A month in the Philippines in pictures…(will be adding more photos)…

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The Cabu River Bridge, on January 30th, 1945 Captain Juan Pojota and his Filipino fighters held off Jap reinforcements from helping the Jap soldiers who guarded the POW’s at the camp at Cabanatuan. The US  Army’s 6th Rangers attacked the guards, killing about 200 Japs, in a remarkable feat of arms in rescuing 512 US and Filipino POW’s. The raid was so successful that raid is taught at US military academies today…

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The large parade grounds inside the walls of Intramuros…

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My beautiful wife and I at the Cabanatuan POW Memorial, the back wall of the site contains the names of those who perished…

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Closeup of the plaque as you enter the Cabanatuan POW Memorial

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The riverfront walls of Intramuros can be seen at the waters edge that gave no invading force a place to land soldiers, I took this photo from the inner walls….Manila can be seen in the background, the city the fort protected…

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Photo taken of the Mount Samat from the parking lot, you have to climb about a quarter mile of stairs to reach the top of the site. You can see windows up the center of the cross, the horizontal portion of the cross contains an observation room accessible by an elevator, but the elevator was down this day for repairs…bummer…

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The Manila Cathedral is off to the left, the Legislature Building in the background which was heavily damaged during the Battle of Manila, the plaque I’m reading describes Jose Rizal’s importance to the Philippines…

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This memorial marker, located in the middle of a traffic roundabout, is to the 38th Infantry Division, I had to run across 2 lanes of the crazy traffic in the town of Bataan, Philippines…

 

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Here I am snapping a few photos while my wife takes a photo of me and her brothers, parts of the top of the wall at Intramuros were quite large. After touring much of the fort, one can’t reallly fathom the firepower it took for the US to breach these walls. The US had to bring to bear their mighty 240mm howitzers. Many parts of Intramuros was rebuilt postwar as was 80% of Manila…

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Photo of the inside of the Mount Samat museum, there were many exhibits of US, Japanese and ingenious indigenous Filipino made weapons. There were even some weaponry used by the Filipinos that saw action in the Spainish-American War…

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The small chapel within the walls of Intramuros….

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The massive concrete cross erected atop Mount Samat, given the mountainous terrain and the height, this must have been a mammoth undertaking, it’s roughly 15-20 stories in height and has an elevator you can take to the top where there is an observation room at the top, sadly the elevator was down for repairs…

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The main gate of Intramuros, the very same gate of a famous photo of a US Sherman tank entering the grounds of the fort to give support to the US soldiers already inside engaging the defending Japanese defenders. On a sad note, during the bitter fighting, the Japanese were raping women that were held, and executing others out of some sort of revenge…the Japanese had to be wiped out at all costs…and were…

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What I assume to be a guardhouse along the southern wall of Intramuros…

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Passageway leading to the underground portions of the fort, but as you can see, blocked off from entering which was a big disapointment…

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The north wall of Intramuros that faces the Pasig River, that during the Spainish era would have fired on any enemy ships sailing up the river….river is seen to the left, those who work as guides and security withn the fort wear era correct costumes complete with US Navy revolver sidearms…

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Panaorama photo of the northern side of Intramuros that touches the Pasig River, that is Manila in the background. The outer walls of the fort are about 12-14 foot thick all the way around. During the fight for Intramuros the US brought to bear 240mm Howitzers to breach the walls in order for US assault soldiers to engage the defending Japanese “soldiers” who during the fighting were executing some of the civilians they were holding as prisoner. The Japanese died in the artillery strikes or were killed to the last in bitter close quarters fighting with the stalwart US assault soldiers of the 148th Regiment of the 37th Division.

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“Bataan Death Marker” along the road up to Mount Samat the number denotes the distance the US and Filipino prisoners had marched to this point…

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Artillery shells of varying caliber and a very old cannon from the days when the Spainish built and manned this fort. Intramuros was built in the 1500’s to protect Manila from enemy ships sailing up the Pasig River…

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This part of the inner part of the fort was intentially left just as it was after the battle ended for Intramuros. Cannon strikes and rifle fire is still easily seen and gives an indication of the ferocity of the defending Japanese and the determination of the US fighting man to take back the fort and to exact revenge on a brutal and heinous enemy who cared little for human life wether it be their own or the lives of innocent civilians and the US soldiers….

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Panaram shot of the massive Manila Cathedral, there is a famous wartime photo showing US wounded laying on litters being tended to by the brave and steadfast Filipina nurses inside this cathedral, the difference being the cathedral was highly damaged by the fighting…

Post War Interrogation – Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida…IJN Air Group Commander Akagi Strike Leader…

 

PEARL HARBOR — BATTLE OF PHILIPPINE SEA — BATTLE FOR LEYTE GULF….

Interrogation of: Captain FUCHIDA, Mitsuo, IJN, Air Group Commander of the Akagi and strike leader at PEARL HARBOR, DARWIN, and CEYLON; subsequently Senior Staff Officer of First Air Fleet in the MARIANAS, and from April 1944 Air Staff Officer to CinC Combined Fleet.

Interrogated by: Lt. Comdr. James A. Field, Jr., USNR.

Allied Officers Present: Commander T.H. Moorer, USN.

Q. Captain FUCHIDA, how long have you been in aviation?
A. My first duty as an aircraft pilot was at KASUMIGAURA in 1928 where I was a pilot under instruction. I was an attack-bomber pilot on KAGA back in 1931, and from August 1941 I was on AKAGI as Air Group Commander.Q. Did you participate in the attack on PEARL HARBOR?
A. Yes, I was in that attack. I was in a 97 Type horizontal-bomber as observer. I was senior officer of the Attack Group.

Q. Were you with the horizontal-bombers that attacked the ARIZONA?
A. The last ship in line? Yes, I led that flight.

Q. Describe the approach to PEARL HARBOR?
A. The carriers were in two columns of three with 10 kilometers between ships. There were about four cruisers, two battleships, and about 17 destroyers screening outside the entire formation.

Q. What route did the planes take that attacked PEARL HARBOR? Did they all cross over the island or did some come around?
A. (See Annex A).

Q. Were there the same number of planes in the two waves?
A. First one about 220, second wave about 180.

Q. How were the 400 planes divided, as between types?
A. In the first attack, 40 torpedo planes, 60 horizontal-bombers, and 80 fighters; in the second attack, 40 horizontal-bombers, 60 dive-bombers, and 80 fighters.

Q. Were targets assigned by location, or by the type of ship?
A. We did not know exactly where specific ships were when we came in. First in importance were aircraft carriers, second battleships; but we did not know their exact location. We knew they were in FORD Island Passage, but did not know where. There was a priority on targets. I knew that there would be planes, but did not know they would be as closely packed as at WHEELER.

Q. Did you have any special torpedoes for this operation?
A. Nothing special but vanes in the torpedoes to cut the depth of original sounding.

Q. How many planes did you lose total?
A. 30.

Q. How many did you expect to lose?
A. About half, and thought we would lose half our ships. In order to keep down these losses a principle object was to destroy your planes.

 

Q. Why, if it was so successful, did you not repeat the attack.
A. We did not realize we had destroyed planes to such an extent. We knew we had done in four battleships, but did not know the extent of damage to American planes, and of course the carriers were not there. We figured if we could sink four battleships, then it was a success. About three days afterwards when the intelligence was gathered, it was realized what had been done; but we thought that you would be re-supplied with planes from the other islands in the HAWAIIAN Group, so it wouldn’t pay to return.Q. Did you have a specially built plane just for photographing?
A. We used a training plane for that.

Q. What did you do after PEARL HARBOR?
A. In February or March, I went to RABAUL on the Akagi and went on the attack on PORT DAWRIN, after that CEYLON and TRINCOMALEE, after that the MIDWAY action.

Q. What was the size of the force that attacked DARWIN?
A. The same force and formation as at MIDWAY, except that only four carriers were present.

Q. How many strikes did you make on DARWIN?
A. One. The total number of planes used was about 290.

Q. When were you told you were going to attack PEARL HARBOR?
A. We left on the 26th of November from CHISHIMA. I expected that we would be going to SINGAPORE; some thought we were going home at first. On the 3rd we were told certainly that we were to bomb PEARL HARBOR but did not know the date. The plan was to return from PEARL south of MIDWAY on the way, but that plan was changed. Two carriers went down to WAKE and four of them went back to the EMPIRE. If the weather had been good, we would have attacked MIDWAY. One plan was to go back to the MARSHALLS.

Q. Why didn’t you go back to the MARSHALLS?
A. That was the original plan but it was changed. There were three alternative plans. First plan to hit MIDWAY, second plan to hit WAKE, third plan to retire to the MARSHALLS (See Annex B).

Q. Were the midget submarines of any assistance to supplying intelligence to the force?
A. Not worth a damn.

Q. You were at the Battle of MIDWAY. Were you still flying at MIDWAY?
A. I got appendicitis on the way to MIDWAY and was thus prevented from flying. I was in the sick bay aboard ship at MIDWAY. The Akagi received damage and went down. Then I went back to YOKOSUKA and entered the hospital there, I was in the hospital at YOKOSUKA four months until September.

Q. What was your next active duty?
A. On the staff of the First Air Fleet (May 1943); and then in September of 1943 I went to TINIAN and SAIPAN. I was Flight Officer on the staff.

Q. How long were you in the MARIANAS?
A. Until the end of April. At PALAU at the time, the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet died; in fact at that time, the entire staff of the Combined Fleet perished. Therefore I went as Air Staff Officer to the Combined Fleet Staff.

Q. When was the Combined Fleet Staff assembled?
A. After the staff was killed on the 31st of March, the new staff was organized about the 20th of April.

Q. Admiral TOYODA was the new CinC Combined Fleet?
A. Yes.

Q. Where were his headquarters?
A. In TOKYO Bay, at YOKOSUKA; the cruiser Oyodo was his flagship but in September of last year (1944) he moved to the Staff College at HIYOSHI and thereafter remained ashore.

Q. We would like to talk about the planning in the spring and summer of 1944. Was it expected in April or May, when you first joined the Staff of the Combined Fleet, that the next U.S. move would be the MARIANAS?
A. We thought you were going into the MARIANAS.

 

Q. Had you planned to commit the fleet to the defense of the MARIANAS?
A. Yes, if your Task Force approached PALAU, our fleet being at SINGAPORE intended to sortie through the PHLIPPINES to meet you. Our land-based Air Force was in the MARIANAS and we intended that our land-based MARIANAS Air Force should also intercept your Task Force as it moved west. If you approached the MARIANAS, our first plan had been to move the Combined Fleet from OKINAWA on to the MARIANAS to prevent the operation of your fleet in the MARIANAS, and at that time to use our land-based planes in conjunction with the Combined Fleet from OKINAWA to prevent a landing in the MARIANAS. There were two obstacles to that plan; one was the threat of attack from CHINA-based planes, the other was an insufficiency of fuel supply in OKINAWA to mount the MARIANAS Operation.Q. You are speaking of the fleet of ships, not the Air Fleet?
A. That is the Combined Fleet.

Q. At the time of our attack on the MARIANAS was the Combined Fleet based at LINGGA?
A. Originally it was at LINGGA, however we did not have sufficient intelligence on your operation. Having insufficient intelligence of your operations they went from LINGGA to TAWITAWI to be near enough to operate close to the scene of your operations.

Q. Did you expect an attack in the South PACIFIC around NEW GUINEA at this time?
A. We had an idea you were going to attack WEWAK. We got intelligence from RABAUL to that effect, and because of this intelligence we moved to TAWITAWI.

Q. Do you remember f the intelligence from RABAUL was based on radio interceptions or ship sightings, or what?
A. It came from radio intelligence and from observation of U.S. planes, so we assumed when you did not land at WEWAK that there would be direct engagement south of PALAU or northwest of PALAU.

Q. When you knew we were committed to the MARIANAS, what force did you think we had present?
A. We thought you had four groups. We didn’t know names or classes but figured you had four groups, totaling about 15 carriers.

Q. How many carriers did you have in that operation?
A. About eight.

Q. When we landed in the MARIANAS, were your carriers all in the southern region at SINGAPORE or TAWITAWI?
A. They were at TAWITAWI at the time.

Q. Had a plan of fleet action been drawn up in advance in the event we landed in the MARIANAS to counter our operation? Was a specific Operation Plan ready for this contingency?
A. There was a specific plan for the attack.

Q. Was it drawn up by Admiral TOYODA?
A. That was Admiral TOYODA’s responsibility. There were different commanders. You see, Admiral OZAWA had command of the carrier forces and Vice Admiral KAKUTA, at TINIAN, commanded the land-based planes. There were no Army planes involved.

Q. Admiral TOYODA’s plan covered the coordination of both land and ship based planes, is that right?
A. Yes, the coordination was Admiral TOYODA’s.

Q. Was Admiral OZAWA consulted regarding this Operation Plan?
A. Yes, that is, the staffs had a conference at TINIAN, all three of them, from the 8th to the 11th of May.

Q. Did the plan envisage a fleet carrier action between the two fleets; in other words were you prepared to take on our fleet with your fleet?
A. Yes, the second plan, which was put into action, was that they should destroy your Task Force. They weren’t to bother with the MARIANAS, just destroy the fleet.

Q. What was the state of training of the carrier air groups at that time?
A. It was my task to take care of the training of the land-based groups up to April before I went back to the TOKYO Area. There were about 800 planes. They had been training about ten months in the EMPIRE and two months in the MARIANAS Area. There was insufficient time for adequate training for the carrier-based planes, they had only a month after they got intelligence from RABAUL.

 

Q. Were the carrier pilots able to land aboard?
A. They could not at night. They could land and take off all right by day, but beyond that it was not what I could call adequate training.Q. Was it part of the original plan of the second operation to fly carrier pilots to the fields in the MARIANAS after attacking?
A. The original plan was to return to the ships within 300 mile radius, but as the radius became 400 miles they shifted to the plan of landing at bases in the MARIANAS.

Q. Why didn’t they close to less than 400 miles from our fleet?
A. They lost time because they were under your submarine attack. That was an inprovisation [sic] caused by the submarine attack.

Q. Was that a decision of Admiral OZAWA’s?
A. It was, and it was Admiral OZAWA’s mistake that the submarines were allowed to delay the operation.

Q. Did they have adequate destroyers to screen their heavy ships?
A. They had thirty.

Q. Do you think that was enough?
A. Three groups, I think it is a little short of what they should have had.

Q. What damage did you think you had inflicted on our fleet?
A. We thought that two of your carriers had received some small damage.

Q. How many carrier planes did you lose?
A. 280.

Q. How long did you expect it to take to replace those 280?
A. About five months.

Q. Where did your fleet retire after the MARIANAS?
A. All the carriers and other ships that had received damage went back to the EMPIRE, the rest all went to LINGGA; and following these two retirements, the able ships and the repaired ships which had gone to the EMPIRE were obliged to proceed to LINGGA for fueling. All, that is, except the carriers who remained because pilots needed training in the EMPIRE.

Q. Was there a serious fuel shortage in the EMPIRE?
A. Yes.

Q. Why did you not fight when we invaded PALAU? Was it because of the loss of the carrier air groups?
A. We abandoned the PALAUS because we did not have carrier air strength and planned to make the PHILIPPINES the next defensive point. The situation forced us to abandon both PALAU and HALMAHERA and the areas of past operations for the defense of the PHILIPPINES.

Q. Had we attacked PALAU before we attacked the MARIANAS, however, would you have fought for it?
A. Yes, we would have.

Q. Now returning to the plan for the defense of the PHILIPPINES, were you also prepared to fight for FORMOSA, OKINAWA and IWO JIMA?
A. The first plan was for the defense of the PHILIPPINES. We did not include OKINAWA and IWO JIMA in this defense.

Q. However, had we attacked IWO before the PHILIPPINES, would you have defended IWO JIMA??
A. Four plans were made for the defense: first of the PHILIPPINES, second for FORMOSA and the NANSE SHOTO, third of HONSHU-KYUSHU and the BONINS, and fourth of HOKKAIDO. Now the numbering of these plans was not necessarily in order of expected events — they were either alternative or successive operations, but we rather thought the order of events would follow the numbering of these plans.

 

Q. Therefore you expected our next move to be against the PHILIPPINES?
A. We thought you were going to land on the PHILIPPINES. If your Task Force attacked the mainland or FORMOSA we would come out and do battle; but we assumed there was to be a landing in the PHILIPPINES; therefore, that must be the main effort. The task of attacking your Task Force from either the EMPIRE or FORMOSA was assigned to both land-based Army and Navy planes. The Combined Fleet was assigned to prevent landing in the PHILIPPINES.Q. This plan was made by Admiral TOYODA?
A. Yes.

Q. Was Admiral OZAWA consulted this time>
A. The plan was made by the Combined General Staff; Admiral OZAWA was not in on the consultation. This was known as the “SHO” Operation.

Q. I would like to get a picture of the command set-up in this operation.
A. (See Annex C).

Q. What was the date of the combination of the First and Second Air Fleets in the PHILIPPINES?
A. The beginning of October. (NOTE: actually this combination was not effected until after 20 October).

Q. Was the Combined Air Fleet directly under Admiral TOYODA?
A. That is right.

Q. OZAWA had no control over it?
A. No, Admiral OZAWA was in charge of the Third Fleet which was the attack group; under him Admiral KURITA commanded the Second Fleet which was the support force of battleships and cruisers.

Q. Did Admiral KURITA control both the forces that came through SAN BERNARDINO Strait and the forces that came through SURIGAO Strait?
A. Both were under Admiral KURITA. Rear Admiral NISHIMURA was OTC of the Southern Force.

Q. How was the Army land-based air controlled?
A. This part of the defense of the PHILIPPINES was from General headquarters in the EMPIRE through General TERAUCHI at SAIGON, through YAMASHITA, Commanding General in the PHLIPPINES, to the Army Air Chief in the PHILIPPINES.

Q. If Admiral KURITA wanted air cover, how did he request it?
A. If Vice Admiral KURITA required air cover he requested it of the Navy Air Chief in charge of Second and First Air Fleet.

Q. In other words he could request it directly without going up and down the chain of commands?
A. There were orders from TOYODA to the land-based Navy Air Chief to give cover to KURITA, but if necessary Vice Admiral KURITA could communicate and make request directly of the land-based Naval Air Force. Admiral TOYODA and General TERAUCHI had arranged for Army air cover for KURITA where necessary, but KURITA could also directly request of the Army Air Chief if need arose.

Q. Did our carrier raids of early October on the RYUKUS, FORMOSA and LUZON affect the plans for the defense of the PHILIPPINES?
A. No.

Q. The losses that we inflicted were not serious?
A. No, we were able to re-supply enough to keep our original plan. (NOTE: This opinion is contradicted below; it’s believed there may have been some confusion in translation here).

Q. Do you know roughly how many planes we destroyed in LUZON and FORMOSA?
A. Navy 300, Army 200, Total 500.

Q. What damage did you estimate you had inflicted on our fleet off FORMOSA, on 12-14 of October?
A. We thought we sank one aircraft carrier, and inflicted minor damage on two.

Q. But the loss of 500 planes was overcome without too much trouble?
A. Yes, we were gradually able to build up again by re-supply.

Q. And 500 was in fact the total number destroyed?
A. It is pretty close to the figure.

 

Q. When was the fleet alerted or ordered out from these bases to defend the PHILIPPINES?
A. I don’t remember the date of either the alerting or the ordering out.Q. Do you know what information they acted upon? What intelligence?
A. It was the landing on LEYTE which was sufficient reason to cause the action. There was a small island in the approach to LEYTE, and there we had watchers, and from them the intelligence came on the landing.

Q. You had no report from aircraft of our approaching forces?
A. Two days before we did have airplane intelligence from DAVAO planes.

Q. Had you expected our landing to be on LEYTE, MINDANAO or where?
A. We thought originally it would be on MINDANAO, then when we got that information from LEYTE we knew for the first time where it was to be.

Q. Did you know who was in command of our invasion forces?
A. We did not know who was in charge. We thought Admiral HALSEY would be in charge of the fleet’ we didn’t know who would be in charge of the invasion.

Q. Did you believe that Admiral HALSEY was under General MACARTHUR?
A. We didn’t think so. We thought there was an equal liaison between NIMITZ and MACARTHUR. We thought that HALSEY was not in charge fo the attack force, just that he was in charge of the Naval Task Force; but we did not think that the landing operation was under HALSEY.

Q. Under whom was the landing operation?
A. We did know then but I don’t remember.

Q. Do you think it was under NIMITZ’s section or MACARTHUR’s section?
A. We thought the landing operation was under NIMITZ.

Q. What was the mission of the carrier force that you sent down from the EMPIRE?
A. To attack the Task Force under HALSEY.

Q. Were the carrier pilots sufficiently trained by this time?
A. No, they were not. They were pilots of about 80 hours flight experience.

Q. Was it planned to have the pilots land ashore after the attack?
A. They were to land on the shore fields of LUZON.

Q. And later return to the carriers the next day perhaps?
A. No, they never intended to come back to the carriers.

Q. Once the carriers had launched their planes, what were they supposed to do, retire?
A. No. If the planes failed in their attacks, they would land ashore and then join the land-based planes in carrying out suicide attacks. They could not have landed back aboard. The carriers were to remain and help to direct the land-based air attacks on the Task Force. Knowing they were defenseless, they were to stay and assist the attack on the Task Force by land-based planes.

Q. Specifically, how were they to help?
A. The carriers were to stay there as a decoy. They were to draw off HALSEY’s Task Force to the north even though defenseless under attack so that our own land-based planes could attack HALSEY, and also to draw him into range of FORMOSA land-based planes.

Q. What was the mission of Admiral KURITA’s force?
A. It was to attack your transports.

Q. An the same for Admiral NISHIMURA?
A. Yes, we had also considered planning attack upon the Task Force, but they did not have that duty. Their mission was to attack only the transports. The Task Force was to be brought under attack by Admiral OZAWA and the land-based planes.

Q. Did Admiral OZAWA’s planes deliver an attack on the 24th?
A. Yes, they did deliver one on the Task Force on the 24th.

Q. Are you familiar with the details of the battle?
A. I don’t know very much about the Central and Southern Forces. Admiral OZAWA’s Force came out from the INLAND SEA, sortied through BUNGO SUIDO, I think on the 21st, and went fairly directly down to the east of LUZON, made the attack and was sunk the next night or the next day.

 

Q. In your opinion where di the operation as a whole break down? How far did it progress satisfactorily?
A. When we lost land airplanes in the Task Force attack on FORMOSA. Somewhere around the 13th when so many land-based planes were lost in the action around FORMOSA, I think now that the whole plan was doomed.Q. That is not what you said earlier. You said the loss was not serious.
A. This action off FORMOSA ten days before is the action which cost the main action. It was lost when so many planes were lost in the FORMOSA action previously. It had originally been thought in the original plans that OZAWA and KURITA could take care of the Task Force and defeat it but had to change plans because of the loss of so many planes the ten days before.

Q. How many planes did they lose?
A. 500.

Q. You feel then, that the battle of the 24th and 25th was a vain effort form the start?
A. That is correct. I think the general action in the PHLIPPINES was doomed by the loss of 500 land-based planes ten days before. The reason for the OZAWA-KURITA sortie from their bases was that, should the PHLIPPINES, the SINGAPORE Area would be no longer tenable or useful; so knowing that the action was unreasonable, it was still undertaken.

Q. After the LEYTE battle what plans did you have for further defense of the PHILIPPINES, particularly LUZON?
A. We abandoned the SHO Plans; after that it was TEN Operations, and OKINAWA, IWO JIMA and FORMOSA were the basis of defense. We thought you would come first to OKINAWA, second to South CHINA.

Q. Then the defense of LUZON in November and December was not a very serious matter?
A. The defense of LUZON in November and December of 1944 was no longer a great moment. We had no power.

Q. Did you attempt to reinforce the LUZON land-based aircraft, or didn’t you bother?
A. Hardly any. We were waiting in OKINAWA and the EMPIRE, did hardly any reinforcing of LUZON aircraft. In the meantime the IWO JIMA action had absorbed our interest. One group only went to IWO JIMA.

Q. Then it is your opinion that the loss of the PHLIPPINES was due to the destruction of aircraft at FORMOSA?
A. In the main that is my opinion.

Q. Did you feel that the decrease of your air power was caused by attacks from our planes or due to a shortage of fuel?
A. Mainly it was the Task Force attacks, the fuel problem principally affected training but the air power was diminished mostly by your Carrier Task Force attacks.

Q. Did the Carrier Task Force destroy planes faster than you could build them?
A. It was about equal, plane for plane, the production and destruction; but they couldn’t keep ahead, it was just about plane for plane.

Q. You felt that the Carrier Task Force were the main agency rather than land-based air?
A. Production was most affected later on by land-based planes, but the actual destruction of combat plane was accomplished by carrier-based planes.

Q. Was the critical problem the shortage of planes, or the shortage of pilots?
A. Fuel was the worst. We had plenty of pilots but couldn’t train them because of lack of fuel.

Q. Did you expect a long war?
A. I thought it would be along war, about three years. I didn’t think we had naval power enough for more than two years either.

Q. As the course of the war went along when did you realize you could not win?
A. I thought after the MARSHALL Campaign, and there were others who thought the same when we gave up defending RABAUL.

Q. There is a difference between when you thought you could not win a decision and when you knew you would be completely defeated?
A. I think that the loss of the PHILIPPINES was the time when we knew we had lost.

 

 

 







Escort Carrier Profile – USS Kalinin (CVE-68)…

02647B24-A985-479F-90FB-9358AEE4BED1#1…USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) was a Casablanca class escort carrier of the United States Navy.
She originally designated an AVG, was classified ACV-68 on 20 August 1942; laid down under a Maritime Commission contract 26 April 1943 by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Inc., Vancouver, Washington; reclassified CVE-68 on 15 July 1943; launched 15 October 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Anna Mary Updegraff, mother of Captain William N. Updegraff, U.S. Navy; and commissioned 27 November at Astoria, Oregon, Captain C. R. Brown in command. The USS Kalinin Bay was named after a bay on the northern shore of Kruzof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of southeastern Alaska. After shakedown along the Pacific Coast, Kalinin Bay departed San Diego 3 January 1944 for replenishment duty in the Pacific. Laden with troops and a cargo of planes, she steamed via Pearl Harbor for the Gilbert Islands, arriving off Tarawa Atoll 24 January to supply 5th Fleet carriers then engaged in the conquest of the Marshalls. For more than 2 weeks she provided logistic support from Tarawa to Majuro Atoll before returning to Alameda, California, 24 February. With Composite Squadron 3 (VC-3) embarked 9 April, Kalinin Bay reached Majuro, Marshalls, 23 April; conducted ASW air patrols off Mili Atoll; and proceeded to Pearl Harbor 1 May to prepare for the Marianas operation, she departed Pearl Harbor 30 May; and, while en route to Saipan, she successfully evaded a Japanese torpedo that crossed her bow close aboard. Touching at Eniwetok 9 June, Kalinin Bay reached the eastern coast of Saipan 15 June and commenced air operations in support of the invasion. After repelling an enemy air attack at dusk on the 17th, she sailed 19 June to ferry planes to and from Eniwetok. Returning to Saipan 24 June, she resumed effective air strikes against enemy positions on the embattled island until 9 July when she steamed via Eniwetok for similar duty at Guam. Arriving 20 July, she launched direct support and ASW sorties until 2 August, then returned to Eniwetok to prepare for operations in the Palau Islands.

#1…Kalinin Bay cleared Eniwetok 18 August and proceeded via Tulagi, Florida Island, to the Southern Palaus where she arrived 14 September with units of the 3rd Fleet. Ordered to furnish air support for the capture, occupation, and defense of Peleliu, Angaur, and Ngesebus, she launched air strikes to support landing operations. For 2 weeks her planes, flying almost 400 sorties, inflicted heavy damage on enemy ground installations and shipping. On 25 September, alone, they sank or destroyed three cargo transports and six landing barges.

She departed the Palaus 30 September; and, upon arriving Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island, 3 October, she received a new commanding officer, Captain T. B. Williamson. Kalinin Bay departed Manus 12 October en route to the Philippine Islands. Ordered to provide air coverage and close air support during the bombardment and amphibious landings on Leyte Island, she arrived off Leyte 17 October. After furnishing air support during landings by Ranger units on Dinagat and Homonhon Islands in the eastern approaches to Leyte Gulf, she launched air strikes in support of invasion operations at Tacloban on the northeast coast of Leyte. Operating with Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s “Taffy 3” (Task Unit 77.4.3), which consisted of 6 escort carriers and a screen of 3 destroyers and 4 destroyer escorts, Kalinin Bay sailed to the east of Leyte and Samar as her planes, flying 244 sorties from 18 to 24 October, struck and destroyed enemy installations and airfields on Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Negros, and Panay Islands

#1…Steaming about 60 miles east of Samar before dawn 25 October, Taffy 3 prepared to launch the day’s initial air strikes. At 0647, Rear Admiral Sprague received word that a sizable Japanese fleet was approaching from the northwest. Comprising four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers, Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Center Force steadily closed and at 0658 opened fire on Taffy 3.

So began the Battle off Samar—one of the most memorable engagements in U.S. naval history. Outnumbered and outgunned, the slower Taffy 3 seemed fated for disaster; but the American ships defied the odds and gamely accepted the enemy’s challenge.

Kalinin Bay accelerated to flank speed; and, despite fire from three enemy cruisers, she launched her planes, ordering the pilots “to attack the Japanese task force and proceed to Tacloban airstrip, Leyte, to rearm and regas.” As salvos fell “with disconcerting rapidity” increasingly nearer Kalinin Bay, her planes, striking the enemy force with bombs, rockets, and gunfire, inflicted heavy damage on the closing ships.

As the trailing ship in the escort caravan, Kalinin Bay came under intense enemy fire. Though partially protected by chemical smoke, by a timely rain squall, and by valiant counterattacks of screening destroyers and destroyer escorts, she took the first of 15 direct hits at 0750. Fired from an enemy battleship, the large caliber shell (14 inch or 16 inch) struck the starboard side of the hangar deck just abaft the forward elevator.

By 0800, the enemy cruisers, which were steaming off her port quarter, closed to within 18,000 yards. Kalinin Bay gamely responded to their straddling salvos with rapid fire from her single 5 inch gun, which only intensified the enemy fire. Three 8 inch, armor-piercing projectiles struck her within minutes of each other. At 0825, the carrier’s 5-incher scored a direct hit from 16,000 yards on the No. 2 turret of a Nachi-class heavy cruiser, and a second hit shortly thereafter forced the enemy ship to withdraw temporarily from formation.

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1…At 0830, five enemy destroyers steamed over the horizon off her starboard quarter; the closing ships opened fire from about 14,500 yards; and, as screening ships engaged the cruisers and laid down concealing smoke, Kalinin Bay shifted her fire and, for the next hour, traded shots with Japan’s Destroyer Squadron 10. Many salvos exploded close aboard or passed directly overhead; and, though no destroyer fire hit Kalinin Bay directly, she took ten more 8 inch hits from the now obscured cruisers. One shell passed through the flight deck and into the communications area, where it destroyed all the radar and radio equipment.

Under heavy attack from the air and harassed by incessant fire from American destroyers and destroyer escorts, the enemy cruisers broke off action and turned northward at 0920. At 0915, the enemy destroyers, which were kept at bay by the daring and almost singlehanded exploits of Johnston, launched a premature torpedo attack from 10,500 yards; as the torpedoes approached the escort carriers, they slowed down. A Grumman TBF Avenger from St. Lo strafed and exploded two torpedoes in Kalinin Bay’s wake about 100 yards astern, and a shell from the latter’s 5 inch gun deflected a third from a collision course with her stern.

At about 0930, as the enemy ships fired parting salvos and reversed course northward, Kalinin Bay scored a direct hit amidships on a retreating destroyer. Five minutes later, she ceased fire and retired southward with the surviving ships of Taffy 3. At 1050, the task unit came under a concentrated air attack. During the 40-minute battle, the first attack from a Kamikaze unit in World War II, all except Fanshaw Bay were damaged. One plane of Lieutenant Yukio Seki and his Shikishima squadron crashed through St. Lo’s flight deck and exploded her torpedo and bomb magazine, mortally wounding the carrier. Four diving planes attacked Kalinin Bay from astern and the starboard quarter. Intense fire splashed two close aboard; but a third plane crashed into the port side of the flight deck, damaging it badly; the fourth hit destroyed the aft port stack.

#1…As part of Taffy 3, Kalinin Bay had prevented a Japanese penetration into Leyte Gulf and saved General Douglas MacArthur’s beachhead in the Philippines. At a cost of five ships and hundreds of men, Taffy 3, aided by her own planes and those of “Taffy 2” (Task Unit 77.4.2), sank three enemy cruisers, seriously damaged several other ships, and turned back the “most powerful surface fleet which Japan had sent to sea since the Battle of Midway.”

Despite the battle damage, Taffy 3 cleared the air of attacking planes; at noon, the escort carriers retired southeastward while their escort searched for survivors from St. Lo. Though Kalinin Bay suffered extensive structural damage during the morning’s furious action, she counted only 5 dead among her 60 casualties. Weary and battle scarred, Kalinin Bay was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for heroic conduct as a unit of Taffy 3, she steamed via Woendi, Schouten Islands, to Manus, arriving 1 November for emergency repairs. Getting under way for the United States 7 November, the escort carrier reached San Diego 27 November for permanent repairs and alterations.

#1…End of Service……Repairs completed 18 January 1945, the veteran escort carrier departed San Diego 20 January to ferry planes and men to Pearl Harbor and Guam. For more than 8 months, she served as a replenishment carrier in the Pacific CarrierTransport Squadron; and, during six cruises between the West Coast and Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, and Guam, she transported more than 600 planes. Departing San Diego 2 September, she steamed to the Philippines, arriving at Samar 28 September to participate in Operation Magic Carpet. With 1,048 men embarked, she departed Samar 1 October and arrived San Francisco 19 October.

After conducting two more voyages between California and Pearl Harbor, Kalinin Bay departed San Diego 8 December for the Far East. On 25 December, while she steamed to Yokosuka, Japan, an intense storm heavily damaged her flight deck. Arriving the 27th, she received emergency repairs, then sailed 3 January 1946 for the West Coast and arrived San Diego January 17th. On February 13th, she proceeded to the eastern seaboard, reaching Boston March9th. Kalinin Bay was decommissioned May 15th, and she was sold for scrap December 8th to Patapsco Steel Co., Baltimore, Maryland…🇺🇸

Marine Corps – New Georgia…

E29E6A1E-0313-4E4D-9CFC-47EAB0823801The occupation force’s struggle to advance on New Georgia was anxiously
watched by the remainder of the NGOF on Rendova and the barrier islands. Artillerymen, executing fire missions, noted that front lines did not move forward. Landing craft coxswains, returning from supply runs to Zanana and Laiana beaches, brought back reports of the fighting and distorted stories of the Japanese infiltration raids. All NGOF units knew that the 172d was stalled in the hills west of Laiana and that the 169th was understrength and fatigued by the struggle through the jungle. Despite the continual and intense pounding by three 155mm and three 105mm gun and howitzer battalions, which seemed to have leveled all above-ground installations, the enemy still seemed as strong as ever and apparently as disposed to continue the fight. Air strikes, which included as many as 70 planes, bombed the enemy defenses without apparent results except to strip foliage from the jungle.

Realization that more Allied troops would be required had come early in the campaign. On 6 July, General Hester had requested, and had been granted, the use of the 148th Infantry (less one battalion with the NLG) as division reserve. The 145th Infantry (also less one battalion with the NLG) was additionally attached to Hester’s NGOF. Both regiments were alerted for possible commitment to combat and, prior to 14 July, were moved to Rendova where they would be readily available.

With the addition of two regiments as NGOF reserve, a needed change in the command structure became more apparent. For some time, observers had believed that General Hester’s 43d Division staff, split between the two tasks of directing a division in combat and a larger occupation force in a campaign, had been unequal to the job. Moreover, on the 13th, General Griswold of the XIV Corps had some disquieting reports for Admiral Halsey and General Harmon:

From an observer viewpoint, things are going badly. Forty-three division about to fold up. My opinion is that they will never take Munda. Enemy resistance to date not great. My advice is to set up twenty-fifth division to act with what is left of thirty-seventh division if this operation is to be successful.

Halsey, on 9 July, had directed Harmon to name a corps commander to take command of all ground troops on New Georgia. Now, after Griswold’s first-hand report from the front lines, Halsey told Harmon to take whatever steps he thought necessary to straighten out the situation. Griswold and his XIV Corps staff was ordered to assume command of the NGOF and Hester was returned to the command solely of the 43d Division. All ground forces, including those of the 37th Division, now in the NGOF, as well as the 161st Regiment from the 25th Division, were assigned to Griswold’s command. The new NGOF leader, requesting a few days for reorganization, promised a prompt, coordinated attack. The command change was effective at midnight, 14 July, a date which happened to coincide with the long-planned relief of Rear Admiral Turner by Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson as Commander, III Amphibious Force. Turner returned to Pearl Harbor to take command of amphibious forces in the Central Pacific.

The addition of tanks and a fresh battalion of infantry to the forces at Laiana beach buoyed the hopes of the NGOF that the impetus of the attack could be resumed. The tank platoon of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion had landed on Rendova with its parent unit, but had not been required for seizure of the island. The tanks later moved to Zanana Beach to support an engineer mission shortly after the NGOF began its attack. The marshy ground in the vicinity of the Barike balked attempts to use armor in support of infantry operations, however, so the eight tanks were withheld from action until Laiana was taken. Here, it was reported, the ground was more firm and could support armored operations.

Forward movement of the 172d Infantry in the Laiana area had virtually ceased when the Marine armor arrived. The enemy’s defensive line, a series of pillboxes dug into the hill mass rising just forward of the American lines, stubbornly resisted attack. Infantrymen attempting to push ahead were driven back by fierce machine gun fire from the camouflaged positions. In the hopes that a coordinated tank-infantry thrust could crack the defenses, an attack was planned for 15 July.

On the morning of the 15th, three tanks reported to the 2d Battalion, 172d on the left, while another trio of tanks moved toward the 3d Battalion on the right. Tangled underbrush hid stumps and logs that hampered attempts to get into position, and the drivers had to back and turn the machines constantly to move ahead. In the left zone, the first opposition, which came from a log and coral emplacement, was promptly knocked out by 37mm high explosive rounds and machine gun fire. Two grass bivouac shelters were peppered with canister rounds and machine gun fire, and six to eight dead enemy were reported in each by the 172d’s infantrymen following the machines.

Further progress was stopped, however, by enemy machine gun and rifle fire which began to pour from other camouflaged positions. The infantrymen sought cover. The Marine tanks, without infantry support, were forced to resort to a deadly game of blind man’s bluff. Hit from one direction, the tanks wheeled–only to receive fire from another quarter. By alternating canister with high explosive rounds, the tankers stripped camouflage from emplacements and then blasted each bunker as it was uncovered. Enemy soldiers attempting to flee the positions were killed by machine guns. Opposition gradually ceased, and the infantrymen moved forward. The advance marked the first significant gain in several days.

In the right zone, the other three tanks were also blasting hidden positions which supporting infantrymen marked with tracer bullets. At one time the tanks were under fire from five hidden bunkers and dugouts. Combat was so close in the thick, hilly jungle that in several instances the muzzles of the 37mm guns could not be depressed enough to engage the enemy positions. Continually drummed upon by small-arms fire, and blasted repeatedly by grenade and mortar bursts, the armor withdrew after clearing the enemy from one hill. The 3d Battalion immediately occupied the positions and set up defenses. The only casualty suffered by the Marines in the engagement was one driver injured when a hidden log jammed its way through a floor hatch.

On the following day, three tanks with six infantrymen following each machine moved around the base of the hill taken by the 3d Battalion and pushed through the heavy jungle toward the next hill. The tanks raked the underbrush with fire and then pumped explosive shells into the enemy positions. A number of pillboxes, dugouts, and enemy shelters were knocked out. Only rifle and automatic weapons fire opposed the advance, and the infantrymen quickly moved forward. In the 2d Battalion zone on the left flank, defenses on the coast were outflanked by the tanks, which maneuvered along the shore line firing at the blind sides and rear of the bunkers. After nearly 200 yards of progress, the tankmen discovered they were without infantry support and returned to the lines. A second attack was stalled by heavy mortar fire which drove the supporting infantrymen back to their foxholes.

Unprotected by infantry, the tanks kept firing to the front and sides to keep enemy soldiers from attacking. Heavy jungle growth limited visibility to only a few yards and restricted maneuver of the machines. While trying to disengage from the battle, the tanks were rocked by heavy explosions, apparently from magnetic antitank grenades tossed against the machines by enemy soldiers hidden in the dense thicket all about the armor. The rear machine was blasted twice, and each of the other two tanks was damaged slightly by similar explosions. Swiveling and turning, the tanks fired at every movement in the brush, and, by sweeping the jungle with canister and machine gun fire, managed to break clear and crawl back toward friendly lines.

That night, the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry relieved 2/172 in the left zone and another coordinated tank-infantry attack was scheduled. Working all night, 16-17 July, the Marines had five tanks available for combat. By prior agreement, 30 infantrymen were to accompany each machine and the tanks were not to move unless soldiers supported them. The day’s attack had hardly begun, however, before stiff enemy opposition developed. Machine gun and rifle fire spewed from a number of concealed positions, and bullets ricocheted among the infantrymen following the armor. Soldiers, returning the fire, attempted to locate the emplacements so that the tanks’ 37mm guns could be directed against the enemy.

As the tanks maneuvered toward the enemy defenses, the lead machine was suddenly sprayed with flame thrower fuel by a Japanese in a camouflaged position. The fuel did not ignite, and the enemy soldier was quickly killed. In such close combat, however, even nearby infantrymen could not protect the tanks from hidden enemy soldiers who suddenly appeared to toss magnetic grenades on the tanks. The third machine, hit by such a missile, took a gaping hole near the hull. Two crewmen were wounded. A hasty look behind them convinced the Marines that the infantrymen had fallen behind, and that protection was gone. Covering each other by fire, the tanks moved back with one of the undamaged vehicles towing the disabled machine.

Although no long gains had been made in the three-day attack, the commitment
of armor on the extreme left flank of the NGOF front had helped wedge an opening into Sasaki’s defenses. A line of pillboxes stretching from Laiana beach northwest for more than 400 yards had been breached. Typical of the defenses was a cluster of seven pillboxes which covered a frontage of only 150 yards, each position defending and supporting the next. Overhead and frontal protection consisted of two thicknesses of coconut logs and three feet of coral. Skillfully camouflaged, with narrow firing slits, the bunkers were virtually a part of the terrain and surrounding jungle.

Tomonari Repulsed…

The Japanese counterattack hit just as the NGOF paused to consolidate its gains, restore contact and communication, and effect a reorganization and reinforcement. Through coincidence or superior combat intelligence, General Sasaki committed the 13th Regiment at a time when its appearance would provide the greatest shock effect.

Following its arrival at Bairoko and the move to the plantation area, the Tomonari Force scattered in small groups to reassemble north of the Barike River area. Sasaki’s orders to Tomonari were:

The 13th Regiment will immediately maneuver in the area of the upper reaches of the Barike River; seek out the flank and rear of the main body of the enemy who landed on the beach east of the Barike River and attack, annihilating them on the coast. To accomplish this task, Colonel Tomonari was to take over the defensive positions in the designated area and establish a base from which attacks could be staged. Colonel Hirata’s 229th, with as much strength as possible, was to coordinate with the 13th and attack the American left flank.

Despite Sasaki’s precautions, however, the Tomonari Force was observed moving toward the Barike. On 17 July, the 43d Division Reconnaissance Troop, screening the open right flank of the NGOF, reported that a large body of enemy, numbering from 200 to 300 men, had been observed moving toward the rear of the NGOF. One platoon of the troop attempted to ambush this force but was overrun. Sasaki’s admonitions to keep contact notwithstanding, communication between the Tomonari Force and the 229th was broken, and the two counterattacks were never synchronized. On the right flank of Sasaki’s units, the 3d Battalion, 229th was kept off balance by the tank-infantry attacks of the 172d. Farther north, the 169th was in a commanding position and was able to call down artillery fire on any observed group of enemy infantry, and thus effectively forestalled any threat of a push through the center of the line. Only the attack from the upper Barike materialized.

Shortly after dark on the 17th, enemy troops hit almost simultaneously at the rear area and beach installations of the 43d Division. Soldiers helping to evacuate wounded were themselves cut down.
In a series of sharp skirmishes, Japanese infiltrators struck at the medical collecting station, the engineer bivouac area, the 43d Division CP, and the beach defenses. For a short time, the fate of the command post was held in one thin telephone line. Although most lines were cut, contact with the artillery units on the adjacent islands was still open over one line, and support was urgently requested. Accurate and destructive artillery fire that virtually ringed the command post was the quick reply. In several instances, concentrations within 150 yards of the CP were requested and received. In a matter of moments, the Tomonari Force was scattered, and although the CP area was under attack all during the night, repeated concentrations falling almost within Allied positions kept any large-scale assault from developing.

In the beachhead area, Army service units, the 172d’s antitank company, and the 9th Defense Battalion’s antiaircraft detachment were also hit. A Marine patrol, investigating the CP situation, returned to report that a body of enemy infantry of near battalion strength was moving between the CP and the beach. Reclaiming two .30 caliber machine guns from an Army supply dump by piecing together parts from a number of guns, half of the 52-man Marine detachment went forward to set up an ambush ahead of the advancing Japanese, while the other half remained behind to man the antiaircraft defenses. The ambush stopped the first enemy attack, and, after the Marines fell back to the beach defenses, the attack was not renewed. The reason was apparent the next morning. Two Marines who volunteered to remain behind at the ambush had effectively stopped the counterattack by repulsing four attempts. Only one of the two Marines survived the attack, which left 18 enemy dead littered about the guns.

The night of 17 July virtually ended all Japanese attempts to regain the initiative. The Tomonari Force, in small groups, appeared from time to time in various areas, raiding and infiltrating, but was not an effective threat. Up to the time of the resumption of the NGOF attack, Sasaki still harbored hopes that he could collect his scattered forces for another attempt, but the rapidly-accelerating Allied buildup nullified all his efforts.

Corps Reorganization and Attack…

A number of Army units were close at hand for ready reinforcement of the NGOF lines. These were promptly ordered to New Georgia when the Japanese counterattacked. The 148th Infantry was on Kokorana when the emergency alerted that unit at 0100 on the 18th; the 1st Battalion, dispatched immediately, came ashore at Zanana fully expecting to find the beach area in enemy hands and the 43d Division CP wiped out. By this time, however, the serious threat had passed and when the regiment was assembled, it began moving to the front lines. Although an advance party was hit by remnants of the 13th Infantry, the 148th pushed forward aggressively, cleared the opposition, and moved into the rear area of the 169th by nightfall of the 18th.

The 145th Regiment, which already had one battalion in place as reserve for the 43d Division, reached the rear of the 169th lines on the 20th. Upon the arrival the same day of Major General Robert S. Beightler, the 37th Infantry Division assumed responsibility for the sector and the 169th Infantry was relieved. Colonel Holland, who had directed the 169th in its capture of the hills overlooking Munda, returned to command of the 145th. The 169th’s 1st and 2d Battalions, tired and badly depleted, departed for Rendova for a needed rest. The 3d Battalion remained on New Georgia as 43d Division reserve.

The arrival of other units also strengthened the NGOF lines. The 161st Infantry, detached from the 25th Division on Guadalcanal, debarked on the 21st. Attached to the 37th Division, the regiment moved into bivouac on the division’s right flank. The remainder of the 103d Regiment joined the 3d Battalion on New Georgia on the 21st and 22d of July, and, from that point on, the 103d (less the 1st Battalion still at Segi) fought as a regiment. Additional antiaircraft protection against the periodic Japanese air raids on New Georgia and Rendova was provided by a detachment of 4 officers and 140 men from the Marine 11th Defense Battalion. Alerted early in the campaign for possible commitment, a 90mm battery, augmented by four 40mm guns and four .50 caliber machine guns, was sent to Kokorana Island from Guadalcanal on 18 July.

During the period 18-24 July, while the NGOF swelled in size as fresh regiments poured in, the front lines of the New Georgia Force remained static. At this time, the main positions of the NGOF traced an irregular pattern through the hilly jungle in a northwest direction from Laiana Beach to the steep hills guarding the northern approach to Munda. Into this 4,000-yard front, still about three miles from Munda, General Griswold moved the two divisions with orders to continue the attack on the 25th. In the southern sector, General Hester’s 43d Division had the 103d Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Lester E. Brown) anchored to the coast with the 172d Infantry (Colonel Ross) on the right. In the 37th Division’s zone of attack on the north, General Beightler had placed the 145th Infantry (Colonel Holland) on the left flank and the 148th Infantry (Colonel Stuart A. Baxter) on the extreme right flank with the added mission of protecting the right flank and rear of the NGOF. The 161st Infantry (Colonel James M. Dalton) was assigned as the interior unit between the 145th and the 148th. To insure a rapid advance, the frontline units were directed by General Griswold to bypass all strong points, leaving these for the reserve units to eliminate.

Combat action during the period in which the NGOF reorganized and rested was limited. As each front-line unit moved into place, patrols sought to determine
the disposition and strength of the Japanese units to the front. Occasionally, scattered bands of 13th Regiment’s soldiers were encountered, and a number of confused, short skirmishes resulted. Casualties to both sides were light.
The NGOF had one advantage. The ground fighting had been relatively free of air interference, and most of the bombing attacks were by friendly planes on rear area enemy defenses. The Japanese had attempted but failed in several attempts to locate the NGOF front lines for a bombing and strafing attack. Segi, Wickham, and Viru, however, were visited regularly by nocturnal aircraft which the troops–conforming to South Pacific custom–tagged with the euphemisms of “One-Bomb Bill” or “Washing-machine Charlie.” Most of the Japanese air attempts, though, appeared to be aimed at Rendova where the bulk of supplies was stockpiled. An alert air cover, helped by antiaircraft batteries, kept enemy planes at a wary distance.

Air support missions requested by General Mulcahy as ComAir New Georgia were generally directed at the easily identifiable targets around Munda field. Close air support for troops fighting in dense jungle had proven impractical with target designation so difficult. Air-ground coordination, struggling against the handicaps of visibility and communications, was not helped by the inaccurate operation maps. Even though gridded, the photo-mosaics were not precise enough for such close work, where a slight error might result in heavy NGOF losses. Then, too, in the fighting where daily progress was measured in 200- or 300-yard gains, the troops were reluctant to withdraw for an air strike. Soldiers reported that when they had pulled back to provide a zone of safety for air strikes or artillery and mortar preparations, the enemy simply moved forward into the abandoned area and waited for the bombing or artillery to lift before moving back into their original positions in time to defend against the expected ground attack.

Requested support missions were flown by Strike Command, ComAirSols. The New Georgia support was in addition to the repeated bombing and strafing strikes at enemy shipping and airfields at Kahili, Ballale, Vila, Enogai-Bairoko, and Bougainville. The planes flew cover for task groups and friendly shipping as well. During the period 30 June to 25 July, the start of the corps offensive in New Georgia, the Strike Command squadrons flew 156 missions involving 3,119 sorties. In addition to more than four million pounds of explosives dropped on enemy installations, the ComAirSols planes counted 24 enemy ships sunk and another 28 damaged. A total of 428 fighter planes and 136 bombers were reported as destroyed by ComAirSols pilots. Strike Command losses in the Central Solomons during the period were 80 planes.

The final push on Munda promised the hardest fighting of the campaign. Between the NGOF and its objective were more than 4,500 yards of low but steep hills, irregular and broken, densely covered with tropical rain forest, and laced with enemy defenses. Reports of the patrols and observation of bunkers already taken indicated that the enemy soldiers were dug in and covered by low, two-level camouflaged coral and log emplacements with deadly interlocking fields of fire. Trenches bulwarked by coconut logs connected the bunkers. NGOF soldiers were
well aware that the enemy would have to be routed from these positions and that resistance until death was standard practice. Further, the soldiers knew that the enemy often abandoned one bunker to man another, and then, after the first bunker had been overrun, returned to defend it again. An area gained in attack during one day had to be cleared of infiltrators the following day.

Prior to the 25 July attack by the NGOF, an attempt was made by Marine tanks to crack the hill complex south of Laiana Beach and bring the 43d Division units on a line with the 37th Division. Withdrawn from further engagements in that sector after the 17 July attack, the 9th Defense Battalion tanks were sent into action again on the 24th. An artillery preparation prior to 0700 pounded a 100-yard zone in front of the lines before the armor moved out from the lines of the left battalion of the 172d Infantry. Repulsed by a strongly defended position in that sector, the Marine tanks tried again from the adjoining battalion of the 103d Infantry on the left. Although several pillboxes were knocked out, the tanks were forced to withdraw after one machine was blinded by hits on the periscope. Two other machines sputtered with engine trouble caused by low-octane fuel and overheating. The withdrawal was made under fire, the disabled machine under tow by another.

Another point of tenacious defense was met by the 161st Infantry. Dalton’s regiment, attempting to move up to the line of departure, was told that only two pillboxes were to his immediate front. A reinforced platoon, making the initial attack, knocked out the two pillboxes but then uncovered another network of fortifications. A strong company was sent into the area. Two more pillboxes were knocked out, but 12 more were uncovered. At this point, the regiment moved in and knocked out these strong points before discovering more pillboxes. At last, with the 25 July attack impending, the regiment bypassed the fortifications and moved up to the line of departure. But before the pocketed strong point was reduced, “it took the combined efforts of two battalions, 3,000 rounds of 81mm mortar fire, the use of tanks, and the passage of seven day’s time.”

As General Griswold’s NGOF poised for the final make-or-break assault on Munda, his adversary was forced to face the contest with a dwindling stack of chips. XIV Corps intelligence officers estimated that General Sasaki had lost about 2,000 troops, including 1,318 counted dead, of the more than 4,500 which he had available earlier.23 His biggest gamble had failed–matched and beaten by a larger reserve. The 13th Regiment had now filtered back toward Munda to take up defensive positions to the northeast. The main units of the 229th Regiment, which had so bitterly contested the advance of the NGOF from the Barike, had taken steadily mounting casualties. Nearly cut off from the rest of the command by the pressure of the NGOF attack, the 229th took up final positions in the Munda hills, the battalions and companies considerably intermingled. General Sasaki, hoping to avoid some of the pounding aimed at Kokengola Hill, moved his headquarters from the airfield to the plantation north of it.

With the worsening situation in New Georgia came new realization and uneasiness that Japanese positions in Bougainville would be as quickly overrun. A seaplane carrier protected by five destroyers, trying to reach that island on 22 July, was attacked by a force of 16 dive bombers, 18 torpedo bombers (all from VMTB-143), and 16 heavy bombers which stopped the reinforcement effort cold. Only 189 men out of 618 Army personnel aboard the carrier survived. Also lost were 22 tanks, heavy equipment, guns, fuel, and ammunition destined for the Central Solomons defenders. The destroyers, however, managed to land some troops.

Sasaki continued to hope for reinforcements, but the Allied clamp on Kula Gulf was too tight. The only major unit to reach New Georgia was the understrength 230th Regiment, a remnant from the Guadalcanal withdrawal. Only about 400 men reached Munda, and these were put into the final defense around Kokengola Hill. The pincers movement of the NGOF and the concentrated shelling and bombing counted toward making the Central Solomons situation doubtful, but the blockade of Kula Gulf by Allied destroyer forces, torpedo boats, and night and day air patrols was perhaps the telling factor. “Consequently,” the enemy was forced to admit, “the fate of the Munda sector became a matter of time.”

General Sasaki, a realist, confessed that the Allies had complete material superiority and that a sustained push by the NGOF would collapse his command. Although he was envious of his opponents’ artillery, communication, and large landing boats, he was critical of the NGOF soldier–who, he said, advanced slowly, failing to take advantage of his strength and equipment:

They awaited the results of several days’ bombardments before a squad advanced. Positions were constructed and then strength increased. When we counterattacked at close quarters, they immediately retreated and with their main strength in the rear engaged our pursuing troops with rapid fire. The infantry did not attack in strength, but gradually forced a gap and then infiltrated. Despite the cover provided by tank firepower, the infantry would not come to grips with us and charge. The tanks were slow but were movable pillboxes which could stop and neutralize our fire. The defense of the airfield had also depleted Sasaki’s forces. The Japanese soldier, fatigued and muddy, was forced to fight in some instances on only one rice ball a day. Kept irritated and sleepless by the constant bombardment, the Munda defender was gaunt, weary, and hungry–but still determined. Despite the hardships, morale was high and the Japanese soldier was “prepared to die in honor, if necessary.”

The NGOF attack, now corps-size, opened on 25 July when five-inch shells rained upon the Munda area from seven destroyers. At 0630, heavy bombers began dropping 500-pound bombs and followed up with a rain of 120- and 300-pounders. Next came flights of torpedo bombers and scout bombers which dropped 2,000-pound and 1,000-pound bombs. In all, 171 planes took part in the saturation bombing of the area paralleling the entire front lines. Special attention was given to defensive positions in the hills near the lagoon and the heavily defended strong point in the center of the Japanese defensive line, which the NGOF troops called Horseshoe Mountain because of its U-shaped appearance. Bibolo Hill, guarding Munda, was also worked over. As the attack began, Japanese air units attempted to retaliate. At 0930, a flight of from 60 to 70 enemy fighters bore down on New Georgia, but the air cover provided by ComAirSols held off the attack. Additional Allied fighter planes, hastily scrambled from Segi’s newly completed airstrip, arrived in time to discourage a second attempt by the enemy planes.

NGOF artillery, firing parallel to the front lines, lashed the area to be attacked; and, with this awesome display of firepower to pave the way, the NGOF regiments began to move forward. One Japanese soldier, astounded by the volume of shelling, wondered, “Are they intending to smash Munda with naval and heavy artillery?”27 In the 43d Division sector, the 9th Defense Battalion tanks were called to rescue troops of 3/103 held up by a strong point. Aided by a flanking movement of the 172d’s 2d Battalion, the tanks slashed through the rear of the enemy positions facing the 103d, and the Japanese hastily abandoned their positions to flee toward the next line of hills. Elements of the 103d then pushed toward the relatively clear plantation area between Laiana and Munda. The advance was about 500 yards. The 3d Battalion of the 169th then moved out of reserve positions to fill the gap between the 103d and the 172d.

The main effort of the first day’s attack was made in the 37th Division zone. The 145th Infantry, the left flank unit, held its positions in order to straighten the NGOF lines, while the 161st and 148th pressed the attack. Stiff resistance from the defenders of Horseshoe Mountain held the 161st to a slight gain, but the 148th easily advanced about 600 yards against occasional fire from small outposts. By nightfall, the NGOF had pressed itself against the Japanese front lines.

Marine tanks were in support of both divisions the following day. A newly arrived weapon making a first appearance in the fighting, the flame thrower, was combined with tanks from the 9th Defense Battalion to crack a belt of 74 pillboxes on a 600-yard front which faced the 103d and 172d regiments. The day’s attack put the 43d Division well into the rear of the Laiana defenses. Farther north, the 145th continued to hold fast while the 161st attempted to crack the resistance to the front. A fresh Marine tank platoon, six of the machines from the 10th Defense Battalion, was committed to action in an attempt to clear the Horseshoe Mountain defenses.

After a five-hour struggle against the thick jungle and steep terrain, a total of 14 pillboxes had been demolished. The tanks, crashing through a thick underbrush tangled by fallen logs and stumps, finally located the enemy fortifications near a large clearing. Infantry support, however, was often pinned down by murderous enemy fire, and the tanks were forced to twist and turn, pivot and backtrack, to keep enemy riflemen from assaulting the machines with magnetic grenades. Three tanks were knocked out and abandoned before the Marine tankers could disengage from the furious fighting. The strong point remained, however, only partially silenced. That night, close-in artillery fire ringed the abandoned tanks so that enemy soldiers could not use them as pillboxes. On the far right, Colonel Baxter’s 148th Infantry continued to drive ahead against only slight resistance, advancing another 800 yards the second day. The move, however, put the 37th Division far ahead of the 43d Division. To straighten the lines, the next attack effort would be directed against the enemy in the south. If the 103d and 172d could press past the open south side of the Horseshoe Mountain defenses, the penetration might relieve the pressure on the central portion of the NGOF line.

Marine tanks were to spearhead the 43d Division attack in the south on the 27th, but the advance had hardly started before the lead tank was blasted by an antitank gun. Confusion resulted. The first tank, with casualties among the crew, stalled. As it started again and attempted to back up, it rammed the. second tank. A third tank was hit immediately by antitank fire. As a fourth and fifth machine moved up, one was blasted by magnetic mines and the other, after raking the jungle with machine gun fire, was also disabled by a grenade. All machines, however, by mutual fire assistance, managed to limp back to friendly lines. But the day’s attack virtually ended the combat efficiency of the 9th Defense Battalion tank platoon. Of the eight machines brought ashore, five had been disabled that day, a sixth had been disabled previously, and two others were under repair. Four tanks were reported deadlined permanently. In addition, the platoon had a number of drivers and crewmen killed or wounded.
Progress along the line on the 27th had been slight, for two localized strong points continued to hold up the advance. The 43d Division still faced a rugged defensive area in the south which repeated tank-infantry assaults had failed to dent, and the 37th Division was hung up against the Horseshoe Mountain line, kingpin of Sasaki’s resistance. To XIV Corps observers, it was plain that the capture of either strong point would result in the downfall of the other.

On 28 July, 3/103 followed four Marine tanks into attack on the coast area after a 30-minute mortar and artillery preparation. The attack proved to be the finest example of tank-infantry tactics of the campaign. With the machines guarded and supported by the infantry, the battalion advanced in a series of spurts. For the first time, the tanks were operating over relatively flat and open terrain with dry footing. Enemy opposition began to falter, then dwindled rapidly, as the attackers rushed ahead. Even three direct hits by antitank guns on the lead tank failed to stop the attack. The enemy gun emplacement was overrun a few moments later. Completely routing the enemy in a 500-yard advance, the infantrymen took up defensive positions while the tanks continued to range ahead. One tank was hit, but managed to limp back to the lines. The day’s advance had completely broken the Japanese defenses in the south.

In the north, the 161st jumped off in an attack without prior artillery preparation and caught the enemy unawares. In a brief skirmish, the 161st occupied a ridge which had held up the advance for two days. At this time, the attention of the NGOF was suddenly drawn to the right flank where the 148th had abruptly found itself in trouble. As Colonel Baxter ruefully admitted later: “Don’t forget, being too aggressive can often get you into as much hot water as doing nothing.”

Baxter’s regiment, pushing ahead against weak and scattered opposition, had reached the Munda-Bairoko trail, but in so doing had opened a hole between the 148th and 161st. With two battalions in the attack, the 148th had been unable to plug the gap, and, as at the Barike River earlier, alert Japanese soldiers quickly infiltrated. That night, the rear supply dump of the 148th was under determined attack by an enemy force of considerable size. Support troops managed to beat off a three-sided enemy assault by using ration boxes and supply cartons as barricades, much in the manner of frontier wagon trains under attack by Indians. Elements of the 148th, which had reached as far as Bibolo Hill west of the airfield to confirm indications that the enemy was abandoning that front, now rushed back to the defense of the supply dump. In this instance, the 148th virtually had to fight its way to the rear as about 250 Japanese in small bands with machine guns and mortars, probably remnants of the Tomonari Force, harassed the unit for three nights. The 148th reached the supply dump and established contact with the 161st before turning about to resume the attack toward the northern part of Bibolo Hill.

Although the 43d Division, now under the command of Major General John R. Hodge who had relieved General Hester, continued to push forward along the coast in rapidly increasing gains, the center of the NGOF continued to be snagged on the enemy defenses on Horseshoe Mountain. First break in the barrier came on 30 July when the 172d attacked and occupied a small ridge complex southeast of the main defenses. The following day, 31 July, the 169th attacked and completed the reduction of the southern anchor of the Japanese strong point. The advance, however, still failed to break the Horseshoe defenses. On 1 August, the 43d Division punched through to the outer taxiway of Munda airfield. The move put the Allied force almost in the rear of Sasaki’s last strong point, and enemy resistance on Horseshoe Mountain suddenly dissolved. The airfield defenders had at last succumbed to the steady pressure of the NGOF.

The withdrawal had been ordered after the New Georgia Defense Force had become steadily weakened by lack of ammunition, food, and additional troops. Although a few destroyers managed to make Kolombangara, practically all Japanese transportation and supply lines had been strangled. On 29 July, an officer courier of the Eighth Fleet had arrived at Munda to relay to Sasaki the order to fall back to the line of hills ringing Munda for a last-ditch stand. The airfield was to be defended even at the price of Kolombangara. Reinforcements would come. Following instructions, Sasaki pulled what scattered elements he could find back to his last defense. As the campaign drew to a close, his line was held by the 229th Regiment on the south part of Bibolo Hill with the undermanned 230th Regiment on Kokengola Hill. On the extreme left flank were units of Tomonari’s 13th Regiment29 Remnants of the 8th CSNLF were combined with Army units for a last-ditch stand.

At the close of the fighting on 2 August, the 43d Division was perched on the last low row of hills overlooking Munda airfield, and the 37th Division was gradually tightening the lines around the northern part of the airfield. The following day, Hodge’s troops captured the southern part of Bibolo Hill while the 37th Division moved cautiously but swiftly through isolated pillbox areas northwest of the field. The 148th, reaching the Munda-Bairoko trail once more, ambushed a large force of enemy fleeing the area.

As the two divisions resumed the attack on 4 August, the only opposition facing the 43d Division came from Kokengola Hill in the middle of the airfield. While a rain of artillery and mortar shells blasted the hill, Marine tanks from the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions roamed about the airfield, flushing snipers and blasting rubble-hidden fortifications. The tanks from the 11th Defense Battalion had been hurriedly dispatched to take part in the assault of the airfield after the 9th Battalion’s tanks had been deadlined. Alerted on Tulagi since 30 June, the Marine tankers reached New Georgia on 3 August, just in time to join the final attack.

North of Munda, while the 145th mopped up the last shreds of opposition, the 161st and 148th Regiments plunged rapidly through to Diamond Narrows. In that final drive, the 37th Division soldiers staged a slashing, stabbing charge that overwhelmed all outposts. That night, the last shots fired were those sent after Japanese trying to swim to islands across the Narrows.

The following day, 5 August, tanks of the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions–accompanied as a courtesy gesture by the sole remaining operational tank of the 9th Defense Battalion–made five sorties over the airfield. The only fire received was from Kokengola Hill, and this the Marine tanks quickly squelched with 37mm rounds. At 1410, the airfield was officially declared secured, and Allied troops took over the enemy fortifications ringing the war prize which had taken more than a month of bitter combat to obtain. Along the blasted and cratered runways were hulks of 30 enemy airplanes, some still in revetments. All were stripped of armament and instruments. None would ever fly again. Japanese supplies, including tasty tinned foods, beer, sake, and rice gave triumphant infantrymen a change from the weary routine of combat rations.

Beach defenses were strengthened the next day, and grimy soldiers bathed, washed clothes, and rested from the tough grind of battle. Patrols, ranging far to the north, reported no opposition. The patrols’ only result was the capture of one forlorn Japanese soldier, whom one officer described as typical of the enemy who were thwarted in their attempts to hold their precious airfield: “Injured, tired, sick, no food, dirty torn clothes, little ammunition and a battered rusty rifle.” For both victor and vanquished, the campaign had been hard.

The fall of Munda almost coincided with another disaster which heaped additional misery upon the Japanese. In a belated and ill-fated attempt to help Sasaki hold the Central Solomons, the Seventeenth Army at Bougainville organized two well-equipped infantry battalions, bolstered by the addition of artillery and automatic weapons. The troops were taken from the 6th and 38th Divisions. The reinforcement unit started for New Georgia on the night of 6 August in four destroyers. As the ships steamed through the north entrance of Vella Gulf trying to make Kolombangara, an ambush set by an Allied force of six destroyers (Commander Frederick Moosbrugger) struck suddenly. In a matter of moments, three of the Japanese destroyers were in flames and sinking. The ambush in Vella Gulf resulted in the loss of 820 Army troops and 700 crew members in a single stroke. It was the last attempt by the Japanese to reinforce the Central Solomons.

Munda’s capture was marked by the commitment of the 27th Infantry from Major General J. Lawton Collins’ 25th Division. Augmented by division support troops, the regiment joined the NGOF on 2 August and took over the mission of guarding supply and communication lines along the 37th Division’s right flank. After Munda was taken, the 161st Infantry reverted to 25th Division control and joined the 27th Infantry in a new push toward Kula Gulf.

With hardly a pause at the airfield, the two regiments pivoted north to complete the rout of all enemy forces in the area between Diamond Narrows and Bairoko Harbor. Only spotty resistance was encountered, for increased barge activity revealed that the Japanese were feverishly trying to evacuate the scattered remnants of the New Georgia garrison. After two weeks of locating and eliminating Japanese positions north of Munda, the 27th Infantry declared its zone secured. The 161st, meanwhile, had advanced toward Bairoko after knocking out enemy strong points on two jungle peaks. The final ground action on New Georgia came on 25 August, when the 161st Infantry combined with Liversedge’s force to attack the harbor area from three sides–only to find that the Japanese had just completed evacuation of the area. All organized enemy resistance on the island was ended.

Rendova: Final Phase…

During the period that NGOF soldiers slogged their way through jungle mud on the way to the airfield, the Rendova force settled into a routine of firing artillery missions and combatting enemy air raids. After the initial units of General Hester’s force departed for New Georgia, the harbor at Rendova became the focal point for all reinforcements, supplies, and equipment moving into the Central Solomons.

During July, daily transport shuttles from the rear echelons on Guadalcanal poured a total of 25,556 Army, 1,547 Navy, and 1,645 Marine troops into Rendova for eventual commitment in New Georgia. Additionally, the beaches at Rendova and its offshore islands became piled high with rations, oil and lubricants, ammunition, vehicles, and other freight, all of which found its way to the NGOF.

This bustling point of entry–with troops unloading and stockpiles of material lining the beaches–was a tempting target to the Japanese. The Rendova air patrol of 32 fighter planes constantly flying an umbrella over the island drained the resources of ComAirSols, but, at the same time, was a successful deterrent to enemy attacks. During the New Georgia campaign, only three enemy hits were registered on ships in the harbor by bombers or torpedo bombers, and only one horizontal bombing attack was able to close on Rendova during the daylight hours when the fighter umbrella was on station.

Playing a major role in the defense of the harbor, the 90mm batteries and the Special Weapons Group of the 9th Defense Battalion shot down a total of 24 enemy planes during the month of July. For the Marine antiaircraft crews, the defense of Rendova was virtually an around-the-clock operation which was a deadly contest of skill between enemy and defender. The Japanese tried all methods of attack, including hitting the target area with planes from various directions and altitudes simultaneously. Since large areas of the search radar screens were blocked by mountains on New Georgia, this approach route became the favorite of the Japanese pilots. Warnings for attacks from this direction were so short as to be almost useless, so Marines were forced to keep at least one 90mm battery manned continually with fire control radars constantly in operation. The Marines found that early in the campaign the enemy pilots dropped their bomb loads as soon as they were fired upon or pinpointed by searchlights. Later attacks, however, were pressed home with determination, and only well-directed shooting deterred them.

Marines also had a prominent part in the artillery support of the NGOF. After registering on Munda field prior to the NGOF overland attack, the Marine 155mm guns began a systematic leveling of all known enemy installations and bivouac areas. Since the exact location of the NGOF front lines was ill-defined most of the time, the Marine group left the close support firing missions to Army 105mm units which were much nearer to the combat. The Marine guns were directed instead against rear installations, supply and reinforcement routes, and targets of opportunity.

Most of the firing missions were requested by NGOF headquarters with corrections directed by aerial observers or spotters at the 43d Division observation post. The Marine group had notable success interdicting supply dumps, bivouac areas, and enemy positions in the immediate vicinity of Munda field. Cooperation between air spotters from the 192d Field Artillery Battalion and the 155mm Group of the 9th Defense Battalion reached such a high state of efficiency that missions were fired with a minimum of time and adjustment. The Marines were occasionally rewarded by the sight of towering columns of smoke, indicating that a supply or ammunition dump had been hit.

Ammunition problems plagued the 155mm batteries. On the 13th of July, just as the NGOF stalled against General Sasaki’s defenses, an ammunition restriction was placed on the Marine batteries and the number of rounds expended dropped abruptly. After four days of limited firing, all shooting was stopped entirely while the NGOF reorganized in New Georgia. The only mission fired during this interval was on 20 July in answer to an emergency request to keep Japanese troops from moving back into an area which had been shelled and neutralized previously. The ammunition limitation resulted from powder becoming wet and unserviceable in containers broken from much handling. Further compounding the difficulties was the fact that during the period of ammunition scarcity, 11 miscellaneous lots of powder were used which resulted in varying initial velocities. Marines could only guess from one shot to another whether the shell would be over the target or fall short. When the powder situation was remedied and the 43d and 37th Divisions began the final drive for Munda, the Marine gunners, now experienced field artillerymen, returned to firing accurate missions.

After the fall of Munda, the 9th Defense Battalion began the move to New Georgia to help defend the newly won prize. Antiaircraft batteries were placed around the airfield and 155mm gun positions established on offshore islands and at Diamond Narrows. The 9th was relieved on Rendova by the Marine 11th Defense Battalion, which moved to that island from Guadalcanal to take part in the final stages of the Central Solomons fighting.

Although the capture of Munda was essentially an Army operation and the number of Marines participating was proportionately small, the contributions of the Marine Corps tanks, artillery, and antiaircraft units were essential to the success of the operation. Their exploits are an integral part of the story of the campaign. A handful of Marine tanks spearheaded most of the successful attacks; and even though handicapped by the rugged terrain, the armored vehicles were usually the factor which tipped the balance to the Americans’ favor. Victory at Munda was won by inter-service teamwork–one of the frequent examples of coordinated Army, Navy, and Marine Corps effort in World War II…

Cape Gloucester…

On the early morning of 26 December 1943, Marines poised off the coast of Japanese-held New Britain could barely make out the mile-high bulk of Mount Talawe against a sky growing light with the approach of dawn. Flame billowed from the guns of American and Australian cruisers and destroyers, shattering the early morning calm. The men of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General William H. Rupertus, a veteran of expeditionary duty in Haiti and China and of the recently concluded Guadalcanal campaign, steeled themselves as they waited for daylight and the signal to assault the YELLOW Beaches near Cape Gloucester in the northwestern part of the island. For 90 minutes, the fire support ships blazed away, trying to neutralize whole areas rather than destroy pinpoint targets, since dense jungle concealed most of the individual fortifications and supply dumps. After the day dawned and H-Hour drew near, Army airmen joined the preliminary bombardment. Four-engine Consolidated Liberator B-24 bombers, flying so high that the Marines offshore could barely see them, dropped 500-pound bombs inland of the beaches, scoring a hit on a fuel dump at the Cape Gloucester airfield complex and igniting a fiery geyser that leapt hundreds of feet into the air. Twin-engine North American Mitchell B-25 medium bombers and Douglas Havoc A-20 light bombers, attacking from lower altitude, pounced on the only Japanese antiaircraft gun rash enough to open fire.

The warships then shifted their attention to the assault beaches, and the landing craft carrying the two battalions of Colonel Julian N. Frisbie’s 7th Marines started shoreward. An LCI [Landing Craft, Infantry] mounting multiple rocket launchers took position on the flank of the first wave bound for each of the two beaches and unleashed a barrage intended to keep the enemy pinned down after the cruisers and destroyers shifted their fire to avoid endangering the assault troops. At 0746, the LCVPs [Landing Craft, Vehicles and Personnel] of the first wave bound for YELLOW Beach 1 grounded on a narrow strip of black sand that measured perhaps 500 yards from one flank to the other, and the leading elements of the 3d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William K. Williams, started inland. Two minutes later, Lieutenant Colonel John E. Weber’s 1st Battalion, on the left of the other unit, emerged on YELLOW Beach 2, separated from YELLOW 1 by a thousand yards of jungle and embracing 700 yards of shoreline. Neither battalion encountered organized resistance. A smoke screen, which later drifted across the beaches and hampered the approach of later waves of landing craft, blinded the Japanese observers on Target Hill overlooking the beachhead, and no defenders manned the trenches and log-and-earth bunkers that might have raked the assault force with fire.

The YELLOW Beaches, on the east coast of the broad peninsula that culminated at Cape Gloucester, provided access to the main objective, the two airfields at the northern tip of the cape. By capturing this airfield complex, the reinforced 1st Marine Division, designated the BACKHANDER Task Force, would enable Allied airmen to intensify their attack on the Japanese fortress of Rabaul, roughly 300 miles away at the northeastern extremity of New Britain. Although the capture of the YELLOW Beaches held the key to the New Britain campaign, two subsidiary landings also took place: the first on 15 December at Cape Merkus on Arawe Bay along the south coast; and the second on D-Day, 26 December, at GREEN Beach on the northwest coast opposite the main landing sites. The first subsidiary landing took place on 15 December 1943 at distant Cape Merkus, across the Arawe channel from the islet of Arawe. Although it had a limited purpose–disrupting the movement of motorized barges and other small craft that moved men and supplies along the southern coast of New Britain and diverting attention from Cape Gloucester–it nevertheless encountered stiff resistance. Marine amphibian tractor crews used both the new, armored Buffalo and the older, slower, and more vulnerable Alligator to carry soldiers of the 112th Cavalry, who made the main landings on ORANGE Beach at the western edge of Cape Merkus. Fire from the destroyer USS Conyngham, supplemented by rocket-equipped DUKWs and a submarine chaser that doubled as a control craft, and a last-minute bombing by B-25s silenced the beach defenses and enabled the Buffaloes to crush the surviving Japanese machine guns that survived the naval and aerial bombardment. Less successful were two diversionary landings by soldiers paddling ashore in rubber boats. Savage fire forced one group to turn back short of its objective east of ORANGE Beach, but the other gained a lodgment on Pilelo Island and killed the handful of Japanese found there. An enemy airman had reported that the assault force was approaching Cape Merkus, and fighters and bombers from Rabaul attacked within two hours of the landing. Sporadic air strikes continued throughout December, although with diminishing ferocity, and the Japanese shifted troops to meet the threat in the south.

The other secondary landing took place on the morning of 26 December. The 1,500-man STONEFACE Group–designated Battalion Landing Team 21 and built around the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel James M. Masters, Sr.–started toward GREEN Beach, supported by 5-inch gunfire from the American destroyers Reid and Smith. LCMs [Landing Craft, Medium] carried DUKW amphibian trucks, driven by soldiers and fitted with rocket launchers. The DUKWs opened fire from the landing craft as the assault force approached the beach, performing the same function as the rocket-firing LCIs at the YELLOW Beaches on the opposite side of the peninsula. The first wave landed at 0748, with two others following it ashore. The Marines encountered no opposition as they carved out a beachhead 1,200 yards wide and extending 500 yards inland. The STONEFACE Group had the mission of severing the coastal trail that passed just west of Mount Talawe, thus preventing the passage of reinforcements to the Cape Gloucester airfields.

The trail net proved difficult to find and follow. Villagers cleared garden plots, tilled them until the jungle reclaimed them, and then abandoned the land and moved on, leaving a maze of trails, some faint and others fresh, that led nowhere. The Japanese were slow, however, to take advantage of the confusion caused by the tangle of paths. Not until the early hours of 30 December, did the enemy attack the GREEN Beach force. Taking advantage of heavy rain that muffled sounds and reduced visibility, the Japanese closed with the Marines, who called down mortar fire within 15 yards of their defensive wire. A battery of the 11th Marines, reorganized as an infantry unit because the cannoneers could not find suitable positions for their 75mm howitzers, shored up the defenses. One Marine in particular, Gunnery Sergeant Guiseppe Guilano, Jr., seemed to materialize at critical moments, firing a light machine gun from the hip; his heroism earned him the Navy Cross. Some of the Japanese succeeded in penetrating the position, but a counterattack led by First Lieutenant Jim G. Paulos of Company G killed them or drove them off. The savage fighting cost Combat Team 21 six Marines killed and 17 wounded; at least 89 Japanese perished, and five surrendered. On 11 January 1944, the reinforced battalion set out to rejoin the division, the troops moving overland, the heavy equipment and the wounded traveling in landing craft. After the fierce battles at Guadalcanal in the South Pacific Area, the 1st Marine Division underwent rehabilitation in Australia, which lay within General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area. Once the division had recovered from the ordeal of the Solomon Islands fighting, it gave MacArthur a trained amphibious unit that he desperately needed to fulfill his ambitions for the capture of Rabaul. Theoretically, the 1st Marine Division was subordinate to General Sir Thomas Blamey, the Australian officer in command of the Allied Land Forces, and Blamey’s nominal subordinate, Lieutenant General Walter Kreuger, commanding the Sixth U.S. Army. But in actual practice, MacArthur bypassed Blamey and dealt directly with Kreuger.

When the 1st Marine Division became available to MacArthur, he still intended to seize Rabaul and break the back of Japanese resistance in the region. Always concerned about air cover for his amphibious operations, MacArthur planned to use the Marines to capture the airfields at Cape Gloucester. Aircraft based there would then support the division when, after a brief period of recuperation, it attacked Rabaul. The decision to bypass Rabaul eliminated the landings there, but the Marines would nevertheless seize the Cape Gloucester airfields, which seemed essential for neutralizing the base.

The initial concept of operations, which called for the conquest of
western New Britain preliminary to storming Rabaul, split the 1st Marine Division, sending Combat Team A (the 5th Marines, reinforced, less one battalion in reserve) against Gasmata on the southern coast of the island, while Combat Team C (the 7th Marines, reinforced) seized a beachhead near the principal objective, the airfields on Cape Gloucester. The Army’s 503d Parachute Infantry would exploit the Cape Gloucester beachhead, while Combat Team B (the reinforced 1st Marines) provided a reserve for the operation.

Revisions came swiftly, and by late October 1943 the plan no longer mentioned capturing Rabaul, tacit acceptance of the modified Allied strategy, and also satisfied an objection raised by General Rupertus. The division commander had protested splitting Combat Team C, and Kreuger agreed to employ all three battalions for the main assault, substituting a battalion from Combat Team B, the 1st Marines, for the landing on the west coast. The air borne landing at Cape Gloucester remained in the plan, however, even though Rupertus had warned that bad weather could delay the drop and jeopardize the Marine battalions already fighting ashore. The altered version earmarked Army troops for the landing on the southern coast, which Kreuger’s staff shifted from Gasmata to Arawe, a site closer to Allied airfields and farther from Rabaul with its troops and aircraft. Although Combat Team B would put one battalion ashore southwest of the airfields, the remaining two battalions of the 1st Marines were to follow up the assault on Cape Gloucester by Combat Team C. The division reserve, Combat Team A, might employ elements of the 5th Marines to reinforce the Cape Gloucester landings or conduct operations against the offshore islands west of New Britain. During a routine briefing on 14 December, just one day before the landings at Arawe, MacArthur offhandedly asked how the Marines felt about the scheme of maneuver at Cape Gloucester. Colonel Edwin A. Pollock, the division’s operations officer, seized the opportunity and declared that the Marines objected to the plan because it depended on a rapid advance inland by a single reinforced regiment to prevent heavy losses among the lightly armed paratroops. Better, he believed, to strengthen the amphibious forces than to try for an aerial envelopment that might fail or be delayed by the weather. Although he made no comment at the time, MacArthur may well have heeded what Pollock said; whatever the reason, Kreuger’s staff eliminated the airborne portion, directed the two battalions of the 1st Marines still with Combat Team B to land immediately after the assault waves, sustaining the momentum of their attack, and alerted the division reserve to provide further reinforcement.

A mixture of combat and service troops operated in western New Britain. The 1st and 8th Shipping Regiments used motorized barges to shuttle troops and cargo along the coast from Rabaul to Cape Merkus, Cape Gloucester, and across Dampier Strait to Rooke Island. For longer movements, for example to New Guinea, the 5th Sea Transport Battalion manned a fleet of trawlers and schooners, supplemented by destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy when speed seemed essential. The troops actually defending western New Britain included the Matsuda Force, established in September 1943 under the command of Major General Iwao Matsuda, a specialist in military transportation, who nevertheless had commanded an infantry regiment in Manchuria. When he arrived on New Britain in February of that year, Matsuda took over the 4th Shipping Command, an administrative headquarters that provided staff officers for the Matsuda Force. His principal combat units were the understrength 65th Infantry Brigade–consisting of the 141st Infantry, battle-tested in the conquest of the Philippines, plus artillery and antiaircraft units–and those components of the 51st Division not committed to the unsuccessful defense of New Guinea. Matsuda established the headquarters for his jury-rigged force near Kalingi, along the coastal trail northwest of Mount Talawe, within five miles of the Cape Gloucester airfields, but the location would change to reflect the tactical situation.

As the year 1943 wore on, the Allied threat to New Britain increased. Consequently, General Hitoshi Imamura, who commanded the Eighth Area Army from a headquarters at Rabaul, assigned the Matsuda Force to the 17th Division, under Lieutenant General Yasushi Sakai, recently arrived from Shanghai. Four convoys were to have carried Sakai’s division, but the second and third lost one ship to submarine torpedoes and another to a mine, while air attack damaged a third. Because of these losses, which claimed some 1,200 lives, the last convoy did not sail, depriving the division of more than 3,000 replacements and service troops. Sakai deployed the best of his forces to western New Britain, entrusting them to Matsuda’s tactical command. The landings at Cape Merkus in mid-December caused Matsuda to shift his troops to meet the threat, but this redeployment did not account for the lack of resistance at the YELLOW Beaches. The Japanese general, familiar with the terrain of western New Britain, did not believe that the Americans would storm these strips of sand extending only a few yards inland and backed by swamp. Matsuda might have thought differently had he seen the American maps, which labeled the area beyond the beaches as “damp flat,” even though aerial photographs taken after preliminary air strikes had revealed no shadow within the bomb craters, evidence of a water level high enough to fill these depressions to the brim. Since the airfields were the obvious prize, Matsuda did not believe that the Marines would plunge into the muck and risk becoming bogged down short of their goal.

Besides forfeiting the immediate advantage of opposing the assault force at the water’s edge, Matsuda’s troops suffered the long-term, indirect effects of the erosion of Japanese fortunes that began at Guadalcanal and on New Guinea and continued at New Georgia and Bougainville. The Allies, in addition, dominated the skies over New Britain, blunting the air attacks on the Cape Merkus beachhead and bombing almost at will throughout the island. Although air strikes caused little measurable damage, save at Rabaul, they demoralized the defenders, who already suffered shortages of supplies and medicine because of air and submarine attacks on seagoing convoys and coastal shipping. An inadequate network of primitive trails, which tended to hug the coastline, increased Matsuda’s dependence on barges, but this traffic, hampered by the American capture of Cape Merkus, proved vulnerable to aircraft and later to torpedo craft and improvised gunboats.

The two battalions that landed on the YELLOW Beaches–Weber’s on the left and Williams’s on the right–crossed the sands in a few strides, and plunged through a wall of undergrowth into the damp flat, where a Marine might be slogging through knee-deep mud, step into a hole, and end up, as one on them said, “damp up to your neck.” A counterattack delivered as the assault waves wallowed through the damp flat might have inflicted severe casualties, but Matsuda lacked the vehicles or roads to shift his troops in time to exploit the terrain. Although immobile on the ground, the Japanese retaliated by air. American radar detected a flight of enemy aircraft approaching from Rabaul; Army Air Forces P-38s intercepted, but a few Japanese bombers evaded the fighters, sank the destroyer Brownson with two direct hits, and damaged another.

The first enemy bombers arrived as a squadron of Army B-25s flew over the LSTs [Landing Ships, Tank] enroute to attack targets at Borgen Bay south of the YELLOW Beaches. Gunners on board the ships opened fire at the aircraft milling overhead, mistaking friend for foe, downing two American bombers, and damaging two others. The survivors, shaken by the experience, dropped their bombs too soon, hitting the artillery positions of the 11th Marines at the left flank of YELLOW Beach 1, killing one and wounding 14 others. A battalion commander in the artillery regiment recalled “trying to dig a hole with my nose,” as the bombs exploded, “trying to get down into the ground just a little bit further.”

By the time of the air action on the afternoon of D-Day, the 1st Marine Division had already established a beachhead. The assault battalions of the 7th Marines initially pushed ahead, capturing Target Hill on the left flank, and then paused to await reinforcements. During the day, two more battalions arrived. The 3d Battalion, 1st Marines–designated Landing Team 31 and led by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph F. Hankins, a Reserve officer who also was a crack shooter–came ashore at 0815 on YELLOW Beach 1, passed through the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, and veered to the northwest to lead the way toward the airfields. By 0845, the 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Odell M. Conoley, landed and began wading through the damp flat to take its place between the regiment’s 1st and 3d Battalions as the beachhead expanded. The next infantry unit, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, reached YELLOW Beach 1 at 1300 to join that regiment’s 3d Battalion, commanded by Hankins, in advancing on the airfields. The 11th Marines, despite the accidental bombing, set up its artillery, an operation in which the amphibian tractor played a vital part. Some of the tractors brought lightweight 75mm howitzers from the LSTs directly to the battery firing positions; others broke trail through the undergrowth for tractors pulling the heavier 105mm weapons.

Meanwhile, Army trucks loaded with supplies rolled ashore from the LSTs. Logistics plans called for these vehicles to move forward and function as mobile supply dumps, but the damp flat proved impassable by wheeled vehicles, and the drivers tended to abandon the trucks to avoid being left behind when the shipping moved out, hurried along by the threat from Japanese bombers. Ultimately, Marines had to build roads, corduroying them with logs when necessary, or shift the cargo to amphibian tractors. Despite careful planning and hard work on D-Day, the convoy sailed with about 100 tons of supplies still on board. While reinforcements and cargo crossed the beach, the Marines advancing inland encountered the first serious Japanese resistance. Shortly after 1000 on 26 December, Hankins’s 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, pushed ahead, advancing in a column of companies because a swamp on the left narrowed the frontage. Fire from camouflaged bunkers killed Captain Joseph A. Terzi, commander of Company K, posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism while leading the attack, and his executive officer, Captain Philip A. Wilheit. The sturdy bunkers proved impervious to bazooka rockets, which failed to detonate in the soft earth covering the structures, and to fire from 37mm guns, which could not penetrate the logs protecting the occupants. An Alligator that had delivered supplies for Company K tried to crush one of the bunkers but became wedged between two trees. Japanese riflemen burst from cover and killed the tractor’s two machine gunners, neither of them protected by armor, before the driver could break free. Again lunging ahead, the tractor caved in one bunker, silencing its fire and enabling Marine riflemen to isolate three others and destroy them in succession, killing 25 Japanese. A platoon of M4 Sherman tanks joined the company in time to lead the advance beyond this first strongpoint.

Japanese service troops–especially the men of the 1st Shipping Engineers and the 1st Debarkation Unit–provided most of the initial opposition, but Matsuda had alerted his nearby infantry units to converge on the beachhead. One enemy battalion, under Major Shinichi Takabe, moved into position late on the afternoon of D-Day, opposite Conoley’s 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, which clung to a crescent-shaped position, both of its flanks sharply refused and resting on the marshland to the rear. After sunset, the darkness beneath the forest canopy became absolute, pierced only by muzzle flashes as the intensity of the firing increased. The Japanese clearly were preparing to counterattack. Conoley’s battalion had a dwindling supply of ammunition, but amphibian tractors could not begin making supply runs until it became light enough for the drivers to avoid tree roots and fallen trunks as they navigated the damp flat. To aid the battalion in the dangerous period before the skies grew pale, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. Puller, the executive officer of the 7th Marines, organized the men of the regimental Headquarters and Service Company into carrying parties to load themselves down with ammunition and wade through the dangerous swamp. One misstep, and a Marine burdened with bandoliers of rifle ammunition or containers of mortar shells could stumble and drown. When Colonel Frisbie, the regimental commander, decided to reinforce Conoley’s Marines with Battery D, 1st Special Weapons Battalion, Puller had the men leave their 37mm guns behind and carry ammunition instead. A guide from Conoley’s headquarters met the column that Puller had pressed into service and began leading them forward, when a blinding downpour, driven by a monsoon gale, obscured landmarks and forced the heavily laden Marines to wade blindly onward, each man clinging to the belt of the one ahead of him. Not until 0805, some twelve hours after the column started off, did the men reach their goal, put down their loads, and take up their rifles.

Conoley’s Marines had in the meantime been fighting for their lives since the storm first struck. A curtain of rain prevented mortar crews from seeing their aiming stakes, indeed, the battalion commander described the men as firing “by guess and by God.” Mud got on the small-arms ammunition, at times jamming rifles and machine guns. Although forced to abandon waterfilled foxholes, the defenders hung on. With the coming of dawn, Takabe’s soldiers gravitated toward the right flank of Conoley’s unit, perhaps in a conscious effort to outflank the position, or possibly forced in that direction by the fury of the battalion’s defensive fire. An envelopment was in the making when Battery D arrived and moved into the threatened area, forcing the Japanese to break off the action and regroup.

The 1st Marine Division’s overall plan of maneuver called for Colonel Frisbie’s Combat Team C, the reinforced 7th Marines, to hold a beach head anchored at Target Hill, while Combat Team B, Colonel William A. Whaling’s 1st Marines, reinforced but without the 2d Battalion ashore at GREEN Beach, advanced on the airfields. Because of the buildup in preparation for the attack on Conoley’s battalion, General Rupertus requested that Kreuger release the division reserve, Combat Team A, Colonel John T. Selden’s reinforced 5th Marines. The Army general agreed, sending the 1st and 2d Battalions, followed a day later by the 3d Battalion. The division commander decided to land the team on BLUE Beach, roughly three miles to the right of the YELLOW Beaches. The use of BLUE Beach would have placed the 5th Marines closer to Cape Gloucester and the airfields, but not every element of Selden’s Combat Team A got the word. Some units touched down on the YELLOW Beaches instead and had to move on foot or in vehicles to the intended destination.

While Rupertus laid plans to commit the reserve, Whaling’s combat team advanced toward the Cape Gloucester airfields. The Marines encountered only sporadic resistance at first, but Army Air Forces light bombers spotted danger in their path–a maze of trenches and bunkers stretching inland from a promontory that soon earned the nickname Hell’s Point. The Japanese had built these defenses to protect the beaches where Matsuda expected the Americans to land. Leading the advance, the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel Hankins, struck the Hell’s Point position on the flank, rather than head-on, but overrunning the complex nevertheless would prove a deadly task.

Rupertus delayed the attack by Hankins to provide time for the division reserve, Selden’s 5th Marines, to come ashore. On the morning of 28 December, after a bombardment by the 2d Battalion, 11th Marines, and strikes by Army Air Forces A-20s, the assault troops encountered another delay, waiting for an hour so that an additional platoon of M4 Sherman medium tanks could increase the weight of the attack. At 1100, Hankins’s 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, moved ahead, Company I and the supporting tanks leading the way. Whaling, at about the same time, sent his regiment’s Company A through swamp and jungle to seize the inland point of the ridge extending from Hell’s Point. Despite the obstacles in its path, Company A burst from the jungle at about 1145 and advanced across a field of tall grass until stopped by intense Japanese fire. By late afternoon, Whaling abandoned the maneuver. Both Company A and the defenders were exhausted and short of ammunition; the Marines withdrew behind a barrage fired by the 2d Battalion, 11th Marines, and the Japanese abandoned their positions after dark.

Roughly 15 minutes after Company A assaulted the inland terminus of the ridge, Company I and the attached tanks collided with the main defenses, which the Japanese had modified since the 26 December landings, cutting new gunports in bunkers, hacking fire lanes in the undergrowth, and shifting men and weapons to oppose an attack along the coastal trail parallel to shore instead of over the beach. Advancing in a drenching rain, the Marines encountered a succession of jungle covered, mutually supporting positions protected by barbed wire and mines. The hour’s wait for tanks paid dividends, as the Shermans, protected by riflemen, crushed bunkers and destroyed the weapons inside. During the fight, Company I drifted to its left, and Hankins used Company K, reinforced with a platoon of medium tanks, to close the gap between the coastal track and Hell’s Point itself. This unit employed the same tactics as Company I. A rifle squad followed each of the M4 tanks, which cracked open the bunkers, twelve in all, and fired inside; the accompanying riflemen then killed anyone attempting to fight or flee. More than 260 Japanese perished in the fighting at Hell’s Point, at the cost of 9 Marines killed and 36 wounded.

With the defenses of Hell’s Point shattered, the two battalions of the 5th Marines, which came ashore on the morning of 29 December, joined later that day in the advance on the airfield. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Major William H. Barba, and the 2d Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Lewis H. Walt, moved out in a column, Barba’s unit leading the way. In front of the Marines lay a swamp, described as only a few inches deep, but the depth, because of the continuing downpour, proved as much as five feet, “making it quite hard,” Selden acknowledged, “for some of the youngsters who were not much more than 5 feet in height.” The time lost in wading through the swamp delayed the attack, and the leading elements chose a piece of open and comparatively dry ground, where they established a perimeter while the rest of the force caught up.

–11–
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, attacking through that regiment’s 3d Battalion, encountered only scattered resistance, mainly sniper fire, as it pushed along the coast beyond Hell’s Point. Half-tracks carrying 75mm guns, medium tanks, artillery, and even a pair of rocket-firing DUKWs supported the advance, which brought the battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Walker A. Reaves, to the edge of Airfield No. 2. When daylight faded on 29 December, the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, held a line extending inland from the coast; on its left were the 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, and the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, forming a semicircle around the airfield.

The Japanese officer responsible for defending the airfields, Colonel Kouki Sumiya of the 53d Infantry, had fallen back on 29 December, trading space for time as he gathered his surviving troops for the defense of Razorback Hill, a ridge running diagonally across the southwestern approaches to Airfield No. 2. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 5th Marines, attacked on 30 December supported by tanks and artillery. Sumiya’s troops had constructed some sturdy bunkers, but the chest-high grass that covered Razorback Hill did not impede the attackers like the jungle at Hell’s Point. The Japanese fought gallantly to hold the position, at times stalling the advancing Marines, but the defenders had neither the numbers nor the firepower to prevail. Typical of the day’s fighting, one platoon of Company F from Selden’s regiment beat back two separate banzai attacks, before tanks enabled the Marines to shatter the bunkers in their path and kill the enemy within. By dusk on 30 December, the landing force had overrun the defenses of the airfields, and at noon of the following day General Rupertus had the American flag raised beside the wreckage of a Japanese bomber at Airfield No. 2, the larger of the airstrips.

The 1st Marine Division thus seized the principal objective of the Cape Gloucester fighting, but the airstrips proved of marginal value to the Allied forces. Indeed, the Japanese had already abandoned the prewar facility, Airfield No. 1, which was thickly overgrown with tall, coarse kunai grass. Craters from American bombs pockmarked the surface of Airfield No. 2, and after its capture Japanese hit-and-run raiders added a few of their own, despite antiaircraft fire from the 12th Defense Battalion. Army aviation engineers worked around the clock to return Airfield No. 2 to operation, a task that took until the end of January 1944. Army aircraft based here defended against air attacks for as long as Rabaul remained an active air base and also supported operations on the ground.

The 1st Marine Division thus seized the principal objective of the Cape Gloucester fighting, but the airstrips proved of marginal value to the Allied forces. Indeed, the Japanese had already abandoned the prewar facility, Airfield No. 1, which was thickly overgrown with tall, coarse kunai grass. Craters from American bombs pockmarked the surface of Airfield No. 2, and after its capture Japanese hit-and-run raiders added a few of their own, despite antiaircraft fire from the 12th Defense Battalion. Army aviation engineers worked around the clock to return Airfield No. 2 to operation, a task that took until the end of January 1944. Army aircraft based here defended against air attacks for as long as Rabaul remained an active air base and also supported operations on the ground.

As Puller’s Marines pushed toward Gilnit on the Itni River, they killed perhaps 75 Japanese and captured one straggler, along with some weapons and odds and ends of equipment. An abandoned pack contained an American flag, probably captured by a soldier of the 141st Infantry during Japan’s conquest of the Philippines. After reaching Gilnit, the patrol fanned out but encountered no opposition. Puller’s Marines made contact with an Army patrol from the Cape Merkus beachhead and then headed toward the north coast, beginning on 16 February.

To the west, Company B, 1st Marines, boarded landing craft on 12 February and crossed the Dampier Strait to occupy Rooke Island, some fifteen miles from the coast of New Britain. The division’s intelligence specialists concluded correctly that the garrison had departed. Indeed, the transfer began on 6 December 1943, roughly three weeks before the landings at Cape Gloucester, when Colonel Jiro Sato and half of his 500-man 51st Reconnaissance Regiment, sailed off to Cape Bushing. Sato then led his command up the Itni River and joined the main body of the Matsuda Force east of Mount Talawe. Instead of committing Sato’s troops to the defense of Hill 660, Matsuda directed him to delay the elements of the 5th Marines and 1st Marines that were converging over the inland trail net. Sato succeeded in checking the Hunt patrol on 28 January and buying time for Matsuda’s retreat, not to the south, but, as the documents captured at the general’s abandoned headquarters confirmed, along the northern coast, with the 51st Reconnaissance Regiment initially serving as the rear guard.

Once the Marines realized what Matsuda had in mind, cutting the line of retreat assumed the highest priority, as demonstrated by the withdrawal of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, from the Puller patrol on the very eve of the march toward Gilnit. As early as 3 February, Rupertus concluded that the Japanese could no longer mount a counterattack on the airfields and began devoting all his energy and resources to destroying the retreating Japanese. The division commander chose Selden’s 5th Marines, now restored to three-battalion strength, to conduct the pursuit. While Petras and his light aircraft scouted the coastal track, landing craft stood ready to embark elements of the regiment and position them to cut off and destroy the Matsuda Force. Bad weather hampered Selden’s Marines; clouds concealed the enemy from aerial observation, and a boiling surf ruled out landings over certain beaches. With about 5,000 Marines, and some Army dog handlers and their animals, the colonel rotated his battalions, sending out fresh troops each day and using 10 LCMs in attempts to leapfrog the retreating Japanese. “With few exceptions, men were not called upon to make marches on two successive days,” Selden recalled. “After a one-day hike, they either remained at that camp for three or four days or made the next jump by LCMs.” At any point along the coastal track, the enemy might have concealed himself in the dense jungle and sprung a deadly ambush, but he did not. Selden, for instance, expected a battle for the Japanese supply point at Iboki Point, but the enemy faded away. Instead of encountering resistance by a determined and skillful rear guard, the 5th Marines found only stragglers, some of them sick or wounded. Nevertheless, the regimental commander could take pride in maintaining unremitting pressure on the retreating enemy “without loss or even having a man wounded” and occupying Iboki Point on 24 February.

Meanwhile, American amphibious forces had seized Kwajalein and Eniwetok Atolls in the Marshall Islands, as the Central Pacific offensive gathered momentum. Further to complicate Japanese strategy, carrier strikes proved that Truk had become too vulnerable to continue serving as a major naval base. The enemy, conscious of the threat to his inner perimeter that was developing to the north, decided to pull back his fleet units from Truk and his aircraft from Rabaul. On 19 February–just two days after the Americans invaded Eniwetok–Japanese fighters at Rabaul took off for the last time to challenge an American air raid. When the bombers returned on the following day, not a single operational Japanese fighter remained at the airfields there.

The defense of Rabaul now depended exclusively on ground forces. Lieutenant General Yusashi Sakai, in command of the 17th Division, received orders to scrap his plan to dig in near Cape Hoskins and instead proceed to Rabaul. The general believed that supplies enough had been positioned along the trail net to enable at least the most vigorous of Matsuda’s troops to stay ahead of the Marines and reach the fortress. The remaining self-propelled barges could carry heavy equipment and those troops most needed to defend Rabaul, as well as the sick and wounded. The retreat, however, promised to be an ordeal for the Japanese. Selden had already demonstrated how swiftly the Marines could move, taking advantage of American control of the skies and the coastal waters, and a two-week march separated the nearest of Matsuda’s soldiers from their destination. Attrition would be heavy, but those who could contribute the least to the defense of Rabaul seemed the likeliest to fall by the wayside.

The Japanese forces retreating to Rabaul included the defenders of Cape Merkus, where a stalemate had prevailed after the limited American attack on 16 January had sent Komori’s troops reeling back beyond the airstrip. At Augitni, a village east of the Aria River southwest of Iboki Point, Komori reported to Colonel Sato of the 51st Reconnaissance Regiment, which had concluded the rear-guard action that enabled the Matsuda Force to cross the stream and take the trail through Augitni to Linga Linga and eastward along the coast. When the two commands met, Sato broke out a supply of sake he had been carrying, and the officers exchanged toasts well into the night.

Meanwhile, Captain Kiyomatsu Terunuma organized a task force built around the 1st Battalion, 54th Infantry, and prepared to defend the Talasea area near the base of the Willaumez Peninsula against a possible landing by the pursuing Marines. The Terunuma Force had the mission of holding out long enough for Matsuda Force to slip past on the way to Rabaul. On 6 March, the leading elements of Matsuda’s column reached the base of the Willaumez Peninsula, and Komori, leading the way for Sato’s rear guard, started from Augitni toward Linga Linga.

Early in February 1944, after the capture of the Cape Gloucester airfields but before the landing at Volupai. General Rupertus, warned that his 1st Marine Division might remain on New Britain indefinitely. Having the unit tied down for an extended period alarmed the recently appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Vandegrift. “Six months there,” he remarked, referring to an extended commitment in New Britain, “and it will no longer be a well-trained amphibious division.” Vandegrift urged Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, to help pry the division from MacArthur’s grasp so it could again undertake amphibious operations. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, wanted the division for the impending invasion of the Palau Islands, the capture of which would protect the flank of MacArthur’s advance to the Philippines. In order to obtain the Marines, Nimitz made the Army’s 40th Infantry Division available to MacArthur, in effect swapping a division capable of taking over the New Britain campaign for one that could spearhead the amphibious offensive against Japan. MacArthur, however, briefly retained control of one component of the Marine division–Company A,
1st Tank Battalion. That unit’s medium tanks landed on 22 April at Hollandia on the northern coast of New Guinea, but a swamp just beyond the beachhead prevented the Shermans from supporting the advance inland.

The commanding general of the Army’s 40th Infantry Division, Major General Rapp Brush, arrived at New Britain on 10 April to arrange for the relief. His advance echelon arrived on the 23d and the remainder of the division five days later. The 1st Marine Division departed in two echelons on 6 April and 4 May. Left behind was the 12th Defense Battalion, which continued to provide antiaircraft defense for the Cape Gloucester airfields until relieved by an Army unit late in May.

In a campaign lasting four months, the 1st Marine Division had plunged into the unforgiving jungle and overwhelmed a determined and resolute enemy, capturing the Cape Gloucester airfields and driving the Japanese from western New Britain. A number of factors helped the Marines defeat nature and the Japanese. Allied control of the air and the sea provided mobility and disrupted the coastal barge traffic upon which the enemy had to depend for the movement of large quantities of supplies, especially badly needed medicines, during the retreat to Rabaul. Warships and landing craft armed with rockets–supplemented by such improvisations as tanks or rocket-equipped amphibian trucks firing from landing craft–supported the landings, but the size of the island and the lack of fixed coastal defenses limited the effectiveness of the various forms of naval gunfire. Using superior engineering skills, the Marines defied swamp and undergrowth to bring forward tanks that crushed enemy emplacements and added to the already formidable American firepower. Although photo analysis, an art that improved rapidly, misinterpreted the nature of the damp flat, Marine intelligence made excellent use of captured Japanese documents throughout the campaign. In the last analysis, the courage and endurance of the average Marine made victory possible, as he braved discomfort, disease, and violent death during his time in the green inferno.

JFK and OPERATION BLISSFULL

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On November 2, 1943, Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy, commander of PT-59, a motor patrol torpedo boat converted into a gunboat, pulled out of Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella Lavella Island in the Solomon Islands. His assignment was a rescue operation, and Kennedy knew something about rescue operations. In early August 1943, Kennedy’s PT-109 had been rammed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk. Kennedy and the surviving crew members were rescued by another PT boat six days later.

Now, Lieutenant Kennedy and the PT-59 went to the aid of marines under the command of Lt. Col. Victor H. Krulak, who had been surrounded by Japanese forces on Choiseul Island. The Allies had landed on Vella Lavella Island, one of the western Solomon Islands, on August 15, 1943. The first elements of the Second Marine Parachute Battalion, First Marine Parachute Regiment, First Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) began landing on Vella Lavella on October 1. The rest of the regiment arrived later in October.

The battalion was commanded by Krulak, a 1934 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. His men called their 5-feet, 4-inch, 130-;pound commander “the Brute,” a nickname that had been given him by his Annapolis classmates.
Several weeks after arriving at Vella Lavella, Krulak had been summoned to IMAC headquarters at Guadalcanal, one of the southernmost of the Solomons, to discuss a special mission for his battalion. In anticipation of American landings in the northern Solomons, the Japanese were frantically moving troops by barge, often from Kolombangara (north of New Georgia), northeastward to Bougainville, Choiseul, and the Shortland and Treasury Islands.

The idea was for Krulak’s forces, far outnumbered by Japanese, to go to Choiseul, an important base for barge traffic. There they would conduct diversionary raids on Japanese fortifications on the northwest part of the island and make the Japanese commanders think there were more Allied troops than there actually were. They called it “Operation Blissful.”

“Operation Blissful” would, they hoped, convince the Japanese that they needed to send more troops to Choiseul from Bougainville—the Allies’ real objective because of its airfields. That way, there would be fewer of the enemy defending Bougainville, less than 50 miles from Choiseul, when the Allies landed there. Krulak’s commanders gave him some additional firepower to help with the job of deceiving the Japanese. It was a gamble, but they believed “the Brute” was the man for the job, and he needed to be briefed in person.

At this time in the Pacific in World War II, the Allies were plodding their way through the Solomon Islands in their island-by-island push toward the Japanese mainland. There was a long way to go—the costly fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa lay nearly two years away—but now they were concerned mainly with the island of Bougainville. By the end of the operation, its supporting characters would include a future President of the United States and a future Supreme Court justice. And “the Brute” would add another chapter into what would become a long and distinguished career in the Marine Corps.

Before Krulak’s men were deployed to Choiseul in late October, several amphibious patrols had been sent to the island. They were guided by two Australians, Sub-Lt. Carden W. Seton and Lt. Alexander Waddell of the Royal Australian Navy, who provided much valuable information and advice.
Waddell was part of a network of coastwatchers in the islands northeast of Australia reporting on Japanese activities. He had been on Choiseul in 1941 and 1942 and knew both the area and the natives better than anyone else. Seton, a former manager of a plantation on the Shortland Islands in the Solomons, had intimate knowledge of the whole area.

Because of the dense jungle, Krulak’s marines, some 658 of them, would be unable to parachute in and would instead have to make an amphibious landing. Krulak was to select a site for a PT boat base and withdraw after 12 days if the Navy decided it did not want to establish the base. Lt. (j.g.) Richard Keresey, a former PT boat skipper, accompanied the marines to help locate a suitable PT base in case the Americans actually took the island.
The actual landing would be made on unguarded beaches in the vicinity of an abandoned village named Voza, on the northern portion of Choiseul’s southwest coast between the two relatively lightly held concentrations of Japanese soldiers at Sangigai and Choiseul Bay. Intelligence indicated there were 4,000 to 5,000 Japanese on the island, most of them refugees from the islands lower down the Solomons, in poor shape and badly armed, dispersed in small camps along the coast. They were now awaiting transportation for a withdrawal to Bougainville. For this operation, Krulak was promised support from Vella Lavella–based aircraft and PT boats.

Krulak’s battalion was ordered to make contact with the Japanese but not to engage in major battles. IMAC would announce to the press on October 30 that 20,000 marines had landed on Choiseul, and to lend credibility to the news reports, Krulak would begin making attacks that day.

An attack on the Sangigai barge station would, they hoped, make the Japanese believe that Americans were present on the island in force. If the diversion was successful, the Japanese would begin to transfer troops from Bougainville to Choiseul before they realized that the November 1 landing at Empress August Bay on Bougainville Island was the main invasion.

During the early evening of October 27, Krulak’s reinforced battalion departed Vella Lavella Island for Voza, on Choiseul Island. Soon after midnight, the first wave of the landing force began traveling to shore. Zinoa Island, a tiny lone islet just 2,000 yards off Voza, was chosen as the place to hide four landing craft, and their Navy crews, which would be needed for raiding up and down the coast. Shortly after the ships departed, while the beachhead was being established, enemy reconnaissance planes discovered the landing and bombed the area without effect. Just to make sure the Japanese knew they were in Choiseul, Allied radio broadcast the news.

Leaving the beach, the marines headed for a high-ground base, to be called the Mountain Camp, about 1,000 yards above Voza, which would be their base camp. With the aid of some 80 natives and led by the Australian Seton, the marines moved off the beach into the jungle. They established a base of operations and set up outposts on the beach north and south of the village.
The marines also created a dummy supply dump of empty boxes on a beach two miles to the north to invite enemy attention to the landing. It worked. After daylight, Japanese planes attacked the dump. Shortly after noon, Krulak had an uncoded message sent to IMAC stating that the entire division, 20,000 men, had landed and were moving toward their objectives.

In the afternoon, Krulak sent out a small patrol west along the seacoast to investigate possible sites for a PT boat base. Two other native patrols working farther away from Voza provided the battalion with information on the nearest Japanese positions. Approximately 150 to 200 Japanese were guarding a barge staging and replenishing base at Sangigai to the southeast, while another force was 30 miles northwest. Krulak decided to attack Sangigai on October 30 as planned. Early on October 29, Krulak sent a patrol, consisting of 10 marines, an Army radar specialist, and Keresey, the former PT boat skipper, some 15 miles north to determine the feasibility of bringing landing craft to Moli Point for future operations against the Japanese forces. They were also to select tentative locations for radar equipment and PT boat bases. They believed they would be back before dark.

The next day’s attack had a two-fold mission: destroying the Sangigai base and impressing the enemy with the strength of the marine forces. E Company, reinforced with machine guns and rockets, would move down to the Vagara River. From there they would move on Sangigai, destroy the garrison, and drive the Japanese into an F Company ambush. F Company, reinforced with machine guns and rockets, would establish an ambush location on a ridge to prevent the Japanese from retreating into the mountains.

When the mission was completed, they would both return to the Vagara River mouth, where the landing craft would extract them. G Company would remain as guard at the Voza Mountain Camp. Meanwhile, the patrol that was heading toward Moli Point reached it without spotting any Japanese. There they found no place to base landing craft or any locations for the installation of radar equipment. As darkness was setting in, the marines set off on their return to Voza but soon decided to stop for the night.

About 4 a.m. on October 30, the battalion left the Mountain Camp. Moving to the beach, the force waited for four landing craft to pick them up. Before the craft could meet the marines, however, four U.S. fighter aircraft attacked the boats, apparently thinking them Japanese barges, and damaged three of them.
E and F Companies marched down the coast to Sangigai, 10 miles to the southeast, for the planned attack. The force was guided by Seton and two native scouts. About the time the marines began their march, the prearranged air strike with 12 TBF torpedo bombers and 26 fighters dropped about two tons of bombs on the enemy positions just outside Sangigai.

Adm. William F. Halsey, commander of the South Pacific Area, issued a press release the morning of October 30 announcing the Allied invasion of Choiseul, indicating that a division of 20,000 marines had landed and was moving toward its objective. Newspapers all around the country ran stories about the invasion, ensuring that the Japanese got the story, too. At the Vagara River, Krulak’s forces split. Krulak took Company F, Seton, and two native guides inland to the headwaters and continued through the mountain jungles toward their ambush position at the Japanese rear.

Company E continued to Sangigai and attacked the Japanese base. The fleeing Japanese encountered Company F’s ambush, and when the fighting died down, about 40 Japanese ran, and 72 were dead. The marines’ own casualties numbered 6 killed, 1 missing, and 12 wounded, Krulak being one of them.
In Sangigai, Company E searched the enemy dead and the buildings for souvenirs and documents. They found a veritable treasure trove of documents and charts, including hydrographic maps showing the water routes of Bougainville and its surrounding islands. While the documents were being inspected, the marines destroyed 180 tons of supplies, food, ammunition, medical supplies, fuel, communications equipment, barge repair parts, and one new landing barge.

Having completed its mission and hearing the firing at the ambush position dying down, Company E started back to the Vagara River to meet the landing craft. There they waited for Krulak and Company F. When they had not appeared by dusk, Company E boarded the boats and headed back to Voza, where Company G was guarding the Mountain Camp. After burying its dead and the excess rocket ammunition, Company F proceeded to the Vagara River mouth, to find Company E and the landing craft gone. Krulak decided to remain where he was for the night because it was already dark and the troops were fatigued. The troops dug in, and, unable to make radio contact with the base camp, Krulak sent some men back to Voza to arrange for the boats to pick them up the next morning. Meanwhile, natives informed Krulak that the Japanese were sending reinforcements to Sangigai—just as the Allied command hoped they would.

In the early morning of October 31, the landing craft picked up Krulak and Company F and took them back to Voza. The force then headed inland to the Mountain Camp. Immediately patrols were dispatched and ambushes erected to thwart the almost certain Japanese reaction to the attack on Sangigai.
A landing craft took the maps, charts, and documents captured during the raid at Sangigai, along with Company F’s severest casualties, to a Navy PBY flying boat, and the plane quickly took off for IMAC headquarters. Satisfied with the Sangigai raid, Krulak decided to strike at the Choiseul Bay area to keep the Japanese guessing and to do as much damage as possible before their true strength was perceived.

In preparation for this operation, Krulak sent Maj. Warner T. Bigger, the battalion executive officer; Lt. Samuel Johnston, the intelligence officer; an intelligence detachment; and a platoon from Company G 20 miles up the northwest coast to scout the area around the village and barge station of Nukiki and the Warrior River. They reported no Japanese troops along the route of their planned attack. Back at the Mountain Camp, Bigger and Krulak went over plans for the next day’s operation against Choiseul Bay. Bigger would lead the raid, taking Company G’s Second and Third Platoons. That evening, natives reported that immediately after the fight to the south—at Sangigai—the Japanese had begun to reoccupy the village.

The Japanese commander, who previously suffered defeat on Guadalcanal, was not convinced that the Allied landings on the Treasury Islands, made by New Zealand forces as another diversion, and Choiseul were the main attacks. But, not wanting to take chances, he ordered Japanese at Bougainville, the Shortlands, and other islands to reinforce the Choiseul garrison. At dawn on November 1, elements of the Third Marine Division and the Second Raider Battalion landed at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville.

Krulak later sent the 27-man Third Platoon of Company E to set up an ambush position along the Vagara River near the village of Vagara, which was held by the Japanese. The Japanese, who by this time had become aware of the small size of Krulak’s force, were sending out combat patrols toward Voza. Two miles north of the Vagara River, the platoon was ambushed by more than 20 Japanese and suffered casualties, including one dead. The marines then pushed forward, driving the Japanese back toward Sangigai, killing eight and wounding a number of others. Meanwhile, Major Bigger, along with the G Company commander and the three platoon leaders and their forces, boarded three landing craft and headed northwest to the mouth of the Warrior River.

The river should have been deep enough for small schooners, but the boats became stuck in the shallow coral about 200 yards from shore. The engines made such a loud noise as they tried to get off the coral that Bigger was pretty certain that the Japanese heard it. He had his men offload in the water and head for the east bank. Moving through the jungle, Bigger’s men found themselves in a dense swampland, lost and falling behind schedule. They would not be able to complete their mission at Choiseul Bay and return to the Warrior River by dusk to be picked up, so Bigger decided they would spend the night in the swamp and make the raid the following day, November 2.

He then tried to raise both Krulak and the group back at the Warrior River but without luck—his TBX radio was not working. Bigger sent Lt. Rae Duncan and a 10-man squad back to the Warrior River, where they would use the TBX there to inform Krulak about the change in plans and to send the landing craft back to Voza for the night. When the squad got back to the Warrior River, they found that the TBX team’s radio did not work. Duncan ordered a Sergeant Siefke to take his squad to Nukiki, where they would stay overnight, and go to Voza the next day to report to Krulak and request the landing craft be sent back the evening of November 2. While waiting for the boats, Japanese troops had moved between the platoon and Bigger’s men.

When the landing craft arrived, the platoon boarded, and Duncan told the crew to head back to Voza. If Siefke’s squad was at Nukiki, they would pick them up; if not, they would return for them in the morning. When they reached the barge station at Nukiki and saw no one, the boats continued back to Voza. When Krulak learned of Bigger’s plight, he requested fighter support and PT boat cover for the boats engaged in the withdrawal of the force from the Nukiki area.

Siefke’s squad was nearing Nukiki around sunset, and they decided it would be too dark to determine if the Japanese occupied the village. They moved toward the beach and set up a defensive perimeter on a long coral outcropping and waited until the next morning before moving on. Not long after setting up their position, the marines heard voices on the beach, but with the noise of the surf they could not determine whether they were English or Japanese. They decided to stay put, knowing whoever was on the beach surrounded them on three sides.

While Siefke’s squad stayed hidden and prayed that the Japanese would break camp and leave, Bigger and his men headed through the swamp to complete their mission. Back at the Mountain Camp, Duncan decided to take two of the landing craft and head north to look for Siefke’s men and whoever else might have been sent to Nukiki. As Keresey watched them go, he thought they needed additional firepower, so he proposed to Krulak that they get some PT boats from Vella Lavella. Shortly after 6 a.m., Siefke saw three boats moving up the coast toward them. He had one of his men crawl to a position where he could signal the boats to pick them up.

The Japanese, however, saw the boats at the same time and opened fire. Siefke’s men and the machine guns on the landing craft opened up on the Japanese. As the Japanese fell back into the jungle, Siefke and his men were able to reach the shore and board the landing craft. When the landing craft reached Voza, the men informed Krulak that there were at least two companies of Japanese at Nukiki and eight barges in the water. Krulak, concerned that Bigger’s force might be cut off, radioed the PT base at Lambu Lambu to tell them that they would be needed that night. He also radioed IMAC and requested air and PT support.

Bigger’s men reached the coast at 11:30 a.m., between the Warrior River and Choiseul Bay. When they could not make radio contact with Krulak or the Warrior River TBX team, Bigger sent a five-man squad back to the river. They were to tell the TBX team to contact Krulak and request the landing craft to pick them up at the mouth of the river at 3 p.m. A Sergeant Wilson, a Corporal Gallaher, and three men immediately set off. Bigger’s force, now numbering 56, moved toward Choiseul Bay, oblivious of the situation to his rear. Back at Krulak’s Mountain Camp that morning, word arrived that the Japanese appeared to be moving from both directions to push the marines off their Voza Mountain Camp and secure their barge lines and the important coastal track.

Now that the Japanese knew the real size of Krulak’s force, they were determined to cut it off. At least a battalion of Japanese were between Moli Point and Bigger. Krulak strengthened his defenses. Later that day, intelligence reports from coastwatchers and natives indicated that there were between 800 and 1,000 Japanese at Sangigai and some at Moli, with more moving in by barge from Choiseul Bay.

Bigger’s force was at least two miles away from Choiseul Bay when they ran across and killed a small number of Japanese soldiers at a lookout post. One survivor fled into the jungle. Bigger, concerned that the gunfire had alerted the enemy and realizing that they still had a ways to go, decided to attack just their secondary target—the barge replenishing center and fuel base on Guppy Island. Sergeant Wilson’s patrol reached the Warrior River and saw no evidence of the TBX team. Corporal Gallaher was selected to swim across the river to look for them, but just as he got to the opposite shore, Japanese soldiers came out of the jungle, grabbed him, and quickly disappeared. Wilson decided they would have to go up to the headwaters of the river, cross there, and come back down the other side.

Bigger’s force reached a point on the coast across from Guppy Island around 2 p.m. They immediately began lobbing 60mm mortar shells, 143 in all, down on the island, hitting the fuel dump. As the attack on Guppy Island was taking place, Wilson and his three men crossed the river and moved south back to the ocean. About halfway back, they found Gallaher’s body, stripped naked, tied to a tree, and dead, having been used for bayonet practice by his captors. Continuing on to the coast, they spotted five Japanese, apparently the ones who had killed their colleague. They immediately opened up on them, instantly killing them. They continued to the coast, then set out along the coastal trail to the southeast.

Early in the afternoon, Krulak ordered the landing craft to return to the Warrior River to pick up Bigger’s force that evening, hoping it had made their attack and returned to the river. Also looking for Bigger’s force were the Japanese. Responding to the attack on Guppy Island, the Japanese manned barges in considerable numbers and landed behind Bigger’s force at the mouth of the Warrior River and took up positions on both sides.

Bigger’s force arrived at the Warrior River at 4 p.m., more than an hour late. No boats were there, nor were there any marines. But the Japanese were there—not only on the southeast shore but also behind them. The firefight lasted for half an hour before the Japanese withdrew. A total of 43 Japanese were dead; two of Bigger’s men were killed, one was missing, and two were wounded.
At the Warrior River, Bigger believed there should be some marines on the other side and decided to have some men swim across to find them. If they could not make radio contact with Krulak, they were to continue on to Nukiki or even Voza to tell Krulak to rescue them and warn him about the large number of Japanese in the Warrior River vicinity.

Lt. Samuel Johnston, with two men following him, began swimming. As Johnston reached the shore, two Japanese jumped out of the jungle, wounded him, and grabbed him. Other Japanese began firing at the men in the water and the marines on the opposite shore. One man was killed; the other, though wounded, safely returned to the west bank.

Still believing that there were marines on the eastern bank of the river, the marines on the west bank displayed an American flag. The Japanese fired again and wounded one man. This was the first definite indication that Bigger’s force was cut off from Voza. Duncan and the men on the landing craft heard the gunfire, and they headed toward it. As they moved toward the shore, the Japanese ceased firing.

Perhaps the Japanese stopped firing because they heard what the marines heard—boat engines heading for the mouth of the river. Two landing craft, covered by three fighter aircraft, were coming toward the east bank of the Warrior River. The boats then moved in closer, to less than 100 yards from the beach. As the marines began wading out, the Japanese continued firing on them and the boats. Fortunately, it was getting dark, so the Japanese could not see well enough to fire effectively. The landing craft then pulled away from the beach.

Earlier that day, Lt. Arthur H. Berndston at Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella Lavella had received Krulak’s request for PT boat assistance. He had only two PT boats available, and one, Kennedy’s PT-59, was refueling. Kennedy had only one-third of a tank of fuel in PT-59, which was enough to get them to the Warrior River but not enough to get them back.

The two officers decided that the PT-59 and PT-236, already fueled, would leave immediately. When Kennedy’s boat ran out of fuel, the other boat would tow it. “Wind’er up,” Kennedy told his crew as they left the cove and headed out.
The two PT boats reached the Choiseul coast and began looking for a landing craft to help guide them to Bigger’s force. At around 6 p.m. Kennedy spotted the boat 300 yards off Voza. On board were Krulak and Keresey, who immediately transferred to PT-59. Kennedy was surprised to see Keresey, who, as skipper of PT-105, had been on patrol with Kennedy the night that PT-109 had been cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy asked him what he was doing on Choiseul. Keresey replied, “Never mind that, we have to haul ass up the coast. There’s a bunch of marines trapped!”

Kennedy, with Keresey guiding, immediately headed full-out northwest up the coast, with the fuel gauge reading almost empty and only 30 minutes of daylight remaining. At the Warrior River, as the marines were trying to get aboard two landing craft, the Japanese began lobbing mortar rounds at them, and a heavy rain began falling. One landing craft, having taken on more than 30 marines, reversed its engine and began moving away. As it did, the boat scraped the coral reef, which bent the rudder and made steering difficult. Bigger and some 25 marines boarded the other craft. As that boat began moving out to sea, it too began scraping along the coral reef and taking on water. Soon the motor was flooded out, and the boat began drifting dangerously close to the shore and Japanese fire. It finally came to rest on the coral, less than 100 yards from the beach.

A few minutes after Kennedy had put his boat into a fast idle, Keresey could hear something coming from inshore, not gunfire but something else. He signaled Kennedy to turn toward the sounds. As the boat swung in at the Warrior River and the rain squall continued, Keresey saw the two landing craft close by. Keresey hailed them, and Kennedy placed his boat between the shore and the sinking craft. The other craft came alongside, and PT-59 began taking on personnel and equipment from both boats.

As PT-59 headed toward Voza, Kennedy’s crew gave the marines canned peaches, the first real food they had had in six days. Up to that point they had lived on one D–bar and one K-ration per day. The men had lost an average of 15 pounds each during their week on Choiseul. As the two PT boats moved along the coast, the craft with the bent rudder tried to keep up but fell behind. The trip back to Voza was completed without incident. Kennedy transferred the marines to a waiting craft that took them to shore. With their work done, the PT boats started back to Vella Lavella. Halfway across the channel to Vella Lavella, Kennedy’s boat ran out of fuel. It was towed by PT-236 the rest of the way and arrived at Lambu Lambu Cove around dawn. Kennedy, knowing the situation of Krulak’s forces, volunteered to go back to help further.

Late in the day, IMAC asked Krulak by radio whether his forces should be withdrawn the following night. The message ended with the assessment—”Feel your mission accomplished.”Krulak responded that he expected a strong Japanese attack within 48 hours and recommended withdrawal in light of IMAC’s view that nothing further could be gained by continuing operations.

Both IMAC and Krulak realized that, two days into the Empress Augusta Bay landing, it must have been obvious to the Japanese that the west coast of Bougainville was the main target and Choiseul was a diversion. IMAC, knowing sizable Japanese forces were closing in on both flanks of Krulak’s position and that the Bougainville invasion was already a success, decided to curtail the Choiseul diversion. At 2:30 a.m. on November 3, IMAC sent a message to Krulak indicating that the Japanese were closing in on his position and that he needed to evacuate that day. They would be extracted that evening by landing craft.

Krulak, learning of the increasing numbers of Japanese at Sangigai and Moli, had his forces undertake vigorous combat patrols. They ambushed and delayed some of the Japanese leading elements. At Lambu Lambu Cove around noon, Lieutenant Berndston and his intelligence officer, Lt. Byron White, were informed that their five boats, including PT-59, would cover the extraction of Krulak’s battalion that night. The boats, already loaded with fuel and ammunition, would rendezvous with the three craft heading toward Choiseul and escort them to their destination.

In mid-afternoon, the battalion began leaving Mountain Camp and headed down to the beach at Voza. They took with them all their supplies, except rations, which were given to the native carriers. Before leaving, they left behind numerous booby traps, including a rocket suspended in a tree. Booby traps and mines were placed at various approaches to Voza. Double-edged razor blades were worked into palm trunks to discourage snipers from clambering up. While waiting at the beach, the marines set up a semicircular perimeter and learned that natives working for Seton had come across Lieutenant Johnston’s body. He had been tied to a tree, carved up with knives while alive, and then executed. As darkness fell at Voza, the craft had not arrived. Native scouts reported that Japanese forces were moving closer and soon were less than a mile away. Shortly thereafter, they reported that Japanese barge traffic was moving in large numbers from Moli Point toward Voza.

At 10:30 p.m. the craft were out in the channel somewhere beyond Zinoa. Krulak and Seton immediately boarded a landing craft and went out to find them and guide them to the shore. The PT boats patrolled offshore, screening the seaward approaches. A half-hour later, a Japanese patrol several hundred yards from the perimeter set off one of the booby traps. Minutes later another booby trap exploded. To the marines this meant the Japanese were nearby, and they began to worry about mortar shelling.

The PT boats then interspersed themselves between the landing craft and were ready to open up on the Japanese as soon as they reached the beach. Shortly after returning to shore, at 1:38 a.m., Krulak gave the order to withdraw. As the marines began gathering their gear and heading to the landing craft, the Japanese continued their approach and set off more booby traps. The marines, eager to leave, were ready in 12 minutes. The PT boats escorted the slow-moving landing craft back toward Vella Lavella, and when it was clear they would safely reach their destination, the PTs left the flotilla and returned to their base at Lambu Lambu. When the craft arrived in Vella Lavella, they were met by the regimental commander, selected members of the IMAC staff, and a section of the Amphibious Corps band. That morning, coastwatchers reported the Japanese had occupied Voza and were having difficulty with the booby traps and mines left by the Marines.

The Japanese sent reinforcements to Choiseul, delaying reaction to the Bougainville landing. The Choiseul operation also killed at least 143 Japanese, destroyed several hundred tons of enemy fuel and supplies, sank two barges, and destroyed the barge station at Sangigai, disrupting Japanese barge traffic along the coast of Choiseul.

In addition, the captured documents allowed the Navy not only to more safely navigate the waters around Bougainville but also to mine areas that the Japanese believed were clear, which resulted in the sinking of two Japanese warships. On the night of November 5–6, Kennedy led three PT boats to Moli Point and Choiseul Bay, where they attacked Japanese barges. During the next week and a half, Kennedy’s PT-59 prowled off Choiseul Bay looking for barges. Kennedy’s final action was on the night of November 16–17, when he took PT-59 on an uneventful patrol.

On November 18 a doctor directed Kennedy, who was mentally and physically exhausted and had lost 25 pounds during the preceding three months, to go the hospital at Tulagi. He gave up his command of PT-59 that day and left the Solomons on December 21 for the United States. He left the Navy on physical disability in March 1945. In 1946, Kennedy was elected to Congress, and during the legislative fight of 1948 to decide whether the Marine Corps should be abolished, he was a champion of retaining the corps. In 1960, Kennedy was elected President of the United States.

His first appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1962, was a man he had known since before World War II, the man who wrote the intelligence report on the sinking of PT-109 and who was a participant in Operation Blissful. Former Lt. Byron White served as an associate justice until 1993. The natives on Choiseul were confused and disappointed about the marines leaving, seeing it as a sign of Allied weakness. Seton and Waddell, the Australians, spent considerable energy convincing them of the necessity of helping the Allies. Seton, still on Choiseul until the spring of 1944, pinpointed targets for a number of successful dive-bombing raids. As a result, Choiseul Bay ceased to be an important enemy base.

The First Marine Parachute Regiment was shipped back to the United States on January 2, 1944, and disbanded. Many of them were then assigned to the newly formed Fifth Marine Division, which took part in the Iwo Jima campaign in the spring of 1945. Admiral Halsey personally pinned the Navy Cross on Krulak for his efforts, and Krulak received the Purple Heart for the wounds he received during the attack at Sangigai. He later joined the newly formed Sixth Marine Division and took part in the Okinawa campaign.

Krulak remained in the Marine Corps and received his third Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service from 1962 to 1964 as special assistant for counterinsurgency activities with the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. During Kennedy’s presidency, Krulak, in a meeting with the former PT boat skipper, presented Kennedy with a promised bottle of whiskey for the 1943 rescue from Choiseul, according to an account in the New York Times.

On March 1, 1964, he was designated commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and promoted to lieutenant general. He retired four years later and died in December 2008 at age 95. From 1995 to 1999, his son, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, served as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.