparing to attack in force was all too obvious. General Vandegrift radioed to South Pacific Headquarters to stress his need for the greatest possible amount of air and surface support. Admiral Ghormley, fully aware of the situation, requested General MacArthur to have Southwest Pacific aircraft search the western approaches to the southern Solomons for enemy aircraft carriers. When the B-17’s were forced off Henderson Field, Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, commanding South Pacific land-based aircraft, suggested that Southwest Pacific aircraft relieve the pressure on Guadalcanal by intensifying their attacks on Rabaul, Kahili, and Buka.

On 16 October, Admiral Ghormley warned Admiral Nimitz that the Japanese effort appeared to be “all out.” South Pacific forces, he stated, were “totally inadequate,” and needed air reinforcements. Naval strength had been seriously weakened by combat losses. The Enterprise, Saratoga, and North Carolina were in Pearl Harbor undergoing repairs. Admiral Nimitz ordered that work on the Enterprise be rushed, and on 16 October the veteran carrier was able to leave Pearl Harbor for the South Pacific with the South Dakota and nine destroyers. Meanwhile Fitch’s force at Espiritu Santo was increased to eighty-five patrol planes and heavy bombers. Southwest Pacific aircraft continued to support Guadalcanal by patrolling, and by bombing Rabaul and the fields in the northern Solomons.

The Ground Offensive; Japanese Tactical Plans

General Hyakutake’s units had meanwhile been confidently preparing to execute their part of the plan—an assault directed at the seizure of the airfield. The 17th Army issued tactical orders to the 2nd Division on 15 October. The main body of the 2nd Division, then in the vicinity of Kokumbona, was to deliver a surprise attack against the south flank of the American position on X Day, then tentatively set for 18 October. While the main body of the 2nd Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Masao Maruyama, was pushing inland to reach its line of departure south of the airfield, a force west of the Matanikau under command of Major General Tadashi Sumiyoshi, commander of 17th Army artillery, was to cover its rear, divert the Americans, and shell the Lunga airfields and artillery positions. An amphibious attack by the 1st Battalion, 228th Infantry, was still a part of the plan, but it was later discarded. American morale and strength, the Japanese believed, were declining.

The coast force under Sumiyoshi’s command consisted of five infantry battalions of about 2,900 men, one tank company, fifteen 150-mm. howitzers, three 100-mm. guns, and seven field artillery pieces.58 The units in Sumiyoshi’s force included the 4th Infantry as well as elements of the 4th, 7th, and 21st Heavy Field Artillery Regiments and several mountain artillery and antiaircraft artillery units, and perhaps tanks and part of the 124th Infantry.

[NOTE: 17th Army Opns, I, does not show the tanks or any part of the 124th Infantry under Sumiyoshi’s command, although they must have been, as the results of the interrogations of former 17th Army officers clearly show. 17th Army Opns, I, terms the 150-mm. artillery units as medium, but contemporary documents called them heavy field artillery units.]

The enveloping force under Maruyama which was to attack Henderson Field from the south consisted of eight or nine infantry battalions totaling 5,600 men, plus artillery, engineer, and medical troops. This force was divided into two wings. The right wing, under Kawaguchi, consisted of one battalion of the 124th Infantry, two battalions of the 230th Infantry, parts of the 3rd Light Trench Mortar Battalion and the 6th and 9th Independent Rapid fire Gun Battalions, the 20th Independent Mountain Artillery, and engineers and medical troops. The left wing, under Major General Yumio Nasu, was composed of the 29th Infantry, the 3rd Light Trench Mortar Battalion (less detachments), a Rapid Fire Gun Battalion, a Mountain Artillery Battalion, and engineers. In reserve were the 16th Infantry and additional engineer units.

Kawaguchi’s wing, after working inland from Kokumbona, was to attack northward under cover of darkness from east of the Lunga to capture the airfield and destroy the American forces east of the Lunga. Nasu’s left wing was to attack northward from a point between Kawaguchi and the Lunga River. Supremely confident that these soldiers could retake Lunga Point, General Hyakutake left the main body of the 38th Division at Rabaul and in the northern Solomons in readiness for operations in New Guinea. Capture of the field would be heralded by the code signal BANZAI. He directed his troops to continue “annihilating” the enemy until General Vandegrift, with staff officers, interpreters, one American flag and one white flag, had advanced along the coast toward the Matanikau to surrender.

To get troops, guns, ammunition, and supplies into position for the attack, the engineers built and improved roads leading from the landing beaches eastward to Kokumbona. Engineers and combat troops had also begun work in September on an inland trail by which the 2nd Division could get into position south of Henderson Field. This trail, commonly known as the Maruyama Trail, ran southward from the 17th Army assembly area at Kokumbona, then turned east to cross the Matanikau and Lunga Rivers south of Mount Austen, and followed the Lunga River downstream (north) to a point near the American perimeter. It covered a distance of about fifteen miles. The Maruyama Trail led through the thickest of tropical jungles, where giant hardwood trees, vines, and undergrowth are so thick that a man cannot easily walk upright or see more than a few yards. The route south of Mount Austen led over an almost unbelievably tangled series of ridges and ravines. As sunlight never penetrates the treetops, the earth underfoot is wet and swampy. The Japanese had no heavy road-building equipment but hacked their way by hand, using axes, saws, and machetes. At best they could have cleared only a path through the undergrowth, making no attempt to cut down the trees. Mount Austen’s bulk, plus the jungle, would hide the advancing column from Lunga Point, and the overhead growth provided security from aerial reconnaissance.

Since the Japanese had brought no horses and almost no motor transport on the Tokyo Express, supplies had to be brought forward by hand from as far away as Cape Esperance. About 800 tons of supplies had to be hand-carried forward. The artillery pieces assigned to Maruyama were hauled forward by manpower. General Maruyama also ordered each soldier to carry, in addition to his regular equipment, one shell, apparently from the supply dump near Kokumbona.

On 16 October, after assembling at Kokumbona, Maruyama’s troops set out on their grueling march toward the line of departure east of the Lunga River, “crossing mountains and rivers with much difficulty due to the bad roads and heavy terrain.” Progress was slow. Since the trail was narrow, the men marched, single file, in a long straggling column. The van would begin the march early each morning, but the rear elements usually could not move until afternoon, with the result that the 2nd Division inched along like a worm. Torrential rains fell during most of the march. The troops, subsisting on half rations of raw rice, burdened with shells and full combat equipment, had to use ropes to scale some of the cliffs. They also used ropes to pull the artillery pieces, machine guns, and mortars along the trail. As carrying and hauling the artillery pieces by manpower proved impossible, these guns were abandoned along the line of march.

Hyakutake’s confidence was somewhat justified, for he enjoyed significant advantages. The 150-mm. howitzers in Kokumbona outweighed the heaviest American howitzers on Guadalcanal. Almost nightly Japanese warships were sailing into Sealark Channel with impunity. The majority of the 20,000 Japanese troops were fresh, while many of General Vandegrift’s 23,000 men were suffering from malaria and malnutrition. The Japanese could reasonably expect to surprise the Americans, since the wide envelopment by Maruyama’s division through jungled, mountainous terrain was hidden from ground or aerial observation.

On the other hand, the Americans were entrenched in prepared positions, were expecting an attack, and could place artillery fire in front of any threatened sector of the perimeter. The Japanese had no near-by airfields, and American planes, though few in number, possessed local control of the air when they had enough gasoline, and thus limited the amount of heavy materiel which the enemy could safely land. The Japanese lacked sufficient transport. Hyakutake had committed his main force to a wide enveloping march through wild, trackless jungle, with all the difficulties of communication, co-ordination, and control attendant upon such a maneuver. Finally, it is doubtful that Hyakutake had enough reserves immediately available to exploit a break-through, even if the assault forces were able to penetrate the perimeter defense in strength.

Action on the Matanikau

The landing of the Japanese from transports on 15 October had alerted the 1st Marine Division to a major attack by infantry. A captured map indicated the possibility of a triple-pronged assault by three enemy divisions from the east, west, and south. But there were no indications that fresh Japanese forces had landed east of the perimeter. Air and ground patrols had not found any organized bodies of Japanese troops along the upper Lunga but only dispirited groups of hungry stragglers, most of whom were promptly killed. On the other hand, the increasing artillery fire and growing Japanese troop strength west of the Matanikau convinced the Lunga defenders that the brunt of the attack would fall in the west.

Maruyama’s forces, unknown to the Americans, were meanwhile slowly approaching the perimeter. Without good military maps, the Japanese commanders were meeting difficulty in finding their way. When advance elements of the enveloping force failed to cross the upper Lunga before 19 October, Maruyama postponed the assault date until 22 October.

The first ground action occurred in the Matanikau area on 20 October when a Japanese combat patrol from Sumiyoshi’s force approached the west bank of the river. The patrol, which included two tanks, withdrew after a 37-mm. gun in the sector of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, hit one tank. At sunset the next evening, after heavy Japanese artillery fire, nine Japanese tanks supported by infantry came out of the jungle on the west bank to attempt to drive east over the sand bar. But 37-mm. fire knocked out one tank and the force pulled back to the west.

No Japanese infantry appeared on 22 October, but Sumiyoshi’s artillery kept firing. On 22 October Maruyama, still short of his line of departure, put off the attack date to 23 October; on that date he postponed it until 24 October. The twenty-third of October was a quiet day until 1800, when Sumiyoshi’s artillery began to fire its heaviest concentrations up to that time—an orthodox preparation on the Matanikau River line, the rear areas, and the coast road.

When the fire ceased a column of nine 18-ton medium tanks [NOTE 71-71] appeared out of the jungles to try to smash a passage across the sand bar to penetrate the defenses of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, while the 4th Infantry assembled in the jungle west of the river. To halt the infantry, the 11th Marines immediately began firing a series of barrages to cover a 600- to 800-yard-wide area between the Matanikau River and Point Cruz, while the 37-mm. guns on the Matanikau engaged the tanks.

Not one enemy infantryman succeeded in crossing to the east bank of the river. The antitank guns meanwhile wrecked eight tanks as they rumbled across the sand bar. One tank eluded the 37-mm. fire and crossed the bar to break through the wire entanglements. A marine rose out of his foxhole and threw a grenade into the tank’s tracks. A 75-mm. self-propelled tank destroyer then approached to fire at close range. The tank ran down the beach into the water, where it stalled, and was finished off by the tank destroyer. The assault having been stopped so abruptly, the surviving Japanese infantrymen withdrew to the west. About midnight a second Japanese attempt to cross the river farther upstream was easily halted.

The jungles west of the river were filled with Japanese corpses, and many enemy dead lay on the sand bar. The 1st Marines, with 25 killed and 14 wounded, estimated Japanese losses at 600. Marine patrols later found three more wrecked tanks west of the river. They had apparently been destroyed by the 11th Marines’ fire before they could reach the Matanikau.

Sumiyoshi had sent one tank company and one infantry regiment forward to attack a prepared position over an obvious approach route while the Americans were otherwise unengaged. The Maruyama force, still moving inland, had not reached its line of departure. In 1946, the responsible commanders gave different reasons for the lack of co-ordination and blamed each other. According to Hyakutake, this piecemeal attack had been a mistake. The coastal attack was to have been delivered at the same time as Maruyama’s forces struck against the southern perimeter line. Maruyama, according to Hyakutake, was to have notified the 4th Infantry when he had reached his line of departure on 23 October, and he so notified the 4th Infantry. That regiment then proceeded with its attack.

[NOTE 71-71: Japanese medium tanks are comparable with U. S. light tanks. These were later identified as Model 2598 Ishikawajima Tankettes and Model 98 medium cruisers, 1st Mar Div Rpt, V, Int Annex N, 9.]

Maruyama disclaimed responsibility for the blunder, and blamed 17th Army Headquarters. His forces, delayed in their difficult march, had not reached their line of departure on 23 October. The 17th Army, he asserted, overestimated the rate of progress on the south flank and ordered the coast forces to attack on 23 October to guarantee success on the south flank. Sumiyoshi was vague. He claimed that throughout the counteroffensive he had been so weakened by malaria that he had found it difficult to make decisions. Despite an earlier statement that he did not know why the attack of 23 October had been ordered, he declared that he had attacked ahead of Maruyama to divert the Americans. Communication between the two forces, he claimed, had been very poor. Radio sets gave off too much light, and thus had been used only in the daylight hours. Telephone communication had been frequently disrupted. As a result the coast force had been one day behind in its knowledge of Maruyama’s movements.[NOTE 76-76]

The Main Attacks

On 24 October, the day after Sumiyoshi’s abortive attack, the Lunga perimeter was fairly quiet during the morning hours. Japanese artillery fire continued intermittently during the entire day, and killed six and wounded twenty-five marines. In the afternoon two events indicated that the situation was becoming serious for the Americans. Men of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, holding the southeast line of the forward Matanikau position along Hill 67, observed a Japanese column passing eastward over Mount Austen’s open foothills about 1,000 yards south of their lines. This column, whose exact composition is doubtful, is reported to have been commanded by Colonel Oka. It had apparently crossed the upper Matanikau in an effort to outflank the forward Matanikau position.[NOTE 77-77] Battalions of the 11th Marines immediately put fire on the area, and aircraft rose to strafe and bomb it. But the column had disappeared among jungled ravines, and the effects of the bombing and shelling were probably slight.

[NOTE 76-76: Interrog of Sumiyoshi; 17th Army Opns, I, slurs over the blunder, but asserts that Hyakutake approved postponing the 2nd Division’s attack from 23 to 24 October.]

[NOTE 77-77: According to 1st Demob Bureau’s map, this column, commanded by Colonel Oka, consisted of 1,200 troops of the 124th Infantry (less 3rd Battalion) and the 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry. This movement had apparently not been ordered in the original plan of campaign.]

 As earlier patrols had reported that the upper reaches of the Lunga River were clear of the enemy, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines had been withdrawn from Sector Three east of the Lunga prior to Sumiyoshi’s attack on 23 October The entire 2,800-yard front, from the Lunga River over Bloody Ridge to the right flank of the 164th Infantry, was turned over to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines, commanded by Colonel Puller. The 2nd Battalion of the 7th was ordered to the Matanikau to relieve the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines. But following the Sumiyoshi attack on 23 October and the observation of the enemy column the next afternoon, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines, on 24 October, moved hastily into position to cover the gap between the Matanikau line and the Lunga perimeter. It held over 4,000 yards of front along the line between the left flank of the 3rd Battalion, 7th, and the 5th Marines in the Lunga perimeter.

The discovery of Oka’s column east of the Matanikau was followed by evidence that another sector was in danger. A straggler from a 7th Marines patrol returned to the perimeter in the late afternoon to report that he had seen a Japanese officer studying Bloody Ridge through field glasses. At the same time a marine from the Scout-Sniper Detachment reported that he had seen the smoke of “many rice fires” rising from the jungle near the horseshoe bend of the Lunga River, about 1 3/4 miles south of the southern slopes of Bloody Ridge. It was too late in the day for further defensive measures, and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines, spread thinly over its long front, awaited the attack. There were then available few troops which were not already in the front lines. The motorized division reserve, bivouacked north of Henderson Field, consisted of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. The only other uncommitted infantry troops in the perimeter were the reserve battalions in each regimental sector.

By 24 October Maruyama’s infantry forces had finally crossed the Lunga River and moved into position in the dark jungles east of the Lunga and south of Bloody Ridge. On the left (west) the 29th Infantry, with the 16th in reserve, prepared to attack on a narrow front, while the Kawaguchi Force, now commanded by Colonel Toshinari Shoji, prepared to attack farther east.[NOTE 79-79] The heaviest weapons for supporting the infantry were machine guns. All the artillery pieces and mortars had been abandoned along the line of march. Maruyama hoped that bright moonlight would provide enough light for his assaulting troops to maintain their direction, but clouds and heavy rainfall made the night black.

[NOTE 79-79] 17th Army Opns, I. According to Sumiyoshi and Tamaki (2nd Div CofS), Kawaguchi, who had advocated attacking from the southeast, had fallen out with his superiors over the plan and had been relieved before the battle. Neither Hyakutake, Miyazaki, nor Maruyama mentioned this.]

The early evening hours of 24 October were quiet. A Marine listening post east of Bloody Ridge briefly opened fire about 2130. The front then lay quiet until half an hour after midnight, when Japanese infantrymen, firing rifles, throwing grenades, and shouting their battle cries, suddenly sprang out of the jungle to try to cross the fields of fire on the left center of the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines east of Bloody Ridge. This was the 29th Infantry’s assault, the only attack delivered by the Japanese that night. Shoji’s wing, attempting to reach the perimeter in the black, rainy night, had lost direction and got in behind the 29th Infantry. The confused battalions were immediately ordered to the front but arrived too late to participate in the night’s action.

At the first attacks by the 29th Infantry, troops on the right flank of the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry opened fire to assist the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. Division headquarters correctly assessed the significance of the Japanese attack. It immediately ordered the 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry, then in regimental reserve in the 164th’s sector, to proceed to the front and reinforce the Marine battalion by detachments, for the 1st Battalion, 7th, was holding a long front against heavy odds. The division reserve was not committed.

The Army battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Hall, was then in bivouac south of Henderson Field about one mile from the front lines. The rain was still falling heavily, and visibility was poor. By 0200 the assembled battalion, about to engage the Japanese infantry for the first time, had marched out of its bivouac area. While the Marine battalion continued to hold back the Japanese, the soldiers entered the lines by detachments between 0230 and 0330, 25 October. The night was so dark that the marines guided the soldiers into position practically by hand. The two battalions, as disposed that night, did not defend separate sectors, but were intermingled along the front.

In the first wild minutes of battle the 29th Infantry overran some of the American positions. One platoon captured two mortar positions but was immediately destroyed by Puller’s forces. The 11th Marines began firing barrages in depth in front of the threatened sector and maintained the fire throughout the engagement.

The Japanese attacked with characteristic resolution all through the night, but every charge was beaten back by the concentrated fire of American small arms, heavy weapons, and artillery. The rifle companies were supported by the Marine heavy weapons and artillery, by the weapons of M Company, by one heavy machine-gun section of H Company, and by 37-mm. antitank guns of the 164th Infantry. That night M Company fired 1,200 81-mm. mortar rounds. The line threw back a series of separate infantry assaults. It neither broke nor retreated, although some Japanese, including Colonel Masajiro Furumiya of the 29th Infantry, penetrated to the jungle behind the American lines.

By 0700, 25 October, the Japanese attacks had temporarily ceased. Maruyama was withdrawing his battalions to regroup and prepare for another assault The front lines remained quiet throughout the daylight hours of Sunday, 25 October. Japanese artillery and aircraft were so active, however, that veterans of Guadalcanal have named the day “Dugout Sunday.” Pistol Pete opened up at 0800, to fire for three hours at 10-minute intervals. Strong enemy naval forces, which were engaged the next day in the Battle of Santa Cruz, were known to be approaching, and the early hours of Dugout Sunday had found all Guadalcanal aircraft grounded. Fighter Strip No. 1, without matting or natural drainage, had been turned into a sticky bog by the heavy rains. Japanese planes bombed and strafed Lunga Point in seven separate attacks. Some Japanese pilots, resolutely dive bombing a group of planes parked in regular formation along the edge of Henderson Field, destroyed a considerable number. These conspicuous targets, however, were non-flying hulks from the “boneyard” left in the open to deceive the enemy. The operational aircraft had been dispersed and camouflaged.

During the morning three Japanese destroyers, having entered Sealark Channel from the north, caught two World War I, flush-decked, American destroyer-transports off Kukum. Outgunned, the American vessels escaped to the east. The Japanese then opened fire on two of the harbor patrol boats from Tulagi, set them ablaze, and ventured within range of the 3rd Defense Battalion’s 5-inch batteries on the beach. The batteries hit the leading destroyer three times, and the enemy ships then pulled out of range. The sun had dried the airfield slightly, and three fighters succeeded in taking off to strafe the destroyers, which escaped to the north. As the runways became drier more American planes were able to take to the air to challenge the Japanese overhead, until by evening they had shot down twenty-two planes in addition to five destroyed by antiaircraft fire.

Along the perimeter the Americans reorganized their lines. The 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines and the 3rd Battalion of the 164th Infantry, which had been intermingled during the night, divided the front between them. The Marine battalion, occupying the sector from the Lunga River to a point about 1,400 yards to the east, covered the south slopes of Bloody Ridge. Hall’s battalion took over the sector in low-lying, rough jungle between the marines’ left (east) flank and the right flank of the 2nd Battalion of the 164th Infantry. The 3rd Battalion, 164th, prepared to defend its sector with three companies in line—L on the left, K in the center, and I on the right. The 60-mm. mortars were emplaced behind the lines to put fire directly in front of the barbed wire; 81-mm. mortars, behind the light mortars, were to hit the edge of the jungle beyond the cleared fields of fire, which ranged in depth from 60 to 100 yards.

Four 37-mm. guns covered the junction of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 164th Infantry, where a narrow trail led north to the Lunga road net. The 164th Infantry regimental reserve, consisting of 175 men of the Service and Antitank Companies, bivouacked in the 3rd Battalion’s old positions. To the west, in Sector Five, the 5th Marines swung their line southwestward to close with the left flank of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. During the day the soldiers and marines, besides strengthening their positions, improving fields of fire, and cleaning and siting their weapons, hunted down a number of Japanese who had penetrated the perimeter during the night.

Hidden in the jungles south of the perimeter, Maruyama was preparing to attack again. Acting on a false report that an American force was approaching his right (east) flank, he deployed Shoji’s wing on the right to cover his supposedly threatened flank. The attack against the perimeter was to be delivered by two infantry regiments in line—the 16th on the right and the 29th on the left.

After nightfall on Dugout Sunday, Maruyama’s forces struck again in the same pattern as on the previous night. The 16th and 29th Infantry Regiments attacked along the entire front of the two American battalions which had defeated the 29th Infantry the night before. Supported by machine-gun fire, groups of from 30 to 200 assaulted the perimeter in the darkness. They executed one strong attack against the point of contact of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 164th Infantry where the trail led northward. Two enemy heavy weapons companies covered by riflemen repeatedly drove in toward the trail, but they were driven off or killed by canister from the 37-mm. guns and by fire from the weapons of the 3rd and 2nd Battalions of the 164th Infantry. About 250 Japanese were killed in their attempt to seize the trail. One company of the division reserve went forward to support L Company of the 164th, and one platoon of G Company, 164th, moved south to support L Company and E Company, on L’s left. The 164th regimental reserve was alerted in the event of a breakthrough, but again the lines held. The 16th and 29th Regiments pressed their attacks until daylight, but everyone was beaten off. As day broke on 26 October, the shattered Japanese forces again withdrew into the cover of the jungle. Hyakutake’s main effort had failed.

Elsewhere during the night of 25-26 October the enemy attacked with slightly greater immediate success. Oka’s force, which had been observed crossing Mount Austen’s foothills the day before, struck north at the attenuated line of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines east of Hill 67. The Japanese broke through at one point, but before they could consolidate their positions, Major Odell M. Conoley, a Marine staff officer, leading headquarters personnel, special weapons troops, bandsmen, and one platoon of the 1st Marines, hastily contrived a counterattack and drove the Japanese off the ridge.

The unsuccessful night attacks of 25-26 October marked the end of the ground phase of the October counteroffensive. The Japanese forces began a general withdrawal about 29 October. There were no more infantry assaults. American patrols were able to advance 2,500 yards south of the perimeter without encountering any organized Japanese forces. They found only sniping riflemen, small patrols, and bands of stragglers. The defeated enemy forces were retreating eastward and westward to Koli Point and to Kokumbona.

The Americans had won the battle handily. Their employment of their weapons had been skillful and effective. The infantrymen, though outnumbered, had stayed at their posts in the face of determined enemy attacks. The soldiers of the 164th Infantry had done well in their first action. Colonel Hall’s battalion had, in the words of General Vandegrift, “arrived in time to prevent a serious penetration of the position and by reinforcing the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines throughout its sector, made possible the repulse of continued enemy attacks. The 1st Division is proud to have serving with it another unit which has stood the test of battle and demonstrated an overwhelming superiority over the enemy.”

[NOTE: L Company, 164th Infantry, fired for 30 minutes at a suspected enemy force in the jungle in front of the lines on the night of 27-28 October. See Baglien, “The Second Battle for Henderson Field,” p. 28.]

The Japanese counteroffensive, which had been begun with such high hopes, was a costly failure. The 1st Marine Division conservatively reported that some 2,200 Japanese soldiers had been killed. A later Army report estimated that the combat strength of the 16th and 29th Regiments had been reduced by 3,568. By November, effective strength of the 4th Infantry numbered only 403. Over 1,500 decaying Japanese bodies lay in front of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and the 3rd Battalion, 164th Infantry. The latter regiment buried 975 enemy bodies in front of K and L Companies alone. Among the dead Japanese were General Nasu and Colonels Furumiya and Toshiro Hiroyasu (commanding the 29th and 16th Regiments, respectively.) By comparison American losses had been light. The 164th Infantry reported twenty-six killed, four missing, and fifty-two wounded throughout October.

The bombardment of the Lunga airfields had been by far the most successful phase of the Japanese counteroffensive. However, the Japanese might have achieved greater success had the air and naval bombardments been delivered simultaneously with the infantry attacks. The infantry assaults, usually delivered against battalions by forces in regimental strength, had failed completely.

Japanese co-ordination, as exemplified by the operations of Sumiyoshi and Maruyama, had been poor, and the assaults had been delivered in piecemeal fashion. If Oka’s attack had been intended to divert the Americans, it came forty-eight hours too late to be effective. The fact that Maruyama was able to move his troops inland around Mount Austen in secret was a signal demonstration of the skill and doggedness of the Japanese soldier, but the terrain over which the intended envelopment had been executed had prevented the movement of artillery. The heavy artillery in Kokumbona does not appear to have been used in direct support of Maruyama’s attacks. Maruyama’s night attacks were thus made by infantrymen against prepared positions supported by artillery and heavy weapons. As the circular perimeter line possessed no open flanks, the Japanese delivered frontal assaults. The Lunga airfields, though seriously threatened, were saved by a combination of Japanese recklessness and American skill and bravery.

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

The naval phase of the October counteroffensive was concluded almost anticlimactically by the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. South Pacific naval forces had been preparing to meet the attack since early October. On 20 October the Joint Chiefs of Staff transferred the submarines of the Southwest Pacific naval forces to the South Pacific until the completion of the Guadalcanal campaign, and Admiral Nimitz promised to send more submarines from the Pacific Fleet. The Southwest Pacific submarines were ordered to attack warships, tankers, transports, and supply ships in the vicinity of Faisi, Rabaul, Buka, northern New Georgia, Kavieng, Bougainville Strait, Indispensable Strait, and Cape Cretin on the Huon Peninsula in New Guinea. On 24 October the Enterprise and her escorts rendezvoused with the Hornet task group northeast of the New Hebrides. The task force thus assembled, commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, included the two carrier groups—the Enterprise, South Dakota, one heavy cruiser, one light antiaircraft cruiser, and eight destroyers—and the Hornet with two heavy and two light antiaircraft cruisers and six destroyers.

A strong Japanese fleet, consisting of four carriers, four battleships, nine cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, four oilers, and three cargo ships, had meanwhile been maneuvering off the Santa Cruz Islands in support of the 17th Army. At 0110 of 26 October, while the 17th Army forces were attacking Lunga Point, a patrolling plane reported to Admiral Kinkaid’s force that it had discovered part of the enemy fleet near the Santa Cruz Islands. Kinkaid moved in to attack. The ensuing engagement, a series of aircraft attacks against both planes and surface ships, was less decisive than the ground operations on Guadalcanal. The outnumbered American force lost twenty planes to the enemy, and fifty-four more from other causes. The Hornet and the destroyer Porter were sunk, and the Enterprise, the South Dakota, and the light antiaircraft cruiser San Juan and the destroyer Smith suffered damage. All the enemy ships remained afloat, but three carriers and two destroyers were damaged. The Japanese lost 100 planes, a loss which may have limited the amount of air cover they were able to provide to their convoys in November. At the conclusion of the day’s action the Japanese fleet withdrew and returned to Truk, not because it had been defeated but because the 17th Army had failed. The Santa Cruz engagement proved to be the last action of the Guadalcanal campaign in which the Japanese employed aircraft carriers in close support.

Thus far in the campaign, Allied air and naval forces had fought valiantly, but had not yet achieved the result which is a requisite to a successful landing on a hostile island—the destruction or effective interdiction of the enemy’s sea and air potential to prevent him from reinforcing his troops on the island, and to prevent him from cutting the attacker’s line of communication. This decisive result was soon to be gained.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Guadalcanal (7); Decision at Sea

World War Two: Guadalcanal(5);Counteroffensive 12-14 September

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (10);Opening Blows in General Vasey’s Area

On 16 November the 32nd Division under General Harding and the 7th Division under General Vasey moved out against the enemy positions at the Buna-Gona beachhead. The Americans were on the right, and the Australians on the left.

Between them ran the Girua River, the divisional boundary. East of the river, the 126th Infantry troops under Colonel Tomlinson pushed off from Bofu and marched on Buna Village and Buna Mission by way of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura. Warren Force, the 128th Infantry and supporting elements, under General MacNider, sent out two columns from its positions along the coast: one along the coastal track leading to Cape Endaiadere; the other against the bridge between the strips.

On the other side of the river, the 25th Brigade under Brigadier Eather left the Wairopi crossing early on the 16th and moved on Gona by way of Awala, Amboga Crossing, and Jumbora. Crossing the Kumusi close on the heels of the 25th Brigade, the 16th Brigade under Brigadier Lloyd began moving on Sanananda the same day via Isivita, Sangara, Popondetta, and Soputa. Believing like the Americans on the other side of the river that only a small number of the enemy remained, the Australians advanced confidently, sure of a quick and easy victory.

The Attacks on Gona: The 25th Brigade Bogs Down

Gona was forty miles from Wairopi, and the trail, a poor one frequently lost in mud, lay through bush, jungle, kunai flat, and swamp. The 25th Brigade moved out toward Gona on 16 November, the 2/33 Battalion leading and the 2/25 Battalion bringing up the rear. There was no enemy contact on either the 16th or the 17th but the heat was intense and men began dropping out with malaria and collapsing with heat prostration. The 2/33 Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel A. W. Buttrose commanding, reached Jumbora on the afternoon of 18 November and started to prepare a dropping ground. One of its companies moved forward to Gona to find out if the place was defended.

The company quickly discovered that there were Japanese at Gona. Major Yamamoto’s original allotment of 800 men had been reinforced by an additional hundred men—eighty from the 41st Infantry, and the rest walking wounded from the hospital.

The Japanese defense was centered on Gona Mission at the head of the trail. The mission and the surrounding native village area were honeycombed with bunkers, trenches, and firing pits, and every approach was covered. On the west lay the broad mouth of Gona Creek, an expanse of water just wide enough to make an attack from the other side of the creek unlikely.

Immediately to the south, and along the east bank of the creek, was an overgrown timbered area which bristled with defense works. To the east a labyrinth of hidden firing pits with overhead cover extended along the shore for a distance of about three quarters of a mile. With such defenses at their disposal, a resolute garrison could hope to hold for a long time.

The company of the 2/33rd which had gone on ahead to investigate ran into the most southerly of the Japanese defenses late on 18 November. The position, a strong, well-prepared one with cleared fields of fire, was about 1,000 yards south of the mission.

Next morning when the 2/31 Battalion, which was now in the lead, came up, it found the sixty men of the company in an intense fire fight with an enemy who was well hidden and well dug in, and whose fire commanded every approach. The 2/31st, under its commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Miller, attacked vigorously but could not penetrate the enemy’s protective fires. By nightfall, when it was ordered to disengage, the battalion had lost thirty-six killed and wounded.

By this time the brigade had outrun its supply. Ammunition had run low, and the troops, hungry, and racked with fevers, were without food. The supply situation righted itself on 21 November when supply planes came over Jumbora and dropped what was needed. Brigadier Eather at once assigned a company of the 2/33 Battalion to guard the supply dump. When a forty-five man detachment of the 2/16 Battalion which had previously been operating in the Owen Stanleys was made available to him that day, he ordered it to take up a position on the west bank of Gona Creek in order to cover his left flank. The 25th Brigade was finally ready to attack.

Eather’s command now numbered less than 1,000 men. Thus far he had no idea of how strong an enemy force was facing him. He did not yet realize that the Japanese defending Gona from carefully prepared positions had roughly the same number of troops that he had.

The attack began early on 22 November. The 2/33 Battalion attacked frontally along the track; the 2/25 Battalion, in reserve, moved out on the left of the track to be in position to attack from the southwest if called upon; the 2/31 Battalion, which was to launch the main attack, pushed forward on the right toward the beach, turned left, and attacked from the east.

Moving through swamp, the troops got as close as they could to the Japanese positions and then went in on the run with bayonets fixed. They did not go far. The leading troops had scarcely reached the Japanese front-line positions when the entire attacking wave was met by such intense enfilading fire from right and left that the troops had to pull back into the swamp. This abortive attack cost the 2/31 Battalion sixty-five killed and wounded.

The next day Brigadier Eather tried again. He switched the 2/25 Battalion from the left flank to the right and ordered it to launch a new attack from the east that afternoon. The 2/25th, Lieutenant Colonel Richard H. Marson commanding, passed through the 2/31st and attacked westward, supported by fire from its sister battalion. The result was the same. No sooner had the troops approached the enemy position than enfilading fire drove them back into the swamp, like the 2/31 Battalion before them. The 2/25th lost sixty-four men in the day’s fighting, only one less than the 2/31st in the attack of the day before.

The situation had turned serious. In only three days of fighting, the brigade had lost 204 killed and wounded. There was little to show for these losses. Although the Japanese had pulled back along the track, they were still holding the village and the mission and had apparently given as good as they got.

Realizing only too well now that he faced a strong, well-entrenched enemy, Brigadier Eather called for an air strike to soften up the Japanese position. When it was over, he planned to attack again with the 3rd Infantry Battalion which had meanwhile come under his command.

The air force flew over Gona on 24 November and gave the place a thorough bombing and strafing. On the next day the 3rd Battalion, now less than 200 strong, attacked Gona from the southwest. For the first time the attack was well prepared. Not only did the 2/25 and 2/31 Battalions fire in its support, but four 25-pounders which had reached Soputa on 23 November fired 250 rounds of preparatory fire before the troops jumped off. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Allan G. Cameron, the battalion got about fifty yards inside the Japanese position but, as in the case of the other attacks, was met by such intense fire that it too had to withdraw. The attack, though a failure like the rest, had one redeeming feature: unlike the inadequately prepared attacks which had preceded it, casualties were relatively light.

The 21st Brigade Opens Its Attack

By now the 25th Brigade was no longer in condition to attack. The total strength of its three battalions amounted to less than 750 men—two were under 300 men, and one, the 2/31st, was under 200. The troops were exhausted, and the number of sick from malaria and other causes was increasing daily. What was left of the brigade could still be used to contain the enemy but could scarcely be expected to do more. The task of clearing Gona fell therefore to General Vasey’s reserve unit, the 21st Brigade, Brigadier Ivan N. Dougherty commanding. It was only about 1,100 strong, but the men, after a long rest at Port Moresby, were fit and ready to go.

Advance elements of the new brigade began moving into the line on 28 November. By 30 November the brigade had completely taken over. Pending the receipt of orders returning it to Port Moresby, the 25th Brigade took up a position along the track just south of Gona and lent such support as it could to the 21st Brigade, whose opening attacks on the place were, to Brigadier Dougherty’s chagrin, proving no more successful than its own.

The capture of Gona, which the Australians had thought initially to be undefended, had turned out to be an extremely difficult task. After almost two weeks of attack, it was still in enemy hands. The Japanese had suffered heavy losses and had been forced to contract their lines until they held little more than a small area immediately around the mission, but they were still resisting with the utmost tenacity, and their perimeter had yet to be breached. The almost fanatical resistance of Major Yamamoto’s troops served its purpose. Australian troops that might otherwise have been available for use elsewhere in the beachhead area were at the end of the month still trying to take Gona.

The 16th Brigade Moves on Sanananda; The Australians Reach the Track Junction

The leading battalion of the 16th Brigade, the 2/2nd, Lieutenant Colonel C. R. V. Edgar commanding, was across the Kumusi by the early morning of 16 November. Edgar struck out at once for Popondetta. Behind him in order were Brigadier Lloyd and his headquarters, the 2/3 Battalion, and the 2/1 Battalion. The men plodded along without rations, tired and hungry. They were gnawing green papayas and sweet potatoes, whatever they could find. Some were so hungry they chewed grass.

A torrential rain struck the next day, turning the track into a sea of mud. Even minor creeks were almost impossible to ford. The troops still had no food, and that day fifty-seven men of the 2/2nd collapsed on the trail from exhaustion, heat prostration, and hunger. There was no food on the 18th—only a rumor that the planes would drop some at Popondetta. The 2/2nd reached Popondetta that evening, but there was no food there either. Rations would be waiting for them, the troops were told, at Soputa, a day’s march away.

Leaving some troops at Popondetta to prepare an airstrip, the brigade pushed off for Soputa on 19 November, the 2/3 Battalion leading. Rations had been dropped during the morning at Popondetta and caught up with the troops by noon, at which time the men had their first meal in three days. The battalion approached Soputa toward evening and ran into resistance just outside the village. Major Ian Hutchinson, the battalion commander, at once deployed his troops for attack. Darkness fell before the battalion could clear out the enemy, and the weary troops dug in.

Next morning the Japanese were gone. Brigadier Lloyd sent a covering force to the Girua River crossing, about half a mile east of Soputa, and the 2/3 Battalion marched out along the track in pursuit of the Japanese. Finding no enemy after a half-hour march, the troops were busily eating breakfast by the side of the track, when the 2/1 Battalion, taking the lead, pushed past them. After about fifteen minutes of marching through brush and scrub, the 2/1 began debouching onto a broad kunai flat and there was met by heavy enemy fire, including artillery fire.

The 2/1st had to run into Colonel Tsukamoto’s most southerly outpost. This outpost was manned by a covering detachment whose mission was to delay an advancing force, thus giving Tsukamoto time to complete preparations for the defense of his main position at the junction of the Cape Killerton and Soputa-Sanananda tracks.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Cullen, the battalion commander, ordered an immediate attack. One company of the 2/1 started moving frontally up the track. A second company started flanking on the right. A third composite company moved out wide on the left. The troops in the center and on the right made some gains at first, but by noon they were meeting strong resistance that balked further progress that day. The company on the left under command of a particularly aggressive young officer, Captain B. W. T. Catterns, did better. This force, ten officers and eighty-one enlisted men (all that was left of two companies), made a wide detour around the Japanese right flank, taking particular care to keep clear of the kunai flat which the enemy was defending. By evening Catterns was about two miles behind the Japanese and in position to come in on their right rear.

Creeping stealthily forward, the Australians surprised a number of Japanese at their evening meal, killed about eighty of them, and established a strong, all-around perimeter just east of the track. The Japanese attacked Catterns all day on 21 November, hitting him repeatedly from three sides. Though they were running short of ammunition, Catterns’ troops in a stirring defense not only beat off the enemy but inflicted heavy casualties upon him.

The Australians on the right were quick to profit from the enemy’s absorption in Catterns’ attack. Two companies of Colonel Edgar’s 2/2 Battalion, under Captains Athelstan K. Bosgard and Jack M. Blamey, pushed around the enemy’s left flank and kept going. By evening they had gained 3,000 yards and had taken an enemy rice dump in an abandoned banana plantation, about 600 yards east of the track. As the Australians moved into the dump area, the Japanese rallied, mounted a strong attack, and brought the drive on the right to a complete halt, Catterns had meanwhile won his battle. Unable to dislodge him, the Japanese covering force fell back that night to the track junction, abandoning still another prepared defensive position on the kunai flat which it was now no longer in a position even to try to hold.

Catterns lost sixty-seven of his ninety men in the engagement, but his attack was a brilliant success. Not only had it turned the enemy’s flank, but it had made possible the deep penetration on the right. Left with no choice but to withdraw, the Japanese had pulled all the way back to their main defenses in the track junction.

When the attack was over and Catterns’ company had been relieved by a company of the 2/3 Battalion, the Australians had a new east-west front line which was pivoted on the track and lay within easy attacking distance of the enemy positions immediately south of the track junction. The Australian left was just south of the perimeter Catterns had held on the 21st, a slight withdrawal having been ordered there for tactical reasons.

In the center the Australians were astride the track several hundred yards to the south of the main Japanese defenses covering the track junction. On the right, to the southeast of the junction, they held the banana plantation and the rice dump, their forward foxholes in the relatively open plantation area being only thirty or forty yards away from those of the enemy.

By this time the strength of the brigade after not quite two months of action had gone down from almost 1,900 officers and men to a force of barely 1,000. Most of the companies in the line were at half strength or less. Catterns’ company, for instance, had only twenty-three officers and men, and the company of the 2/3 Battalion that relieved his unit had less than fifty men. The two companies on the right under Captains Bosgard and Blamey did not exceed forty men each, and the other companies were similarly depleted.

Despite their dashing showing on 21 November, the troops of the brigade were in poor physical condition. They were feverish, hungry, and exhausted, and an ever increasing number were being hospitalized for malaria and other diseases. The brigade was still a fighting force. It could still hold, but its men, for the present at least, were too worn out to do more. Until they had a little rest another force would have to take over the attack. That force, by decision of General MacArthur, was to be Colonel Tomlinson’s 126th U. S. Infantry, the regiment to which General Harding had given the task of taking Buna Village and Buna Mission.

General Vasey Is Given the U. S. 126th Infantry

Because he could make no radio contact with the 7th Division, and had no assurance that the Australians would get to Soputa in time to close his inward flank, General Harding ordered Colonel Tomlinson on the morning of 18 November to march on Buna via Popondetta and Soputa. Tomlinson, who was then at Inonda, was told that, if the Australians were at Popondetta by the time his leading elements got there, he was to order his troops back to Inonda and, as previously planned, move them on Buna via Horanda and Dobodura.

Early on 19 November Colonel Tomlinson sent Major Bond and Companies I and K, 126th Infantry, across the Girua River to find out if the Australians had as yet reached Popondetta. Bond made contact with an Australian unit just outside of Popondetta at 1130 that day. When he learned that the main Australian force had already passed Popondetta and was on its way to Soputa, Bond ordered his two companies back to Inonda. The regiment, which had been down to its last C ration on 18 November, had rations and ammunition dropped to it at Inonda on the 19th and began marching on Buna, via Horanda, and Dobodura, the 2nd Battalion as before leading.

At Port Moresby meanwhile, higher headquarters, with General MacArthur’s approval, had decided to give the 126th Infantry to General Vasey for action on the Sanananda track, rather than let it proceed as originally planned to Buna. The point was made that there seemed to be more Japanese in General Vasey’s area than in General Harding’s, and that the main effort would therefore have to be made west of the Girua River. If need be, higher headquarters decided, this was to be accomplished at the expense of the offensive effort on the eastern side of the river.

After this decision, General Vasey was told that he could have the 126th Infantry if he thought he needed it to take Sanananda. Knowing only too well how tired and depleted the 16th Brigade was, General Vasey accepted the offer with alacrity, and General Herring at once ordered Colonel Tomlinson to Popondetta with instructions to report to General Vasey.

The diversion of the 126th Infantry to General Vasey’s command greatly disturbed General Harding, who could see little justification for the diversion of half his troop strength to General Vasey just as he was about to use it to take Buna. In a message “For General Herring’s eyes only,” he urged that the decision to take the 126th Infantry away from him be reconsidered as likely to lead to confusion, resentment, and misunderstanding. The message went out at 0100, 20 November, and General Herring, in a stiff note, replied at 1420 that the decision would have to stand, and that he was counting on Harding to make no further difficulties in the matter. General Harding had no further recourse. He would have to make out as best he could at Buna without Colonel Tomlinson’s troops.

The Regiment Arrives at Soputa

On 19 November Colonel Tomlinson was ordered by New Guinea Force to report to the 7th Division. Surprised by the order, Tomlinson immediately tried checking with General Harding by radio to make sure that there was no mistake. Unable to make radio contact with Harding, he got in touch with the rear echelon of the regiment at Port Moresby. Learning from the regimental base that he had indeed been released from the 32nd Division, he began moving on Popondetta early on the 20th.

Accompanied by a small detail, including Captain Boice, his S-2, and Captain Dixon, his S-3, he reported to General Vasey at Popondetta that afternoon. Vasey at once sent him to Soputa where he was to come under the command of Brigadier Lloyd. The regiment had already begun moving. Major Bond and the men of Companies I and K, who had been on their way back to Inonda when the orders came for the regiment to cross the Girua and come under Australian command, led the march to Soputa. Major Baetcke, whom Colonel Tomlinson had left in command at Inonda, departed for Soputa with the rest of the regiment the same afternoon. Only an airdropping detail and a couple of hundred natives were left at Inonda. Their instructions were to bring forward all the supplies accumulated there as quickly as possible.

Although it had rained during the preceding few days and the march was through heavy mud, the troops made good time. By the evening of 21 November, the whole force—regimental headquarters, Major Boerem’s two companies and platoon of the 1st Battalion, Major Smith’s 2nd Battalion, the 17th Portable Hospital, the Service Company, and a platoon of Company A, 114th U.S. Engineer Battalion—had reached Soputa. The men arrived wet and hungry.

They were at once attached to the 16th Brigade and assigned a bivouac near Soputa. General Vasey in the meantime had set 22 November as the day that the Americans were to be committed to action. With the successful advance of the 16th Brigade on 21 November, the plan now was that the brigade would hold and make no further attempt to advance until the Americans had taken the track junction

The situation was to the liking of the depleted and exhausted 16th Brigade. As the Australian historian Dudley McCarthy puts it, “. . . the Australians were content to sit back for a while and watch the Americans. There was a very real interest in their observation and a certain sardonic but concealed amusement. The Americans had told some of them that they ‘could go home now’ as they (the Americans) ‘were here to clean things up.’”

The Americans Take Over: The Troops Move Out for the Attack

On the evening of 21 November Colonel Tomlinson, who, with Captains Boice and Dixon, had already reconnoitered the front in the company of both General Vasey and Brigadier Lloyd, met with his battalion commanders to plan the next morning’s attack.

Little was known about the terrain ahead. The map being used at the time by the 16th Brigade was the provisional 1-inch-to-1-mile Buna Sheet. In addition to being inaccurate, it was blank as far as terrain features in the track junction were concerned. All that it showed was the junction, the Cape Killerton track, and the Soputa—Sanananda track. The rest was left to the troops to fill in.

As he started planning for the attack, Colonel Tomlinson knew only that heavy bush, jungle, and swamp lay on either side of the junction, and that the junction itself was covered by well-prepared enemy defenses, location and depth unknown. The Japanese position, he noted, was an inverted V. To flank it, he would have to attack it in a larger V. His plan was therefore to use Major Bond’s 3rd Battalion to probe the enemy position and move behind it in a double envelopment from right and left. When that maneuver was completed, he would send in Major Smith’s 2nd Battalion and, as he phrased it, “squeeze the Japanese right out.”

Tomlinson quickly worked out the details of the attack. While Major Boerem’s detachment tried attacking frontally along the track, Major Bond’s battalion would move up into the 16th Brigade’s area and, from a central assembly point about four miles north of Soputa, would march out on right and left to begin the envelopments. The 2nd Battalion, in need of rest after its march over the Owen Stanleys, was to remain in the Soputa area in reserve, to be called upon when needed.

The 2nd Battalion had no sooner settled itself in its bivouac than New Guinea Force ordered it back across the Girua River to rejoin the 32nd Division. General Herring gave the order in response to a request from General Harding for the reinforcement of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, which had run into difficulties on General Harding’s left flank. Major Smith’s battalion left Soputa for the river crossing, half a mile away, early on 22 November. It got there only to discover that the river, which was unbridged, was in flood and could not be forded. A cable was thrown over the river, and the troops crossed in hastily put together rafts, which were guided to the other side by the cable. The battalion finished crossing the river late that evening and fought thereafter on the eastern side of the river.

Major Smith’s battalion and the bulk of Colonel Carrier’s battalion—some 1,500 men—were now both east of the Girua River. [NOTE 12-12] Colonel Tomlinson was left with the comand only of the 126th Infantry troops west of it—Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Major Boerem’s detachment, Major Bond’s 3rd Battalion, the regimental Cannon and Antitank Companies, a detachment of the Service Company, and attached medical and engineer troops—a total of 1,400 men. The Cannon and Antitank Companies were still at Wairopi and would not arrive at Soputa for some time. The envelopments would have to be made with the troops at hand—Major Boerem’s detachment and Major Bond’s battalion.

Though he was now without his reserve battalion, Colonel Tomlinson proceeded as planned with the envelopments. Major Boerem’s detachment would engage the enemy frontally along the track, and the 3rd Battalion—Companies I and K on the left and Company L on the right—would make the envelopments, supported by elements of Company M.

Companies I, K, and L, strengthened in each case by machine gun and mortar elements from Company M, left the regimental bivouac area near Soputa at 0640, 22 November, their faces daubed with green for action in the swamp and jungle terrain facing them. The troops had been issued two days’ rations, hand grenades, and as much .30-caliber and .45-caliber ammunition as they could carry. Twenty rounds had been issued for each mortar, and arrangements had been made to have additional rations, equipment, and ammunition brought forward as needed by native carriers and by Company M.

The 3rd Battalion moved up to its designated assembly area, and there, about four miles north of Soputa and about 1,000 yards south of the track junction, Major Bond established his CP. Continuing up the track, Major Boerem’s detachment passed through a company of the 2/3 Battalion under Captain N. H. L. Lysaght, the most advanced unit on the trail, and began moving into position immediately to Lysaght’s front.

Companies I and K, Captain John D. Shirley and Lieutenant Wilbur C. Lytle commanding, accompanied by Captain Meredith M. Huggins, battalion S-3, moved out on the left at 0940; Company L, under Captain Bevin D. Lee, pushed off on the right an hour and a half later. Company M, under Captain Russell P. Wildey, less such of its machine gun and mortar elements as were with the companies in attack, went into bivouac 200 yards to the rear of Major Bond’s CP. By 1100 Companies I and K had passed through the Australian troops on the left—two companies of the 2/2 Battalion under command of Captain Donald N. Fairbrother.

At 1445 Company L had reached the right flank position in the banana plantation held by the remaining two companies of the 2/2nd under Captains Bosgard and Blamey. By this time Major Boerem’s detachment had passed through Captain Lysaght’s company and was dug in immediately to its front. The rest of the 2/3 Battalion was in position behind Lysaght to give the center depth and serve as a backstop should the Japanese try to break out from the track junction. Colonel Tomlinson’s attack was almost ready to go.

[NOTE 12-12: It will be recalled that Colonel Carrier and most of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry, 589 officers and men, had been flown from Port Moresby to Abel’s Field, when the landing field at Pongani had closed temporarily because of heavy rains, and that the next day the rest of the troops 218 men, under Major Boerem, had been flown to Pongani upon the opening there of a new all-weather field. The two detachments became separated. The bulk of the battalion, under Colonel Carrier, fought thereafter east of the river. Major Boerem’s detachment (which with late comers and attached troops was to reach a strength of about 250 men) fought west of it.]

The Envelopments Begin

At 1100 Company K under Lieutenant Lytle moved out into the no man’s land on the Australian left. Company I under Captain Shirley followed immediately, swinging wide around Lytle’s left. Colonel Tsukamoto had patrols in the area, and Company K ran into the first of them at 1110, only ten minutes out. The patrol was a small one, and Lytle had no trouble dispersing it. Company I, which was covering Company K from the left, ran into a much larger force at 1215. Shirley started flanking on right and left, and the Japanese after a heavy exchange of fire withdrew. At 1300 Company K again received fire, probably from the same force which had tried to ambush Company I. Lieutenant Lytle started flanking, and the enemy again withdrew.

The two companies suffered light casualties in these encounters—four killed and four wounded. The terrain was heavy bush and swamp, hard to get through, and with no prominent terrain features from which to take a bearing. Having had very little training in patrolling, the troops got their directions skewed during the frequent harassing encounters with the enemy. By the end of the day they found themselves only about 350 yards north of the Australians and not, as they had planned, several times that distance from them.

Captain Lee’s Company L, with a platoon of Company M attached, left the banana plantation, which was on the west bank of a small, easily forded stream, at about 1500 and attacked in a northwesterly direction. After gaining perhaps 200 yards, the company was stopped in its tracks by heavy crossfire. It lost three killed and several wounded and made no further advance that day.

The company had just dug itself in for the night when Colonel Tsukamoto attacked with several hundred fresh 144th Infantry replacements who had reached Basabua the night before and had been immediately assigned to his command. Company L, helped by the two Australian companies, threw back the attack and inflicted heavy losses to the enemy. Company L alone claimed to have killed forty Japanese that night, with a further loss to itself of two killed and one wounded.[NOTE 15-15]

Colonel Tomlinson had planned to continue the attack during the afternoon of 23 November. But with Companies I and K completely out of position on the left, and Company L on the right stopped almost as soon as it moved out of the plantation area, he had to postpone the attack until his flanking companies were more advantageously situated to launch it.

The delay would be an advantage for the front by this time was rapidly becoming organized. The airstrip at Popondetta opened for traffic on 23 November, and a section of four 25-pounders of the 2/1 Australian Field Regiment, Major A. G. Hanson commanding, was flown in and went into action the same day from a point north of Soputa. Additional 81-mm. mortars were rushed to Company L, and the available native carriers and troops of Company D began bringing out the wounded and carrying rations to the troops on both flanks.

Companies I and K, trying to get into position for the attack after their slow advance of the day before, got off to an early start on 23 November. Except for some heavy firing at daybreak, which caused them no casualties, the two companies met no interference from the enemy all day. Progress was steady, and by 1410 Captain Shirley was able to report an uninterrupted advance.

[NOTE 15-15: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 4, 5, 23 Nov 42; Tomita Butai Orders, 22 Nov 42; Yokoyama Det Orders, 22 Nov 42. Last two in ATIS EP 29; 17th Army Opns I, 131; 18th Army Opns I, 20, 21. About 500 replacements had come in from Rabaul on 21 November. The larger portion were at once assigned to Colonel Tsukamoto for front-line action, and the rest were left in reserve to the rear of the track junction.]

Though they themselves were not too sure of their location, Companies I and K had by the following evening reached a clearing in the swamp to the left of the track, about 1,200 yards north of their line of departure and about 1,000 west of the Killerton trail. The two companies, now together and in position to attack, settled themselves in the clearing for the night, preparatory to attacking eastward in the morning. After three sleepless nights the weary men were not as alert as they should have been. Japanese patrols approached to within a short distance of their perimeter and suddenly subjected them to heavy crossfire. Taken completely by surprise, the troops pulled back into the swamp in disorder.

Learning of the new setback, Colonel Tomlinson, who had counted on finally attacking on 25 November, at once ordered Major Bond forward to take command of the two scattered companies and to attack on the 26th. On the right Company L had been making virtually no progress. By the evening of 24 November, it was just where it had been on the evening of the 22nd—on the outskirts of the rice dump, about 200 yards from its line of departure.

The next day, 25 November, the 25-pounders and the mortars gave the Japanese positions a thorough going over. In the process, however, an 81-mm. mortar shell fell short and landed in the command post that Captain Lee was sharing with Captain Blamey. Blamey and one other Australian were killed, and Captain Lee and five others—Australians and Americans—were wounded. Captain Bosgard took over command of the Australians in the area, and Major Bert Zeeff of the Americans.

Major Zeeff, executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, went forward that night from battalion headquarters. Zeeff reached the plantation area with a few men from Battalion Headquarters Company at about 0100 on the 26th. He slept in the same CP in which Captain Blamey had been killed. At daybreak, after a heavy mortaring of the plantation area by the Japanese, Zeeff inspected the Allied position. He found the Australians in the center of the line, with the Americans in a semicircular position on left and right. The Australians were behind a heavy log breastwork, which, as Zeeff recalls, was “grooved and creased” with enemy fire. The attack obviously was making no progress, and it was clear to Zeeff that he would have to use some other axis of approach if he was to reach the track.

Instead of trying to crash through the strong enemy positions forward of the plantation area, Zeeff tried a new tactic. Leaving part of Company L and twenty men from 3rd Battalion headquarters in place in the plantation area, he re-crossed the stream with the rest of his force, about 100 men, side-slipped along the stream for about 600 yards, and prepared to hit the enemy through the gap between Boerem’s positions on the track and the allied right flank.

[NOTE 1717: Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 126th Inf, 23 Nov 42, 24 Nov 42, 25 Nov 42; 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 12, 14, 16, 19, 23 Nov 42, Sers 4, 16, 28, 24 Nov 42, Sers 9, 19, 25 Nov 42; Ltrs, Lt Col Bert Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50, 11 Sep 51. Captain Jack M. Blamey, a nephew of General Blamey, who had distinguished himself by his bravery during this period as well as during the fighting in the Owen Stanleys, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 54, 3 Dec 42.]

The long-delayed attack was now finally ready. The 25-pounders and the mortars opened up about 1300, 26 November, shortly after Companies I and K, under Major Bond, pushed off to the eastward toward the Killerton trail. At 1320 the artillery and mortar fire ceased. Companies C and D, Major Boerem’s two companies, attacked straight north along the track, and Company L, with attached elements of Company M and battalion headquarters, under Major Zeeff, crossed the stream and pushed northwestward.

Major Bond’s eastward thrust hit stiff resistance. After several hours of indecisive fighting and the loss of five killed and twenty-three wounded, Bond’s two companies consolidated about 700 yards west of the Killerton trail. Major Boerem’s companies ran into such heavy machine gun and mortar fire that they were stopped after an advance of less than a hundred yards. Colonel Tomlinson, Captain Boice, Captain Dixon, and other members of the regimental staff who were observing Boerem’s attack were pinned to the ground and managed to extricate themselves only after the enemy fire lifted. Zeeff did somewhat better. He pushed ahead for about 350 yards before running into heavy fire from several hidden machine guns that killed and wounded several of his men. The advance, which had begun so promisingly, was brought to a complete halt The troops began aggressive patrolling to pinpoint the enemy positions, but so skillfully were they hidden that Zeeff’s patrols could not at once locate them. Dusk came, and the troops dug in for the night in foxholes which immediately filled with water.

[NOTE 1818: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 1, 7, 20, 27, 33, 39, 48, 52, 54, 56, 59, 26 Nov 42; Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 26 Nov 42; Jnl, Maj Boerem’s Det, 26 Nov 42; Ltrs, Col Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50. Major Simon Warmenhoven, the regimental surgeon, while on his way that day to Major Boerem’s CP with other members of the regimental staff, saw a mortar shell land on a platoon of the 2/3 Battalion, which was in position immediately to Boerem’s rear, killing five and wounding eight. Though the position was under heavy fire, Warmenhoven at once went to the aid of the wounded Australians and stayed with them until all had received medical attention and been evacuated. Warmenhoven was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

The Establishment of the Roadblock

Early on 27 November Major Bond reported that, although everything on his front was at a stalemate, he was holding and preparing to attack. The next morning, while Colonel Tomlinson was adding up his battle casualties (which by that time were more than 100 killed, wounded, and missing), the Cannon and Antitank Companies under Captain Medendorp finally reached Soputa from Wairopi. The men, exhausted and very hungry, were given food and allowed to rest, their first respite in some time.Colonel Tsukamoto meanwhile continued attacking savagely on his left, on the assumption apparently that the Allied troops on that flank presented the greatest threat to his position in the track junction.

The Japanese attacked all day on 27 November. Their pressure was directed principally at Zeeff, whose forward perimeter was now between 300 and 400 yards from the track, but intermittent glancing blows were sent also against the Australian and American positions in the banana plantation.

The heaviest attack of the day came toward evening. It was beaten off with the help of Major Hanson’s 25-pounders and the excellent observation of one of Hanson’s forward observers, Lieutenant A. N. T. Daniels, who was with Zeeff. Daniels switched the artillery fire from Zeeff’s front to Bosgard’s and back again to such good effect that the Japanese attack soon dwindled to nuisance fire only. In repelling the Japanese, Zeeff’s troops suffered considerable casualties, and the Australians in the plantation area, now down to about fifty men, lost Captain Bosgard, whose death came only two days after Captain Blamey’s.

Zeeff had meanwhile been joined by seventy men from Major Boerem’s detachment—thirty-seven men from Company C and thirty-three from Company D. Still facing the task of cleaning out the Japanese immediately to their front, the group spent the day of the 28th in patrolling and locating the hidden enemy positions.

One of Zeeff’s platoon leaders, 1st Lieutenant Henry M. Crouch, Jr., accompanied by Lieutenant Daniels, stalked and ambushed a party of eight Japanese. In a particularly daring foray, Sergeant Robert R. McGee of Company L led the patrol that located the main enemy position standing in the way of the advance and helped to wipe it out. The next day, rations, ammunition, and hand grenades were brought forward and distributed to the troops. Zeeff was ready to push forward again. His orders were to move northwest to make contact with the troops on the left flank, who, he was told, would try to hit the Soputa—Sanananda track the next day.

[NOT E 1919: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 19, 24, 27 Nov 42, Sers 2, 13, 28 Nov 42; Jnl, Co L, 126th Inf, 27-30 Nov 42; Ltrs, Colonel Zeeff to author, 5 Oct 50, 25 Oct 50; Interv with Colonel Baetcke, 18 Nov 50. Sergeant McGee was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

General Vasey had hoped to open up a new front for his Australians by having them cut over from the Killerton trail to the Soputa-Sanananda track at a point well to the north of the area in which the Americans were operating. On 28 November, on the very eve of the American attack, he learned that the plan was impracticable.

Strong Australian patrols sent out on 24 and 26 November reported that the intervening swamp barred access from one track to the other that far north. The farthest north the crossing could be made, General Vasey was told, was where the Americans were about to make it. The Americans, in short, had stumbled upon exactly the right spot to make the envelopment, and the envelopment was ready to go.

The main effort was to be on the left. On 29 November Colonel Tomlinson ordered Major Baetcke, his executive officer, to proceed to Major Bond’s position on the left flank and take command of the troops there. These troops now included Companies I and K, elements of Company M and 3rd Battalion headquarters, and the Cannon and Antitank Companies. The last two units had moved up from Soputa and taken up a position on Bond’s rear. Baetcke’s instructions were to attack eastward on 30 November and, in concert with a further frontal attack by Major Boerem, and an attack on the right by Major Zeeff, to establish a roadblock to the rear of the main enemy position in the track junction.

Baetcke reached Bond’s position late on the morning of 29 November. He was accompanied by 1st Lieutenant Peter L. Dal Fonte, commanding officer of the Service Company, whom he had chosen to be his assistant. As nearly as could be made out, Bond’s position to the west of both the Cape Killerton trail and the Soputa-Sanananda track lay about 700 yards from the one and 1,600 yards from the other. Baetcke quickly worked out a plan of attack. The line of departure was to be about 200 yards northeast of Bond’s main position and about 500 west of the Killerton trail. At the prescribed time the troops would attack straight east and move astride the Soputa—Sanananda track 1,400 yards away.

The units in assault would be under command of Major Bond, who was to be accompanied by Lieutenant Daniels. The attacking force of 265 men was to include Company I under Captain Shirley, the Antitank Company under its commanding officer, Captain Roger Keast, a light machine gun section of Company M, and a communications detachment from 3rd Battalion headquarters.

Company K and the Cannon Company, both under command of Captain Medendorp, were to be in support. Led by Lieutenant Lytle, Company K would take up a position behind the line of departure and execute a holding attack by fire. The Cannon Company, under its commander, 1st Lieutenant John L. Fenton, would remain in reserve to the rear of Company K and would come to its aid should it come under enemy attack.

Early on the morning of 30 November the 126th Infantry attacked the Japanese on the right, in the center, and on the left. The attack on the right by Company L met no opposition for about 150 yards but was then brought to a complete halt by a strong Japanese force that Colonel Tsukamoto had deployed there for just that purpose. Companies C and D in the center did not do as well and gained only a few yards. The real success of the day was registered on the left.

Major Bond’s force left the line of departure at 0900, after a ten-minute artillery and mortar preparation. It moved in column of companies, Company I leading. The supporting fire of Company K proved very effective and drew strong, retaliatory fire from the enemy. At first the troops had no trouble dealing with the enemy to the front.

About four hundred yards beyond the line of departure, as they started moving through a large kunai patch, they were met from virtually all sides by hostile rifle, mortar, and machine gun fire. Major Bond was wounded about 0930 and had to be evacuated. The attack lost its momentum and for a time bogged down completely. Learning of the difficulty, Major Baetcke came up from the rear, rallied the troops, and, leading the way, cleared the enemy out of the kunai flat. Captain Shirley took command and the attack continued.

After eliminating the resistance on the kunai flat, the troops fought several minor skirmishes with small parties of the enemy who seemed to be patrolling the area. About a thousand yards out, they ran into jungle and swamp terrain more difficult than anything they had previously encountered. The undergrowth in the jungle was almost impenetrable, but the real difficulty came when the men reached a 300-yard stretch of knee-deep swamp. The Japanese, who had cut fire lanes commanding the swamp, temporarily stopped Captain Shirley’s troops with knee-mortar and machine gun fire just as they were trying to clear it. Shirley’s men finally succeeded in crossing the swamp and dispersing the enemy. A little way out of the swamp the troops came upon a well-traveled trail leading generally eastward and followed it. At 1700 Company I’s scouts reported an enemy bivouac area directly ahead. [NOTE 2020] What followed is best told by one who was present.

At this point Captain Shirley ordered his Company I, deployed with two platoons abreast and supporting platoon following in center rear, to insert bayonets and assault the . . . enemy position (endeavoring to get his objective prior to darkness). The attack was well executed and successful. Captain Shirley, after driving the enemy from this position, organized perimeter defense by emplacing his rifle platoons of Company I west of the road; 1 LMG Squad (Light Machine Gun), Company M, near the road on the northern portion of the perimeter; and 1 LMG Squad, Company M, on the southern portion of the perimeter. AT (Anti-tank) Company had been [deployed] east of the road. The perimeter was in and established by about . . .1830. . . . About two hours later we were getting heavy mortar fire in the perimeter and later attacks from the northeast on the AT Company’s sector, and subsequently from the northwest on Company I’s sector. Both were repulsed with few casualties.

In storming the bivouac area, the Shirley force had killed a score of Japanese; it had captured two disabled Ford trucks, a variety of auto repair tools, a little food, and some medical supplies; most important of all, it had gained its objective. The captured bivouac area, a comparatively open, oval shaped space about 250 yards long and 150 yards wide, lay astride the track 1,500 yards to the north of the track junction and approximately 300 south of the Japanese second line of defense higher up on the track. The long-sought roadblock, to the rear of the Japanese positions in the track junction, had finally been established.

Zeeff’s Recall

Now that the Shirley force had cut through the Japanese line and established itself on the track, it remained to be seen whether the Zeeff force, now only a few hundred yards south of it, could link up with Shirley. Held up on 30 November while Shirley was moving steadily to his goal, Major Zeeff experienced no difficulty moving forward the next day. His men advanced northwest in order to join Shirley in the roadblock. The Japanese, apparently diverted from the threat on their left by the new threat on their rear, had relaxed their pressure, and Zeeff’s force moved steadily ahead.

Early that afternoon Zeeff’s troops crossed the track and, moving to a point about 250 yards west of it, surprised and wiped out a party of thirty-five to forty Japanese. Zeeff reported the skirmish to Colonel Tomlinson at 1515 and, told him that he thought his troops had crossed the track. To prevent enemy interception of the message Zeeff spoke in Dutch, a language familiar to many of the Michigan troops present, and a Dutch-speaking sergeant at headquarters interpreted for Colonel Tomlinson.

[NOTE 20-20: 126th Inf Jnl, Sers 16, 21, 29 Nov 42, Sers 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 30, 31, 35, 37, 38, 30 Nov 42; Jnls, Cos I, K, and L, 126th Inf, 29 and 30 Nov 42; Colonel Baetcke, Notes on the American Force on the Sanananda Trail, 25 May 43; Memo, Major Peter L. Dal Fonte for author, 12 Jul 50; McCarthy, op. cit., Ch. 17. For his action in rallying and leading the troops on the kunai flat, Major Baetcke was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq, USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

Zeeff dug in at 1625 on Tomlinson’s orders. Within the hour the Japanese struck from right and front. After a brisk fire fight in which Zeeff lost two killed and three wounded, the enemy withdrew. At 2100 Colonel Tomlinson ordered Zeeff to move back to the east side of the road as soon as he could and to push northward from there to make the desired juncture with the troops in the roadblock. At that point the wire went dead, and Zeeff was on his own.

The troops fashioned stretchers for the wounded from saplings, telephone wire, and denim jackets, and the next morning began moving from their night perimeter on a northeasterly course to re-cross the track as ordered. Their withdrawal was no easy task. The enemy kept up a steady fire, and it was here that Private Hymie Y. Epstein, one of Zeeff’s last medical aid men, was killed.

Epstein had distinguished himself on 22 November by crawling to the aid of a wounded man in an area swept by enemy fire. He had done the same thing on 1 December. This is the scene on the afternoon of the 1st, as Zeeff recalled it: I was prone with a filled musette bag in front of my face; Epstein was in a similar position about 4 or 5 feet to my left. Private Sullivan was shot through the neck and was lying about 10 feet from me to my right front. Epstein said, “I have to take care of him.” I said, “I’m not ordering you to go, the fire is too heavy.” [Despite this], he crawled on his stomach, treated and bandaged Sullivan, then crawled back. A few minutes later, Sergeant Burnett . . . was shot in the head, lying a few feet from Sullivan. Epstein did the same for Burnett, and managed to crawl back without being hit.

Epstein’s luck did not hold. To quote Zeeff again: “The next morning just before daybreak, Private Mike Russin on our left flank was hit by a sniper. Epstein went to him, …but did not return as he was shot and killed there. We buried him before moving out…”

[NOTE 23-23; Ltr, Colonel Zeeff to author, 11 Sep 51. Private Epstein was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. The citation is in Hq, 32nd Div GO No. 28, 6 Apr 43.]

Toward evening, while the troops were digging in for the night at a new perimeter a few yards east of the track and about 500 south of the roadblock, Sergeant McGee, whom Zeeff had sent out to reconnoiter the area immediately to the northward, came back with discouraging news. Strong and well-manned enemy positions, beyond the power of the Zeeff force to breach, lay a couple of hundred yards ahead. Zeeff had scarcely had time to digest the news when the Japanese were upon him again. After a wild spate of firing, the attack was finally beaten off at a cost to Zeeff of five killed and six seriously wounded.

By this time Colonel Tomlinson was satisfied that Zeeff could neither maintain himself where he was nor break through to the roadblock. His perimeter was directly in the line of Allied fire, and there was no alternative but to get him out of there as quickly as possible before he was hit by friendly fire or cut to pieces by the enemy. The wire had been repaired, and at 2000 that night Tomlinson ordered Zeeff to leave the area immediately, warning him that it was to be mortared the next day. Zeeff was to bring back his sick and wounded but was not to bother burying the dead.

The job of making litters for the six newly wounded began at once and went on through the night. Saplings were cut and stretchers made. By 0330 the stretchers were loaded and the march began. Walking in single column, and guiding themselves in the dark with telephone wire, the troops moved south for about 900 yards and then turned east toward the familiar little stream that flowed past the banana plantation.

The terrain was swampy, and the march slow. The men were spent and hungry, and eight soldiers had to be assigned to each stretcher. Four would carry it for fifty yards, and then the other four would take over. Two of the stretchers broke down en route, and the troops struggled forward with the two wounded men as best they could.

Shortly after daybreak the procession reached the stream, where Captain Dixon was waiting with stretchers and stretcher bearers. The wounded were attended to immediately, and the rest of the troops, most of whom had been eleven days in combat, returned to regimental headquarters and were allowed to rest.

Zeeff had not accomplished his mission, but he and his troops had done something that in retrospect was electrifying. They had threaded their way through the main Japanese position on the track, manned by some 2,000 enemy troops, and had come out in good order, bringing their wounded with them.

The Ensuing Tasks

General Vasey had by now lost all hope of an early decision on the Soputa—Sanananda track. He simply did not have enough troops to secure such a decision. The 16th Brigade had less than 900 effectives left and was wasting away so rapidly from malaria and other sicknesses that there was no longer any question of assigning it any further offensive mission, especially if the mission was of a sustained nature as any offensive thrust on the track was likely to be. All that the brigade was now in condition to do was hold. If not relieved in the near future, it would soon be unable to do even that.

The weight of the attack would therefore have to continue on the Americans. But they too were beginning to sicken with malaria, and their effective strength was between 1,100 and 1,200 men, not the 1,400 it had been on 22 November when they had first been committed to action. This was scarcely a force sufficient to reduce a position as strong as that held by Colonel Tsukamoto, especially since the later actually had more men manning his powerful defense line than the Allies had available to attack it.

SOURCE: Victory in Papua, BY: Samuel Milner (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (11A); First Two Weeks at Buna (Attack on the right)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (9);The Allies Close In

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (9);The Allies Close In

Just as the Allies prepared to close on Buna the turning point came in the struggle for the southern Solomons. In the naval battle of Guadalcanal (12-15 November), Admiral Halsey’s forces virtually wiped out an eleven-ship enemy convoy, carrying almost all the reserves the Japanese had available for action in the South and Southwest Pacific. After this catastrophic setback, the Japanese gave up trying to reinforce their troops on Guadalcanal, contenting themselves with desperate attempts to keep them supplied so as to prolong resistance as long as possible. With the island sealed off, Marine Corps troops, reinforced by Army troops (who were arriving on the scene in increasing numbers to replace the marines), could proceed uninterruptedly with the task of destroying the large Japanese garrison left on the island. The battle for Guadalcanal had entered an advanced phase just as that for Buna began.

Mounting the Attack: The Scene of Operations

The scene of operations was the Buna-Gona coastal plain, commonly referred to as the Buna area. Lying between the sea and the foothills of the Owen Stanley Range, the region is quite flat. In the Buna strips area the elevation is about three feet. At Soputa, some six and one-half miles inland, it is only a few feet higher. The terrain consisted mainly of jungle and swamp. The jungles, mostly inland, were a tangle of trees, vines, and creepers, and dense, almost impenetrable undergrowth. The swamps, filled with a frenzied growth of mangrove, nipa, and sago trees, were often shoulder-deep, and sometimes over a man’s head.

Scattered through the region were groves of coconut palms, areas of bush and scrub, and patches of kunai grass. The coconut palms, some of them 125 feet high, were to be found principally along the coast at such points as Cape Endaiadere, Buna Mission, Giruwa, Cape Killerton, and Gona, but there were also a few groves inland, surrounded in the main by swamp. Generally the bush and scrub were heavily overgrown, and the undergrowth was almost as impenetrable as that in the jungle. The kunai grass, shoulder-high, and with knife-sharp edges, grew in thick clumps, varying in size from small patches that covered a few square feet to the Dobodura grass plains that extended over an area several miles square.

The rainy season had begun and the Girua River, which divided the area in two, was in flood. After losing itself in a broad swampy delta stretching from Sanananda Point to Buna Village, the Girua emptied into the sea through several channels. One of these, Entrance Creek, opened into the lagoon between Buna Village and Buna Mission. Between Entrance Creek and Simemi Creek to the east was an immense swamp. This swamp, formed when the overflow from the river had backed up into the low-lying ground just south of Buna Mission, reached as far inland as Simemi and Ango. It was believed to be impassable, and its effect was to cut the area east of the river in two, making the transfer of troops from one part to the other a slow and difficult process.

[NOTE: Actually there was no mission at Buna, and what was known as Buna Mission was really Buna Government Station. Likewise, what the Board of Geographic Names officially calls the Senimi River was known as Simemi Creek. Since nearly all records of the campaign refer to “Buna Mission” and “Simemi Creek,” these names will be used throughout this volume.]

Because of the swamp, there were only three good routes of approach to the Japanese positions east of the river. The first led from Soputa and Ango Corner along the western edge of the swamp to a track junction three quarters of a mile south of Buna Mission which was to become known to the troops as the Triangle. From this junction, one trail led to Buna Village and the other to Buna Mission. A second route of approach was from Dobodura and Simemi along the eastern end of the swamp and along the northern edge of the Old Strip to Buna Mission. A third approach lay along the coastal track from Cape Sudest to Cape Endaiadere, where the trail back-tracked diagonally through Duropa Plantation to the New Strip, and ran thence to Buna Mission.

The situation was the same on the western side of the river. There were only two good approaches to the Japanese beachhead positions in that area, and both of them lay through swamp. One was the trail that ran to Gona via Amboga Crossing and Jumbora; the other was the main trail to Sanananda via Popondetta and Soputa. In addition, several branch trails forked from the Soputa-Sanananda track to Cape Killerton, where they joined the coastal trail to Sanananda, Sanananda Point, and Giruwa.

In the hot and muggy climate of the Buna-Gona area the humidity averages 85 percent, and the daily temperature, 96° F. The area was literally a pesthole. Malaria, dengue fever, scrub typhus, bacillary and amoebic dysentery were endemic there, as were the lesser ills—jungle rot, dhobie itch, athlete’s foot, and ringworm. Unless the campaign came to a quick end, disease would inevitably take heavy toll of the troops.

The Plan of Attack

New Guinea Force published the over-all plan of attack on 14 November. The orders provided that the 7th Australian Division and the 32nd U. S. Division would destroy the enemy in the area bounded by the Kumusi River, Cape Sudest, and Holnicote Bay. The boundary between the two divisions was to be a line running from the mouth of the Girua River to Hihonda, thence southwesterly along a stream halfway between Inonda and Popondetta. The 7th Division was to operate on the left of the boundary, the 32nd Division on the right. The 21st Brigade, now to serve its second tour of duty in the campaign, was to be flown in from Port Moresby and go into 7th Division reserve near Wairopi.

The troops were to begin moving forward on 16 November, the 32nd Division against Buna, and the 7th Division against Gona and Sanananda. Units on either side of the interdivisional boundary were to take particular care not to uncover their inward flank. Each division was to be prepared to strike across the boundary against the enemy’s flank or rear should the opportunity offer. The 32nd Division, in addition to carrying on its combat role, was to establish a landing strip at Dobodura, secure and hold the crossing of the Girua River near Soputa, and provide for the security of the right flank from enemy sea-borne attack.

The LILLIPUT Plan

Hopeful of an early victory, New Guinea Force issued a plan for defense of the Buna area the next day. Under LILLIPUT (as the plan was called) the 32nd Division would become responsible for Buna’s defense as soon as the area was cleared of the enemy. To assist the division in the discharge of that responsibility, Australian artillery, antiaircraft, and air-warning units were to be sent forward to Buna at the earliest possible moment and come under its command. The first echelon of LILLIPUT, including several K. P. M. ships, had already been called forward and was due to arrive at Milne Bay from Australia on 18 November.

General Blamey had asked General MacArthur for a few destroyers to protect the LILLIPUT ships as they passed through the area beyond Cape Nelson and while they were unloading at Buna, but Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, who had succeeded Admiral Leary as Commander of the Allied Naval Forces in September, had voiced strong objections to sending destroyers into the “treacherous” waters off Buna. In a letter to General MacArthur, he made his position clear. The entire area between Cape Nelson and Buna, he wrote, was so filled with reefs that there was virtually no “sea room” in which destroyers could maneuver.

The Japanese, using the northern approach route from Gasmata, a small island off the south coast of New Britain, did not have this difficulty, for there were deep-water areas suitable for the maneuvering of cruisers and destroyers all the way between it and Buna. To put a “minor surface force” in the Buna area would serve no useful purpose in the face of the much heavier forces the enemy could easily send in from Rabaul. General Blamey could have one or two shallow-draft antisubmarine vessels for the escort of the LILLIPUT ships, but no destroyers; the latter were not to be used for escort duty north of Milne Bay.

Since Admiral Carpender had objections also to sending submarines into the Buna area, it became clear that the only help the Allied forces closing in on Buna could expect from the fleet was a few small patrol boats. The air force, in addition to bearing its close support and supply responsibilities, would have to carry almost the entire burden of protecting Allied supply movements northward of Milne Bay, and of beating back enemy attempts to reinforce the beachhead.

The Forces Move Up

On 15 November General Harding issued the divisional plan of attack. In Field Order Number One of that date, he ordered one battalion of the 128th Infantry to march along the coast via Embogo and Cape Sudest to take Cape Endaiadere. A second battalion was to move on the Buna airfield via Simemi. The remaining battalion, which would be in division reserve, was to proceed to the Dobodura grass plains area and prepare a landing strip for transports. Each battalion was to have an engineer platoon and a body of native carriers attached. H Hour for Warren Force was set at 0600, 16 November. The 126th Infantry (less the elements of the 1st Battalion arriving at Pongani) would close on Inonda. It would move from Inonda on Buna by a route to be specified later.

While Colonel Tomlinson’s force would have to be supplied by airdropping until the field at Dobodura was in operation, Warren Task Force was, as far as possible, to be supplied by sea. There was to be a deep-water harbor at Oro Bay, Colonel John J. Carew, the Divisional Engineer, having investigated the harbor area and reported favorably on the project. Its completion and the completion ultimately of an access road from it to Dobodura, would make it possible for large ships to anchor there and would also make possible the development of Dobodura into a major air base, not only for fighters and transports, but also for all types of bombers.

General MacNider’s troops were given an extra ration of rice before they left their lines of departure on 16 November. Colonel Tomlinson’s headquarters, the 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry, and Major Boerem’s detachment (which according to plan was to be reunited with the rest of the 1st Battalion at Dobodura as soon as possible) pushed off from Natunga to Bofu. The 2nd Battalion, already at Bofu, began moving on Inonda.

Early on 16 November, just as the Americans marched out to the attack, the Australians completed the crossing of the Kumusi River. Leaving an engineer detachment to clear an airstrip on the east bank of the river, the 25th Brigade began marching on Gona, and the 16th Brigade, on Sanananda. Advance Headquarters, 7th Division, crossed the river on the 16th just behind the 16th Brigade, and Captain Medendorp, whose Wairopi Patrol had had a light brush with the enemy at Asisi a few miles south of Wairopi a week before, reported to General Vasey the same day.

The attack was on, but the condition of many of the attacking troops left a great deal to be desired. The 16th and 25th Brigades, which had chased the enemy nearly all the way across the Owen Stanleys, had been in continuous action under the most arduous conditions for almost two months. They had lost many men, and those that remained were very tired. The 21st Brigade, General Vasey’s reserve, though rested and regrouped, was far below strength. Only the untried Americans, numbering at the time just under 7,000 men, could be considered fresh troops, and many of them because of sickness and exhausting marches were far from their physical peak.

Training and Equipment

Troops in the opening engagements of every war are often found to be ill prepared to wage the kind of war they actually have to fight. This was the case with the 32nd Division when its leading elements marched out to meet the enemy in mid-November 1942. Not only were the troops inadequately trained, equipped, and supported for the task in hand, but many of the difficulties they were to meet at Buna had been neither foreseen nor provided for.

The division, whose insignia is a Red Arrow with a crosspiece on the shaft, was a former Michigan and Wisconsin National Guard unit. It had a record of outstanding service in World War I, having fought with great distinction on the Aisne-Marne, the Oise—Aisne, and in the Meuse—Argonne drive. The division was inducted into the federal service on 15 October 1940 as a square division. The following April some 8,000 Michigan and Wisconsin selectees were added to its strength. After participating in the Louisiana maneuvers, the division was tri-angularized into the 126th, 127th, and 128th Infantry Regiments. The 120th, 121st, 126th, and 129th Field Artillery Battalions were assigned as divisional artillery. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion was equipped with 155-mm. howitzers. The other battalions, which had trained with World War I 75’s, received 105’s just before embarkation.

The 32nd Division had expected to fight in the European theater and, in late December 1941, had actually been earmarked for operations there. General Harding joined it in Louisiana in early February 1942. In late February the division was sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and instructed to prepare for immediate movement to Northern Ireland. Ordered at the last moment to the Pacific, the division took on more than 3,000 replacements at San Francisco and reached Adelaide, Australia, on 14 May.

Training had scarcely got under way when the division was again ordered to move—this time to Brisbane. The move was completed in mid-August, and training had just got into its stride again at Camp Cable, the division’s camp near Brisbane, when the first troops started moving to New Guinea.

These moves served the division ill. Not only was it difficult to harden the men because they were so much in transit, but the weeks spent in moving, in making each successive camp livable, and in providing it with bayonet courses, rifle range, infiltration courses, and similar installations before infantry training could begin cut heavily into the division’s training time. This was a serious matter since the division had arrived in Australia only partially trained, and many of its officers, new to the division, had not yet had time to know their men.

There was another difficulty. Like the 41st Division, the 32nd was part of the garrison of Australia. The main emphasis in its training had been on the defense of Australia, a type of training from which the troops had little new to learn for it repeated the training that they had received at home. What they really needed—training in jungle combat—they got very little of.

General Richardson, Commanding General, VII Corps, then on a mission in the Pacific for General Marshall, inspected the troops in early July and reported that as far as their training was concerned they were “still in the elementary stages” and would not be ready for combat “by some few months.” General Eichelberger reached Australia in early September and found the division still not ready for combat. He rated its state of training as “barely satisfactory” and told General MacArthur it needed further hardening as well as a vast amount of training, especially in jungle warfare.

As quickly as he could, Eichelberger instituted a stepped-up training and hardening program, but the 126th and 128th Infantry Regiments had already moved out to New Guinea before the new program could go into effect. Thus when the two regiments entered combat they were not in top physical condition, had received very little training in scouting, night patrolling, or jungle warfare, and had been fired over in their training either very briefly or not at all.

Looking back at it all, General Harding had this to say of the training of the division before it entered combat: I have no quarrel with the general thesis that the 32nd was by no means adequately trained for combat—particularly jungle combat. A Third Army (Krueger) training inspection team gave it a thorough going over inspection about a month before I joined it and found it deficient on many counts. I got a copy of this report from Krueger and it was plenty bad. . . .On the other hand I found the division well disciplined, well behaved, and well-grounded in certain elements of training. . . . My estimate of training when I took over is that it was about on a par with other National Guard divisions at that time.

Unfortunately we had no opportunity to work through a systematic program for correcting deficiencies. From February when I took over until November when we went into battle we were always getting ready to move, on the move, or getting settled after a move.

No sooner would we get a systematic training program started than orders for a move came along to interrupt it. As you know, you just can’t formulate and get set up for a realistic training program in a couple of days. As a matter of fact, realistic training for modern war requires an enormously elaborate installation of training aids, courses, etc. without which really good training can’t be complete.

Such installations were out of the question for us, although we managed to set up a few simplified modifications of the real thing which would have served fairly well, had we ever had time to run more than a fraction of the command through them.

Although the troops had much of the standard equipment of the day, not all of it was to prove suitable for the area in which they were to fight. Much of their radio equipment, for instance, had already failed to function, and they did not have the carbine which would have been an ideal weapon in the tangled, overgrown beachhead area. Although the carbine was available elsewhere, it was to be months before the first carbines reached the Southwest Pacific Area and were distributed among the troops.

The troops had none of the specialized clothing and equipment which later became routine for jungle operations. Their clothing—dyed to aid concealment in the jungle—was already causing them great discomfort. Not only did the dye run; but its residuum stopped up the cloth and made it nonporous. The garments, as a result, became unbearable in the extreme tropical heat and caused hideous jungle ulcers to appear on the bodies of nearly all the troops wearing them.

Though they were about to enter a jungle area overgrown with vines and creepers and teeming with noxious insects, the men were critically short of machetes, and had no insect repellants. Nor had anyone thought to issue them small waterproof boxes or pouches for the protection of their personal effects and medical supplies from the extreme heat and wet. Cigarettes and matches became sodden and unusable, and quinine pills, vitamin pills, and salt tablets,—then usually issued in bulk a few days’ supply at a time—began to disintegrate almost as soon as the men put them in their pockets or packs, and the same thing sometimes happened to the water chlorination tablets.

Various expedients had been adopted to lighten the weight each man would have to carry in the jungle. The marching troops were equipped as far as possible with Thompson submachine guns, and the heavier weapons, including most of the 81-mm. mortars, were put aside to be sent forward later by boat. Medical and communications equipment were stripped to the bare essentials, and field ranges and accompanying heavy mess equipment were left behind at Port Moresby.

The medical units were using gas stoves, kerosene burners, and even canned heat to sterilize their instruments and provide the casualties with hot food and drink, but the front-line troops had none of these things. Without their normal mess equipment, they no choice but to use tin containers of all kinds to heat up their rations, prepare their coffee (when they had coffee), and wash their mess gear. Since it rained almost continually and there was very little dry fuel available, it was usually impossible to heat water sufficiently to sterilize the tins and mess gear from which the troops ate—an open invitation to the same type of diarrhea and dysentery that had already overtaken the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, in its march over the mountains.

Artillery and Engineer Support

As the troops marched out for the attack, there was a widespread belief at higher headquarters that the mortars, direct air support, and the few Australian pieces already available in the area would be enough to clear the way for the infantry. Even this represented better support than that advocated by General Kenney, who, in a letter to Lieutenant General H. H. Arnold on 24 October, told the latter that neither tanks nor heavy artillery had any place in jungle warfare. “The artillery in this theater,” he added, “flies.” 

Neither General Harding nor his artillery commander, Brigadier General Albert W. Waldron, believed that the infantry could get along very well without the artillery. Strongly supported by Harding, Waldron kept asking that the divisional artillery be brought forward. General MacArthur’s headquarters did not have the means either to bring all the artillery forward or to keep it supplied when it got there. Not being at all sure that artillery could be used effectively or even be manhandled in the swampy terrain of the beachhead, GHQ was cool to the proposal. In the end, by dint of great persistence, and with the help of the Australian artillery commander, Brigadier L. E. S. Barker, who thought as he did on the subject, Waldron got a few pieces of artillery—not his own, and not as much as he would have liked, but better than no artillery at all.

If the division’s artillery support—two 3.7-inch howitzers and the promise of a four-gun section of 25-pounders which had yet to arrive at the front—was scanty, its engineer support was even scantier. Almost half of General Horii’s original force had either been combat engineers or Army and Navy construction troops. Yet, General Harding, with the rainy season at hand, and every possibility that roads, bridges, and airfields would have to be built in the combat zone, had only a few platoons of the 114th Engineer Battalion attached to his two combat teams. And these engineer troops reached the front almost emptyhanded.

They had no axes, shovels, or picks, no assault boats, very little rope, and not a single piece of block and tackle. The theory was that all these things would come up by boat with the heavy equipment. In practice, however, the failure to have their tools accompany them meant that the engineer troops could do only the simplest pioneer work at a time when their very highest skills were needed.

The Condition of the Troops

Medical supplies at the front were critically short as the troops marched out for the attack. Bismuth preparations for the treatment of gastrointestinal disturbances were almost unprocurable, and there was not enough quinine sulphate, the malaria suppressive in use at the time, for regular distribution to the troops. There was no atabrine, and none was to be received throughout the campaign.

General Harding had arranged to have his medical supplies go forward by boat, only to find at the last minute that the boats were busy carrying other things. He did what he could in the emergency. Getting in touch immediately with General Whitehead, Harding explained to him that the medical supply situation was “snafu” and asked him to fly in the most urgently needed items “to take care of things until we can get the boat supply inaugurated.”

Most of the troops had gone hungry; some had nearly starved during the approach march, and food was still in short supply. Rations had accumulated in the rearward dumps between Wanigela and the front, but there was only a few days’ supply at the front itself. It was assumed that this deficiency and other supply shortages would be made good as the attack progressed.

Except for the latest arrivals (the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 126th Infantry) the troops presented anything but a soldierly appearance. Their uniforms were stained and tattered, few had underwear or socks, and their shoes in most cases were either worn out or in the process of disintegration. Most were bearded and unkempt, virtually all were hungry, and some were already showing unmistakable signs of sickness and exhaustion.

The 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, and the troops who had marched with it across the mountains had been severely affected by the ordeal. The 128th Infantry, whose name for Pongani was “Fever Ridge,” was not in much better condition. As the commander of the 2nd Battalion recalls the matter, the trouble was that the men had been on short rations since mid-October; that they had made some extremely exhausting marches through the jungle “on a diet of one-third of a C-ration and a couple of spoonful’s of rice a day“; and that many of them already had “fever, dysentery, and jungle rot.”

General Eichelberger put the whole matter in a sentence when he wrote that, even before the 32nd Division had its baptism of fire, the troops were covered with jungle ulcers and “riddled with malaria, dengue fever, [and] tropical dysentery.” Sickness and exhaustion had already claimed many victims; they would claim many more as the fighting progressed.

The Division’s Estimate of Enemy Strength

For all their hunger, their exhaustion, and their sickness, the troops were cocky and overconfident about the task that lay ahead. They had been told and they believed that Buna was a “push over,” and neither they nor their commanders saw any reason why it should not be theirs in a few days. No one—either at Port Moresby or at the front—believed that there would be any difficulty in taking Buna. Natives (who as was soon to become evident had no conception of numbers) had spied out the land and come back with reports that there were very few Japanese in the area. The air corps, similarly, had been reporting for more than a month that there were no Japanese to be seen at the beachhead and that there was no evidence that it was fortified or that the enemy had serious intentions of defending it.

As these reports of enemy weakness poured in, the 32nd Division began to think in terms of a quick and easy conquest of Buna. “I think it is quite possible,” wrote General Harding on 14 October, “that the Japanese may have pulled out some of their Buna forces. . . .” “We might find [Buna] easy pickings,” he added, “with only a shell of sacrifice troops left behind to defend it.” By 20 October General Harding felt that there was “a fair chance that we will have Buna by the first of November.” At the end of the month, he wrote that all information to date was to the effect that Japanese forces in the Buna-Gona area were relatively light and asked how GHQ would look upon November 5 as a suitable date for D Day. “Things look pretty favorable right now,” he said, “for a quick conquest of Buna.” 

A Ground Forces observer, Colonel H. F. Handy, noted that, as November opened, many in the 32nd Division felt “that Buna could be had by walking in and taking over.” Another Ground Forces observer, Colonel Harry Knight, noted that “the lid really blew off, “ when the order was received on 3 November that American troops were not to move forward from Mendaropu and Bofu until further instructed. The reason for the order was, of course, to gain time in which to stockpile supplies for the impending advance, but the division, restive and eager to be “up and at ’em” did not see it that way….Opinions were freely expressed by officers of all ranks . . . [Colonel Knight recalls] that the only reason for the order was a political one. GHQ was afraid to turn the Americans loose and let them capture Buna because it would be a blow to the prestige of the Australians who had fought the long hard battle all through the Owen Stanley Mountains, and who therefore should be the ones to capture Buna. The belief was prevalent that the Japanese had no intention of holding Buna; that he had no troops there; that he was delaying the Australians with a small force so as to evacuate as many as possible; that he no longer wanted the airfield there; . . . that no Zeros had been seen in that area for a month; and that the Air Corps had prevented any reinforcements from coming in …and could prevent any future landing. . .

On 6 November Major W. D. Hawkins, General Harding’s G-2, noted that both ground and air reconnaissance reports indicated that Buna, Simemi, and Sanananda each held perhaps 200-300 Japanese with only “a small number” of enemy troops at Gona. He went on to guess that the enemy was already reconciled to the loss of Buna and probably intended to evacuate it entirely.

Major Hawkins thought the Japanese would be most likely to try evacuating their forces by way of the Mambare River so as to be able to take them off at the river’s mouth. They would do this, he suggested, in order to avoid a “Dunkirk” at Buna, since Buna was an open beach from which embarkation by boats and barges would lay the evacuees open to heavy air attack.

These optimistic views on the possibilities of an early Japanese withdrawal did not agree with General Willoughby’s estimates of the situation. Willoughby estimated enemy strength on 10 November as two depleted regiments, a battalion of mountain artillery, and “normal” reinforcing and service elements—about 4,000 men in all.

He thought that an enemy withdrawal from Buna was improbable, at least until the issue was decided at Guadalcanal. It was known, he said, that General Horii’s orders were definitely to hold Buna until operations in the Solomons were successfully completed. These orders, the Japanese hope of success in the Solomons, and what was known of the character and mentality of the Japanese commanders involved made it highly unlikely, General Willoughby thought, that there would be “a withdrawal at this time.”

By 14 November General Willoughby began to have doubts that the enemy had two regiments at Buna. He thought that the mauling taken by the Japanese at Oivi and Gorari had left them with about “one depleted regiment and auxiliary units” and that these, pending the outcome of the Solomons operation, were capable only of fighting a delaying action. It was therefore likely, General Willoughby suggested, that there would be close perimeter defense of the airfield and beachhead at Buna, followed by a general withdrawal, if the Japanese effort in the Solomons failed. That the enemy would attempt further reinforcement of the Buna area he thought improbable “in view of the conditions in the Solomons, and the logistic difficulties and risks which are involved.”

General Vasey’s estimate of the enemy’s strength based on prisoner of war interrogations was, as of 14 November, 1,500 to 2,000 men—roughly the same figure that General Willoughby seems to have had in mind in his revised estimate of the same day. General Harding, who had Vasey’s estimate, but had probably had no chance as yet to see Willoughby’s, was more optimistic than either. Relying principally on information supplied by the natives, his G-2 had estimated that the “Buna area was garrisoned by not more than a battalion with purely defensive intentions.”

Harding accepted this estimate, and the intelligence annex in his first field order of the campaign read as follows: The original enemy force based at Buna is estimated as one combat team with two extra infantry battalions attached. This force has been withdrawing steadily along the Kokoda Trail for the past six weeks. Heavy losses and evacuation of the sick have reduced them to an estimated three battalions, two of which made a stand in the Kokoda-Wairopi area, with the third occupying Buna and guarding the line of communications. Casualties in the two battalions in the Wairopi area have reduced them to approximately 350 men, who, it is believed, are retiring northward along the Kumusi River Valley. . .

By the time the story got to the men it was to the effect that there were not over two squads of Japanese in Buna Village and that other enemy positions were probably as weakly held. Told by their officers that the operation would be an easy one, and that only a small and pitiful remnant of the enemy force which had fought in the Owen Stanleys remained to be dealt with, the troops were sure that they could take Buna in a couple of days, and that about all that remained to be done there was to mop up.

This was a sad miscalculation. The Japanese were present in much greater strength than the 32nd Division supposed, and superbly prepared defensive positions stood in its way, as well as in the way of the 7th Division which was to attack farther to the west.

The Enemy Position: The Japanese Line

The Japanese had established a series of strong defensive positions along an eleven-mile front extending from Gona on their extreme right to Cape Endaiadere on their extreme left. The enemy line enclosed a relatively narrow strip along the foreshore. It varied from a few hundred yards to a few miles in depth and covered an area of about sixteen square miles.

The Japanese defense was built around three main positions. One was at Gona, another was along the Sanananda track, and the third was in the Buna area from Girua River to Cape Endaiadere. Each was an independent position, but their inward flanks were well guarded, and lateral communications between them, except where the coastal track had flooded, were good.

Gona, a sandy trail junction covering the Army anchorage at Basabua, was well fortified, though its proximity to the sea made impossible defense in any depth. There were strong and well-designed defenses along the Sanananda track and at the junction of the several branch trails leading from it to Cape Killerton. On the other side of the Girua River equally formidable defenses covered the Buna Village, Buna Mission, and Buna Strip areas.

The main Japanese base was at Giruwa. The largest supply dumps and the 67th Line of Communications Hospital were located there. On this front the main Japanese defensive position was about three and one-half miles south of Sanananda Point, where a track to Cape Killerton joined the main track from Soputa to Sanananda Point. A lightly wooded area just forward of the track junction, and the sandy and relatively dry junction itself, bristled with bunkers, blockhouses, trenches, and other defensive positions. Beginning a couple of miles to the south, several forward outposts commanded the trail. About half a mile to the rear of the junction, where another trail branched from the main track to Cape Killerton, there was a second heavily fortified position, and beyond it, a third. These positions were on dry ground—usually the only dry ground in the area. They were flanked by sago swamp, ankle to waist deep, and could be taken only by storm with maximum disadvantage to the attackers.

East of the Girua River, the Japanese line was even stronger because it presented a continuous front and could not be easily flanked. The line began at the mouth of the Girua River. Continuing southeastward, it cut through a coconut grove and then turned southward to the trail junction where the Soputa-Buna track forks to Buna Village on the one hand and to Buna Mission on the other. Sweeping north, the line enclosed the Triangle, as the fork was called, and then turned eastward from that narrow salient to the grassy area known as the Government Gardens.

From the Gardens, it led south and then east through the main swamp to the grassy area at the lower or southern edge of the Old Strip. It looped around the strip and, continuing southward, enclosed the bridge between the strips. Then making a right-angled turn to the New Strip and following the southern edge of the strip to within a few hundred yards of the sea, it cut sharply northeast, emerging on the sea at a point about 750 yards below Cape Endaiadere.

Because the three-foot water table in the area ruled out the possibility of deep trenches and dugouts, the region was studded instead with hundreds of coconut log bunkers, most of them mutually supporting and organized in depth. In general, they were of two types: heavily reinforced bunkers located in more or less open terrain, and smaller, less heavily reinforced bunkers built where the terrain was overgrown with trees and vegetation that offered the defenders a measure of protection against air bombardment or artillery fire.

There were a few variations. Now and then where the terrain particularly favored them, the Japanese had large, squat, earth covered blockhouses, each capable of holding twenty or thirty men. In addition, they had a few concrete and steel pillboxes behind the New Strip.

Except for these variations, which were on the whole rare, the standard Japanese bunker in the area was of heavy coconut log and followed a common pattern. The base was a shallow trench, perhaps two feet deep. It was six to eight feet long and a few feet wide for the smaller bunkers, and up to thirty feet long and ten feet wide for the larger ones. Heavy coconut logs, about a foot thick, were used for both columns and crossbeams. The logs were cut to give the bunkers an interior height of from four to five feet, depending on the foliage and terrain.

The crossbeams forming the ceiling were laid laterally to the trench. They usually overlapped the uprights and were covered by several courses of logs, and often by plates of sheet steel up to a quarter of an inch thick. The walls were revetted with steel rails, I-beams, sheet iron, log pilings, and forty-gallon steel oil drums filled with sand.

As soon as the framework was up, the entire structure was covered with earth, rocks, and short chunks of log. Coconuts and strips of grass matting were incorporated into the earth fill to assist in cushioning the pressures set up by high explosive, and the whole structure was planted with fast growing vegetation. The result could scarcely have been improved upon. The bunkers, which were usually only about seven or eight feet above ground, merged perfectly with their surroundings and afforded excellent concealment.

As a further aid to concealment, firing slits were usually so small as to be nearly invisible from the front. In some cases (as when the bunkers were intended merely as protection from artillery and air bombardment) there were no slits at all. Entrance to the bunkers was from the rear, and sometimes there was more than one entrance.

The entrances were placed so that they could be covered by fire from adjacent bunkers, and they were usually angled to protect the occupants from hand grenades. The bunkers either opened directly onto fire trenches or were connected with them by shallow crawl tunnels. This arrangement permitted the Japanese to move quickly from fire trench to bunker and back again without fear of detection by troops only a few yards away.

These formidable field fortifications were cleverly disposed throughout the Buna position. Bunker and trench systems, within the Triangle, in the Government Gardens, along Entrance Creek, and in the Coconut Grove on the other side of the creek, protected the inland approaches to Buna Village and to Buna Mission, and the approaches, in turn, were honeycombed with enemy emplacements. The main swamp protected the southern edge of the Old Strip, and bunkers, fire trenches, and barbed wire covered its northern edge.

Village area.

The bridge between the strips had bunkers and gun emplacements both at front and rear, and the bridge area could be swept by fire from both strips. There were bunkers, fire trenches, and breastworks behind the New Strip and in the Duropa Plantation, and fire in defense of the strip could also be laid down from the bridge area, from the Old Strip, and from the Y-shaped dispersal bays at its eastern end. The airstrips afforded the Japanese cleared fields of fire and made it possible for them to lay down bands of fire on troops who sought to flank the New Strip by crossing the bridge between the strips, or who tried advancing along its northern edge.

The Japanese line at Buna was, in its way, a masterpiece. It forced the 32nd Division to attack the enemy where he was strongest—in the Triangle, along the trail leading to the bridge between the strips; along the northern edge of the strip; and frontally in the Duropa Plantation. By canalizing the Allied attack into these narrow, well-defended fronts, the Japanese who had short, interior lines of communication, and could shift troops from front to front by truck and landing craft, were in a position to exploit their available strength to the maximum, no matter what its numerical inferiority to that of the Allies.

The Garrison

Shortly after contact was lost with General Horii, Colonel Yokoyama, commanding officer of the 15th Independent Engineers, took charge of all Japanese forces west of the river. Captain Yasuda, as the senior naval officer present, took command of those east of it.

On 16 November, the day the Allies marched out for the attack, the Japanese garrison in the beachhead area was a jumble of broken Army and Navy units. Though riddled by battle casualties and disease, it still numbered approximately five and a half thousand effectives.[NOTE 48C] Army units included the remnants of the 144th Infantry, of the 15th Independent Engineers, the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry, the divisional cavalry detachment, and the 47th Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. In addition, a few field artillery batteries had been left to guard the beachhead along with a number of rear echelon units that had never been in combat. There were about 500 Yokosuka 5th and Sasebo 5th special naval landing troops in the area, and perhaps twice that number of naval laborers from the 14th and 15th Naval Pioneer Units.

[NOTE 48C: Rad, 67th LofC Hospital, Giruwa, to CofS 17th Army, 15 Nov 42, in ATIS EP 29; AMF Interr General Adachi et al; 17th Army Opns I, 129-30. No precise figure can be given for Japanese strength at the beachhead in mid-November, but it is possible to support the figure given above. When questioned at Rabaul in 1945, General Adachi (who should have known as he took charge of New Guinea operations two weeks later) gave the total Japanese strength on 15 November as 9,000. His figure, however, included approximately 900 troops who were then with Colonel Yazawa on the other side of the Kumusi, and another 900 who did not reach the beachhead from Rabaul until two days later. As it is known that some 1,800 men were hospitalized at the time in the 67th Line of Communications Hospital, it can be estimated that there were at least 5,500 effectives at the beachhead in mid-November, including of course, Army and Navy laborers.]

The Condition of the Enemy Troops

The Japanese were in a bad way. In the long retreat from Ioribaiwa (and especially at Oivi and Gorari) and in the crossing of the Kumusi, they had lost irreplaceable weapons and supplies. Their most critical shortages were in small arms, food, and medical supplies—items that Lieutenant Colonel Yoshinobu Tomita, the detachment supply officer, had for some time been doling out with a careful hand.

All the weapons that could be scraped together were either in the front lines or stacked where they would be readily available when the front-line troops needed them. Except for troops immediately in reserve, most of the men to the rear had no weapons. Worried by the situation, Colonel Yokoyama issued orders for all troops without arms to tie bayonets to poles. If they had no bayonets, they were to carry wooden spears. These “weapons” were to be carried at all times; even the patients in the hospital were to have them at their bedsides.

The troops had been on short rations for a long time, and the ration was progressively decreased. To eke it out, the few horses that were left were being gradually butchered for food. There was a great deal of sickness. Nearly all the troops being admitted to the hospital for wounds and disease were found to be suffering as well from exhaustion and general debility. There had been serious outbreaks of malaria in the ranks, and a large proportion of the men had dysentery of an aggravated kind.

Things were at their worst at the base hospital at Giruwa. There was very little medicine, and not enough food to promote the recovery of the patients. Water had seeped into the wards, and the seepage, the extreme humidity, and heavy rains had caused clothes, bedding, and medical equipment to mold, rot, or rust away. As November opened, the medical staff had reported that food and medicine were so short as “to militate absolutely against the recovery of the patients,” and the situation, instead of improving, had become progressively worse. Toward the end of the month, a Japanese soldier was to write in his diary: “The patients in the hospital have become living statues. There is nothing to eat. Without food they have become horribly emaciated. Their appearance does not bear thinking upon.”

Despite these difficulties, the position of the Japanese was by no means hopeless. They had good stocks of ammunition, a strong defensive position, and enough men and weapons to hold it for a long time. What was more, they had every reason to expect that Rabaul would quickly reinforce and resupply them. Their orders were to hold, and, with a little help from Rabaul, they were prepared to do so indefinitely.

Enemy Dispositions

Colonel Yokoyama sent some 800 troops to Gona—a key position since it covered the all-important anchorage at Basabua. This force included an Army road-building unit of about 600 men, the troops of a divisional water-purification and decontamination unit, and some walking wounded. The commander of the road-building unit, Major Tsume Yamamoto, was put in charge of the defense.

Colonel Yokoyama himself took over the defense of the vital Sanananda—Giruwa area. He ordered some 1,800 men—headquarters and one company of the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry, the main body of the 1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, a portion of the 15th Independent Engineers, a 700-man contingent of Formosan naval laborers, and some walking wounded—to front-line positions at the main junction of the Sanananda and Cape Killerton trails. The salient, known to the Japanese as South Giruwa, was divided into northern, central, and southwestern sectors, and put under command of Colonel Tsukamoto. In reserve at the second trail junction a half-mile to the north, Colonel Yokoyama stationed a second company of the 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry, a mountain gun battery, about 300 men of the 15th Independent Engineers, and a portion of the antiaircraft battalion.

Colonel Yokoyama moved his headquarters to Sanananda at the head of the trail and there stationed a second mountain artillery battery, the cavalry troop, the rest of the 41st Infantry, and most of the naval construction troops in the Giruwa area.

At Buna, Captain Yasuda had under his command the naval landing troops, an element of the 15th Independent Engineers, a section of the antiaircraft battalion, about 450 naval laborers, and a few hundred Army service troops. He had some 75-mm. naval guns, a number of 13-mm. guns, several 37-mm. pompoms, and half a dozen 3-inch antiaircraft guns. The engineers, the antiaircraft troops, and the service troops were assigned to the defense of the plantation, the New Strip, and the bridge between the strips. The Yokosuka 5th and Sasebo 5th troops, as well as the naval laborers, were deployed in Buna Village, Buna Mission, the Coconut Grove, and the Triangle.

Reinforcements were quickly forthcoming. Tokyo had realized for some time that, despite the emphasis on retaking Guadalcanal, troops would also have to be sent to the Buna-Gona area if the beachhead was to be held. The troops immediately available for the purpose were several hundred 144th Infantry replacements who had just reached Rabaul from Japan and the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, a 38th Division unit whose two sister battalions were on Guadalcanal. The 229th Infantry had had combat experience in China, Hong Kong, and Java and was rated an excellent combat unit.

The battalion under its commander, Major Hiaichi Kemmotsu, together with 300 144th Infantry replacements and the new commander of the 144th Infantry, Colonel Hiroshi Yamamoto, was ordered to Basabua on 16 November and arrived there by destroyer the following evening. There were about 1,000 men in the convoy, and their arrival brought effective enemy strength at the beachhead to some 6,500 men, not including troops that might be released from the hospital later on and sent to the front. The incoming troops were transferred to Giruwa by barge and then sent on to the Cape Endaiadere-Durope Plantation-Buna Strips area. Colonel Yokoyama took command of that area, and Captain Yasuda of the area west of it as far as the Girua River. The picture at Buna had changed. The Japanese there now had more than 2,500 troops to man the defenses on that side of the river—almost half of them newly equipped and fresh from Rabaul.

The Situation at Rabaul

On 16 November, the day that Colonel Yamamoto was ordered to Buna, a new area command was established to control operations in New Guinea and the Solomons. The new command, the 8th Area Army, under Lieutenant General Hitoshi Imamura, was to have under it two armies—the 17th Army under General Hyakutake, which was to operate exclusively in the Solomons, and the 18th Army, under Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi, which was to operate in New Guinea. General Adachi arrived at Rabaul on 25 November and assumed command of the 18th Army the same day. His first task was to retrieve the situation in Papua—a very difficult assignment as he was soon to discover.

SOURCE: Victory in Papua, BY: Samuel Milner (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (10);Opening Blows in General Vasey’s Area

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (8); Recapture of Kokoda