Spirit Message of the Day – Nurture Innocence

Spirit Message of the Day – Nurture Innocence

INNOCENCE
“Whether you are a mother or just have a mother, we all know that the subject of mothers is complex. But here we are looking at a specific aspect of motherhood; its relationship with providing care.”

“In its ideal form, the love of a mother for her child is selfless, pure, and unconditional. She is devoted to the care of her child. She will sacrifice herself for them. Her love is not marred by an agenda; it is innocent. The fairy shown on this card holds the tiny life close to her. The child reaches out, forming their first relationship; a pure and simple action. The mother and baby nurture one another, giving to each other in different ways. In life, things are less than ideal, but still, we understand the responsibility of the care of an innocent, new life is major. It takes sacrifices, strength, and wisdom that we may not have imagined.”

“Motherhood, the practice of being a mother, can take many forms. We may be called to take care of something or someone that has nothing to do with babies. Caring for someone in this way can also be a gift, similar to motherhood. It can be an unusually satisfying experience.”

“This image, of the innocent mother and baby fairies, is one of those tender, touching images that really holds a thousand words. Mother and child cling together. Although the mother acknowledges us with a glance, we know that this attention is fleeting. In less than a moment, her focus will be back on her baby. For the time being, they are each other’s whole world. Her purple gown, representing her personal power, is bound with a white ribbon, representing purity and spirituality. She is using her abilities for one purpose only; to care for this child.”

MESSAGE FOR YOU
“Care needs to be given, and it’s up to you to give it. It may be a person or animal, an event, ora project. Whatever it is, there is a need for you to focus, at least for a while, only on it. You will need to put some of your own needs and desires on the back burner for the time being, and attend to the need at hand. This card could also mean that you are the one in need and should accept the care and help that is being offered.” 

Today’s message is from Barbara Moore’s book entitled Enchanted Oracle with oracle card art from Jessica Galbreth.

Published on SpiritBlogger’s Blog

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World War Two: Europe (2-6); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Planning

A maxim of war is that you reinforce success. In early September of 1944, the problem was not to find a success but to choose among many. The very nature of General Eisenhower’s strategic reserve narrowed the choice. His reserve was not conventional but airborne.

In anticipation of an opportunity to use this latent strength, General Eisenhower as early as mid-July had solicited his planners to prepare an airborne plan marked by “imagination and daring.” Spurred by this directive and the glittering successes of the breakout and pursuit, the planning staffs had begun almost to mass produce blue-prints for airborne operations.

By mid-August creation of a combined Allied airborne headquarters controlling most of the airborne troops and much of the troop carrier strength in the theater had implemented the planning. This headquarters was the First Allied Airborne Army. General Eisenhower’s desire for a suitable occasion to employ the army was heightened by the fact that the U.S. Chief of Staff, General Marshall, and General Henry H. Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces, wanted to see what a large-scale airborne attack could accomplish deep in enemy territory.

By the time the first Allied patrols neared the German border, eighteen separate airborne plans had been considered. Five had reached the stage of detailed planning. Three had progressed almost to the point of launching. But none had matured. The fledgling plans embraced a variety of objectives: the city of Tournai, to block Germans retreating from the Channel coast; the vicinity of Liege, to get the First Army across the Meuse River; the Aachen-Maastricht gap, to get Allied troops through the West Wall. In most cases fast-moving ground troops were about to overrun the objectives before an airborne force could be thrown in.

No matter that circumstances had denied an immediate commitment of SHAEF’s strategic reserve; the maxim of reinforcing success was nonetheless valid. Indeed, each day of fading summer and continued advance heightened desire for early use of the airborne troops. The paratroopers and glider-men resting and training in England became, in effect, coins burning holes in SHAEF’s pocket. This is not to say that SHAEF intended to spend the airborne troops rashly but that SHAEF had decided on the advisability of buying an airborne product and was looking about for the right occasion. Even the Germans believed an airborne attack imminent, although they had no fixed idea where.

The fact that a sensitive ear might have detected portentous sputtering’s as the Allied war machine neared the German border did little or nothing to lessen interest in an airborne operation. Except in the case of General Bradley, who was reluctant to relinquish the support of troop carrier aircraft flying supply missions, the signs that the pursuit might be nearing an end heightened the desire to use the airborne troops. Both General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery began to look to the airborne forces for the extra push needed to get the Allies across the Rhine River before the logistical situation should force a halt and enable the Germans to recoup behind the Rhine.

Most of the airborne plans considered in the last days of August and in early September focused upon getting some part of the Allied armies across the Rhine. Among these was Operation COMET, a plan to seize river crossings in the Netherlands near Arnhem along the projected axis of the Second British Army. COMET still was on the drawing boards when concern mounted that the one and a half airborne divisions allotted for the job would be insufficient. On 10 September COMET was canceled. Though canceled, COMET was not abandoned. On the day of cancellation, 10 September, Field Marshal Montgomery approached General Eisenhower with another proposal that was in effect a strengthening of COMET. After General Eisenhower had endorsed it, this plan looked like the real thing.

The new plan was labeled Operation MARKET. Three and a half airborne divisions were to drop in the vicinity of Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem to seize bridges over several canals and the Maas, Waal (Rhine), and Neder Rijn Rivers.

They were to open a corridor more than fifty miles long leading from Eindhoven northward. As soon as an adequate landing field could be secured, an air portable division was to be flown in as reinforcement. In a companion piece named Operation GARDEN, ground troops of the Second British Army were to push from the Dutch-Belgian border to the Ijsselmeer (Zuider Zee), a total distance of ninety-nine miles. The main effort of the ground attack was to be made by the 30 Corps from a bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal a few miles south of Eindhoven on the Dutch-Belgian frontier. On either flank the 8 and 12 Corps were to launch supporting attacks.

Operation MARKET-GARDEN had two major objectives: to get Allied troops across the Rhine and to capture the Ruhr. Three major advantages were expected to accrue: (1) cutting the land exit of those Germans remaining in western Holland; (2) outflanking the West Wall, and (3) positioning British ground forces for a subsequent drive into Germany along the North German Plain.

Although the proposed operation prompted some objections at 12th Army Group, at First Allied Airborne Army, and even among some members of Field Marshal Montgomery’s staff, it conformed to

General Arnold’s recommendation for an operation some distance behind the enemy’s forward positions and beyond the area where enemy reserves normally were located; it afforded an opportunity for using the long-idle airborne resources; it was in accord with Montgomery’s desire for a thrust across the Rhine, while the enemy was disorganized; and it appeared to General Eisenhower to be the boldest and best move the Allies could make at the moment. At the least, General Eisenhower thought the operation would strengthen the 21st Army Group in its later fight to clear the Schelde estuary and open the port of Antwerp to Allied shipping. Field Marshal Montgomery examined the objections that the proposed route of advance “involved the additional obstacle of the Lower Rhine (Neder Rijn) as compared with more easterly approaches, and would carry us to an area relatively remote from the Ruhr.” He considered these to be overridden by the fact that the operation would outflank the West Wall, would be on a line which the enemy would consider least likely for the Allies to use, and would be within easy range of Allied airborne forces located in England.

Operation MARKET-GARDEN was nothing if not daring. It was particularly so in light of a logistical situation that, at best, was strained and in light of the unpredictable nature of the weather in northwestern Europe at this season. Set against these factors was the climate of opinions that pervaded most Allied headquarters during early September. This was the same optimistic period when the First Army was preparing to dash through the West Wall in a quick drive to the Rhine. Not until the day Operation MARKET began was the First Army to experience any particular trouble in the West Wall; even then it would have been hard to convince most Allied commanders that this rugged countenance the Germans had begun to exhibit was anything more than a mask.

Fairly typical of the Allied point of view was SHAEF’s estimate of the situation a week before the airborne attack. The SHAEF G-2 estimated enemy strength throughout the West at 48 divisions with a true equivalent of 20 infantry and 4 armored divisions. Four days before the airborne attack the 1st British Airborne Corps calculated that the Germans in the Netherlands had few infantry reserves and

a total armored strength of not more than fifty to one hundred tanks. While numerous signs pointed to German reinforcements of river and canal lines near Arnhem and Nijmegen, the British believed the troops manning them were few and of a “low category.” Thinking back after the operation was over, the 1st British Airborne Division recalled, “It was thought the enemy must still be disorganized after his long and hasty retreat from south of the River Seine and that though there might be numerous small bodies of enemy in the area, he would not be capable of organized resistance to any great extent.”

This is not to say that warning notes were not struck. By 10 September, the day when General Eisenhower approved the operation, the British had remarked that “Dutch Resistance sources report that battered panzer formations have been sent to Holland to refit, and mention Eindhoven and Nijmegen as the reception areas.” A few days later the SHAEF G-2 announced that these panzer formations were the 9th SS Panzer Division and presumably the 10th SS Panzer Division. They probably were to be reequipped with new tanks from a depot reported “in the area of Cleves [Kleve] ,” a few miles across the German frontier from Nijmegen and Arnhem.

News of these two German armored divisions near Arnhem caused particular concern to General Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter B. Smith. Believing strongly that the Allies would have to employ not one but two airborne divisions at Arnhem if they were to counter the German armor, General Smith obtained the Supreme Commander’s permission to go to Field Marshal Montgomery with a warning. Either they should “drop the equivalent of a second division in the Arnhem area” or change the plan and move one of the American divisions, scheduled to drop farther south, up to Arnhem. But, General Smith recalled after the war, “Montgomery “ridiculed the idea” and “waved my objections airily aside.”

The likelihood of encountering enemy armor in the vicinity of the drop zones obviously was of serious concern to airborne commanders, particularly in view of the fifty-mile dispersion of the airborne drop. American commanders, whose troops possessed even less in the way of antitank weapons than did British airborne troops, were especially perturbed. There were other disturbing signs. Stiffening resistance around the British bridgehead across the Meuse-Escaut Canal did not go unremarked. The G-2 of the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division noted further, “A captured document indicates that the degree of control exercised over the regrouping and collecting of the apparently scattered remnants of a beaten army [was] little short of remarkable. Furthermore, the fighting capacity of the new Battle Groups formed from the remnants of battered divisions seems unimpaired.”

Despite these warnings, the general view appeared to be as recounted after the operation by the British Airborne Corps. This was that “once the crust of resistance in the front line had been broken, the German Army would be unable to concentrate any other troops in sufficient strength to stop the breakthrough.” Although the XXX British Corps would have to advance ninety-nine miles, leading units “might reach the Zuider Zee between 2-5 days after crossing the Belgian-Dutch frontier.”

The Germans In the Netherlands

Had MARKET-GARDEN been scheduled two weeks earlier than it was, the Allies would have found the German situation in the Netherlands much as they predicted. For not until 4 September, when news of the fall of Antwerp had jolted Hitler into dispatching General Student and headquarters of the First Parachute Army to the Dutch-Belgian border, was cohesion of any description introduced into German defenses along this “door to northwestern Germany.” General Student had at first but one corps, the LXXXVIII Corps under General der Infanterie Hans Reinhard, and one division, the 719th Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Karl Sievers. The corps headquarters General Student had borrowed from the neighboring Fifteenth Army. The division was a “fortress” division that had been guarding the coast of the Netherlands since 1940.

Though at full strength, this one division was scarcely sufficient to cover the entire corps front, a fifty-mile stretch along the Albert Canal from Antwerp southeast to Hasse Lieutenant General Reinhard therefore concentrated the bulk of the 719th Division in the west near Antwerp where he expected the main British attack. A drive north from Antwerp was logical, for by continuing in this direction the British might seal off the island of Walcheren and the peninsula of South Beveland from the Dutch mainland. This appeared expedient; for even though seizure of Antwerp had trapped the German Fifteenth Army against the coast the bulk of that army yet might escape across the Schelde estuary to Walcheren and South Beveland and thence to the mainland. If the British corked up these two promontories, they might annihilate the Fifteenth Army at will and in so doing clear the seaward approaches to Antwerp, without which the port was useless.

General Reinhard hardly could have anticipated that Field Marshal Montgomery was so intent on getting a bridgehead across the Rhine that he would turn his drive northeastward toward the left wing of the LXXXVIII Corps in the direction of Eindhoven. From a local viewpoint, the reorientation of the British drive meant that the 719th Division’s Albert Canal line would be hit along its weak eastern extension.

Prospects for averting a major breakthrough across the Albert toward Eindhoven were dark, when from an unexpected source came assistance. It emerged in the form of an audacious and prescient commander, Generalleutnant Kurt Chill. Retreating from the debacle in France with remnants of his own 85th Infantry Division and two others, General Chill had received orders to assemble his survivors in the Rhineland. Soon thereafter, General Chill perceived the critical situation along the Albert Canal. Acting with independence and dispatch, he postponed his withdrawal in order to set up straggler rallying points along the canal.

By nightfall of 4 September General Chill had caught in his net a conglomeration of Navy, Luftwaffe, and military government troops and men from almost every conceivable branch of the Wehrmacht. A crazy-quilt mob-but General Chill managed in a matter of hours to fashion a fairly presentable defense that was sufficient to repulse the first minor British probes toward the canal.

On 6 September General Chill reported to General Reinhard to subordinate his Kampfgruppe Chill to the LXXXVIII Corps. General Reinhard must have embraced the reinforcement with delight; for on this same day the British had penetrated the extended outposts of the 719th Division to force a bridgehead over the Albert at BeerinGeneral (This was one of the bridgeheads subsequently employed by General Corlett’s XIX U.S. Corps to get across the canal.) To General Chill fell the problem of containing the bridgehead.

For all the danger inherent in the Beeringen bridgehead, the First Parachute Army commander, General Student, could take satisfaction in the fact that tangible subordinate units now were controlling the bulk of his front from Antwerp to Hassel Only on the extreme eastern wing near Maastricht was there an out and-out gap, and this he was to fill the next day, 7 September, with the 176th Division under Colonel Landau. (This was the division which subsequently opposed the left wing of General Corlett’s XIX Corps.)

During the next fortnight, some of General Student’s own parachute troops began to arrive in the army sector. Having been either rehabilitated or newly constituted, these units included five new parachute regiments, a new parachute antitank battalion, about 5,000 service troops, a battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, and another formation with a noble record, the 6th Parachute Regiment. Under command of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich-August Freiherr von der Heydte, the 6th Parachute Regiment had acquitted itself admirably enough in Normandy to attain the prestige, if not the strength, of a division. The regiment had been reconstituted to a strength considerably in excess of a normal parachute regiment.

General Student threw in the bulk of his parachute troops against the British bridgehead at Beeringen. First he committed one of the newly constituted parachute regiments, the battalion of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, and the entire 6th Parachute Regiment, all organized into a Kampfgruppe that took its name from the commander, Colonel Walther. Next General Student threw in three of his remaining new parachute regiments, organized into Parachute Training Division Erdmann under Student’s chief of staff, Generalleutnant Wolfgang Erdmann. [This unit later was re-designated the 7th Parachute Division.] These units were responsible for the stiffening German resistance noted along the Dutch-Belgian border. Yet the end result was merely to weaken the German paratroopers on the very eve of MARKETGARDEN.

By mid-September the British had defeated every effort to repulse them at Beeringen and had pressed forward an additional twenty miles to throw two bridgeheads across the Meuse-Escaut Canal. The main bridgehead was at De Groote Barrier on the road to Eindhoven. There the British paused to await their role in MARKET-GARDEN.

From west to east the First Parachute Army was lined up in this order of battle: From Antwerp to the juncture of the Albert and Meuse-Escaut Canals was General Sievers’ 719th Division. Opposing the two British bridgeheads beyond the Meuse-Escaut were Kampfgruppe Chill and Kampfgruppe Walther, the latter with at least two battalions of Colonel von der Heydte’s 6th Parachute Regiment still on hand. All these troops were under General Reinhard’s LXXXVIII Corps. From the bridgehead on the Eindhoven highway east to the boundary with the Seventh Army near Maastricht were the two divisions under General Student’s direct control, Division Erdmann and the 176th Division.

 In the meantime, the trapped Fifteenth Army under General der Infanterie Gustav von Zangen had been taking advantage of the reorientation of the British drive. Leaving some units to hold the south bank of the Schelde, Zangen began to ferry the bulk of his army across the estuary. Divisions released by this movement he assembled behind the western wing of the First Parachute Army. The first of these divisions was the 245th Infantry, a collection of chaff that even a mild wind might blow away. On 16 September this division was transferred to the First Parachute Army’s LXXXVIII Corps and utilized by General Reinhard to back up the line in rear of Kampfgruppe Chill. The second was the 59th Infantry Division under Generalleutnant Walter Poppe, which was in transit to the First Parachute Army’s sector just as the Allied airborne landings occurred. General Poppe still had about a thousand good infantrymen and a few engineers, a field replacement battalion, eighteen antitank guns, and about thirty 105-and 150-mm. howitzers.

Both the First Parachute Army and the Fifteenth Army were subordinate to Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B, the same headquarters which controlled General Brandenberger’s Seventh Army at Aachen. In addition, Field Marshal Model exercised tactical control over forces of the Armed Forces Command Netherlands, a headquarters not appreciably unlike that of a U.S. communications zone. Specifically, an armed forces commander was the highest military commander in occupied territories (like Norway or the Netherlands), which were governed by a civilian (Nazi party) Reich commISSIOner (Reichskommissar). His duties were to represent the interests of the Wehrmacht with the civilian administration, to safeguard the administration, to guard military installations such as railways, roads, and supply dumps, and to co-ordinate the needs of individual branches of the Wehrmacht m his territory. In the Netherlands this post had been held since 1940 by the senior Luftwaffe officer, General der Flieger Friedrich Christiansen.

Even though the First Parachute Army and part of the Fifteenth Army had moved into the Netherlands, General Christiansen’s Armed Forces Command Netherlands on the eve of MARKET-GARDEN still was charged with considerable responsibility.

Much as U.S. forces draw army rear boundaries delineating responsibility between the armies and the communications zone, the Germans had drawn a line across the rear of their two armies in the Netherlands. General Christiansen still was charged with defending all territory north of that line, which followed generally the Maas and Waal Rivers. Because MARKET-GARDEN involved a penetration deep into the enemy rear areas, Christiansen and his troops would be embroiled in the fighting much as would the field armies.

Through events culminating in departure of the 719th Division for the Dutch-Belgian border, General Christiansen had lost to the active fighting commands all of three divisions which originally he had possessed for defense of the Netherlands. As mid-September approached, he had left only a miscellany of regional defense and housekeeping troops of all four services: Army, Navy, Luftwaffe, and Waffen-SS.

 Because the Allied landing zones at Nijmegen and Arnhem were but a few miles from the German border, troops and headquarters of another of the enemy’s rear echelon formations also might become involved. This headquarters was Wehrkreis VI. Similar in some respects to the corps areas into which the United States was divided before the war, the German Wehrkreise were, in effect, military districts.

The headquarters of these districts were administrative commands responsible for training replacements, organizing new units, and channeling materiel. Adjacent to the corridor the Allies planned to seize in the Netherlands, Wehrkreis VI embraced almost the whole of the province of Westphalia and parts of three other provinces. During the course of the war, Wehrkreis VI had activated numerous divisions and, as the war in the West had taken a turn for the worse, had relinquished as combat divisions even its replacement training units, the very framework about which the replacement system functioned. In mid-September the only major headquarters remaining in Wehrkreis VI was an administrative unit. This too had to go into the line to occupy the West Wall north of Aachen as the 406th (Landesschuetzen) Division.

 Upon reaching the front, the 406th Division came under an ad hoc corps staff headed by General der Kavallerie Kurt Feldt, formerly Military Governor for Southwest France (Militaerbefehlshaber Suedwestfrankreich) until the inexorable march of events had dethroned him. In recognition of the provisional nature of the command, General Feldt’s corps became known not by numerical designation but as Corps Feldt. Except for the 406th Division, General Feldt had only a smattering of armored replacement units. Within his lone division the troops represented the very last reserve Wehrkreis VI possibly could muster: vanous Alarmeinheiten (emergency alert units), numerous “ear” and “stomach” battalions, and several Luftwaffe battalions formed from Luftwaffe noncommissioned officer training schools.

The Allied airborne attack under normal circumstances might have encountered only a portion of the First Parachute Army, those two divisions of the Fifteenth Army which by mid-September had escaped across the Schelde, and those scratch rear echelon formations of Armed Forces Commander Netherlands and Wehrkreis VI. But as luck would have it, Field Marshal Model late on 3 September had issued an order that was destined to alter markedly the German strength in the immediate vicinity of the Allied landing zones. On 3 September the Army Group B commander had directed that the Fifth Panzer Army, retreating in disorder from France, release the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions to move to the vicinity of Arnhem for rehabilitation.

Two days later Model ordered that headquarters of the II SS Panzer Corps under SS-ObergruppenFührer und General der Waffen-SS Willi Bittrich also move to the vicinity of Arnhem. General Bittrich was to direct rehabilitation of the 9th SS Panzer Division and two panzer divisions (the 2nd and 116th), which were to move to the Netherlands whenever they could disengage from combat under General Brandenberger’s Seventh Army.

 In failing to include the 10th SS Panzer Division in the charge to General Bittrich, Model apparently had in mind another order which he issued formally four days later on 9 September. He instructed the 10th SS Panzer Division to continue past Arnhem into Germany for rehabilitation presumably more thorough than could be accomplished near Arnhem. At the same time, Model altered General Bittrich’s orders in regard to the 9th SS Panzer Division. Seeing the threat to Aachen posed by continuing advance of the First U.S. Army, Model instructed the 9th SS Panzer to prepare to move against this threat.

Unfortunately for the Allies, only minor elements of either of these SS divisions had begun to move away when the first Allied parachutists landed unsuspectingly within half a day’s march from their assembly areas. Field Marshal Model thus had a ready reserve with which to fight back.

Seven Days for Planning

On the Allied side, the planning and command for the airborne phase of MARKET-GARDEN became the responsibility of the First Allied Airborne Army. The army commander, Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, had been a top air commander in the Pacific and the Middle East. Having moved to England as commander of the Ninth Air Force for the air war against Germany, General Brereton had assumed command of the First Allied Airborne Army on 8 August 1944.

He was given operational control of the following: headquarters of the XVIII U.S. Corps (Airborne), commanded by Major General Matthew B. Ridgway; headquarters of the 1st British Airborne Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General F. A. M. Browning, who served also as deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army; the IX U.S. Troop Carrier Command under Major General Paul L. Williams; and two Royal Air Force troop carrier groups (38 and 46) . American airborne troops under General Brereton’s control were the veteran 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the untried 17th Airborne Division, the latter not scheduled to participate in MARKET. British troops at his disposal were the 1st Airborne Division and the 52nd Lowland Division (Air-portable), plus special air service troops and the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, the latter to serve in MARKET under command of the 1st Airborne Division.

The first major planning conference -on Operation MARKET convened in England late on 10 September, only a few hours after General Eisenhower in a meeting with Montgomery at Brussels had given his approval. The first conference dealt primarily with command and administration. As deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, General Browning was to direct operations on the ground through headquarters of his British Airborne Corps. He and his headquarters were to fly in with the airborne divisions. The XVIII U.S. Corps was relegated to certain administrative functions and to general observation of the planning and conduct of the operation. Once the ground troops overran the airborne divisions, command was to pass to the 30 British Corps. Responsibility for the complex troop carrier role fell to the commander of the IX Troop Carrier Command, General Williams. The overall commander was General Brereton.

Although planning proceeded swiftly, Operation MARKET did not mature without acute growing pains. At the outset, lack of supply threatened to stunt or at least delay growth. On I I September Field Marshal Montgomery protested to General Eisenhower that the Supreme Commander’s failure to give priority to the northern thrust over other operations (that is, to the exclusion of other offensive operations) meant that the airborne attack could not be staged before 23 September, and possibly not before 26 September.

This delay,” the British commander warned, “will give the enemy time to organize better defensive arrangements and we must expect heavier resistance and slower progress.” General Eisenhower promptly sent his chief of staff, General Smith, to 21st Army Group headquarters to assure Montgomery that Allied planes and American trucks could deliver a thousand tons of supplies

per day. Confirming this in writing, General Eisenhower promised this tonnage until about 1 October. At the same time, he said, the First U.S. Army would have sufficient supplies to continue its attack at Aachen.

Except that Montgomery urged that emergency supply be continued a week past I October, by which time a through railway supporting the British should be in operation, he was thoroughly placated. “Most grateful to you personally and to Beetle,” Montgomery wrote the Supreme Commander, “for all you are doing for me.” Making the usual salaam to the vagaries of weather, he set forward the target date six days to 17 September.

Field Marshal Montgomery’s decision meant that the First Allied Airborne Army had but seven days for planning and preparation, a period strikingly short even in view of the similarity to the defunct operation COMET-when contrasted with the long weeks and even months of planning and special training that had gone into most earlier airborne operations. Yet one of the cardinal reasons for executing MARKET at all was to take advantage of German disorganization: each day’s delay lessened that advantage. With that in mind, Field Marshal Montgomery had made his decision on the side of speed. In approving, General Eisenhower noted that not only could advantage be expected from speedy exploitation of the enemy’s condition but that an earlier release of the U.S. airborne divisions might be effected. This was desirable because of proposed operations to support General Bradley’s 12th Army Group.

One of the more crucial decisions facing General Brereton and the staff of the First Allied Airborne Army was that of daylight versus night attack. Moving by day, planes and gliders would be exposed to more accurate flak. This was a serious consideration, both because the C-47 (Sky train) troop carrier planes were low-speed aircraft possessing neither armor nor self-sealing gasoline tanks and because marked increase had been noted recently in antiaircraft guns in the vicinity of the target area. On the other hand, moving by night invited greater danger from enemy aircraft. Although the enemy’s daylight fighter force had been reduced almost to inconsequence, his night fighters had retained some measure of potency.

In regard to the actual drop, it went without saying that a daylight operation should provide a better drop pattern. To realize what could happen in the dark, one had but to recall the Normandy operation when drop sticks had scattered like windblown confetti.

A major factor governing selection of a night drop in Normandy had been a need to co-ordinate airborne and seaborne units. The plan for co-ordination of air and ground efforts in Operation MARKET-GARDEN imposed no restrictions. Neither had the Allies at the time of the Normandy drop possessed the unquestioned air supremacy they now had attained. It was an air supremacy that could be maintained through proximity of the target area to bases in England, France, and Belgium. Assured of a comprehensive anti-flak program, General Brereton made his decision: by day.

Another question was which of two routes to take to the target area. The more direct route from England passed over islands in the Schelde-Maas estuary. The aircraft would be subject to fire from flak barges and coastal flak positions and would have to fly some eighty miles over enemy-occupied territory. The alternative was a longer southern route. Over friendly Belgium most of the way, this route involved a maximum flight over enemy territory of sixty-five miles. On the other hand, flak was thick among the enemy front lines south of Eindhoven.

General Brereton and his planners considered that one long column would expose rear elements to an alerted enemy and that parallel columns along the same path would provide too many flak gunners with optimum targets. With these points in mind, they found a solution in compromise. The two divisions scheduled to land farthest north were to take the northern route across the Dutch islands.

The other division was to follow the southern route across Belgium to a point near Bourg-Leopold, thence north across the front lines into the Netherlands. A third task of selecting appropriate drop and landing zones was more complex. Factors like flak, terrain, assigned objectives, priority of objectives, direction of flight-these and countless others entered into the consideration, so that in the end the drop zones that were selected represented, as always, compromise in its least attractive connotation. The division scheduled to land farthest north, for example, wanted drop zones close to and on either side of the major objective of the Arnhem bridge across the Neder Rijn. Because of the buildings of the city, flak concentrations close to the city, and terrain south of the bridge deemed too boggy and too compartmented by dikes, this division settled for drop zones only on one side of the river and no closer to the bridge than six to eight miles. Whether flak and terrain might not have been less of a problem than distance from the objective hardly could have been answered unequivocally during the planning stage; indeed, the actual event may not always provide an unqualified answer.

Terrain in the target area was unusual, a patchwork pattern of polder land, dikes, elevated roadways, and easily defended waterways. The biggest obstacles were the three major rivers, ranging in width from 200 to 400 yards, which provided the basic motive for airborne participation: the Maas ( Meuse), the Waal (Rhine) , and the Neder Rijn. The proposed corridor also encompassed two smaller rivers, the Dommeland the Aa, and three major canals: the Wilhelmina, the Willems, and the Maas-Waal.

Because of these waterways, the texture of the soil, and innumerable drainage ditches and dikes, a vehicular column would be road-bound almost all the way from Eindhoven to Arnhem. This was a harsh restriction. Although the cities of Eindhoven, Nijmegen, and Arnhem are communications centers, all with more than 100,000 population, only one main highway passes through them in the direction the ground troops in Operation GARDEN were to take. It runs from Eindhoven through St. Oedenrode, Veghel, Grave, and Nijmegen, thence to Arnhem. The planners had to consider that failure to secure any of the bridges along this route might spell serious delay and even defeat for the entire operation.

Between Eindhoven and Arnhem the highway passes through fiat, open country with less than a 30-foot variation in altitude over a distance of fifty miles. The only major elevations in the vicinity of the road are two hill masses: one north of the Neder Rijn, northwest and north of Arnhem, rising to more than 300 feet; the other between the Maas and Waal Rivers, southeast of Nijmegen, rising to 300 feet. The two elevations represented some of the highest ground in the Netherlands.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the terrain is the extent and density of the vegetation. Almost every path and road is lined on either side by trees. Almost every field and every dike is topped by trees or large bushes. The result, during spring, summer, and early fall, is severe restriction of observation. Indeed, those who would fight in the Netherlands would encounter just as many problems of observation as did others in earlier wars in Flanders and the Po Valley of Italy. In terrain like this, it is difficult for the stronger force to bring its full power to bear at anyone point, and the ability of the weaker, defending force may be considerably enhanced.

Either the bridges over the waterways or features necessary to ensure seizure and retention of the bridges made up the principal objectives assigned to the three airborne divisions. Dropping farthest south between Eindhoven and Veghel, the 101st Airborne Division was to secure approximately fifteen miles of the corridor, including the city of Eindhoven and bridges at Zon, St. Oedenrode, and Veghel.

The 82nd Airborne Division was to drop in the middle to capture bridges over the Maas at Grave, the Waal at Nijmegen, and the Maas-Waal Canal in between, plus the high ground southeast of Nijmegen To the 1st British Airborne Division fell the role farthest from the start line of the ground troops, that of securing a bridge over the Neder Rijn at Arnhem and maintaining a bridgehead north of the river sufficiently large to enable the XXX Corps to pass through en route to the Ijsselmeer. The 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was to drop on D plus 2 to strengthen the British at Arnhem, and the 52 Lowland Division (Air-portable) was to be flown in north of Arnhem as soon as landing strips could be prepared. Reinforcing the British was in keeping with the fact that the 1st Airborne Division would be the last to be relieved by the ground columns.

Operation MARKET was the largest airborne operation ever mounted and was destined to retain that distinction through the rest of World War Two. Nevertheless, the size of the initial drop was restricted by the number of troop carrier aircraft available in the theater. Only about half the troops of the three airborne divisions could be transported in one lift.

Naturally anxious that all their strength arrive on D-Day, the division commanders asked that the planes fly more than one mission the first day. They pointed to the importance of bringing all troops into the corridor before the enemy could reinforce his antiaircraft defenses or launch an organized ground assault For their part, the troop carrier commanders dissented.

Flying more than one mission per aircraft, they said, would afford insufficient time between missions for spot maintenance, repair of battle damage, and rest for the crews. High casualties among the airmen might be the result if weather remained favorable, they pointed out, and if combat aircraft assumed some of the resupply missions, the troop carriers might fly but one mission daily and still transport three and a half divisions by D plus 2.

Although it meant taking a chance on enemy reaction and on the weather, General Brereton sided with the troop carrier commanders. He decided on one lift per day. Although subsequent planning indicated that it would in fact take four days to convey the divisions, General Brereton stuck by his decision.

The D-Day lift would be sufficient for transporting the advance headquarters of the British Airborne Corps, the three parachute regiments of both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, and three major increments of the 1st Airborne Division: a parachute brigade, an air landing brigade, and a regiment of air landing artillery.

Enough space remained in the first lift to permit the division commanders a degree of flexibility in choosing small units of supporting troops to go in on D-Day. In the second lift, on D plus 1, the remainder of the British airborne division was to reach Arnhem, the 101st was to get its glider infantry regiment, the 82nd its airborne artillery, and both American divisions another fraction of their supporting troops.

On D plus 2, despite anticipated demands of resupply, the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was to join the British at Arnhem, the 82nd was to get its glider infantry, and the 101st was to receive its artillery. On the fourth day the tails of all divisions might arrive.

For the D-Day lift the 101st Airborne Division was allotted 424 American parachute aircraft and 70 gliders and tugs, while the 82nd Airborne Division was to employ 480 troop carriers and 50 gliders and tugs. The 1st Airborne Division was to have 145 American carriers, 354 British and 4 American gliders, and 358 British tugs. Variance in the number of parachute and glider craft assigned the British and American divisions stemmed primarily from organizational differences. The variations between the American divisions were attributable to differences in objectives and proposed tactical employment. The 101st, for example, was to use the second lift to build up infantry strength, while the 82nd, in anticipation of a longer fight before contact with the ground column, was to concentrate on artillery. Some elements of all divisions not immediately needed were to travel by sea and thence overland in wake of the ground column.

While the airborne planning proceeded in England, planning and preparation for the companion piece, Operation GARDEN, progressed on the Continent under General Dempsey’s Second British Army. The 30 Corps under Lieutenant General Brian G. Horrocks was to strike the first blow on the ground an hour after the first parachutists jumped. As soon as logistics and regrouping might permit, the 8 and 12 Corps were to attack along either flank of the 30 Corps and gradually were to assume responsibility for the flanks of the salient created by the main attack. The advance of these two corps obviously would be affected by the strained logistical situation, by belts of marshy terrain crossed by few improved roads leading northward, and by the weakness of the 8 Corps, on the right, which would possess at first only one division.

The start line for the main attack by the 30 Corps was the periphery of the bridgehead north of the Meuse-Escaut Canal beyond De Groote Barrier, thirteen miles below Eindhoven. By moving behind a heavy curtain of artillery fire and fighter bomber attacks, General Horrocks hoped to achieve a quick breakthrough with the Guards Armoured Division, supported by the 43rd and 50th Infantry Divisions. In his formal orders, General Horrocks assigned the armor a D-Day objective of the village of Valkenswaard, six miles short of Eindhoven, which was the designated point of contact with the 101st Airborne Division. Yet General Horrocks said informally that he hoped to be in Eindhoven before nightfall on D Day.

Certainly the corps commander’s aside was more in keeping with Field Marshal Montgomery’s directive that the ground thrust be “rapid and violent, and without regard to what is happening on the flanks.In the same manner, a D-Day objective of Eindhoven rather than Valkenswaard was more realistic if General Horrocks was to succeed in expectations of reaching Arnhem “before the end of D plus 3” and of attaining the IJsselmeer, ninety-nine miles from his start line, in “six days or less.”

Directing that vehicles advance two abreast along the single highway through Eindhoven to Arnhem, General Horrocks prohibited southbound traffic. Over this highway to Arnhem, he told a briefing conference, he intended to pass 20,000 vehicles in sixty hours. Yet the British commander hardly could have been as sanguine as he appeared, judging from questions he asked later, in private. “How many days rations will they jump with? How long can they hold out? How many days will they be supplied by air?

What Did the Germans Know?

In hope of deceiving the Germans into believing that the Allied supply situation denied offensive action other than that already under way by the First and Third U.S. Armies, the British withdrew their advance patrols, in some cases as much as ten miles. They might have spared themselves the trouble. The Germans already had noted with apprehension a “constant stream” of reinforcements concentrating behind the right wing of the Second British Army. From 9 to 14 September the intelligence officer of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B issued daily warnings of an imminent British offensive, probably to be launched in the direction of Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Wesel. The objective: the Ruhr.

Projecting himself with facility into the position of the Allied high command, the Army Group B G-2 on 14 September put imaginary words into the mouth of General Eisenhower in the form of a mythical order:. . . The Second British Army [he imagined the Supreme Allied Commander to say] will assemble its units at the Maas-Scheldt [Meuse-Escaut] and Albert Canals. On its right wing it will concentrate an attack force mainly composed of armored units, and, after forcing a Maas crossing (see order to First U.S. Army), will launch operations to break through to the Rhenish-Westphalian Industrial Area [Ruhr] with the main effort via Roermond. To cover the northern flank, the left wing of the [Second British] Army will close to the Waal at Nijmegen, and thus create the basic conditions necessary to cut off the German forces committed in the Dutch coastal areas [the Fifteenth Army].

As far as the ground picture was concerned, this German intelligence officer should have been decorated for his perspicacity. The British actually had intended earlier to do as the German G-2 predicted, to strike close along the left flank of the First U.S. Army to cross the Rhine near Wesel. But the introduction of Operation MARKET had altered this concept drastically.

The German conception of what the Allies would do with their airborne reserve was far more daring than anything the Allies actually considered. Even though the Germans on the basis of purely strategic considerations expected an airborne operation about mid-September and even though they had a long-time paratrooper in command of the sector the Allies had chosen (First Parachute Army’s General Student), they could not see the southern part of the Netherlands as a likely spot. In putting words into the mouth of General Eisenhower, the Army Group B G-2,[NOTE 44D-AB-2] for example, predicted airborne operations in conjunction with the ground offensive which he outlined, but he looked far beyond the Netherlands to a spot fifty miles east of the Rhine.

[NOTE 44D-AB2: “In conjunction with [the Second British Army’s attack],” the G-2 noted in his mythical order, “a large-scale airborne landing by the First Allied Airborne Army north of the Lippe River in the area south of Muenster is planned for an as yet indefinite date …. ” Ibid. Eight days earlier this same G-2 had predicted, more conservatively, airborne operations near Aachen and in the Saar region. Summary Estimate of Allied Situation, 6 Sep 44, A Gp B KTB, Ie/AO.]

As incredible as an operation like this might have appeared to the Allies at the time, the Germans saw no fantasy in it. Indeed, a step higher up the ladder of German command, at OB WEST, Field Marshal von Rundstedt endorsed the view that the Allies would use their airborne troops east of the Rhine. Even within Hitler’s inner circle of advisers, none saw disparity between this prediction and reality. On the very eve of MARKET-GARDEN, the chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, Generaloberst Alfred JodI, voiced his concern about possible airborne landings in the northern part of the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark.

Thinking independently of his G-2, the Army Group B commander, Field Marshal Model, strayed equally far from reality, but with results not unfavorable to the Germans. Having received a report on 11 September that the Allies were assembling landing craft in British ports, Model reasoned that this meant a seaborne invasion of the Netherlands. Reports as late as the morning of 17 September, D-Day for Operation MARKET, of “conspicuously active” sea and air reconnaissance of the Wadden Islands off the Dutch coast fed both Model’s and Rundstedt’s apprehension. Both believed that the Allies would drop airborne troops in conjunction with a seaborne invasion. Even as Allied paratroopers and glider-men were winging toward the Netherlands, Rundstedt was ordering a thorough study of the sea- and air-landing possibilities in northern Holland. The results were to be reported to Hitler.

As for Field Marshal Model, he had gone Rundstedt one better. As early as 11 September, Model had alerted General Christiansen, the Armed Forces Commander Netherlands, and ordered him to defend the coast of the Netherlands with all forces at his disposal. Model went so far as to order that mobile interceptor units be formed from various forces, including elements of the II SS Panzer Corps that had been sent to the Netherlands for rehabilitation.

No indications existed to show that this order had any effect on the actual Allied attack. Another order, however, issued to provide Army Group B a reserve, did serve the Germans well. This was a directive from Model on 12 September transferring the 59th Division (General Poppe) from the Fifteenth Army to the sector of the First Parachute Army. As a result, the 59th Division was in transit near Tilburg, seventeen miles northwest of Eindhoven, when the first Allied parachutists dropped. This good fortune-plus the chance presence of the II SS Panzer Corps near Arnhem-was all the more singular because not only Model but no other German commander, including Hitler, had so much as an inkling of the true nature, scope, or location of the impending Allied airborne operation.

[NOTE: Oreste Pinto, Spy Catcher (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), maintains that presence of the SS divisions near Arnhem was the result of a betrayal of the MARKET-GARDEN plan before the event by a Dutch traitor. The theory has no basis in fact. It ignores German surprise at the landings as well as the fact that Model ordered the SS divisions to the Netherlands on 3 September, before the Allies even considered a plan like MARKET-GARDEN. The divisions were, in fact, ordered to Arnhem as the first step in later commitment of them in the Ardennes counteroffensive, an operation which Hitler had already decided upon. A retired Dutch army officer, Colonel T. A. Boeree, has prepared a point by-point refutation of the betrayal story and has provided a copy of his findings, entitled The Truth About the Supposed Spy at Arnhem, for OCMH. A commission of inquiry of the Netherlands Lower House has reported its findings on the matter in the fourth volume of its proceedings (Staten-Generaal Tweede Kamer Enquetecommissie Regeringsbeleid 1940-1945,]

The Flight to the Corridor

Back in England, troops not already on the airfields began to assemble on 15 September and were sealed in at daylight the next morning. At headquarters of General Browning’s British Airborne Corps, the general belief, as recalled later, was “that the flight and landings would be hazardous, that the capture intact of the bridge objectives was more a matter of surprise and confusion than hard fighting,

that the advance of the ground forces would be very swift if the airborne operations were successful, and that, in these circumstances, the considerable dispersion of the airborne forces was acceptable. 58

The troops themselves underwent the inescapable apprehensions that precede almost any military operation. In spite of their status as veterans, their fears were in many instances magnified for Operation MARKET. Not only were they to drop far behind enemy lines; they were to fly for a half hour or more over enemy territory and land in the full light of day. Neither of these had they done before September, made the final, irrevocable decision. D-Day was the next day, 17 September. H Hour was 1300.

The campaign began that night when the Royal Air Force Bomber Command started a program to eliminate as much as possible of the enemy’s antiaircraft defense while at the same time concealing

the fact that anything unusual was in the offing. A force of 200 Lancaster’s and 23 Mosquitoes dropped some 890 tons of bombs on German airfields from which fighters might threaten gliders and C-47’s. Another force of 59 planes struck by night at a flak position. In each case, the pilots reported good results. Particularly effective was a strike against an airfield where the enemy’s new Messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft were based. So cratered were the runways after the RAF raid that no jets could take off on 17 September.

Early on D-Day morning, 100 British bombers escorted by Spitfires renewed the assault by bombing three coastal defense batteries along the northern air route. As time pressed close for the coming of the troop carriers, 816 Flying Fortresses of the Eighth Air Force, escorted by P-51 ‘s, took up the fight. They dropped 3,139 tons of bombs on 117 flak positions along both the northern and southern routes. Six other B-17’s hit an airfield at Eindhoven. Including escorts, 435 British and 983 American planes participated in the preliminary bombardment. Only 2 B-17’S, 2 Lancaster’s, and 3 other British planes were lost.

To weave a protective screen about the two great trains of troop carriers, 1,131 Allied fighters took to the air. Along the northern route, a British command, Air Defense of Great Britain, provided 371 Tempests, Spitfires, and Mosquitoes. Along the southern route, the Eighth Air Force employed 548 P-47’s, P-38’s, and P-5 I ‘so Adding to the total, the Ninth Air Force employed 212 planes against flak positions near the front lines along the Dutch-Belgian border. All flights got an invaluable assist from the weather. Overland fog at the airfields in England had cleared by 0900.

Over the North Sea and the Continent the weather was fair with a slight haze. Visibility varied from four to six miles. Had the day been tailor-made it hardly could have been better for an airborne operation.

Beginning at 1025 on Sunday morning, 17 September, 12 British and 6 American transport planes flew into the east to drop Pathfinder teams on drop and landing zones 20 minutes before H-Hour. Close

behind them, from the stationary aircraft carrier that England had become, swarmed the greatest armada of troop carrying aircraft ever before assembled for one operation.

A force of 1,545 transport planes and 478 gliders took off that day from 24 airfields in the vicinity of Swinden, Newbury, and Grantham. Converging at rendezvous points near the British coast, the streams of aircraft split into two great trains to cross the North Sea. Along the northern route American planes: 1,175; British planes: 370; American gliders: 124; British gliders: 354. northern route went the planes and gliders carrying the 1st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and General Browning’s corps headquarters. Along the southern route went the 101st Airborne Division. Beacons and searchlight cones marked both rendezvous points and points of departure from the coast, while two marker boats fixed the routes over the North Sea.

A small percentage of planes and gliders aborted over England and the sea. To save personnel who ditched in the sea, the Air/Sea Rescue Service, a component of Air Defense of Great Britain, had placed a string of seventeen launches along the northern route and ten along the shorter southern route. In addition, planes of Air Defense of Great Britain, the British Coastal Command, and the Eighth Air Force flew as spotters for ditched planes and gliders. During the course of Operation MARKET, a total of 205 men were snatched from the sea.

The average time of flight from base to target area on D-Day was two and a half hours. From thirty to fifty minutes of this time was spent over enemy territory. Once the planes and gliders on the northern route reached the Dutch coast, they attracted flak ranging from light to heavy; but few aircraft were hit. Many German batteries were silent, victims of the preliminary bombardment. Others gave in quickly to ubiquitous British escort craft.

Along the southern route the 101st Airborne Division encountered concentrated flak as soon as the planes headed across German lines. One of the Pathfinder planes was hit and crashed. Some of the lower-flying planes and gliders in the main waves drew small arms fire. Although some serials escaped the flak almost without losses, others incurred severe damage. Yet few crippled planes fell before reaching the targets and releasing their loads. The paratroopers had unqualified praise for pilots who held doggedly to their courses, sometimes with motors in flames or wings broken and often at the price of their own lives after passengers or gliders had been released. No instance of a pilot resorting to evasive action under the stress of antiaircraft fire came to light on D-Day.

Luftwaffe reaction was hesitant, almost nonexistent. Although Allied pilots spotted approximately 30 German planes, only one group of about 15 Focke-Wulf 190’s dared to attack. These engaged a group of Eighth Air Force fighters over Wesel but quickly gave up after shooting down but 1 U.S. fighter, hardly fair exchange for the loss of 7 German planes.

The airmen executed two other missions on D-Day. Almost at H-Hour, 84 British planes of the 2nd Tactical Air Force attacked German barracks at Nijmegen, Arnhem, and two nearby cities; and after nightfall the RAF Bomber Command executed two dummy parachute drops with 10 aircraft each at points several miles to both east and west of the actual drop zones.

Planning staffs for Operation MARKET had been prepared to accept losses in transport aircraft and gliders as high as 30 percent. In reality, losses were a phenomenally low 2.8 percent. The enemy shot down not one plane or glider carrying the British airborne division and knocked out only 35 American troop carriers and 13 gliders, most of them along the southern route. Of the escort, the British lost 2 planes, the Americans 18. Total losses in transports, gliders, and fighters were 68.Out of a total of 4,676 transports, gliders, fighters, and bombers that participated on D Day, only 75 craft failed to get through.

Almost exactly at H-Hour transports in the leading serials began to disgorge their loads in the beginning of what was to become the most successful drop any of the three airborne divisions ever had staged, either in combat or training. British landings were almost 100 percent on the correct drop and landing zones. The 82nd Airborne Division’s landings were “without exception” the best in the division’s history. The 101st Airborne Division’s operation was a “parade ground jump” that from any viewpoint was the most successful the division had ever had.

A total of 331 British aircraft and 319 gliders and 1,150 American planes and 106 gliders got through. Within an hour and twenty minutes, approximately 20,000 American and British troops landed by parachute and glider in good order far behind enemy lines. The unparalleled success of the drops and landings made it clear early that the decision for a daylight operation had been, under the circumstances, a happy one. Up to this point, the Allies had staged an overwhelming success.

SOURCE: THE SIEGFRIED LINE CAMPAIGN; by: Charles B. MacDonald (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Europe (2-7); Operation MARKET-GARDEN-Invasion From the Sky

One Year Anniversary

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World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Java Sea

The diminution of the ABDA naval forces was caused by more than battle damage; ironically, there was then a fuel shortage in Java’s ports. Java had large oil deposits, but not in the quantity that Borneo and Sumatra did. It did have large storage facilities, but these were inland, and the Japanese who operated the oil facilities at the ports refused to work after the Japanese air raids began. Oil, then, was not readily available to warships needing to refuel. Likewise, munitions were running low; the destroyer tender Black Hawk issued her last torpedoes on 21 February, which meant that the destroyers Pillsbury and Parrott were eliminated from the ABDA naval force, since they had no torpedoes in their magazines.

The repair facilities in Java, which had always been inadequate for large naval forces, also had suffered from the bombing. Since such facilities could not accomplish necessary repair and overhaul, the number of warships available and ready for action was further diminished. The Stewart, which was damaged in the Battle of Badung Strait, was placed in dry-dock at Surabaja, only to have the dry-dock to collapse. The light cruiser Tromp, having been hit eleven times on her bridge and control tower in the Battle of Badung Strait, had to be sent to Australia for repairs, because there were no facilities in Java which were not already in use. The destroyer Banckert was knocked out of the war, severely damaged by a bombing raid on Surbaja on 24 February. The destroyer Whipple had collided with the De Ruyter and was inoperative; she was temporarily given a “soft’ bow but was still unfit for inclusion in the Combined Fleet. The destroyer Edsall had been damaged when depth charges were incorrectly set and exploded too near her stern. She too, could perform only limited escort duty. The Marblehead could not be repaired in Java and was sent to Ceylon. The Black Hawk was sent to Australia, escorted by the destroyers Bulmer and Barker, which were in a sorry state of disrepair, with their torpedo supplies almost exhausted.

Even among those left in the ABDA force, the heavy cruiser Houston’s after turret were still inoperable, although her forward guns were still working. Indeed all the ships left to Admiral Doorman were in need of overhaul; the fore that was to face Japan in a last effort to stop the invasion of east Java was simply inadequate. So desperate was the situation that General Wavell, after consultation with Washington, dissolved ABDA Command on 25 February 1942 and placed the defense of Java under the operational command of Admiral Helfrich. All Army, naval and air forces were now commanded by Dutch officers.

In contrast, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, with the riches prize now locked in, prepared a massive assault with both army and navy units. Their plan called for three landings on the western end of Java, in Sunda Strait–at Bantam Bay, Merak, and Eretenwetan–for the capture of the capital of Batavia. An eastern wing was to land at Kragan, 100 miles west of Surabaja. Preliminary to the landing, Bawean Island, 80 miles north of Surabaja, was to be invaded to set up a radio station.

Two covering forces hovered south of Java. These were Admiral Nobutake Kondo’s Southern Force, Main Body, and Admiral Nagumo’s First Mobile Fleet, Carrier Strike Force, the latter still constituted as it had been for the Pearl harbor raid. They were so placed as to cut off Australia from Java and India. Nagumo’s planes thus interdicted and sank the seaplane tender Langley, with thirty-two desperately needed P-40’s near Tjilatjap.

Java was important to the Japanese, for it had considerable oil deposits and it also had a number of important refineries. The island, the most densely populated region in the world (50 million inhabitants) was the administrative, industrial, and vital working center for the 3,000-mile-long chain of the Netherlands East Indies. It was the heart of the Dutch possessions in the South Seas.

The responsibility for the capture of Surabaja was given to the Imperial Japanese Army’s 48th Division, which had been fighting in the Philippines. It was brought to Jolo and embarked on transports, sailing on 19 February as the First Escort Force. The convoy put in at Balikpapan to take on the 56th Regiment (without the detachment at Bandjarmasiin), and sailed again on 23 February. On 25 February, it was joined by the Second Escort Force, led by the Jintsu (light cruiser) and her nine destroyers.

For the invasion of Batavia in the west, the Japanese Army combined the headquarters of the 16th Army, 2nd Division , and the 230th Regiment of the 38th Division. The convoy of fifty-six transports left Camranh Bay on 18 February. On the first leg of it’s journey, this Third Escort Force was screened by the Natori (light cruiser) and her eight destroyers. As it neared it’s three beachheads, it was further backed up by the West Support Force of four cruisers and three destroyers, the Yura and her eight destroyers, and by the light carrier Ryujio and seaplane tenders Chitose and Mizuho.

ABDA Command knew of the concentration of ships at Jolo and received correct information on 24 February that several invasion armadas were headed south. It had guessed correctly that the invasion would be a two-pronged one. There was little that could be done about it, beside awaiting the appearance of Japanese ships and attacking them as the situation developed. AbDA naval forces had been under constant attack by land-based planes, from the east, north, and west, it’s retaliatory force was thus being reduced daily. Nevertheless, ABDA Command planned to use it’s remaining bombers on the first warships that appeared, and then to throw its’ combined Strike Fleet at the convoy.

It was the Eastern Force that appeared first, when destroyers from the First Escort Force backed the occupation of Bwean Island on 25 February. At once Admiral Helfrich commander-in-chief of all naval forces in Java, ordered Admiral Doorman to concentrate his naval forces at Surabaja, thus bring in the heavy cruiser Exeter, the light cruiser Perth, and the destroyers Jupiter, Electra and Encounter from Batavia. (the light cruiser Hobart was also in Batavia, but was low on fuel, because the tanker that could have refueled her was put out of action by an air raid on the morning of 25 February.) Admiral Doorman did not await the arrival of the ships from Batavia, however. On 25 February, he used this ships at Surabaja in a dusk-to-dawn sweep along the coast westward toward Madura, hoping to intercept transports. He was joined by the Batavian contingent upon his return to Surabaja. By then reports of large convoys, headed for both east and west Java, were coming in. Doorman ordered the remaining ships at Batavia–the Australian light cruiser Hobart, two old Royal Navy light cruisers, the Dragon and the Scout, and the Dutch destroyer Evertsen–all now Mobil, to intercept a Japanese convoy, reported to be nearing Muntok. They sortied at 2200, back were back in port by 0100hrs on 26 February.

On 27 February, the same force was ordered to make another sweep to the north from Batavia; if no enemy was sighted by 0430 on 28 February, the force was to escape through the Sunda Strait to the British naval base at Trincomalee, Ceylon. All but the Dutch destroyer Evertsen went to Ceylon. The Evertsen, however lost contact with her siter ships, because of a squall. She then tried to join the Houston and Perth, which were in action at Bantam Bay. Engaged in a fire fight with the destroyers Murakumo and Shirakumo, she received hits, caught fire and was beached.

The Second Escort Fleet, leaving the armada bound for Kragan, was disorganized as it neared Java. Lieutenant Commander Tameichi Hara (later to be captain), skipper of the destroyer Amastukaze, felt that Admiral Yamamoto, who was convinced that air power in Java had been eliminated, was unwise in sending the Carrier Strike Force to make a raid in to the Indian Ocean , while cancelling air cover from land-based planes. “This audacity resulted in jeopardizing the operation of at least the convoy I escorted.”

The convoy of forty-0ne transports was disposed in two columns, sailing slowly at 10 knots and zigzagging in what Hara thought was a disgraceful manner. Many of the transports were requisitioned merchant ships, whose captains were inexperienced in this kind of operation. The convoy straggled over a length of 20 miles. At its head were four minesweeper, in line abreast at 3,300 yards, followed by three destroyers with a similar spacing. Behind this double advance line came the light cruiser Naka with a small patrol ship on either side. The middle section of he transports had one destroyer on each side. Much father away to port came the light cruiser Jintsu with the four destroyers of Destroyer Division 16 ( of which the Amatsukaze was a part). The eastern Region Support Force of the heavy cruisers Nachie and Haguro was 200 miles astern.

Hara’s dears might well have been realized it the Dutch had had more planes, or if Admiral Doorman had attacked the convoy when its exact position had been given to him, at 1357 on 27 February. A PBY had attacked the Amatsukaze at 0600 on the 26th February, its bomb dropping, however 300 yards ahead of the destroyer. A few fighter planes flying from Balikpapan were giving afternoon cover for the Japanese ships that day. At 1748, two American b-17’s flying from Malang broke through a low ceiling, this time dropping six 500-lb bombs. The bombs were poorly aimed , however; four hit about 1,000 yards from the Amatsukaze and two about 500 yards from the Hatsukaze.

Admiral Doorman’s strike force did not make an immediate assault on the reported invasion fleet-probably out of weariness and fear of the enemy planes, rather than a command indecision. His fleet had spent the night of 26 February o a searching sweep that took him to Bawean Island shortly before the Japanese occupied it. Luck was against Doorman, for the Bawean Island occupation force had only a light naval escort. He turned back toward Surabaja at 0900 on 27 February. Although Admiral Helfrich had asked him to immediately attack convoys now being constantly reported by air reconnaissance, Doorman nevertheless returned to Surabaja at about 1400. But again Helfrich ordered him to turn and fight, so he once more reversed course to seek the enemy.

A scout plane from Balikpapan had reported the morning movement of Doorman’s force. Its proximity to the advance echelons of the eastern convoy now began to alarm the Japanese naval command. The Nachi catapulted a plane which was to keep Doorman’s force in sight, and both heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, with the destroyers Ikazuchi and Abebono, went to top speed in order to be in a position when Admiral Doorman finally made his sortie from outer Surabaja harbor toward the convoy. The Battle of the Java Sea was about to begin.

FIRST PHASE: 1525-1650—-27 February

The Japanese were not caught by surprise, for the Nachi’s scout plane had been radioing accurate ships’ positions. Doorman’s strike force had its cruiser in column led by the light cruiser De Ruyter (flagships), followed by the heavy cruisers Exeter and Houston( the latter could fire only her forward turrets), and the light cruiser Perth and Java. On the columns port beam were the two Dutch destroyers Witte de With and Kortenauer.

On the port quarter of the cruiser column came the U.S. destroyers John D. Edwards, Alden, John D. Ford, and Paul Jones. (the Pope was in Surabaja harbor but could not catch up with Doorman’s force) Three miles from the main columns starboard bow were the English destroyers Electra, Jupiter and Encounter. The group set a course northwest by west almost crossing, at first, the Japanese convoys column’s escorts heading south.

The Japanese had, in column, the light cruiser Jintsu (flagship Destroyer Squadron 2) with four destroyers: the Yukikaze (with Rear Admiral Tanaka on board) and the Tokitsukaze, Amastsukaze, and Hatsukaze. These ships had been sailing northwest, but on sighting Doorman’s force they turned toward it, and headed due south, still in single column. The time was 1521. The Jintsu’s group maintained this course for nine minutes, until, again in column, it turned due west for nine more minutes, paralleling Doorman at distance of 30,500yards.

Coming up fast, on a southerly course, were the heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro, screened on their port side by the destroyers Ushio, Sazanami, Yamakaze and Kawakaze. At 1525 they were still some 13, 000 yards north of the Jintsu’s destroyers. As they gained ground, they, too swung westward but were 10,000 yards north of Destroyer Squadron 2, which was making a deep south-to-west loop. Japanese heavy cruisers fired their first salvos at Houston and the Exeter at 1547, and kept up their fire until 1650.

Another 13,000 yards to the west, and nearly parallel to the heavy cruisers, a third column was sailing south preparing for battle : Destroyer Squadron 4, with the light cruiser Naka and the destoryers Asagumo, Minegumo, Murasame, Samidare, Harukaze and Yurdachi. They went the farthest south of the three groups, not turning south-west till 1557. Thus the three separate groups of ships were roughly parallel to Doorman’s column.

At this point the Japanese began using their favorite weapons-the “ long lance“, their 24-inch torpedoes, which because they were oxygen propelled, made almost no wake. Naka and he destroyers made torpedo launches at 1603, 1610 and 1615, at distances of between 13,000 and 15, 000 yards. They also involved in afire fight witht eh outranged British destroyers Electra , Jupiter and Encounter, and with Doorman’s cruisers, no real damaged was suffered on either side.

The Haguro launched either torpedoes at 1622 at 12-1/2 miles. Meanwhile the Jintsu with her destroyers made a sagging loop, from south to west, and then fired at the De Ruyter at 1545. He column received return fire from the British destroyers Electra, Jupiter, and Encounter., but missed the mark. The Jintsu’s ships made smoke at 1600 and continued west.

At 1623 the De Ruyter took a hit in an auxiliary engine room, but the 8-inch shell failed to explode. The first real damage occurred at 1638, when the Nachi scored a direct hit on the Exeter, setting her afire. The rest of the column simultaneously turned ninety degrees, so that all ships ended up in a line of abreast. A Japanese torpedo struck the destroyer Kortanaer, which blew up and sank immediately at 1640. (time span between 1622 launch and the distance to be covered suggests that the torpedo came from the Haguro)

The strike force was now in disarray, with the Exeter on fire and destroyer gone, so the force turned south, away from the Japanese transports. The three Japanese groups, having blocked the course to the west, then turned south toward Java at 1640, with the cruisers continuing their fire. The strike force was being turned back toward Surabaja.

During this phase the Japanese heavy cruisers fired 1,271 rounds of 8-inch shells, the Jintsu and Naka fired 171 rounds of 5-1/2-inch shells and 39 torpedoes were launched by the Japanese ships. The American destroyers, on the disengagement side of the battle line, had not entered the fray. Because the distances were so great, neither side distinguished itself in marksmanship. The Japanese, however, prevented Doorman from attacking the transports.

SECOND PHASE: 1650-1720 HOURS

At 1650, Doorman’s strike force was in a state of considerable confusion, which was compounded by the poor communication between ships. When ABDA was in existence, a French/English code book had been published, but for some reason, it was never issued to the ships of Navy ABDA. On board the De Ruyter and English officer could relay Doorman’s Dutch orders to the English Exeter, which could then relay them to the officers of the other English speaking ships. But when the Exeter was hit, and her communications room was destroyed, orders could not be flashed to the other English-speaking ships by blinker lights or semaphones, because those ships did not have the code book.

The Exeter, still in flames, headed on a nearly straight course steaming southeast by south before 1700 she had become the outermost ship on the port side of the force. As she slowly pursued this course, the four American destroyers cut her wake and formed a screen for the main column of cruisers. Farther south, the Perth and Java turned ninety degrees to the west, and then, having arranged themselves in column, reversed their course. The Houston and De Ruyter, after making a complete circle, joined the Perth and Java thus forming a four-ship column, which sailed southeast by south. Gradually some order had been restored, two separate groups had emerged. The port group consisted of the limping Exeter, and the Witte With, Jupiter, Encounter, and Electra, acting as a screen on the Exeter’s starboard side. Ten thousand yards ahead and some 6,000 yards to the starboard side of the Exeter group’s course were the De Ruyter, Perth, Houston and Java, in column, screened to port by the four American destroyers, Both columns continued sailing southeast by south , until 1713.

The three group’s of Japanese ships were in pursuit, sweeping in along paralleling arc from south to southeast, with the tow heavy cruisers, the Nachi and Haguro, making the most extensive swing to the east. All three groups had set their courses so that they would intersect the Allied columns. This was a phase of maneuver, and there was no firing of torpedo launching by either side until 1715.

When the battle began again, the Haguro and the Nachi were farthest to the north, crossing Doorman’s “T” from the rear. Five to six thousand yards to the southeast were the Jintsu‘s eight destroyers, in two columns of four, about 2,000 yards apart. The Jintsu herself was on the starboard side of the two columns, equally distant from the Naka and her six destroyers.

At 1715, the Haguro and Nachi began firing again at the De Ruyter’s column, and at 1718 the Nachi launched torpedoes at the Exeter’s column. The Allies did not return fire, but the De Ruyter’s column at once turned hard to port toward the transports, to avoid the torpedoes. Then the Naka’s Destroyer Squadron 4 launched twenty-four torpedoes at a range of 21,000 yards; all missed. The Naka’s destroyers had another engagement with the Exeter and her screen, at 18,000 yards. The Houston, now in a position to use her undamaged forward turrets, returned the Naka’s fire. The Combined Strike Force, however, was headed for new trouble, for its two groups were on a collision course when the De Ruyter’s column turned northeast to ward the Exeter’s column, which was still southbound. A second melee, with ships falling out of formation, was in the making. Furthermore, the force was being squeezed together form the north and the west, as the Japanese began to sense Doorman’s predicament. Read Admiral Takeo Takagi, commander-in-chief of the Eastern Support Force, ordered the transports to reverse course and head again for their beachheads.

THIRD PHASE: 1720-1750

A new Japanese attack was forming up. The heavy cruisers Nachi and Haguro continued east at a distance of about 19,000 years from Doorman’s force, which after its unavoidable confusion, had gathered itself and started south again. The two heavy cruisers kept up a long-distance barrage from their twenty 8-inch guns, and at 1724, the launched more torpedoes. Finally at 1726 they reversed course and head southwest by west, ceasing fire. About 12,000 yards northwest of the reconstructed Exeter column, the Jintsu and her eight destroyers, steaming southeast by east, were readying a torpedo attack against the Exeter group. South and slightly west of the Jintsu, the Naka was forming up her destroyers into two columns (of four and two) on her starboard quarter, also to attack the crippled Exeter.

On the Allied side, the Exeter was screened to starboard by destroyers Jupiter, Witte de With, Encounter, and Electra. The group moved slowly, since the Exeter could only make five knots. The De Ruyter column, now ahead of the Exeter and screened on its port side by the four American destroyers, had set a northeasterly course, at right angles to the Exeter.

By 1720, visibility at the battle scene was becoming rather poor. During the previous half hour, the Allied columns and been making smoke, which was added to by the Exeter’s fires. This was to the Allied ship’s advantage, for they could not see the Nachi and Haguro as well, and at times the other two Japanese groups would also be obscured. Meanwhile, the Japanese fleet had planes from the Nachi, Jintsu and the Naka marking Doorman’s position and spotting the salvos of their own ships.

The Jintsu’s advancing destroyers released their torpedoes at 15,000, from 1726 , then reserved course, streaming to the northwest . The Jintsu fired a torpedo salvo at 1728 and also reserved course. The Naka fired torpedoes at 1720 at 18,500 yards made smoke, and reversed course to almost due west. . Her column of four destroyers closed under 10,000 yards, launched their torpedoes, and reserved course, to ward Naka. For some reason, the other two ships in the Naka’s group, the Asagumo an d Minegumo, kept closing and did not launch until they were only 6,5000 yards from their targets. No Japanese explanation for these two-destroyers closer-range charge has been found; perhaps it was sort of banzai charge.

In the meantime, the British destroyers Encounter and Electra had seen the danger of a torpedo attack and, leaving the Exeter group, they headed due south to counter the torpedo attack. The two ships looped to the west, eventually heading to the northeast. The Encounter engaged the Minegumo in a fire fight, as the two ships paralleling one another, closed to 3,000 yards. This duel went on from about 1730 to 1740, strangely enough, neither ships inflicted much damage, even at close range. The Electra scored a direct hit on the Asagumo at 5,000 yards, causing her to go dead in the water for a few minutes, with four of her men killed. She made it back to Balikpapan, however the next day. At the same time, the Asagumo made two direct hits on the Electra, she limped a long, tried to continue her circle to the east, but finally went down at 1746. Nevertheless, the bravery shown by the two British destroyers in countercharging a superior force ( at the start of the charge, they faced two light cruisers and fourteen destroyers) exemplified the British style of destroyer training, in the best tradition of the Royal Navy.

Meanwhile , Admiral Doorman was determined to have another try at the transports. Which he knew were close by. At 1720, the De Ruyter column began swinging to the northeast, and since all the Japanese ships appeared to retiring (except the Asagumo and Minegumo), it continued to circle. The four American destroyers, however, struck out own their own transport hunt, sailing almost due north. Admiral Doorman temporarily gave up on the transports shortly thereafter, and the column, completing its circle, headed toward the southeast, on the port side of the Exeter and her two escorts, The American destroyers, 10,000 yards north-northeast of the De Ruyter group, also turned. The crews of the strike force were exhausted and frustrated, and the ships were low on fuel and ammunition. For the moment it looked as if the battle was over. Doorman’s force had been weakened, with one heavy cruiser a fire and another destroyer lost.

FOURTH PHASE: 1850-1910 (27 February 1942)

After sailing east for a few minutes and seeing no Japanese ships, Admiral Doorman decided to make another try for the transports, and heading almost due north, directly for the convoys. His counterpart, Admiral Takagi in the Nachi, did not know whether the Allied force had returned to Surabaja to refuel, whether it knew of the presence of Admiral Takahashi’s Main Force led by the heavy cruiser Ashigara, east of Madura Island, or whether Admiral Doorman would still make another try for the transports. Since Admiral Takagi’s biggest responsibility was the protection of the transports, he set a course which would block Doorman’s group if it came from the south. He guessed correctly, for, at 1850, the sighted each other again.

The Allied column was still led by the De Ruyter, followed by the Perth, Houston, and Java. One British destroyer, the Jupiter, screened to the port van and the four American destroyers protected the starboard rear,

The Japanese had the Jintsu and her eight destroyers headed north on an exactly parallel course, 17,500 yards away on the port beam of Doorman’s column. The Nachi and the Haguro were also on the port side at 16,000 yards, slightly north of the Allied ships. They turned on searchlights briefly and opened fire at 1855, then turned northwest, making smoke. The Allied cruisers returned fire from 1855 t0 1910 and then, again heading away from the transports, began a slow turn to the east. The Jintsu’s group continued north until 1907, when they fired torpedoes at the turning Allied column, at a range of slightly under 21,000 yards. The Jintsu and her two destroyer column turned to the northwest. No damage was sustained by either side in the long range skirmish, but once again the transports had been protected.

FIFTH PHASE: 2230-2300 ( 27 FEBRUARY 1942)

After losing contact with the enemy, Doorman again tried a northern thrust. But by this time his force had been further diminished. Although she had been clearly informed of a minefield in the area the destroyer Jupiter suffered a hugh explosion, probably from amine, and sank. Doorman had also sent the four American destroyers (the old four-pipers simply could not make the speed necessary) back to Surabaja to refuel, and then to Tanjomg Priak, to pick up torpedoes. His column of cruisers, now stripped of destroyers, remained in the same order as before, heading north. It was spotted at 16,000 yards by a lookout on the Nachi at 2233. At that time the Nachi and Haguro were headed due south, with Doorman’s column on their port bow. The ever present Jintsu with her eight destroyers, steaming on a southwesterly course was 16,000 yards north-northwest of Doorman. She slowly turned to starbaord, until she was on a northeasterly course, protecting the transports.

The two Japanese Heavy cruisers, then, took on the four Allied ships alone. The Nachi and Haguro opened fire at 2237, continued south for five minutes, and then reserved course to the north, again blocking Doorman’s path to the transports. Beginning at 2240, Doorman’s column fired on the Japanese cruisers for four minutes, as the column turned five degrees to starboard and then held course. The Nachi and Haguro reopened fire at 2252 for four minutes; meanwhile the Nachi launched eight torpedoes, and the Harugo four., at a range of 14,000 yards. A torpedo struck the De Ruyter aft, erupting into flames, her ammunition exploding, she fell out of line to starboard and soon sank, taking Admiral Doorman and 344 of his men down with her. She had done all that could be asked of an outnumbered and outgunned ship. Four minutes later, a torpedo slammed into the Java. She burst into flames and soon followed the De Ruyter to the bottom. Only the Houston and the Perth were left afloat. Doorman’s last order to them was to go to Batavia, rather than stand by to pick up survivors.

SIXTH PHASE: 0900-1140 (MARCH 1, 1942)

There would be no safety for the Houston and Perth even if they made it to Batavia, for another Japanese battle fleet was already close by to protect the landings in west Java. Nevertheless, the two Allied ships tried for Batavia, and arriving during the mid-watch. The damaged Exeter and Encounter, and the Pope were still back at Surabaja. The Exeter had made emergency repairs, buried her dead, and refueled. The three ships sortied on the evening of 28 February, with orders to try to reach Colombo, Ceylon, via the Sundra Strait. Their plan of escape was to sail during daylight, east of Bawean Island, toward the south coast of Borneo, and then make a night run for Sunda Strait. Their hopes, which were slim to begin with, vanished altogether on 1 March, when they were spotted by Japanese aircraft as they left Surabaja, Admiral Tagai was ready and waiting for them.

The Nachi and Haguro and their two destroyers, the Yamakaze and Kawakaze, sighted the three Allied ships to the northeast, at about 33,000 yards. For about an hour, the Japanese ships steamed northwest and then at 0950 they turned to the northeast, thus cutting the Allied ships off from a retreat to Surabaja. Admiral Takahashi had arrive from the west with the Ashigara and Myoko, which at 0940, were due west of the Exeter, at 33,750. Nearer, to the east, were the Akebono and Isazuchi. Although trapped, the three Allied ships nevertheless continued sailing on a northwesterly course, the battle began at around 0904, with the Allied ships firing at the Akedono and Ikazuchi, which returned fire, along witht eh Ashigara and Myoko. The three excaping ships immediately made smoke and turned to starboard; by 1000, they were headed due east. The Japanese heavy cruiser Ashigara and Myoko paralleled to the northeast at about 16,000 yards, firing almost continuously. The Akebono and Ikazuchi were south of the trapped ships, paralleling them atabout 12,000 yards, while the Nachi, Myoko and their two destroyers were father south, on parallel course at 27,000 yards. Gunfire and torpedo launchings were made continuously by the Japanese. The Exeter, after repeated torpedo hits from the southern ships, sank at 1130. The Encounter, on the Exeter’s port side, took fire mainly from the Ashigara and the Myoko, and sank five minutes after the Exeter. The destroyer Pope, was sunk at about 1205 (theexcat time has never been determined).

The four remaining American destroyers, the John D. Ford, Paul Jones, John D. Edwards, and the Alden, left Surabaja on 28 February, slipped into Bali Strait during the night, broke through the Bali Strike Force (the destroyers Hatsuharu, Nenohi, Nenhi, Wakaba, and Hatsushimo) and escaped to Australia.

The Battle of the Java Sea could hardly be called classic, by any criterion. Doorman’s forces, on paper, were almost equal to those of the Japanese on the afternoon of 17 February. But a variety of factors cut into the strength of Doorman’s group; fatigue from constant patrol against invasion, older ships, the lack of a common language or common code book, the lack of communication with shore commanders, and a command and force which where composed of men of different nationalities, who therefore lack training in common tactic’s. It has also been claimed that the loss of air contributed to the Allied defeat; yet this battle was fought almost exclusively by ships. (Australian Buffalo aircraft did attack Japanese ships, but without result. Still, the Japanese planes, from both the heavy and light cruisers, which acted as spotters, gave the Japanese a great advantage. In addition, Japanese aviation was wreaking havoc with Java’s naval facilities ashore, thus adding to Helfrich’s difficulties.

All this expenditure of energy and equipment, and loss of life (almost all from the Allied side) delayed the invasion of east Java by less than twenty-four hours. Whatever the size, quality, and quantity of Japanese naval strength, the Japanese warships executed their assigned tasks. They had displayed an extraordinary skill in night fighting that would work to their advantage again and again. The eastern Java invasion transports were completely untouched.

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

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Battle of Sundra Strait-February 1942

World War Two: Japanese Imperial Navy; Fall of Singapore, Bangka, Palembang, Southeast Sumatra

World War Two: Papuan Campaign(17); Fall of Buna

With Warren Force poised to attack Giropa Point, and Urbana Force moving to envelop Buna Mission along the newly established corridor from Entrance Creek to the coast, the reduction of the enemy positions on the Buna side of the Girua River was finally at hand. This was to be no easy task. The enemy at Buna was heavily outnumbered and almost completely surrounded, but he was fighting with the utmost ferocity and was to be cleared out of his remaining positions at Buna only after some of the bitterest fighting of the campaign.

The Advance to Giropa Point: The Abortive Attack of 29 December

Warren Force had completed the reduction of the Old Strip on the 28th. Just before midnight of the same day the 2/12 Battalion, thirty officers and 570 other ranks under Lieutenant Colonel A. S. W. Arnold, reached Oro Bay from Goodenough Island by corvette. The battalion and its gear were landed safely during the night, and the troops who were to begin moving forward to the front the next day went into bivouac in the brigade area near Boreo. (The 18th Brigade was replaced on Goodenough Island by the 7th Brigade from Milne Bay—the 2/12 Battalion, for instance, being replaced there by the 25 Battalion.)

Brigadier Wootten devoted the next morning to regrouping and reorganization. Company A, 2/10 Battalion, moved to the left flank and took up a position on the right of Company C, 2/10 Battalion, which continued on the far left as the main assault company. Companies B and D, 2/10 Battalion, continued as before on the far right, with D on the outside and B on D’s left flank. Companies C and A, 128th Infantry, and Company C, 126th Infantry, with Company A, 126th Infantry, in support, were in the center of the line. Company B, 126th Infantry, Company B, 128th Infantry, and a composite company of the 2/9 Battalion were in reserve. Four tanks in position at the bridge between the strips were ready to go, and seven others, which had just reached Boreo from Oro Bay, were in reserve, as was the 2/12 Battalion, which began moving to the front that morning.

At 1235 Wootten gave verbal orders for an attack on the area between Giropa Point and the mouth of Simemi Creek. The attack, which was to be in a northeasterly direction toward the coast, was to be mounte dafter 1400 with the four available tanks. Company C, 2/10 Battalion, was to follow the tanks and in general make the main effort, but the companies on its right were to take advantage of every opportunity to advance provided they did not unnecessarily expose their flanks.

Colonel Dobbs fixed zero hour at 1600. The tanks were delayed, and the attack did not get under way until 1715, following an artillery preparation with smoke. In an effort apparently to make up for lost time, the tanks moved at high speed and came in obliquely across the line of departure. Without waiting for the slower-moving infantry to close in behind them, they moved north without moderating their speed. The infantry as a result had to attack independently of the tanks, and the tanks, far in front of the infantry, had to move on the enemy bunkers without infantry support.

As the tanks hit the first line of bunkers, the Japanese, with no Allied infantry at hand to stop them, pulled back to their second bunker line. When the tanks finally discovered what had happened and began working on the second line, the Japanese filtered back into the first line, in plenty of time to stop the foot soldiers who had meanwhile managed to fight their way into the grove. At 1845 the attack had to be called off. The tanks by that time had expended all their ammunition, and the infantrymen were met by such intense fire from hidden enemy bunker positions that they had to pull back to the edge of the Coconut Plantation and consolidate.4

The 2/12 Battalion is Committed

The fresh 2/12 Battalion reached the front that night, 29 December. Early the following morning Brigadier Wootten ordered it to take over on the left in place of the 2/10 Battalion, which had seen a great deal of action and needed rest. The day was devoted to regrouping and reorganization. Colonel Arnold went forward to reconnoiter the front his battalion was to take over.

Major Beaver’s 126th Infantry troops, who were also in need of rest, exchanged places with Colonel MacNab’s battalion, the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, which after a week of rest in the Cape Endaiadere area was again ready to attack. The redisposition of the troops was completed next day. By evening of 31 December the battalions were in place: the 2/12 Battalion on the left, the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry in the center, and the 2/10 Battalion on the right. The 2/12 Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, were on an 1,100-yard east-west front and faced the coast. The 2/10 Battalion, with a holding mission, was drawn up across the head of the strip on a 500-yard front at right angles to them, its left tied in on the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and its right on Simemi Creek. Major Clarkson’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, was on the 2/12 Battalion’s left rear; Company A, 2/9 Battalion, was in reserve.

At 1535 Brigadier Wootten issued a carefully drawn plan for the reduction the next day of Giropa Point and the area between it and the Old Strip. The attack would be supported by the mortars of the 2/10 Battalion, the 25-pounders of the Manning and Hall Troops, and the 4.5-inch howitzers of the Stokes Troop. Of the eleven tanks of X Squadron, 2/6 Armored Regiment, nine would be committed to the attack: six immediately, and the remaining three as they were needed.

The operation was to be in two phases. In Phase One the 2/12 Battalion and the tanks, with the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, as left-flank guard, were to attack in a northeasterly direction, break through to the coast, and turn southeast, thereby completing the enemy’s encirclement. In Phase Two, the 2/12 Battalion was to herd the encircled Japanese toward the companies advancing on the right and, with their help, destroy them. That night, while the troops snatched what rest they could before the next day’s attack, the K.P.M, ship Bath and the Australian freighter Camara came into Oro Bay with 350 and 500 tons of cargo, respectively, unloaded, and departed before daybreak.

The arrival of the Bath and the Camara marked a logistical milestone in the campaign. Since the night of 11-12 December, when the Karsik made the first pioneering trip to Oro Bay, six freighters making nine individual trips had brought in roughly 4,000 tons of cargo. This was more than three times the 1,252 tons that the Air Force had flown in to the 32nd Division during the same period, and 1,550 more than the 2,450 tons that it was to fly in for the 32nd Division’s use during the entire period that the division was in combat. Between the freighters and the luggers, an average of 200 tons of cargo was now coming into Oro Bay daily and had been since 20 December. Supply at Buna, in short, had ceased to be a problem just as the fight for the place was coming to an end.

[NOTE1007: Hist Port Det E, COSC, Buna; 32nd Div G-4 Sec, Rear Echelon, Record of Air Shipments, 13 Nov 42-23 Jan 43; 32nd Div AAR, Papuan Campaign; 32nd Div QM Det, Rpt on Activities, Papuan Campaign; Interv with Col Moffatt, 23 Feb 50. The tonnage brought in by the freighters during the twenty-day period in question included 3,100 tons of general cargo and an estimated 900 tons of tanks, vehicles, and road-building equipment for which no precise figures are available. The six freighters were the Karsik, the Japara, the Bantam, the Mulcra, the Bath, and the Comara. The Karsik made three individual trips during this period; the Japara, two; the rest, one each.]

The Attack on New Year’s Day

After a heavy artillery and mortar preparation, the troops on the right and left moved out for the attack at 0800, New Year’s Day. On the left, Companies A and D, 2/12 Battalion, and the six tanks cut northeast through the plantation toward the coast. The 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, followed them. Facing north, Companies I, K, and L, 128th Infantry, moved on the dispersal bays off the northwest end from below (south), and the 2/10 Battalion, facing west, remained in position on the Old Strip.

Without tanks to support it, the attack by the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, went slowly. The Japanese in the dispersal bays were well entrenched and fighting hard. On the left, the attack made excellent progress from the start. Closely followed by the infantry, the tanks made short work of the enemy defenses in the Giropa Plantation.

[NOTE 15-1111KL: Ltr, Colonel MacNab to General Ward, 7 Mar 51. Colonel MacNab recalls the attack in these words: “Arnold and I took our outfits in with a sort of old-time flourish. . . . Arnold and I had been in view of each other almost continuously during this period, each in the front line of his troops. . . . When he had gotten fairly close to the line of bunkers (we were coming in on their rear and flank) he yelled to my troops, ‘Where is the American commander?’ I replied . . ., ‘you know damn well where I am, you’ve been trying to get abreast for an hour.’ He yelled ‘Let’s get the bastards,’ and I yelled at my Company L and one platoon of Company K in the front wave, ‘Come on you grease balls.’ (Never before or since have I ever called a man that.) We all, Aussies and Yanks, went in on the run. There were not many Japs left. We killed them in the grass with bayonets, and . . . when we couldn’t reach them [with fire].” Ltr, Colonel MacNab to author, 18 Apr 50. MacNab was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

The leading tank reached the coastal track below Giropa Point at 0830. A half-hour later all the tanks and most of the infantry had reached the coast. The 1st Battalion,128th Infantry, moved forward, mopping up pockets of enemy resistance that the Australians had overlooked or bypassed. Company A, 2/12 Battalion, with Company D immediately behind it, anchored its left flank on Giropa Creek, just west of Giropa Point, and began to consolidate on a 400-yard front along the shore. Companies B and C, 2/12 Battalion, which had been operating to the rear of Companies A and D, began moving eastward and southeastward with the tanks to complete the second phase of the attack.

Against the stiffest kind of opposition, the tanks and the Australian infantry following them moved steadily forward. By evening Companies C and D had cleared out the beach as far as the mouth of Simemi Creek. The 2/12 Battalion lost 62 killed, 128 wounded, and one missing in the day’s fighting, but the Japanese on the Warren front were finished. All that remained was to deliver the coup de grâce.

The Australians had pressed into use that day for the first time a blast bomb of their own invention consisting essentially of a Mills bomb screwed into a two-pound can of ammonal explosive. As Colonel MacNab recalls, it was used in the following manner: “A tank would knock a corner off the enemy bunker, and while this hole was ‘buttoned up’ by automatic or rifle fire, a volunteer would creep up to the side of the bunker, heave in the bomb, and duck. The explosion would rock the bunker and stupefy the Japanese inside. Then a can of Jap aviation gasoline would be tossed in, ignited by tracers, and the bunker would be burned out.”

The end came the next morning. Major Clarkson’s 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, finished clearing out the last pocket of enemy resistance on the left; details of the 2/9 and 2/10 Battalions finally cleaned out the enemy emplacements on the island at the mouth of Simemi Creek; and Companies C and B, 2/12 Battalion, the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and eight tanks attacked the Japanese in the dispersal bays. The 2/10 Battalion, with Allied fire coming in its direction, stayed down out of harm’s way.

The attacks by Colonel Arnold and Colonel MacNab, the one attacking from the west and the other from the south, were soon over. As the fire slackened, the officers and men of the 2/10 Battalion rose out of their holes in the Old Strip area and watched the last Japanese positions being overrun.

This was the last organized attack delivered by Warren Force. After taking Giropa Point and the area immediately to the eastward, the troops had little left to do but mop up. Orders were issued that day to the 2/12 Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, to begin moving westward toward Buna Mission in the morning. The orders were revoked a few hours later, when it was found that contact had been made with Urbana Force, and that that force was already proceeding with the envelopment of Buna Mission.

The Capture of Buna Mission: The Failure To Cross the North Bridge

At 1330, 28 December, while Urbana Force was tidying up its corridor from Entrance Creek to the coast and preparing to move forward to the sea, General Eichelberger, accompanied by General Sutherland, Colonel Bowen, Colonel Rogers, and Colonel Harding, arrived at Colonel Grose’s CP from Buna Force headquarters. Asked for a report on the situation, Grose gave Eichelberger a resume of how things stood. Among other things, Grose told Eichelberger that he had just taken the 3rd Battalion out of the line for a much-needed rest.

At 1428, without discussing the matter further with Grose, Eichelberger ordered that the 3rd Battalion, split into two elements, launch an immediate attack on Buna Mission. One element was to advance on the mission from the island by way of the north bridge; the other element, starting from the southern side of the island, was to move upon it in five Australian assault boats which had reached the front the day before.

Eichelberger and Grose had discussed this plan and several others some days before, but had never worked out the details. Grose recalls that he was so startled by the sudden order to commit the tired battalion to such an attack that it took him a few minutes to organize the maneuvers in his mind.

Aside from the weariness of his troops, there was another even greater difficulty. The enemy had a line of bunkers just off the northern end of the bridge, and the bridge itself, a narrow, makeshift structure forty feet long and a couple of feet wide, had a fifteen-foot gap at its northern end—the result of a recent Allied artillery hit.

As soon as I had my thoughts collected [Grose recalls], I called for volunteers among the officers present to do certain things. Colonel Bowen volunteered to get the engineers and collect the necessary timbers to fix the bridge, Colonel Rogers to reconnoiter the position on the island and see that the troops were conducted thereto, and Colonel Harding to coordinate and control the mortar and artillery fire. I ordered Captain Stephen Hewitt, my S-2, to make the reconnaissance of the route the boats were to take . . . and Captain Leonard E. Garret, my S-3, to arrange for and coordinate the fires of Company H from the island and the troops on the finger, both of which were to fire on the mission preceding the attack.

[NOTE 15-1515AF: Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51. This finger was a narrow spit of land projecting from the vicinity of Buna Village to the mouth of Entrance Creek. It will be called hereafter the village finger. The finger on the other side of the mouth of Entrance Creek will be called the mission finger. 16 127th Inf Jnl, 1428, 1538, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42.]

Colonel Grose quickly worked out the details of the plan. The attack was to open with fifteen minutes of artillery and mortar fire on the mission and the bunkers facing the bridge. Guided by directions given them by Captain Hewitt as a result of his reconnaissance, forty men of Company K in the five assault boats were to round the eastern end of the island just as the preparatory fire began lifting. They were to land east of the bridge and establish a bridgehead. Supported by fire from Company H on the island and from a platoon of Company E at the tip of the village finger, they were to engage the enemy with fire, thereby masking the bridge and permitting the planks required to make it usable to be laid in safety. As soon as the planks were down, the rest of Company K would dash across the bridge in single file, and would be followed by Company I and Company L, in that order. When all three companies were across, they would attack north in concert with Major Schroeder’s force on the coast, which would attack from the southeast.

The preliminary tasks were completed in short order. Captain Hewitt, who had gone out in one of the assault boats, returned with the results of his reconnaissance. Six enlisted men volunteered to lay in place the three heavy timbers that would span the gap at the northern end of the bridge. Commanding the assault boats, 1st Lieutenant Clarence Riggs of the 3rd Battalion’s Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon quickly moved them into position in some heavy foliage off the southern side of the island. The rest of the 3rd Battalion, guided by Colonel Rogers, began moving forward to the bridge area from the center of the island. Having been told only a little while before that they were to be given a rest, the troops of the battalion were slow in moving forward, and Colonel Rogers was unable to get them into position south of the bridge until the first salvo of the artillery preparation hit the mission.

The time was 1720. As the first artillery salvo went down, the boats pushed off from their hidden position. The troops had been misdirected by Captain Hewitt, however. Instead of going around the island and landing on the east side of Entrance Creek, they tried to land on the mission finger.

The platoon of Company E on the village ringer mistook them for the enemy and opened fire on them, as did the Japanese. Lieutenant Riggs’ boat, in the lead, swamped and sank. Although Riggs could not swim, he somehow reached shore and managed to stop the firing from the village finger, but it was too late: most of the boats had already been sunk in the shallows. Fortunately no one was killed or drowned.

[NOTE 15-1717CS: 127th Inf Jnl, 1515, 1538, 1720, 1735, 28 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 28 Dec 42; Colonel Grose’s Diary, 28 Dec 42; Colonel Bowen, Certificate, 3 Jan 4; Interv with Colonel Grose, 18 Nov 50; Ltr, Colonel Rogers to author, 26 Jun 50; Ltr, Major Philip A. Jenson to author, 24 Jun 51; Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51. Staff Sergeant Milan J. Miljativich of Company K took command when Lieutenant Riggs’ boat sank and tried desperately to redirect the rest of the boats to the mission. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

Things had also miscarried at the bridge. The six men to volunteer—Privates Arthur Melanson and Earl Mittelberger, T/5’s Charles H. Gray and Bart McDonough of Company A, 114th Engineer Battalion, and Privates Elmer R. Hangarten and Edward G. Squires of Company H—had advanced across the bridge, two men to a timber.

Amid heavy fire from the opposite shore, they dropped the three timbers in place, and all except Mittelberger, who was killed on the bridge, lived to tell the tale. As soon as the timbers were in place, Company K started crossing. Scarcely had the first two men reached the northern end of the bridge, when the newly laid planks fell into the stream because of the weakness of the pilings at the other end of the bridge. The two men, one of them wounded and neither able to swim, hid under the bank on the other side of the stream, only their heads showing. They were rescued the following night by 1st Lieutenant William H. Bragg, Jr., commanding officer of the mortar platoon of Company H, and three enlisted men of the company, who swam across the creek to save them.

[NOTE 15-1818SC: 127th Inf Jnl, 1735, 28 Dec 42, 2215, 29 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 27 Dec 42, 28 Dec 42; Ltr, Colonel Rogers to author, 26 Jun 50; Ltr, Colonel Grose to General Ward, 26 Feb 51; Ltr, Colonel Herbert A. Smith to General Ward, 20 Mar 51. The six volunteers were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Their citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 11, 22 Jan 43. Colonel Bowen and Colonel Rogers, who were both active at the southern end of the bridge trying to get the attack started, were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. For Colonel Rogers, who was twice wounded that afternoon, it was the second time in the campaign that he was to be so decorated. Colonel Bowen’s citation for the Distinguished Service Cross is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43; Colonel Roger’s citation for the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Cross is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 7, 15 Jan 43.]

The New Plan

On the night of 28-29 December ammunition and pioneer troops of the 127th Infantry finished digging a 2½-foot-deep trench across the northwest end of the gardens. The trench, which they had begun the night before, was the idea of Captain W. A. Larson, Major Hootman’s successor as regimentalS-4. Early on 29 December it went into use as a route by which supplies were brought forward and the wounded were carried back. It was an immediate success and proved as useful in the transfer of troops as in evacuation and supply.

Later the same morning the original Urbana Force—the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry—went back into the line. The 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, less the troops at Tarakena and Siwori Village, took up a holding position at the southeast end of the Government Gardens, and the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, moved into the Triangle to take over its defense. Just after the two battalions began moving forward from their rest areas, Company B, 127th Infantry, from its position along the coast southeast of the mission, pushed forward to the sea and established a 200-foot frontage along the shore.

Major Schroeder’s line now extended from Entrance Creek to the sea, but the troops on the island were still held up by fire from the northern end of the bridge. An apparent solution to the problem was found that night. Just before midnight a patrol of Company H, 127th Infantry, under 1st Lieutenant Allan W. Simms, waded across from the village sandspit to the spit projecting from the mission. The patrol remained on the mission side of the creek for half an hour, without receiving any fire or finding any Japanese in the area. On the basis of this evidence of enemy weakness, a new plan to envelop the mission was drawn on 20 December.

Under the new plan, Company E, 127th Infantry, and Company F, 128th Infantry, the 127th Infantry troops leading, would cross the shallows between the village and the mission. Company E was to turn right and establish a bridgehead. Company F crossing behind it would move northeast along the coast directly on the mission as soon as Company E had knocked out the bunkers and the bridge was repaired. Company H, 127th Infantry, and Company G, 128th Infantry, would cross over from the island, tie in on Company F’s right along the coast, and attack. Major Schroeder’s 1st Battalion, 127th Infantry, reinforced by elements of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, would meanwhile be moving on the mission from the southeast. The result would be a double envelopment of the mission with separate columns converging upon it simultaneously from the front and from both flanks. This final, multipronged attack was to open at dawn the following morning, 31 December.

The Attack of 31 December

Preparations for the attacks from the village spit were completed in good time on the 30th. Early in the morning, while Company G, 127th Infantry, under Captain Dames, moved into the Coconut Grove for a well earned rest, Company F, 128th Infantry, under Captain Jefferson R. Cronk, went into bivouac at Buna Village, and was joined there by Company E, 127th Infantry (less the platoon on the finger). Company E, low in morale after its heavy losses in the Triangle, was under the command of Lieutenant Bragg of Company H, who had volunteered to lead it in the attack across the shallows.

Major Schroeder had meanwhile been attacking toward the mission. The Japanese were still holding strongly along the coast, and he made little progress. There was no cause for concern, however, for Schroeder’s position was secure. Facing Buna Mission, the line was held by Companies F, A, K, and L. Elements of Company M and Company B in platoon strength were in place in the gardens on both sides of the corridor; Companies C and I were in the center of the corridor; Company D was to the east of it facing Giropa Point.23 It was clear that the enemy for all his tenacity would not be able to hold on the coast when the attacks from the village and the island got under way.

At 0430 the following morning, while it was still dark, Company E, 127th Infantry, and Company F, 128th Infantry, started moving in single file across the shallows between the finger and the mission. Company E was in the lead, with Lieutenant Bragg at the head of the column. The plan was to launch a surprise attack on the enemy positions opposite the bridge at daybreak. The men were under orders to make as little noise as possible and had been warned not to fire their weapons until told to do so. Company E gained the spit on the mission side without alerting the enemy, turned right, and began to move inland. Just as the leading elements of the company reached the spit, some of the men to the rear, unable to resist the temptation, threw grenades into a couple of landing barges that were stranded on the beach. At once the whole area broke into an uproar, the beach lit up with flares, and the troops were assailed with hand grenades, rifle grenades, and automatic weapons.

The Japanese reaction threw the troops into a panic. Their plight became even worse when Lieutenant Bragg, who in General Eichelberger’s words was to have been “the spark plug of the whole affair,” was shot in the legs during the first few moments of the firing and, in the confusion of the moment, was reported missing. Colonel Grose waited on the village spitto hear news of the attack. He had a man with sound-powered telephone and a roll of wire following the action and reporting on its progress. The first information Grose heard on the phone was that the lieutenant who had taken command when Bragg fell was “running to the rear,” and that there were others with him.

I told the man [Colonel Grose recalls] to stop them and send them back. He replied that he couldn’t because they were already past him. Then the man said, The whole company is following them.’ So I placed myself on the trail over which I knew they would have to come, and, pistol in hand, I stopped the lieutenant and all those following him. I directed the lieutenant to return and he said he couldn’t. I then asked him if he knew what that meant and he said he did. The first sergeant was wounded, and I therefore let him proceed to the dressing station. I designated a sergeant nearby to take the men back and he did so. I then sent the lieutenant to the rear in arrest and under guard.

Although Company E, in its flight, passed through Company F, 128th Infantry, which had been moving forward immediately to its rear, Captain Cronk’s company was not affected by Company E’s disorganization. Cronk himself, Colonel Grose recalls, was as calm and collected as if he were on the drill field. The 128th Infantry troops moved forward steadily and, by the time they were finally joined by Company E, had established a strong position on the spit and were holding their own. On Colonel Grose’s orders Captain Cronk took command of Company E, and the two companies began attacking toward the bunkers in the area north of the bridge. They met stiff resistance, and, in a full day’s fighting, Cronk could report only a small advance, though he hoped to do better the next day. The steadiness under fire of Captain Cronk’s company had saved the day. General Eichelberger finally had his long-sought toe hold on the mission, and Captain Yasuda’s troops, under attack for the first time from two directions, faced annihilation.

Yasuda had received some rations and ammunition by submarine on the night of the 25th and continued to fight stoutly for the mission with his remaining troops. The fighting was particularly bitter along the coast southeast of the mission and in the swamp north of the gardens, where elements of Company C were still busy cleaning out pockets of enemy resistance. Although Companies E, F, and H, 126th Infantry, under Captain Sullivan, advanced 300 yards in the area east of the right fork of the Triangle, thus completing the capture of the gardens, the day’s gains along the coast and in the swamp north of the gardens were disappointing.

[NOTE 15-2929PM: 2nd Bn, 126th Inf, Jnl, 31 Dec 42; 127th Inf Jnl, 0818, 31 Dec 42; 32nd Div G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, 31 Dec 42; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 31 Dec 42; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 31 Dec 42; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 36. Private Earl Johnson and Private First Class Herman Bender of Company M, 127th Infantry—both killed that day—greatly distinguished themselves in the fighting along the coast. Johnson was killed while covering the withdrawal of his squad from a dangerously advanced position where it had been pinned down by enemy fire; Bender met his death as the result of a bold dash through an open field swept by enemy fire to find the flank of a neighboring unit with which all contact had been lost. Both men were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citations are in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 Jun 43.]

The enemy was resisting fanatically, but he was obviously nearing the end of his powers. For several days artillery overs from the Warren front had been troubling the troops on the Urbana front, and the troops on the Warren front were, in turn, receiving fire that could have come only from Urbana Force. Not only were the two forces moving closer together, but a patrol of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, had made contact that morning with a patrol of Warren Force at the southwest end of the gardens.

Since Warren Force was to mount its final attack on Giropa Point in the morning, Company B, 127th Infantry, was ordered to attack eastward the next day to link up with Warren Force and assist it in the cleanup. General Eichelberger wrote to General Sutherland that night that he hoped the attack would “go through in fine shape.”If it did,” he added, “it will then be just a matter of cleaning up Buna Mission.”

General Eichelberger described the situation “as it is at present” in these words: On the right, the Australians with their tanks have moved up to the mouth of Simemi Greek, [and] the entire area of the two strips is in our hands. Martin’s men have extended to the left from the Old Strip for several hundred yards so that the forces of the Urbana and Warren fronts are now only about 600 yards apart. On the left, we have established a corridor between Giropa Point and Buna Mission, and have moved enough men in there to make it hold. The famous “Triangle” which held us up so long, was finally taken, and our men also occupy the island south of Buna Village. Today, we are moving on Buna Mission from both directions, and I sincerely hope we will be able to knock it off. After noting that there had hitherto been many disappointments in the campaign, he went on to say, “Little by little we are getting those devils penned in and perhaps we shall be able to finish them shortly.”

Colonel Yazawa’s Mission

At Rabual, meanwhile, the impending collapse at Buna was causing 18th Army headquarters the deepest concern. On 26 December General Adachi ordered General Yamagata (whose headquarters, it will be recalled, was then at Danawatu, north of Gona) to move all his troops by sea to Giruwa. He was to use them first to rescue the Buna garrison. If the rescue failed, he was to divert them to the defense of Giruwa and hold it to the last. Two days later, Adachi ordered Buna evacuated. Its defenders were to fight their way to Giruwa with the help of a special force which would be under command of Colonel Yazawa, who was to proceed to Buna Mission from Giruwa by way of the beach and attack the American left flank. After cutting his way through to the beleaguered Japanese Army and Navy troops holding the mission, he was to withdraw with them to Giruwa.

It was a desperate plan, but not necessarily an impracticable one. The Japanese must have known from clashing with Lieutenant Chagnon’s fifty-two men near Tarakena that the American flank covering Buna as virtually undefended. They may have thought, therefore, that Colonel Yazawa’s raiding party might still save the defenders of Buna Mission—only about two miles from Tarakena by beach—by launching a sudden surprise attack, advancing swiftly, and making a quick withdrawal.

General Yamagata lost no time in complying with General Adachi’s orders. On 27 December he ordered 430 men from Danawatu to Giruwa, with orders to report to Colonel Yazawa. Yazawa, who had led his regiment across the Owen Stanleys and back, was perhaps the most experienced and resourceful commander the Japanese had at Giruwa. The fact that he was detailed to the task of rescuing the Buna garrison was an indication of the importance Rabaul attached to his mission.

General Yamagata arrived at Giruwa on 29 December and, two days later, gave Colonel Yazawa his orders. The rescue operation, the orders read, was to be directly under Yamagata’s command. It was to be undertaken as soon as a suitable concentration of forces reached Giruwa from Danawatu. Yazawa began assembling troops for the thrust eastward, the fall of Buna Mission was imminent, and most of its defenders had only a few hours to live.

The Envelopment

On New Year’s day, while Warren Force and its tanks were reducing Giropa Point, Urbana Force launched what it hoped would be the final assault on Buna Mission. Early in the morning, while Company B attacked eastward toward Giropa Point, the artillery and mortars laid down a heavy barrage on the mission and the rest of Urbana Force struck at the Japanese line around the mission. Captain Cronk attacked from the mission spit, and Major Schroeder’s troops, pivoting on Entrance Creek, moved on the mission from the southeast.

Some Company B men could already see the tanks on Giropa Point, but the unit was still held up by very strong enemy resistance. Company F, 128th Infantry, left alone on the spit when Colonel Grose withdrew Company E, 127th Infantry, for reorganization, also found itself unable to move forward. In the swamp Company C, supported on the right by Company M, moved forward 150 yards, and the remaining companies to the right of M—F, A, and L, with I and D immediately to the rear—made some progress.

The enemy had thus far fought with the greatest tenacity, but evidence of his disintegration was not lacking. On the evening of 1 January while Colonel Smith of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and Major Clarkson of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, established a joint Urbana Force-Warren Force outpost in the no man’s land between their two fronts, Japanese troops were sighted for the first time trying to swim from the mission—an unmistakable sign that the mission’s defense was on the point of collapse.

[NOTE 15-3535PH: 127th Inf Jnl, 1600, 1850, 1900, 1 Jan 43; G-3 Daily Periodic Rpt, Buna Force, 1 Jan 43; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 1 Jan 43, copy in OCMH files. During this day’s action Private Robert H. Campbell of Company M, 127th Infantry, crawled to the rescue of a wounded member of the company, who was lying in the open in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gun. Campbell was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

Urbana Force made careful preparations for the next day’s attack. The main effort was to be along the coast. It was to be spearheaded by two relatively rested units, Company G, 127th Infantry, and Company G, 128th Infantry, which had gone into reserve when the troops on the mission spit failed to knock out the bunkers facing the north bridge. Company H, 127th Infantry, would cross over from the island as soon as either Company F, 128th Infantry, advancing from the mission spit, or Company C, 127th Infantry, moving up through the swamp north of the gardens, took over the area north of the bridge and made repair of the bridge possible. The Japanese continued their desperate attempts to escape. Just before dawn of the next day, Saturday, twenty enemy soldiers carrying heavy packs and led by a lieutenant made a break for the beached landing barges on the mission spit. They had three machine guns with them and their packs were loaded with food, medicine, and personal effects, as if for a quick getaway. Captain Cronk’s company turned its machine guns and rifle son them and cut them down to a man. At daylight, observers all the way from Buna Village to Tarakena caught sight of large numbers of Japanese in the water. Some were swimming, others were clinging to boxes, rafts, and logs; still others were trying to escape in small boats. Artillery and machine gun fire was immediately laid down on the troops in the water, and, at 1000, the air force began systematically strafing them with B-25’s, P-39’s, and Wirraways.

The two top Japanese commanders at Buna had chosen to die at their posts. Realizing that the end was near, Captain Yasuda and Colonel Yamamoto met at a central point the same day, Saturday, and killed themselves in the traditional Japanese fashion by cutting open their bellies.

Despite the fact that the mission was already partly evacuated, there were still enough Japanese left in the mission and along its approaches to give Urbana Force (in General Eichelberger’s phrase) “the darndest fight” all day. At 1000, just as the attack was about to open, Major Schroeder, who was in a forward observation post at the time, was struck and mortally wounded by a Japanese bullet which penetrated his skull. Captain Donald F. Runnoe, a member of Schroeder’s staff, at once took over command of Schroeder’s battalion, and Colonel Grose came up and took personal charge of the coastal drive.

A heavy artillery barrage and white phosphorous smoke shells hit the enemy before the troops finally jumped off at 1015. Captain Cronk’s company on the spit attacked southeast. Company C in the swamp, with Company M still on its right, attacked toward the north bridge between the island and the mission. The two G Companies—Company G, 128th Infantry, and Company G, 127th Infantry, with the latter unit under Captain Dames leading—passed through the lines of Companies I, L, and M and advanced through the Coconut Plantation to attack the mission from the southeast.

The attack went smoothly from the first. The phosphorous shells set fire to the grass and trees at several points in the mission area and, in one instance, exposed a whole line of enemy bunkers to Allied fire. Attempts by the Japanese to flee these exposed positions were met by machine gun fire from the troops on the island and on the mission spit. As the phosphorous shells exploded in trees, they also set afire several of the huts in the mission. When enemy troops in dugouts beneath the burning huts tried to escape, they ran into bursts of Allied fire which killed most of them.

The remaining Japanese continued their dogged last-ditch resistance and had to be rooted out of each dugout and bunker by grenade, machine gun, and submachine gun fire. Company C, 127th Infantry, on the left, and Company G, 127th Infantry, on the right, made excellent progress, but Company F, 128th Infantry, on the mission spit was held up, as was Company B, 127th Infantry, which had meanwhile resumed its attack to the eastward.

[NOTE 15-4141ET: 127th Inf Jnl, 1315, 1523, 1627, 2 Jan 43; 127th Inf Tact Hist, 2 Jan 43; Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 2 Jan 43; F. Tillman Durdin, The New York Times, 8 Jan 43; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 36; Colonel Grose, Comments on the Buna-Sanananda Opn, 2 Feb 46. For their performance in the day’s fighting, Colonel Grose and Captain Runnoe were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Grose’s citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 4, 10 Jan 43: Runnoe’s, in Hq USAFFE GO No. 34, 21 Jun 43.]

At 1400 Company C was in sight of the bunkers covering the north bridge. An hour and a half later Company G, 127th Infantry, reached the point of the mission with Company G, 128th Infantry, hard on its heels. Only scattered rifle fire met the troops, and they quickly took their first prisoners—a dozen Chinese laborers, naked except for breechcloths.

Ten minutes later Company C came up, followed by Company M, and in a few more minutes Companies I, L, and A reached the scene. The engineers had meanwhile been repairing the north bridge. By 1620 Company H was across it, thus finally completing the envelopment.

The mission was overrun by 1632. The remaining enemy troops in the area were either flushed out of their hiding places and killed, or entombed in them. By 1700 the fighting was over except in a few pockets of resistance near the beach. There a handful of Japanese held out stubbornly and were left to be dealt with the next day. The mission was a scene of utter desolation. All through the area the ground was pitted with shell holes. The trees were broken and bedraggled. Abandoned weapons and derelict landing craft littered the beach, and Japanese dead were everywhere.

In its attack toward Giropa Point, Company B had been held up by a line of enemy bunkers in the road junction near the coast, which had been bypassed in the coastal advance. As soon as he could, General Eichelberger pulled Company C out of the mission area and sent it to the assistance of Company B. The two companies launched a concerted attack late that afternoon, cleared out the bunkers, and by 1930 had made contact with the 2/12 Battalion. With the 2/10 Battalion and the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 128th Infantry, the 2/12th had finished clearing out the area between Giropa Point and the west bank of Simemi Creek earlier in the day. After more than six weeks of fighting, the Buna area in its entirety was finally in Allied hands.

The End at Buna: Cleaning Out the Pockets

Mopping up of isolated pockets of resistance on both Warren and Urbana fronts continued for several days until the last of the enemy troops were accounted for. An observer describes the scene on 3 January, a Sunday, as follows: [By] Sunday, the . . . front from the shattered palms of Buna Village to Cape Endaiadere was almost peaceful. It was possible to walk its entire length and hear only a few scattered shots and occasional bursts of mortar fire. In the . . . swamp … a few Japanese snipers still held out, in a patch of jungle … a bunker or two still resisted, but great stretches of the front were scenes of quiet desolation. . . . The only considerable fighting during the day occurred in the jungle area southwest of Giropa Point, where a small group of laborers, estimated as high as a hundred, fled when the point was captured.

Their intention perhaps was to try to escape through the swamps and jungles, and scatter into the interior. . . .Americans and Australians however drew a line around them from all sides and made contact along the beach between Buna Mission and Giropa Point, and methodically mopped up the enemy pocket.

Americans quelled the last resistance to Buna Mission by Sunday noon in a little thicket on the beach where a few Japanese held out in bunkers. Routed from the bunkers, some scurried behind a wrecked barge on the beach and continued to fire. They were finally killed by a high explosive charge that blew the barge and the Japanese to bits. By noon, the Americans had counted roughly 150 Japanese dead in the Buna Mission area.

Small squads finished the job of eliminating the last fighting Japanese. Some Americans [went swimming in] the sea. Some washed out their clothing for the first time in weeks, some simply slept the deep sleep of exhaustion, curled up under shell-shattered trees or in sandy foxholes. By Tuesday, the only Japanese left in the area extending from Buna Village through Cape Endaiadere were roving groups and individuals . . . who were hiding out in jungle and sago swamp, and who by now had become desperately hungry. These Japanese were trying to keep under cover during the day [to prowl] at night through moonless blackness in American-Australian lines seeking something to eat. Some 190 Japanese were finally buried at Buna Mission, and 300 at Giropa Point.

Fifty prisoners were taken. Warren Force took twenty-one horribly emaciated Koreans and one Japanese soldier. Urbana Force took twenty-eight prisoners, mainly Chinese and Koreans. Of the few Japanese among them most were captured near Siwori Village and Tarakena when they were caught naked and unarmed as they swam in from the sea.

Booty was heavy on both fronts. On the Warren front it included, in addition to the three-inch naval guns and the pompoms, rifles, machine guns, radio equipment, several 37-mm. guns, two 75-mm. mountain guns on wheels, nine unserviceable trucks, some of American make, and a number of smashed fighter aircraft, two of them Zero-type planes that were found on the Old Strip and looked as if they could be repaired. Booty taken by Urbana Force, besides the weapons taken in the Triangle and several antiaircraft guns captured in the Government Gardens, included a 75-mm. gun and miscellaneous items of equipment. Hardly any food or ammunition was found on either front.

The Congratulatory Messages

By 3 January it was obvious that all organized resistance on the Buna side of the Girua River was over. In a special memorandum issued at noon that day, General Eichelberger told American troops who had taken part in the fighting that they had had their baptism of fire and were now veterans. The lessons they had learned at Buna, he added, would serve to reduce losses in the future and bring further victories.

 

Later that day General Blarney sent a message of congratulations to Brigadier Wootten and the troops serving under him on the successful conclusion of the fighting on the Warren Front. Their operations, he said, had been marked “by the greatest thoroughness in planning,” by “constant steadiness in control,” and by “valor and determination in execution.”

General Herring in turn, issued a special order of the day in which he expressed to Australians and Americans alike his appreciation of “their magnificent and prolonged effort.” He dwelt on the strength of the enemy’s defenses, his tenacious resistance, the hardships that the men had borne, and the fortitude with which they had borne them. He complimented all concerned on their steadfastness and determination and said, “You have done a job of which both our countries should indeed be proud.”

General Marshall sent General MacArthur his congratulations the next day. MacArthur thanked Marshall for his congratulatory message, and added, “Howeverunwarranted it may be, the impression prevailedthat this area’s efforts were belittled and disparaged at home, and despite all my efforts to the contrary the effect was depressing. Your tributes have had a tonic effect.”

Buna’s Cost: Battle Losses

There were 1,400 Japanese buried at Buna—500 west of Giropa Point and 900 east of it.[15-J-51] On the Allied side, 620 were killed, 2,065 wounded, and 132 missing. The 32nd Division sustained 1,954 of these casualties—353 killed, 1,508 wounded, and 93 missing; the 18th Brigade had 863 casualties—267 killed, 557 wounded, and 39 missing.[15-A-53]

[NOTE 15-J-51: Ltr, General Eichelberger to General Sutherland, 7 Jan 43; Rpt, CG Buna Forces, p. 42. The above figure includes only the counted dead. It does not include Japanese dead who could not be counted because their bunkers had caved in or had been sealed up during the fighting.]

[NOTE 15-A-53: Rpt on Opns 18th Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point. Of the 267 Australians killed, 230 were killed in action, and 37 died of wounds.]

The total casualties were thus 2,817 killed, wounded, and missing—a figure considerably in excess of the 2,200 men the Japanese were estimated to have had at Buna when the 32nd Division launched its first attacks upon them there.

Losses Due to Sickness and Disease

The troops had been plagued unceasingly by all manner of chiggers, mites, and insects, exposed to debilitating tropical infections, fevers, and diseases, and forced most of the time to eat cold and inadequate rations, sleep in water-filled foxholes, and go for days on end without being dry. Their gaunt and haggard faces, knobby knees and elbows that poked through ragged uniforms attested to what the men had been through.

Some of the hazards that faced them were revealed vividly in a letter written on 10 January by Major E. Mansfield Gunn, a medical officer on General Eichelberger’s staff: … Be sure to rinse the dyed jungle equipment over and over again in cold water, otherwise it will ruin everything [and] make everything stink. . . . Furthermore, we are not sure [the dye] is not absorbed by the body, and then excreted in the urine, because some of the urine would indicate [that was the case].. . . Tablets for individual chlorination of water in the canteen would be of the greatest value for all; two pairs of shoes are definitely needed [because] everything dries very slowly. A chigger repellent for each individual is needed for there are millions of the little fellows.. . .[There] is a growing incidence of scrub typhus here. . . . The inoculations we all received were designed to prevent the European typhus, and hence there is nothing to do but hope. There are some tremendous rats in the area, and no doubt the fleas on same are carrying the infection from the dead Japanese to our soldiers. One medical officer just died of the disease and another one is in very poor shape today. There has been an awful lot of work to do with these units, and under existing travel conditions, it is the toughest situation any of us have ever been in. … Sickness of all sorts, particularly of the various tropical fevers is on the increase also, so I expect that almost everyone in the division will come out of here either wounded or sick. I do not intend to paint a depressing picture, but that is the truth as things stand today. The figures will be appalling to you when you see them.

As late as mid-January Colonel Warmenhoven, then the division surgeon, was urging that all troops be compelled to take quinine daily, but the difficulty was that the medicine was still in short supply. He cited the case of a battalion in the 128th Infantry that had gone for several days entirely without it. Warmenhoven found also that the drinking water was often polluted and sometimes insufficiently chlorinated. There were now field ranges at most of the jeep-heads, and some of the men had canned heat and primus stoves, but the division surgeon nevertheless noted that rations were still inadequate and that the troops were still eating them cold most of the time.

The cost of sickness and disease at Buna was to reach staggering proportions. In a check of the health of the 32nd Division undertaken shortly after the Buna mop-up was completed, the temperature of 675 soldiers, representing a cross section of the division’s three combat teams, was taken. Colonel Warmenhoven reported that “53 percent of this group of soldiers were running a temperature ranging between 99 degrees to 104.6 degrees. … In order of prevalence, the cause of the rise in temperature is due to the following: Malaria, Exhaustive States, Gastro-Enteritis, Dengue Fever, Acute Upper Respiratory Infection, and Typhus (scrub).” The average normal sick-call rate of a command, the colonel pointed out, was 3.8 percent of its strength. The sick-call rate of the 32nd Division was 24 percent, and going higher. Some 2,952 men (more than three quarters of them from Buna where the division had made its primary effort) were already hospitalized because of disease and fever, and fifty to one hundred were being evacuated from Buna to Port Moresby daily for the same cause.

The Situation to the Westward

Colonel Yazawa Scatters the Tarakena Patrol

Ordered on 31 December to rescue the troops at Buna Mission, Colonel Yazawa had been unable to leave Giruwa until the evening of 2 January and then with only 250 men, most of them from the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry. Shortly after he left Giruwa he learned that Buna Mission had already fallen. His energies thereafter were devoted to picking up as many of the survivors as possible. The success of his rescue mission required that the spit off Tarakena (on which many of the swimmers were landing, after hiding out during the day from Allied planes and patrols) be in Japanese hands. Ordering a careful reconnaissance of Lieutenant Chagnon’s position, he attacked it at dusk on 4 January with the bulk of his force.

 

Lieutenant Chagnon had been reinforced that afternoon by twenty-one men of Company E, 126th Infantry. When attacked, he had under his command seventy-three soldiers from seven different companies—including men from the Headquarters and Service Companies of the 127th Infantry—a 60-mm. mortar, and three light machine guns. The force was short of ammunition and grenades, and the attack came as a complete surprise. Hit from the front, rear, and left, Chagnon’s men fought as best they could until all their ammunition was gone and they had no recourse but to swim for it. The lieutenant, who retrieved one of the machine guns under fire and continued operating it until it jammed, was the last man out. Members of Chagnon’s patrol kept straggling into Siwori Village all that night. By the following day all but four had come in—a small loss in view of the fact that Yazawa’s attack had been made in overwhelming strength.

Having cleared Chagnon’s position on the spit and mainland, Yazawa proceeded with his rescue work. He was soon able to report that he had picked up some 190 survivors of the Buna garrison. Most of them had swum from the mission and had had the good sense to keep out of sight during the day.

Colonel Grose meanwhile had not been idle. By the early morning of 5 January he had part of Company F, 127th Infantry, across Siwori Creek. The crossing was unopposed. The men quickly re-established themselves on the other side of the creek and began moving northwestward.

The Stalemate at Sanananda

Buna had fallen, and the bridgehead across Siwori Creek had been re-established. The campaign, however, was far from over. West of the Girua River on the Sanananda front things were at a stalemate, and hadbeen for some time. In his order of the day of 3 January General Herring had told the troops that the battle for Buna was “but a step on the way.” They still had, he said, the difficult job ahead of them of cleaning the enemy out of the Sanananda area, a job that would “not be any easier than Buna.”

It was a timely reminder. As Colonel Leslie M. Skerry, General Eichelberger’s G-1, put the matter: “While we were engaged in the Buna area, we did not have much opportunity to think about what was going on elsewhere. But after getting rid of the Japanese here, we awoke to the fact that there was another most difficult situation existing in the Sanananda area next door.” There, Skerry noted, “a state of semi-siege has been going on … with little progress being made.”

With the 127th Infantry in position to move on Tarakena, and the 18th Brigade, the tanks, and most of the guns in use at Buna available for use on the other side of the river, the time had come to move on the enemy’s Sanananda-Giruwa position in force.

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (18); Clearing the Track Junction

World War Two: PapuanCampaign (16);Urbana Force-Closes on the Mission

World War Two: Guadalcanal(14); Second January Offensive

When the 25th Division completed the capture of the Galloping Horse on 13 January, it doubled the length of the Corps’ west front. The front now extended far enough inland to enable the Corps to advance westward on a broad front without much danger of having its left flank enveloped. General Patch then prepared for a second co-ordinated attack designed to carry through Kokumbona to the Poha River, about 9,000 yards west of Point Cruz. Such an attack had to wait until supplies could catch up with the troops.

The 25th Division was forced to halt after capturing the Galloping Horse until the road net could be extended sufficiently to bring enough supplies forward to support the next drive.1 Engineers immediately began to push the Hill 66 road to the southwest, but it was 22 January before the Corps could resume its advance on a two-division front. The units on the beach, on the right flank of the 25th Division, were not impeded in their forward movement by lack of supplies. These were brought to them over the coast road network, and they were able to move forward almost every day from 13 to 24 January. General Patch hoped to trap and destroy the Japanese in Kokumbona.

There were only two routes by which they could escape from that village. The easiest lay along the flat ground on the north coast between Kokumbona and Cape Esperance, and was then controlled by the Japanese. The second route lay over a 20-mile-long native trail which ran from Kokumbona southwestward through the mountains to Beaufort Bay on the south coast. Allied patrols had explored most of the trail in December. Beaufort Bay was friendly territory. The Japanese had never operated in strength on the south coast. Emery de Klerk, a Belgian missionary of the Roman Catholic Society of Mary who had maintained a station at Beaufort Bay before the war, had declined to be evacuated when the marines had come, but gave his services as a coastwatcher, recruiter of native labor, and authority on terrain.

To prevent the Japanese from escaping via Beaufort Bay, General Patch had dispatched there a shore-to-shore expedition even before the opening of the first January offensive. The expedition was to land at Beaufort Bay and proceed over the trail to block the passes in the mountains near the village of Vurai, which lay southwest of Kokumbona. In the narrow mountain defiles, a small force might withstand entire battalions of infantry. Troops for the expedition were provided by the 147th Infantry. Commanded by Captain Charles E. Beach, the force consisted of I Company, one platoon from M Company, one platoon from the Antitank Company, and pioneer, medical, and communication troops.

On 7 January Captain Beach’s command boarded two tank landing craft (LCT) at Kukum to sail around Cape Esperance at night, and reached Klerk’s mission at 1315 on 9 January. The force landed and one I Company platoon, plus the antitank and heavy weapons platoons and pioneers, established beach defenses.

Two days later, while the 27th Infantry was fighting on the Galloping Horse, the remainder of the expedition set out over the mountain trail and reached Vurai on 14 January. There the troops established a base camp, a defensive line, and outposts. When patrols failed to find any Japanese the main camp was moved farther north to Tapananja on the upper reaches of the Nueha River, about six miles south of Sealark Channel. Outposts guarded the upper Poha, but no Japanese attempted to make their way from Kokumbona along the blocked trail.

The blocking force subsisted on scanty rations. Natives were to have carried food over the mountains, but apparently little food actually reached I Company, which after trying to subsist on baked green bananas reported that they “taste like hell.” Captain Beach requested that aircraft drop food to his force, but XIV Corps headquarters refused for fear of revealing the block to the enemy.

The Japanese never attempted to make their way over the trail; the block by Beach’s detachment, however, was an economical method of ensuring that the enemy did not escape southward from Kokumbona to hide in the mountains or on the south coast.

Plans and Preparations; XIV Corps’ Offensive Plans

Two days after Captain Beach’s force reached Vurai, General Patch directed the XIV Corps to resume its co-ordinated attacks. (Appendix C) Field Order No. 1, issued on 16 January, ordered the Corps to attack west to gain a line extending southwest from a point on the beach about 2,600 yards west of Point Cruz inland to a point about 3,000 yards west of the Galloping Horse.

Since most of the regiments of both the 2nd Marine and Americal Divisions were too badly worn out for further offensive action, the Corps commander formed the Composite Army-Marine (CAM) Division from the 6th Marines, the 182nd and the 147th Infantry Regiments, and the 2nd Marine and Americal Division artillery units. The CAM Division was to continue the coastal drive on the right of the 25th Division on a 3,000-yard front. It was also to keep contact on its left with the 25th Division and guard the shore line between the Matanikau River and the objective. General Patch ordered the 25th Division to attack to the southwest to envelop the Japanese south (right) flank and cover the XIV Corps’ left (south) flank. “Isolated points of enemy resistance” were to be contained, bypassed, and reduced later. After reaching its objective the Corps was to be prepared to continue the attack to the northwest. Artillery support arrangements were the same as those made on 10 January. General Mulcahy’s 2nd Marine Air Wing was to give close air support. Destroyers of the U. S. Navy, assisted by fire control parties on shore, would bombard enemy coastal positions. During the attack the Americal Division (less the 182nd Infantry) and the 2nd and 8th Marines were to man the Lunga perimeter defense.

The ground over which the XIV Corps was to fight is similar to that covered in the first January offensive. On the coast the rocky north-south ridges, with deep ravines between, furnished the enemy with strong natural positions from which to oppose the CAM Division. The 25th Division’s zone covered higher ground than the CAM Division’s. The outstanding feature of the inland zone is the hill mass formed by Hills 87-88-89, the highest ground on the north coast between the Matanikau River and Cape Esperance. These hills dominate Kokumbona just as Mount Austen dominates Lunga Point.

25th Division’s Preliminary Movements

To carry out General Patch’s orders for the offensive, General Collins, on 20 January 1943, ordered the 25th Division to attack west from the Galloping Horse on 22 January. The 27th Infantry was to deliver a holding attack while the 161st Infantry, making the division’s main effort, moved southwest to outflank the enemy. The 35th Infantry was to complete mopping up the Gifu, then pass to division reserve.

In the 161st Infantry’s zone, three small open hills lay southwest of the Hill 53. (Map XIX) Hill Z, the most distant, was 2,500 yards from Hill 53, and 6,900 yards south of Sealark Channel. The 161st Infantry was to seize these hills, then move northwest through the jungle to attack Hill 87, the division objective, from the rear. After the capture of Hill 87 the regiment was to seize the other two eminences (Hills 88 and 89) comprising the hill mass. The road up to the Galloping Horse had been extended to Hill 53. Supplies for the 161st Infantry had been trucked to Hill 53, and native bearers were to hand-carry supplies forward from there to support the attack. The 161st Infantry assembled on the southern parts of the Galloping Horse. On 20 January the 2nd Battalion advanced to Hill X, and the next day to Hill Y, but found no strong forces there. The battalion killed only one Japanese on 21 January.

In the northern half of the 25th Division’s zone, the 27th Infantry prepared for its holding attack. A long, slender, open ridge runs from a point southwest of Hill 66 near the northwest Matanikau fork to a point east of Hill 87. This ridge, called the “Snake” from its appearance in an aerial photograph, provided a route of approach for the 27th Infantry. To supply the 27th’s attack, the 57th and 65th Engineer Battalions extended the road from Hill 66 up to the Snake’s back prior to 22 January, and when the infantry advanced the engineers were to push the road to Hill 87.

On 17 January Colonel Jurney’s 1st Battalion, the assault unit, had outposted the Snake. C Company, with one light machine gun section attached, occupied the Snake’s head. On 20 January a patrol from A Company—one rifle and one mortar squad—advanced west over the Snake toward Hill 87. As the patrol neared Hill 87C enemy machine-gun and mortar fire forced the soldiers to take cover. When the patrol radioed for assistance one rifle platoon from the 1st Battalion started forward. Before the reinforcing platoon reached the scene an artillery forward observer with the beleaguered patrol radioed firing data to his battalion. The resulting artillery bombardment forced the enemy to cease fire and the 1st Battalion patrol returned safely.

The enemy still held Hill 87; the mortars and machine guns emplaced there helped to confirm the American belief that the position would be strongly defended. Because Hill 87 dominated Hill 87C, the 1st Battalion did not try to hold the latter prior to 22 January.

A second 1st Battalion patrol marched without incident to Hill 87G, 1,000 yards northwest of 87C, on 20 January. Because the route led the patrol over such rough terrain that it took three hours to travel the distance, Colonel Jurney determined to attack only over the Snake on 22 January.

Colonel Mitchell’s 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry, in reserve, took over the 1st Battalion’s old positions on Hill 57 on 21 January. The 3rd Battalion, Colonel Bush commanding, moved to the Snake’s head on the same day to be in position to follow closely behind the assaulting 1st Battalion.

The 25th Division s Advance to Kokumbona; First Day: The Change in Plan

Infantrymen of the 25th Division attacked at 0630, 22 January. The divisional field order had not specifically ordered a preparatory artillery bombardment, but at the requests of the regimental commanders the division artillery fired 12½ tons of 75-mm., 105-mm., and 155-mm. ammunition into the 161st Infantry’s zone southwest of the Galloping Horse, and 55½ tons on Hill 87. Four battalions put fire on Hill 87; the 8th Field Artillery Battalion, for example, fired at an extremely rapid rate—fourteen and one-half rounds per gun per minute.

While the 1st Battalion of the 161st Infantry covered the division’s left flank, the 2nd Battalion, which had been designated as the assault battalion, moved off Hill Y into the deep jungle. The 3rd Battalion followed to Hills X and Y. The 2nd Battalion began marching along an old trail toward Hill 87.12 The 27th Infantry launched its holding attack simultaneously with the 161st’s attempted envelopment. At 0630 the 1st Battalion started over the narrow Snake in a column of companies led by C Company. At 0700, when the artillery battalions ceased firing, the 27th Infantry’s mortars and 37-mm. guns on the Snake opened fire at Hill 87. C Company started to climb Hill 87F but Japanese machine-gun fire from the top of Hill 87 forced it to halt American mortars and antitank guns on the Snake silenced the enemy, and by 0745 the battalion had resumed the advance.13 The battalion then deployed—A Company on the right, B in the center, and C on the left—and assaulted Hill 87. But the enemy had withdrawn; there was no opposition. By 0910, in less than three hours, the battalion had advanced almost 3,000 yards to the summit of Hill 87, the day’s objective.

Fortunately the XIV Corps possessed officers who were flexible enough to change their plans to exploit this unexpectedly rapid advance. General Patch had orally instructed the 25th Division commander that if the attack progressed well, the 161st Infantry was to push past the day’s objective to take Hills 88 and 89 without waiting for the 27th to reach Hill 87. But the 27th had reached its objective while the assault battalion of the 161st was still deep in the jungle. Colonel Jurney’s battalion therefore advanced past the objective. While A Company held Hill 87, B Company went forward 500 yards to seize Hill 88 and C Company advanced 1,000 yards west and north to take Hill 89 by 1035.15 By 1100 all companies were in place and digging in.

General Collins witnessed this rapid advance from the division observation post on Hill 49 east of the Matanikau. In view of General Patch’s instructions to go beyond the objective if possible, General Collins, who in Admiral Halsey’s words was “quick on his feet and even quicker in his brain,” left the observation post and started toward Hill 89 by jeep and on foot to make arrangements to continue the attack, for the 27th Infantry had outrun its wire communications. Reaching Hill 66, he met Brigadier General Robert L. Spragins, the Corps chief of staff, and obtained authority from him, in the name of the Corps commander, to continue the 25th Division’s advance into Kokumbona as rapidly as possible. The boundary between the two divisions was immediately changed to place Hills 91, 98, 99, and Kokumbona in the 25th Division’s zone. It then ran north to the beach in front of the CAM Division’s zone of action.

General Collins reached Hill 89, where he conferred with the 27th Infantry’s commander, Colonel McCulloch. As the 27th was obviously best situated to pursue the retreating Japanese, General Collins and Colonel McCulloch agreed that the 27th Infantry should resume the attack to capture Hills 90 and 97 just south of Kokumbona. The 2nd Battalion of the 161st, then deep in the jungle, continued toward Hill 87 against a few Japanese riflemen. It gained its objective in the afternoon. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 161st were immediately withdrawn from the south flank and dispatched to the Galloping Horse and the Snake.

The main body of the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Infantry had followed the 1st Battalion over the Snake to Hills 87 and 88. I Company, in covering the right flank, kept contact with the 182nd Infantry in the CAM Division’s zone. E Company of the 2nd Battalion moved from the Galloping Horse to the Snake’s head in the early morning, and later in the morning the rest of the battalion marched to the Snake to guard the regimental supply route.

The 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, began its advance north to Hill 90 about 1400. With B Company in reserve, A and C attacked abreast. The 8th Field Artillery Battalion and D Company’s heavy weapons on Hill 89 supported the infantry. Again the soldiers advanced rapidly and overran a few enemy riflemen in the deep valley between Hills 89 and 90. By 1700 Colonel Jurney’s battalion, having covered nearly 2,000 more yards, had reached its objective, the high ground east and south of Kokumbona—Hills 90 and 98.

The 27th’s fast advance necessitated displacement of the artillery. The 64th Field Artillery Battalion, freed by the impending collapse of the Gifu, took over the missions of the 8th while that battalion moved across the Matanikau to Hill 66. On 22-23 January the 90th Field Artillery Battalion also moved its howitzers across the Matanikau to the Point Cruz area. During the displacement the 89th Field Artillery Battalion fired all general support missions, and on 23 January moved forward to Hill 49 east of the Matanikau. Only the 64th Field Artillery Battalion remained in its original position.

Second Day: The Capture of Kokumbona

The 27th Infantry’s successful attack on 22 January carried it to the high ground immediately overlooking Kokumbona. In one day the 1st Battalion had gained over 4,500 yards and by nightfall the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were close behind. The supply route was protected, and the regiment was ready to exploit its success by moving into Kokumbona. Plans to take Kokumbona on 23 January were completed on the night of 22-23 January. On the morning of 23 January the 3rd Battalion, 27th, advanced north from its positions on Hills 89 and 91 to Hills 98 and 99. While the 1st Battalion’s advance blocked the Japanese on the south, the 3rd Battalion’s move extended the regiment’s right flank over the undefended hills to the beach to block the hills and the beach road and pocket the enemy facing the CAM Division in the ravines east of Hills 98 and 99.

Once the 3rd Battalion was in position, the 1st Battalion, with E Company and one K Company platoon attached, sent two columns into Kokumbona from the east and south. The right flank column—B Company, the platoon from K, and one machine gun platoon and two mortar sections—attacked westward over the northern and western slopes of Hill 99. On the left A and E Companies plus one machine gun platoon and two mortar sections advanced north over Hill 90 into Kokumbona. By 1510 the two columns had each traveled over 1,000 yards to join forces in the village.

In the afternoon the 2nd Battalion was ordered to hold the hills just south of Kokumbona (Hills 90 and 97), and to advance west through the jungle north of Hill 97 to complete the defense of the left flank by seizing Hill 100, about 500 yards beyond the west slopes of Hill 97. G Company assumed the defense of Hill 90, and Battalion Headquarters and H Companies extended their lines west to Hill 97. F Company moved west and killed about thirty Japanese in the jungled draw between Hills 97 and 100 cut by the Beaufort Bay trail and by the Kokumbona River, and took Hill 100 without suffering casualties.

The nights were generally uneventful. The American troops built strong defenses each night, but the retreating Japanese attempted none of the night attacks which had previously characterized their operations on Guadalcanal. After the capture of Kokumbona, I Company of the 3rd Battalion, 27th, blocked the road between Hill 99 and the beach. After nightfall on 23-24 January, a group of Japanese soldiers carelessly marched west along the road, talking, using flashlights, and wheeling a 37-mm. gun. Obviously unaware that the Americans had reached the beach, they walked right into I Company’s block. The men in the company lay quiet until the Japanese were close, then opened fire with all weapons that would bear and killed about fifty of the enemy.

CAM Division’s Offensive

In the coast zone on the right of the 25th Division, marines and soldiers had been pressing forward prior to 22 January, supported by Americal and 2nd Marine Division artillery and American destroyers firing from offshore. The 2nd Marine Division’s attacks from 13 and 17 January had advanced the line almost one mile beyond Point Cruz. When the battle-weary 2nd and 8th Marines were relieved and returned to the perimeter defense, General Patch had attached the relatively fresh 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 182nd Infantry and the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 147th Infantry to the 2nd Division to form the CAM Division.

The 182nd Infantry (less the 3rd Battalion) moved into line on the left of the 6th Marines on 17 January. By nightfall of 19 January the two regiments had advanced west slightly over 1,000 yards. Progress was slow on the left on 19 January, although there was no heavy fighting. A gap developed between the 6th Marines and the 182nd Infantry, and when the latter regiment halted short of the day’s objective the 6th Marines also stopped. Only sixteen Japanese were killed during the advance on 19 January. As a result of the halts and confusion on 19 January, some bitterness apparently arose between the two regiments.

By late afternoon of the same day the Americal Reconnaissance Squadron had relieved the 147th Infantry at Koli Point, and the 147th moved up to the Point Cruz area. On 20 January the 3rd Battalion, 147th (plus C Company and less I Company) began moving into the front line between the 6th Marines and the 182nd Infantry. As the two battalions were not completely in position until 21 January, the CAM Division did not move forward.

On 22 January the division opened a full-scale attack as part of the Corps offensive. Units from all three regiments participated; the 6th Marines attacked on the right along the beach, the 147th Infantry advanced in the center, and on the left the 182nd Infantry maintained contact with the 25th Division. The attack, which opened at 0630, was supported by the artillery of the Americal and 2nd Marine Divisions, and by aircraft and naval gunfire. In the zones of the 147th and 182nd Infantry Regiments the terrain offered the only serious resistance to the advance. By 1600 G Company of the 182nd had made contact with the 27th Infantry north of Hill 88.27 The 147th Infantry seized Hill 95, and patrols from that regiment met some machine-gun fire in the ravine to the west.

The beach was the scene of the day’s hardest fighting. An estimated 250 Japanese who were occupying the ravine just west of Hill 94 stopped the advance of the 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marines with machine and antitank guns. The 2nd Battalion of the 6th, on the 3rd Battalion’s left, halted to protect its flank. The CAM Division had advanced about 1,000 yards, but its front lines were still some 1,000 yards east of the high ground (Hills 98 and 99) east of Kokumbona.

The division resumed its attack the next morning, 23 January, the day on which the 27th Infantry captured Kokumbona. The 182nd Infantry advanced 1,000 yards to its objective, Hill 91, keeping .contact with the 25th Division on the left and the 147th Infantry on the right. The 147th Infantry advanced slowly against enemy strong points on the north slopes of Hill 92 and on the coast road. All three battalions of the 6th Marines were committed to action. Though meeting small-arms and artillery fire, they captured Hill 92 and destroyed three 150-mm. guns, one light tank, two 37-mm. guns, and two machine guns.

By the end of the fighting on 23 January, the XIV Corps had pocketed the main body of Japanese remaining east of the Poha in the ravine east of Hill (99. On 24 January the CAM Division resumed its advance. Soldiers of the 147th, attacking to the northwest, killed eighteen Japanese and reached Hill 98, where they made contact with the 27th Infantry by 0940. The 6th Marines attacked and killed over 200 Japanese. By 1500 all three battalions had gained Hills 98 and 99 and had made contact with the 27th Infantry.

Final Push to the Poha

With the CAM Division moving up to Hills 98 and 99 on 24 January, the 25th Division was able to continue the Corps plan to advance beyond Kokumbona. The 27th Infantry was again best situated to make the attack. Colonel Mitchell’s 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, took over the assault E Company was released from service with the 1st Battalion and rejoined the 2nd Battalion. Colonel McCulloch, the regimental commander, attached K Company of the 27th Infantry to the 2nd Battalion when troops of the 147th Infantry took over K Company’s position on Hill 98. The 27th Infantry’s objective was the Poha River, whose mouth lies about 2,300 yards northwest of the west tip of Hill 100 and about 2,600 yards northwest of Kokumbona.

Supplies had run short, but the capture of the Kokumbona beaches made it possible for landing craft to bring supplies in by water. By noon enough supplies had reached the 2nd Battalion to enable it to move out of Kokumbona. Supported by H Company’s machine guns and mortars on Hill 97, K and E Companies attacked west at 1300 on the right, with K Company’s right flank on the beach. E Company, on K’s left, attempted to drive over Hill 102, a bare hill just west of Kokumbona, but a vigorous Japanese defense held the company on the west tip. To avoid exposing its left flank, K Company halted, and both companies stayed in place for the rest of the day.

On the left G Company, with the antitank platoon of Battalion Headquarters Company and six machine guns from H Company attached, began its advance north from Hill 97; it turned northwest to attempt to seize Hill 103, about 250 yards beyond Hill 100. When G Company tried to cross one of the dry stream beds north of Hill 100, fire from the same well-hidden enemy positions that had halted E Company hit G Company from three sides. Colonel Mitchell ordered the company back. It withdrew and approached Hill 103 by moving safely around the south slopes of Hill 100, which protected G Company from the enemy fire. By nightfall it had reached Hill 103.

The 27th Infantry attacked in greater strength the next day, 25 January, again with orders to reach the Poha. Colonel Bush’s 3rd Battalion, which had been relieved on Hills 98 and 99 by the 6th Marines, was to attack along the beach west of Kokumbona, while the 2nd Battalion on the left advanced to Hills 105 and 106 overlooking the Poha. K Company was detached from the 2nd Battalion and ordered to clean out the Japanese between Hills 102 and 103.

The 3rd Battalion left its lines on Hills 98 and 99, and passed through the 1st Battalion in Kokumbona about noon to advance northwest in columns of companies. L Company led, followed by I, Battalion Headquarters, and M Companies. Deployed on a 400-yard front to comb the jungle, L Company advanced slowly. At 1600 Colonel Bush decided to narrow his front in order to speed the advance sufficiently to reach the Poha before dark. I Company passed through L Company, and moved northwest along the coast road. A few Japanese riflemen opposed the 3rd Battalion, which killed about thirty-five of the enemy during the day.

Colonel Bush’s battalion reached the Poha area in late afternoon. Colonel Bush, who had only a crayon map to guide him, had difficulty in finding the correct river. The Poha channel, like many other rivers on Guadalcanal, splits and wanders over alluvial bars as it nears the sea to form a small delta cut by several sluggish streams. Colonel Bush’s troops, who were out of physical contact with the 2nd Battalion, crossed six such streams, each one of which was part of the Poha, although the map represented the Poha to be a single stream. The battalion commander therefore requested the artillery to drop a round 1,000 yards offshore, opposite the Poha’s mouth as shown on the map. When the shell fell into the channel behind him, Colonel Bush concluded that he had crossed the Poha and ordered his battalion to bivouac. The troops constructed a perimeter defense in a coconut grove, which is shown on aerial photographs as west of the river’s main stream.

Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion was advancing to Hills 105 and 106. E Company passed through G on Hill 103 and advanced without righting over steep hills and jungled ravines to reach Hills 105 and 106 by dusk. The battalion blocked the area extending from its front southeastward to the hill mass south of Kokumbona. About fifty Japanese were killed on the night of 25-26 January at the stream and trail blocks.

The two battalions regained contact at 0700, 26 January, when one platoon from L Company patrolled south along the Poha to meet F Company. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions held the Poha line until the 6th Marines and 182nd Infantry passed through the lines about noon to pursue the Japanese up the north coast. To meet an apparent enemy threat to land once more on Guadalcanal in force, XIV Corps headquarters sent the 25th Division back to the perimeter defense to guard Henderson and Carney Fields.

The 27th Infantry’s successful January attacks had cost that regiment few casualties. Seven officers and 67 enlisted men had been killed in January and 226 were wounded, largely in the capture of the Galloping Horse. Losses in Kokumbona had been light.

Kokumbona, formerly an important enemy landing beach, trail junction, and assembly area, was now in American hands. In addition the 27th Infantry had captured the highest ground dominating the landing beaches between Kokumbona and Cape Esperance, an enemy radar station, trucks, landing craft, ten field artillery pieces, two 37-mm. guns, three 40-mm. antiaircraft guns, flame throwers, and ammunition, besides killing over 400 of the enemy. Had the Japanese attempted to land, they would have encountered greater difficulties in getting inland to envelop the perimeter defense than they did in October, for the XIV Corps held the important trail junctions in Kokumbona and dominated the landing beaches to the northwest. With the enemy retreating, the task facing the XIV Corps was to pursue and destroy the remnants of the 17th Army before they could reach Cape Esperance to escape or dig in for a suicidal stand like that of the determined defenders of the Gifu.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal(15); Final Operations

World War Two: Guadalcanal(13); Tactics-Weapons

World War Two: Allied Occupation of the Russell Islands 21 February 1942

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (14B); Buna: The Second Two Weeks

The complete failure on 5 December of the attack on the Warren front had satisfied General Eichelberger that the enemy line was too strong to be breached by frontal assault In the course of a conversation held two days earlier with General Herring at Dobodura, he had learned that he could very shortly expect the arrival of tanks and fresh Australian troops for action on his side of the river. He decided therefore to try no more all-out frontal assaults on the Warren front until he had received the tanks and the promised reinforcements. Meanwhile he intended to do everything possible to weaken the enemy line.

General Herring had suggested late on 5 December that Eichelberger try pushing forward on the Warren front by concentrating on the destruction of individual pillboxes and machine gun nests which lay in the way. This job, General Eichelberger assured Port Moresby the next day, he had “already decided to do.” Since the Japanese line on that front had been found to be very strong, he added, he would make the main effort for the time being on the left, “while containing the Japanese on [the] right.” Instead of making frontal infantry assaults, which had gotten Warren Force nowhere, the troops now were to soften up the enemy line by attrition and infiltration, and to make the final break-through with the tanks when they arrived.

General Eichelberger’s orders to Colonel Martin were therefore to have his men begin vigorous patrolling in order to locate and pinpoint the individual enemy positions. As soon as they located an enemy strongpoint, they were to destroy it. The troops were to move forward by infiltration, and not by frontal assault On 7 December Colonel Martin explained the new tactics to his battalion commanders. There were to be no more all-out attacks. Instead there was to be constant patrolling by small groups. After the artillery had worked over the enemy emplacements, the patrols were to knock them out one at a time, with mortar, grenade, and rifle. They were to subject the enemy line to constant probing. Instead of rushing ahead, they were to feel their way forward. Every effort was to be made meanwhile to make the men comfortable. They were to be given their pack rolls if they wanted them, fed hot food, and allowed to rest. Colonel George DeGraaf, Colonel Rogers, and Captain Edwards, who intervened briefly in the fighting in the center, were all later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citations are in GHQ SWPA GO No. 60, 18 December 1942.

Intense patrolling became the order of the day on the Warren front. The 37-mm. guns and mortars fired on the bunkers as they were located, and the artillery, aided by Wirraways now based at Dobodura, joined in. But the 37-mm. guns and the mortars were too light to have much effect on the bunkers, and the 3.7-inch mountain howitzers and the 25-pounders using high-explosive shells with super-quick fuse proved little more effective. Because it had a higher angle of fire and its shells had delay fuses, the 105-mm. howitzer was much better suited to the task, and soon proved itself to be the only weapon on the front which was effective against the enemy bunkers. By comparison, the 25-pounder with its flatter trajectory had only a limited usefulness. Not only was it often unable to clear the trees, but it could not drop its projectiles on the bunkers as could the 105.34 General Waldron put the matter in a sentence. “The 25 pounders,” he said, “annoyed the Japanese, and that’s about all.”

The 105-mm. howitzer could have been even more effective had it been properly supplied with ammunition. But shells for it were very slow in coming forward. After having fired the initial few hundred rounds with which it reached the front, the 105 had to remain silent for days. On 6 December the I Corps ordnance officer at Port Moresby wrote to the front as follows: “I’ve been burning the air waves since 2 December to have 800 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition flown [to you]. The stuff has been at Brisbane airdrome since the night of 3 December. . . . The General asked for 100 rounds per day for 10 days starting 5 December, and there isn’t a single damned round here.”

Ammunition for the 105 finally began reaching the front during the second week in December, and then (apparently because of the priority situation) only in small amounts. Thus, for much of the time when it could have done most good, the 105 stood useless while artillery pieces less suited to the task tried vainly to deal with the Japanese bunker defenses.

Colonel Martin wanted to move up a few of the artillery pieces for direct fire on the bunkers, but Warren Force had too few guns on hand to risk any of them so far forward. The arrival by sea on 8 December of two more 25-pounders then made it possible to shift the pieces. The two 25-pounders were emplaced just north of Hariko, and the O’Hare Troop (the three 3.7-inch howitzers of the 1st Australian Mountain Battery at Hariko) took up a new position about one mile below the bridge between the strips, completing the move on 11 December. Even though the howitzers at once began hitting Japanese positions behind both strips with greater effect than before, they were still able to make no apparent impression on the Japanese line, so well was the enemy entrenched.

Throughout the battle the enemy had been achieving excellent results with grenade launchers. Impressed by their effectiveness the troops on the Warren front found time during this period of attritional warfare to experiment with rifle grenades. The experiments were conducted with Australian grenades since no American grenades were available. Using Australian rifles the men found the few grenades on hand very effective. The small supply soon ran out, however, and they received no more during the campaign. The situation on Colonel Carrier’s front during this period was one of unrelieved hardship.

The positions occupied by the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry [General Martin recalls], were almost unbearably hot in the day time as the tropical sun broiled down, the grass shut off all air, and held in the steaming heat. Due to enemy observation any daylight movement among the forward positions had to be by crawling which added to the misery from the heat. There were cases of heat exhaustion daily, and some of the company commanders strongly urged the battalion commander to permit the troops to withdraw about 300 yards in daytime to positions where there was shade, and reoccupy the forward positions at night. Martin overruled these requests. He felt that to allow daily withdrawals would contribute nothing to the harassing and softening up of the enemy, “would be psychologically bad” for the troops, and “would hurt the rebuilding of their offensive spirit.”

The infantry attackers made few gains anywhere along the Warren front. Colonel Carrier’s troops met repeated setbacks in their efforts to cross the bridge between the strips, and the forces under Colonel Miller and Colonel McCoy moved ahead only a few yards. The fighting had settled down to a siege.

With the fall of Gona, it became clear that the enemy’s beachhead garrison could no longer be supplied easily by sea. But the Japanese could still use the air lanes. On 10 December twenty medium naval bombers flew nonstop from Rabaul and dropped food and ammunition onto the Old Strip. This flight was the second—and last—air supply mission ordered by the enemy headquarters at Rabaul.

On the same day, the 10th, Major Harcourt’s 2/6 Independent Company was returned to the 7th Division, and there were other changes on the Warren front. The three battalion commanders had begun showing signs of wear. When Colonel Carrier, who was suffering from angina pectoris, had to be evacuated on 13 December, General Eichelberger decided the time had come to change the other battalion commanders. Major Beaver replaced Colonel Carrier in command of the 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry. Major Gordon Clarkson of I Corps took command of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry, in place of Colonel McCoy, who returned to division headquarters. Colonel MacNab, executive officer of Warren Force under General MacNider, Colonel Hale, and Colonel Martin, successively, changed places with Colonel Miller to take command of the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, and Miller became executive officer to Colonel Martin.

The attritional type of warfare ordered on the Warren front did not advance the line much, but the relentless pounding by the mortars and artillery and the sharp probing forays of the infantry were having exactly the effect intended by General Eichelberger—wearing the enemy down physically and softening up his defenses for the final knockout blow.

Urbana Force Makes Its First Gains; The Capture of Buna Village

Though relative quiet had descended on the Warren front, bitter fighting had continued almost without cease on the Urbana front. The Japanese in the village were virtually surrounded. Fire was hitting them frontally and from across Buna Creek, but they held their positions with extreme tenacity, and it began to look as if it would be necessary to root them out of their bunkers individually as had been the case at Gona.

The 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, was reorganized on 6 December. Colonel Grose had been promised command of the 127th Infantry, which was then on its way to the front, and left the reorganization to Colonel Tomlinson and Major Smith. He himself attended to supply matters and to the readjustment of the positions held by the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, on the right. Feeling that it was really Colonel Tomlinson’s command and that there was no use in having two regimental commanders at the front, Colonel Grose asked General Byers when the latter visited him that afternoon that Colonel Tomlinson be given the command. Byers agreed. Grose returned to the rear, and Tomlinson (who formally took command the next day) went on with preparations for an attack scheduled to be launched the next morning.

The attack was to have better artillery support than before, with all the guns east of the river scheduled to go into action, and the mortars also were to be used more effectively than before. Finding that the infantry could not control their mortar fire in the dense jungle, Colonel McCreary adopted an innovation in the use of mortars, based on artillery practice. He consolidated the seventeen available 81-mm. mortars on his front into one unit, made a fire direction chart from a vertical photograph, and by observation and mathematical calculation fixed the position of the mortars in relation to the Japanese positions. He formed the mortars into three batteries, two of six guns, and one of five guns. After adjusting the mortars and training the crews in artillery methods, he spent “the next two days 60 feet up in a tree less than 200 yards from the Jap forward elements, throwing hammer blow after hammer blow (all guns firing at once fairly concentrated) on the strong localities, searching through Buna Village.

The attack was to be mounted by the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, less the troops at Bottcher’s Corner. Companies E and G were to attack on right and left, and the weapons crews of Company H, would support the attack by fire from a position to the right of Company G. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner would hold where they were, and Company F would be available as required for the reinforcement of the other companies. The Cannon Company, 128th Infantry, now in regimental reserve, would take up a holding position in the area immediately below Musita Island, and the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, would continue to hold on the 126th Infantry’s right.

The strike against the village was to be in the early afternoon of 7 December, but the Japanese moved first. At 0600 in the morning, they attacked the troops at Bottcher’s Corner from both the village and the mission, but Bottcher’s machine gun and the rifle fire of his troops (reinforced by a fresh platoon from Company H) broke up the attack. Urbana Force telephoned the following description of the action: “Bottcher opened fire on the Buna Mission force first, stopping that attack. He then turned his gun on the Buna Village force, and stopped that attack. During the attack, Bottcher was shot in the hand. He was given first aid treatment, and is now commanding his gun.”

The story might have had a different ending had it not been for the alertness of Corporal Harold L. Mitchell of Company H, who had joined Bottcher’s little force the previous day. Acting as a forward outpost, Mitchell detected the enemy force from the village while it was creeping forward under cover of the jungle. Just as it was about to launch its attack, he charged at the Japanese suddenly with a loud yell and bayonet fixed. Mitchell so surprised and dumbfounded them that instead of continuing with the attack they hesitated and momentarily fell back. His yell alerted the rest of the force, with the result that when the Japanese finally did attack they were cut down. Mitchell escaped without a scratch. Mitchell distinguished himself further on 9 December by bringing in a prisoner for questioning. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 3, 6 January 1943.

The flurry at Bottcher’s Corner over, Companies E and G jumped off at 1335 after a fifteen-minute artillery and mortar preparation. They met heavy opposition and made little headway against an enemy that held with fanatic determination. To encourage his troops in their attempts to advance, Major Smith moved to the most exposed forward positions. Less than an hour after the attack began he was severely wounded. Captain Boice, the regimental S-2, who had made the first reconnaissance of the trail to Jaure, immediately replaced him as battalion commander.

The attack made no progress whatever. At 1430 Company F was committed in support of Company E and Company G, and the remaining platoon under Lieutenant Odell was ordered to Bottcher’s Corner. The line still did not move forward, and the only success of the day—a very modest one—was registered by Odell’s platoon.

Odell’s orders had been to move onto the fire-swept beach and clear out two suspected enemy outposts: one northwest of Bottcher’s Corner; the other closer to the village. The first outpost gave no trouble—the enemy troops in it were either dead or dying. The second was a different matter. Odell’s platoon, down to a dozen men, began closing in on the objective, when it found itself faced with about fifteen Japanese in a hastily dug trench. As the platoon edged forward, one of the Japanese called out in English that he and his fellows would surrender if the Americans came over to them first. The men (as the battalion journal notes) treated the offer as a “gag.” They stormed the trench and mopped up the Japanese, but heavy fire from the village ultimately drove them back to the Corner. The Japanese kept on trying. An attempt that evening by Captain Yasuda to send boats through to the village from his headquarters in the mission was frustrated when Sergeant Bottcher detected the leading barge and set it on fire with his machine gun. The barge was pulled back to the mission, a blazing hulk. After that rebuff the Japanese made no further attempts to send boats to the village.

On 8 December the companies attacked again. Artillery, mortars, and machine guns opened up at 1400, and the troops started moving forward at 1415. Colonel McCreary’s mortars laid down fire as close as fifty yards to the front of the battalion’s advance elements, but the Japanese line still held, and the attack was beaten off once again.

The day was marked by a futile attempt to burn out a main Japanese bunker position on the southern edge of the village which had resisted capture for several days. The bunker was on the corner of a kunai flat, with dense jungle and swamp to the rear. It could neither be taken by frontal assault nor flanked. Two primitive flame throwers had reached the front that day, and one of them was immediately pressed into use. Covered by the fire of twenty men, the operator managed to get within thirty feet of the enemy without being detected.

Then he stepped into the open and turned on his machine. All that came out of it was a ten or fifteen-foot dribble of flame which set the grass on fire and did not even come near the Japanese position. The operator, two of the men covering him, as well as the chemical officer in charge, were killed. The operation, as reported to Port Moresby that night, had been a complete “fizzle.

The same evening Captain Yasuda made his last diversion in favor of the beleaguered troops in the village. While the Japanese in the village counterattacked on the left with about forty men, a second force of between seventy-five and a hundred men moved from the mission by way of the island and hit the right flank of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. The force from the mission advanced to the attack screaming and yelling, but the battalion’s mortars and machine guns beat it off in short order. “Our heavy weapons quieted them down rather fast,” was the way the battalion journal described the action.

Colonel McCreary continued his “hammer blows” against the village next day, but the Japanese still held their positions. During the afternoon, 1st Lieutenant James G. Downer, now commanding Company E, led a patrol against the same bunker position that the flame throwers had failed to reduce the day before. Covered by fire from the rest of the patrol, Downer moved out against the enemy positions alone but was killed by a hidden sniper just before reaching it. Downer’s body was recovered and the fight for the bunker went on. Enemy fire slackened by evening and the bunker finally fell after costing the attackers heavy casualties and several days of effort.

By this time the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, had launched twelve futile attacks on the village. Its companies had become so understrength that they could do little more than hold their positions. Companies E and F each had less than fifty effectives left, and the whole battalion totaled about 250 men.

Its relief had long been overdue, and the task of delivering the final attack on the village went therefore to the fresh 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry, which together with regimental headquarters had completed its movement to the forward area by air on 9 December. On 10 December, just as the 2nd Battalion was about to be relieved, Private First Class Walter A. Bajdek, of Battalion Headquarters Company, made a dash under heavy enemy fire to reestablish communication with an advanced observation post overlooking the enemy positions. Bajdek was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE, GO No. 32, 15 June 1943.

Colonel Grose, as he had been promised earlier, took over command of the regiment the same day, and Lieutenant Colonel Edwin J. Schmidt, the regimental commander, became his executive officer. On 11 December, Companies I and K, 127th Infantry, relieved Companies E and G, 126th Infantry. Company I took up a position at Bottcher’s Corner between the village and the mission, and the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry, moved into a reserve area along the supply trail.

Companies I and K began probing the Japanese line at once. They made small gains on the 12th and consolidated them. On the 13th the village was subjected to heavy fire from the 25-pounders at Ango, and a heavy mortar concentration was laid down in preparation for a final assault the next day. The Japanese—by that time down to about 100 men—apparently had a premonition of what was coming. They evacuated the village that night and made for Giruwa. Most of them appear to have gotten through. On the 13th, while the Japanese were still holding, Sergeant Samuel G. Winzenreid of Company I, 127th Infantry, acting on his own initiative, single-handedly reduced a strongly held enemy bunker with hand grenades. Winzenreid was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 32, 15 June 1943.

Early the next morning, 14 December, a thorough preparation by 25-pounders and mortars was put down on the village. Leaving a small holding force at the corner, Company K moved forward against the village at 0700. Company I was in support on Company K’s left flank, and one of its platoons covered Company K’s left rear. The advance continued steadily and cautiously. There was no opposition. By 1000 the entire area was overrun. Moving slowly and warily because they feared a trap, the troops soon discovered that none existed. They found no Japanese anywhere in the village. After all the bitter fighting that had raged on the outskirts, the village had fallen without the firing of a single enemy shot.

The village was a mass of wreckage. Its few huts had been blown to bits; the coconut palms in the area were splintered and broken by shellfire; and there were craters and shell holes everywhere. The bunkers still stood, despite evidence of numerous direct hits registered upon them by the artillery. The Japanese had left little equipment and food behind: a few guns, some discarded clothing, a supply of canned goods, and a store of medical supplies.

Thus anticlimactically had Urbana Force taken its first objective. The Coconut Grove remained as the only position on the left bank of Entrance Creek still in Japanese hands. This labyrinth of trenches and bunkers was next.

The Reduction of the Coconut Grove

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert A. Smith, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, had been told by General Byers a few days before that he would be called upon to take the Coconut Grove when Buna Village fell. Smith and his executive officer, Major Roy F. Zinser, lost no time therefore in preparing a plan for its reduction. Since the jungle fronting the grove was split by an open grassy area, the plan called for one company of the battalion to attack on the right under Smith and a second company to attack on the left under Zinser, whose unit was to make the main effort.

About 1300 on 15 December General Byers came to Colonel Smith’s CP, west of the grove, and told him he was to attack at once. Smith’s battalion numbered about 350 men at the time, but they were scattered along a 1,750-yard front all the way from the apex of the Triangle and along the left bank of Entrance Creek to a point just below Musita Island. Not counting a platoon of heavy machine guns from Company H which was to play a supporting role, Smith had less than 100 men immediately available for the attack: about 40 men from Company E; about 20 men from a Company F platoon; 15 or 20 men from Battalion Headquarters Company; and about 15 men from the Regimental Cannon Company who happened to be in the immediate area. Smith requested more troops, and specifically asked for the rest of Company F, which was then in the Siwori Village area protecting the left flank. General Byers found it impossible to give Smith the men he asked for, and the attack was ordered to begin at 1500 with those he had available. Smith divided his available strength in half. He gave Zinser the platoon of Company F, most of the troops from Battalion Headquarters Company, and a few men from the Cannon Company detachment. He himself took Company E and a few men from each of the other units. The two forces moved out quickly to their respective points of departure. At 1510, with the troops in position and ready to go, Colonel McCreary’s mortars opened up on the grove.

The mortar preparation, about 100 rounds in all, hit the target area but had little effect. As one who was there recalls, it merely “blew a little dirt from the Japanese emplacements.” At 1520 the mortars ceased firing, and the troops moved out on right and left with the help of fire from the platoon of Company H.

The Japanese had the approaches to the grove covered and laid down heavy fire on the attackers. Progress was slow, but Colonel Smith’s forces were pressed up tight against their objective by nightfall. A heavy rain fell during the night, drenching the troops and filling their foxholes with water. Zinser’s force took the initiative next morning. Running into a particularly troublesome bunker, it pressed into use a flame thrower of the same type that had worked so badly the week before in front of Buna Village. The result was the same: the flame thrower “fizzed out and Japanese shot it up.

After reducing this position with grenades and small arms fire, the troops on the left discovered a very large bunker which commanded the American approaches to the grove. Since the enemy strongpoint was accessible to both of them, the two forces began converging on it from right and left, clearing out intermediate obstacles as they went. In this fighting Major Zinser demonstrated conspicuous leadership, but it fell to two men of Company E on the right—Corporal Daniel F. Rini and Private Bernardino Y. Estrada—to clear out the main position. Rini and Estrada, members of the same squad, had been in the forefront of the company’s advance. The climax came when Rini, covered by Estrada’s BAR, got close enough to the main bunker to jump on top and knock it out.

That morning Colonel Smith had been watching Rini and Estrada from a position thirty or forty yards behind them, occasionally helping them with fire. Just as Rini reached the bunker, Smith was called to the phone tied to a tree about twenty-five yards to the rear to talk to Colonel Tomlinson. He had scarcely lifted the receiver when he heard shouting from the direction of the main bunker.

I sensed [he recalls] that this was probably the break we were looking for, so I told Colonel Tomlinson that I must get forward and see what was happening. I arrived just in time to see Corporal Rini on top of the big bunker and the rest of the squad closing in on it. Later I learned that Rini, after working up as close as he could, had suddenly made a dash, jumped on top of the bunker, and leaning over had pushed hand grenades through the firing slits.

Realizing that he would have to move fast to take full advantage of this turn in the fighting, Colonel Smith ordered all-out attacks on the remaining enemy positions. Charging at the head of a squad, Smith cleared out a bunker in the center, and Captain Joseph M. Stehling of Company E did the same in an attack on his right. The bunkers fell in quick succession, but Corporal Rini and Private Estrada were both killed in the mop-up which their valor had made possible. Rini was shot by a wounded Japanese to whom he was trying to administer first aid, and Estrada fell not long after while helping to clear the last enemy position in the grove.

[NOTE: Zinser, Rini, and Estrada were later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross; Smith and Stehling, the Silver Star. Zinser’s citation is in Hq USAFFE GO No. 2, 11 Jan 44; Rini’s and Estrada’s posthumous awards are cited in GHQ SWPA GO No. 9, 19 Jan 43. The Silver Star citations are in Hq 32nd Div GO No. 54, 14 January 1943, and in GO No. 28, 6 April 1943, of the same headquarters.]

The fighting was over by noon. Thirty-seven Japanese were buried by the following day, and more were found and buried subsequently. The cost to the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, was four killed and thirteen wounded. Booty included 2,000 pounds of rice and oatmeal, a number of kegs of malt and barley, a quantity of small arms, several light machine guns, and a hut full of ammunition. One wounded Japanese sergeant was taken prisoner.

As soon as the grove was captured, Colonel Smith sent patrols over a footbridge built by the Japanese across Entrance Creek and the Ango-Buna track bridge. Though the latter span lacked flooring, its piling and stringers were still intact. The patrols met no opposition, and two heavy machine guns were immediately emplaced covering the approaches to the bridges. Late in the afternoon, while the engineers were repairing the track bridge, an enemy attempt to mass troops in the Government Gardens, presumably for an attack on the newly won beachhead east of Entrance Creek, was frustrated by fire from the heavy machine guns both east and west of the creek.

General Eichelberger wrote General Sutherland that night that he was “delighted” with the way Colonel Smith’s battalion had performed in the day’s fighting. The battalion was now “high” in his favor, Colonel Smith had “developed into quite a fighter,” and the men had “a high morale.”As a matter of fact,” he added, “the boys are coming to life all along the line.”

The Scene Brightens: The Situation: Mid-December

General Eichelberger was right. Despite considerable losses, widespread sickness, and severe physical discomforts, the troops were giving an increasingly good account of themselves. By 11 December, after having been been in action for only twenty-one days, the two task forces east of the Girua River had lost 667 killed, wounded, and missing, and 1,260 evacuated sick. The detailed figures are: KIA, 113; WIA, 490; MIA, 64. Warren Force sustained 422 of these casualties; Urbana Force, 245. Troop morale had touched bottom during the first week in December and had stayed there for a few days after. By mid-month, however, a distinct improvement had become manifest. A report on morale in the 3rd Battalion, 128th Infantry, submitted to Colonel Martin on 13 December, noted that the men were tired and feverish, that their physical co-ordination was poor, that they complained of the, food and of the difficulty of getting rest at night. The same report nevertheless commented that their “spirits” had “livened-up” considerably during the preceding few days.

There were good reasons for the upswing in morale. The fact that the troops had by this time learned their business had a great deal to do with it. More food and rest, the arrival of the 127th Infantry, the victories on the Urbana front, the receipt of mail for the first time since the campaign began, and the knowledge that tanks and fresh Australian troops were coming had boosted morale still further.

The supply situation was improving. More luggers were becoming available, and General Johns of the Combined Operational Service Command (COSC) had already decided to send large freighters into Oro Bay. The airlift was beginning to bring in truly impressive tonnages. On 14 December, for example, the air force in seventy-four individual flights between Port Moresby and the airfields at Dobodura and Popondetta brought in 178 tons of high-priority matériel. This was a maximum effort that was never equaled during the rest of the campaign, but it indicated what the air force could do when it extended itself and the weather was favorable.

The rapidly growing airlift, the opening of a fourth field at Dobodura, regular nightly deliveries by the luggers, and the completion by the engineers of additional jeep trails to the front had done more than merely make good the supply shortages that had so long afflicted the 32nd Division. They had made it possible for the first time to begin stockpiling food and ammunition for a sustained offensive effort.

There were other improvements. The sound-power telephone, pressed into use at this time for fire control purposes, was proving itself highly efficient within a two-mile range, and the introduction of the new 4-inch-to-1-mile Buna Map, in place of the improvised Buna Target Plan No. 24, was already paying the troops dividends. With a more accurate base map, improved communications with the forward observers, and observation from the air, the artillery was beginning to give an even better account of itself. From time to time, it was executing fire missions on bunkers adjacent to the bridge between the strips, and on those flanking the dispersal bays off the northeastern end of the New Strip. It was laying down harassing fire on the enemy front and rear. Direct hits were chipping away at the bunkers, but except in the case of the 105-mm. howitzer, using shells with delayed fuses, artillery had little effect on the enemy bunker positions.

On the more strongly defended Warren front what was needed, in addition to more effective artillery support, was special equipment for the reduction of bunkers. Such equipment—routine later on—was simply not to be had at Buna. It was expected that the tanks, when they finally reached the front, would make up for these deficiencies.

The Arrival of the Australians

Early on 7 December General Herring and his chief of staff, Brigadier R. N. L. Hopkins, visited General Eichelberger’s headquarters at Henahamburi to make arrangements for the reception of the Australian troops and tanks that General Eichelberger had been promised on 3 December. General Blarney had chosen Brigadier George F. Wootten of the 18th Brigade (then still at Milne Bay) to command the incoming Australian force. General Eichelberger at once offered to put Wootten in command of Warren Force with Colonel Martin as second-incommand—an offer which General Herring promptly accepted.

General Blarney had discussed the matter with General MacArthur the day before. The two commanders had agreed that the operation would require at least a battalion of troops from Milne Bay and a suitable number of tanks from Port Moresby. Since General Blarney did not have enough small ships to move the battalion, he asked General MacArthur to prevail upon the Navy (which up to that time had been unwilling to send its ships into the waters around Buna) to provide corvettes or destroyers to get the troops forward. On 8 December— the same day that Brigadier Wootten was ordered to report to General Blarney at Port Moresby—the Navy agreed to provide three corvettes for the purpose, and New Guinea Force issued its first orders relating to the movement the following day.

The orders provided that one troop (four tanks) of the 2/6 Australian Armored Regiment at Port Moresby, and the 2/9 Australian Infantry Battalion at Milne Bay, were to be sent to Buna. The tanks were to go forward in the Dutch ship Karsik, a 3,300-ton, four-hatch freighter of the K. P. M. line; the Australian corvettes Colac, Ballarat, and Broome were to carry the troops. The Karsik was to pick up supplies and ammunition at Milne Bay before moving on to Oro Bay where it was to be unloaded on the night of 11-12 December. The three corvettes would touch at Milne Bay on the 12th. After taking on brigade headquarters and the 2/9 Battalion, they would make a speedy run northward and rendezvous the same night off Soena Plantation just below Cape Sudest with landing craft from Porlock Harbor which were to ferry the troops and their equipment ashore.

Brigadier Wootten reported to General Blarney on 10 December and received his instructions. Blarney had decided by that time to send another troop of tanks and another infantry battalion to Buna. Of Brigadier Wootten’s two remaining battalions, the 2/10th was at Wanigela and Porlock Harbor, and the 2/12th was at Goodenough Island. Blarney therefore intended to draw the additional battalion from the 7th Brigade, which was still at Milne Bay. However, at Brigadier Wootten’s request, the 2/10 Battalion, the 18th Brigade unit at Wanigela and Porlock Harbor, was substituted. This change in plan made it necessary to move the battalion of the 7th Brigade to Wanigela and Porlock Harbor before the 2/10 Battalion could be sent forward to Buna. The change-over began immediately in order to permit the 2/10 Battalion to reach Buna by the night of 17-18 December.

Brigadier Wootten flew to Popondetta at dawn the next morning, 11 December. After conferring with General Herring and Brigadier Hopkins, he and Hopkins flew to Dobodura where they met General Eichelberger. Wootten spent the afternoon reconnoitering the Warren front, and that night, while he slept at General Eichelberger’s headquarters, the Karsik came into Oro Bay.

The Karsik had in its hold four light American M3 tanks (General Stuarts) belonging to the 2/6 Australian Armored Regiment. It carried also a seven-day level of supply for the 2/9 Battalion. Major Carroll K. Moffatt, an American infantry officer serving with the COSC, supervised the unloading. He had just reached the area from Milne Bay with six Higgins boats (LCVP’s) and two Australian barges, the first Allied landing craft to reach the combat zone. The actual unloading was done by troops of the 287th U. S. Port Battalion who had come in on the Karsik. They did the job quickly, and, the ship got away safely before daylight. The tanks were transferred to specially constructed barges (which had reached the area a few days before), towed to shore, unloaded, and hidden in the jungle. They were reloaded on the barges the next night and then towed by luggers to Boreo. There they were landed, run into the jungle, and hidden at a tank lying-up point a few hundred yards north of the village.

Brigade headquarters, the 2/9 Battalion, and the commanding officer of the 2/10 Battalion (who had flown in from Wanigela the night before) left in the Colac, Broome, and Ballarat early on 12 December. Traveling at high speed, the ships reached the rendezous point off Cape Sudest late that night to find Major Moffatt and the eight landing craft waiting for them.

Unloading began at once, but scarcely had the first seventy-five men, including the two battalion commanders, stepped into the two leading LCVP’s when the captain of the Ballarat, the senior officer in charge of the corvettes, learned that a “large” Japanese naval force, was moving on Buna from Rabaul. He immediately pulled the corvettes back to Porlock Harbor with the rest of the troops still aboard. The enemy force was the one bearing General Oda and the 1st Battalion, 170th Infantry, which was to reach the mouth of the Mambare the following morning.

The two loaded landing craft let the troops off at Boreo, and all eight craft made for the Oro Bay area, their hiding place during the day. Just before they reached it, they were bombed by patrolling Australian aircraft, which mistook them for Japanese—an understandable error since the pilots had not been told to look out for Allied landing craft, and the Allies had up to that time had no landing craft of any kind in the area. One LCVP was sunk, and another had to be beached, a total loss. Nine crew members were wounded, and one died before he could reach a hospital.

The corvettes returned the following night. Instead of rendezvousing with the landing craft off Cape Sudest as planned, the corvettes landed the troops at Oro Bay, a full day’s march away. The Japanese naval force was still in the area and unaccounted for, and the corvettes had no intention of running into it, especially with troops aboard.

The Australian troops reached Hariko the following night. The next morning—15 December—they moved up to their permanent bivouac area about a mile north of Boreo and a quarter-mile inland. That night the Karsik came in again to Oro Bay, with 100 tons of cargo and a second troop of tanks. As in the case of the first tank movement, the four tanks were put aboard barges, towed to Boreo, unloaded, and moved up the beach to the tank park. With the first four tanks they were organized into a composite unit: X Squadron of the 2/6 Armored Regiment.

[NOTE 8180: Rpt on Opns 18th Inf Bde Gp at Cape Endaiadere and Giropa Point; Interv with Col Moffatt, 30 Oct 49; Kenney, General Kenney Reports, pp. 165, 166. General Kenney’s story of the bombing is inaccurate in that he says that no one was hurt, and fails to mention that, in addition to the one craft sunk, a second was rendered useless and had to be abandoned. The figures given are from records kept by Colonel Moffatt, who was in charge of the landing craft.]

On 16 December Advance New Guinea Force moved to Dobodura from Popondetta. General Byers was wounded while in the front lines during the attack on the Coconut Grove, and General Eichelberger, as the only U.S. general officer present, took command of the American forces at the front. The next day, 17 December, after consulting with General Eichelberger, Brigadier Wootten took over command of the Warren front, and Buna Force set 18 December as D Day.

General MacArthur had been urging General Eichelberger to speed his preparations, and Eichelberger had done his best to comply. The attack General MacArthur had asked for was now ready. Warren Force was to move out on the 18th with tanks; its successive objectives were Duropa Plantationand Cape Endaiadere (including a bridgehead across the mouth of Simemi Creek), the New Strip, and the Old Strip.

Urbana Force was to attack on the 19th—D plus 1. It was to storm the Triangle, cut through to the coast, and seize the track junction between Buna Mission and Giropa Point, thereby isolating the one from the other, and exposing both to attack on their inward flanks.85 Captain Yasuda and Colonel Yamamoto were now each faced with a double envelopment, and both were about to be caught in a pincers from which there was no escape.

[NOTE 8082 Rpt, CG Buna Force, p. 27; Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, p. 41. Byers, who was wounded immediately after his troops jumped off, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross nine days later. The citation is in GHQ SWPA GO No. 63, 24 Dec 42.]

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

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (15); Warren Force Takes the Initiative

World War Two: Papuan Campaign (14A); Buna: Second Two Weeks

World War Two: Guadalcanal (10); December Offensive

Although the lack of sufficient troops limited American capabilities, December was not without some bitter fighting. As a preliminary to a corps offensive, American troops began a small offensive designed to capture Mount Austen. The necessity for capturing the mountain had been recognized even before the Marine landing. General Vandegrift had originally planned to capture it together with Lunga Point. He had changed his .plans on the discovery that Mount Austen was much farther from Lunga Point than the first maps had indicated. Lacking sufficient troops, he had never tried to hold it permanently. General Harmon had always maintained that Henderson Field would not be secure until the mountain was in American hands. In November he had asked General Vandegrift when he intended to take it; the Marine commander replied, according to Harmon, that he would take it at the earliest opportunity.

Mount Austen, 15-30 December: Plans for the XIV Corps Offensive

The capture of Mount Austen was a necessary prelude to a full-scale corps offensive against the Japanese west of the Matanikau. In early December Admiral Halsey, stating that it would not be possible to “predict the ability of our naval surface forces and air to satisfactorily interdict the operation of Jap submarines and the Tokyo Express into Guadalcanal . . . ,” ordered General Harmon to take action necessary to eliminate all Japanese forces on the island. This order gave General Harmon, temporarily, direct authority over tactical operations which he had not previously possessed, for as commander of U. S. Army Forces in the South Pacific he had only administrative authority. In effect, Admiral Halsey had informally deputed to him part of his own tactical authority within a limited area. General Patch’s authority over his troops was not limited or affected in any way. He was to direct operations on Guadalcanal subject to the direction of Harmon, who was acting for Halsey.

General Harmon immediately flew to Guadalcanal to confer with General Patch. Patch planned to capture Mount Austen immediately. Once that mountain had been taken and sufficient forces had been assembled, two divisions would attack westward while a third division defended the airfields. While one of the attacking divisions swung over Mount Austen and the hill masses south of Hill 66 to outflank the Japanese, the other would resume the coastal push from the Hill 66-Point Cruz line. The flanking movement would extend the American line west of the Matanikau an additional 3,000 yards inland. The two divisions would continue attacking westward to trap and destroy the Japanese. General Harmon gave his approval to this plan.

Planners also discussed the possibility of sending amphibious expeditions around Cape Esperance to land on the south coast in the enemy’s rear, block the trail that ran from Kokumbona over the mountains to Beaufort Bay, and to advance west toward the cape. But these bold shore-to-shore movements could not be executed until more landing craft could be assembled.

Terrain and Intelligence

Mount Austen, a spur of Guadalcanal’s main mountain range, juts northward between the Matanikau and Lunga Rivers toward Lunga Point. The 1,514-foot summit lies about six miles southwest of Henderson Field and dominates the surrounding area. It provided the enemy with an excellent observation post from which to survey activity at Lunga Point—traffic at Henderson Field and the fighter strips, unloading of ships, and troop movements. Just as the coastwatchers radioed information on enemy movements to the Allied forces, so Japanese observers could warn their northern bases when bombers left Henderson Field. From the hill they could see the American areas west of the Matanikau, and over the hills west of the mountain into Kokumbona, 9,000 yards to the northwest.

Mount Austen, where the Japanese were to make their strongest defensive effort of the campaign, is not a single peak, but the apex of a confusing series of steep, rocky, jungled ridges. The main ridge forming the summit rises abruptly out of the foothills about two miles south of the shore, and east of the Matanikau River. Aerial photographs do not always give a clear picture of Mount Austen, for a dense forest covers the summit and much of the foothill area is covered by grass. The bare, grassy spaces are not separate hills, though for identification they were assigned numbers. No ridge is usually visible in a single vertical aerial photograph. The actual summit appears to be lower than the open, grassy areas. Hill 27, a separate rocky mound, 920 feet high, lies southwest of the summit. The crest rises just above the surrounding treetops, and is barely visible. Hill 31, a grassy area about 750 yards north of Hill 27, overlooks Lunga Point.

Fifteen hundred yards northwest of Mount Austen, across a deep gorge cut by the Matanikau, lies another hill mass (Hills 43 and 44). A third hill mass (Hills 55-54-50-51-52-53-57), about 900 feet high, lies just north of the first, and is clearly visible from Mount Austen. As General Patch intended to move one division over these hill masses in the southwesterly envelopment, it was first necessary to capture Mount Austen to deny it to the enemy, and to locate and partially roll up his east flank.

In late November and early December it was thought that the Japanese were not holding Mount Austen in strength. Patrols from the 132nd Infantry, which was to attack Mount Austen, had confirmed the negative reports by earlier patrols from the 8th Marines and the 182nd Infantry. By 15 December, General Patch had reason to change this view. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy might be building up strength in the south, and that he might attack in force from the south or raid the airfields. On 12 December a night-raiding party had managed to steal through the lines to destroy one P-39 and a gas truck on Fighter Strip No. 2. Two days later the 132nd Infantry regimental intelligence officer, four other officers, thirty-five enlisted men, and ten native bearers reconnoitered Mount Austen’s northwest slopes. Pushing east, they met fire from a force estimated to include one rifle platoon, four machine guns, and one or two mortars. Receiving orders by radio, the patrol withdrew. On his return to the Lunga perimeter the intelligence officer directed artillery fire on the enemy positions. From the patrol’s experience it was concluded that the enemy had occupied Mount Austen. On 15 and 16 December the patrol went up Mount Austen’s eastern slopes and reported finding only abandoned Japanese positions. It had not found the enemy, who may have been lying quiet, unwilling to disclose his position.

The commanders on Guadalcanal were not fully aware of the extent of the enemy’s strength on Mount Austen. Colonel Oka’s force, including understrength battalions from the 124th and 228th Infantry Regiments, and the 10th Mountain Artillery Regiment, were then holding positions which extended to the northeast slopes of Mount Austen, and were concentrated in a 1,500-yardlong pillbox line west of the summit on a curved ridge lying between Hills 31 and 27. Supply and evacuation posed difficult problems for the Americans, but for the Japanese they were almost insoluble. They had to depend exclusively upon hand-carriers for rations and ammunition, and received a negligible quantity.

There is no evidence to show that Oka’s troops were ever reinforced after the 132nd Infantry attacked. Most of the enemy wounded were apparently not hospitalized; they either fought on or died in their foxholes and pillboxes. The battalions of the 124th and 228th Regiments had been on Guadalcanal for periods ranging from several weeks to three months; they had been affected by battle weariness, malnutrition, and disease.

Plans for Taking Mount Austen

By 16 December General Patch was ready to inaugurate preparations for the corps offensive in January by seizing Mount Austen. He ordered the 132nd Infantry to occupy Mount Austen at once. The operation was to be conducted under the control of the west sector commander, Colonel John M. Arthur, USMC, who reported directly to General Patch. The 132nd Infantry, commanded by Colonel LeRoy E. Nelson, had landed on Guadalcanal on 8 December, and was completely new to combat. The 3rd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel William C. Wright commanding, was to lead the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Earl F. Ripstra’s 1st Battalion (less D Company) was to follow in reserve. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George F. Ferry, was to remain in the Lunga perimeter defense.

Artillery support for the operation was to be provided initially by the 105-mm. howitzers of the 246th Field Artillery Battalion and the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines. Ample additional artillery support was available if needed. On 11 December 1942 there were twenty-eight 75-mm. pack howitzers, thirty-six 105-mm. howitzers, twelve 155-mm. howitzers, and six 155-mm. guns belonging to the Americal Division and attached units in the Lunga area. The Marine Corps battalion moved its pack howitzers to the northwest slopes of Mount Austen, inside the perimeter defense, while Lieutenant Colonel Alexander R. Sewall’s 246th Field Artillery Battalion occupied the positions near Fighter Strip No. 2 that it had taken over from the 5th Battalion, 11th Marines. The 246th’s positions were much farther from Mount Austen than those of the marines. The two battalions later fired some “Time on Target” (TOT) concentrations. To surprise the enemy troops and achieve the maximum possible destruction by having all initial rounds hit the target simultaneously, each battalion subtracted its shells’ time of flight from the time its shells were to hit the target and fired its howitzers on the second indicated. This was probably one of the earliest occasions during World War II when American artillerymen employed TOT in combat, although it should be emphasized that this was not a divisional artillery TOT.

To meet the difficulties of supply and evacuation, the 57th Engineer Battalion was building the rough, slippery, jeep track up the mountain from the coast road. By 20 December the engineers had reached Hill 35, about five miles southwest of Lunga Point. The 60-degree incline of Hill 35 slowed the engineers, for they then had no heavy equipment and only 40 percent of their authorized dump trucks. Jeeps were to carry supplies forward from the coast road to the terminus of the mountain road, from which available soldiers and the “Cannibal Battalion” of native bearers were to hand-carry supplies forward.

Preliminary Operations

The Mount Austen operation was opened on 17 December with a reconnaissance in force to the northeast slopes by L Company of the 132nd Infantry, reinforced by about a hundred men from K Company. Patrols from these companies reported finding no Japanese. Early on 18 December L Company marched up the road again ahead of the 3rd Battalion’s main body to the terminus at Hill 35. L Company advanced about 1,000 yards southwest from Hill 35, then swung left (southeast) to enter the jungle on the crest of the mountain. Patrols from L Company had pushed about 500 yards into the jungle by 0930, when fire from hidden enemy riflemen and machine gunners forced them to take cover. Unable to see the enemy, the company awaited the arrival of the main body which joined it at 1130. At Colonel Wright’s request the supporting artillery put fire on the suspected enemy position in front of the 3rd Battalion, which did not close with the enemy. The battalion suffered only one casualty on 18 December, a shoulder wound. The troops were worn out, however, by the hard climb in the heat. After the artillery fire the 3rd Battalion killed three enemy soldiers, then established a perimeter defense just inside the jungle.

The 132nd Infantry continued to underestimate the strength of the enemy defenses. On 18 December, for example, it estimated that a determined westward advance by two battalions would drive the Japanese into the Matanikau River. That this estimate was overly optimistic was soon to be demonstrated.

Three dive bombers (SBD’s) bombed and strafed the enemy areas from 0725 to 0735 on 19 December; this was followed by a 5-minute artillery concentration 400 yards in front of the 3rd Battalion. Colonel Wright and a three-man artillery liaison party from the 246th Field Artillery Battalion then reconnoitered west into the jungle in front of the 3rd Battalion. About 0930 Colonel Wright, who was wearing his insignia of rank, was struck by enemy machinegun fire. The three artillerymen stayed with him to administer first aid, but the enemy machine guns prevented medical aid men from reaching the colonel and halted all efforts to carry him to safety. He died from loss of blood shortly after noon, whereupon the artillerymen crawled back to the 3rd Battalion’s lines.

When Colonel Wright fell, the battalion executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Louis L. Franco, assumed command. At the time he took over the battalion he was 1,000 yards back with the rear echelon and unable to exercise control. The battalion, temporarily without a leader, was partly disorganized and, in the words of one observer, its operations were “obscure.”

When Colonel Franco reached the front he organized the efforts of the battalion. Late in the afternoon he sent forward a combat patrol under the regimental intelligence officer. The patrol was guided by the artillery liaison party. Covered by the patrol’s fire, the artillerymen crawled forward, rescued a wounded man lying nearby, and pulled Colonel Wright’s body back.

The 3rd Battalion failed to gain ground on 19 December. Japanese riflemen harassed the troops with fire from concealed positions. A few infiltrated the American lines by slipping through the ravines to harass the supply parties and the engineers cutting the supply trail near Hill 35. At 1700 a concealed enemy automatic weapon opened fire and surprised the combined battalion command post, aid station, and ammunition dump. Simultaneously, at least two enemy riflemen also opened fire on the command post. The headquarters troops cleared the area hastily, and the command post was not reorganized until 1830.

The regimental commander then ordered the reserve 1st Battalion (less D Company) to move southeast to join the left flank of the 3rd Battalion south of Hill 19. Both battalions then dug in on a line which faced generally south from a point south of Hill 20, and extended east toward the eastern tip of Hill 21. The night of 19-20 December was typical of the Mount Austen operation. It was noisy with artillery, small-arms, and automatic weapons fire. American artillery harassed the enemy throughout the night, while Japanese soldiers, attempting to infiltrate the 132nd’s line, employed noise-making ruses to tempt the Americans to fire and disclose their positions.

On 20 December the 1st Battalion sent out patrols in an unsuccessful effort to find the enemy’s east flank, while Japanese riflemen and patrols harassed the 132nd Infantry’s flanks and rear. On 21 December General Sebree ordered the 132nd Infantry to cut the Maruyama Trail, which, he thought, lay across its left front. Accordingly C Company advanced 1,000 yards to the south but found no enemy troops and no trail.

 

Meanwhile, getting supplies to the two front line battalions was proving difficult Wright Road was a narrow, tortuous trail fit only for jeeps, and the heavy rains made its steep grades slick and dangerous. Jeeps could bring supplies to Hill 35, the point to which the engineers had pushed the road by 20 December, but beyond Hill 35 all ammunition, water, food, replacement parts, and medical supplies had to be hand-carried forward over rough, wooded slopes. Raiding enemy riflemen led the regimental commander, who was concerned about the security of the supply line, to request the Americal Division headquarters to use the 2nd Battalion, 132nd Infantry, and the Mobile Combat Reconnaissance Squadron to protect the route. Division headquarters, asserting that the supply line was not in serious danger, denied this request.

The 101st Medical Regiment’s Collecting Company, assisted by the 25th Division Collecting Company, was having trouble in evacuating wounded and sick. Litter bearers carried them to battalion aid stations 100 yards behind the firing line. Serious cases were carried in 100-yard relays to the forward collecting station on Hill 35, and from there jeep-ambulances carried them to the Lunga perimeter. Carrying the litters up and down ridges and through ravines was so exhausting that bearers had to be relieved and rested after one or two trips. The medical aid men were fired on so frequently that they began to discard their arm brassards in favor of weapons. As carrying both wounded men and rifles at the same time proved awkward, two-man escorting parties armed with rifles and submachine guns escorted the litter bearers. Later in the operation, engineers and medical men fixed skids on litters to slide them down hills, and also rigged pulleys and steel cables to carry the litters across the deepest ravines.

Resolute patrolling on 23 December produced more significant results than did the patrolling on 20 and 21 December. The 1st Battalion patrols covered 1,000 yards they had previously penetrated, then reconnoitered 500 yards farther toward the south and west. When they found neither Japanese nor trails, regimental headquarters concluded that the Maruyama Trail did not cross Mount Austen but circled along its southern slopes to reach the upper Lunga. In the north a 3rd Battalion patrol advanced westward from the summit, skirting the southeast grassy area of Hill 30, and reached Hill 31, another grassy area more than 1,000 yards west of the 132nd Infantry’s line. The patrol, finding only abandoned enemy bivouacs around Hill 31, turned south and advanced a short distance before turning east to return to the American lines. On the return trip the patrol encountered small-arms fire. It returned the fire, killed one Japanese, and reached the lines without loss.

As the patrol had found a safe route to Hill 31, Colonel Nelson changed the direction of his attack. At 2000, 23 December, he ordered the 3rd Battalion to move west over the patrol’s route and prepare to attack toward Hill 27 from the north. The 1st Battalion was to follow the 3rd Battalion west to cover the open areas (Hills 20, 28, 29, and 30) and to be in a position to assist the leading battalion, protect the supply route, and assist in carrying supplies forward.

Attacks Against the Gifu Strong Point, 24-30 December

The 3rd Battalion left its area at 0730, 24 December, in column of companies. L Company again led, followed by I and Headquarters Companies, the medical detachment, and M and K Companies. The battalion reached Hill 31 in the afternoon after routing some enemy riflemen who tried to oppose the advance. It then started a push south into the jungle. As the troops moved up the grassy, open slopes of Hill 31 they were halted by heavy machine-gun fire from well-concealed positions. The battalion had not suffered any casualties that day, but Colonel Franco, the battalion commander, decided that it was too late in the day to develop the enemy position and continue the attack. The 3rd Battalion established a perimeter defense for the night in the ravine between Hills 31 and 32.

Meanwhile the reserve 1st Battalion had completed its move. All companies were reported in position by 1230. B Company held the west spur of Hill 30, C Company, Hill 29, and A Company, Hill 20. The machine-gun fire which had halted the 3rd Battalion’s attack came from the strongest Japanese defensive position on Guadalcanal—the Gifu strong point. Its garrison, about five hundred men from Oka’s forces, had given it the name of a prefecture in Honshu. The Gifu lay between Hills 31 and 27, west of the summit of Mount Austen. The strongest part of the area was a horseshoe-shaped line of about forty-five inter-connecting pillboxes between the two hills. Arranged in a staggered formation, they were mutually supporting. The pillboxes were made of logs, and were dug into the ground and revetted inside and out with earth. The roofs were three logs thick; the walls, two logs. Earth and foliage concealed and protected the pillbox tops, which rose less than three feet above the surface of the ground.

Each pillbox contained at least one and sometimes two machine guns, plus two or three riflemen. Supporting riflemen and light machine gunners outside the pillboxes had prepared positions under the bases of mahogany and banyan trees, and some were reported, probably erroneously, to have established themselves in the treetops. Foliage concealed the fire lanes, and in the thick, dark forest the well-camouflaged pillboxes were almost invisible. The machine guns in the positions covered all approaches with interlocking bands of fire, and the American infantrymen were to have great difficulty in finding their exact locations. When one machine gun was knocked out the Japanese would redistribute their automatic weapons.

Mortar fire usually did little damage to the Gifu. The 105-mm. howitzer was to prove more effective, but only direct hits could damage the pillboxes. Anything lighter was ineffective, and less plunging fire burst in the trees. Fuzed charges of high explosive could have destroyed the pillboxes had the soldiers been able to get close enough to place them. Flame throwers were not then in use. The attacking troops, of course, did not possess exact knowledge about the Gifu. Whenever they moved into the jungle, heavy fire would force them down before they could close in to locate the pillboxes.

The enemy position, though strong, was not invulnerable. It was a fixed position, but the Japanese were unable to supply or reinforce it. The attacking American forces had a preponderance of artillery support, while the Japanese, apparently lacking sufficient ammunition, seldom used artillery on Mount Austen. The west side of the Gifu was weak, and the omission of Hill 27 from the perimeter of the strong point left the Gifu open to eventual envelopment.

On 25 December General Sano, commanding the 38th Division, tried to raise morale with an “Address of Instruction.” He assured his men that the Americans had lost their fighting spirit and promised that patient endurance of starvation by the Japanese would soon be rewarded by air, ground, and naval reinforcements. Sano, urging his troops to resist with “desperate determination,” referred slightingly to the American reliance on fire power and faith in “material substance.”

The attack of the 132nd Infantry was renewed on Christmas Day. The three rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion were to advance southward in line from Hill 31 toward Hill 27. M Company was in reserve. At 0930 the rifle companies, supported by 60-mm. mortar fire, began advancing from the open area into the jungle. As the men entered the jungle their movements were impeded by the rocky terrain. The Japanese maintained rifle and machine-gun positions out beyond the pillbox line to prevent the attackers from drawing close. The Americans were forced to fight for each yard of ground against an invisible enemy. By 1335, after moving a short distance, the American companies had been completely halted by machine-gun and rifle fire from their front and flanks. Patrols then attempted to locate the enemy’s right and left flanks, but Japanese fire halted their movements. The battalion had by that time lost three officers and nine enlisted men killed and sixteen enlisted men wounded. The regimental commander ordered the troops to retire to their original positions while howitzers shelled the enemy.

As a result of the day’s action, the regimental commander concluded that the Japanese had built a perimeter defense in the area. He decided to resume the attack on the next morning. The 3rd Battalion was to deliver a frontal attack while the 1st Battalion covered the 3rd Battalion’s left flank, and moved 1,000 yards to the south to establish a position from which patrols could deploy to locate the enemy flanks.

At 1030, 26 December, after an artillery and aerial bombardment, the 3rd Battalion again tried to move forward. K Company advanced on the right (west), I Company on the left (east). L Company was held in reserve on Hill 31. The 1st Battalion (less C Company) covered the 3rd Battalion’s left flank, while C Company covered the 1st Battalion’s rear from Hills 29 and 30. The 3rd Battalion was able to advance only to the line reached on the previous day. Heavy machine-gun fire halted the assault companies again. Soldiers from K Company located one machine-gun position and killed nine Japanese with grenades. Meanwhile B Company, given the mission of finding the enemy’s east flank, had been halted by machine-gun fire. At 1600 the troops dug in along the south edge of Hill 31. K Company held the right, I and B Companies the center, and A Company held the left flank. The day’s attack cost the 3rd Battalion five killed and twelve wounded. In addition twenty-one sick men were evacuated on 26 December. Nine Japanese were known to have been killed.

The Gifu was still intact, but the 132nd now held a line between the Gifu and Hill 31, from which the enemy could no longer observe the Lunga area. The regimental commander decided to use both battalions in the next day’s attack. While the 3rd Battalion delivered a holding attack, A, B, and C Companies were to swing south and east to find the enemy flanks. The 3rd Battalion moved forward at 0800 but was halted by machine-gun fire. The 1st Battalion meanwhile moved south in a column of companies. But it had become confused in the jungle. Ordered to assemble between Hills 29 and 30, the 1st Battalion actually assembled in the ravine between Hills 30 and 31, 400 yards too far to the west. Its right flank closely crowded the left flank of the 3rd Battalion, making free maneuver impossible. In the lead, B Company ran into the Gifu line instead of outflanking it. As B Company was quickly halted by machine guns, A Company then deployed to the left where it met less fire, for the Gifu’s main eastern bulge did not extend east of Hill 30.

Patrols on 27 and 28 December could find no gaps in the enemy lines, nor any flanks, but on 29 December an 8-man patrol from the 1st Battalion before returning at 1330. By advancing due south from Hill 29, the patrol had avoided the eastern bulge of the Gifu, and found the route by which Hill 27 could be economically assaulted.

By the end of December the battalions were dispirited and in poor physical condition. Between 19 and 30 December the two battalions had lost 34 killed, 129 wounded, 19 missing, and 131 sick and evacuated, a total of 313 casualties. Each battalion had been understrength at the outset, and by 28 December effective strength in both battalions totaled only 1,541.44

The Capture of Hill 27: The Plan

Although the attack of the 132nd Infantry had bogged down, the American generals agreed that the Mount Austen operation should be continued. At a conference held at General Patch’s command post on 29 December, Generals Harmon, Patch, Collins, and Sebree decided to attempt to complete the capture of Mount Austen because it was an essential preliminary to the corps offensive planned for January.

The 132nd’s commander believed that a co-ordinated attack by the 1st and 3rd Battalions from the north coupled with a wide envelopment by the 2nd Battalion, would capture Hill 27. The 132nd Infantry’s Field Order No. 1, issued on 30 December 1942, announced the plan for continuing the attack by taking Hill 27. The 3rd Battalion was to continue attacking south from Hill, 31 while the 1st Battalion pushed against the enemy’s eastern line. To secure sufficient space for maneuver, the 1st Battalion was to jump off from assembly areas east of Hill 30, advance southward, then swing southwest to attack Hill 27.

The fresh 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George F. Ferry, was to deliver the main attack. On 28 December the regimental commander was informed that this battalion would be released to him, and regimental headquarters immediately began to plan for its employment. The battalion executive officer and each company commander were ordered to reconnoiter the routes leading to Hill 27.

To capture Hill 27 from the south the 2nd Battalion was to make a wide envelopment, starting from Hill 11 in a southwesterly direction. When the battalion reached a point southeast of Hill 27, it was to turn to the northwest and attack up the south slopes of Hill 27. Each battalion would be responsible for the security of its flanks. H Hour was originally set for 0630, 1 January 1943, but was postponed to 0630, 2 January 1943, when the 2nd Battalion’s progress up Wright Road proved slow. The 2nd Battalion was to be in position southeast of Hill 27 on the night prior to the regimental attack.

While patrols from the 1st and 3rd Battalions reconnoitered the enemy lines, the 2nd Battalion left the perimeter defense on 30 December to march up Wright Road to Hill 11, where it bivouacked on the night of 31 December 1942-1 January 1943. At daybreak on New Year’s Day the battalion left Hill 11. Hill 27 lies less than one air mile from Hill 11, but the enveloping march up and down almost vertical slopes covered 6,000 yards.

The terrain proved so difficult that on 2 January 175 litter bearers were to take five hours to evacuate 20 casualties over the same route. Since the crest of Hill 27 was nearly invisible from the jungle, an airplane, gunning its engine at intervals, flew between Hill 11 and the objective every fifteen minutes to help orient the scouts. The 2nd Battalion was fired on by a few enemy riflemen but did not delay its approach march, and the battalion arrived at the day’s objective—the southeast slope of Hill 27—by 1600 without losing a man. Colonel Ferry was confirmed in his belief that the fire from the scattered Japanese riflemen usually called “snipers” was not dangerous when the troops kept moving. Meanwhile the commander of the 132nd Infantry, who was suffering from malaria and the debilitating effects of the tropics, had asked to be relieved.

Colonel Alexander M. George took over command of the regiment and arrived at the 132nd Infantry’s forward command post at 0915, 1 January. One of his first acts was to stage a dramatic exhibition to demonstrate to the tired battalions facing the Gifu that Japanese small-arms fire was generally ineffective against a moving target. Clad in shorts and a fatigue cap, and armed with two .45-caliber automatic pistols and an M1 rifle, Colonel George inspected the front lines. He walked along erect in full view of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Battalions. Some soldiers, unaware of his identity, shouted to him to take cover, but Colonel George finished his tour. Japanese soldiers in the jungle helped him to prove his point by shooting at him repeatedly but inaccurately.

Artillery support for the regimental offensive of 2 January was heavier than on previous occasions. It included the 105-mm. howitzers of the 247th Field Artillery Battalion, the 75-mm. pack howitzers of the 36 Battalion, 10th Marines, and the 155-mm. howitzers of the recently landed B Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Division.

Operations of the 3rd and 1st Battalions, 2 January

The 132nd Infantry moved to the attack at 0630, 2 January. The 3rd Battalion, pouring fire into the jungle in its zone, was able to advance in line from Hill 31 for a short distance into the jungle, although I Company on the left met heavy fire. At 1400 the battalion established positions just south of the tree line on Hill 31. In the day’s fighting the battalion killed fifteen Japanese and lost four killed and eighteen wounded.

The 1st Battalion had moved in column to the southwest out of the ravine between Hills 29 and 30 simultaneously with the 3rd Battalion’s attack. When fire from Japanese patrols hit C Company which was leading, it deployed while A Company moved south and east to bypass the Japanese, and then turned southwest again, followed by B Company. By 1000 A Company had reached a point just east of the Gifu’s eastern bulge. Before the end of the day C Company cleared out the enemy in its front and rejoined the main body. The 1st Battalion then dug in on a line east of the Gifu. The left flank lay near Hill 27, but a 200-yard gap remained between the 1st and 3rd Battalions. During the day the 1st Battalion killed twenty-five Japanese, C Company accounting for most of them. Two 1st Battalion soldiers were killed and four were wounded.

Operations of the 2nd Battalion

In a difficult zone of action, the 2nd Battalion was able to take its objectives in one of the day’s most successful operations. The battalion’s roundabout march through the jungle on the previous day had not alerted the Japanese. At 0630 the battalion moved out of its bivouac area to attack; it advanced in column of companies with each company in single file. As the battalion began the climb up the southeast slopes about 0730, the troops deployed as much as the terrain would permit. E Company advanced on the left, F Company on the right, while G and H Companies were held in reserve. The climb was hard. Perspiration soaked the men’s clothing and cut through the camouflage blacking on their faces. The slippery slopes delayed their advance, but no Japanese opened fire.

By 0907 the leading assault troops gained the summit without firing a shot, and by 1130 all assault troops had reached the top. The Japanese had been completely surprised. As E and F Companies reached the top they saw a 3-inch mountain howitzer in the open about 100 yards north of the crest. The enemy crew was sprawled at ease in the shade about thirty yards from the howitzer. The Japanese artillerymen ran for their weapon, but riflemen of the assault companies picked off each gunner before he could reach it.

The 2nd Battalion began to organize Hill 27 for defense, but digging in on the rocky crest was slow work. Like nearly all Army and Marine Corps units on Guadalcanal, the battalion was suffering from serious shortages, and did not possess enough entrenching tools. Before the troops could complete their foxholes and machine-gun emplacements, the Japanese north of Hill 27 recovered from their surprise and attempted to recapture the hill. Using mortars, grenade dischargers, machine guns, rifles, and some artillery, they poured a heavy fire on the exposed troops. An artillery forward observer on Hill 27 describes the fire fight: Then all hell broke loose. Machine guns and rifles pinged from all directions. Snipers fired from trees . . . Crossfire cut down our boys who were over the hill . . . Our Garands [M1 rifles] answered the fire and the battle was on. Enemy “Knee mortars” [grenade dischargers] popped on our lines with painful regularity. Our own 60’s [mortars] opened and neutralized them only to have the shells start lobbing in from a different direction. In forty minutes, as the troops dug in under fire, the 2nd Battalion lost eight men killed and seventy wounded but they held the hill against the six successive infantry counterattacks launched by the Japanese in the afternoon. After mortar fire the Japanese infantry would rush southward against the American lines, but the 2nd Battalion beat off each assault

In the late afternoon the 2nd Battalion moved back off the exposed crest for the night and dug in on the reverse slope, about 100 yards south of the military crest where the hill was narrower. During the night of 2-3 January the battalion was almost surrounded, for the Japanese had penetrated to positions on the north, northwest, and southwest of Hill 27. Heavy artillery concentrations on the enemy’s positions prevented him from getting close enough to the 2nd Battalion to break its lines. On one occasion, when enemy troops climbed the north slopes to set up machine guns which could have covered the 2nd Battalion’s lines, the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, placed one concentration directly in front of the lines. The shells exploded between the Americans and the Japanese, who were unable to get even one gun into action. The Japanese employed the standard ruse of firing mortar shells into the American lines while the American artillery shells were bursting—a ruse designed to make the American infantrymen think their own artillery fire was falling short. Some cried “cease fire,” but the forward observer kept the artillery firing. By dawn the last enemy soldier had been killed or driven off. The 2nd Battalion moved back to the military crest of Hill 27 to dig in securely, and H Company moved its heavy weapons up to the hilltop.

On 3 January the 1st Battalion, attempting to push west to straighten the bulge in the line, established contact on its left with the 2nd Battalion. By 1000, 4 January, patrols from companies of the 1st and 3rd Battalions had met at a point about 500 yards south of the ravine between Hills 31 and 30.

The Results

The 132nd Infantry was ordered to dig in and hold its gains and on 4 January it began to build a strong half-moon-shaped line around the eastern bulge of the Gifu between Hills 31 and 27. The troops built log-covered foxholes and wired in the lines. The addition of D Company, which was relieved from the Lunga perimeter defense, enabled Colonel George to place one machine gun platoon on the line in support of each rifle company. Every heavy weapons company sent one mortar platoon to form a provisional 81-mm. mortar battery on the reverse slope of Hill 29. The 132nd Infantry’s operations from 1 to 3 January had ringed the Gifu strong point on the north, east, and south with a strong line which was to prove impervious to enemy counterattacks.

Hard hit by battle fatigue, malaria, dysentery, and casualties, the 132nd was incapable of further offensive action. It held the line until relieved by the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, of the 25th Division. During its twenty-two days on Mount Austen the 132nd Infantry lost 112 men killed, 268 wounded, and 3 missing; it estimated that during the same period it tad killed between 400 and 500 Japanese. Part of Mount Austen was still in Japanese hands, but the 132nd’s accomplishments were of great value. Observation of the perimeter was denied to the Japanese, and the XIV Corps’ troops could be safely deployed in the forthcoming southwesterly operations. The 132nd Infantry had located and partly rolled up the Japanese east flank. With the arrival of the 25th Division, preparations could be made for more ambitious efforts.

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

World War Two: Guadalcanal (11): First January Offensive: West Front

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

World News Headlines: 01-17-2019

GERMANY (DW)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wins confidence vote; The vote came after a key minister in the Greek government quit last week over the Macedonia name dispute. Prime Minister Tsipras said he would put the ratification of the Macedonia name-change agreement on the agenda. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday won a confidence vote in parliament, just days after the country’s governing coalition collapsed.Tsipras received the minimum 151 votes he needed from the parliament for his government to survive. Speaking after the vote, Tsipras said winning a vote of confidence was a vote for stability in Greece. “Today the Greek parliament gave a vote of confidence in stability,” he said. “We received a vote of confidence with our only concern to continue to address the needs and interests of the Greek people.” Panos Kammenos, the defense minister in Tsipras’ government who leads the small nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, was the latest minister to quit the coalition over a proposed name-change agreement with neighboring Macedonia. Greece has been blocking Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union for a decade over the name row.

Vladimir Putin to meet with troubled Serb counterpart; Ecstatic crowds are expected to greet Vladimir Putin as he enters the Church of St. Sava in Belgrade alongside Aleksandar Vucic. For over a month, thousands have turned out for weekly protests against Serbia’s president. The tabloids report that 70,000 people will turn out in Belgrade on Thursday to warmly welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin. That could be the case: Putin is popular in Serbia. The greeting has been organized by small political associations founded by politicians from nationalist splinter groups that have close ties to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). On the internet, there are offers for day packages that include lunch and bus transportation to the festivities for about €13 ($15). Street vendors are even selling T-shirts bearing Putin’s face and Russian flags.

Taiwan prepares to hold large-scale military drills to deter China; Amid heightened tensions in cross-strait relations, Taiwan’s military is starting a series of newly designed large-scale military drills. Taiwanese analysts say the island should enhance its combat preparedness. Taiwan’s armed forces are on Thursday holding their first live-fire drill for this year, an exercise aimed at improving their military readiness. It comes after Chinese President Xi Jinping recently reasserted Beijing’s right to use force to unify the self-governing island with mainland China. Thursday’s drill is part of the large-scale military exercises designed to counter the growing threat from China. Even though Taiwan’s military holds such exercises regularly, this year’s training adopts new tactics aimed at “defending against a possible Chinese invasion,” said Major General Yeh Kuo-hui, the Taiwanese defense ministry’s planning chief.

German police raid suspected KKK members’ homes; Police conducted raids on several properties throughout Germany thought to be connected to an extremist group that associates itself with the Ku Klux Klan. A total of 17 people are at the center of the investigation.German police on Wednesday raided 12 apartments in eight different German states belonging to suspected members of an extreme-right group calling itself the National Socialist Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Deutschland. A total of 200 police officers searched properties in Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland Palatinate, Saxony Anhalt and Thuringia. More than 100 weapons — including air guns, swords, machetes and knives — were seized in the raids, prosecutors and regional police in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg said.

ICC halts release of Ivory Coast ex-President Laurent Gbagbo; Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his right-hand man had been acquitted of crimes against humanity. But they will have to stay in custody until the court evaluates an appeal by prosecutors. The International Criminal Court on Wednesday halted the release of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, after prosecutors filed an appeal to keep him in custody on charges of crimes against humanity. Judges on Tuesday ordered Gbagbo and his right-hand man, Charles Ble Goude, to be immediately freed after clearing them of any role in a wave of post-electoral violence in 2010 and 2011 that killed 3,000 people.

UN officials, international parties talk Yemen in Berlin; Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has hosted further talks aimed at ending the civil war in Yemen and building on the breakthrough achieved in Stockholm in December. No representatives from the country were at the table. Representatives of 17 governments and international organizations gathered at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on Wednesday in the latest round of talks to end the civil war in Yemen. The High-Level Strategic Dialogue on the Peace Process and Prospects for Stabilization in Yemen was intended to build on the breakthrough achieved in Stockholm in December, when an agreement for a ceasefire around the key port city of Hodeida was reached. The discussions in Sweden marked the first time that the belligerents in Yemen had come together at all since 2016. “For the first time in a long time, we’ve seen good news from Yemen,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the roundtable of diplomats in his welcoming remarks. “We’ve taken an important step towards a peace process that we would like to see in other crises and conflicts we are confronted with at the moment.”

Sweden to end months without a government; Stockholm has been trapped in deadlock, with no party wanting to govern with the far-right Sweden Democrats. Social Democrat PM Stefan Lofven is set to retain his post by promising to bring his party to the right. Sweden looked set to finally resolve four months of political deadlock on Wednesday and allow Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to take a second term in office. The Left party said it would abstain in a crucial vote on Friday, clearing the way for Lofven and his patchwork coalition. Lofven, leader of the Social Democrats, has been leading a caretaker government since elections on September 9 yielded inconclusive results. Although the Social Democrats won the most votes, their 31.1 percent support left them grappling to form a coalition in a country with eight mainstream parties and proportional representation. These problems were compounded by the fact that most other parties wanted to govern without the support of the Left and the far-right Sweden Democrats, who are rooted in Norwegian white supremacist circles.
But the Social Democrats have managed to pull together an unusual union of the left and right wing by gaining the support of the Greens, Liberals, and the Center party. In doing so, however, Lofven has had to promise to take his traditional center-left party to the right. “Sweden needs a government,” said Lofven, adding that he was “humbled to have been nominated” for Friday’s vote.

FRANCE (France24)

At least 30 people abducted’ by separatists in Anglophone Cameroon”; More than 30 people were kidnapped yesterday on the road between Buea and Kumba” in the Southwest Region, a source close to the authorities there said, confirming an account by a local NGO. Since October 2017, the Southwest and neighbouring Northwest Region have been in the grip of an armed revolt by anglophones demanding independence from the majority French-speaking country. The people were kidnapped after suspected separatists attacked buses plying the highway, one of the most dangerous roads in the country, one of the sources said.

Suspected extremists abduct Canadian in Burkina Faso; The Canadian man, identified as Kirk Woodman, was abducted overnight during a raid on a mining site in Tiabongou, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mansila in Yagha province, said ministry spokesman Jean Paul Badoum. Woodman worked for the Progress Mineral Mining Company. Burkina Faso recently declared a state of emergency in the region as attacks by Islamic extremists increase, especially along the border with Niger and Mali. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said her government has seen the reports of the kidnapping.

Syria Kurds reject proposed ‘security zone’ under Turkish control; Senior political leader Aldar Khalil said the Kurds would accept the deployment of UN forces along the separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops to ward off a threatened offensive. “Other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region,” Khalil told AFP. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that Ankara would set up a “security zone” in northern Syria suggested by US President Donald Trump.

Macau denies entry to Hong Kong former activist leader; A former leader of Hong Kong’s student-led Umbrella Movement protests has been refused entry to Macau as a “public security” threat in what critics said was a new escalation in Beijing’s drive to curb the movement of dissidents. Yvonne Leung, 25, was a prominent leader of the 2014 pro-democracy movement and the only female student leader to meet with senior government officials at the height of the rallies. But in recent years she has retreated from the political frontlines. She was refused entry to Macau on Wednesday, a decision that took some by surprise because of Leung’s less prominent public profile. Leung told AFP that the reason provided to her from authorities in Macau was “strong references that you intend to enter to participate in certain activities which may jeopardise the public security or public order”. She declined to provide further comment, including the purpose of her visit.

JAPAN (NHK)

Kim Jong Un aide expected to visit US; A close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to go to the United States soon to discuss a second summit between the leaders of the two nations. Kim Yong Chol, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, flew in to Beijing on Thursday. He is in charge of high-level talks with the US, and may leave for Washington later in the day for talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Just before the first US-North Korea summit last June, the vice chairman visited Washington to deliver a letter from Kim Jong Un to US President Donald Trump. It remains to be seen whether Kim Yong Chol will meet Trump this time around. In his talks with Pompeo, Kim faces the challenge of narrowing the differences between the two sides over North Korea’s denuclearization to pave the way for a second summit. The US has been urging Pyongyang to take more specific measures toward dismantling its nuclear program, while North Korea wants sanctions to be lifted. North Korea also wants to negotiate a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War and to have its political system guaranteed.

Japan, US defense chiefs confirm close cooperation; The defense chiefs of Japan and the United States have reaffirmed their close cooperation in dealing with China’s growing maritime presence and other regional matters. Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya met acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in the United States on Wednesday. It was Iwaya’s first meeting with Shanahan, who assumed his post at the start of this month after James Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense. Iwaya and Shanahan agreed to maintain close Japan-US cooperation in the domains of space and cyberspace with China’s increasing maritime activities in mind. They reaffirmed that Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and that the US has an obligation under this article to defend them. Japan controls the islands. The Japanese Government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory. China and Taiwan claim them.

Expert warns about Shindake volcanic flows; A volcano expert says footage of the latest eruption on Kuchinoerabu Island shows flying rocks and pyroclastic flows from the crater. He is urging residents to be on the alert. Kyoto University Professor Masato Iguchi spoke with NHK in a telephone interview on Thursday. He said these phenomena were now limited to an area within two kilometers from the crater of Mount Shindake. Professor Iguchi urged people to follow the advice of the eruption alert level not to approach the volcano. The level is currently at three on a scale of one to five.

 

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