World War Two: Guadalcanal (3); Marines Come a Shore

While the invasion force was assembling and rehearsing, Army B-17’s of the 26th Squadron of the 11th Bombardment Group, which were part of Task Force 63, had been executing daily bombardments of Guadalcanal and Tulagi to “soften” them before the invasion. The 26th Squadron was then based at Efate and Espiritu Santo. The air strips at both islands were each 5,000 feet long and 150 feet wide by the end of July, but facilities were primitive. The runways were soft and were frequently covered by water from the many rains. For night take-offs, the ends of the runways were marked by truck headlights, and the sides by rags stuck in bottles of gasoline and set ablaze. Beginning on 31 July, the B-17’s bombed Guadalcanal and Tulagi for seven days. One B-17 was lost, but the 26th Squadron shot down three Japanese fighters. Since the airfield on Guadalcanal had no planes, the principal targets were the runways and suspected supply depots and antiaircraft positions on both Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

The Approach

The Amphibious Force, covered by the Air Support Force and by Task Force 63, had left Koro in the Fijis on a southwesterly course on 31 July. Four days later the Betelgeuse and Zeilin with their escorts joined Transport Groups X and Y, respectively, to bring the total number of ships in the Expeditionary Force to 82, and the number of men in the landing force to over 19,000. Sailing in three great concentric circles—the transports in the middle, the cruisers around them, and the screening destroyers in the outer circle—the Amphibious Force reached a point south of Rennell, then swung north and set its course for Savo Island, while the carriers sailed for a point southwest of Guadalcanal. On 5 and 6 August, during the Amphibious Force’s northward run west of Guadalcanal, overcast skies and a heavy haze reduced visibility to four miles and limited air operations. Intermittent rain squalls helped to cover the ships, which were maintaining radio silence. There were no contacts with the enemy.

The weather cleared for the approaching American ships on the night of 6-7 August, and the Amphibious Force, still undetected, raised Savo Island at 0200. Clear skies and a moon in the last quarter provided good visibility as the force passed into the calm, narrow waters between Savo, Guadalcanal, and Florida. The transport groups separated at 0240, 7 August. The four transports and four destroyer-transports of one group sailed around Savo to enter Sealark Channel between Savo and Florida. The fifteen transports of the Guadalcanal Group entered the channel between Savo and Cape Esperance on Guadalcanal. As daylight broke, the islands lay quiet. The Japanese were taken by surprise; not one shot had been fired at the Amphibious Force.

The supporting warships took station, while their observation planes flew over the target areas. The three cruisers and four destroyers of the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group opened fire on their targets between Kukum and Koli Point on Guadalcanal at 0614. Two minutes later the cruiser and two destroyers comprising the Tulagi Fire Support Group opened fire on Tulagi. The minesweepers covered their assigned areas but found no mines. By 0651 the transport groups had reached their areas, 9,000 yards off the landing beaches, and lowered landing craft into the water. A calm sea permitted the troops to descend via cargo-net gangways on both sides of all transports into the landing craft. H Hour, the time for the Tulagi landing, was set for 0800. Zero Hour, the time for the landing on Guadalcanal, was finally set at 0910.

Ships’ gunfire and strafing by fighter planes quickly sank a small gasoline schooner, the only visible enemy vessel in Sealark Channel. Dive bombers and fighters from the carriers, then maneuvering seventy-five miles to the south in open waters, bombed and strafed the target areas, but encountered only feeble antiaircraft fire. Forty-four planes struck at Guadalcanal, and forty-one attacked Tulagi. Eighteen Japanese seaplanes were destroyed.

The Northern Attack

Tulagi

The initial Allied landing in the Solomon Islands, which preceded those on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo, was made by a covering force. Supported by fire from the cruiser and destroyers of the Tulagi Fire Support Group and the minesweepers, landing boats put B Company of the 2nd Marines ashore near Haleta, a village adjoining a promontory on Florida Island which commands Beach Blue on Tulagi. The remainder of the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marines landed at Halavo on Florida to cover the landings. No enemy forces opposed either landing, and the battalion was later withdrawn.

Covered by fire from the supporting cruiser and destroyers, the first wave of landing craft carrying B and D Companies of the 1st Raider Battalion sailed to Beach Blue on Tulagi, a small, hilly island about three miles long. The enemy was not defending Beach Blue but had retired to caves and dugouts in the hills and ravines on the southeast part of the island. The only casualty in landing was one raider killed by rifle fire. The second wave, A and C Companies, quickly followed B and D Companies which then advanced north across the island. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, then came ashore and pushed northwest to clear out the enemy in the northwest part of the island. The raider companies turned right and advanced to the southeast, supported by E Company, the raiders’ heavy weapons company. There was no hard fighting until the afternoon when fire from Japanese caves and dugouts halted the raiders about one mile short of Tulagi’s southeast tip. The marines discovered that the ships’ gunfire and dive bombing had not destroyed the caves and dugouts, most of which would withstand everything but a direct hit. Machine-gun fire was relatively ineffective against the tunnels and caves, which were not constructed along straight lines. The most efficient means for destroying the enemy positions were grenades and high explosive charges placed by hand.

The Japanese sailors and laborers fought from foxholes, pillboxes, slit trenches, and caves. They refused to surrender and fought until they were shot or blown up. Machine gunners fired their weapons until they were killed. When one gunner fell, another would take his place, a process that continued until all in the position were dead.

By late afternoon it had become obvious that the raiders could not complete the capture of Tulagi on 7 August, and the battalion established a defensive line about 1,000 yards from the southeast tip of the island. The five raider companies and G Company of the 5th Marines occupied these positions, which the enemy attacked repeatedly but unsuccessfully throughout the night of 7-8 August.

The first reports estimated that the raiders had suffered casualties amounting to 22 percent of their total strength on Tulagi; the 1st Parachute Battalion was reported to have lost from 50 to 60 percent on Gavutu. General Vandegrift requested Admiral Turner at 0135, 8 August, to release the remaining battalions of the 2nd Marines from division reserve for the Tulagi-Gavutu operation. Admiral Turner assented.

On the morning of 8 August F and E Companies of the 5th Marines, having cleared the northwest part of Tulagi, joined G Company and the five companies of the 1st Raider Battalion. The combined force pressed its attack, reduced the enemy positions, and by 1500 had completed the occupation of Tulagi. Only three of the original Japanese garrison surrendered; an estimated forty escaped to Florida by swimming. The remainder, about 200 men, were killed. The Marine casualties on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo, which had been exaggerated in the first reports, were lighter than those of the Japanese. On Tulagi thirty-six were killed and fifty-four wounded.14 Captured materiel included trucks, motorcycles, ammunition, gasoline, radio supplies, two 13-mm. antiaircraft guns, one 3-inch gun, and ten machine guns.

Gavutu and Tanambogo

While the 1st Raider Battalion and the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines were reducing Tulagi, the islets of Gavutu and Tanambogo, lying 3,000 yards to the east, also saw hard fighting. Gavutu is 250 by 500 yards in size and Tanambogo, a slightly smaller island, is joined to Gavutu by a 300-yard-long concrete causeway. Dive bombers (SBD’s) attacked Gavutu from 1145 to 1155 on 7 August.

The Tulagi Fire Support Group shelled Gavutu from 1155 to 1200 to cover the 7-mile approach of the thirteen landing craft bearing the 1st Parachute Battalion to the seaplane slips and jetties on Gavutu’s northeast corner. The bombardment had knocked several large concrete blocks from the ramps into the water, and the parachutists were forced to land at the docks and mount them in face of enemy small-arms fire. The first wave reached shore safely, but succeeding waves were hit hard, about one man in ten becoming a casualty. By 1400 the parachutists were advancing inland under fire from the Japanese emplaced on the island’s single hill and on near-by Tanambogo. By 1800 the battalion had secured the hill and raised the national colors there. The Japanese retained possession of several dugouts until the afternoon of 8 August, when they were reduced by the parachutists and two companies of the 2nd Marines.

In spite of air bombardment and naval shelling, the Japanese on Tanambogo continued active on 7 August. After being withdrawn from Haleta, B Company of the 2nd Marines attempted to land on Tanambogo’s north coast after a 5-minute naval bombardment, but the attack failed. About 1130 the next day, the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Marines and two light tanks attacked Tanambogo from the beach and the causeway and secured most of the island by late afternoon. By nightfall all the Japanese were dead. Marine casualties in the Tanambogo-Gavutu attacks had been relatively heavy; 108 were dead or missing, 140 wounded. The marines later estimated that nearly 1,000 Japanese had held Gavutu and Tanambogo, but the actual figure was about 500. On 8 and 9 August the 2nd Marines completed the northern attack by seizing the adjacent islets of Mbangai, Makambo, and Kokomtambu.

The Invasion of Guadalcanal

The Landings

Beach Red, which lies about 6,000 yards east of Lunga Point, between the Tenaru and Tenavatu Rivers, had been selected for the Guadalcanal landings. The transports of Group X initially anchored 9,000 yards off Beach Red on the morning of 7 August. The destroyers of the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group took their stations 5,000 yards north of the beach at 0840 to mark the line of departure for the landing craft. The assigned liaison planes made eight runs at low altitudes to mark the extremities of the beaches with smoke. The three cruisers and four destroyers of the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group began firing at 0900, to cover a 3,200-yard-long area from a point extending 800 yards on either side of Beach Red to a depth of 200 yards.

The first wave of landing craft, carrying troops of the reinforced 5th Marines (less the 2nd Battalion), crossed the line of departure 5,000 yards off Beach Red. As the landing craft drew to within 1,300 yards of the beach, the warships ceased firing. There were no Japanese on the beach. The marines went ashore at 0910 on a 1,600-yard front, the reinforced 1st Battalion on the right (west), the reinforced 3rd Battalion on the left. Regimental headquarters followed at 0938, and by 0940 heavy weapons troops had come ashore to act as regimental reserve. All boat formations had crossed the line of departure promptly and in good order, and had reached their assigned beach areas. The assault battalions of the 5th Marines then advanced inland about 600 yards to establish a beachhead perimeter bounded on the west by the Tenaru River, on the east by the Tenavatu River, on the south by an east-west branch of the Tenaru, and to cover the landings of successive units.

Landing of the reinforced 1st Marines in column of battalions had begun at 0930. The 2nd Battalion led, followed by the 36 and 1st Battalions. By 1100 the entire reinforced regiment had come ashore. Meanwhile, in the absence of enemy mines and shore defenses, the transports had moved 7,000 yards closer to the shore.

To provide direct support, the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 11th Marines came ashore with the assault battalions of the 5th and 1st Marines. The 105-mm. howitzers of the 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, had been assigned to general support but were not ready for action until the afternoon. The howitzers were landed separately from their prime movers, which had been held on board ship because there were not enough ramp boats to bring them ashore promptly. When the 105’s reached shore, there were no prime movers immediately available to pull them up the beach. Whenever amphibian tractors were available at the beach, they were used to pull the 105’s until the prime movers (1-ton trucks, instead of the authorized 2½-ton 6-wheeldrive trucks) came ashore in the afternoon. The artillery battalions reverted to control of Headquarters, 11th Marines, when that headquarters landed. All battalions upon landing registered their fire by air observation.

The Advance

When the assaulting regiments and their supporting pack howitzers were ashore, the advance toward the airfield was ready to begin. The 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines was to advance west along the beach toward the Lunga River while the 1st Marines attacked southwest toward Mount Austen. The 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines, the artillery, engineer, pioneer, and special weapons and defense battalions were to hold the beach during the advance.

At 1115 the 1st Marines passed through the 5th Marines’ lines. Engineers put a temporary bridge upstream on the Tenaru, using amphibian tractors as pontoons. The 1st Marines crossed the river and turned southwest toward Mount Austen. On the beach the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines crossed the mouth of the Tenaru at 1330 and marched toward the Ilu. Neither regiment met any Japanese.

The 1st Marines, advancing inland with battalions echeloned to the left and rear, progressed slowly. The only, map which the regiment had to guide it was vague; the angle of declination between grid and true north was not shown. The regimental historian stated later that, had commanders been able to study aerial photographs before the landing, they might have picked easy, natural routes instead of a straight compass course through the jungle.

The troops were heavily loaded with ammunition, packs, mortars, and heavy machine guns as they struggled through the thick, fetid jungle. The humid heat exhausted the men, whose strength had already been sapped by weeks aboard crowded transports. Salt tablets were insufficient in number. Troops in the Solomons needed two canteens of water per day per man, but the number of canteens available had permitted the issue of but one to each man. All these factors served to slow the advance of both regiments.

By dusk the regiments had each advanced about one mile. General Vandegrift, who had come ashore at 1601, ordered them to halt in order to reorient and establish contact. The 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines established a perimeter defense at the mouth of the Ilu River, while the three battalions of the 1st Marines dug in for the night in the jungle about 3,500 yards to the south.

Considering the division’s state of training and the inexperience of the junior officers and noncommissioned officers, tactical operations were satisfactory, but General Vandegrift criticized the “uniform and lamentable” failure of all units to patrol their fronts and flanks properly. Organization for landing and the ship-to-shore movement of troops had been very good. As the Japanese were not opposing the advance, the operation did not involve a thorough test of methods of controlling ships’ gunfire by shore-based fire control parties, but nothing had indicated the need for fundamental changes in doctrine.

Co-ordination between ground forces on the one hand, and naval and air units on the other, had been unsatisfactory, for the naval forces were not using the same map as the 1st Marine Division.25 In view of the relatively few air support missions requested by the ground troops, the centralized control of supporting aircraft had been satisfactory. Had the division met heavy resistance on Guadalcanal, a more direct means of air-to-ground communication would probably have been necessary. The problem had been recognized in advance, but there had not been time to organize and train air control groups for liaison duty with regiments and battalions. The liaison planes furnished little information to division headquarters, for the pilots were not able to observe very much in the jungle, and some of the messages they transmitted were vague.

The Capture of the Airfield

At 2000, when 10,000 troops had come ashore, General Vandegrift ordered the 1st Marines to attack toward the Lunga the next morning instead of taking Mount Austen. He recognized that Mount Austen commanded Lunga Point, but because it was too large and too far away for his relatively small force to hold he decided not to take it immediately.

Supported by tanks, the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines crossed the Ilu at 0930 on 8 August. Progress was slow at first as the battalion advanced on a wide front. General Vandegrift, then convinced that his division was not faced by a sizable organized force on Guadalcanal, ordered the battalion to contract its front, cross the Lunga River, and seize Kukum village before nightfall. By 1500 the advance guard had traveled almost 6,000 yards to overrun a small party of Japanese firing rifles and machine guns from knolls on the outskirts of Kukum. Kukum, containing one 3-inch antiaircraft gun, one 1-inch antiaircraft gun, two 37-mm. antitank guns, and heavy machine guns, was otherwise undefended. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion of the 1st Marines had covered 4,500 yards to capture the airfield by 1600.

The enemy garrison, composed of 430 sailors and 1,700 laborers, had fled westward without attempting to defend or destroy their installations, including the nearly completed runway. General Vandegrift wrote: The extent to which the enemy had been able to develop their Lunga Point positions was remarkable in view of the short time of occupation. Since 4 July they had succeeded in constructing large semi-permanent camps, finger wharves, bridges, machine shops, two large radio stations, ice plants, two large and permanent electric power plants, an elaborate air compressor plant for torpedoes, and a nearly completed airdrome with hangars, blast pens, and a … runway.

Besides the runway and the weapons in Kukum, the Japanese had abandoned a store of .25-caliber rifles, .25-and .303-caliber machine guns, two 70-mm. and two 75-mm. guns, ammunition, gasoline, oil, individual equipment, machinery, Ford and Chevrolet-type trucks, and two radars. They left stocks of rice, tea, hardtack, dried kelp, noodles, canned goods, and large quantities of beer and sake behind. The marines took over the abandoned weapons and used them to bolster their defenses. The 100-pound bags of rice and other food in the commissary dumps were added to the marines’ limited stores. The Japanese left among their personal belongings many diaries which were valuable sources of information for Allied intelligence.

About thirty-five of the Japanese trucks were serviceable. Lighter than American military transport, they proved less efficient. Without powered front axles, they stuck easily, but were a valuable addition to the 1st Marine Division’s limited motor transport, and were used as long as they held together. The division engineers also used the Japanese rollers, mixers, surveying equipment, gasoline locomotives, and hopper cars in the subsequent completion of the airfield.

Tactical operations had proceeded favorably. The Guadalcanal forces had landed unopposed and captured the airfield without casualties. In the Tulagi-Gavutu-Tanambogo area, all objectives had been taken at the cost of 144 killed and 194 wounded, while the defending garrisons had been destroyed. By 9 August, 10,900 troops had landed on Guadalcanal, and 6,075 on Tulagi. To support the infantry, 3 field artillery battalions, with 3 units of fire, plus special weapons, tanks, tank destroyers, and part of the 3rd Defense Battalion, had landed on Guadalcanal, while the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines (75-mm. pack howitzers), and part of the 3rd Defense Battalion had landed on Tulagi.

Unloading

Logistical operations, in contrast with tactical developments, had seriously bogged down. The 1st Pioneer Battalion had been charged with the duty of unloading supplies from the landing craft as they touched at Beach Red, while a navy beachmaster and shore party directed the boat movements at the beach. Of the 596 men (including naval medical personnel) of the Pioneer Battalion, one platoon of 52 went to Tulagi with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and another remained on board one of the cargo ships. About 490 men on Beach Red were to handle supplies for the Guadalcanal force of the 1st Marine Division. By 1043 of 7 August the beachmaster’s party was operating on Beach Red.

Unloading the landing boats proved to be an exhausting and almost impossible job, for so many of them lacked movable bow ramps which could be let down to speed the removal of supplies from the boats. The pioneers had to lift the supplies up and over the gunwales to unload them. On the other hand, the unarmored amphibian tractors “demonstrated a usefulness exceeding all expectations.” Used as an ambulance, a prime mover, and an ammunition carrier, the amphibian tractor, later to play such an important tactical role in the Pacific, was able to move directly from ship’s side to inland dump, easily traversing the sea, reefs, beaches, and swamps without halting. But there were only a few amphibian tractors.

Too few troops had been provided to unload boats and move materiel off the beach. While loaded landing craft hovered off Beach Red, which was already cluttered with unsorted gear, hundreds of marines who were waiting to move forward were in the vicinity, but did not assist on the beach. General Vandegrift later stated that the unloading party had been too small; he pointed out that he had anticipated that his division would have to fight a major engagement before capturing the airfield and he had therefore expected to use most of his troops tactically. At that time, too, the 2nd Marines (less one battalion) had not been released by Admiral Turner.

When supplies began to pile up on the beach, sailors from the transports joined the shore party to try to get the boats unloaded and the supplies moved farther inland. Pioneers and sailors worked to the point of exhaustion; the extreme heat caused many to suffer from nausea and severe headaches. But the beach remained cluttered.

Enemy air attacks also delayed unloading operations. Twenty-five twin-engine Japanese bombers from Rabaul attacked the ships in the early afternoon of 7 August. Several planes were shot down by the covering fighters and gunfire from the transports and screening warships. The Bougainville coast-watcher had warned the Allied ships in time so that none were hit, but the transports had been obliged to cease unloading and get underway. About one hour later, a second wave of Japanese bombers drove the transports off again and damaged the destroyer Mugford. The Japanese aircraft fortunately did not attack the gear which crowded the beach, but three hours of unloading time had been lost.

By nightfall on 7 August 100 landing craft were beached, waiting to be unloaded, while an additional 50, unable to find landing room on the beach, stood offshore. Unloading was continued into the night, but the tired shore party could not cope with its task and operations broke down completely. At 2330 the shore party commander, stating that unloading was “entirely out of hand,” requested that the ships cease discharging cargo until 1000, 8 August, when he estimated the beach would be cleared. Admiral Turner and General Vandegrift assented.

To provide more room for incoming supplies, General Vandegrift doubled the length of the beach by extending Beach Red’s boundary west to the Block Four River on 8 August. But the situation did not improve. Forty more enemy bombers flew over Florida about noon to disperse the ships again, this time setting the George F. Elliott afire and damaging the destroyer Jarvis. The Elliott burned until she was a total loss. The Jarvis left for Noumea but was never heard from again. A false air alarm later in the afternoon forced the ships to get underway once more.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal (4); Consolidating the Beachhead

World War Two: Guadalcanal (2);

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World War Two: Guadalcanal (2); Logistics

The problems of logistics proved as serious as had those of procuring information about enemy strength and dispositions. Preparations began before the intelligence section had completed its work and before the final tactical plans were prepared. The logistical plans were based upon General Vandegrift’s organization of the division for combat. On 29 June he organized the division into two regimental combat groups each of about 4,500 men. Each group was organized into a headquarters and support group and three battalion combat teams. Every combat group consisted of one infantry regiment, one artillery battalion, one company each from the tank, engineer, pioneer, amphibian tractor, and medical battalions, and scout, special weapons, and transport platoons. Each combat team was originally composed of one infantry battalion, one field artillery battery, and platoons of engineer, pioneer, and amphibian tractor personnel. Scouts, signal, medical, and other service personnel were added to the combat teams prior to the invasion.

Combat Group A, commanded by Colonel Le Roy P. Hunt, was composed of the 5th Marines and supporting troops. Combat Teams Nos. 1, 2, and 3 of Combat Group A consisted of the reinforced 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, respectively, of the 5th Marines. Combat Group B, Colonel Clifton B. Cates commanding, was made up of the 1st Marines and supporting troops. Combat Teams Nos. 4,5, and 6 of Combat Group B consisted of the reinforced 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, respectively, of the 1st Marines. On 9 July the division support group was organized. It consisted of about 3,500 men under Colonel Pedro A. del Valle organized into four subgroups made up of headquarters, communications, medical, artillery, special weapons, pioneer, engineer, and amphibian tractor personnel and the 1st Parachute Battalion. The parachutists, fighting as infantry, were later assigned to the assault on Gavutu. The rear echelon, 1,729 men from all divisional units, including the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines (155-mm. howitzers), was to remain in Wellington when the division departed.

[NOTE: 1st Mar Div Opn Ord No. 5-42, 29 Jun 42, in 1st Mar Div Rpt, I, Annex B. The terms in the operation order differ from present day usage. The combat groups would now be regimental combat teams. The combat teams would be battalion landing teams.]

As each combat group was to be embarked in a transport division consisting of three transports and one cargo ship, every transport in each division was assigned to carry one combat team, three units of fire, thirty days’ rations, and quartermaster, ordnance, engineer, chemical, signal, and medical supplies. Supporting troops, heavy equipment, seven units of fire, thirty days’ rations and other supplies, and clothing stocks were “assigned to each cargo ship. The logistical difficulties did not stem from shortages of materiel, for the division had come overseas with nearly all its equipment and supplies. The shortages were in dock space, time, and shipping. In late June there were just seven ships of the Amphibious Force in Wellington Harbor—five transports and two cargo ships. More vessels had been assigned, but it was apparent that there would not be enough cargo space to combat-load all the division with its supplies and equipment. To embark the maximum number of troops, General Vandegrift ordered that “all units . . . reduce their equipment and supplies to those items that are actually required to live and fight.”

The division was ordered to embark bulk supplies, including rations and fuel, for sixty days instead of the ninety days then considered necessary. The ammunition allowance was reduced by one-half. Office equipment, cut to a minimum, included no more than two typewriters per battalion headquarters and four per regimental headquarters. Mess equipment was limited to water bags, vacuum food carriers, camp kettles, coffee mills, and stoves. The order directed that all the division’s motor transport would be embarked; all sandbags, rubber boats, outboard motors, camouflage and chemical warfare equipment, all engineering materiel, water purification equipment, sixty days’ clothing replenishment (shoes, socks, and green utility suits), and thirty days’ post exchange supplies (tobacco, matches, soap, and razor blades only) were to be embarked. Officers and enlisted men were ordered to take with them all their individual equipment but to reduce their baggage to a minimum. Each officer was allowed one bedding roll, clothing roll, or handbag, while enlisted men were limited to what they could carry in their packs.

Loading the division’s weapons and supplies on board the ships was a difficult matter. Aotea Quay in Wellington was small and could berth only five ships at the same time. Combat Group A had already landed, unloaded, and been established inland in base camps prior to 29 June. To clear the quay for the second echelon, it was decided to begin the embarkation of Combat Group A and its equipment and supplies on 2 July. The division supply officer organized the embarkation and combat loading, exercising control through transport quartermasters on the ships and through field officers in charge of the 300-man working parties assigned to each ship. Organized into three reliefs, the working parties labored around the clock in 8-hour shifts. Except for a few skilled civilian operators of loading machines, cranes, hoists, carriers, and stacking machines, marines performed all dockside labor. All divisional motor transport plus eighteen 10-wheeled trucks of the 1st Base Depot and thirty flat-bedded New Zealand Army lorries moved supplies, equipment, and ammunition from their depots to the dockside. By 13 July Combat Group A and its gear had been embarked. A few shortages were made up by local purchases in Wellington, and others were alleviated by materiel carried by the second echelon. After embarkation Combat Group A practiced landings in Wellington Harbor.

The second echelon—largely troops of Combat Group B and the Support Group—encountered much greater difficulty. It arrived at Aotea Quay on 11 July, while Combat Group A was completing its embarkation. As it had not been anticipated that the division would be tactically employed after its arrival in New Zealand, the ships had not been combat-loaded before leaving the United States. Most of the troops had been carried across the Pacific aboard passenger vessels, while cargo ships carried their supplies and equipment. The second echelon was forced to unload, sort, and classify stores and equipment on the limited dock space, and to reload for combat by 22 July. The weather had been clear while the first group had embarked, but, during the entire period of the second echelon’s unloading and re-embarkation, cold, driving rains typical of a New Zealand winter made the task miserable. The morale of the troops, working in the rain, was low. Many of the supplies had been packed in cardboard cartons, which, becoming soggy from the rains, burst and strewed their contents over the docks. Other cardboard cartons, stacked inside the warehouse, were crushed.

Lack of cargo space prevented the division from loading all its motor transport aboard the twelve available ships. Nearly all the quarter-ton and one-ton trucks were put aboard, but 75 percent of the heavier vehicles were left behind in Wellington with the rear echelon. The engineers expected that the Lunga Point airfield would perhaps be almost complete by D Day, but put earth-moving equipment, in addition to bridging equipment and a portable dock, aboard the cargo ship Fomalhaut.

Medical preparations for the campaign had not been difficult. Those medically unfit for foreign service had been left behind in the United States. The standard of health remained fairly high, except for troops on board one transport of the second echelon. Among those marines rotten food on the voyage to New Zealand had caused a loss of weight varying from sixteen to twenty pounds per man, as well as a diarrhea epidemic. Exposure while loading in Wellington had resulted in some cases of colds and influenza, and a few sporadic cases of mumps broke out en route to the target area. The medical plans provided for medical care, under combat conditions, of 18,134 men for ninety days. By 22 July reloading had been completed, and the division was ready to sail from Wellington.

Tactical Plans

On 20 July, when logistical preparations had been almost completed in Wellington, General Vandegrift issued tactical orders for the landings. The grouping of forces for Tulagi and Guadalcanal was based upon the premise that of the 8,400 Japanese which the intelligence section believed to be defending the objectives 1,400 troops, including one infantry and one antiaircraft battalion, were in the Tulagi area. One reinforced infantry regiment, one antiaircraft battalion, one engineer battalion, pioneers, and others—7,000 in all—were thought to be on Guadalcanal. The major part of these were expected to be at Lunga Point, with a smaller force at Koli Point. These estimates greatly exaggerated enemy strength. In early August there were about 780 Japanese in the Tulagi-Gavutu-Tanambogo area, and 2,230 on Guadalcanal. Admiral Ghormley’s original estimate of 3,100 had been correct.

As it was anticipated that the invasion of the Tulagi area, involving direct assaults against small islands, would be the most difficult, the most experienced battalions were assigned to this attack. To protect the flanks of the units landing on Tulagi and other islets, small forces were to land first on near-by Florida. One battalion would then land on Tulagi, followed quickly by a second. A third battalion would land on Gavutu at H plus 4 hours to seize Gavutu and Tanambogo.

The Guadalcanal landing presented a simpler tactical problem than did the landing on Tulagi. The large number of undefended beaches on the north coast would make it possible for the remainder of the division to land unopposed at some distance from the Japanese. The area selected for the landing lies between the Tenaru and Tenavatu Rivers, about 6,000 yards east of the Lunga airstrip, well away from both Lunga and Koli Points. Having landed and established a beachhead, the Guadalcanal Group of the division under General Vandegrift could then attack west to capture the airfield. This maneuver would require the troops to cross both the Tenaru and the Ilu Rivers, but the Tenaru and the Tenavatu Rivers, on either flank of the beach, would help to protect the beachhead if the Japanese counterattacked while men and supplies were coming ashore.

The orders issued on 20 July utilized the previous organization of the division into combat groups, combat teams, and the support group. The orders also organized the reinforcing units—the reinforced 2nd Marines, the 1st Raider Battalion, and 3rd Defense Battalion—which had not then joined the division. The In the early maps, the names of the Tenaru and the Ilu Rivers were transposed. The Ilu lies about 2¾ miles east of the Lunga. The wide part of the river is also known as Alligator Creek.

2nd Marines, Reinforced, commanded by Colonel John M. Arthur, included the 2nd Marines, the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Marines (75-mm. pack howitzers), and engineer, pioneer, amphibian tractor, tank, medical, and other service troops—a total of 4,840 men. This reinforced regiment was organized like the others into a headquarters and support group and three combat teams of about 1,300 each. Combat Teams A, B, and C were composed of the reinforced 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, respectively. The 1st Raider Battalion, totaling 828 men, was commanded by Lt. Colonel Merritt A. Edson. The 3rd Defense Battalion, Colonel Robert H. Pepper commanding, totaled 872 men. These reinforcements, when they arrived, increased the division strength to over 19,000.

The 20 July orders prescribed eight groups of varying strengths: Combat Group A, Colonel Hunt commanding, 4,398 (to be subsequently reduced by about 1,100 by the assignment of Combat Team No. 2, one reinforced infantry battalion, to the Tulagi attack); Combat Group B, Colonel Cates commanding, 4,531; the Support Group, Colonel del Valle commanding, 3,537; the Tulagi Group (the 1st Raider Battalion and Combat Team No. 2 of Combat Group A), Colonel Edson commanding; the Gavutu Group, Major Robert Williams commanding, 395 of the 1st Parachute Battalion; the Florida Group, Major Robert E. Hill commanding, 1,295 of Combat Team A (1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Reinforced); the 3rd Defense Battalion; and the Division Reserve—the 2nd Marines, Reinforced (less Combat Team A)—Colonel Arthur commanding, 3,545.

These forces were to attack and destroy the hostile garrisons on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Makambo by landings on D Day, and then to organize the defense of those islands. There were not enough landing craft, however, to execute all landings simultaneously. At H minus 20 minutes, one rifle company and one machine gun platoon of Combat Team A (1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Reinforced) were to land at Haleta on Florida, just west of Tulagi, to cover the Tulagi landing. At H plus 30 minutes the remainder of Combat Team A would seize Halavo, the peninsula on Florida just east of Gavutu, and support the Gavutu assault by fire.

The Tulagi Group, led by the 1st Raider Battalion, would land on a 500-yard front on Tulagi at H Hour and seize the northwest part of the island. Having reached the first phase line about 1,500 yards northwest of the southeast shore, the assault troops would signal for a 5-minute air and naval bombardment upon the defense positions in the hills and ravines around Government House, the cricket field, the hospital, the prison, and the radio station, then attack and capture that area. Once taken, the island was to pass to the control of the commander of Combat Team No. 2 (2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Reinforced, less E Battery, 11th Marines) of Combat Group A. The 1st Raider Battalion would then prepare to re-embark for further operations. Combat Team No. 2 was to embark enough troops to seize Makambo, northeast of Tulagi, and also was to relieve the 1st Parachute Battalion after it had captured Gavutu and Tanambogo. The 3rd Defense Battalion was to land one-third of its antiaircraft strength on Tulagi.

The 1st Parachute Battalion was to land on the east coast of Gavutu at H plus 4 hours, seize it, and then take Tanambogo, the small island connected with Gavutu by a concrete causeway. The firing of a green star cluster would be the signal for five minutes of naval gunfire on Tanambogo from the Tulagi Fire Support Group. After the capture of the islets the battalion was to be prepared to re-embark for employment elsewhere.

While operations were being conducted against the northern islets by air squadrons, the Tulagi Fire Support Group, Transport Group Y, and the Marine units under General Rupertus’ command, the rest of the force—air squadrons, the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group, Transport Group X, and the majority of the Marine division under General Vandegrift—would be operating against Guadalcanal. Combat Group A (5th Marines, Reinforced), less Combat Team No. 2 (2nd Battalion, Reinforced, less E Battery, 11th Marines), was to land at Zero Hour on a 1,600-yard front with combat teams abreast to take the beachhead.

Combat Group B (1st Marines, Reinforced) was to land in column of battalions at Zero plus 50 minutes, pass through Group A, and attack westward toward the “grassy knoll” (Mount Austen) which was erroneously believed to be only four instead of six miles southwest of Lunga Point. This course, it was hoped, would prevent the Japanese from escaping southward into the mountains. The 1st Marines was to maintain contact with the units advancing on its right. The formation would be a column of battalions echeloned to the left and rear to protect the left flank. Group A, after Group B had passed through, was to send Combat Team No. 1 (1st Battalion, 5th Marines) west along the shore to seize the Ilu River line. In the order the Ilu was mistakenly called the Tenaru.

Combat Team No. 3 (3rd Battalion, 5th Marines) was to seize the line of woods running southeast from the Tenavatu River, thus covering the east line of the beachhead. The division’s light tanks, landing with the combat groups, were also to cover the east flank of the beachhead but were not to be committed to action except on orders from General Vandegrift. Platoons of A Battery of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion were to land on the flanks of the beach to provide antiaircraft defense with automatic weapons. They were to revert to control of the 1st Special Weapons Battalion of the Support Group upon the landing of that battalion’s headquarters.

The artillery battalions of the combat groups were to land with their groups, but to pass to control of the headquarters of the 11th Marines of the Support Group upon the landing of that headquarters. The Support Group, including elements of the artillery, engineer, special weapons, and pioneer battalions was to land on orders from division headquarters, and to co-ordinate the artillery support for the attacks of the Combat Groups as well as the antiaircraft defense of the beachhead. The 3rd Defense Battalion (less one-third of its antiaircraft units) was to land on divisional order, pass to control of the Support Group, and assist in the defense of the beachhead.

Combat Team A of the division reserve (2nd Marines, Reinforced) had been released to General Vandegrift for the Florida landing, but the remainder of the reserve was to remain under Admiral Turner’s control for the occupation of Ndeni if it was not required for Guadalcanal and Tulagi. General Vandegrift ordered the reserve, however, to be prepared to land Combat Team B less its reinforcing elements at H plus 4 hours, and to be ready to attach Combat Team C minus its reinforcing units to the Tulagi Group.

Final Preparations

While the division was making ready for combat, the other units which were to make up the invading force were sailing toward their respective rendezvous areas. The carrier Wasp came from the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal. On 1 July she sailed from San Diego, escorting the five ships bearing the 2nd Marines, Reinforced, across the Pacific. On 7 July the carrier Saratoga, with Admiral Fletcher on board, and her supporting warships departed from Pearl Harbor, followed by the carrier Enterprise and her supporting ships. The destroyer-transports, which had helped to escort the Enterprise, left the carrier at sea and sailed to New Caledonia to embark the 1st Raider Battalion. The ships from the Southwest Pacific left Brisbane, Australia, on 14 July and arrived at New Zealand five days later to come under Admiral Turner’s control. On 21 July Admiral Fletcher, commanding Task Force 61, ordered all units to rendezvous southeast of the Fiji Islands at 1400, 26 July. The 3rd Defense Battalion, on board the Zeilin and Betelgeuse, escorted by two destroyers, did not leave Pearl Harbor until 22 July and did not join die task force until 3 August.

The twelve transports and cargo ships of the Amphibious Force, carrying the 1st Marine Division together with their escorts, sailed from Wellington on 22 July under Admiral Turner’s command. On 26 July the entire Expeditionary Force (Task Force 61), except the Zeilin and Betelgeuse and their escorts, assembled southeast of the Fijis, and on the next day sailed to Koro for the rehearsal.

From 28 through 31 July the Expeditionary Force rehearsed with carrier air groups participating. The rehearsal was far from being a success. One of the most serious handicaps was the necessity for maintaining radio silence which made ground-to-air communication impossible and impeded the co-ordination of ground force attacks with close air support. Two complete landing exercises simulating the scheme of maneuver had been planned, but coral reefs made the beaches impracticable for landings. General Vandegrift, who firmly believed in the necessity for complete rehearsals, later wrote that the advantages gained from the Koro rehearsal were “dubious” when compared with the loss of “priceless time.” The rehearsal had some value, however, for the force received practice in debarkation procedure and in the conduct and timing of boat waves. The forces supporting the ground troops had an opportunity for firing and bombing practice. Since McCain, Fletcher, Turner, and Vandegrift all attended the rehearsal, they seized this first opportunity for close personal conferences during which they discussed their plans in detail.

Since the performance of landing craft at the rehearsal led the commanders to expect numerous mechanical break-downs, a boat pool was organized. It was at Koro that the decision was made to land first at Tulagi and later at Guadalcanal on D Day. The transport Heywood, carrying both the 1st Parachute Battalion and elements of the Guadalcanal Support Group, would have to unload the Parachute Battalion in the Tulagi area and then cross the channel to land tanks on Guadalcanal.

The landing craft carried by the ships of the Amphibious Force amounted to 480 1942-model boats of various types,54 in addition to the vehicles of the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion of the 1st Marine Division. There were 8 30-foot landing craft. 308 36-foot LCP(L)’s and LCP(R)’s, 116 36-foot LCV’s, and 48 45-foot LCM’s. The 30-foot boats and the LCP(L)’s were the old fixed-bow type without ramps. The LCP (R)’s, the LCM’s and the LCV’s were equipped with movable bow ramps. The LCV’s, each with a 10,000-pound cargo capacity, could carry 75-mm. and 105-mm. howitzers or 1-ton trucks, but heavier equipment (90-mm. and 5-inch guns and heavy trucks) would have to be carried in the LCM’s. The LCP(L)’s could carry troops and portable supplies, but all supplies brought ashore by the LCP(L)’s would have to be lifted over the gunwales by hand at a considerable expense of time and manpower. The amphibian tractors (LVT’s), about to make their first appearance in action, were an early, unarmored type mounting two machine guns.

The final details of organization of the boat pool, including all boats from the ships of the Amphibious Force, were completed during the rehearsal. Ten boat groups, varying in size from sixteen to sixty-four boats of various types, were organized. Nearly every group included one craft assigned as a repair boat. Four groups, including 103 craft, were assigned to the Tulagi area to unload Transport Group Y, and the remaining six groups were assigned to unload Transport Group X at Guadalcanal. The assaulting combat teams would be brought ashore by ninety-one craft—sixty-three carrying Combat Team No. 1 and Headquarters and supporting troops of Combat Group A, and twenty-eight carrying Combat Team No. 3. Combat Group A’s tanks would be brought in by sixteen LCM’s. Forty-one boats would carry the next waves—Combat Team No. 4 and Headquarters, Combat Group B. Following the landing of the first elements of Combat Group B the forty-one boats would join an additional fifty-one to carry Combat Team No. 5. Combat Team No. 6 would be borne ashore by fifty-seven craft.

After the landing of the assault troops, the LCM’s of the boat groups, in general, were to continue unloading heavy equipment from certain specified ships, while the other boats returned to their mother ships to unload them, bringing in supporting troops and supplies on the second, third, and succeeding trips to shore. General Vandegrift also ordered that amphibian tractors be used wherever possible to haul supplies. Although not a tactical vehicle, the unarmored amphibian tractor could sail from ship to shore, surmount the beach, and carry supplies overland directly to regimental and battalion dumps, with a resulting economy in both time and labor.

Those troop commanders who were to be responsible for the complete unloading of the ships were to assign enough men to work all ships’ holds twenty-four hours per day, for all ships were to be unloaded in the shortest possible time. Supplies were to move over the beaches in accordance with the following priority: ammunition, water, combat transport, rations, medical supplies, gasoline, other transport, and lastly, miscellaneous supplies.

All men, as originally planned, were to wear green utility suits and to carry head nets and cot nets for protection against mosquitoes. Each man was to carry two canteens of water if enough canteens were available. The men of the task and landing forces were to initiate the first Allied offensive in the Pacific, one of the largest amphibious operations in the history of the United States up to that time. The tactical plans were hastily prepared, but they had a broad and well-established base in the doctrines governing landings on hostile shores which had been developed during the years preceding the outbreak of war. It is significant to note that whereas plans for the landing operations proper were detailed and comprehensive, there was no reference to systematic re-supply of the 1st Marine Division which carried sufficient supplies for sixty days. Although on 14 July Admiral Ghormley had directed the 7th Marines in Samoa to be ready to embark on four days’ notice with ninety days’ supply and ten units of fire, no Army units for reinforcing or relieving the division were alerted.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal (3); Marines Come a Shore

World War Two: Guadalcanal (1-2); Plans for Invasion

World war Two: Papuan Campaign (6): Japanese Offensive Collapses

Ten days after the first Japanese landing at Basabua Admiral King wrote to General Marshall that, while he was willing to assume that General MacArthur was “taking all measures in his power to deny the threat of Japanese penetration toward Port Moresby,” he doubted that the measures taken (which he described as “airpower supported by minor ground forces north of the Owen Stanley Mountains”) would be successful. Since, in his opinion, the holding of Port Moresby and the Buna-Gona area was essential to the ultimate success of operations in both the South and Southwest Pacific Areas, he asked that General Marshall obtain from General MacArthur by dispatch the latter’s “views as to the present situation in New Guinea, and his plan to deny further advance to the Japanese, pending execution of Task Two.” General Marshall replied the next day. He agreed, he said, with the assumption that General MacArthur was taking all measures in his power to deny the Japanese threat, but he felt it was “a little early to assume that such measures [would] be unsuccessful.” Admiral King was assured, however, that General MacArthur was being asked for his plan to counteract the Japanese offensive. Such a message had, in fact, gone out the day before.

The SWPA: Early August

General MacArthur’s Accounting

General MacArthur had a reassuring story to tell. He had just ordered the 7th Australian Infantry Division to New Guinea—the 18th Brigade to Milne Bay, and the 21st and 25th Brigades to Port Moresby. His plan of operations to prevent further enemy encroachment in New Guinea had been greatly hampered, he noted, by a critical shortage of transportation, especially sea transport, and by a dearth of naval convoy ships to protect his supply routes. The work of defending the area had nevertheless gone on despite these difficulties. Before the defenses in New Guinea could be augmented, it had been necessary, as a first step, to move engineers and protective garrisons into the Townsville-Cloncurry area in order to complete a series of airfields there and to develop Port Moresby as an advance jump-off point for the air force. As a second step, the garrison at Port Moresby was doubled to two brigades; engineers and antiaircraft units were sent forward to develop and protect the dispersal facilities in the area; and a beginning was made in developing and securing airfields in the Cape York Peninsula. As a succeeding step, airfields were built at Milne Bay and Merauke to cover Port Moresby from east and west, and troops were ordered forward to secure the crest of the range at Wau and Kokoda.

The experienced 7th Australian Infantry Division would begin moving to the front within the next few days—one brigade to Milne Bay, the other two to Port Moresby. Seven transpacific ships, which would in due course be returned to their regular runs, were being requisitioned to get the division and its equipment forward.

General MacArthur went on to say that the final solution to the problem of defending New Guinea would, of course, come with the completion of Task One and the inception of Tasks Two and Three. After sketching a plan of maneuver for the latter two tasks, he told General Marshall that, while further preparations were necessary for Task Three, immediately after Task One was successfully completed Task Two could begin if the aircraft carriers and the Marine division with its amphibious equipment were made available for the operation.

It was an excellent accounting. Starting in late March with only a few airfields in the Townsville-Cloncurry area and two poor fields at Port Moresby, General MacArthur by early August also had effective bases in the Cape York Peninsula, at Merauke, and at Milne Bay—a remarkable accomplishment in view of the appalling terrain, the shortage of engineer troops, and the difficulties of supply.

General Rowell Takes Over in New Guinea

On 6 August all Australian and American forces serving in Australian New Guinea (Papua and North East New Guinea) were put under New Guinea Force. On 9 August Major General Sydney F. Rowell, General Officer Commanding, 1st Australian Corps, took command of all forces in New Guinea. Nine days later, General Rowell became G. O. C. New Guinea Force.

[NOTE 16: GHQ SWPA OI No. 15, 6 Aug 42; LHQ OI No. 30, 9 Aug 42; NGF OI No. 24, 18 Aug 42. General Morris, who in addition to being G. O. C. New Guinea Force had also been Administrator of New Guinea and head of the Australia-New Guinea Administrative Unit, ANGAU, continued in the latter two capacities, thereby making it possible for General Rowell to concentrate exclusively on combat operations.]

The orders of 6 August gave New Guinea Force a greatly expanded mission. It was to prevent further penetration of Australian New Guinea, hold the crest of the Owen Stanley Range, and retake Kokoda, the Buna-Gona area, and ultimately Lae and Salamaua. It was to carry out active reconnaissance of its area and the approaches thereto, maintain and augment KANGA Force, and establish a special force at Milne Bay. After infiltrating the northeast coast of Papua from East Cape to Tufi, the Milne Bay troops would join with the overland forces on the Kokoda trail in the capture of the Buna-Gona area.

As General Rowell took command in New Guinea, the Japanese on the trail were at Isurava south of Kokoda. Radio intercepts and documents captured by KANGA Force revealed that the Japanese intended to land at Samarai shortly. The situation was in crisis, but the Allied defensive position was stronger than it appeared to be—much stronger, in fact, than had been thought possible only a few short weeks before.

The Defense Falls into Place

The North Queensland Bases

By the third week in August three fields had been completed in the Cape York Peninsula, one for fighters and two for heavy bombers. Three additional fields for heavy bombers were due to be completed by the end of September. The movement of aviation units, garrison troops, and supplies to the bases in northern Queensland was proceeding but was not expected to be complete until sometime in October because of the emergency troop movements to Port Moresby and Milne Bay, and the consequent shortage of shipping.

To alleviate a critical shortage of U.S. engineer troops, and to speed construction where it was most needed, arrangements were made in August to turn over the task of airfield construction [NOTE 17]and maintenance in northern Queensland and elsewhere on the mainland either to the RAAF or to the Allied Works Council, a civilian construction agency of the Australian Government staffed for the most part by men who were over age or otherwise exempt from military duty. American engineer troops released in this way were at once transferred to New Guinea. The change-over was a gradual one, but by the end of the year almost all U.S. engineer troops in the Southwest Pacific Area were in New Guinea.

[NOTE 17: General Casey had under his command on 1 May 1942 a total of 6,240 U.S. Engineer construction troops comprising the following units: the 43rd and 46th General Service Engineer Battalions, the 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion, the 91st and 96th Separate Engineer Battalions, and the 576th and 585th Engineer Dump Truck Companies. The first three were white units; the remaining four, Negro. Except for the addition of the 69th Topographical Company, and the expansion of the 91st and 96th Battalions to regiments, an increase since May of some 1,200 men, his command was substantially the same at the end of the year. OCE SWPA Annual Rpt, 1942; OCE SWPA, Location and Strength of U.S. Engineer Units, 31 Dec 42. Both in AFPAC Engr File.]

Port Moresby

By 19 August, Brig. A. W. Potts’s 21st Australian Infantry Brigade, the leading brigade of the two 7th Division brigades ordered to Port Moresby, had already arrived there. It did not tarry but began moving at once to Isurava, where MAROUBRA Force—by this time a battalion and two companies of the 30th Brigade—was making a stand under the brigade commander, Brigadier Selwyn H. Porter. The 25th Brigade, which was to follow the 21st, was delayed by the shipping shortage and was not expected to arrive until early September.

Even so, the Port Moresby garrison, with its three infantry brigades and its Australian and American air, antiaircraft, engineer, and service units, already numbered 22,000 men. When the 25th Brigade, 7th Division headquarters, and other divisional troops arrived, it would total 28,000. The seven-air-field program projected for Port Moresby was nearing completion. Four fields were finished and in use—two for fighters, one for medium bombers, and one for heavy bombers. The three remaining fields—two for heavy bombers and one for medium bombers—were expected to be ready by early September.

Plans to make Port Moresby a large supply and communications area were well advanced. On 11 August the U. S. Advanced Base in New Guinea was established by USASOS with headquarters at Port Moresby. Its functions were to aid in the operation of the port and other ports in New Guinea, to control the activities of U. S. service troops in the area, and, in general, to provide for the supply of all American troops in the battle zone.

The port itself, shallow and suitable only for light traffic, was to be improved. Existing facilities permitted only one ship to be unloaded at a time, and that very slowly, with the frequent result that as many as two or three others had to wait in the roads to unload, exposed all the while to enemy attack. Since the existing harbor site did not lend itself to expansion, General Casey planned to develop Tatana Island (a small island in Fairfax Harbor to the northwest of the existing harbor) into an entirely new port. The new development, which would permit several ocean-going ships to be unloaded at one time, was to be connected with the mainland by an earth-filled causeway a half-mile long, over which would run a two-lane highway with a freeboard of two feet over high tide. The project was to be undertaken as soon as engineers and engineering equipment became available.

Measures were being taken to improve the air supply situation both in the Owen Stanleys and in the Bulolo Valley. After a careful study of the problem, General Kenney assigned six A-24’s, a B-17, and two transports—all the aircraft that could be spared—to the task of dropping supplies to the Australian troops in both areas. It was hoped that the use of these planes if only for ten days, the period of their assignment, would make possible a substantial improvement in the supply situation at both Kagi and Wau.

Milne Bay

By 21 August the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade (the 2/9, 2/10, and 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalions) under Brigadier George F. Wootten completed its movement to Milne Bay. There it joined the 7th Australian Infantry Brigade, Citizen Military Forces (the 9, 25, and 61 Australian Infantry Battalions), under Brigadier John Field, which had reached Milne Bay in July. The following day, 22 August, Major General Cyril A. Clowes, an experienced officer who had commanded the ANZAC Corps artillery in Greece, took command of Milne Force. His instructions were to protect the airfields and deny Milne Bay to the enemy.

After the company of the 46th U. S. Engineers had arrived in late June and the 7th Brigade, a 25-pounder battery, and some light and heavy Australian antiaircraft in early July, the second of two RAAF fighter squadrons equipped with P-40’s and part of a RAAF reconnaissance squadron using Hudsons reached Milne Bay by early August. Two companies of the 43rd U. S. Engineers had also arrived by this time as well as the 709th U. S. Airborne Antiaircraft Battery which was equipped with -50-caliber machine guns. The American engineer troops had a few .50-caliber machine guns and some 37-mm. antitank guns in addition to their rifles and light machine guns.

[NOTE 18: The 25-pounder was the standard artillery piece of the Australian and British Army at this time. The caliber was about 3½ inches; the barrel was about 7¾ feet long; and the weight of the shell, as the name of piece suggested, was roughly 25 pounds.]

Milne Force, when General Clowes took it over on 22 August, was a good-sized command. Australian troop strength was 7,429 men, of whom 6,394 were combat troops and 1,035 were service troops. American troop strength, mainly engineers and antiaircraft personnel, numbered 1,365 men; the strength of the RAAF was 664 men. Clowes’s total strength was thus 9,458 men. To guard against Japanese infiltration from the Buna-Gona area patrols were operating between East Cape (the eastern tip of New Guinea) and Goodenough Bay. The overland trails leading into Milne Bay were being patrolled regularly, as was the Mullins Harbor area to the southwest of Milne Bay. General Clowes had neither landing craft, coastal guns, nor searchlights, but the best defense that time would allow had been provided.

The Battle of Milne Bay

The Scene of Operations

Milne Bay, about twenty miles long and five to ten miles wide, lies at the extreme southeast tip of New Guinea. The fact that it is often closed in from the air probably accounted for the long time that it took the Japanese to discover the presence of the Allies in the area. On either arm of the bay, mountains 4,000 feet high rise abruptly from the shore. Between the mountains and the sea are narrow coastal corridors consisting for the most part of deep swamp, and dense, almost impenetrable, jungle. The rainfall in the bay area averages 200 inches a year, and during wet weather the corridors are virtually impassable.

At the head of the bay is a large plain into which the coastal corridors merge. This plain, the site in prewar days of an immense coconut plantation operated by Lever Brothers, was the only place in the entire area which was not completely bogged down in mud. Because it already had a small, if inadequate, road net, all the base installations and airfields were concentrated there.

At the time General Clowes took command, one airfield—No. 1 Strip, in the center of the plantation area—had been completed and was being used by the P-40’s and Hudsons. The 46th Engineer Company was working on No. 2 Strip, which was about four miles inland at the western end of the plantation. The two companies of the 43rd Engineers were working on No. 3 Strip, which was just off the north shore. Although a great deal of hard work, under the most adverse conditions, had gone into the base, much still remained to be done. The roads, for the most part, a corduroy of coconut logs covered with decomposed coral, were in very poor condition.

[NOTE 19: Major General Hugh J. Casey to author, 21 Jul 50, in OCMH files. General Casey’s explanation of the hasty construction of No. 1 Strip is that the field had to be constructed that way “in order to secure an operable airdrome in the limited time available.”]

The dock, at Gili Gili, at the very head of the bay, consisted of two barges placed side by side with a ramp leading to the small and inadequate jetty that had been there when the military first arrived. Number 1 Strip, the only runway in operation, and very hastily constructed, consisted of an open-mesh steel mat, laid over a low-lying, poorly drained base. Mud seeped through the mat and caused aircraft using the runway to skid and sometimes crack up. Since there was no time to rebuild the field, all that could be done to remedy the situation was to have bulldozers scrape the mat daily and deposit the mud in piles on either side of the strip. The runway was particularly treacherous during wet weather. Though it had originally been built as a bomber strip, the P-40’s often required its entire length for their take-offs when it had rained for any length of time. When the rainfall was exceptionally heavy they were often unable to take off at all.

This then was the place that the Japanese had chosen, at the last minute, to capture instead of Samarai. They had made the decision only in mid-August, when they first discovered the Allies were actually there. A few days later they issued the orders to attack.

The Landing

Toward the latter part of August the Japanese decided to launch the Milne Bay operation immediately. The Aoba Detachment, the Army force earmarked to land at Milne Bay, was still at Davao. Nevertheless the 8th Fleet, with naval troops available for action at Kavieng and Buna, decided to proceed with the operation without waiting for the detachment to come in. Judging that Milne Bay was held by two or three infantry companies and twenty or thirty aircraft, Admiral Mikawa on 20 August ordered some 1,500 men to Milne Bay. A total of 1,171 men (612 Kure 5th Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) troops, 362 16th Naval Pioneer Unit troops, and 197 men of the Sasebo 5th SNLF) were ordered to Milne Bay from Kavieng; the rest, 353 Sasebo 5th SNLF troops, were to come from Buna. Commander Shojiro Hayashi, of the Kure 5th SNLF, was in command of the landing forces from Kavieng. His orders were to land at Rabi, a point about three miles from the Gili Gili wharf area at the head of the bay. The troops from Buna were to land at Taupota on the north coast and march on Gili Gili overland.

The first echelon from Kavieng, bearing mostly Kure 5th troops, left Rabaul for Rabi in two transports in the early morning of 24 August. The troops of the Sasebo 5th SNLF at Buna left for Milne Bay at approximately the same time in seven large motor-driven landing barges.

The seven landing craft were the first to be detected by the Allies. The Coast Watcher at Porlock Harbor sighted them the same afternoon, and early the next morning a reconnaissance aircraft reported that they were nearing Goodenough Island. Twelve P-40’s from Milne Bay (which had been unable to attack previously because of enemy air raids and bad weather) took off for Goodenough Island at noon and shortly thereafter discovered the landing craft beached on the southwestern shore of the island, where the Japanese had put in to stretch their legs and prepare a meal. The P-40’s gave the drawn-up barges and ration littered beach a thorough strafing. When the attack was over, all of the landing craft had been destroyed, and the Sasebo unit, its stores, ammunition, and communications equipment gone, was left stranded on Goodenough Island with no way of reaching its objective, or even of returning to Buna.

The convoy bearing the Kure 5th troops fared better in its approach to the target. Heavily escorted by cruisers and destroyers, the transports were first sighted off Kiriwina Island, 140 miles northeast of Milne Bay, in the early morning of 25 August, making directly for Milne Bay. General MacArthur’s headquarters immediately ordered the Air Force to attack the convoy and destroy it. All available B-25’s and B-26’s at Townsville and nine B-17’s at Mareeba in the Cape York Peninsula took off at once for the attack, which was to be made that afternoon in concert with the RAAF P-40’s and Hudsons from Milne Bay.

Fortunately for the Japanese, the weather (except for a short break at noon which the RAAF had exploited to the full in the attack on Goodenough Island) was very bad all day, both at Moresby and Milne Bay. For hours on end planes were unable to take off from either place. Attempts by the B- 17’s from the Cape York Peninsula and the P-40’s and Hudsons from Milne Bay to hit the convoy proved fruitless because of violent rain squalls and a heavy overcast. By late afternoon visibility was down to zero, and despite occasional breaks thereafter the Air Force found it impossible to attack successfully that day.

The Japanese landing began about 2200 hours, 25 August, on the north shore of the bay near Waga Waga and Wanadala—five to seven miles east of Rabi, their prescribed landing point. The landing force set up headquarters at Waga Waga and established a series of supply dumps there and in the Wanadala area. The shore east of K. B. Mission, which the Japanese continued to think for some time was the Rabi area, became their main bivouac site and forward jump-off point. Here, about one mile east of the mission, at 0145 hours on 26 August, elements of Milne Force met the Japanese column in an indecisive engagement when a screening platoon from Company B, 61 Battalion, at K. B. Mission started a fire fight with the Japanese that lasted until nearly dawn. Although the enemy used light tanks in support of his probe, he finally withdrew leaving the Australian detachment in place.

The Advance

The Japanese could scarcely have chosen a worse landing place. Their objectives, the airfields and the wharf, were at the head of Milne Bay, and they had landed several miles from the plantation area on a jungle covered coastal shelf, flanked on the right by mountains and on the left by the sea. Because the mountains in the landing area were steep and very close to shore, there was virtually no room for maneuver, and the heavy jungle which covered the bay shore made it impossible to find a dry bivouac for the troops anywhere in the area.

It had rained steadily during the preceding few weeks, and the heavy tropical downpour continued. The mountain streams had become roaring torrents, and the spongy soil of the corridor a quagmire. The single coastal track that skirted the corridor had in places completely washed away, and the level of the many fords that cut across it had risen to almost three feet. Except for a few abandoned plantations and mission stations, the corridor was a sodden welter of jungle and swamp, an utter nightmare for any force operating in it.

Although they had seriously misjudged Allied strength, and had landed on a muddy coastal shelf thousands of yards from the head of the bay, the Japanese nevertheless enjoyed some significant tactical advantages. Their left flank was secure because they had control of the sea, and their right flank could not easily be turned because of the mountains a few hundred yards away. It was true that they could count on little air power, since Lae and Salamaua, the nearest operational air bases, were more than 300 miles away; but unlike Milne Force, which could barely scrape up a few trawlers, they had plenty of landing craft and could therefore land troops and supplies freely under cover of darkness or of the weather, despite their deficiency in the air.

General Clowes, on the other hand, was a man fighting blind. Because of the dense jungle on the north shore of the bay and frequent heavy overcasts, neither his ground patrols nor his aerial reconnaissance could tell him what the Japanese were doing or what their numbers were. Worse still, he was face to face with the possibility that the Japanese, in addition to landing on the north shore, might land troops on the south shore, or even at the head of the bay. Having no idea as yet of Japanese intentions, Clowes held the bulk of his force in the plantation area, to be committed to the north shore when it became apparent from the circumstances that the Japanese had no intention of landing troops elsewhere in the bay area.

At the time of the Japanese landings during the night of 25-26 August, the main body of Milne Force was deployed in the plantation area in the vicinity of the airfields and two companies of the 61 Battalion were on the north shore in the path of the Japanese thrust. One of these companies was at Ahioma, just east of Wanadala; the other was at K. B. Mission. There was also a platoon of the 61 Battalion on the northeast coast guarding against an overland attack on Milne Bay from the Taupota side of the mountains, as well as a reinforced company of the 25 Battalion farther to the northwest on Goodenough Bay.

The company at Ahioma did not fare as well as the one at K. B. Mission. The troops at Ahioma had been under orders to return to Gili Gili by water, and two of the three platoons were already on their way in two ketches when the Japanese landings began. Shortly after leaving Ahioma the ketches plowed into a landing wave off Wanadala. In the melee one of the Australian craft was sunk. Some of the militia troops were lost; others struggled ashore and infiltrated back to their own lines. The platoon in the other ketch returned to Ahioma and, with the platoon that had remained there, marched overland to Taupota and thence back over the mountains to Gili Gili where they rejoined their battalion several days later.

By 0745 that morning, 26 August, the weather had abated sufficiently for the P-40’s from No. 1 Strip and the B-17’s staging from Port Moresby to go into action. In an extremely successful morning’s business, the P-40’s managed to destroy most of the food and ammunition that the Japanese had brought with them. The B-l 7’s, almost as successful, inflicted heavy damage on a large Japanese transport unloading offshore.

Toward evening a second Japanese convoy (Commander Hayashi’s second echelon) was sighted off Normanby Island in the D’Entrecasteaux Group, making at high speed for Milne Bay. Before it could be dealt with, a heavy fog descended over the area, blotting out the convoy’s further movements. The troops aboard landed safely that night, completing the 1,170-man movement from Kavieng.

K. B. Mission had meanwhile been reinforced by a second company of the 61 Battalion. The Japanese, who had reconnoitered the mission during the day, struck again that night in much greater strength than before. The Australian militia was forced out of the mission and all the way back to the line of the Gama River, just east of Rabi. Fortunately for the Australians, the Japanese again chose to break off the engagement at dawn.

The following morning, General Clowes sent the 2/10 Battalion of the 18th Brigade to K. B. Mission. The battalion, intended to be a reconnaissance force, was lightly armed. Its orders were to keep in contact with the Japanese, draw them out, and in general find out what they were up to.

Without such essential knowledge, General Clowes was confronted with a cruel dilemma. If he moved his troops onto the north shore, the enemy might counter by landing fresh troops on the south shore or at the head of the bay itself. As he himself was to explain: The presence of Jap naval elements in the vicinity throughout the operation and the freedom of activity enjoyed by the enemy by sea constituted a continuous menace in regard to possible further landings. These factors necessarily had a marked influence on plans and dispositions made to deal with the enemy. On several occasions, such plans were definitely slowed down or suffered variation through the delay involved in assuring that the south shore was clear, and, further, that reports of the presence of enemy ships at Mullins Harbor were not founded on fact. [NOTE 19]

[NOTE 19: Comdr Milne Force, Rpt on Opns 25 Aug-7 Sep 42; Naval Account Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 26; Interv with Lieutenant Colonel Peter S. Teesdale-Smith, AMF, 22 Aug 49, copy in OCMH files. At the time the battle was fought, Colonel Teesdale-Smith, then a captain, was intelligence officer of the 2/10 Battalion.]

The 2/10 Battalion reached the mission unopposed in the late afternoon of 27 August. Under orders to move on again in the morning, the battalion had barely settled itself for the night when the Japanese struck at the mission again, this time with two tanks and all their available combat troops.

Despite unceasing tropical rain, the ground in the well-drained and relatively open plantation area was firm enough for tank action. The two tanks, equipped with brilliant headlights that made targets of the Australians and left the attackers in darkness, inflicted heavy casualties on the 2/10 Battalion. The lightly armed Australians, whose only antitank protection was “sticky-type” hand grenades, which would not stick, were unable to knock out the tanks and also failed to shoot out their headlights. After about two hours of fighting the Japanese managed to split the battalion in two. Battalion headquarters and two companies were forced off the track and into the jungle, and the remainder of the battalion was pushed back to the Gama River. A portion of the battalion reached the plantation area that night, but the main body took to the hills in order to get around the enemy’s flank and did not get back to the head of the bay until three days later. With the 2/10 Battalion out of the way, the Japanese continued on to No. 3 strip. There a heavy fire fight at once developed, a fight in which American antiaircraft and engineer troops played a significant part.

The Fighting at No. 3 Strip

The east-west airstrip, just west of Kilabo and only a few miles from Rabi, was an ideal defensive position. The runway, a hundred yards wide and 2,000 yards long, was cleared but only partially graded, and there was a sea of mud at its eastern edge which made it impossible for tanks to get through. It afforded the defenders a broad, cleared field of fire, and, lying obliquely across the mouth of the corridor with its southern end less than five hundred feet from the water, was directly in the path of the Japanese advance.

Brigadier Field, in charge of the defense, ranged his troops along the southern edge of the strip, giving the Japanese no alternative but to attack frontally. The main burden of holding the strip fell upon the brigade’s 25th and 61st Battalions, but the 709th U. S. Airborne Antiaircraft Battery and Companies D and F of the 43rd U. S. Engineers held key positions in its defense.

The antiaircraft battery with its .50-caliber machine guns was given the task of supporting the Australians at the eastern end of the strip, and the .50-caliber and 37-mm. gun crews of Companies D and F, 43rd U. S. Engineers, flanked on either side by Australian riflemen and mortar-men, were stationed at the center of the line at the crucial point where the track from Rabi crossed the runway.

The Japanese reached the area immediately in front of the strip just before dawn. They attacked aggressively but were repulsed and forced to withdraw. No tanks were used in the attack, although two of them (apparently the same two that the Japanese had used with such success at K. B. Mission were brought up, only to be abandoned when they bogged down hopelessly.

The attackers were now within a few miles of No. 1 Strip, and General Clowes, fearful lest they infiltrate it during the night, ordered the P-40’s to Port Moresby. Fortunately the Japanese were quiet that night, and the following morning the fighters returned to Milne Bay to stay.

Bogged down near No. 3 Strip.

On 26 August, the day of the landing, and again on the afternoon of the 28th, General MacArthur had ordered General Blarney to see to it that the north shore of Milne Bay was cleared of the enemy at once. Because of defective communications New Guinea Force did not receive the orders of the 26th until late on the 27th, and General Clowes, apparently, not until early the next morning. Early on the 28th Clowes ordered the 7th Brigade to be prepared to move forward at dawn the following day.

Strong patrols of the brigade moved out early on the 29th but met stiff enemy opposition, and little progress was registered. Clowes thereupon ordered in the 18th Brigade with instructions to move at once on K. B. Mission. He canceled the orders at 1633 upon learning that another Japanese convoy was on its way to Milne Bay.

His reason for the cancellation—as he was to explain later—was the renewed possibility “of an enemy attempt to land on the west and south shores of Milne Bay.” The convoy, escorted by a cruiser and nine destroyers, unloaded safely under cover of a heavy mist. It brought to the sore-beset Japanese on the north shore nearly 770 reinforcements—568 troops of the Kure 3rd SNLF and 200 of the Yokosuka 5th SNLF—under Commander Minoru Yano, who, being apparently senior to Hayashi, at once took over command of operations.

The daylight hours of the following day, 30 August, were quiet. Milne Force sent patrols to feel out the enemy in preparation for the long-delayed general advance, and the Japanese, hidden in the jungle, consolidated for another attack on No. 3 strip. The climax came that night when the Japanese made an all-out effort to take the strip.

Brigadier Field was again ready for them. The only change in his dispositions was to place the .50-caliber machine guns of the 709th Antiaircraft Battery at both ends of the line instead of as before on its eastern end. The .50-caliber machine guns and 37-mm. antitank gun crews of Companies D and F of the 43rd Engineers were as before in the center of the line, flanked on either side by the riflemen and mortar-men of the 25th and 61st Battalions. The 25 pounders, about half a mile to the rear, lent their support, as did the P-40’s from No. 1 Strip.

When the Japanese made their move against the airstrip, such intense fire hit them that not one man was able to cross the strip alive. The heaviest attack came before dawn. Like the others, it was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, who withdrew at first light, leaving 160 dead behind.

The Withdrawal

The Japanese were now in full retreat, and Brigadier Wootten’s 18th Brigade, the 2/12 Battalion leading, began the long delayed task of clearing them from the north shore. Very heavy fighting developed at once along the Gama River and later near K. B. Mission. Between 1 and 5 September the Australians lost 45 killed and 147 wounded. Japanese losses were much heavier. At the Gama River alone, the enemy lost at least 100 killed, and his casualties mounted steadily as the Australians advanced. Hungry, riddled with tropical fevers, suffering from trench foot and jungle rot, and with many wounded in their midst, the Japanese realized the end was near; and Commander Yano, himself wounded, so advised the 8th Fleet.

The commander in chief of the 8th Fleet, Admiral Mikawa, considered the possibility of reinforcing the landing parties at Milne Bay with the 1,000-man advance echelon of the Aoba Detachment, which had finally reached Rabaul on 31 August. It was a sufficient force, he thought, to retrieve the situation if the troops ashore could hold out till it arrived. In an interchange of messages with Yano, Admiral Mikawa offered to land 200 more Yokosuka 5th troops immediately, and the Aoba Detachment by 12 September, if there was any possibility that the troops at Milne Bay could hold out till the Aoba Force arrived. When Yano told him that the troops ashore were physically incapable of making a further stand, Mikawa concluded the situation was hopeless and ordered Milne Bay evacuated.

The wounded were put on board ship on the night of 4 September. The rest of the landing force, except for scattered elements that had to be left behind, took ship the following night from the anchorage at Waga Waga one jump ahead of the 18th Brigade, whose forward elements were actually within earshot when the Japanese pulled out. Some 1,300 of the 1,900 troops landed were evacuated to Rabaul, nearly all of them suffering from trench foot, jungle rot, tropical ulcers, and other tropical diseases. Virtually none of the evacuees, not even those who landed as late as 29 August, were in condition to fight.

The 2/9 Battalion, which was now leading the advance, met with only light and scattered resistance on the morning of 6 September. By the following morning it was clear that organized resistance had ceased. Small bands of stragglers were all that remained of the Japanese landing forces, and these were disposed of in the next few weeks by Australian patrols, which took only a handful of prisoners. The Japanese lost some 600 killed in the operation, as against 321 Australian ground casualties—123 killed and 198 wounded. American losses in defense of No. 3 Strip were very low—one man killed and two wounded.

The timely return from the Solomons in early September of Task Force 44 made it possible thenceforward for the Allied Naval Forces to cover the sea approaches to Milne Bay; and the dispatch, at approximately the same time, of two 155-mm. guns with attached searchlight units helped further to secure the area.

The base was meanwhile being steadily improved. More and better roads were built A new wharf was constructed to replace the old inadequate jetty. Number 1 Strip was rebuilt, and No. 3 Strip was completed. Bombing of Rabaul and of Japanese airfields in the northern Solomons without the need of crossing the Owen Stanleys became possible for the first time. Equally important the stage was set for a successful investiture of the north coast of Papua from East Cape to Buna.

[NOTE: OCE SWPA, Draft Engr Rpt, 31 Dec 42; Ltr, General Casey to author, 21 Jul 50. Number 2 Strip was never completed, for it was decided immediately after the battle to discontinue work on it and to concentrate instead on the other two fields.]

The Allied victory at Milne Bay had snapped the southern prong of the pincers the Japanese had hoped to apply to Port Moresby. An essential part of the plan of 31 July had failed. The rest of the plan, the overland attack on Port Moresby by the South Seas Detachment, was now to be put to the test.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (7); Road to Ioribaiwa

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (5); Kokoda Trail

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (5); Kokoda Trail

The landing at Basabua on the night of 21-22 July was a direct outgrowth of the naval reverses the Japanese had suffered at the Coral Sea and Midway. After the Battle of the Coral Sea, they had temporarily postponed the Port Moresby operation with the understanding that they would return to it as soon as succeeding operations against Midway and the Aleutians had been completed.

The loss of their first-line carriers at Midway had disrupted these plans. Not only were the Japanese forced to postpone indefinitely the projected operations against the South Pacific island bases, but they had to abandon the idea of taking Port Moresby by amphibious assault They realized that to use the few remaining carriers for support of a second amphibious thrust against Port Moresby would probably be to lose them to superior carrier forces of the U. S. Pacific Fleet, a risk that they were not prepared to take. Since they were agreed that Port Moresby, which flanked Rabaul, would have to be taken at the earliest possible moment, the problem became one of taking it without carrier support. The successful landing in the Buna-Gona area was the first indication of the manner in which they had chosen to solve that problem.

Planning the Overland Attack

The Operations Area

The die was cast. The fighting was to be in the Papuan Peninsula, or, as the Japanese insisted on calling it, eastern New Guinea. The peninsula, part of the Territory of Papua, a lush, tropical area, most of it still in a state of nature, lies at the southeast end of New Guinea, forming the tail, so to speak, of that vast, bird-shaped island. Occupying an area of 90,540 square miles, Papua is an Australian possession, annexed by the British in 1884, and turned over to the Australians in 1901. The natives, of Melanesian stock, are at a primitive stage of development; and the fact that their hair is generally frizzly rather than woolly has given Papua its name—Papuwa being the Malay for frizzly or frizzled.

The Japanese could scarcely have chosen a more dismal place in which to conduct a campaign. The rainfall at many points in the peninsula is torrential. It often runs as high as 150, 200, and even 300 inches per year, and, during the rainy season, daily falls of eight or ten inches are not uncommon.

The terrain, as varied as it is difficult, is a military nightmare. Towering saw-toothed mountains, densely covered by mountain forest and rain forest, alternate with flat malarial, coastal areas made up of matted jungle, reeking swamp, and broad patches of knife-edged kunai grass four to seven feet high. The heat and humidity in the coastal areas are well-nigh unbearable, and in the mountains there is biting cold at altitudes over 5,000 feet. The mountains are drained by turbulent rivers and creeks, which become slow and sluggish as they reach the sea. Along the streams, the fringes of the forest become interwoven from ground to treetop level with vines and creepers to form an almost solid mat of vegetation which has to be cut by the machete or the bolo before progress is possible. The vegetation in the mountains is almost as luxuriant; leeches abound everywhere; and the trees are often so overgrown with creepers and moss that the sunlight can scarcely filter through to the muddy tracks below.

The Owen Stanley Mountains, whose peaks rise to heights of more than 13,000 feet, overshadow the entire Papuan Peninsula, running down its center to Milne Bay like an immense spine. On the northeast, or Buna, side the foothills of the range slope gently to the sea. On the southwest or Port Moresby side, the picture is startlingly different. Sharp ridges which rise abruptly from the southwest coast connect with the main range to produce a geographical obstacle of such formidable proportions that overland crossing is possible only by means of tortuous native footpaths or tracks that lead from one native village to the other, often at dizzy heights.

The Kokoda Trail

The best overland route to Port Moresby passed through Kokoda, a point about fifty miles from Buna and more than one hundred miles from Port Moresby. At Wairopi, about thirty miles southwest of Buna, a wire-rope bridge, from which the place took its name, spanned the immense gorge of the Kumusi River, a broad turbulent stream subject to dangerous undertows and flash floods. Between Buna and Wairopi the country is gentle and rolling. Past Wairopi it suddenly becomes steep and rocky. Kokoda itself is set on a little plateau between the foothills of the Ajura Kijala and Owen Stanley Ranges. On this plateau, which is about 1,200 feet above sea level, there was a small airfield, suitable only for use by light commercial planes and the smaller types of military transport aircraft.

From Kokoda, the trail leads southward along the western side of a huge canyon or chasm, the so-called Eora Creek Gorge. It passes through the native villages of Deniki and Isurava to a trail junction at Alola, where a cross-country trail from Ilimo, a point southwest of Wairopi, joins the main track via Kobara, Fila, Missima, and Abuari, a short-cut which makes it possible to bypass Kokoda. From Alola, the trail crosses to the eastern side of Eora Creek and climbs to Templeton’s Crossing, where the immense spurs of the main range are met for the first time at an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Just past Templeton’s Crossing is the Gap, the mountain pass that leads across the range. The Gap, which is only twenty miles south of Kokoda, is a broken, jungle covered saddle in the main range, about 7,500 feet high at its central point. The saddle is about five miles wide, with high mountains on either side. The trail runs about six miles through the Gap over a rocky, broken track, on which there is not enough level space to pitch a tent, and room enough for only one man to pass.

From the Gap, the trail plunges downward to Myola, Kagi, Efogi, Menari, Nauro, Ioribaiwa, the Imita Range, and Uberi, traversing in its course mountain peaks 5,000 and 6,000 feet high, and sharp, east-west ridges whose altitude is from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. The southern edge of the range is at Koitaki, about thirty miles from Port Moresby by road, where the elevation is 2,000 feet.

From Kokoda to Templeton’s Crossing the trail climbs 6,000 feet in less than twenty miles as it crosses a series of knife-edged ridges. The peaks in the area rise as high as 9,000 feet, and the valleys, whose sides slope as much as 60 percent from the horizontal, descend as low as 1,000 feet. Ridges rising from creeks and river beds are 1,500 to 2,000 feet high, and the soil in the valleys has up to thirty feet of humus and leaf mold. The area is perpetually wet, the rainfall at 3,000 feet being 200 and 300 inches a year.

The situation is only slightly better between Myola and Uberi. There are still knife-edges and razorbacks, but now they are not as precipitous as before. The gorges, though deeper and with denser undergrowth, are less frequent, but they are still extremely hard to cross. Not till the trail reaches Koitaki does the going moderate.

It was a moot point whether a large, fully equipped force could complete the difficult march from Kokoda to Koitaki, in the face of determined opposition, and still be in condition to launch an effective attack on Port Moresby when it got there. Yet it was by an advance over this trail that the Japanese proposed to take Port Moresby.

The Enemy Plans a Reconnaissance

The Japanese did not act recklessly in their attempt to send troops over the Owen Stanley Range. On 14 June, six days after Midway, General Hyakutake, commander of the 17th Army, was told to prepare for an overland attack on Port Moresby. General Hyakutake, then on his way to Davao, was specifically cautioned not to order major forces under his command to New Guinea until the trail had been thoroughly reconnoitered, and the operation found to be feasible. He was told that his forces were to be held in readiness for instant action should the reconnaissance have a favorable result General Horii, commander of the Nankai Shitai, was to have the immediate responsibility for the operation. The 15th Independent Engineer Regiment, a highly trained and well-equipped combat engineer unit stationed at Davao, which had distinguished itself in combat in Malaya, would be assigned to General Horii to perform the reconnaissance.

On 29 June the engineer regiment, with supporting antiaircraft, communications, medical, and service troops, was ordered to Rabaul, and General Horii flew to Davao on the 30th to receive his orders from General Hyakutake for the reconnaissance. Hyakutake issued the orders the next day, 1 July. They provided that the force making the reconnaissance was to consist of the engineer regiment, an infantry battalion of the Nankai Shitai, the 47th Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, and supporting troops.

The force was to be under command of Colonel Yosuke Yokoyama, commander of the engineer regiment. Yokoyama’s mission was to land in the Buna area, advance rapidly to Kokoda and “the mountain pass south of Kokoda,” and reconnoiter the trail leading from it to Port Moresby. He was to report to General Horii as quickly as possible on the state of the Buna-Kokoda “road” and on all possible routes of advance from Kokoda to Port Moresby. Horii, in turn, was to pass on the information to higher headquarters with an indorsement setting forth his views on the feasibility of the proposed operation.

On 11 July, with Colonel Yokoyama on his way from Davao to Rabaul, the Army Section of Imperial General Headquarters gave General Hyakutake the go-ahead signal for the reconnaissance. Hyakutake passed the orders on to General Horii, who at once worked out an agreement with the Navy and the naval air force at Rabaul for the escort and support of Colonel Yokoyama’s force. The latter force reached Rabaul on the 14th, and two days later Horii ordered Yokoyama to “carry out a landing near Basabua, and quickly occupy a strategic line south of Kokoda in order to reconnoiter the route over which it is intended to advance.” If he found it out of the question to advance beyond Kokoda, he was to occupy and hold the area from the coast westward to the Owen Stanley Range.

Yokoyama was specifically ordered to put the “road” east of the Owen Stanley Range in condition to handle motor traffic, and to prepare the “roads” in the mountains for the use, if not of vehicles, at least of pack horses.

On 18 July, on the eve of the departure of the Yokoyama Force for Buna, General Hyakutake prepared a plan looking to the capture not only of Port Moresby but also of a flanking position at Samarai, a small island just off the southeast tip of New Guinea. Samarai had an excellent harbor and in prewar days had been a trading center of considerable importance.

The Japanese, who as yet knew nothing of what was going on at Milne Bay, wanted Samarai (where they believed there was a small Allied garrison) in order to establish a seaplane base there for use in the attack on Port Moresby. The plan provided that the entire strength of the 17th Army—the South Seas Detachment at Rabaul, the Aoba and Yazawa Detachments at Davao, and the Kawaguchi Detachment at Palau—would be committed to these operations.

The South Seas Detachment, with the support of the Yazawa Detachment, would take Port Moresby by an advance over the mountains, and the Navy, aided by the Kawaguchi Detachment, would seize Samarai. The Aoba Detachment would remain in army reserve.

The Japanese apparently were no longer interested in a thorough reconnaissance of the Kokoda Trail. The mission of the Yokoyama Force had changed. Instead of being primarily a reconnaissance force, it had become an advance echelon. Its mission was not so much reconnaissance as to secure a firm foothold in the Buna-Kokoda area. When that was done, the main force would arrive and do the rest.

The Japanese Strike Inland

The Yokoyama Force Departs

The Yokoyama Force was quickly in readiness for the operation. Its troop list included the 1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, the 15th Independent Engineer Regiment (less one company and two platoons), a detachment of the 10th Independent Engineers, a company of the 55th Mountain Artillery, a company of Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force, the 47th Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (less two companies), several signal units, a field hospital section, and a service unit that included supply, transport, water-purification, and port battalion troops. Attached to this force of about 1,800 men were 100 naval laborers from Formosa, 52 horses, and 1,200 Rabaul natives impressed by the Japanese to act as porters and laborers. [NOTE 14]

[NOTE 14: There is no authoritative figure for the total strength of the Yokoyama Force. Troop strength, less the infantry battalion, is known to have been 1,115 men. Allowing 700 men for the battalion would bring the total strength to 1,800, the figure given.]

The Yokoyama Force received its instructions on 16 July and left for Buna four days later with an advance unit of the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force, in three heavily escorted transports. Effective diversions were mounted in support of the Yokoyama Force. As the convoy sped to its target, Japanese naval troops massed at Lae and Salamaua launched heavy raids upon Mubo and Komiatum in the Bulolo Valley, the two most forward outposts of KANGA Force. In addition, Japanese submarines, which had been operating off the east coast of Australia since early June, stepped up their activity and sank four Allied merchantmen the very day of the landing.

The landing cost the Japanese one ship, the transport Ayatozan Maru, which Allied air units caught and sank as it was unloading off Gona. Forty men and a number of vehicles were lost with the ship. The other two transports, whose cargo had already been unloaded when the air attack began, managed to escape without damage, as did their escort.

It had been agreed that Buna would be a naval installation, and the advance unit of the Sasebo Naval Landing Force was sent there immediately on landing. Colonel Yokoyama chose Giruwa, about three and a half miles east of the anchorage, as the site of the Army base and immediately ordered all Army troops there. The evening of the landing an advance force under Lieutenant Colonel Hatsuo Tsukamoto, commander of the infantry battalion, was organized at Giruwa and sent southward. The force was composed of the infantry battalion, an attached regimental signal unit, and a company of the 15th Independent Engineers. Tsukamoto, whose orders were “to push on night and day to the line of the mountain range,” appears to have taken them literally. The attacking force, about 900 men, made its first bivouac that night just outside of Soputa, a point about seven miles inland, and by the following afternoon was approaching Wairopi.

The Onset

Only light opposition faced the Japanese. MAROUBRA Force, the Australian force charged with the defense of Kokoda and the Kokoda Trail, still had most of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion on the Port Moresby side of the range. Only Company B and the 300-man Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) were in the Buna-Kokoda area at the time of the landing. Company B, 129 men at full strength, was at Kokoda; the PIB, part of whose strength was on patrol miles to the north, was at Awala, a few miles east of Wairopi.

A grueling overland march from Port Moresby had brought Company B to Kokoda on 12 July. Its heavy supplies and machine guns reached Buna by sea on the 19th; and company headquarters and one platoon, under the company commander, Captain Samuel V. Templeton, set out from Kokoda the same day to bring them in. After picking up the supplies and machine guns, Templeton had almost returned to Kokoda when the Japanese landed. He turned back at once when he heard the news, and made at top speed for Awala to reinforce the PIB.

A PIB patrol first sighted the Japanese at 1750, 22 July, a few miles from Awala. The enemy struck at Awala the following afternoon just as the headquarters of Company B and its accompanying platoon reached the area. After a short skirmish, Templeton’s force withdrew, taking up a defensive position that night just short of the Wairopi Bridge. The next day, with the enemy closing in, it pulled back over the bridge and demolished it before the Japanese could make the crossing.

The thrust toward Kokoda caught General Morris, who, as G.O.C. New Guinea Force, was in command at Port Moresby, at a painful disadvantage. He had been ordered to get the rest of the 39th Battalion to Kokoda with all speed, as soon as the Japanese landed,14 but found himself unable immediately to comply with the order. The problem was that four companies of the 39th Battalion (Headquarters Company and three rifle companies) were on the Port Moresby side of the mountains, including a rifle company in the foothills outside Port Moresby, Morris did what he could. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel William T. Owen, was immediately ordered to Kokoda by air in the one plane capable of landing there; Company C, the rifle company in the western foothills of the range, was ordered to march on Kokoda as quickly as possible; and the remaining three companies of the battalion, still at Port Moresby, were put on the alert for early movement to Kokoda by air if enough aircraft of a type capable of landing at Kokoda could be secured in time.

The Fall of Kokoda

Colonel Owen had been instructed to make a stand immediately east of Kokoda, and, if that failed, to take up a position south of it. He arrived at Kokoda on 24 July to find that there was little he could do to stop the onrush of the Japanese. The demolition of the Wairopi Bridge had not held them up long. By the 25th, they had a hasty bridge over the Kumusi and were advancing rapidly on Kokoda. Captain Templeton (whose original force of little more than a platoon had by this time been reinforced by a second platoon of Company B) made a desperate stand that day at Gorari, about eight miles west of Wairopi. The Japanese, attacking with mortars, machine guns, and light field pieces, quickly outflanked him and forced him to withdraw to Oivi, a point in the steep foothills of the range, only eight miles by trail from Kokoda.

General Morris had meanwhile been making every effort to get men forward. Early on 26 July, the small transport aircraft at his disposal made two flights to Kokoda, bringing in thirty men from Company D. Holding half of them at Kokoda, Colonel Owen sent the other half on to Oivi where Captain Templeton was trying to hold in the face of heavy odds. The resistance at Oivi did not last long. Templeton was killed that afternoon, and his tiny force was outflanked and encircled.

Colonel Owen now had no choice but to evacuate Kokoda, and did so just before midnight. After he sent New Guinea Force notice of the evacuation, Owen’s force—the rest of Company B, and the incoming fifteen men of Company D—crossed over the western side of Eora Creek Gorge. It took up previously prepared positions at Deniki, five miles southwest of Kokoda, and was joined next day by those of the Oivi force who had succeeded in extricating themselves during the night from the Japanese encirclement.

The Fight To Retake the Airfield

New Guinea Force received Owen’s evacuation message late on the morning of 27 July. By then the arrival from Australia of another plane had given General Morris’ headquarters two aircraft suitable for the Kokoda run, and both of them were in the air at the time loaded with troops and supplies.

They were at once recalled to Port Moresby. Next morning Owen counterattacked and, after some bitter hand-to-hand fighting, drove the Japanese out of Kokoda. Owen was now desperately in need of the very reinforcements that New Guinea Force had recalled the previous day. Unfortunately the message that he had regained Kokoda did not reach Port Moresby until late in the afternoon, too late for action that day.

Meanwhile, two more planes had come from Australia. New Guinea Force, now with four transports that could land at Kokoda, planned to fly in a full infantry company with mortar and antiaircraft elements the first thing in the morning. The planes were never sent. At dawn on the 29th, the Japanese counterattacked and, after two hours of fighting during which Colonel Owen was killed, again drove the Australians out of Kokoda.

Australian reinforcements had meanwhile begun arriving in the forward area on foot. Company C reached Deniki on 31 July, followed the next day by Company A. By 7 August, all five companies of the 39th Battalion were at the front, and MAROUBRA Force totaled 480 men. Supplies were being manhandled over the trail by the incoming troops, and by hundreds of native carriers under the supervision of ANGAU. Food and ammunition were also being dropped from the air—a dry lake bed at Myola, a few miles southeast of Kagi, the forward supply base, served as the main dropping ground.

There were patrol clashes on 7 and 8 August, and early on 10 August MAROUBRA Force, which estimated enemy strength at Kokoda as no more than 400 men counterattacked. Three companies were committed to the assault, with the remaining two held in reserve. While one company engaged the Japanese to the south of Kokoda, a second moved astride the Kokoda-Oivi track via the Abuari-Missima-Fila cutoff and engaged them to the east of Kokoda. The third company marched undetected on Kokoda and took possession of the airfield that afternoon without suffering a single casualty.

The success was short-lived. The company astride the Japanese rear had to be ordered back to Deniki to stem a powerful enemy attack on that point, and the company holding the airfield (whose position had in any event become untenable) had to evacuate it on the night of 11-12 August because of a critical shortage of supplies.

Colonel Yokoyama was now ready to attack with his full force. Early on 13 August, he struck the Australian position at Deniki with about 1,500 men. The Australians were forced to yield not only Deniki but also Isurava five miles away. The Japanese, having no intention at the moment of going any farther, began to dig in.

Kokoda and the Buna-Kokoda track were now firmly in Japanese hands, and a base had been established for the advance on Port Moresby through the Gap. According to plan, the move was to be undertaken as soon as General Horii and the main body of the South Seas Detachment reached the scene of operations.

The Main Force Arrives

The Joint Agreement of 31 July

General Hyakutake arrived at Rabaul from Davao on 24 July to find that Colonel Yokoyama had been reporting good progress in his thrust on Kokoda. As the news from Yokoyama continued good, Hyakutake, seeing no reason for further delay, recommended to Imperial General Headquarters that the overland operation be undertaken at once. Tokyo, which had been well disposed to the project from the first, quickly gave its blessing and, on 28 July, ordered the operation to be mounted as quickly as possible.

Three days later, on the 31st, General Hyakutake concluded a joint Army-Navy agreement with Vice Admiral Nichizo Tsukahara, commander of the 11th Air Fleet, and Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, commander of the newly established 8th Fleet.

Mikawa had just taken over control of naval operations in the New Guinea-Bismarcks-Solomons area from the 4th Fleet. After stating that the seizure of Port Moresby and other key points in eastern New Guinea was necessary in order to secure control of the Coral Sea, the three commanders adopted a basic plan of attack patterned closely on the draft plan which General Hyakutake had prepared on 18 July, thirteen days before.

The plan provided that General Horii, with both the South Seas Detachment and the Yazawa Detachment under his command, would move on Port Moresby via Kokoda, and that the Kawaguchi Detachment, supported by units of the 8th Fleet, would take Samarai. As soon as Samarai was taken, a “Port Moresby Attack Force,” consisting of the Kawaguchi Detachment and elements of the 8th Fleet would be organized there. Then, in a move timed to coincide with diversionary attacks on the Bulolo Valley by the naval troops at Lae and Salamaua, the attack force would embark for Port Moresby, attacking it from the sea at the precise moment that the South Seas and Yazawa Detachments cleared the mountains and began attacking it from landward.

The agreement provided specifically that all the forces at the disposal of the participating commanders would be available for these operations, which were to begin on X Day, the day that the main body of the South Seas Detachment arrived at Buna. X Day was set as 7 August, the date, interestingly enough, of the projected American landing at Guadalcanal.

Under the joint agreement of 31 July, the 8th Fleet had undertaken to have the airfields at Buna and Kokoda in operation when the main force landed. But this project was not to be easily accomplished. On 29 and 31 July the Allied Air Force caught the enemy supply ships, laden with vehicles and construction materials for the field, while they were en route to Buna. The Kotoku Maru was lost and the rest were obliged to return to Rabaul with their cargo undelivered. These mishaps, and the discovery that the airfield site at Buna was very soggy and could not possibly be put into readiness by 7 August, caused X Day to be moved forward to 16 August.

The Landings in the Solomons

Pursuant to the Joint Directive of 2 July, the 1st Marine Division, reinforced, went ashore on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and adjoining islands in the southern Solomons early on 7 August. The Americans quickly dispersed the weak forces the enemy had on the islands, including a few hundred garrison troops and a couple of thousand naval construction troops on Guadalcanal. By the evening of 8 August the marines were in control of Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo and held the airfield at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal, the main objective of the landings.

World War Two: Guadalcanal (1); Plans for Invasion

The 8th Fleet had been busy gathering ships for the Port Moresby operation. Though caught off balance by the landings, it struck back vigorously during the early hours of 9 August. Entering the area between Florida Island and Guadalcanal undetected, the Japanese sank four heavy cruisers, including the Australian flagship Canberra which with other ships of Task Force 44, Admiral Leary’s main force, was in the Solomons supporting the landings.

That afternoon the Allied fleet pulled out of the area in accordance with a decision made the previous evening that its ships were vulnerable and would have to be withdrawn. No sooner was the withdrawal completed than the 8th Fleet and the naval air units at Rabaul began a day-and-night harassment of the Marine landing force.

The next step was to send in troops. Here the Japanese ran into difficulties. The 8th Fleet did not have enough naval troops at Rabaul and Kavieng to counter the American landings. The 17th Army, on the other hand, was at a loss to know which of its forces to order to Guadalcanal. The South Seas Detachment, its only unit at Rabaul, was committed to the Port Moresby operation, and the rest of its troops were out of reach at Davao and Palau.

After much consultation between Tokyo and Rabaul, it was decided to use the Kawaguchi Detachment, less one battalion, which would remain committed to the capture of Samarai and the subsequent landing at Port Moresby. Because there was no shipping immediately available at Palau with which to get the detachment to its destination, a further decision was made to have another force precede it. The Ichiki Detachment, which was already at sea and in position to reach the target quickly, was given the assignment.

These decisions had scarcely been made when Rabaul discovered for the first time that the Allies were building an airfield at Milne Bay and had a garrison there. It was a startling discovery. Realizing that their reconnaissances of the area had been faulty, and that they had almost attacked the wrong objective, the Japanese at once abandoned the Samarai operation and chose Rabi, near the head of Milne Bay, as the new target. It was to be taken by the same battalion of the Kawaguchi Detachment which had previously been assigned to the capture of Samarai, plus such naval landing units of the 8th Fleet as would be available at the time of the operation.

The Japanese Build-up at Buna

At Buna, meanwhile, the Japanese buildup was proceeding. It had been interrupted by the Allied landings in the southern Solomons, but not seriously. For example, a convoy carrying the 3,000 men of the 14th and 15th Naval Construction Units, their construction equipment, vehicles, and some army supplies had left Rabaul for Buna on 6 August. It was recalled next day by the 8th Fleet when it was only part of the way to its destination. Held over at Rabaul till the situation in the Solomons clarified itself, the convoy left Rabaul a second time on the night of 12 August and, though heavily attacked from the air on the way, reached Basabua safely the following afternoon. By early morning of the 14th, the ships were unloaded and on their way home. Next morning as work began on the Buna strip and on a dummy strip immediately to the west of it, the ships, despite more air attacks, arrived back at Rabaul undamaged.

The main body of the Nankai Shitai (less a rear echelon which was to come later) left Rabaul on 17 August in three escorted transports. Aboard were Detachment Headquarters under General Horii; the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 144th Infantry with attached gun company, signal unit, and ammunition sections; the two remaining companies of the 55th Mountain Artillery; the rest of the 47th Field AAA Battalion; a company of the 55th Cavalry with attached antitank gun section; part of the divisional medical unit, a base hospital, a collecting station, and a divisional decontamination and water-purification unit. A naval liaison detachment, a couple of hundred more men of the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force, 700 more Rabaul natives, 170 horses, and a large tonnage of supplies were also in the convoy.

[NOTE 15: Nankai Shitai Opns Orders No. 96, 12 Aug 42 Annex No. 5, Table of Disposition of South Seas Detachment Aboard Ship, 15 Aug 42, in ATIS CT 21, No. 267; No. 98, 18 Aug 42, No. 99, 21 Aug 42, in ATIS EP 33; Yazawa Shitai Intel Rpt No. 3, in ATIS CT 24, No. 293; Naval Account, Japanese Invasion Eastern New Guinea, p. 19; 17th Army Opns, I, 47, 48. The date of the Shitai’s arrival at the beachhead was moved up from 16 to 18 August because of the delays in getting the 14th and 15th Naval Construction Units there.]

Without being detected by Allied air units, the transports reached Basabua in the late afternoon of 18 August and were unloaded quickly and without incident. Strangely enough, the transports were not attacked during the entire time they were at anchor, nor even while they were on their way back to Rabaul. The Allied Air Forces had been caught napping. The biggest prize of all, the main body of the Nankai Shitai and Detachment Headquarters, had landed safely.

The Yazawa Detachment, the 41st Infantry Regiment under its commander, Colonel Kiyomi Yazawa, was next to go. The regiment, detached in March 1942 from the 5th Division, had distinguished itself in Malaya. Like the Nankai Shitai and the 15th Independent Engineers, it was a veteran force with a high reputation for aggressiveness. The Yazawa Force had reached Rabaul from Davao on 16 August and upon arrival had come under General Horii’s command as an integral part of the South Seas Detachment.

Rabaul had planned to have the full strength of the regiment, plus the rear echelon of the Nankai Shitai, arrive at the beachhead together. At the last moment, however, it was decided to put aboard a large Army bridge-building and road-construction unit, numbering about a thousand men. This change in plan made it necessary to leave the rear echelon troops and one battalion of the 41st Infantry for a later convoy. As finally loaded on 18 August, the troop list included regimental headquarters and two battalions of the 41st Infantry, a regimental gun unit, signal, ordnance and motor transport troops, a veterinary hospital, a water supply and purification unit, and the bridge-building and road-construction unit. Also aboard were a hundred more men of the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force, some 200 more Rabaul natives, 200 more horses, several hundred cases of ammunition, five tons of medical supplies, a quantity of gasoline in drums, and large stores of food and fodder.

The convoy left Rabaul on 19 August and landed at Basabua on 21 August in the midst of a storm. There was no interference from Allied aircraft, the ships unloaded safely, and the two battalions of the 41st Infantry made their first bivouac that night at Popondetta about fifteen miles southeast of the anchorage. Except for some 1,500 men—the rear echelon of the Nankai Shitai and the remaining battalion of the 41st Infantry, which were due in the next convoy—the full allocation of troops for the overland push against Port Moresby had arrived at the scene of operations.

Horii would have a hard time getting additional troops, for things had not gone well at Guadalcanal. The advance echelon of the Ichiki Detachment had reached the island on 19 August. Though the strength of the force was under a thousand men, its commander had attacked at once without waiting for reinforcements. The attacking force was cut to pieces, and General Hyakutake, as a result, again had to change his plans. He returned the battalion of the Kawaguchi Detachment, which had been scheduled for the Milne Bay operations, to its parent detachment for use in the Solomons. Hyakutake then earmarked the Aoba Detachment, previously in Army reserve, as the landing force for the Milne Bay operation, thus leaving the Army without a reserve force upon which to call in case of need.

General Horii Takes Over

By this time General Horii had a substantial force at his disposal. A total of 8,000 Army troops, 3,000 naval construction troops, and some 450 troops of the Sasebo 5th Special Naval Landing Force had been landed safely in the Buna-Gona area since the Yokoyama Advance Force had hit the beach at Basabua a month before. Even with combat losses which had been light, the desertion of some of the Rabaul natives, and the diversion of a substantial portion of his combat strength for essential supply and communication activities, it was still a formidable force. But whether such a force would be able to cross the Owen Stanley Mountains in the face of determined opposition and still be in condition to launch a successful attack on Port Moresby when it reached the other side, even General Horii, poised as he was for the operation, probably would have found it difficult to answer.

General Willoughby, General MacArthur’s G-2, while admitting the possibility that the Japanese might attempt to cross the mountains in force, found it hard to believe, with the terrain what it was, that they would seriously contemplate doing so. His stated belief in late July was that the Japanese undertook seizure of the Buna-Gona-Kokoda area primarily to secure advanced airfields in the favorable terrain afforded by the grass plains area at Dobodura. They needed the airfields, he submitted, in order to bring Port Moresby and the Cape York Peninsula under attack, and also to support a possible coastwise infiltration to the southeast which would have as its culmination joint Army and Navy operations against both Port Moresby and Milne Bay. He conceded that the Japanese might go as far as the Gap in order to establish a forward outpost there, but held it extremely unlikely that they would go further in view of the fantastically difficult terrain beyond.

On 12 August, with two landings completed, and a third expected momentarily, General Willoughby still held that “an overland advance in strength is discounted in view of logistic difficulties, poor communications, and difficult terrain.” On 18 August, the day that the main body of the Nankai Shitai landed at Basabua, he again gave it as his belief that the enemy’s purpose seemed to be the development of an air base for fighters and medium bombers at Dobodura and that, while more pressure could be expected in the Kokoda-Gap area, “an overland movement in strength is discounted in view of the terrain.”

On 21 August, almost a week after the activity began, Allied air reconnaissance discovered for the first time that the Japanese were lengthening the small low-lying emergency landing strip at Buna which Colonel Robinson had reported as unsuitable for military use. The discovery that the Japanese were building airfields in the Buna area (if only at Buna rather than as they might have done at Dobodura) led General Willoughby to the conclusion that here at last was the explanation for the Japanese seizure of the beachhead. The fact that they had done so, he thought, had nothing to do with a possible thrust through the mountains, for an overland operation against Port Moresby was to be “discounted in view of the logistical difficulties of maintaining any force in strength” on the Kokoda Trail.

The same day that General Willoughby issued this estimate, General Horii, who had previously been at Giruwa, left the beachhead for Kokoda to take personal charge of the advance through the Gap. The overland operation against Port Moresby, which General Willoughby had been so thoroughly convinced the Japanese would not undertake, was about to begin.

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

World war Two: Papuan Campaign (6): Japanese Offensive Collapses

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (4);Operation PROVIDENCE

World War Two: Guadalcanal (1-2); Plans for Invasion

Admiral Turner’s Plan: Like General Harmon, the officer assigned to command the Amphibious Force, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, was also an aviator, but he had taken up flying at a comparatively late date. In 1908 when Turner was graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy as a passed midshipman, he held fifth place in a class of 201. Commissioned an ensign in 1910, he studied naval ordnance and engineering in the years prior to World War I. During the war he was a gunnery officer aboard several battleships, and in 1925 and 1926 he was on duty with the Navy Bureau of Ordnance. He completed naval aviation pilot training at Pensacola in August 1927, and commanded air squadrons for nearly two years. From 1929 to 1931 he served in the Plans Division of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and in 1932 he was a technical adviser to the United States delegation at the General Disarmament Conference at Geneva. He then served aboard the carrier Saratoga, and after graduation from the Naval War College in 1936 he served on the staff there for two years. In 1939 he commanded the cruiser Astoria when she carried the remains of Ambassador Hirosi Saito to Japan. In 1940 Turner became Director of the War Plans Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and in early 1942, a change in the organization of the Office of Naval Operations gave him the title of Assistant Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the U. S. Fleet. He held that post, which was also concerned with war plans, until he was ordered to the Pacific in the summer of 1942, at the age of fifty-seven.

Admiral Turner, who after conferring with Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor had reached Wellington on 15 July, issued Operation Plan No. A3-42 to the Amphibious Force on 30 July. He divided his force into eight groups: Transport Group X, Transport Group Y, the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group, the Tulagi Fire Support Group, the Minesweeper Group, the Screening Group, the Air Support Group, and the Landing Force Group, which consisted of the 1st Marine Division, Reinforced (less the 7th Marines).

Transport Group X, assigned to the Guadalcanal landing, consisted of four transport divisions. Two of the divisions were each composed of three transports and one cargo ship; the third, of two transports and one cargo ship; and the fourth, of one transport and three cargo ships. Transport Group Y, assigned to the landings in the Tulagi area, consisted of two transport divisions—one made up of four transports and the other of four destroyers previously converted to troop carriers (APD’s). Four more ships, the Zeilin and the Betelgeuse and their escorting destroyers, were to transport the 3rd Defense Battalion from Pearl Harbor.

The Guadalcanal Fire Support Group consisted of three fire sections composed of one heavy cruiser and two observation planes each, and of two fire sections of two destroyers each. The Tulagi Fire Support Group consisted of one light antiaircraft cruiser and two destroyers. There were five minesweepers in the Minesweeping Group.

The Amphibious Force’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral V. A. C. Crutchley, R.N., commanded the Screening Group. It consisted of three Australian cruisers, one U. S. heavy cruiser, nine destroyers, two fighter squadrons based on the aircraft carriers, but detached to the Screening Group on D Day, and eight observation seaplanes from the cruisers. The Air Support Group was made up of one fighter and one dive bomber squadron, plus one additional fighter and one additional dive bomber squadron for the initial mission, all drawn from the carriers.

The Landing Force was led by the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. It was divided into two groups—the Guadalcanal Group directly under the division commander, and the Northern Group under the assistant division commander. Six observation planes from the cruisers Astoria and Quincy were assigned to the Guadalcanal Group, and two planes from the cruiser Vincennes were assigned to the Northern Group.

Admiral Turner, in his analysis of enemy strength against which the Amphibious Force would have to contend, estimated that at least 150 Japanese planes were based in the Bismarck-New Guinea area, and that 11 Japanese cruisers, 13 destroyers, 15 submarines, 12 patrol bombers, 15 or 17 transports, and a number of motor torpedo boats were available. The Amphibious Force was to expect attacks by the planes based at fields from Rabaul to Salamaua.

Admiral Turner warned his force that submarines, motor torpedo boats, cruisers, destroyers, and transports might be met around Tulagi. The Guadalcanal-Tulagi garrison was estimated to total 7,125, a figure more than double Ghormley’s. It was believed that 1,850 men constituted Tulagi’s garrison, whose armament included antiaircraft and coast defense guns, seaplanes, and picket boats. The rest of the troops were supposed to be in the Lunga area on Guadalcanal, which was protected by antiaircraft and coast defense guns.

The Amphibious Force was to assume attack dispositions on D minus 1 and to arrive in the transport areas off Guadalcanal and Tulagi before sunrise of D Day. The main landings were to be made on the center of the south coast of Tulagi, and on a 1,600-yard-long sandy beach between the Tenaru and Tenavatu Rivers on the north coast of Guadalcanal, about 6,000 yards east of Lunga Point. H Hour, the time of the Tulagi landing, was set for 0800 for planning purposes. Zero Hour, the time of the Guadalcanal landing, was originally set for 0830. Admiral Turner’s flagship, the cargo ship McCawley, was the site of the 1st Marine Division’s floating command post. Admiral Crutchley flew his flag aboard the Australia.

 The majority of the Amphibious Force—Transport Group X, the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group, one fighter squadron and one dive bomber squadron, and about two regimental combat teams of the 1st Marine Division—was assigned to the assault on Guadalcanal. Transport Group Y, the Tulagi Fire Support Group, one fighter squadron, one dive bomber squadron, and the balance of the Marine division, except the reserve, were assigned to the northern attack. Air attacks by the planes directly supporting the Amphibious Force were to inaugurate operations on D Day. Communication and control between the Amphibious Force and the air squadrons were to be effected through an air support director group from the carrier force stationed aboard the McCawley. An alternate director group was to be aboard the Neville.

 Fifteen minutes before sunrise of D Day, while the transports were approaching their unloading areas, one fighter squadron was to destroy any aircraft at Lunga or Koli Points on Guadalcanal, and any seaplanes, motor torpedo boats, or submarines operating near the island’s north coast. At the same time a second fighter squadron would strike similar targets near Tulagi. Two dive bomber squadrons, assisted by the fighters, were to hit antiaircraft and coast defense guns on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu. Dive bombers were also to cover the assaulting landing craft as they moved toward the beaches. Beginning one hour after sunrise on D Day, fighters and dive bombers were to maintain stations overhead to protect the transports.

Admiral Turner ordered the fire support warships to fire at all antiaircraft and coast defense guns, to cover the minesweepers, and to be on the alert against torpedo boats and submarines. Warships were to take care to avoid interfering with landing craft formations, and for the safety of the American troops were to use percussion instead of time fuzes against shore targets. The warships were to provide naval gunfire liaison teams, equipped with radios, to go ashore with the troops.

The naval gunfire support problem in the Tulagi area was more complicated than that for Guadalcanal. Numerous near-by islets and promontories of Florida Island lie within artillery and even small-arms range of Tulagi. The ships’ gunfire plan called for supporting fires to be placed, prior to the landings, on all the islets as well as on parts of Florida and on Tulagi. The ships were also to put fire on the radio station on the southeastern part of Tulagi, and on Tulagi’s antiaircraft positions. Starting at H plus 30 minutes the party on shore was to designate targets. The Tulagi Fire Support Group and the air squadrons were also to bombard the southeast portion of Tulagi when the troops, advancing southeast from the landing beach, had reached the first phase line, about two-thirds of the way down the island. The signal from the troops for this bombardment would be a green star cluster flare.

The cruisers of the Guadalcanal Fire Support Group were to cover the area between Lunga and Koli Points with fire starting at daylight of D Day. The four destroyers were to take stations at Zero minus 30 minutes to serve as control and salvage vessels by the landing beach; they were to mark the line of departure for the initial boat waves 5,000 yards north of the beach. All ships of the group were to close in by Zero minus 10 minutes to give direct support to the landing. From Zero minus 10 to Zero minus 5 minutes, they were to put fire to a depth of 200 yards on an area extending 800 yards on either side of the beach, using 135 8-inch and 1,400 5-inch rounds. Starting at Zero plus 5 minutes, the ships were to put fire ashore to assist the advance of the combat teams from the landing beach west to the Lunga airfield.

The liaison planes assigned to the landing forces were to mark the flanks of the beaches with smoke at H minus 20 and Zero minus 20 minutes, respectively. Starting at H plus 1 hour, one plane was to assume station over Guadalcanal for observation duty for the field artillery. If ground-to-air radio communication failed, communications between the ground forces and the liaison planes were to be maintained by message drops and ground panel codes. Transport Groups X and Y were to land the troops, equipment, and supplies of the 1st Marine Division on Tulagi and Guadalcanal in accordance with that division’s plans. The destroyer-transports of Group X would act as control and salvage vessels for the boats landing at Tulagi.

The minesweepers were to sweep the shallows south of Tulagi from H to H plus 1 and a half hours. Three minesweepers were then to sweep the waters from the Guadalcanal landing beach east to Taivu Point, while two cleared the area off the beach itself. The Transport Group commanders were authorized to move their ships in close to the landing beaches once the waters were proved safe. On D plus 1, the minesweepers would clear the Kukum Beach area just west of Lunga Point.

The Screening Group would guard the Amphibious Force against surface, air, and submarine attacks. One fighter squadron was to cover the transport areas during daylight while the ships were unloading. Control would be exercised through a fighter director group from the carrier forces aboard the Chicago-During enemy air attacks the fire support warships would come under Admiral Crutchley’s control to screen the transports with antiaircraft fire, and, in the event of surface attack, would also support the Screening Group. On the completion of their shore fire missions the fire support warships were to pass to Admiral Crutchley’s command. During the amphibious phase, one observation plane from the Vincennes was to conduct antisubmarine patrols, reporting results to the Screening Group.

Admiral Turner intended to establish Amphibious Force headquarters ashore once the objectives had been captured and the amphibious phase ended. Communications with the area commander would be maintained through the 1st Marine Division’s radio. A small naval force, including a boat repair section, boat crews, and twelve LCM’s (landing craft, mechanized), twenty LCP(L)’s (landing craft, personnel) and thirty LCV’s (landing craft, vehicle), was to be established at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

It was estimated that the transports would be unloaded and could withdraw from the forward area by the night of D plus 1. They were to retire under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott, the commander of the Tulagi Fire Support Group. The cargo ships were to be unloaded by D plus 4, and were to retire under command of Admiral Crutchley.

The force for the Santa Cruz operation, consisting of one cruiser, four destroyers, four transports, one cargo ship, and the 2nd Marines, Reinforced, having formed an integral part of the Amphibious Force for the Guadalcanal-Tulagi invasion, was to depart from the Guadalcanal area about D Day to occupy and defend Ndeni.

On completion of the entire operation the air squadrons were to revert to Task Force 61. The Amphibious Force organized for the invasions was to be dissolved on orders from Admiral Fletcher, but the South Pacific Amphibious Force proper would remain in existence.

Landing Force Plans

The 1st Marine Division, which was to make the landings, had been moving overseas while the Joint Chiefs of Staff were discussing the attack against the Solomons. Brought to war strength at New River, N.C., between 7 December 1941 and 1 May 1942, it had then been organized around two infantry regiments, the 1st Marines and 5th Marines, and one artillery regiment, the 11th Marines. The 7th Marines, the third infantry regiment, had been detached for service with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in Samoa. The division had engaged in field exercises and combat firing at New River, and during March and April each battalion landing team of the 5th Marines and one of the 1st Marines engaged in 10-day landing exercises at Solomon’s Island, Md. The division was commanded by a 55-year-old veteran of Caribbean and Chinese expeditions, Major Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift. After attending the University of Virginia for two years, Vandegrift had been commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1909. He served in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti, and in 1916 began two years’ service with the Haitian Constabulary.

After a brief tour of duty in the United States, he served again in Haiti from 1919 to 1923. Upon completing the Field Officers’ Course at Quantico, Va., in 1926, he became Assistant Chief of Staff at the Marine Base at San Diego, Calif. Vandegrift then served for over a year as Operations and Training Officer on the staff of the 3rd Marine Brigade in China. Returning to the United States in 1928, he held various staff positions, including one with the newly founded Fleet Marine Force, until 1935. He served in Peiping, China, for two years, and from 1937 to 1941 was at Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington.

Ordered to the 1st Marine Division in 1941 as a brigadier general, he was promoted to major general and took command of the division in March 1942 with Brigadier General William H. Rupertus as his assistant division commander. Vandegrift had not believed that his division was sufficiently well trained for combat when he was notified in April that it was to be sent to New Zealand as part of the South Pacific Amphibious Force to establish bases and train for “minor landing offensives and counter-attacks to be designated at a later date”. He had not expected that any combat missions would be assigned before January 1943. Division headquarters and the 5th Marines reached Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, on 14 June, but the second echelon did not arrive until 11 July.

The second echelon was still at sea when Admiral Ghormley called Vandegrift to Auckland on 26 June to announce the plan to use the 1st Marine Division (less 7th Marines), reinforced by the 2nd Marines, the 1st Raider Battalion, and the 3rd Defense Battalion, in the Solomons about 1 August 1942. The division’s plans had to be prepared semi-independently, for Admirals Fletcher and Turner had not yet arrived in the South Pacific. According to Vandegrift, “there was no time for a deliberate planning phase, and in many instances irrevocable decisions had to be made even before the essential features of the naval plan of operations could be ascertained“; there was “an absence of meeting of minds of commanders concerned.” General Vandegrift’s plans were based upon the assumption that the Allies would firmly control the air and sea routes to the Solomons.

In a little over one month the division, hiding its preparations under the guise of preliminaries for amphibious training, had to prepare tactical and logistical plans, unload part of its ships, reload for combat, sail from Wellington to the Fijis, rehearse, and sail to the Solomons, in addition to gathering data on the islands and on Japanese strength and dispositions there.

Terrain and Intelligence

The 1st Marine Division’s intelligence section, on receiving Ghormley’s orders., immediately began to gather data on terrain, landing beaches, climate, and the natives, from U. S. Army and Navy monographs, extracts from the Pacific Islands Year Book, and reports of the British Navy and Colonial Office. There was no opportunity for ground patrols to reconnoiter the islands prior to the invasion. Colonel Frank B. Goettge, the intelligence officer of the 1st Marine Division, and his section interviewed former Solomons residents, civil servants, and merchant ships’ officers in New Zealand. On 1 July Colonel Goettge flew to General MacArthur’s headquarters to collect information. Spending one week in Melbourne and several days in Sydney, he interviewed former residents of the Solomons in those cities. Eight of these men were given commissions or warrants by the Australian forces and were attached to the 1st Marine Division as guides, advisers, and pilots. They reported to division headquarters on 15 July to interpret maps and aerial photographs.

The Solomons, with their green mountains, forested shores, low-hanging clouds, and coral reefs, are beautiful when viewed from the air or from the calm interisland channels, but they present difficult terrain for military operations. They are covered by heavy, tropical rain forests. Mountains, deep rivers, swamps, heat, humidity, heavy rains, and mud, combined with the jungle, make all movements extremely difficult. Except along the sandy beaches vehicles cannot move until roads have been built. At the opening of the campaign there were few vehicular roads. Tulagi had some trails, and a trail had been built through the coconut groves on the north coast of Guadalcanal, but the only inland passages were native footpaths. There were no bridges suitable for artillery and heavy equipment.

The islands are unhealthful; malaria as well as dengue fever is common. The malarial (Anopheles) mosquito breeds in swamps, lagoons, sluggish streams, and puddles, and has seeded the natives heavily. In addition, fungus infections and sores were to plague all the troops. Only the utmost efforts at the prevention of disease would keep troops healthy, but living and combat conditions on Guadalcanal were to make systematic malaria control difficult.

Guadalcanal, which is shaped like a Paramecium, is ninety miles long and averages over twenty-five miles in width. A backbone of forested mountains and quiescent volcanoes, rising in some places as high as 7,000 feet, runs the length of the island. Coral reefs and sharply rising mountains make the south coast inhospitable for ships. The north coast has no harbors, but Sealark Channel is calm. Many sandy beaches on the north coast are free of reefs and provide suitable landing areas for amphibious operations. From Aola Bay to the Matanikau River, between the mountains and Sealark Channel, there is a flat, narrow, grassy plain. Coconut, plantations line most of the beach, and there are some stretches of high, tough kunai grass. The plain is cut by many rivers and streams. They are generally deep and swift, and are frequently flooded by rains. Stagnant pools have formed at most of the river mouths through the accumulation of silt which, massing cones and sand bars, blocks the flow of water.

The coastal plain ends east of the Matanikau River; between the river and Cape Esperance at the northwest tip of the island a narrow corridor lies between the coastline and the high ground on the south. Steep ravines and abruptly rising ridges cut laterally across the corridor. Lunga Point, where the Japanese were building their airstrip in July and August of 1942, is dominated by Mount Austen, a 1,514-foot-high series of ridges and knolls about six miles southwest of the point.

Colonel Goettge returned from General MacArthur’s headquarters with its intelligence estimate of enemy strength and dispositions in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago. This estimate, supplemented by aerial reconnaissance and reports from coastwatchers, was the basis of the division’s estimate of enemy strength and dispositions in the Solomons. On 20 July division headquarters believed that 8,400 Japanese were on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, a figure which, like Admiral Turner’s, much exceeded Admiral Ghormley’s.

The 1st Marine Division continued to receive radio reports from the coastwatchers, which were monitored and transmitted by the American radio at Efate, even after the division’s departure from Wellington. During the week preceding D Day, the Solomons coast-watching net broadcast reports three times daily in a special code. The reports were to have been relayed directly from Efate to Admiral Turner’s flagship at sea, but as the code had not been properly intercepted they had to be relayed through Australia and New Zealand, a process which sometimes delayed them for three days.

On 17 July two officers of the Marine division were taken by a B-17 on a reconnaissance flight from Port Moresby over Guadalcanal and Tulagi. They saw no evidence of any airfields, except for burned-off areas at Lunga Point and Tetere, nor any extensive beach defenses on the north coast of Guadalcanal. Returning to Wellington by way of Townsville, Australia, they brought back aerial photographs of Tulagi and a strip map of the Guadalcanal coast between Koli Point and the Matanikau River.

There were no good maps of Guadalcanal, a deficiency that was, in fact, never remedied throughout the campaign. During the planning phase the division’s intelligence section never received what it considered an adequate number of aerial photographs of Guadalcanal, although it received a large number of the Tulagi area. The intelligence section used two U. S. Navy Hydrographic Charts as the bases for its maps. Chart No. 2658 of Tulagi and Gavutu, on a scale of 1/12,000, was fair, showing approximate elevations. Chart No. 2916 of Guadalcanal and Florida was enlarged to a scale of 1/108,643 but was inaccurate and lacked recent corrections. A crude sketch which had been prepared by colonial officials before the war aided in locating some trails and buildings but lacked contour lines and elevations. The division’s base map for the Guadalcanal landing was a 9-sheet strip drawn and reproduced by the photolithographic section from aerial photographs which Colonel Goettge had brought from Australia. The map, based on photographs taken in late June, covered a narrow coastal strip on Guadalcanal from Lunga Point east to Aola. A rough, uncontrolled sketch showing rivers, plains, plantations, and forests, it was reproduced before the Amphibious Force’s sortie from Wellington. No more photographs reached the division until 2 August, when Admiral McCain forwarded photographs which had been taken by a B-17 and had been developed aboard the Enterprise. These pictures of Tulagi and Lunga Point showed that the airstrip was nearly complete.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal (2);

World War Two: Guadalcanal (1); Plans for Invasion

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy: Makassar Straits / Darwin Raid, February 1942

Makassar on the southern tip of Celebes, was the next Japanese objective. ABDA Command knew that a Japanese invasion force was gathering, but could not pinpoint where the force would strike, the guess was, however , that the target would be Bandjermasin, inland on the southeast end of Borneo. Wherever the target, Admiral Doorman was determined to try to stop the Japanese force moving south. Doorman’s Combined Fleet sailed from Bunda Roads (between Madura Island and Surabaja) at 0000 hrs. on 4 February, 1942.

ABDA intelligence had reported that the Japanese convoy was supported by three cruisers and several destroyers, so that the ABDA force was roughly equal to the Japanese force in surface strength. However, the Japanese controlled the air; Admiral Doorman could not get Air ABDA support, even though Air ABDA included the Dutch navy’s planes. Nevertheless, Doorman resolved to deny freedom of the Makassar Straits to the convoy. In the morning of 4 February, as the Combined Fleet approached the strait, the inevitable Japanese air attacks began, with the planes having excellent visibility. The Marblehead came under continues attack by two-twin-engine bombers from Kendari; one plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire, while the other managed six or seven hits or near misses. Consequently, she suffered severe damage and lost steering control. The Houston was also attacked and met with considerable damage, losing her after gun turret, with forty-eight men killed and more than fifty wounded. The De Ruyter was also attacked, but Doorman’s flagship maneuvered well and escaped with only minor damage. The Marblehead dropped out of line and slowly headed for the Bali Strait, with Doorman’s force forming a protective ring around her. The task force retired through Lombok Strait to Tjilatjap, arriving about midnight.

Thus the first genuine attempt to resist the Japanese Navy in the Netherlands East Indies resulted in the loss of more ABDA naval power. The Japanese Makassar Occupation Force ( without the destroyer Suzukaze, which was torpedoed by submarine, with nine men killed, sailing from Starling Bay, easily took Makassar on 8 February, with only five men killed and five wounded. Dutch defenses had been softened by constant air attacks, staged from Kendari. However, at 2112 on 8 February a torpedo from the U.S. submarine S-37 penetrated the forward engine room of the destroyer Natsusshio. Her crew was rescued by the destroyer Kuroshio at 0245, but a strong wind arose, and , despite efforts of the Kuroshio to tow her, the Natsushio sank at 0743 on 9 February , twenty miles from Makassar. She had suffered eight men killed and two wounded.

Port Darwin Raid

The hit-and-run raid on Port Darwin by Nagumo’s carrier fleet on 19 February 1942 was an important element in Japanese naval strategy regarding Java. Along with the invasion of Bali and Timor, it provided away to interdict plane reinforcements to Java.

Admiral Nagumo’s First Carrier Fleet was often stationed south of Java, to keep ABDA guessing at to where the next unexpected blow would fall. Port Darwin had become an important (albeit inadequate) ABDA staging area for the sircraft and troops sent to the Netherlands East Indies, and it was the closet port to imperiled Java. The Japanese felt that a destructive air raid on Port Darwin would not only disrupt aid being sent north, but also would have a demoralizing effect on Australia–a partner in ABDA, and fast becoming a rallying point for Japan’s adversaries.

Consequently, Port Darwin Task Force was assembled, its composition slightly different from that of Nagumo’s Pearl Harbor Strike Force. It still had four heavy carriers, the Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu, but it had no battleships. Its heavy cruisers were still the Tone and the Chikuma, and the screen was still the light cruiser Abukuma with the destroyers Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze, Kasumi, Shiranuhi, and Ariake.

Admiral Nagumo’s fleet left Davao on 15 February, refueled at Starling Bay, and passed through the Flores Sea into the Timor Sea, making directly for Port Darwin. The four carriers, northwest by north their target, began their launch at 0615 on the 19th. Each sent off nine Zero fighters. The Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu each launched eighteen attack planes, and the Kaga launched twenty-seven; the Kaga, Akagi and Soryu launched eighteen bombers and the Hiryu seventeen bombers, for a total of 188 Japanese planes. Coordinated with the carrier-plane strike were land-based bombers flying from Kendari and Ambon.

At 1010 hrs. waves of Japanese planes descended without warning on the ships in the harbor, and on airfields, military installations, and the town itself. Port Darwin’s harbor was filled with shipping, two transports returned by the Houston were crowded together with three other transports, the destroyer Peary, the seaplane tanker William B. Preston, tankers, freighters, and an Australian hospital ship. The raid caused heavy damage; in all, eight ships were sunk, including the Peary; two transports, and two freighters, and nine ships were seriously damaged, including the William B. Preston. Eighteen planes were destroyed, thus eliminating air opposition. The town, which was made up of wooden buildings, was strafed and set on fire. Civilians, fearing an invasion, evacuated the town for some days. The airfield had been made inoperable and stockpiles of military equipment had been destroyed. Darwin was thus put out of business as a port of supply for Java. The Japanese carriers recovered their planes at 1200hrs., the Kaga and Hiryu losing one plane each, and the task force returned to Starling Bay on 21 February.

Bali-Lombok

In the meanwhile, Japanese transports were loading and task forces were assembling for the next thrust toward Java. Bali was the target, along with its larger sister island, Lombok, from which it was separated only by the a narrow Lombok Strait. Bali, only a few miles across Bali Strait from Java, is part of the Lesser Sunda Islands, the last land barrier to the northeast part of the Indian Ocean. To the north is the Flores Sea, which separates the Lesser Sundas from the Celebes. Aside from its strategic location in relation to both Java and Australia, Bali had little to offer the Japanese, for it is volcanic and mountainous, and has none of the resources vital to Japan’s economy. The occupation of Bali, however, would place the naval base at Surabaja within a hundred miles of Bali’s airfields. The Japanese were finding that the airfields in Borneo and Celebes, although often useful, were slso often shut down by bad weather. Since Bali’s climate was drier, weather would be less of a hindrance there.

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: Imperial Japanese Navy: Isolation of Java 1942

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (4);Operation PROVIDENCE

The 2 July Directive: The magnitude of the Japanese disaster at Midway was immediately realized. Offensive plans to exploit the new situation and add further to the enemy’s discomfiture were quickly evolved and presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staffs for consideration. General MacArthur, who assumed as a matter of course that he would be in command from start to finish since all the objectives lay in his area, had proposed that the operation be an uninterrupted thrust through New Guinea and the Solomons, with Rabaul as the final objective. The Navy, landing for a more gradual approach, insisted that Tulagi would have to be taken and secured before the final attack on Rabaul was mounted. In addition, it had raised strong objections to having General MacArthur in command of the operation, at least in its first, purely amphibious, stages.

General Marshall found it difficult to secure agreement on these issues, but succeeded finally on the basis of a draft directive that divided the operation into three tasks. Task One, the seizure of the Tulagi area, was to be under Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, Commander of the South Pacific Area, while Tasks Two and Three would be under General MacArthur.

Agreement on the final form of the directive was reached on 2 July. After stating that offensive operations would be conducted with the ultimate objective of seizing and occupying the New Britain-New Ireland-New Guinea area, the directive laid down the following tasks:

a. Task One. Seizure and occupation of the Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi, and adjacent positions.

b. Task Two. Seizure and occupation of the remainder of the Solomon Islands, of Lae, Salamaua, and the northeast coast of New Guinea.

c. Task Three. Seizure and occupation of Rabaul and adjacent positions in the New Guinea-New Ireland area.

Task One, under Admiral Ghormley, was given a target date of 1 August. MacArthur would not only supply naval reinforcements and land-based air in support of Task One but would also provide for the interdiction of enemy air and naval activities westward of the operating areas. To remove the objection that Admiral Ghormley would exercise command in General MacArthur’s area, the boundary between the Southwest Pacific Area and South Pacific Area would, as of 1 August, be changed to 159° East Longitude, thereby bringing Tulagi and adjacent positions into the South Pacific Area.

The SWPA Prepares Girding for Action

General MacArthur now had a twofold responsibility. His responsibility under Task One was to lend the South Pacific Area the fullest support possible with his aircraft, submarines, and naval striking force. His responsibility under the succeeding tasks was to prepare his command for early offensive action, and this he lost no time in doing. A change was made in the command of the Allied Air Forces. On 13 July, Major General George C. Kenney, then commanding general of the Fourth Air Force at San Francisco, was ordered to take over command of the Allied Air Forces. General Brett was to remain temporarily in command until Kenney’s arrival.

The U.S. Army services of supply were reorganized. The United States Army in Australia (USAFIA), which was essentially a supply echelon, and not, as its name suggested, an administrative headquarters for U.S. troops in Australia, was discontinued on 20 July. The United States Army Services of Supply, Southwest Pacific Area (USASOS SWPA), with General MacArthur’s deputy chief of staff, Brig. General Richard J. Marshall, in command, was established the same day. General Barnes, like General Brett, was ordered back to the United States for reassignment.9

To achieve more effective control over operations, General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (familiarly known as GHQ), and subordinate Allied land, air, and naval headquarters were moved from Melbourne to Brisbane. The move was completed on 20 July, [NOTE 12] and brought the highest headquarters in the area 800 miles closer to the combat zone and in position to make a further forward move should one be required by the trend of operations.

[NOTE 12: GHQ SWPA OI No. 11, 14 Jul 42; Msg, General MacArthur to General Marshall, No. C-107, CM-IN 5468, 16 Jul 42. The original intention had been to move GHQ to Townsville, in order to be that much closer to New Guinea. A critical lack of communications facilities at Townsville resulted in the decision to move to Brisbane. Ltr, General Sutherland to General Ward, 27 Feb 51.]

United States antiaircraft units at Perth, which were obviously no longer needed there, were transferred to Townsville, and the 32nd and 41st Divisions were ordered to new camps in Queensland, where they were to be assigned to a corps and given training in jungle warfare. The 41st Division, then in training near Melbourne, began to move to Rockhampton on 12 July. A day later, the 32nd Division began to move from Adelaide to a camp near Brisbane.

The corps command had been given initially to Major General Robert C. Richardson, Jr., then Commanding General, VII Corps. However, when it was found that General Richardson (who had reached Australia in early July, in the course of a tour of inspection for General Marshall) had strong objections to serving under Australian command, the assignment went to Major General Robert L. Eichelberger, Commanding General, I Corps, a classmate at West Point of both Generals Harding and Fuller of the 32d and 41st Divisions, which were to make up his corps.

Airfield construction in the forward areas was accelerated. By early July, the airfields in the York Peninsula-Horn Island area were well along, and air force units were occupying them as rapidly as they became ready for use. At Port Moresby, seven fields were projected, and work was progressing on four. At Milne Bay, three fields were under way, and one strip was expected to be in full operation by the end of the month.

These heavy construction commitments made it necessary to send more U.S. engineer troops to New Guinea to assist the American and Australian engineers already there. The 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion, then at Darwin, was put on orders for Port Moresby on 21 July. The 2d Battalion of the 43d U.S. Engineers (less Company E, which was at Port Moresby) was ordered to Milne Bay the same day to join with the company of the 46th Engineers, which was already on the ground, in the construction of the crucially needed airfields there.

Buna and the Theater Plan

The theater plan of operations, the TULSA plan, was revised in the light of the 2 July directive. It had previously merely pointed to the need of a major airfield in the Buna area if Lae and Salamaua were attacked. As revised, it now provided for the immediate establishment of a field in that area in order that it might be available for support of operations against Lae and Salamaua as prescribed by Task Two.

The problem was how to meet this requirement. There was a small neglected emergency strip just southeast of Buna about which little was known except that it seemed to be too wet and too low lying to be exploited profitably for military use. On 9 July GHQ ordered a reconnaissance of the Buna area. The object of the reconnaissance was to ascertain whether the existing strip had any military value and, if not, to find an all-weather site elsewhere in the area which the military could use.

The PROVIDENCE Operation: The Reconnaissance

The reconnaissance was made on 10 and 11 July by a party of six officers from Port Moresby, who reached the area in a Catalina flying boat. The party was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Bernard L. Robinson, a ranking U.S. engineer officer at Port Moresby, and included three Australian officers who had personal knowledge of the area, Lieutenant Colonel Boyd D. Wagner, U.S. fighter group commander at Port Moresby, and Colonel Yoder. Carefully examining the terrain of the entire area, the six officers found that, while the existing strip was virtually useless for military purposes, the grass plains area at Dobodura fifteen miles south of Buna was an excellent site suitable for large-scale air operations, even in the rainy season which was then only a few months away.

In a special report to General Casey, Colonel Robinson recommended that the existing site not be developed, except perhaps as an emergency landing field for fighter aircraft. The site at Dobodura, on the other hand, he thought almost ideal for large-scale military use. Drainage was good; stone, gravel, and timber in adequate amounts were to be found in the area; and considerable native labor was available locally for the construction of the field. The site would provide ample room for proper aircraft dispersal, and with only light clearing and grading would provide an excellent landing field, 7,000 feet long and more than 300 feet wide, lying in the direction of the prevailing wind.

The Plan to Occupy Buna

When the news was received at GHQ that Dobodura was an all-weather site, it was decided to establish an airfield there with all possible speed. On 13 July General Chamberlin called a meeting of the representatives of the Allied Land Forces, the Allied Air Forces, the Antiaircraft Command, and the supply services to discuss in a preliminary way the part each could expect to play in the operation. A second meeting was called the next day in which the matter was discussed in greater detail and a general scheme of maneuver for the occupation of Buna was worked out.

The plan was ready on the 15th, and instructions to the commanders concerned went out the same day. The operation, which was given the code name PROVIDENCE, provided for the establishment of a special unit, Buna Force, with the primary mission of preparing and defending an airfield to be established in the Buna area. At first the airfield would consist only of a strip suitable for the operation of two pursuit squadrons, but it was eventually to be developed into a base capable of accommodating three squadrons of pursuit and two of heavy bombardment.

Brigadier General Robert H. Van Volkenburgh, commanding general of the 40th Artillery Brigade (AA) at Port Moresby, was to be task force commander with control of the troops while they were moving to Buna. An Australian brigadier would take command at Buna itself.

The movements of Buna Force to the target area would be in four echelons or serials, covered by aviation from Milne Bay and Port Moresby to the maximum extent possible. Defining D Day as the day that Buna would first be invested, the orders provided that Serial One, four Australian infantry companies and a small party of U.S. engineers, would leave Port Moresby on foot on D minus 11. These troops were scheduled to arrive at Buna, via the Kokoda Trail, on D minus 1, at which time they would secure the area and prepare it for the arrival of the succeeding serials.

Serial Two, 250 men, mostly Americans, including an engineer party, a radar and communications detachment, some port maintenance personnel, and a .50-caliber antiaircraft battery, would arrive at Buna in two small ships on the morning of D Day. The incoming troops would combine with those already there and, in addition to helping secure the area, would provide it with antiaircraft defense.

Serial Three, the main serial, would include the Australian brigadier who was to take command at Buna, an Australian infantry battalion, a RAAF radar and communications detachment, the ground elements of two pursuit squadrons, an American port detachment, and other supporting American troops. This serial was due at Buna on D plus 1, in an escorted convoy of light coastwise vessels, bringing its heavy stores and thirty days’ subsistence for the garrison.

The fourth serial would consist of a company of American engineers and the remaining ground elements of the two pursuit squadrons that were to be stationed in the area. It would reach Buna from Townsville by sea on D plus 14, accompanied by further stores of all kinds for the operation of the base.

The attention of hostile forces would be diverted from the Buna area, both before and during the operation, by attacks upon Lae and Salamaua by KANGA Force and the Allied Air Forces. Since the “essence” of the plan was “to take possession of this area, provide immediate antiaircraft defense, and to unload supplies prior to discovery,” no steps were to be taken to prepare the airdrome at Dobodura until Serial Three had been unloaded, lest the enemy’s attention be prematurely attracted to it.

Colonel Robinson, who was to be in charge of the construction of the airfield, was cautioned that no clearing or other work was to be started at Dobodura until the engineers and protective troops had disembarked and the ships had been unloaded.

Lieutenant Colonel David Larr, General Chamberlin’s deputy, who had been detailed to assist General Van Volkenburgh in co-ordinating the operation, made it clear to all concerned that its success depended upon secrecy in preparation and execution. Every precaution was to be taken to conceal the movement, its destination, and its intent. Above all, the existence of the airdrome was to be concealed from the Japanese as long as possible.

Movement orders for the first three serials were issued on 17 July. Serial One was to leave Port Moresby at the end of the month, 31 July. It would arrive at Buna on 10-12 August, a few days after the Guadalcanal landing, which, by this time, had been advanced to 7 August.

The Japanese Get There First: Colonel Larr Sounds the Alarm

General Van Volkenburgh and Colonel Larr had scarcely begun to make their first preparations for the operation when they received the disturbing intelligence on 18 July that the Japanese also appeared to have designs on Buna. Twenty-four ships, some of them very large, had been seen in Rabaul harbor on 17 July, and a number of what appeared to be trawlers or fishing boats loaded with troops had been reported off Talasea (New Britain). The troops, estimated as at least a regiment, were obviously from Rabaul,23 and to General Van Volkenburgh and Colonel Larr, who talked the matter over, it added up to just one thing—that the Japanese were moving on Buna. Colonel Larr, then at Townsville, at once got General Sutherland on the telephone. Speaking both for himself and General Van Volkenburgh, he noted that Serial One, which was not to begin moving till the end of the month, might reach Buna too late.

He proposed therefore that forces be immediately dispatched to Buna by flying boat in order to forestall a possible Japanese landing there. He urged that an antiaircraft battery be dispatched by flying boat to Buna at least by 21 July, and that the PBY’s then go on to Moresby to fly in as many troops of Serial One as possible. The whole schedule of PROVIDENCE, he said, had to be accelerated.

Serials Two and Three would have to arrive together; and the occupying force would, if necessary, have to be supplied entirely by air. Larr went on to say that he knew that the Air Force could not possibly move more than a hundred men into Buna by flying boat at one time. He urged that immediate action be taken nevertheless to accelerate PROVIDENCE, for both he and General Van Volkenburgh felt that the element of surprise had already been lost. He concluded his call with these words: “We may be able to hold Buna if we get there first.”

General Chamberlin answered for General Sutherland the next day. The troop concentrations at Rabaul and Talasea, General Chamberlin radioed, did not necessarily mean that the Japanese intended a hostile move against Buna. Nor was it by any means certain that the element of surprise had been lost. The suggested plan to occupy Buna immediately was likely to defeat itself because it lacked strength. The danger was that it would serve only to attract the enemy’s attention, and perhaps bring on an enemy landing—the very thing that was feared. For that reason, the original plan would have to be adhered to substantially as drawn. General Van Volkenburgh and Colonel Larr were assured that the dispatch of Serial One to Kokoda would be hastened and that every effort would be made to get it there at the earliest possible moment. It was clear however that even if there was an acceleration it would be slight. D Day would still have to follow the Guadalcanal landing.

The Enemy Crashes Through

The Air Force had meanwhile been striking at Rabaul as frequently as it was able. The bombing had been sporadic at best; and because the B-17’s in use were badly worn, and the bomber crews manning them (veterans, like their planes, of Java and the Philippines) were tired and dispirited, the results were far from gratifying. Thinking to give the men a rest and to gain time in which to put “all equipment in the best possible condition,” General Brett (who continued as air commander, pending General Kenney’s arrival) suspended all bombing missions on 18 July. Except for a nuisance raid on Kieta on Bougainville Island by an LB-30 from Townsville, no combat missions were flown on either the 18th or 19th. A single Hudson sent from Port Moresby on the 19th to reconnoiter Talasea and Cape Gloucester (on the northwest tip of New Britain) for some further sign of the troop-laden trawlers which had so disturbed General Van Volkenburgh and Colonel Larr reported no sightings whatever in the area.

The next morning the picture changed completely. A B-17, staging from Port Moresby, sighted two warships and five other vessels thought to be warships about seventy-five nautical miles due north of Talasea. Two merchantmen, which could have been transports, were sighted just north of Rabaul moving in a westerly direction as if to join the ships off Talasea.

What followed was a study in frustration. Bad weather set in; there was a heavy mist; and visibility went down to virtually nothing. The air force though on the alert, and with an unusually large number of aircraft in condition to attack, could find no trace of the convoy until 0820 on the morning of 21 July, when a cruiser, five destroyers, and several transports were glimpsed fleetingly ninety miles due east of Salamaua. The convoy, which was seen to be without air cover, was sighted again at 1515 off Ambasi, a point forty miles northwest of Buna. A single B-17 followed by five B-26’s located and attacked it there, but without result Darkness set in, and, although the Japanese gave away their position by shelling Gona and Buna from the sea at 1800 and 1830, all further attempts to locate the convoy that night proved fruitless.

The Landing

At 0635 the following morning, the invasion convoy was discovered just off Gona by an RAAF Hudson. The exact point was Basabua, about one and one-half miles south of Gona and about nine miles northwest of Buna. At the moment of discovery, landing operations, though far advanced, were not yet complete. Landing barges were still moving from ship to shore, and supplies, which were being rapidly moved into the surrounding jungle, still littered the beach. Antiaircraft had already been set up ashore, but there were no Japanese aircraft overhead despite the fact that Lae was only 160 miles away, and the Japanese, who had air superiority in the region, were suffering from no dearth of aircraft at the time. Fortunately for the Japanese ashore, a heavy haze hung over the area and made effective attack from the air extremely difficult The Air Force made 81 sorties that morning, dropped 48 tons of bombs, and used up more than 15,000 rounds of ammunition in strafing the area, but the results were disappointing.

One transport was hit and went up in flames. A landing barge with personnel aboard was strafed and sunk; a float plane (probably from the Japanese cruiser that had escorted the convoy) was shot down; landing barges, tents, supplies, and antiaircraft installations were bombed and strafed; and a hit was claimed on one of the destroyers. By 0915, all the vessels with the exception of the burning transport, had cleared the area safely and were heading north.

The Japanese in the landing force lost no time in clearing their supplies from the beach. Shielded by the luxuriant jungle and the deepening haze, they quickly made good their landing. The implications of its success for the Southwest Pacific Area were all too clear. The PROVIDENCE operation had been forestalled by almost three weeks. Plans for the early inception of Task Two had been frustrated. The Papuan Campaign had begun.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (3); Saving Port Moresby by Sea

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (3); Saving Port Moresby by Sea

To the great relief of the weak and dispirited Port Moresby garrison, the occupation of Lae and Salamaua was not immediately followed by a move on Port Moresby. Fortunately for its defenders, the Japanese left the Port Moresby operation temporarily in abeyance and sent their carrier striking force into the Indian Ocean instead to raid the British. This was to prove a fatal mistake. For when the Japanese finally undertook to land troops at Port Moresby, it was to find that carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stood in their way, and they had sent too little and moved too late.

Frustration at Jomard Passage: Carrier Division 5 Leaves for Truk

The Port Moresby landing had to wait because the Japanese had decided to commit Admiral Nagumo’s entire striking force to the raid in the Indian Ocean. They made this decision because they were after a more glittering prize—the British Eastern Fleet.

They hoped that Nagumo would be able to surprise and destroy the fleet, which was then based at Ceylon, in the same way that only three months before he had surprised most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. For such a strike, he would require all of his available carriers. Only when the raid was over would carrier strength be detached for the Port Moresby mission.

When operations in the Indian Ocean were over, the large carrier Kaga would go on to Truk to support the Port Moresby landing. The rest of Admiral Nagumo’s force, which had been months at sea, would be sent home for refitting. On hearing of the U.S. carrier strikes at Lae and Salamaua on 10 March, the Japanese began to have doubts that one large carrier would be enough and decided to send two. Admiral Nagumo, with an eye to his training needs after the Indian Ocean operation, sent the Kaga back to Japan and chose the two large carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku (Carrier Division 5), then undergoing minor repair in Japan, for the Port Moresby operation.

On 24 March the Shokaku and the Zuikaku reached Kendari in the Celebes, where the striking force was then based. Two days later Nagumo left Kendari for the Indian Ocean with five fast carriers under his command. He raided Colombo and Trincomalee, main British bases in Ceylon, on 5 and 9 April, but without catching the British Eastern Fleet at anchor as he had hoped.

He did run into portions of the fleet at sea and, while other Japanese naval units operating in the area sank more than a score of Allied merchantmen, dealt it a staggering blow by sinking in quick succession an aircraft carrier, two heavy cruisers, a destroyer, a corvette, and a fleet auxiliary.

By mid-April, the raid was over. The striking force left the Indian Ocean and, after a final rendezvous off Formosa, split into two. The main body, under Admiral Nagumo, made for Japan, and Carrier Division 5 and its escort, for Truk. The date was 20 April.

The Orders of 29 April

At Rabaul, meanwhile, the South Seas Detachment was on the alert, waiting for orders to land at Port Moresby. There had been a Japanese landing at Lorengau in the Admiralties on 6 April by a small naval force from Truk. A larger force from the Netherlands Indies had begun a series of landings along the coast of Netherlands New Guinea earlier the same week. But no orders had been received to move on Port Moresby. General Horii, who had expected to receive them immediately after Lae and Salamaua were taken, inquired of Imperial General Headquarters on 15 April why there had been no action in the matter. Tokyo’s reply was received three days later.

In addition to ordering Horii to begin immediate preparations for the Port Moresby landing, it alerted him to the fact that he would soon receive orders for the seizure of New Caledonia. This operation and that against Fiji and Samoa would follow the capture of Port Moresby.

On 28 April, ten days later, at the instance of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Imperial General Headquarters, sanctioned operations against Midway and the Aleutians. It was agreed that these operations would follow the Port Moresby landing, and would be followed in turn by the scheduled operations against New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa. The decision of 28 April did not affect preparations for the Port Moresby landing.

By this time they were so far advanced that General Horii was able to issue his first orders for the operation the next day, 29 April—a particularly auspicious date, Horii felt, since it was the emperor’s birthday.

The orders provided that the Detachment would leave Rabaul on 4 May, under escort of the 4th Fleet, and at dawn on 10 May would make a landing at Port Moresby with the support of units of the Kure 3d Special Naval Landing Force. The main body of the Detachment was to land on a beach seven and a half miles northwest of Port Moresby, and the 1st Battalion, 144th Infantry, and the naval landing parties, were to land on another beach to the southeast of the town. The two forces would launch a converging attack and in short order take all their objectives—the harbor, the town, and Kila Kila airdrome immediately outside the town.

Moving Out for the Landing

The 4th Fleet had made careful preparations for the landing, and Admiral Inouye himself came to Rabaul from Truk to take personal charge of the operation. The occupation force, seven destroyers, five transports, and several seaplane tenders, was to have the support of the small carrier Shoho, which in turn would be screened by a force of four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and a squadron of submarines. Carrier Division 5, which had arrived at Truk toward the end of the month with its screen Cruiser Division 5—three heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, six destroyers, and an oiler—was to serve as the attack force. It was to destroy Allied sea and air units seeking to attack the occupation force, cover the landings, and raid Townsville in order to immobilize Allied attempts to interfere with the landing from Australia.

Because the invasion plan also called for flying boats to operate out of Tulagi in support of the operation, the Japanese at once sent a force to that point to prepare it for its appointed role. On 2 May, the small RAAF detachment at Tulagi and other Australian forces in its immediate vicinity learned of the Japanese approach. They set demolitions and made for Vila in the New Hebrides, where there was part of an Australian Independent Company, reaching it safely a few days later. The next day, 3 May, the Japanese landed a small force at Tulagi and began to convert it into a seaplane base.

The South Seas Detachment began to embark at Rabaul for Port Moresby on 2 May. On 4 May, the scheduled date of departure, the transports left the harbor. The convoy met the Shoho force at a rendezvous point off Buin, Bougainville. Shortly thereafter, the Shokaku and Zuikaku and their escort rounded San Cristobal Island at the southern tip of the Solomons and took up a supporting position to the eastward of the invasion convoy. By 7 May, the Shoho force was assembling in the area between Deboyne and Misima Island in the Louisiade Archipelago preparatory to passing through Jomard Passage, a channel which would bring them safely through the reefs of the Archipelago into Port Moresby’s home waters. The transports, at Admiral Inouye’s orders, were standing on the western side of Woodlark Island. The Shokaku and Zuikaku lay in open water to the southeast.8

The Battle of the Coral Sea

This time the Allies were prepared. The concentration of naval forces in the Mandates and at Rabaul, and a sudden increase of air strength in the Lae—Salamaua—New Britain-Solomons area, had given warning that the long-expected thrust at Port Moresby was at hand. To meet the danger, the Southwest Pacific Area made the best preparations it could. The Allied Air Forces, under General Brett, by this time based mainly on the newly built airfields in the Townsville-Cloncurry area, intensified their reconnaissance of New Britain, Bougainville, and the Louisiade Archipelago. Allied ground forces in northeast Australia and at Port Moresby were put on the alert. Three cruisers of the Allied Naval Forces, the Australia, the Chicago, and the Hobart, under Rear Admiral J. G. Grace, RN, were sent to the Coral Sea to reinforce elements of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which were gathering there preparatory to closing with the enemy.

The Pacific Fleet, anticipating a Japanese thrust against Port Moresby, had made suitable provision for countering it. After the strikes at Lae-Salamaua on 10 March, the Yorktown had remained in the Coral Sea. On 1 May, it was rejoined there by the Lexington, and the combined force—two carriers, seven heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, thirteen destroyers, two oilers, and a seaplane tender—came under command of Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher the same day. Late on 3 May Admiral Fletcher learned of the Japanese landing at Tulagi. Fletcher, who was on the Yorktown and out of touch with the Lexington, struck at Tulagi early on the 4th. Results were disappointing, for there were no important targets in the harbor. Early the next morning, the Yorktown rejoined the Lexington at a rendezvous point a few hundred miles south of Rennell Island, and the combined force moved out to the northwest, its search planes looking for the enemy.

Early on 6 May, after a great deal of search by carrier-based planes had failed to locate the enemy, Allied Air Force B-17’s reported a large force west of Misima Island moving in the direction of Jomard Passage. Admiral Fletcher, who was then fueling at a point roughly 700 miles southeast of Rabaul, at once ordered the tanker Neosho and its escort, the destroyer Sims, to move south to a fueling rendezvous point believed to be out of the enemy’s way. The rest of the fleet moved northwestward in the direction of the Louisiade Archipelago. The next morning, as the Louisiades came within range, a task force of cruisers and destroyers was given the mission of blocking the southern end of Jomard Passage, and the main force prepared to engage the enemy.

Ironically, the rendezvous point of the fueling group, chosen because it was believed to be out of harm’s way, brought the Neosho and the Sims within easy range of the positions the Shokaku and Zuikaku had taken in order to cover the movement of the occupation force through Jomard Passage. Early on the 7th, a Japanese search plane sighted the tanker and its escort and reported them to the Japanese carrier commander, Rear Admiral Tadaichi Hara, as a carrier and a cruiser. Hara at once ordered out all his planes for the kill. The Japanese carrier pilots made short work of the two ships. The Sims sank at once, and the Neosho was left in a sinking condition.

Just before noon the same day, search planes from the Yorktown discovered the Shoho and a part of its screen off Misima Island. Planes from both the Lexington and the Yorktown immediately closed in. The carrier and a light cruiser, which was escorting it, were hit, and they sank immediately. There the day’s action ended. Despite feverish search activity on both sides, neither side had thus far succeeded in definitely locating the main body of the other. The opposing carrier forces finally located each other in the early morning of 8 May and their planes joined battle at once.

On the Allied side both the Lexington and the Yorktown were damaged, the Lexington seriously. On the Japanese side the Shokaku was heavily damaged, though the damage was by no means fatal; and the Zuikaku, though undamaged, lost most of its planes. With the Shoho gone and the Shokaku in no condition to continue the fight, Admiral Inouye, whose oil was running low, broke off the engagement and withdrew to the north. Admiral Fletcher, who had the problem on his hands of saving the Lexington, its planes, and its crew, withdrew in turn to the south. The Shokaku got back safely to Truk, and the transports carrying the South Seas Detachment reached Rabaul, but the Lexington developed uncontrollable gasoline fires and had to be abandoned and sunk.

The battle was over. The Allies had suffered heavier losses than the Japanese, but the fact that the latter had been turned back from Port Moresby left the victory, strategically at least, with the Pacific Fleet. [NOTE 11]

[NOTE 11: Southeast Area Naval Opns, I, p. 5; South Seas Det Opns, p. 15; ONI, The Battle of the Coral Sea, pp. 11, 21-35; USSBS, The Campaigns of the Pacific War, pp. 52, 53, 55; USSBS, Interrogation of Japanese Officials, I, 29, 53-54. The Allied Air Forces, except for reconnaissance, proved remarkably ineffective during the battle. In forty-five sorties against enemy shipping with B-17’s, B-26’s, B-25’s and a Hudson, it scored no hits whatever on the enemy, and actually bombed Allied ships by mistake. For a full discussion of the matter, see Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, I, 449-50]

On 9 May, Imperial General Headquarters advised General Horii that because of the action at the Coral Sea the invasion of Port Moresby would have to be temporarily suspended. He was assured, however, that he would not have long to wait for a resumption, for it had been definitely decided that the operation would be carried out sometime in July.

The landing had miscarried completely. Thanks to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Southwest Pacific Area now had a respite in which to continue with the barely begun task of reinforcing Australia’s approaches.

Securing the Approaches GHQ Authorizes BOSTON

Believing that the Japanese would strike at Port Moresby again with at least a division of troops and carrier- and land-based aircraft “any time after June 10,” General MacArthur and his staff at once set themselves to secure the area to the maximum extent that the available means would allow.

The means were growing. On 14 May the 32d U.S. Infantry Division, under command of Major General Edwin F. Harding, arrived in Australia with the rest of the 41st Division. A day later, the 14th Australian Infantry Brigade Group, 3,400 strong, began moving to Port Moresby with 700 attached Australian antiaircraft troops.

One of the lessons of the Coral Sea had been that to cover Port Moresby’s eastern approaches effectively the Air Force would have to have a base at or near the southeastern tip of New Guinea. A base in the low-lying regions in that area would do more than provide protection for Port Moresby’s uncovered flank. It would give the Air Force a new staging point for attacks on Japanese bases to the north and northwest and one, furthermore, that was not subject to the turbulences and other operational hazards that beset flight over the Owen Stanleys. Ultimately it would provide a point of departure for an advance along the southeast coast.

These considerations were not lost on General MacArthur. In a letter to General Blamey on 14 May, he wrote that a careful study of weather and operating conditions along the southeast coast of Papua had resulted in a decision to establish new airdromes there for use against Lae, Salamaua, and Rabaul. Noting that suitable sites appeared to be available in the coastal strip between Abau and Samarai near the southeast tip of Papua, he asked Blamey if he had the necessary ground troops and antiaircraft units to protect these bases. When General Blamey replied that he had the troops, General MacArthur authorized the construction of a landing strip 50 feet by 1,500 feet at BOSTON, the code name for Abau-Mullins Harbor area, a wild and largely unexplored coastal area requiring an immense amount of development. The new field (so the orders read) was to be built “in a location susceptible of improvement later on to a heavy bombardment airdrome.”

The Plan of Reinforcement

On 20 May, the same day that he authorized the construction of an airfield at BOSTON, General MacArthur issued a comprehensive plan to his commanders for the “reinforcement of combat means” in northeast Australia and New Guinea. Under terms of this plan, the Air Force would bring its existing pursuit squadrons at Port Moresby up to full strength, and U. S. antiaircraft troops at Brisbane would be transferred to Townsville, Horn Island, and Mareeba, Cooktown, and Coen, the bases in the Cape York Peninsula. These bases, Port Moresby, and the new base at BOSTON were to be fully stocked with aviation supplies, bombs, and ammunition; so that when an emergency arose the Air Force would be able to use them for the interdiction of enemy “movements through the Louisiades and along the southeast coast of New Guinea.”

The construction or improvement of the airfields in northeast Australia and in New Guinea was to be accelerated, and the transport to them of reinforcements and supplies was to be arranged by USAFIA, in consultation with Allied Land Forces. When completed, the new air bases in northeast Australia and the York Peninsula would advance the forward bomber line by as much as 500 miles. They would bring the bombers as close to Port Moresby as it was physically possible to get them without actually basing them there, and would place them in position for active defensive and offensive action. The new fields and dispersal areas at Port Moresby would not only facilitate the progress of the bombers as they staged through it in their tramontane attacks upon the Japanese bases in North East New Guinea and New Britain but would also permit more fighters and light bombers to be based there. The field at BOSTON, in addition to providing its offensive possibilities, would help to thwart any further Japanese attempt to take Port Moresby from the sea.

On 24 May Allied Land Forces picked the garrison for BOSTON and assigned it its mission. Being apparently in some doubt that BOSTON could be held, Land Force Headquarters instructed the troops chosen that they would be responsible for ground defense of the area against only minor attacks. If the enemy launched a major attack against them, they were to withdraw, making sure before they did so that they had destroyed “all weapons, supplies, and material of value to the enemy.”

Milne Bay

The field at BOSTON was never built When an aerial reconnaissance of the eastern tip of New Guinea was ordered on 22 May, it was discovered that there were better sites in the Milne Bay area. On 8 June, a twelve-man party, three Americans and nine Australians, under Lieutenant Colonel Leverett G. Yoder, Commanding Officer, 96th U.S. Engineer Battalion, left Port Moresby for Milne Bay in a Catalina flying boat to reconnoiter the area further. A good site suitable for several airfields was found in a coconut plantation at the head of the bay. Developed by Lever Brothers before the war, the plantation had a number of buildings, a road net, a small landing field, and several small jetties already in place.

Impressed by the terrain and the existing facilities, Colonel Yoder turned in a favorable report on the project the next day. Colonel Yoder’s report was at once recognized at GHQ to be of the greatest significance. Here at last was a base which if properly garrisoned could probably be held, and GHQ lost no time ordering it to be developed. Construction of the field at BOSTON was canceled on 11 June. The following day, GHQ authorized construction of an airfield with the necessary dispersal strips at the head of Milne Bay. A landing strip suitable for pursuit aviation was to be built immediately, and a heavy bomber field was to be developed later on.

On 22 June, GHQ authorized a small airfield development at Merauke, a point on the south coast of Netherlands New Guinea, in order to give further protection to Port Moresby’s western flank. On the same day, Milne Bay’s initial garrison—two companies and a machine gun platoon on loan from the 14th Australian Infantry Brigade at Port Moresby—left Port Moresby for Milne Bay in the K. P. M. ship Karsik, and early on 25 June the troops disembarked safely at Milne Bay. Four days later, the K. P. M. ship Bontekoe came into Milne Bay with a shipload of engineering equipment, and Company E, 46th U.S. Engineers. The new contingent immediately began working on the base.

The 7th Australian Infantry Brigade, one of the better-trained militia units, was ordered to Milne Bay from Townsville on 2 July. The brigade commander and advance elements of the brigade left by sea within the week, arriving at Milne Bay several days later. The rest of the brigade arrived shortly thereafter, and a squadron of RAAF P-40’s came in toward the end of the month. Port Moresby’s vulnerable eastern flank was no longer uncovered.

The Bulolo Valley

Reinforcement of the troops in the Bulolo Valley, held up in late April when the threat to Port Moresby was at its height, was resumed when the 5th Australian Independent Company, the reinforcing unit, again became available for use in the Bulolo Valley. The company and an attached mortar platoon were flown to Wau on 26 May; and the troops in the valley, by this time known as KANGA Force, began preparing for the long-delayed attacks on Lae and Salamaua.

The attacks were meant to be purely defensive—to delay the enemy and throw him off stride. Should KANGA Force succeed in seizing Lae and Salamaua, it was planned to base pursuit planes immediately at Lae and to send further reinforcements to the area by sea. To hold the area for two or three weeks, it was hoped, would greatly delay the enemy and cause him to postpone further major action against Port Moresby.

The operation ran into difficulties. Learning from the natives that the Japanese were planning a major attack on the Bulolo Valley, the commander of KANGA Force had to split his troops and put part of them on the defensive. The first attack of KANGA Force, made with only a part of the unit’s strength, was launched on Salamaua in late June. Sixty Japanese were killed and considerable damage was done, but the approach of enemy reinforcements from Lae caused the attackers to withdraw. A raid on Lae several days later had the same result Forty Japanese were killed, but KANGA Force had to withdraw again in the face of superior numbers. The diversion had failed. KANGA Force obviously was not strong enough to dislodge the enemy, even for a few days.

Kokoda

One further loophole in Port Moresby’s scheme of defense remained. From Buna, a point on the northeast coast of Papua, a difficult and little-known trail led over the Owen Stanleys to Port Moresby via Kokoda, a small plateau in the foothills of the range on which there was a small mountain airfield. General MacArthur’s headquarters realized that an enemy force landing at Buna could quickly invest Kokoda and move on Port Moresby through a nearby 6,000-foot mountain pass known as the Gap. An inquiry was made into the matter during the first week in June, and it was discovered that Major General Basil Morris, who, as GOC, New Guinea Force, was in command of the Port Moresby area, had thus far made no move to send a force to defend it.

Alive to the danger, General MacArthur wrote to General Blamey on 9 June: There is increasing evidence that the Japanese are displaying interest in the development of a route from Buna on the north coast of southern New Guinea through Kokoda to Port Moresby. From studies made in this headquarters it appears that minor forces may attempt to utilize this route for either attack on Port Moresby or for supply of forces [attacking] by the sea route through the Louisiade Archipelago. Whatever the Japanese plan may be, it is of vital importance that the route from Kokoda westward be controlled by Allied Forces, particularly the Kokoda area. “Will you please advise me,” he concluded, “of the plan of the Commander, New Guinea Force, for the protection of this route and of the vital Kokoda area.

General Morris, who was also head of the Australia-New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), the military government of Papua and the territories of the Mandate, replied several days later, but the reply was scarcely reassuring. There were, Land Forces was told, several ANGAU officers in the area with radio sets; native constables were to be found in all the villages; and two platoons of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), a light reconnaissance unit made up principally of natives, were constantly patrolling the area. The PIB was being reinforced, the report continued, and a company of infantry at Port Moresby was being readied for movement to Kokoda on short notice. It was considered “most unlikely,” the report concluded, that “any untoward incident” could occur in the area without the knowledge of the district officer.

General Chamberlin made it clear to Land Forces that he did not consider these measures adequate provision for Kokoda’s security. But he decided to take no further action in the matter when he learned that General Blamey’s headquarters had sent a radio message to General Morris ordering him “to take all necessary steps to prevent a Japanese surprise landing along the coast, north and south of Buna, to deny the enemy the grasslands in that area for an airdrome, and to assure that we command the pass at Kokoda.”

In the radio General Morris was told that, as matters stood, enemy troops that landed at Buna could reach the vital passes in the Kokoda area before reinforcements from Port Moresby could get there. He was reminded that the forces in the Kokoda area were “entirely native, very weak, and probably not staunch,” and was ordered to take immediate steps “to secure the vital section of the route with Australian infantry,” and “to prepare to oppose the enemy on lines of advance from the coast.”

Five days later, General Morris established a new unit, MAROUBRA Force, and gave it the mission of holding Kokoda. The new force included the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion (less one company) from the 30th Brigade, and the PIB—280 natives and twenty whites. One company of the battalion, Company B, was ordered to Kokoda on 26 June, but did not leave until 7 July, eleven days later. The rest of the battalion, on orders of General Morris, remained on the Port Moresby side of the range, training and improving communications at the southern end of the trail.

The Joint Directive of 30 March 1942 had visualized a defensive phase followed by “major amphibious operations,” which would be launched from the Southwest Pacific and South Pacific Areas. The idea of an offensive of any kind in the Pacific seemed wildly optimistic in March and early April, but the establishment by Admiral King on 29 April of a South Pacific Amphibious Force made up principally of the amphibiously trained and equipped 1st Marine Division was at least a step in that direction. While the assignment of this force laid the foundation for an eventual offensive from the South Pacific Area, it was clear that as long as the Japanese enjoyed overwhelming naval superiority in the Pacific, especially in carriers, the offensive would have to wait and the striking forces of both areas would have to remain dispersed and on the defensive. Should it become possible, however, to destroy a substantial portion of Japan’s carrier strength, the way would be open for offensive action in the Pacific with the available means, limited though they were. The opportunity to inflict such a blow upon the Japanese Fleet came in early June, and the Pacific Fleet, which had long waited for the chance, exploited it to the full.

Moving to the Offensive The Battle of Midway

On 5 May Admiral Yamamoto was ordered to seize Midway and the Aleutians immediately after the capture of Port Moresby. The reverse at the Coral Sea caused the Port Moresby operation to be postponed, and Midway and the Aleutians went into top place on the Japanese operational schedule. On 18 May Yamamoto was further instructed that when he had taken Midway and the Aleutians he was to cooperate with the 17th Army, which had been established that day, in the capture of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa, and in the seizure as well of Port Moresby. Though New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa were to be taken first, the seizure of all four objectives was, as far as possible, to be accomplished in one continuous thrust.

The commander of the 17th Army, Lieutenant General Haruyoshi Hyakutake, was ordered to attack New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, and Port Moresby in order “to cut off communications between America and Australia.” He lost no time in alerting the elements of his newly formed command—the South Seas Detachment at Rabaul, the Kawaguchi Detachment at Palau, and the Yazawa and Aoba Detachments at Davao—to their part in the forthcoming operations. Hyakutake parceled out the objectives as follows: the South Seas Detachment (the 144th Infantry reinforced) was to take New Caledonia; the Kawaguchi Detachment (the 124th Infantry reinforced) and an element of the Yazawa Detachment (the 41st Infantry) were to move against Samoa; and the Aoba Detachment (the 4th Infantry reinforced) was to land at Port Moresby. All units were to be in instant readiness for action as soon as the Midway-Aleutians victory was won.

Admiral Yamamoto had meanwhile detailed an immense force to capture Midway including the four large fast carriers Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu, and Soryu. The remainder of Admiral Nagumo’s command, the Shokaku and Zuikaku, were not able to participate because of the action at the Coral Sea. Admiral Nagumo’s carrier force left Japan for Midway on 27 May, the same day that the transports left Saipan and the cruisers and destroyers, which were to cover them, left Guam. The main body of the fleet, with Admiral Yamamoto in command, left from various Japanese ports a day later.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet had learned ahead of time of Yamamoto’s intentions. Three aircraft carriers, the Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown, lay in wait for the enemy a couple of hundred miles north of Midway. The first sightings of the Japanese force were made on 3 June, and the issue was decided the next morning after a massive attack on Midway by enemy carrier planes. The last enemy plane had scarcely left Midway when three of the enemy carriers—the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu—all closely bunched together, were hit fatally by the dive-bomber squadrons of the Enterprise and the Yorktown. The Kaga and Soryu went down late that afternoon; the Akagi, with uncontrollable fires raging aboard, took longer to succumb but was finally scuttled by its own crew that evening. The Hiryu, which had been a considerable distance ahead of the main carrier force, succeeded in knocking out the Yorktown before it too was set afire by dive bombers from the Enterprise and Hornet. Burning fiercely, the Hiryu was scuttled by its crew the next morning.

The loss of the carriers forced Yamamoto to break off the engagement and to withdraw his fleet to the north and west with U.S. naval units in pursuit. The Pacific Fleet had lost a carrier, a destroyer, 150 aircraft, and 300 men, but it had broken the back of the Japanese Fleet and gained one of the greatest naval triumphs in history. With the Combined Fleet routed, and its main striking force destroyed, the Allies were at last in a position to seize the initiative. The time had come to counterattack.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign: Preparing the Defense (2)

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (4);Operation PROVIDENCE

World War Two: Guadalcanal (1); Plans for Invasion

As Admiral King has written, “Because of the urgency of seizing and occupying Guadalcanal, planning was not up to the usual thorough standard.” Admirals Nimitz and Ghormley had begun planning in June, but the planes and men which were to make the attack were scattered from the South Pacific to California.

General MacArthur’s and Admiral Ghormley’s assertion that there were few troops available for beginning the attack was well founded. Besides the three divisions in Australia and the elements of the 1st Marine Division in New Zealand, there were several units in the South Pacific assigned to the defense of bases along the line of communications. Two Army divisions were in the area; the 37th Division was in the Fijis, the Americal Division in New Caledonia. The 7th Marines, a regiment detached from the 1st Marine Division, was in Samoa. Army infantry and artillery units were at Bora Bora; the 147th Infantry, formerly of the 37th Division, was at Tongatabu. Some Army, Navy, and Marine Corps troops were holding Efate in the New Hebrides and part of the Efate force was building an airfield at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.

The majority of the Army troops in the South Pacific had been dispatched prior to the establishment of the South Pacific Area; they had been administered directly by the War Department and supplied directly by the San Francisco Port of Embarkation. The organization of the South Pacific Area, the commitment of more Army Air Forces units, and the imminence of the forthcoming campaign led the War Department to organize these forces into a single command—the U. S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area (USAFISPA). On 14 July Major General Millard F. Harmon was appointed its commanding general (COMGENSOPAC) with the concurrence of the Navy.

Prior to his appointment as Commanding General of U. S. Army Forces in the South Pacific, Harmon, who was one of the senior officers of the Army Air Forces and a pioneer in military aviation, had been Chief of the Air Staff. Born in 1888, he was graduated from the U. S. Military Academy in 1912, and entered the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps while in the Philippines.

After active service in France during World War I, he attended the Army Command and General Staff School and the Army War College, taught Military science and tactics at the University of Washington in Seattle, and served with various training and tactical air units until the end of 1940. In January 1941 he was sent to Britain as an air observer. Returning to the United States four months later, he was made a major general in July and in January 1942 he became Chief of the Air Staff.

General Harmon, under Ghormley’s command, was to be responsible for the administration and supply of Army units in the South Pacific. His letter of appointment directed him to advise the Area Commander, but gave him no operational or tactical authority. On 26 July he assumed his duties, with headquarters first at Auckland and later, adjacent to Ghormley’s, at Noumea, New Caledonia. His services proved so valuable that both Admiral Ghormley and his successor consulted him in the planning and execution of the Guadalcanal and subsequent South Pacific campaigns.

Despite the fact that there were about 32,000 Army ground troops in the South Pacific, they could not be freely used for reinforcement of the marines in the attack against Guadalcanal. There was not enough shipping space in the South Pacific for free movement, and the divisions holding the Fijis and New Caledonia could not be moved until replacements were available, or until the Japanese offensive threat had been eliminated.

Little was then known about the objective. The Solomons are a thinly populated and undeveloped area. Lying about 800 miles east of New Guinea, the Solomons form a double chain of tropical, mountainous islands extending from latitude 5 degrees South to latitude 12 degrees 30 minutes South, from northwest to southeast, and from longitude 155 degrees East to longitude 170 degrees East. They include several hundred islands, with a land area of 18,670 square miles. The largest in the northeastern chain are Buka, Bougainville, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, and Malaita. The southwestern islands consist of the Shortland, Treasury, and New Georgia groups, the Russells, Guadalcanal, Florida, San Cristobal, and Rennell.

The Solomon Islands chain was divided politically. Bougainville and Buka were part of the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea. The rest of the islands formed the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. A British district officer, responsible to the Resident Commissioner at Tulagi, administered civil affairs on each island in the protectorate. The Resident Commissioner reported to the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific in the Fijis, who in turn was responsible to the Colonial Office in London. Economic development had been slight. Lever Brothers, with local headquarters at Gavutu, had been operating fairly extensive coconut plantations since before the war, and the Burns-Philp South Seas Company, Ltd., controlled island shipping. The few white residents before the war were government officials, planters, missionaries, and their families.

Some, including the Resident Commissioner and several district officers, missionaries, and nuns, had remained in the Solomons during the Japanese occupation. The government officials, like the coast-watchers, had withdrawn to the hills. The missionaries and nuns, with some .exceptions, had not been molested, but had continued to operate their stations under surveillance.

The native inhabitants are Melanesians of primitive culture. Noted in former years for their ferocity, they remained generally loyal to the Allied cause and throughout the Solomons campaign assisted the coast-watchers, rescued fliers and sailors, and acted as guides, scouts, and laborers.

The Solomons are one of the world’s wettest areas. Rainfall in some places exceeds 200 inches per year; from 1922 to 1942, annual rainfall at Tulagi averaged 164 inches.6 The tropical temperatures are enervating, ranging daily from 73 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. Humidity is high. There are only two seasons, the wet and the dry. Northwest monsoons bring almost daily rain during the wet season from November to March. The term dry is relative, for southeast trade winds bring frequent rains during the dry season.

There are few good harbors, but the narrow, restricted channels between the islands are usually calm. In the southern Solomons the best anchorage is Tulagi Harbor between Tulagi and Florida Islands. Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo Island, near Gavutu in Tulagi Harbor, all possessed some docks, jetties, and machine shops. There are few clear, flat areas suitable for airfields except on Malaita, Bougainville, New Georgia, and the grassy plain on Guadalcanal’s
north coast.

Between Guadalcanal and Malaita lies the smaller island of Florida (Nggela), which is separated from Guadalcanal by Sealark Channel. Reefs jut above the water to make the channel north of the center of Guadalcanal very narrow. The waters between the southern reefs and Guadalcanal are called Lengo Channel; those between the northern reefs and Florida are Nggela Channel.7 Between the southeast part of Guadalcanal and Malaita is Indispensable Strait, and at the northern end of Sealark Channel, between Guadalcanal and Florida, lies the small symmetrical island of Savo.

Air and Naval Plans
Admiral Nimitz’ Plan

By late June Admiral Nimitz had decided to send five Marine air squadrons to the South Pacific to take part in the campaign. Airfield construction in the South Pacific was, therefore, to be given a high priority. As the five squadrons, all consisting of short-range aircraft, would have to be ferried across the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, the pilots would first have to train for carrier operations. Following Admiral Nimitz’ request that more Army bombers be sent to the South Pacific, General Marshall authorized the creation of two Mobile Air Forces for the Pacific Theater—one in the Southwest Pacific Area and one in the Pacific Ocean Areas. Each was composed of one B-17 heavy bombardment group. The Pacific Ocean Areas Mobile Air Force might be used anywhere within the Pacific Ocean Areas at the Joint Chiefs’ discretion. The 11th Heavy Bombardment Group, then in Hawaii, was selected as the Pacific Ocean Areas Mobile Air Force on 16 July, and within four days its four squadrons had taken off for New Caledonia.

To provide more troops for the landings, Admiral King had suggested that the reinforced 2nd Marines (of the 2nd Marine Division), then in California, be shipped to the South Pacific immediately; Admiral Ghormley agreed, and he requested that the 2nd Marines be combat-loaded and ready for landing operations on arrival. Admiral Nimitz ordered the 2nd Marines to be ready to sail from San Diego aboard five ships on 1 July. Admiral Nimitz also decided to send the 3rd (Marine) Defense Battalion from Pearl Harbor to the South Pacific to provide antiaircraft and seacoast defense of the target areas. Three aircraft carriers, one battleship, and accompanying cruisers and destroyers would be available to constitute the naval supporting forces to which would be added warships from the Southwest Pacific Area.

Admiral Nimitz issued his final plan for the attack on 8 July. He ordered the South Pacific Force, under Admiral Ghormley, to capture the Santa Cruz Islands and the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area in the Solomons. As the Joint Chiefs had planned, marines were to capture the areas. Army forces, under Admiral Ghormley’s direction, would then relieve the marines. Naval forces would support these operations and construct and operate the air bases for both land-based planes and seaplanes, and Army aircraft were to operate from the bases as directed. A seaplane base, providing for thirty planes, was to be built at Tulagi.

Air bases, each large enough to support four air squadrons, were to be built both at Guadalcanal and at Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands. The Navy was to be responsible for maintaining radio stations, harbor facilities, inshore patrol, port control, hospitals, underwater defenses, and roads and bridges at the bases. A 60-day level of subsistence supplies and ammunition and a 90-day supply of building materials were to be maintained. The Navy was to furnish materials for the construction of airfields, bases, and harbors.

Admiral Ghormley’s Plan

The problems facing the South Pacific commanders in preparing for the invasion were tremendous, and time was short. Admiral Ghormley, acting on the first orders from Admiral King before the issuance of the Joint Chiefs’ directive and Admiral Nimitz’ final plan, had called the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division from Wellington to his headquarters at Auckland on 26 June. The 1st Division commander and part of his staff began conferring with Admiral Ghormley on that date, and were joined the next day by Rear Admiral John S. McCain, the commander of all Allied land-based aircraft in the South Pacific (COMAIRSOPAC). Not all the commanders who were to take part in the operation were present. Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher and Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, who were to command the Expeditionary and Amphibious Forces, had not then reached the South Pacific. Admiral Ghormley informed the Marine officers of the plan to invade the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands, and ordered them to prepare plans and load ships in Wellington for the invasion. Detailed planning in the South Pacific had thus been initiated prior to the issuance of the directive on 2 July; the directive did not necessitate any basic changes in Ghormley’s or the marines’ concepts of the operation.

Admiral Ghormley issued his Operation Plan No. 1-42 on 16 July 1942. It was to govern the execution of Task One which was to be divided into three phases. The first would be a rehearsal in the Fiji Islands; the second would be the seizure and occupation of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The projected occupation of Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands would be the third and final phase.

Operation Plan No. 1-42 organized two forces, Task Forces 61 and 63. The Expeditionary Force of eighty-two ships (designated as Task Force 61), was placed under the command of Admiral Fletcher. The main body of warships of Task Force 61 came from the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets, while a second came from the naval forces of the Southwest Pacific. The third component assigned to Task Force 61 was the amphibious force, which included the marines who were to make the landings. Admiral Turner was to assume command of the South Pacific Amphibious Force on 18 July. The second force, Task Force 63, consisted of all the Allied land-based aircraft in the South Pacific under Admiral McCain.

Analyzing the strength and capabilities of the enemy forces which Task Forces 61 and 63 were to attack, Admiral Ghormley anticipated that the Japanese garrisons in the Solomons and Bismarcks might soon be reinforced. The Japanese could shuttle their aircraft between the Marshall Islands, New Britain, and the East Indies. Elements of the 4th Fleet had already been operating in the vicinity of the Solomons and Bismarcks, and the addition of a submarine division might be expected. Rabaul was known to be a major air base, and seaplane bases were known to be in use at Gizo, Rekata Bay, Faisi, Kieta, Buka, and Gavutu. Two planes had been based at Tulagi, thirteen at Gavutu. The runway under construction at Lunga Point was not thought to have been completed.

Ghormley estimated that about 3,100 Japanese troops were in the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area. He believed that, of these, one thousand Special Naval Landing Forces and pioneers were stationed on Guadalcanal at Cape Esperance, the Segilau River, Lunga Point, Tenaru, and Taivu Point on the north coast. It was assumed that there were at least six antiaircraft guns at both Lunga Point and Kukum, with more at Taivu Point to the east. Ghormley considered, correctly, that the south coast was not held in any strength.

After assembling and rehearsing in the Fijis, the Expeditionary Force (Task Force 61) was to capture and occupy Tulagi and near-by areas, including that part of Guadalcanal most suitable for the construction of airfields. The tentative date for D Day set by the Joint Chiefs of Staff—1 August—could not be met. On 16 July Ghormley notified Admiral Nimitz that the late arrival of the 1st Marine Division’s second echelon at Wellington, New Zealand, coupled with the delay in loading caused by bad weather in Wellington, would necessitate postponing the target date until 7 August. The date could not be postponed further, however, lest the Japanese complete their airstrip for use against the Allied forces.

Once Tulagi and the landing field on Guadalcanal had been taken, the Expeditionary Force would occupy Ndeni, and troops were to be ready to work on airfields on Guadalcanal and Ndeni immediately. Airfield construction materiel and troops would be sent forward as soon as possible. To free the Amphibious Force for further offensive action, occupation troops were to be dispatched to relieve the marines. Operation Plan No. 1-42 did not specifically designate the forces to effect the relief and occupation but stated that orders would be issued at a later date.

The land-based aircraft of Task Force 63 were to support and cover the movements of the Expeditionary Force, arrange special missions at the request of Task Force 61, and carry out their regular scouting missions. Task Force 63 was to cover the Amphibious Force’s approach to Tulagi and Guadalcanal and the landing there, as well as to execute air attacks by arrangement with Task Force 61. Amphibious patrol bombers were to patrol temporarily from Ndeni, which had not been occupied by the Japanese, by D minus 1, and additional patrol planes would scout from the east coast of Malaita on D plus 1. After the conclusion of the Guadalcanal phase, Task Force 63 would cover the occupation of Ndeni by the landing force.

Admiral Ghormley, announcing his intention to proceed from Auckland to Noumea aboard his flagship Argonne about D minus 5, stated that he would arrange a conference between representatives of the commanders of the Expeditionary and Amphibious Forces and of the South Pacific land-based aircraft to settle the final details of air support and to co-ordinate the various air efforts. The commander of Task Force 63 was also ordered to arrange for air scouting by Southwest Pacific Air Forces.

Logistical plans for the operation took into account the lack of good bases in the South Pacific Area. During the rehearsal, all vessels were to take on fuel as the tactical situation permitted from tankers at Noumea and the Fijis, and from tanks on shore in the Fijis and Espiritu Santo and Efate in the New Hebrides. Fleet units were to take on full loads of ammunition after the rehearsal. Only minor ship repairs could be effected in the South Pacific. Auckland had a dockyard and a drydock, and a floating drydock at Wellington could accommodate a heavy cruiser. In addition the repair ship Whitney was stationed at Tongatabu, and a salvage tug was to be stationed initially at Espiritu Santo. For major repairs, heavy fleet units would have to go to Pearl Harbor.

Fleet units would carry sufficient provisions to be self-sustaining, while the Amphibious Force would embark sixty days’ supply and ten units of fire for the marines. Fresh foods would be supplied to the Amphibious Force if enough ships were available.

Once they were unloaded, ships of the Amphibious Force were to leave the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands and return to Noumea unless directed elsewhere, and would be escorted by warships assigned by Admiral Fletcher. Returning ships would carry American wounded to the hospital ship Solace at Noumea, which would either retain the wounded on board or distribute them among the Army hospitals at Noumea and the Fijis, or take them to the naval base hospital at Auckland.

Admiral McCain’s Plan

Toward the end of July, when Admiral McCain’s tactical plan for Task Force 63 was completed, South Pacific air strength had increased and the air bases had been improved. Two companies of the 182nd Infantry and one engineer company of the Americal Division had occupied Efate in the New Hebrides on 18 March to build an airfield. Marine Corps and naval personnel followed these forces, until by May there were 7,500 on the island. On 28 May 500 men of the Efate garrison had occupied Espiritu Santo, 145 miles to the north. Admiral Ghormley had ordered the construction of a bomber strip on Espiritu Santo, to be completed by 28 July, in time to support the invasion of the Solomons. B-17’s of the 11th Heavy Bombardment Group arrived in the area during July. The 98th Squadron landed in New Caledonia on 22 July, followed by the 42nd the next day. The 431st Squadron landed in the Fijis on 24 July, and the 26th landed at Efate on 25 July.

By the end of July Task Force 63 consisted of 291 aircraft of various types, based on New Caledonia, the Fijis, Tongatabu, Samoa, and Efate, and assigned to the defense of those islands. Of the 291 planes, 31 Navy patrol bombers (PBY’s) were based on New Caledonia and the Fijis. Ninety-three naval fighters were based on Efate, New Caledonia, the Fijis, Tongatabu, and Samoa. Twenty-five naval observation planes were operating from Efate, New Caledonia, Tongatabu, and Samoa, and seventeen Navy scout bombers (SBD’s) were based in Samoa.

Ninety-five Army planes were in Task Force 63. Thirty-five Army B-17’s and twenty-two B-26’s were stationed at New Caledonia and the Fijis. Thirty-eight Army PAGO’S were also operating from New Caledonia. Nine Vincents, eighteen Hudsons, and three Singapores of the Royal New Zealand Air Force were based on New Caledonia and the Fijis.

Admiral McCain issued his orders on 25 July. He divided Task Force 63 into seven task groups. One group, consisting of the 69th (Army) Bombardment Squadron, the 67th (Army) Fighter Squadron, a New Zealand Air Force Hudson Squadron, and two PBY’s, was to scout over 400-mile sectors from New Caledonia. A second group, consisting of the 11th (Army) Heavy Bombardment Group, to be based on New Caledonia, Efate, Espiritu Santo, and the Fijis, was to scout between New Caledonia and the Solomons and over and west of the Solomons. It was this group which carried out bombing attacks on Guadalcanal and Tulagi prior to D Day. The third group, consisting of the seaplane tender Curtiss and attached patrol planes, was to move part of its patrol planes to Espiritu Santo. Beginning on D minus 2 the planes based in Espiritu Santo were to search both east and west of the Solomons, while the remaining patrol planes moved from Noumea to Ndeni and Espiritu Santo.

The fourth group, composed of the seaplane tender MacFarland and attached patrol bombers, was to move to Ndeni to inaugurate the air searches northeast of the Solomons on D minus 1. The fifth, composed of the seaplane tender Mackinac and attached patrol planes, was to proceed to the east coast of Malaita on D minus 3. The sixth group, consisting of Marine Fighting Squadron 212 and Scouting Squadron D-14, was to send three scouts to Espiritu Santo, and to aid the bombardment effort from Efate. The final group, consisting of Marine Observation Squadron 251, was to assist the bombardment effort from Espiritu Santo.

The air searches of Task Force 63 would thus cover the general area between New Caledonia and the Solomons, over the Solomons, east to Ndeni, and south to the Fijis. General MacArthur agreed to have Southwest Pacific air forces patrol the northern and western approaches to the Solomons during Task One. Prior to D minus 5, Southwest Pacific air forces were to reconnoiter over eastern New Guinea, Lorengau, Kavieng, Buka, Ontong Java, and Tulagi.

Thereafter no Southwest Pacific planes were to fly east of longitude 158 degrees 15 minutes East (a line just west of Guadalcanal and east of New Georgia, Choiseul, and Bougainville, in the Solomons group), and latitude 15 degrees South unless requested by Ghormley. From D minus 5 to D plus 4, Southwest Pacific aircraft were to conduct daily reconnaissance flights over eastern New Guinea, Kavieng, and the easternmost point of New Georgia, and combat aircraft were to be ready to strike any Japanese naval vessels within a 550-mile radius of Port Moresby. From D Day to D plus 4, when the transports and cargo ships of the Amphibious Force would be unloading at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, Allied aircraft would thus be interdicting Japanese aerial operations in the Rabaul-Kavieng area. At the same time Buka was to be attacked to prevent the Japanese from refueling there. During this critical period, short-range aircraft were to attack Lae and Salamaua periodically to prevent those bases from sending aircraft to reinforce Rabaul.

Admiral Fletcher’s Plan

The Expeditionary Force Commander, Admiral Fletcher, issued his Operation Order No. 1-42 to Task Force 61 on 28 July. Task Force 61 was divided into two groups, the Air Support Force and the Amphibious Force. The Air Support Force, under the command of Rear Adm. Leigh Noyes, consisted of twenty-six warships and five tankers. This group was subdivided into three units, each built around an aircraft carrier. The first included the Saratoga, two heavy cruisers, and five destroyers. The carrier Enterprise, the battleship North Carolina, one heavy cruiser, one light antiaircraft cruiser, and five destroyers constituted another unit. The third unit was composed of the carrier Wasp, two heavy cruisers, six destroyers, and five tankers.

The Amphibious Force, under the command of Admiral Turner, consisted of twenty-three transports and twenty-eight warships. Turner’s force was composed of the South Pacific Amphibious Force, the naval forces from the Southwest Pacific, and three heavy cruisers, one light antiaircraft cruiser, and six destroyers from the Central Pacific. The Amphibious Force was to sail from the Fijis to a point about 400 nautical miles south of the west tip of Guadalcanal, and then to sail north at 12 knots toward the objectives. This course would keep the force well away from Japanese-held islands until time for the assault.

As the Amphibious Force would be landing its troops on islands which lay beyond range of fighter planes from the nearest Allied bases, it was to receive tactical air support directly from the Air Support Force which would also execute necessary aerial reconnaissance. It was apparently Fletcher’s intention to withdraw the carriers prior to D plus 3, somewhat short of the time required for the Amphibious Force to unload its ships completely. Admiral Ghormley was aware of this intention. Emphasizing the need for continuous air cover over the target area, he stated that if the airfield at Guadalcanal was operational he intended to base there squadrons from the carriers. These squadrons would then be relieved by land-based fighters sent in from Efate with extra gasoline tanks. But Admiral McCain pointed out that ten days would be required to fit the extra tanks to the Navy F4F fighters.

The advancing Amphibious Force was to be further protected by submarines operating in the vicinity of major Japanese bases. Five submarines of the Pacific Fleet were to cover the Truk area from 22 July to 20 August, while submarines from the Southwest Pacific were to patrol the waters near Rabaul.

Admiral Ghormley’s plan provided that, on the withdrawal of the Air Support Force, the Amphibious Force was to secure air support from Task Force 63. It should be noted, however, that the distances separating Espiritu Santo and Efate from Guadalcanal would prevent Task Force 63 from providing fighter cover for the marines on Guadalcanal until the airfield there could be developed enough to serve as a base. The Amphibious Force was to furnish escorts for its transports returning to Noumea after unloading. Damaged ships were authorized to return either to Noumea or to put in to other convenient friendly ports.

Source: Guadalcanal: The First Offensive ; BY: John Miller, Jr.

World War Two: Imperial Japanese Navy: Isolation of Java 1942

The Japanese planned to conquer the outlying islands of the Netherlands East Indies as a prelude to their final assault on Java. They had selected invasion targets which were rich in raw materials, and could provide airfields to cover future advances. They needed powerful fleets to escort them to the beachheads, giving covering fire as needed, protecting them against aggressive moves by ABDA’s combined fleet.

The operation to be employed incapturing Java wasa double envelopment. On the eastern flank, two invasion forces were created, commanded by Vive Admiral Ibo Yakahashi in the heavy cruiser Ashigara at Davao. The invasion forces were called the Eastern Invasion Force and Central Invasion Force, and were deployed to give each other mutual support and aid if needed. Untill the fall of Bandjarmasin on 16 February 1942, their invasions went on simultaneously. The Eastern Force was to lock in Java on the east, taking: Bangka Roads (in Celebes; not to be confused with Bangka Island , near Sumatra), Kema, Menado, and Kendari, Ambon Island, Makassar, Bali-Lombok, and Dutch and Portuguese Timor. To aid the Eastern Invasion Force, Admiral Nagumo used his carrier fleet, usually stationed south of Java, to knock out Port Darwin, Australia as a military staging base, and to present a constant threat to ABDA forces. The Central Invasion Force was to take Tarakan, Balikpapan, and Bandjarmasin (all in Dutch Borneo) and after the fall of Singapore, it was to launch an attack on west Java.

On the western flank, staging from Camranh Bay in French Indo-China, would be Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Distant Cover Force and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s South Expeditionary Fleet, which would capture Anambas Island and aid the Army’s conquest of Malaya and Singapore. After Singapore fell, this fleet would then assist in the capture of Bangka Island and Palembang, and the rest of southeast Sumatra. It would then undertake the invasion of Java from the west. In the east, Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi had a support force under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi, which provided close cover.

As the various Japanese invasion forces were gathering in French Indo-China and the Philippine Islands, the Japanese Navy suffered its first serious loss. At Malalag Bay Davao, the Major Elements of the eastern invasion forces were crowded together at anchor. Suddenly at 1100 on 4 January 1942, ten B-17’s of the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet made an attack on the crowded immobilized fleet. No advance air[raid warning had been signaled. The heavy cruiser Myoko was hit with a 250 pound bomb on her No. 2 turret, thirty-five men were killed, and twenty-nine wounded. Splinters hit various ships, and damaged four planes on the deck of the seaplane tender Chitose, 545 yards away. The heavy cruiser Nachi was also sprayed with bomb fragments. The Myoko had to go to Sasebo for repairs and did not return to action till 26 February. No Japanese planes intercepted the raiders, and antiaircraft fire was weak, so that the B-17’s returned to base undamaged. Negligence, perhaps bred by the easy successes already attained, had made the Japanese unprepared. The damage to the Myoko did not weaken the Cover Force, nor did it teach the Japanese a lesson; there would be many more incidents where the destructive power of the U.S. planes against anchored Japanese ships would be demonstrated.

The next target fir the Japanese was Celebes, a large island (70,000 square miles) lying east of Borneo and forming the western boundary to the Molucca Sea. It consists mainly of four long, twisting peninsulas separated by three deep gulfs. Because its elevation is much higher than Borneo, its vegetation is not as lush. It contains no rich oil fields, but instead is noted for its spices, coffee and a fair amount of gold, copper, ten and diamonds. It became a target for occupation, not so much for any material it could provide, but rather to clear the way for the Japanese expansion into the Molucca Sea area, and to provide air an naval bases to aid further occupation of the Netherlands East Indies.

Menado, Kema, Bangka Roads

Admiral Takahashi’s First Eastern Invasion Force left Davao in the southern Philipinne’s on 9 January 1942 for Mendo, Kema, Bangka Roads, at the northern tip of the Celebes. Opposing a powerful landing force of evelen transports, Menado had a garrison of only 1,500 men, fewer than 400 of them regular army troops. A few ABDA planes tried unsuccessfully to bomb the Japanese ships as they came to anchor. The landings were started at 0300 on 11 January and the Dutch were overwhelmed. There had been no need for the 334 Japanese naval paratroopers (in twenty-seven planes) flown from Davao, who confused the operation more than they helped it. (it was the first time the Japanese had used paratroopers, the winds were strong, and the drops were made from much too high an altitude. Equipment and men were scattered all over the end of the peninsula) The regular landings however, were made swiftly and the transports quickly left the area. The Menado airfield was in operation for the 21st Sir Flotilla by 24 January.

Kendari

The Eastern Invasion Force soon was on the move again, staging at Menado on 21 January and appearing off Kendari in the southeast Celebes on 24 January. An American seaplane tender, the Childs, upon leaving Kendari harbor, spotted the Japanese. A rain squall obscured the Childs for a while, allowing her to avoid two Japanese destroyers. She then suffered a bombing attack by six Japanese planes at 0800, but was unhit, and escaped to the south.

Kandari could not be given enough military support to stop the invasion, and little resistance was offered. There were only two men wounded in the landing force, and Kendari was fully occupied by the evening of the 24 January. It was indeed a prize for the Japanese; its air base was considered the best in the Dutch Indies, and was immediately put into operation by the 21st Air Flotilla. The new base put Japanese bombers within range of Surabaja, Java, with its naval base, and enabled to disrupt air reinforcements being sent to the Dutch Indies from Australia. Furthermore, the sea road had been opened to Ambon Island to the east and Makassar to the west. A primary naval base was established at Staring Bay, just to the south of Kendari.

Ambon Island

Although ABDA command’s intelligence had no way of knowing so, the Japanese wanted an early occupation of Ambon Island. Because its regular garrison of 2,600 Australian, British, Dutch, and American troops had been reinforced in December 1941 by an Australian battalion and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron of 13 Hudsons, Ambon Island posed an air threat to Kendari and blocked a Japanese advance to the Timors. The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters regarded an early Ambon Island invasion as dangerous but urgent. More than fifty planes from carriers Hiryu and Soryu began air raids on 24 January , the day Kendari fell, and were soon joined by other carrier-and-land-based aircraft.

In the fact of the superiority of Japanese air power, the RAAF squadron had been withdrawn from Ambon, leaving it without air defense. The Japanese force eleven transports anchored of the island on the night of 30 January. Predawn landings were made 31 January, covered by planes from the Chitose and the Mizuho, at Bangka Roads, Celebes. The garrison put up stiff resistance, in hopeless fight, the last ABDA troops surrendered on 3 February, and the complete occupation of the island was accomplished by the next day. The Japanese moved closer to establishing the eastern jaw of the pincers on Java.

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

World War Two: Imperial Japanese Navy: British Borneo 1941