We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
Invasion of Puruata Island, 1-2 November 1943
The invasion of Puruata Island (1-2 November) took place on the same day as the main Allied invasion of nearby Bougainville and saw a force of Marine raiders capture this small island close to the main American beachhead.
The main American landings took place around Cape Torokina on Empress Augusta Bay (on the western coast of Bougainville). Puruata Island is about half a mile from this beachhead and was garrisoned by a platoon of Japanese infantry. It was to be attacked during the first wave of the American invasion. The attack was to be carried out by the 3rd Raider Battalion (Lt Colonel Fred D. Beans), with one reinforced company in the lead and the rest of the battalion as a reserve.
The landing was opposed by light fire, and by 9.30 the Marines had established a secure perimeter around 125 yards deep. They were facing snipers, machine guns and mortars, and so at 1.30pm the rest of the battalion joined the attack, supported by some self-propelled 75mm guns. The battalion then launched an attack that saw them occupy half of the island by the end of 1 November.
On 2 November the Marines launched a two-pronged attack on the Japanese half of the island. This time they only faced rifle fire, and by 3.30pm the island was secure. Twenty-nine Japanese bodies were found, and the rest of the garrison appears to have escaped to Bougainville. The marines lost 5 dead and 32 wounded.
Cape Torokina is a promontory at the north end of Empress Augusta Bay, along the central part of the western coast of Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea.
This cape formed the southern end of the landing zone where I Marine Amphibious Corps performed an amphibious invasion on November 1, 1943 during Operation Cherry Blossom. The small Puruata Island is just off the coast to the west of Cape Torokina. The cape and island form a beach to the north which is subject to heavy surf.
The cape was relatively isolated, with a poor trail system to supply the area. A wide swamp stretched inland from the beach area, and the island was heavily forested. During the landing, the cape was the site of a Japanese 75 mm gun that inflicted heavy damage upon the landing craft.
Following the landing, an airfield was constructed at the cape. Twenty-five miles of roads were also built around the area.
Invasion of Puruata Island, 1-2 November 1943 - History
The ground troops at Cape Torokina could be expected to carry out their missions efficiently only if they were unhampered by Japanese aircraft and warships. Therefore the real battle for the beachhead was fought in the air and on the sea. The primary mission of South Pacific aircraft and warships during the first days of November was protection of the newly won beachhead. In this mission they fought hard and with excellent results.
Air and Surface Action, 1-11 November
When Admiral Omori led his task force out of Rabaul in late afternoon of 1 November, he had orders to escort Imamura's troops and to attack Wilkinson's transports in Empress Augusta Bay. But after joining with the troop carrying destroyers in Saint George's Channel between New Britain and New Ireland, Omori was sighted by a U.S. submarine. Further, an unidentified plane dropped a bomb near the light cruiser Sendai. The Japanese, sure that their intentions had been deduced, postponed the troop movement, but Omori was allowed to take his task force of two heavy and two light cruisers and six destroyers to Empress Augusta Bay with the intention of destroying the American transports and cargo ships which he thought would still be there. 1
Meanwhile, Admiral Merrill's Task Force 39 had sailed to the vicinity of Vella Lavella after the two bombardments on 1 November. Four of his eight destroyers were refueling in the late afternoon of 1 November when General Twining's reconnaissance planes spotted Omori and flashed a warning. Halsey ordered Merrill out to intercept Omori. Receiving continuous, accurate plots of Omori's course and speed, Merrill set his course and speed so that his four light cruisers and eight destroyers would intercept west of Empress Augusta Bay.
At 0229, 2 November, a few miles from Cape Torokina, Task Force 39 made contact with Omori and attacked at once. In this engagement, the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, Merrill sank one light cruiser and one destroyer except for the destroyer Foote, which lost her stern to a Japanese torpedo, the
American ships received light damage. The flashes from gunfire and explosions were visible to Commodore Reifsnider's four cargo ships, which had put out to sea, and to the marines ashore. The engagement lasted until dawn, when Omori, tacitly acknowledging failure, took his surviving ships back to Rabaul.
Near as he was to Rabaul, Merrill expected to suffer air attack at dawn, and he was not wrong. When a Japanese patrol plane sighted him 18 dive bombers and 80 fighters promptly took off from Rabaul to the attack. Bad weather on the morning of 2 November had kept most of the Allied fighters on the New Georgia fields, but 8 F6F's, 1 F4U, 3 P-38's, and 4 New Zealand P-40's, vectored by a destroyer still in Empress Augusta Bay, hurled themselves at part of the Japanese formation and shot down several planes.
The remaining enemy planes came upon Task Force 39 shortly before 0800 and promptly attacked. The task force maneuvered rapidly, sailing clockwise in a great circle and shooting 5-inch, 40 mm., 20-mm., and even 6-inch guns at the diving Japanese with considerable success. The light cruiser Montpelier suffered two bomb hits which wounded several men, but the other ships went unscathed. The Japanese broke off the action, but on the way home lost more planes to Allied fighters. More planes from Rabaul would doubtless have come out after Merrill that day but for the Fifth Air Force's raid on the airfields, which the Japanese carrier pilots contested so hotly.
Merrill's ships, after two busy days that included two shore bombardments, the night action of Empress Augusta Bay, and the morning air attack, now escorted Reifsnider's retiring cargo ships as far as Rendova, then steamed for Florida and concluded their eventful, successful cruise. On the other hand, the Japanese had lost two ships and numerous aircraft, and had not inflicted anything like equivalent damage to the Americans. But Admiral Koga had not given up. When he was informed of the landings at Empress Augusta Bay, he ordered Vice Adm. Takeo Kurita to take seven heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, four destroyers, and a fleet train from Truk to Rabaul. Kurita arrived safely on 4 November, although later ships were hit by Twining's B-24's.
This force of heavy cruisers at Rabaul posed a serious threat to the new beachhead at Empress Augusta Bay, and created, wrote Admiral Halsey, "the most desperate emergency that confronted me in my entire term as COMSOPAC." 2 He knew that he had to stop them, but he had only two naval task forces--Merrill's, which was exhausted after its performance of 1-2 November, and Sherman's carriers. Up to now carriers had been employed against land bases only in the most gingerly fashion. The South Pacific staff calculated that Sherman, from his refueling position near Rennell, could strike Kurita before Kurita would strike Empress Augusta Bay. So Halsey ordered Sherman to hit Rabaul. When he gave these orders the South Pacific commander expected the carrier air groups to be "cut to pieces" and the carriers "stricken." 3
"I fully expected that they [Sherman's
carriers] would be lost." 4 ". . . but we could not let the men at Torokina be wiped out while we stood by and wrung our hands." 5 Halsey was never a man to stand idly by and wring his hands, or to allow anyone else that emotional luxury.
Halsey directed South Pacific land-based air (Task Force 33) to provide cover for Sherman during his daylight approach and retirement. This job was done by Navy fighters from New Georgia, which of course were capable of landing on carrier decks. Thus Sherman was able to send all his aircraft against Rabaul instead of keeping some of them overhead for protection.
Task Force 38 reached its launching point in the Solomon Sea 57 miles southwest of Torokina and 230 miles southeast of Rabaul at 0900, 5 November. The weather was fine for carrier operations a steady breeze was blowing, and there were frequent rain squalls where the ships could hide in case of air attack. The two carriers sent out 97 planes: 23 torpedo bombers, 22 dive bombers, and 52 fighters. They arrived over Rabaul and dived through a hole in the clouds to take the Japanese by surprise. Though faced by intense antiaircraft fire they bored in with resounding success. They did not sink any ships, but damaged three heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and two destroyers so severely that months passed before any of them were fit to fight again. This was done at a cost of fifteen men killed or missing, ten planes lost. Halsey's gloomy expectations were not fulfilled.
Twenty-seven B-24's and fifty-eight P-38's from the Fifth Air Force reached Rabaul in the afternoon. As practically all the Japanese planes were out after Task Force 38, Kenney's men bombed the wharves. The Japanese failed to find Sherman, but they attacked an LCI, an LCT, and a PT boat near the southern arm of Empress Augusta Bay, and claimed a tremendous but nonexistent victory. 6
Sherman's victory, on the other hand, was real. Next day Koga decided to pull his heavy cruisers back to Truk, and the threat to Cape Torokina was ended. Thereafter no more heavy Japanese ships went to Rabaul.
Meanwhile Kusaka's 11th Air Fleet and the carrier planes, besides attacking Merrill and Sherman, had been striking day and night against Cape Torokina, hammering at reinforcement convoys and fighting almost constantly with Allied fighter planes. They damaged three ships and sank one, but kept losing planes to ship- and shore-based antiaircraft guns and to Twining's fighters.
Air Command, Solomons, made a maximum effort to keep the enemy's Bougainville bases out of action and to keep the Rabaul-based planes away from Cape Torokina and the reinforcement convoys. For example, on 10 November there were 712 take-offs and landings at Munda airfield alone.
Rabaul was still a primary target for General Kenney. The weather prevented an attack on 6 November, but 10 November saw a heavy attack, and next day
AIRCREWMAN WOUNDED IN STRIKE ON RABAUL is helped out of his plane on flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, 5 November 1943.
RAAF Beauforts and Fifth Air Force planes struck in the morning before heavy clouds piled up over Rabaul.
The additional carrier task group of the Fifth Fleet that Admiral Nimitz had promised to Halsey reached the South Pacific on 7 November. Commanded by Rear Adm. Alfred L. Montgomery, it consisted of the carriers Essex, Bunker Hill, and Independence. Halsey planned to use Montgomery's ships as well as Task Force 38 in a double carrier strike against Rabaul on 11 November.
Sherman sailed to a point in the Pacific Ocean near Green Island, north-northwest of Bougainville, and launched planes. They reached Rabaul in bad weather about 0830, struck at ships, and returned to the carriers, which retired southward without being detected.
Montgomery launched his strike from a point in the Solomon Sea about 160 miles southeast of Rabaul. His planes hit at ships too, then returned to their mother carriers. The Japanese found Montgomery and delivered a series of furious though unsuccessful air attacks which inflicted only slight damage. They lost thirty-five planes to ships' antiaircraft guns and to Allied fighters from New Georgia.
In eleven days of the RO operations against the Allied lines of communication and the Torokina beachhead, the
Japanese pilots had reported enormous damage to Allied ships and planes, whereas in reality they had accomplished very little and had suffered the real damage themselves. 7 Koga had sent 173 planes and 192 men down from Truk, and by the end of 11 November 121 planes had been destroyed and 86 of the men were dead. The 11th Air Fleet had lost about 70 planes. These losses ". . . had put the carrier air force in a position where further combat would rob it of even a skeleton force around which to rebuild. . . ." 8 Koga may have believed his pilots' claims, but he also recognized the significance of his own losses. On 12 November he withdrew the carrier planes to Truk. The withdrawal, first of the cruisers and then of the planes, ended Rabaul's offensive threat. Thereafter it was a formidable defense position only, and after Armistice Day Southwest Pacific planes were able to cease their attacks against it and concentrate against enemy bases to the west.
The damage that Sherman's pilots inflicted on the heavy cruisers and Koga's losses in carrier planes had repercussions that were felt far beyond Empress Augusta Bay. Koga had planned to use the Combined Fleet to seek out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet if the Americans invaded the Gilberts or Marshalls, but when Admiral Nimitz' forces moved into the Gilberts on 21 November 1943, Koga did not stir out of Truk the cruiser damage and aircraft losses had completely immobilized the Combined Fleet. 9 This series of events, wherein the Japanese shifted forces back and forth to meet Allied threats from different parts of the Pacific, and lost as a result, was an advantage the Joint Chiefs of Staff had in mind when they ordered two advances rather than one. The series illustrates also the strategic importance of Rabaul, and the advantages that their interior lines gave to the Japanese.
Now landed and completely protected from Japanese surface attack, although subject to frequent air raids by day and by night, the 3d Marine Division was hampered as much by terrain as by the enemy. The swamps and dense forest slowed the movement of supplies and the building of roads and airfields. During their first five days on shore the marines patrolled, established antiaircraft and beach defenses, and extended the perimeter two thousand yards inland. (Map 16) Seventy-eight marines were killed or missing, 104 wounded. 10
The first reinforcements, one battalion of the 21st Marine Regiment, arrived on
AMPHIBIAN TRACTORS LVT(1), carrying supplies and ammunition, arrive inland over a muddy trail.
eight LST's and eight APD's on 6 November. Escorted by six destroyers and covered by Task Force 39, these ships had sailed from Purvis Bay two days before. Japanese aircraft harried them during the night of 5-6 November but did no damage.
For speedy unloading, the LST cargoes had been packed on trailers at Purvis Bay. But Cape Torokina did not boast very many beaches suitable for the LST's (which in the South Pacific almost never carried tanks). One beach at Puruata Island had room for three LST's, but using this meant unloading gear at Puruata and then transshipping it to the mainland. At the beaches east of Cape Torokina the LST's grounded offshore. Seabees improvised coconut log runways, which failed to stand up under the strain. The eventual answer to the problem lay in steel pontons.
On 8 November substantial reinforcements came in, some aboard six of the ships that had made the initial invasion and then returned to Guadalcanal to pick up the 148th Regimental Combat Team of the 37th Division. Japanese aircraft made the day exciting as the soldiers unloaded and went ashore. Over a hundred planes attacked at noon. Twenty-eight Allied fighters from New Georgia kept many of them off, but some got through and damaged the President Jackson. Once ashore, the 148th relieved the 3d Marines on the left flank, and
TRACTOR AND TRAILER IN MUD. Marines are perched on load of artillery ammunition.
the marine regiment was assigned a position in the middle of the inland side of the perimeter defense.
General Geiger, having flown out from Washington and relieved General Vandegrift as corps commander, arrived at Bougainville on the 9th. On 13 November Admiral Wilkinson relinquished his control and Geiger became directly responsible to Halsey. The amphibious commander retained responsibility for the transport of troops and supplies to the beachhead.
Other reinforcements from the 37th and 3d Marine Divisions came in promptly. The 129th Regimental Combat Team landed on 13 November, and was followed six days later by the 145th. Except for miscellaneous units and detachments, this completed the movement of General Beightler's veteran division to the beachhead. The remaining units of the 21st Marines arrived on 11 and 17 November. During the latter shipment the APD McKean was fatally torpedoed by a Japanese plane. Thus by the end of the third week in November there were two full divisions at Empress Augusta Bay, plus substantial bodies of corps troops, naval construction battalions, and naval base forces. The I Marine Amphibious Corps held a perimeter about sixteen thousand yards in circumference, including seven thousand yards along the beach. The 37th Division held the left, the 3d Marine Division the
Situation on Bougainville
15 December 1943
right. This perimeter was not attained without fighting, but the 37th Division was fortunate in that, except for patrol clashes, all the fighting occurred in the 3d Marine Division's zone.
Expansion of the Perimeter
Even after 1 November Japanese Army commanders continued to cherish the delusion that the main effort was yet to come, and that southern Bougainville or Buka was the real target. However, on orders from Imamura to destroy the wide, shallow Allied beachhead at Cape Torokina, Hyakutake dispatched the two battalions of the 23d Infantry from the Buin area to the cape. Under command of Maj. Gen. Shun Iwasa, infantry group commander of the 6th Division, the 23d was to operate in conjunction with the 17th Division troops whose transfer from Rabaul, first planned for 1 November, had been postponed. Aboard four destroyers, 475 men of this group finally got under way for Torokina on 6 November 700 others sailed for Buka. The 17th Division troops were to cover the movement of the 23d Infantry by landing north of the cape near the Americans' left and creating a diversion. They would then move inland and join with the 23d. Iwasa was to advance down a trail with the combined force and attack the beachhead.
The troop-carrying destroyers hove to off the beach between the Laruma and Koromokina Rivers in the predawn darkness on the morning of 7 November. Between 0400 and 0600, the 475 soldiers slipped ashore in twenty-one landing craft under the very noses of the American defenders. Patrolling PT boats missed the destroyers, and an antitank
SOLDIERS OF THE 148TH REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM boarding the transport President Jackson for the run to Bougainville, 5 November 1943.
platoon on shore saw the landing craft but thought they were American. The enemy soldiers landed so close to the American lines that they actually cut off several marines in an outpost, who were later rescued by two LCM's.
The Japanese attacked at once in the vicinity of a lagoon about fourteen hundred yards west of the Koromokina River. The sector was defended by troops of the 3d Marines who had just exchanged positions with the 9th Marines. General Turnage had ordered the transfer because the 3d had seen all the fighting on D Day, the 9th (which landed on the left) none, and there seemed to be no immediate prospect of fighting on the left. The enemy made some small local gains by infiltrating. The fighting, with rifles, machine guns, mortars, and grenades, was close work, but the marine lines held.
Next morning five field artillery batteries, plus mortars, antitank guns, and machine guns, fired a twenty-minute preparation into the Japanese position. Then the newly arrived 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, supported by light tanks, assaulted. It met only light opposition the artillery preparation had come close to achieving perfection. Instead of engaging in a fierce fight, the 1st Battalion walked, cautiously but steadily, through the jungle. It found, in the small area where the Japanese had packed themselves, about three hundred men killed almost instantaneously, their dead bodies lying beside their smashed weapons. In this action at Koromokina Lagoon the Marines suffered sixteen men killed, thirty wounded.
Meanwhile the 23d Infantry had moved into position inland and had already begun attacking the trail blocks the marines had set up. Control of the trail system inland was of great importance to the security of the beachhead. It was clear that unless the Japanese had enough strength to deliver a major attack from the sea (and Admiral Sherman had settled that question on 5 November) any counteroffensives would be delivered along the axes of the trails. There were two important tracks at Cape Torokina, East-West Trail and the Numa Numa Trail. The latter ran from the shore near the mouth of the Piva River northward through the mountains to Numa Numa on the east coast. East West Trail intersected the Numa Numa Trail about five thousand yards inland (north) of the Piva's mouth. It led eastward, then north through the mountains to Roravana Bay and intersected the several trails leading to Buin. A local track, Mission Trail, ran from a point about two thousand yards north of the Piva mouth southwestward to the Roman Catholic mission station at Buretoni just northwest of Torokina.
On 5 November the 23d Infantry attacked a block on Mission Trail that was held by the 3d Raider Battalion. After the raider battalion beat off the 23d it and later the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, counterattacked up Mission Trail and by Armistice Day had advanced to the junction of Mission and Numa Numa Trails. Losing 19 killed and 32 wounded, the marines estimated that they had accounted for 550 of the enemy.
Two days later the 21st Marines continued the fight, this time not only to keep control of the trails but also to secure
an airfield site. Since landing the Marine Amphibious Corps had also been hard at work pushing supply routes through the swamps, an extremely difficult and time-consuming task. At the same time patrols had found a good airfield site in a coconut grove by the right (west) bank of the Piva River near the junction of the Numa Numa and East-West Trails. This was some distance from the 3d Division's front, and the difficulties of pushing supplies so far prevented an immediate forward displacement of the 3d Division to include the site. Generals Geiger and Turnage therefore decided to establish a self-sustaining outpost at the trail junction in order to hold the airfield site. On 13 and 14 November troops of the 21st Marines, fighting hard against Japanese in prepared positions, made their way through the coconut grove and by 1600 of 14 November had seized the trail junction.
Because the building of roads and trails inside the beachhead eased the logistical situation, Geiger decided to move his whole front forward in the latter part of November. The 3d Division would advance on the east (right), the 37th Division on the west. Five artillery battalions, operating under the 37th Division artillery commander, Brig. Gen. Leo N. Kreber, would provide support, as would the Aircraft, Northern Solomons, under Brig. Gen. Field Harris, USMC. The 37th Division met no fighting in its advance but the 3d Marine Division continued to meet opposition from the 23d Infantry along the trails, especially on the Numa Numa Trail north of the airfield site and in the region northeast of that site where the East-West Trail crossed several tributary forks of the Piva River. Here, between 20 and 24 November, the Japanese resisted vigorously but vainly. By 26 November the 3d Marine Division, maintaining contact on the left with the 37th Division, had extended its lines as far north as the south shore of Lake Kathleen, about 7,500 yards north of the Piva's mouth. In the fighting in the Piva forks the 3d Marines took the first high ground in the beachhead. Along the shore line the I Corps held the beach from a point 6,000 yards northwest of Cape Torokina to a point 3,500 east of the cape. The inland lines of the perimeter were about 19,500 yards long.
During November the Japanese Army commanders still refused to believe that Halsey had made his main effort at Empress Augusta Bay and therefore undertook no counterattacks on a scale large enough to be effective. But Rabaul-based aircraft continued to raid the beachhead. Both division command posts were hit, as were several fuel and ammunition dumps, which blew skyward in impressive and expensive displays. On a few occasions the enemy planes swooped down suddenly over the mountains during daylight and caught the beachhead by surprise (the mountains blocked the radar beams), but most of the bombings were nocturnal, and the Japanese simplified the radar operators' problems by attacking from seaward where they were easy to locate in time for warning to be given and the antiaircraft guns to go into action. Puruata Island, with phosphorescent water outlining it clearly, was a favorite and profitable target, since it was nearly always packed with supplies
ADMIRAL WILLIAM F. HALSEY, JR., center, with Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, left, and Brig. Gen. Leo N. Kreber, Bougainville, 13 November 1943.
37TH DIVISION TROOPS moving inland from the beach over a slimy mud trail, 8 November 1943. These men are from the 148th Regimental Combat Team.
awaiting transshipment to the mainland. 11
These attacks did not jeopardize the security of the beachhead but they were a costly nuisance. Of ninety air alerts in November, twenty-two resulted in bombings and strafings that killed twenty-four men and wounded ninety-six. In addition to the antiaircraft guns a few PV-1 night fighters from New Georgia defended against Kusaka's fliers. Though their losses were lighter than in daylight attacks, the Japanese lost several planes to the night fighters and the antiaircraft batteries.
So sure were the Japanese that Buka was an ultimate target that they continued to send reinforcements there. Late in November 920 soldiers on board three destroyers with two more escorting attempted to get to Buka. They were intercepted in the Solomon Sea during the night of 25 November by Captain Burke's destroyer squadron, which chased them from near Buka almost to Cape Saint George, the southern tip of New Ireland. Burke's ships sank three destroyers without receiving as much as one hit themselves. This action, the Battle of Cape Saint George, was the last of the night surface engagements which had characterized the Solomons campaigns since the one off Savo Island on 8 August 1942. 12
In November and December at Empress Augusta Bay the indefatigable Japanese had begun to emplace artillery of calibers as high as 150-mm. on the high ground around the beachhead, especially in a group of hills that lay east of the Numa Numa-East-West Trails' junction and paralleled the west bank of the Torokina River. With these guns they shelled the beachhead, especially the airstrips and the supply dumps. The 3d Marine Division reacted by extending its lines to include the hills in a series of operations that lasted from 9 December through 27 December. One eminence, Hellzapoppin Ridge, was a natural fortress three hundred feet long, with sharp slopes and a narrow crest. It overlooked much of the beachhead and was an excellent site for artillery. Here the Japanese had constructed extensive positions on the reverse slopes using natural and artificial camouflage. The 21st Marines attacked Hellzapoppin Ridge but were driven off on 18 December. Several air strikes missed the narrow ridge completely. Finally, co-ordinated air (TBF's dropped 100-pound bombs with delay fuzes), artillery, and infantry attacks resulted in the capture of Hellzapoppin on Christmas Day. In the air strikes success was finally attained by marking the American front lines with colored smoke and designating the enemy targets with white phosphorus.
By 15 December the Americans held their final defensive line, a perimeter defense that extended on its inland side for about 22,500 yards. Over 44,000 men were present. Construction of the defense perimeter had begun in some sectors on 25 November, and by 15 December the work was complete. The line consisted of two-man foxholes, trenches, emplacements for automatic weapons,
105-MM. HOWITZER of the 135th Field Artillery Battalion in action.
mortars, antitank guns, and artillery, with alternate positions for all weapons. Fields of fire were cleared for 100 yards in front of the lines but all possible foliage was left in place overhead. The field artillery, grouped under command of General Kreber, was sited to fire in support of any threatened sector, and all weapons were registered and adjusted for every possible avenue of approach. All trails were blocked, and the approaches to the swamps were mined. Whenever possible machine guns were posted in commanding positions on high ground. The 4.2-inch chemical mortars were so sited and adjusted that they could place their fire directly in front of the infantry. The whole front was wired in behind two rows of either double-apron or concertina barbed wire, and the wire was full of trip wires and of cans hung up to rattle when an enemy approached the wire. Several antiaircraft searchlights were set up to illuminate the front at night, either directly or by throwing up widely spread beams that would be reflected down from the clouds. The defenses were formidable, and it would be some time before the Japanese got around to testing them thoroughly. Meanwhile life inside the perimeter promised to be relatively agreeable.
The XIV Corps Takes Over
The 3d Marine Division had borne the brunt of operations thus far, but it was not to be allowed to settle down in comfort behind its defenses. Admiral Halsey had other plans. The Americal and 40th Divisions had at first been scheduled for the projected assault against Kavieng, but Halsey now wanted the I Marine Amphibious Corps, consisting of the 3d Marine Division and the 40th Infantry Division, to conduct the operation. He proposed sending General Griswold's XIV Corps headquarters to Bougainville to relieve General Geiger's headquarters, and transferring the Americal Division from the Fijis to relieve the 3d Marine Division. 13 When Halsey first announced his plan on 2 November General Harmon opposed it, but Halsey overrode his objections.
Thus on 15 December General Griswold relieved General Geiger of command of all Allied air, surface, and ground forces based at Empress Augusta Bay and in the Treasuries. Admiral Halsey also made Harmon his informal
deputy for supervising operations of the XIV Corps. On Christmas Day came the first troops of the Americal Division, the 164th Regimental Combat Team. Bidden farewell by one of the area's frequent earthquakes, the battle-weary 3d Marines departed on the ships that had carried the 164th. On 28 December General Hodge arrived and took over command of the eastern sector from Turnage, and the 182d Regimental Combat Team prepared to take over from the 21st Marines. The 132d Regimental Combat Team took over its part of the line on 9 February, and five days later the Americal's field artillery battalions, the 221st, 245th, 246th, and 247th, began relieving the 3d Division's artillery regiment, the 12th Marines. 14 The 3d Defense Battalion and several Marine air squadrons remained at Empress Augusta Bay.
With the Japanese quiescent in December except for intermittent air attacks at night, the immediate problems facing Griswold were logistical rather than tactical. The road net had to be finished a good road net would not
4.2-INCH CHEMICAL MORTAR firing in support of infantry troops.
only improve the supply situation but would give Griswold all the benefits of interior lines if and when the Japanese attacked in strength. The inland airfields had to be completed, beach congestion ended, more dumps and depots established. General Griswold stated the problem thus:
Puruata Island was so heavily loaded down it was about to sink. All beaches were congested. No long range supply road system had been planned. Long hand carry was the rule, particularly in the Marine Division sector (later the Americal) for the front line troops. Forward ration dumps, ammunition and bomb dumps, gasoline dumps, hospital areas and bomb shelters for the same, beach developments, interior supply roads, the Service Command area itself, a central cemetery, refrigeration, sawmills, drainage ditches, and a myriad of other
LT. GEN. MILLARD F. HARMON, center, and Maj. Gen. Oscar W. Griswold, second from left, are briefed by a Marine officer.
things were non-existent, and not even visualized. Space for all these things had to be carved out of the virgin jungle. 15
Griswold, characterized by Halsey as "a farsighted and capable planner," set to work with his staff. 16 Harmon's headquarters contributed greatly to the solution of the logistical problems by activating, in New Caledonia on 15 December, a Provisional Service Command for Bougainville. This organization, specifically tailored for the particular mission of supporting the XIV Corps, began its operations on Bougainville on 6 January 1944. By 31 January its strength was slightly more than two thousand men.
Logistical development under Griswold was extensive and orderly. By now the swamp had been drained. Malaria was kept rigidly under control. The volcanic ash of the region made adequate roads, but the heavy rainstorms that fell almost daily tended to wash them away. Road maintenance was therefore one of the most difficult logistic problems. By 1 March forty-three miles of two-way and thirty-six miles of one-way roads had been built. The troops also cleared several acres for gardens. The hot sun and frequent rains gave them fair returns, and fresh vegetables, normally a rarity in that part of the world, improved the otherwise almost unvarying diet of C and K rations and dehydrated foods.
Green vegetables grew fairly well, but tomatoes and corn did not. 17 There were frequent distributions of books, movies, performances by motion picture and radio personalities, sports, and occasionally beer and soft drinks. Empress Augusta Bay was about as pleasant a beachhead as one could hope for.
During the first two and a half months following Griswold's assumption of command there was no heavy fighting. There were not enough troops to hold all the high ground inland, but combat and reconnaissance patrols went out to the east, the north, and the west to keep tab on all the possible routes of Japanese approach. Airplanes also reconnoitered trails, and PT boats, water routes.
One of the outstanding patrols was conducted by the 1st Battalion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment, which arrived in late December. This battalion, composed of 34 officers (some white, some Fijian) and 777 enlisted Fijians, was at first commanded by Lt. Col. J. B. K. Taylor of New Zealand. But Taylor was wounded his first night ashore and was replaced by Maj. Geoffrey T. Upton, also of New Zealand. 18 A detachment of the Fiji battalion left the beachhead on 28 December and walked through the mountains over the Numa Numa Trail to the village of Ibu, east of the mountains, where they set up an outpost on 30 December. From Ibu these natural jungle fighters kept watch over enemy movements on the east coast so that no Japanese could advance unsuspected along the Numa Numa Trail. They reported to corps headquarters by radio and were supplied by air drops from C-47's. They also hacked an airstrip suitable for L-4 planes (Piper Cubs) on the 1,700-foot-high shelf that Ibu rests on.
But during December 1943 all ground operations were of minor importance when compared with the air operations against Rabaul that were conducted by South Pacific aircraft.
December Attacks Against Rabaul
Eight Seabee battalions and one New Zealand engineer brigade had begun work on a fighter strip at Cape Torokina promptly after D Day. Because the area was one of the few relatively dry patches of ground at Empress Augusta Bay, there was some competition among other units to occupy it, but the squatters were evicted and the builders were able to work unimpeded. 19 The strip was ready for operations on 9 December, and the next day seventeen F4U's of Marine Fighting Squadron 216 (I Marine Aircraft Wing) flew in and set up at their new base.
Starting in mid-November B-24's of the Thirteenth Air Force had begun bombing Rabaul every few days, but
C-47 AIR-DROPPING SUPPLIES on a partially completed airstrip.
now, with its new forward fighter fields at Torokina and in the Treasuries, Air Command, Solomons, was ready to start an intensive series of operations with the purpose of completely neutralizing Rabaul.
The Solomons air command now had a new commander. Maj. Gen. Ralph J. Mitchell of the Marine Corps relieved General Twining on 20 November. Twining returned to the United States, then went to Italy where he commanded the Fifteenth Air Force. 20 The strength of General Mitchell's command was formidable, even after the intensive operations of October and November. He had, in operating condition on 17 December, 199 fighters, 200 light and medium bombers, and 99 heavy bombers, or about twice what the Japanese had in the entire Southeast Area. 21
The first time the Torokina field was used against Rabaul was 17 December, when fighters from New Georgia staged through it on a 76-plane sweep. From then on it was almost continuously in use. For the rest of December, except when the weather was too bad for flying, Mitchell continued the attacks, varying fighter sweeps with fighter-escorted raids by B-24's. 22
But Mitchell's heavy bomber pilots,
like Kenney's, were unable to knock out Rabaul, and toward the end of the year the Japanese sent in more planes. Medium, dive, and torpedo bombers would have to be used, and their employment would have to await completion of the strips near the Piva River. The first of these, termed Piva U or Piva Uncle, was started on 29 November and completed on 30 December. The second, Piva Yoke, was ready on 9 January 1944. 23
It was clear that the reduction of Rabaul would not occur until 1944. Kenney's and Mitchell's attacks in 1943, however, were quite effective, if not completely successful. They caused enough damage to make the Japanese garrison start wholesale excavation in November in an effort to put everything possible under ground and so escape complete destruction.
Meanwhile, under partial cover of the invasion of Bougainville and Mitchell's attacks on Rabaul, General MacArthur's forces had crossed Vitiaz and Dampier Straits to invade New Britain.
Empress Augusta Bay, 293 killed, 1,071 wounded, 95 missing, and 1,161 sick and evacuated. (The relatively large figure for missing was due to the McKean's sinking and the loss of many of her passengers.)
Treasuries, 53 killed, 174 wounded, and missing.
Choiseul, 7 killed, 14 wounded, 4 missing. In addition I Marine Amphibious Corps lost several men at the base depot in Vella Lavella to aerial bombardment. Of the total casualties, the 3d Marine Division lost the most--186 killed, 624 wounded. The 37th Division suffered 10 wounded during the period. All these figures are taken from a casualty report in I Marine Amphibious Corps' report, Phase III. The 3d Marine Division reported that it had counted 2,100 dead Japanese.
15. Ltr, Griswold to Barnett, CofS USAFISPA, 15 Feb 44, quoted in SOPACBACOM, The Bougainville Campaign, Ch. 5, p. 239, OCMH.
16. Halsey, Narrative Account of the South Pacific Campaign, p. 11, OCMH.
17. Ltr, Hon. Hugh M. Milton, II (former CofS, XIV Corps), to author, 13 Jul 56, OCMH. Exceptions to the unvarying diet were: turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, steak early in 1944, and fresh (cold storage) eggs on Easter Sunday.
18. The Fijians added more color to the beachhead than did any other unit. Immaculate in appearance, they were nearly all men of extraordinary physical stature. They obviously liked soldiering and their marching was impressive in its precision. They sang well and often, their repertoire ranging from their native songs through "Onward Christian Soldiers" to "Pistol Packin' Mama" in Fijian.
19. This section is based on Craven and Cate, The Pacific: Guadalcanal to Saipan, pp. 350-52 Morison, Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, pp. 392-98 USSBS, The Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, passim. See also Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II, pp. 193-97.
20. In the closing days of the war, Twining led the Twentieth Air Force.
21. Total strength of Mitchell's command, including nonoperational planes, was 268 fighters, 252 light and medium bombers, and 111 heavy bombers.
22. On Christmas Day Halsey sent a carrier raid against Kavieng. He ordered a surface bombardment of Buka in order to lure out enemy aircraft, whereupon Admiral Sherman's two carriers (Bunker Hill and Monterey) struck Kavieng soon after sunrise. But Sherman's pilots found few targets.
23. These dates are taken from Building the Navy's Bases in World War II, pp. 270-72.
Battle of Bougainville
Planning and Preparations. During 1942, Allied operations in the Southwest and South Pacific were directed at encircling and, ultimately, capturing the great Japanese base at Rabaul (Operation CARTWHEEL). By early 1943 it was clear that this would require establishing a ring of air bases around Rabaul, and on 28 February 1943 the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved a plan (ELKTON) that included the invasion of Bougainville by Halsey's South Pacific Force. This would neutralize the Japanese airbases on the island and allow the Allies to establish their own airbases to provide fighter cover for Allied bombing raids on Rabaul. ELKTON went forward even after the decision was made not to invade Rabaul itself, since it was still necessary to encircle and neutralize the Japanese base.
However, by mid-1943, Bougainville was defended by over 25,000 troops of 17 Army (Hyakutake), plus 12,000 Navy personnel. This concentration of Japanese strength in heavily fortified positions caused the Allies to reevaluate their plans, and by early August, Halsey's planners had proposed an invasion of the Shortland Islands in place of Bougainville. However, on 7 September 1943, Halsey's senior commanders recommended canceling the invasion of the Shortlands, which the Japanese had also heavily fortified and which lacked suitable landing beaches. Instead, they proposed landings in the Treasury Islands and at Choiseul Bay (156.403E 6.696S). Depending on the Japanese reaction, the Allies could then advance either from Choiseul Bay to Kieta, on the east coast of Bougainville, or from the Treasury Islands to Empress Augusta Bay (155.124E 6.389S), on the west coast of Bougainville. However, the rapid success of the Vella Lavella operation pressure from MacArthur to land on Bougainville itself as soon as possible and lack of available shipping led Halsey to adopt yet another plan. The landing on Choiseul would be reduced to a diversionary raid and the invasion of the Treasury Islands would be followed almost immediately by the landing of 3 Marine Division at Cape Torokina (155.042E 6.246S) at the northern end of Empress Augusta Bay.
This final plan, issued on 15 October 1943, was highly unorthodox. The terrain along most of the coast was coastal swamp, with virtually no road net. However, it was far from the Japanese concentrations in the south, and there were believed to be no more than a thousand Japanese defenders in the area. Allied planners estimated that it would take three months for the Japanese in the south to organize an effective counterattack. By then, the Allies planned to have established a secure perimeter and operational airfields. The other promising landing site was Kieta, but though it appeared to have a better anchorage, it was further from Rabaul, had better communications with the Japanese garrisons to the south, and would have required first securing Choiseul. A reconnaissance in late September by teams landed by submarine found that Kieta was a poorer harbor than originally thought and that the Japanese had all but given up on the airstrip. By contrast, it was found that Cape Torokina had no swamps immediately behind the beach, and soil tests at a coconut plantation east of Cape Torokina indicated that the soil was capable of supporting an airfield.
To alleviate the shipping shortage, a depot was established on Vella Lavella, within range of LCTs of Cape Torokina. Even so, the troops coming ashore in the first waves would carry only two units of fire. An unprecedented level of reconnaissance was also carried out, including aerial reconnaissance, hydrographic surveys by submarine, and reconnaissance patrols landed from submarines. To help conceal the Allied intentions,reconaissance patrols were landed by submarine on Santa Isabel, Choiseul, and the Shortlands, as well as Kieta, the Treasury Islands, and Cape Torokina. The assault force carried out rehearsals in mid-October at Efate and in the Guadalcanal area.
Landings. The Bougainville campaign opened with the assault against the Treasury Islands, which had been scouted by Marine Raiders from submarine Greenling on 22-23 August 1943 and again by PT boats on 21-22 October. Beginning on 27 October 1943, elements of 8 New Zealand Brigade Group landed in three waves commanded by George H. Fort. Resistance was light and the main objective, the anchorage at Blanche Bay, was secured by nightfall. The Japanese were caught off-guard, but mounted a raid by 25 D3A "Vals" that lost 12 aircraft in exchange for damaging destroyer Cony. The Treasury Island landings were followed the next day by the raid on Choiseul, which was carried out by 725 men of 2 Marine Parachute Battalion.
The Japanese were expecting Allied mischief in the Solomons, though they did not anticipate so long a leap. After some delays due to mistaken intelligence indicating an Allied move in the central Pacific, Koga ordered the air groups from his carrier fleet to join 11 Air Fleet at Rabaul for a preemptive attack, RO-go , on Allied shipping and airfields in the Solomons. He also ordered 12 Air Fleet in Japan to prepare to move to Rabaul. By 1 November 1943, the air groups of Zuikaku , Shokaku , and Zuiho , comprising 82 A6M "Zeros", 45 D3A "Vals", 40 B5N "Kates", and six reconnaissance planes, had completed the move.
At the same time 5 Air Force (Kenney) was mounting an air offensive against Rabaul. Photoreconnaissance showed 128 bombers and 145 fighters on Rabaul's airfields on 11 October the next day, Kenney launched the largest air strike of the Pacific war to that point, consisting of 213 heavy and medium bombers and 125 P-38s. These claimed three merchant ships and many smaller vessels and the destruction of over 100 aircraft on the ground, claims that were likely greatly exaggerated. (Kenney's airmen were as bad as any others in this respect. For example, a raid on 2 November, after the arrival of the Japanese carrier air groups, lost nine fighters and ten bombers but claimed at least 85 Japanese aircraft destroyed and 114,000 tons of shipping sunk. The actual score was 20 aircraft destroyed and 5100 tons of shipping sunk.) However, the raids were successful at diverting attention away from Bougainville and in damaging ground facilities enough to reduce Japanese combat efficiency. However, Kenney's own forces were worn down to the point that on 29 October he could only muster 53 P-38s and 37 B-24s for a raid on Rabaul. The airfields on Bougainville itself were neutralized by Airsols, which flew 3259 sorties against Bougainville in October 1943.
The landings on Bougainville were commanded by "Ping" Wilkinson at sea and by Roy Geiger once ashore. The landing force itself consisted of I Marine Amphibious Corps under Vandegrift. Resources were limited because Nimitz was about to open the Central Pacific offensive. Halsey had only a single carrier group to cover the landings, along with cruiser and destroyer forces. A second carrier group had been alloted to the theater but could not arrive before 7 November. Wilkinson was allocated just 12 APA and AKA, supplemented by LSTs and other short-range landing craft. The assault troops themselves carried just one unit of fire, though additional ammunition was brought in by attack cargo ships.
Allied order of battle, 1 November 1943
|South Pacific Force (Halsey) || |
| ||I Marine Amphibious Corps (Vandegrift) || |
| || ||3 Marine Division (Turnage) || |
| || ||2 Marine Raider Battalion || |
| || ||3 Marine Raider Battalion || |
| || ||1 Marine Parachute Battalion ||Arrived 23 November 1943 |
| || ||8 Brigade Group, 3 New Zealand Division ||Assigned to take Treasury Islands |
| || ||37 Division (Beightler) ||Arrived 9 November 1943 |
| || ||Americal Division (Hodge) ||Arrived 15 December 1943 |
| || ||7 Advance Naval Base Unit || |
| || || ||71 Naval Construction Battalion || |
| ||III Amphibious Force (Wilkinson) || |
| || ||Transport Division "A" ||6421 men of 3 Marine Regiment, reinforced |
| || || ||APA President Jackson || |
| || || ||APA President Adams || |
| || || ||APA President Hayes || |
| || || ||APA George Clymer || |
| || ||Transport Division "B" ||6103 men of 9 Marine Regiment, reinforced |
| || || ||APA American Legion || |
| || || ||APA Hunter Liggett || |
| || || ||APA Fuller ||Sun 17 November by aircraft |
| || || ||APA Crescent City || |
| || ||Transport Division "C" ||3 Marine Defense Battalioni and support troops |
| || || ||AKA Alchiba || |
| || || ||AKA Alhena || |
| || || ||AKA Libra|| |
| || || ||AKA Titania|| |
| || ||Screen || |
| || || ||DD Fullam || |
| || || ||DD Guest|| |
| || || ||DD Bennett || |
| || || ||DD Hudson|| |
| || || ||DD Anthony|| |
| || || ||DD Wadsworth|| |
| || || ||DD Terry|| |
| || || ||DD Braine|| |
| || || ||DD Sigourney|| |
| || || ||DD Conway|| |
| || || ||DD Renshaw|| |
| || ||Minecraft Group || |
| || || ||DMS Hopkins || |
| || || ||DMS Hovey|| |
| || || ||DMS Dorsey|| |
| || || ||DMS Southard|| |
| || || ||AM Adroit || |
| || || ||AM Conflict|| |
| || || ||AM Daring|| |
| || || ||AM Advent|| |
| || || ||4 YMS || |
| || ||Special Minelaying Group || |
| || || ||DM Breese || |
| || || ||DM Sicard || |
| || || ||DM Gamble || |
| || ||Salvage Group || |
| || || ||AT Apache || |
| || || ||AT Sioux || |
| ||Task Force 39 (Merrill) || |
| || ||Cruiser Division 12 (Merrill) || |
| || || ||CL Montpelier || |
| || || ||CL Cleveland|| |
| || || ||CL Columbia|| |
| || || ||CL Denver|| |
| || ||Destroyer Division 45 || |
| || || ||DD Charles Ausburne || |
| || || ||DD Dyson|| |
| || || ||DD Stanly|| |
| || || ||DD Claxton|| |
| || ||Destroyer Division 46 || |
| || || ||DD Spence|| |
| || || ||DD Thatcher|| |
| || || ||DD Converse|| |
| || || ||DD Foote|| |
| ||Task Force 38 (Sherman) || |
| || ||CV Saratoga || |
| || || ||Air Group 12|| |
| || || || ||33 F6F Hellcat|| |
| || || || ||16 TBF Avenger|| |
| || || || ||22 SBD Dauntless|| |
| || ||CVL Princeton || |
| || || ||Air Group 23 || |
| || || || ||19 F6F Hellcat|| |
| || || || ||7 TBF Avenger|| |
| || ||CLAA San Diego || |
| || ||CLAA San Juan || |
| || ||9 DD || |
| ||AIRSOLS (Twining) || |
| || ||Barakoma: || |
| || || ||64 F4U Corsair || |
| || ||6 F4U-2 Corsair||Night fighter squadron |
| || ||6 PV-1 Ventura ||Night fighter squadron |
| || ||413 other aircraft || |
|5 Air Force (Kenney at Dobodura) || |
| ||75 B-25 Mitchell || |
| ||61 B-24 Liberator || |
| ||80 P-38 Lightning || |
| ||133 other aircraft || |
Japanese order of battle, 1 November 1943
|Combined Fleet (Koga) || |
| ||3 Fleet (at Rabaul) || |
| || ||82 A6M "Zeros"|| |
| || ||45 D3A "Vals"|| |
| || ||40 B5N "Kates"|| |
| || ||6 reconnaissance aircraft (likely D4Y1-C "Judys") || |
| ||11 Air Fleet (Kusaka at Rabaul) || |
| || ||about 200 aircraft || |
| ||8 Fleet (Samejima at Faisi) ||All warships listed under 8 Fleet were at Rabaul |
| || ||Cruiser Division 5 (Omori) || |
| || || ||CA Myoko || |
| || || ||CA Haguro|| |
| || ||CL Sendai ||Sunk |
| || ||CL Agano|| |
| || ||DD Shigure || |
| || ||DD Samidare|| |
| || ||DD Shiratsuyu|| |
| || ||DD Naganami || |
| || ||DD Hatsukaze ||Sunk |
| || ||DD Wakatsuki || |
| || ||5 APD || |
| || ||1 Base Force (at Faisi) ||5000 men |
| || ||Elements, Special Naval Landing Forces ||Remnants of of several SNLF units totalling about 6800 troops in the area of Buin |
|8 Area Army (Imamura at Rabaul) || |
| ||17 Division (at Rabaul) ||Elements of this division carried out counterlandings during the campaign. Eventually the bulk of 53 and 81 Regiments joined the Japanese forces on Bougainville. |
| ||4 South Seas Garrison Unit ||Roughly a brigade. Joined the Japanese forces on Bougainville following the Allied landings. |
| ||17 Army (Hyakutake at Buin)|| |
| || ||6 Division (Kanda)||15,000 men at Buin |
5000 at Kieta
| || ||38 Independent Mixed Brigade (Kijima at Buka) ||5,000 men |
Just after midnight on 1 November 1943, the day of the main landings at Cape Torokina, Merrill's Task Force 39 bombarded Buka for two and a half hours. The force then raced south to bombard the Shortlands. The landings were also covered by Sherman's Task Force 38 (Saratoga and the newly arrived Princeton), which launched air strikes on Buka. The approaches to the landing beaches were poorly charted, but the designated transport area was found to be free of shoals. The landings were extremely well organized and the first assault waves, from 3 Marine Division (Turnage), hit the shore at 0726, just 41 minutes after the transports anchored. Almost eight thousand troops were ashore within a couple of hours. However, heavy surf took a toll of the landing craft, of which over thirty were wrecked during the landings.
Terrain was a greater obstacle than Japanese resistance on the northern beaches. The beach was esssentially a large sand bar between the ocean and nearly impenetrable swamp, with only isolated islets of higher ground.
75mm cannon knocked out by Sergeant Robert A. Owens
There were only about 270 Japanese from 2 Company, 2 Battalion, 23 Regiment, 6 Division in the landing area, but they were concentrated around Cape Torokina itself and gave the southern landings significant difficulty. There were about 25 Japanese pillboxes in this area, and their single 75mm gun, concealed in a coconut log and sand bunker, managed to sink four landing craft and damage several others. The LCP containing the wave commander was one of those hit, and this threw the landing of 1/3 Marine Regiment into serious confusion. Sergeant Robert A. Owens led an attack that neutralized the gun but cost him his own life he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The 1 Battalion commander, Major Leonard M. Mason, though wounded, was able to restore order before being evacuated.
It was later noted that the prelanding bombardment had been almost completely ineffective. The battle of Tarawa was still three weeks in the future, with its hard lessons on the necessity of highly accurate naval gunfire from the closest possible range. Wilkinson later noted that many ships fired short for over five minutes before correcting their aim. Some correspondents, probably accurately, described the southern landings as "the bloodiest beach in the entire Solomons campaign" (quoted in Gailey 1991).
3 Marine Raider Battalion was assigned to land on Puruata Island, just off Cape Torokina, where there was a platoon of Japanese defenders. These resisted fiercely in spite of being heavily outnumbered,but by 1530 on 2 November the island had been cleared. Some 29 Japanese were killed at a cost of 5 Marines killed and 32 wounded.
Unloading was interrupted by an air raid at 0735 consisting of 9 "Vals" and 44 "Zeros." Damage was slight. A second wave at 1300 by about one hundred carrier aircraft did no worse damage than briefly grounding a transport. The Americans claimed some 15 Japanese aircraft shot down, and the worst consequence of the raids was that unloading of supplies was delayed by four hours.
Only 68 of the Japanese defenders escaped the initial Marine advance. Marine casualties were 78 killed and 104 wounded. The dead included the commander of 2 Raider Battalion.
The cargo ships were lightly loaded, not more than 550 tons apiece, to ensure quick discharge of their supplies. By 1730 eight of the ships were fully unloaded, putting 14,000 men and 6200 tons of supplies ashore. The LVTs of 3 Amphibious Tractor Battalion made a particularly critical contibution to moving supplies over the swampy ground. Some 29 LVTs were landed on the first day, and eventually a total of 124 LVTs would be operating with the Marines. All transports withdrew at 1800, but the four with vital cargos still aboard were detached to return and finish unloading. These ships retreated once again when a scout plane reported Japanese warships leaving Rabaul, then returned following the Allied victory in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.
Battle of Empress Augusta Bay . Though the Americans did not know it, Admiral Omori at Rabaul had sent out a sweep late on 31 October by a force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and two destroyers, sufficient to have posed a considerable threat to Wilkinson's invasion force if contact had been made. However, the Japanese failed to find the Americans and returned to Rabaul to learn that the Americans had already landed at Cape Torokina.
Omori was promptly dispatched a second time, this time with a force of four cruisers and six destroyers. Omori's force was met by the four cruisers and eight destroyers of Merrill's Task Force 39. Merrill maneuvered to keep out of torpedo range while directing gunfire against the Japanese by radar. The Japanese lost a cruiser and destroyer and their remaining ships were heavily damaged. The Americans had two cruisers and two destroyers damaged. The Japanese retreated without having had an opportunity to attack the invasion transports.
On 4 November the Seabees of 71 Naval Construction Battalion began work on a 5150' by 200' (1570m by 60m) fighter airstrip near the coast just southeast of Cape Torokina. Elements of 53 Naval Construction Battalion and Marine labor parties also provided assistance.
Rabaul Raids. A second powerful squadron arrived at Rabaul on 4 November, consisting of ten cruisers and ten destroyers under Kurita. In the face of this unexpected threat, Halsey was forced to order Sherman to take the Saratoga and Princeton , the only carriers in the theater, on a raid against Rabaul. Halsey later admitted that he expected to lose one or both carriers, but the Americans achieved surprise and damaged six cruisers and four destroyers at the cost of just ten planes. The American carriers then made a clean escape.
On 11 November 1943, a second raid was mounted by Sherman's group and a second newly arrived carrier group under Montgomery. American losses were again light, but the Japanese found Montgomery's group and mounted a raid by over 100 aircraft. However, between the defending fighters and the formidable American antiaircraft, the Japanese lost over 40 aircraft without scoring a single hit.
Although the damage inflicted by these raids was modest, they were sufficient to convince Koga to withdraw both the heavy cruisers and the carrier air groups that had been sent to Rabaul. The air and surface threat to the Bougainville landings had been largely neutralized.
Expanding the Beachhead. Meanwhile, by 5 November, the landings had secured a beachhead 2000 yards inland at the cost of less than two hundred casualties. A second echelon of troops arrived that same day, covered by Merrill's task force.
The initial Japanese Army response to the landings was sluggish and ineffective. The Army was convinced that the landings were diversionary and the real assault would take place at Buka, and most reinforcements were sent there rather than against the Allied beachhead. However, the Japanese staged a counterlanding in the early hours of 7 November by 850 troops of 17 Division in 21 landing barges brought in by four destroyers. By the time the Marines realized what was happening, the Japanese troops were already coming ashore. The landing took place at Koromokina Lagoon, which was so close to the northern Torokina perimeter that it cut off a company of Marines, who had to be evacuated by a pair of LCTs. A massive artillery barrage on the morning 8 November shattered the Japanese force, inflicting over 300 casualties, and Marines moving into the area found that the survivors had fled into the jungle. A dive bomber strike just beyond the Marine perimeter on 9 November caught the Japanese troops attempting to return to the area this inflicted further heavy casualties, and the Japanese fled the area for good.
The Marines recovered documents indicating that Imamura, commanding 8 Area Army at Rabaul, planned to land 3000 men in three echelons close to the Marine perimeter. These men would infiltrate the perimeter while two battalions of 23 Regiment assembled just east of the Piva River (155.071E 6.237S) and attacked the eastern Marine perimeter. However, the destruction of the first landing echelon dissuaded Imamura from any further attempts at counterlanding close to the Marine perimeter.
Meanwhile, 23 Regiment made probing attacks on the Marine perimeter on 5 November, encountering a road block manned by elements of 2 Raider Battalion on Mission Trail, the main trail from the Cape Torokinaarea to the east. 23 Regiment launched an attack the roadblock on 7 November, timed to coincide with the counterlanding at Koromokina Lagoon, but was repulsed by the Raiders supported by heavy mortar fire. A second attack by the Japanese on 8 November was preceded by four hours' mortar bombardment, but the Raiders again held, then counterattacked in the early afternoon. By afternoon the next day, Japanese resistance had crumbled, but the Marines halted their advance and dug in around Piva Village (155.070E 6.219S).
During the period 8-13 November 1943 the Japanese staged three major raids against shipping near Cape Torokina, making wildly exaggerated claims of sunken American battleships and carriers. In fact, the worst damage was two bomb hits and a torpedo hit on light cruiser Birmingham , which was little impaired in its fighting capacity, and a torpedo hit on one of the engine rooms of light cruiser Denver, which forced the warship to retire at low speed. These results cost the Japanese 121 out of the 173 carrier aircraft committed to Rabaul on 1 November 1943, with 86 aircrew lost. Similar casualties were suffered by 11 Air Fleet . The Japanese raids did not prevent 37 Division from arriving, beginning on 9 November.
While the Marines were securing their perimeter, Seabees accompanied by an infantry patrol had identified good ground for airstrips near a coconut grove well north of the Marine perimeter. The Seabees cleared two 5000' (1520m) strips before returning to the perimeter. Because the Marines were having some difficulty expanding the perimeter in the very difficult terrain, Turnage ordered 2/21 Marine Regiment to move out on 13 November and set up an outpost at a trail junction near the airfield site, where the battalion was to hold until the perimeter could be expanded. However, the battalion was ambushed by the Japanese rearguard just as it reached the coconut grove, and by nightfall the forward elements had taken heavy casualties and were forced to pull back. The next morning, the Marines called in air strikes and brought up a platoon of tanks to support their advance. The advance soon dissolved into confusion, with some of the tanks mistakenly firing on friendly positions, but by late afternoon the Marines had secured the coconut grove.
With the coconut grove secured, the Marines rapidly expanded their perimeter, reaching Line DOG on 15 November. At this point there were 33,861 men and 23,137 tons of supplies in the perimeter, and the Seabees were working furiously to build a road network within the perimeter. On 16 November the first road was completed across the perimeter, and completion of the airfield could begin in earnest. However, on 17 November Japanese aircraft finally inflicted a serious blow against the Americans, sinking destroyer-transport McKean with heavy loss of life.
Piva Forks. The initial ground campaign came to an end on 25 November 1943, when the Marines pulverized 23 Regiment (Iwasa) at Piva Forks. The encounter began on 17 November, when a Marine patrol discovered and occupied an unoccupied roadblock on the Numa Numa Trail, which led north from the Piva area. The Japanese attempted to reoccupy to the roadblock on 18 November and were ambushed by the Marines, suffering heavy casualties, including an officer carrying documents of considerable intelligence value. Over the next two days, the Marines secured this part of the perimeter and sent out patrols, which encountered isolated Japanese rearguards and fought some sharp actions.
On 21 November, 3 Raider Battalion spearheaded an advance along the East-West Trail from where it joined the Numa Numa Trail. The battalion crossed the crest of the trail to discover that they were looking down on the main Japanese positions east of the Piva River and astride the East-West Trail. The positition also cut the Japanese supply line to the west. The Marines raced to dig in before Japanese 90mm mortars could register, losing seven killed but holding the position. The next day 2 Raider Battalion relieved 3 Raider Battalion on the trail crest, and the rest of 3 Marine Division moved up to Line EASY while 37 Division took over much of the northern perimeter.
Meanwhile, on 20 November, 2/3 Marine Regiment had spotted Cibik Ridge (155.076E 6.200S) and, recognizing its importance as high ground, promptly ordered a platoon to occupy the ridge. The next morning, the Marines on the ridge discovered that the Japanese had prepared the ridge for defense, but had pulled out for the night to avoid American artillery fire. When the Japanese attempted to move back into their positions, they were met by a hail of American fire. The platoon commander, Steve Cibik (for whom the Americans would name the ridge), called for mortars, and two 60mm mortars soon arrived at his position. Over the next two days, the Japanese engaged in mortar duels with the Marines while attempting to storm the ridge, but their attacks were repulsed. The Marines had secured a crucial position on high ground overlooking the battlefield. Cibik received the Silver Star for his leadership in this action.
2/3 Marine Regiment now made a reconnaissance-in-force to the east, only to discover that the Japanese had constructed a formidable defense line of about 20 pillboxes and that 23 Regiment was massing for a counterattack. The Marines disengaged with some difficulty and moved back behind the perimeter, only to be turned around and thrown back into the line to help repel the Japanese counterattack. On 21 November, the Japanese attempted to double envelop the positions of 1/3 Marine Regiment,but were repulsed by machine gun fire that inflicted heavy casualties. One machine gunner claimed 74 of 75 Japanese who advanced against his position.
The next two days were spent preparing for an attack on 23 Regiment, estimated to number 1200 to 1500 men. 37 Division reached its final planned defensive line, Line HOW, while 3 Marine Regiment assembled its assault force and registered artillery on known Japanese positions. The Marines had noted that the Japanese defenses were located parallel to the high mountains to the north and were oriented to the south, leaving them vulnerable to an advance from the west.
The attack began on 24 November with the heaviest Marine artillery bombardment so far in the war. Some 5760 rounds were expended over 23 minutes. However, the Japanese had also registered their artillery, and as the Marines were moving up to the line of departure, a Japanese battery twice walked its fire up and down the assembling Marines. The battery was spotted and silenced by Marine counterbattery fire, but not before it had inflicted the heaviest Allied casualties of the campaign. However, the Japanese had also suffered heavily from Marine artillery, and the Marines were able to move forward about 500 yards (460 m) before the Japanese rallied and counterattacked the Marine flank. The Marines met the counterattack head on and destroyed the Japanese flanking force. By the time the Marines reached their objective, 1150 yards (1050 m) in front of their line of departure, all enemy resistance to their front had ceased.
On 24 November, 1/9 Marine Regiment attacked northeast from Cibik Ridge, soon coming under heavy fire from a parallel ridge the Marines dubbed "Grenade Hill." Fighting was at such close quarters that the mortars on Cibik Ridge were unable to fire in support. However, on the morning of 26 November, the Marines found that the Japanese had abandoned Grenade Hill. 23 Regiment had been shattered, with casualties of at least 1196 dead. Marine casualties were 115 dead and wounded. There would be no further serious Japanese attacks on the perimeter until March 1944, though the Japanese would make frequent night air raids against the perimeter. Meanwhile the perimeter was wired and roadblocks established on all routes into the perimeter.
Battle of Cape St. George . In the early hours of 25 November 1943, a Japanese destroyer force that had just landed 920 men at Buka was intercepted by an Allied destroyer force under Arleigh Burke. The Japanese force was divided into a screening column of two destroyers and a transport column of three destroyers, while Burke divided his force into three destroyers under his direct command and two destroyers under B.L. Austin. The Japanese force had already tangled with a group of PT boats off Buka (neither side scored any damage) and Burke raced west to get between the Japanese and their base at Rabaul. It was a moonless night with heavy cloud cover, and radar contact was made with the Japanese almost as soon as Burke had his force in position, at 0141. Initial contact was with the two screening destroyers. Burke steered directly towards the Japanese and launched 15 torpedoes at 0156, then turned sharply to avoid any counterlaunches. Austin was eager to attack the Japanese column from the opposite bow but was ordered off with the one-word message "Nuts!"
The Japanese sighted the Americans just thirty seconds before the torpedoes arrived, giving them little time to maneuver. Onami was obliterated in a massive explosion and Makinami was crippled by a hit amidships. At about this time, Austin sighted the destroyer-transports. Burke ordered Austin to finish off Makinami and went after the second column himself. In a long stern chase, Burke finally closed with the Japanese at 0215, maneuvered on a hunch to dodge their torpedoes, then crippled and sank Yugiri with gunfire. Having lost contact with the other two destroyers, and with dawn fast approaching and Rabaul all too near, Burke raced back east. The battle was over. Burke's force had sunk three Japanese destroyers without suffering a single hit.
Japanese order of battle, 25 November 1943
|Buka Reinforcement Echelon || |
| ||Transports || |
| || ||DD Amagiri || |
| || ||DD Yugiri ||Sunk |
| || ||DD Uzuki || |
| ||Screen || |
| || ||DD Onami ||Sunk |
| || ||DD Makinami||Sunk |
Allied order of battle, 25 November 1943
36 Naval Construction Battalion arrived on 26 November, just as the Piva area was secured, and began work on the inland bomber strip, Piva Uncle.
Koiari Raid. On 27 November 1943, Geiger ordered 1 Marine Parachute Battalion and a company of 3 Marine Raider Battalion to conduct a seaborne raid into the Japanese rear to disrupt Japanese comunications and collect intelligence. Little was known about Japanese positions in the area, and when the raiding force came ashore northwest of Koiari (155.177E 6.282S) in th early hours of 29 November, the Raiders were met by a single Japanese officer armed only with a sword, who was apparently expected a Japanese force: The Marine history notes that the officer "began an abruptly terminated conversation with the first Marines ashore". The Marines had landed almost on top of a Japanese supply dump. The raiding force was brought under heavy Japanes fire and was forced to withdraw under covering fire from three destroyers and from 155mm guns in the main Cape Torokina perimeter. The dump was left intact and the Marines suffered 15 killed and 95 wounded, though they claimed to have killed 145 of the Japanese.
Securing the Heights. In early December, Turnage decided to strengthen 3 Marine Division's front by occupying the high ground just west of the Torokina River. The southernmost feature of the high ground, Hill 600 (155.099E 6.216S), was occupied without any particular difficulty, but the Marines moving onto Hill 1000 (155.100E 6.200S) discovered abandoned Japanese fortifications on the eastern spur of the hill. This feature, dubbed "Hellzapoppin Ridge", commanded the Marine lines to the south, and when a patrol was sent to occupy the position on 8 December, they encountered heavy fire from Japanese troops who had reoccupied the position.
Hellzapoppin Ridge proved to be a strong natural fortress, with almost vertical slopes on two sides and heavy forest cover that foiled observation for artillery or air strikes. The Japanese were deeply dug in among the tree roots and had their entire perimeter covered by automatic weapons, leaving no flank to run. Repeated frontal attacks by the Marines were driven back. On 14-15 December a series of Avenger sorties attempted to bomb the Japanese out, but the intial attacks with contact fuses did little more than strip away some of the vegetation. On 18 December, a final flight of six Avengers armed with 48 100 lb (45 kg) delayed fused bombs carried out their strikes individually and deliberately and in careful coordination with the artillery and infantry, which finally cracked the defenses. The Marines lost 12 killed and 23 wounded, while counting over 50 Japanese bodies in the area.
On 22 December an infantry and heavy machine gun platoon moved out to occupy Hill 600A (155.110E 6.206S), east of Helzapoppin Ridge on the west bank of the Torokina River. This was the highest terrain for a considerable distance to the south and east. The Marines soon came under fire from Japanese troops who had moved onto the hill during the night and dug in on the reverse slope. The two platoons were soon reinforced with their entire parent company, but the company commander rashly attempted a double envelopment of the Japanese without adequate reconnaissance. The whole company came under heavy fire and had to retreat. The next day a second company attempted to feel out the Japanese positions, but in spite of artillery support, it was also driven back. The next morning, patrols discovered that the Japanese had pulled out.
On 15 December 1943 Griswold (commander, XIV Corps) had relieved Geiger and Americal Division (Hodge) had begun to replace 3 Marine Division on the perimeter. On 27 December 1943, Merrill took his cruisers and destroyers to bombard Kieta and to try to lure the Japanese out for a fight. The Japanese Navy declined to put in an appearance, but the Americans bombarded Kieta severely enough to put an end to its use as a supply base.
Construction of the coastal fighter strip was completed by 10 December 1943, although the first aircraft to land on the strip, a damaged SBD making an emergency landing, landed on the incomplete strip on 24 November. 10 December also marked the arrival of 77 Naval Construction Battalion to begin work on a second fighter strip, Piva Yoke, that was to be laid out parallel to the inland bomber strip, Piva Uncle. The bomber strip was completed on Christmas Day, 25 December 1943. It would eventually have three taxiways with 35 hardstands and extensive repair and maintenance facilities. Camp facilities were constructed for 7000 ground personnel. The tank farm associated with Piva Yoke and Piva Uncle had one 10,000-barrel (1.6 megaliter) and eighteen 1000-barrel (160,000 liter) tanks.
A PT boat base was also constructed on Puruata Island, with berthings for 18 boats and LSTs.
Battle of the Perimeter. By the end of the year, with the perimeter secured and the bomber and fighter strips completed, the initial phase of the Bougainville campaign was over. The Americal Division had taken over the eastern perimeter from 3 Marine Division, and VMF-216 and 70 Fighter Squadron were operating out of the airfield. Allied intelligence reported that the Japanese in north Bougainville were digging in around Buka and Bonis airifields and were unlikely to move against the Marine perimeter. The chief threat was thought to be from the south, where the bulk of 6 Division, some 11,000 troops, could move against the perimeter using trails that were well concealed by the jungle canopy.
The Americans carefully prepared the perimeter, building extensive chains of pillboxes and other fortifications, laying out barbed wire and boobytraps, clearing extensive fields of fire, and and installing searchlights. Meanwhile they aggressively patrolled outside the perimeter, where enemy activity was clearly increasing by February 1944.
One particularly celebrated patrol was that by 1 Battalion, Fiji Regiment, which moved out of the perimeter on 28 December 1943 and along the Numa Numa Trail to Ibu (155.084E 5.975S). From here the patrol was to fan out and report on activities on the east coast of Bougainville. Supply was by air drop. The patrol reached Ibu on 2 January, hacked out an airstrip for L-4 observation planes, engaged in a number of firefights with Japanese patrols, and were attacked by a major Japanese force of 14 February. The patrol fought an expert rearguard action back to the perimeter, arriving 19 February and claiming 120 Japanese killed in exchange for one Fijian slightly wounded.
On 27 February the Americans occupied the Magine Islands (155.121E 6.283S) in order to prevent the Japanese using them to observe the American beach activity and as an American observation post for observing Japanese activities east of the Torokina River.
Hyakutake had finally awakened to the reality of his situation. He sent his main ground forces (primarily 6 Division ) slogging through the jungle to attack the Cape Torokina perimeter. These were not able to finish assembling outside the American perimeter and launch their attack (Operation "TA") until 7 March 1944. By then 37 Division was well dug in and alerted to the coming attack through prisoner interrogations.
As was so often the case during the Pacific War, the Japanese plan was overly complex. This was unfortunate for the Japanese, whose superiority in numbers, ability to move under jungle cover, and possession of high ground overlooking the American perimeter suggests that a concentrated attack at the right point could have seriously threated the American position. But Hyakutake assumed he was up against a single division, rather than two. He was so confident that the 15,000 combat troops he committed to the attack could crack the perimeter that he had already planned the surrender ceremony, to take place on 17 March. The men were accordingly issued with just two weeks' rations for the attack.
Overall command of the attack was given to Kanda Masatane, commander of 6 Division, who was also given two battalions from 53 Regiment and part of 81 Regiment. Kanda divided his force into three columns. The first column, under Iwasa Shun (the 6 Division infantry group commander), consisted of 23 Regiment, a battalion from 13 Regiment, and supporting elements, totaling about 4150 men. Its objective was Hill 700 (155.084E 6.185S) on the right flank of 37 Division. From this position the Japanese hoped to drive down onto the Piva airfields. The second column was built around 45 Regiment (4300 men) and led by its commander, Colonel Magata Isashi, and it was to strike across the low ground west of Hill 700 and join the assault on the airfields. The third column, consisted of two battalions of 13 Regiment plus a company of engineers (1350 men), led by Colonel Muda Toyhorel, was to take Hill 260 (155.110E 6.206S) and Hill 309 (155.099E 6.216S) and then move on to take Hill 608 and secure Iwasa's flank.
The Japanese had spent most of January and February improvising a road from Mosigetta (155.316E 6.501S) to the assembly areas in the hills north of Torokina. The attack, originally scheduled for 6 March, was postponed to 8 March due to delays in getting the troops in place. It finally opened with an artillery duel in which the Japanese forced the aircraft on the Piva strips to evacuate to Guadalcanal, but otherwise did little damage, while the American guns were joined by 56 SBDs and 36 TBFs that struck the Japanese at Hill 1111 (155.110E 6.170S). The Americans were thoroughly alerted, while the Japanese infantry had not yet arrived at the American perimeter in force.
Hill 700 consisted of two high points separated by a saddle, with the approaches from almost every direction having a slope of 65 to 70 degrees. Beightler did not anticipate an attack on so commanding a position, and the hill was held by just two infantry companies and a heavy weapons company from 2/145 Regiment, albeit well dug in. Shortly after midnight on 9 March, in a pouring rain, 2/23 Regiment attacked the hill and the area to its west but were driven off. Two hours later, Iwasa launched his main attack, throwing 2/23 Regiment and 3/23 Regiment against the saddle. The followup wave by 3/23 Regiment was blown to pieces by American artillery, but the leading wave by 2/23 Regiment reached the American lines, blew apart the barbed wire barriers with bangalore torpedoes, destroyed a pillbox, and secured a lodgement. By dawn the Japanese had a penetration 70 yards (64m) wide and 50 yards (46m) deep, which they continued to expand until noon, capturing seven pillboxes and bringing up heavy weapons to interdict the American supply route south of the hill. Beightler committed 1/145 Regiment to help contain the Japanese, but it took another three days and massive artillery support for the Americans to drive the Japanese off the hill and restore the position. By then Beightler had been forced to commit a second battalion, 2/148 Regiment, while the commander of 145 Regiment had succumbed to combat fatigue. The battle cost the Americans 78 men killed, while at least 309 Japanese corpses were found in the area.
Meanwhile, at dawn on 10 March, the Muda column had struck against Hill 260, which held a small observation post of 2/182 Regiment well outside the main American perimeter. Although the hill had a valuable observation platform built high in a banyan tree, the staff of Americal Division were surprised when Griswold ordered the position held. By then the Japanese had already overrun most of hte American positions, which were concentrated on the south peak of the hill ("South Knob") The Americans occupied the north peak of the hill ("North Knob") but could not dislodge the Japanese, although American artillery destroyed the banyan tree with the observation platform. The Americans gave up their attempts to recapture South Knob on 20 March, leaving the position to be battered by artillery and contained by patrols, and on 28 March a patrol discovered that the Japanse had withdrawn. The struggle cost Americal Division98 dead and 581 wounded, while some 560 Japanese corpses were counted around the position.
Magata's column was slow to attack, which was unfortunate for the Japanese, since the terrain in his sector was flat ground favoring the attackers. The Americans had captured documents revealing Magata's intentions, and the defending 129 Regiment had spent the previous two months building a formidable defense line, with mutually supporting pillboxes protected by double apron barbed wire barriers and minefields and equipped with numerous machine guns, 75mm pack howitzers, and 37mm antitank guns supplied with canister. At 1600 on 11 March, the commander of 129 Regiment ordered his outposts back to the line of pillboxes, and the divisional artillery pounded the area in front of 2/129 Regiment for ten minutes. After dusk a firefight broke out in which the Americans were careful not to reveal their pillbox positions but were unable to prevent Japanese infiltrators from cutting gaps in the barbed wire. Magata attacked at dawn with two battalions and by sheer weight of numbers captured seven pillboxes. 1/129 was moved up from reserve and recaptured two pillboxes, and that evening, searchlights illuminated the low cloud cover while automatic fire was poured into the Japanese positions. The next day, Sherman tanks of 754 Tank Battalion were committed to the fight, and by 14 March the position was restored. Another attack by Magata in the predawn hours of 15 March took a single pillbox before being contained and driven back with the aid of tanks and a strike by 36 aircraft. Yet a third attack on 16 March made little headway. This final attack cost the Japanese 194 dead and one man taken prisoner in exchange for American casualties of 2 dead and 63 wounded.
Kanda now withdrew to regroup, assembling what was left of his force to make a final attempt to break through 129 Regiment. During the five days that followed, the Americans rebuilt damaged positions and buried the Japanese dead. Meanwhile the Allied code breakers hadintercepted and decoded a message from Hyakutake to Imperial General Headquarters them of his plan to attack on 23 March. The intercepted message was rushed to Griswold, who was already dealing with a preliminary assault that had seized a low ridge very close to the battalion command post of 2/129 Regiment. The Japanese penetration was driven back by tanks and infantry on 24 March, and shortly after noon the Japanese assembly areas opposite 29 Regiment were hit by the most massive artillery barrage of the Pacific War to that point, a counterpreparation concentration of 14,882 shells. Seven battalions of heavy and medium artillery, plus the mortars of 37 Division, participated. Two days later the Japanese began to retreat to their base at Buin. Casualties in the Battle of the Perimeter included 263 Americans killed and about 5500 Japanese dead. Beightler reflected the mood of many Americans when he declared that the Rape of Nanking, in which 6 Division had been a prominent participant, had been avenged.
Part of the reason for the crushing defeat suffered by the Japanese was the poor condition of their troops. American medical personnel who examined Japanese prisoners of war and Japanese dead concluded that90% of the Japanese troops were already suffering from malnutrition, malaria, beri-beri, or other debilitating illnesses. Kanda had taken the same line as Mutaguchi Renya at Imphal, promising his men that they would feast on the American supply dumps once they had broken the American line. It was not to be.
Following the end of the Battle of the Perimeter, Griswold took the view that the Japanese on Bougainville could no longer have any influence on the outcome of the war, and he ordered his division commanders to engage in nothing more than aggressive patrolling. The Japanese were completely cut off from resupply, and by April 1944 their rice ration was cut to 250 grams per day. The rice supply ran out completely in September, and most of Hyakutake's men were put to work on garden plots. Allied pilots took to dropping napalm on the Japanese gardens, and Japanese morale plummeted to the point where desertion was common and there was real danger of mutiny.
With Japanese morale at rock bottom, and the Americans disinclined to stir up trouble pointlessly, a sort of unspoken truce settled over the perimeter (quoted by Gailey 1995):
The Australians Take Over. Beginning in October 1944, XIV Corps began to be withdrawn to participate in the Philippines campaign, and the perimeter was taken over by Australian II Corps (Savige). This was composed of 3 Division (Bridgeford 7, 15, and 29 Brigades) and two independent brigades (11 and 23 Brigades). Savige assumed command of the perimeter on 22 November, and by 12 December all American units had been pulled off the front line.
Blamey and Savige elected to carry out active operations against the Japanese rather than sit idly in the perimeter. The reasons for this controversial decision remain obscure. However, MacArthur had all but shut the Australian Army out of the counteroffensive against Japan, relegating Australian units to secondary operations and garrison duty.Blamey may have felt that the honor of the Australian Army as a first rate fighting force was at stake.
Savige knew that 6 Division, the heart of the Japanese garrison, was at Buin to the south, and he concentrated most of 3 Division on his southern flank. 23 Brigade was ordered to patrol aggressively to find the Japanese defenses, and by the time Savige ordered a general offensive on 23 December, the Australians had already made several strong probes into Japanese-held territory. Savige knew his force was probably outnumbered, but he was counting on the poor morale and dismal physical condition of the Japanese to tip the balance. In fact, the Japanese were dying of illness and starvation at the rate of 3000 per month.
The offensive opened with an attack on Pearl Ridge (155.187E 6.005S) by 25 Battalion on 30 December, which drove five hundred defenders off a strong position in just two days. From here the Australians could observe both coasts of the island. The Australians then installed a 3000' (900m) cable to the ridge and used it to pull a bulldozer to the top to begin construction of a road. The ridge became a major patrol base commanding the central part of the island.
On 31 December, 11 Brigade stepped off for Soraken Point (154.737E 5.574S) on the northwest coast of Bougainville, with the ultimate objective of driving the Japanese in the northern part of the island into the Bonis Peninsula (154.728E 5.449S) and there destroying them. The brigade advanced rapidly until 19 January, when advance patrols discovered that the Japanese were dug in on Tsimba Ridge (154.738E 5.699S). Savige was reluctant to commit his tanks, and took until 6 February to finally dislodge the Japanese. On 26 March a combined ground attack and amphibious landing forced the Japanese out of Soraken Point and into the Bonis Peninsula.
The thousand-man garrison at Kieta was contained by guerrilla forces that controlled much of central Bougainville and claimed over two thousand Japanese killed by the end of the war.
The main effort in the south kicked off on 28 December and was spearheaded by 29 Brigade. The first serious resistance was encountered on the Hupai River (155.237E 6.502S) on 10 January, where the Australians were forced to bring up antitank guns to clear a line of pillboxes. The Australians then rapidly advanced to more open terrain and on 11 February seized Mosigetta (155.317E 6.500S). Anticipating more serious resistance further south, Savige committed his tanks on 17 March, and on 19 March, 25 Battalion cleared a system of pillboxes on its line of advance. Warned by intelligence that Kanda was about to launch a major counteroffensive, the Australians dug in around a terrain feature dubbed Slater's Knoll (155.345E 6.573S). A pair of probing attacks by the Japanese on 27 March were followed by the main assault on 30 March, which struck a single Australian company south of the knoll. Four bayonet charges were beaten off, but only 16 Australians in the position were left unwounded, and the line was pulled back to the knoll. The counteroffensive spent itself on 5 April, when waves of Japanese charged into massed automatic weapons fire and artillery barrages. Out of a force consisting of 2400 of Kanda's freshest troops, at least 620 were killed and another 1000 wounded. Thereafter Kanda reverted to a purely defensive strategy and began moving troops from the Shortlands to Biak.
Meanwhile 11 Brigade in the north was almost a spent force. An attempt to flank the Japanese lines with an amphibious landing on 8 June nearly ended in disaster, and the Australians made no further attempt to clear the Bonis Peninsula during the remaining weeks of the war.
Savige took another two weeks to regroup his forces in the south, then resumed a slow advance towards Buin, supported by massive air strikes by New Zealand Corsairs. By 3 July Savige was ready to launch the final drive towards Buin, but drenching rain repeatedly forced him to postpone the offensive, which was finally called off on 11 August when word arrived of the imminent Japanese capitulation. The Australians had suffered casualties of 516 killed and 1572 wounded without driving the Japanese out of Buin. The Japanese in turn surrendered just 21,090 soldiers and sailors out of a force that had started with perhaps 65,000 men.
Invasion of Puruata Island, 1-2 November 1943 - History
D-DAY, 1 November 1943, dawned bright and clear. 1 General Quarters had been sounded at 0500, 2 and troops lining the rail at 0614 3 saw a beautiful sunrise which outlined Bougainville's forbidding mountain range. Wisps of smoke curled into the sky from the great jungle-surrounded volcano, Mt. Bagana. The atmosphere was tranquil. 4
The task force had proceeded without incident and at 0432, 1 November, course was set to approach Cape Torokina, while speed was reduced to 12 knots. Minesweepers swept clear lanes about 6,000 yards ahead of the transports. 5
The sweepers found no mines and reported sufficient water for the transports, which then began to enter the transport area about 0545, 6 with Hunter Liggett in the lead. Upon reaching a point about 3,000 yards off Cape Torokina, each transport executed a 100° turn to port and took the point itself under 3-inch fire. When abeam, Puruata Island was taken under 20mm fire. 7 At 0637, Admiral Wilkinson announced 0730 as H-hour. 8 By 0645, when all transports were anchored in line in the transport area, about 3,000 yards from the beach, the AK's being in parallel line some 500 yards to seaward, the traditional signal "land the landing force" was thereupon executed. 9 Marines clambered over the sides to take their places in the LCVP's and LCM's. In the first trip of the boats, approximately 7,500 troops were to be landed on beaches some 1,500 yards away from the line of departure. 10
The signal to start the first assault wave for boats of the President Adams (carrying elements of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, reinforced), 11 which had a 5,000 yard run to the beach, 12 was executed at 0710. 13 Simultaneously the fire-support destroyers Anthony, Wadsworth, Terry, and Sigourney, which had been firing intermittent missions since about 0547, commenced their prearranged fires. This fire lifted at 0721, and immediately thereafter 31 TBF's of Marine Air Group 14, flying from Munda, bombed and
1 Nov 1943
strafed the beaches for about five minutes. 14 First boats to hit the beach were those of the Jackson (carrying elements of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, reinforced), which grounded at 0726, four minutes before H-hour. 15
By approximately 0730, white star parachutes, 16 indicating "Landing Successful", were seen going up from several of the beaches, despite varying degrees of resistance. 17
The Japanese defenders of Cape Torokina on 1 November consisted of the 2d Company, 1st Battalion, 23d Infantry plus 30 men from the Regimental Gun Company. In addition to their organic weapons, this force was equipped with one 75mm gun. Total strength numbered approximately 270 officers and men under command of Captain Ichikawa, in prepared positions consisting of 18 pill-boxes, solidly constructed with coconut logs and dirt, and connecting trenches and rifle pits. Of this force, one platoon was stationed on Puruata Island and one additional squad on Torokina Island. The 75mm gun was emplaced on the shoulder of Cape Torokina near Beach G REEN 2, and riflemen were disposed around the gun. All other beaches were undefended. The Japanese had based their dispositions on an estimate that Allied forces would attack east of Cape Torokina and west of Cape Motupena.
It was not until 5 November, that survivors of the 2d Company, 1st Battalion, 23d Infantry, had their first opportunity to take stock. Only 68 officers and men had been able to escape the Marine
OVER THE SIDE--Men of the 3d Marine Division clamber down a cargo net into an LCM waiting to land them at Torokina on the morning of D-day.
onslaught. Captain Ichikawa, wounded in action, had been replaced as commanding officer of the defending force by the Probationary Officer who commanded the 2d Platoon. 18
The schedule of the 3d Marines provided for simultaneous landing by four landing teams on beaches from Cape Torokina to the Koromokina River, the 1st Battalion landing on Cape Torokina (Beach B LUE 1), the 2d Raider Regiment (less the 3d Battalion) landing west of the 1st
A MARINE DIVE BOMBER from VMSB-144 turns gently toward the beachhead area prior to peeling off in one of the prelanding airstrikes at Torokina on D-Day morning.
Battalion (Beach G REEN 2), the 2d Battalion to the west of the Raiders (Beach B LUE 2), and the 3d Battalion between the Koromokina and the 2d Battalion (Beach B LUE 3). The 9th Marines scheduled landings of its 1st, 2d, and 3d Battalions from left to right in that order on Beaches R ED 3, R ED 2, and R ED 1, and provided for simultaneous landing of the 3d Raider Battalion (less Company L, which landed on Beach G REEN 2) on Beach G REEN 1, Puruata Island, in order to destroy all anti-boat defenses which might be emplaced there. 19
When boats of the 3d Marines came in line with Puruata Island, they were taken under three-way crossfire of machine-guns on the Cape, the western tip of Puruata Island, and Torokina Island. 20 Fortunately, casualties from this fire were light, but LCP's (landing craft, personnel), being employed as command boats by boat group commanders, because of their distinctive appearance as compared with LCV's (landing craft, vehicle), were easily identifiable for what they were and thus were well worked over while in range of Japanese guns. 21
Having passed Puruata Island safely, boats of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines approached their beaches on the western side of Cape Torokina, only to be taken once again under machine-gun and rifle fire, this time from positions on the Cape itself. These positions were in well concealed log and sand bunkers, many of which were joined by connecting trenches. On the northwest shoulder of the cape, on the Raider's beach, a 75mm Mountain gun was emplaced in a coconut log and sand bunker, protected by interconnected
rifle positions. The area to seaward from the Cape past Puruata Island and the channel to the north was covered. 22 As the boats came into range, this gun began to fire at them, and succeeded in destroying about four and damaging ten others with 50 high explosive shells. 23
Typical of all these boats was No. 21, of the Adams. Embarked were Lieutenants Byron A. Kirk and Harris W. Shelton, with two squads of Kirk's 2d Platoon, Company C a detachment of 1st Battalion Headquarters Company and a demolition squad, Company C, 19th Marines. Less than 20 seconds before this boat was to reach the beach, three shells from the Japanese 75 hit the boat in rapid succession. The first shell killed the coxswain and put the boat out of control, while the second and third shells killed both lieutenants and 12 enlisted men, while wounding 14 others. Some survivors, under Sergeant Dick K. McAllister, went over the side, and by aiding one another were able to get to the beach, where they immediately engaged the Japanese defenders with rifles and hand grenades. 24 Since the only way to get aid for the wounded was to get them back to the ship, Corporal John McNamara decided to attempt to get the boat underway. By this time the boat had drifted up on the beach, so McNamara and a seaman climbed aboard and backed it into the sea. Having been damaged, however, the craft was not seaworthy, and therefore sank. Only four or five of the wounded survived. 25
In the meantime the Boat Group commander's boat had been shot to pieces by the 75, and the boat waves were completely disorganized. 26 As a result, assault companies of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, landed in an order practically the reverse of that planned. To make matters worse, the Japanese opened up with their beach defense
LANDING CRAFT UNDER FIRE ROUNDING PURUATA ISLAND on the way in to the beach. At this point, assault waves were also receiving enemy fire from Torokina Island, in left background, and from Cape Torokina itself (not shown).
31 Oct 1943
machine-guns, and those Marines who were able to get ashore unscathed had to cross the beach through a hail of fire. In spite of disorganization of units and the wounding of the 1st Battalion commander, Major Leonard M. Mason, early in the attack, impromptu but aggressive individual action soon got the situation in hand and insured successful completion of the landing. 27
By the time the shore had been gained, entire organizations were broken up. Platoons and companies were thrown out of position by being landed on the wrong part of the beach contact was lost between companies the battalion lost communication and therefore control of its subordinate units. This condition, brought about by cannon fire, emplaced and coordinated machine-guns, and by high dense brush that grew nearly to the water's edge, might have resulted in destruction of the entire force if it had not been for the presence of an unusually large number of individuals who had received thorough training as small unit leaders, and who knew the mission and were ready and willing to take charge in a crisis. Because every Marine had been thoroughly indoctrinated and briefed on the entire maneuver, each was able to carry out the mission in the sector
APPROACHING THE BEACH, landing craft machine-gunners spray the shoreline with .50 caliber fire which may help to keep Japanese defenders pinned to their positions, and hold down enemy fire during the last minutes of the approach.
THE FINAL RUN IN of an LCVP to the beach, while a torpedo-bomber of Marine Air Group 14 makes a last pass at the smoking jungle.
in which he found himself, even though he may have been landed in the wrong place. What is more, these men went on to complete the mission assigned to that sector without direction from higher echelon, achieving spontaneous unity of effort and attaining their objectives despite absence of control.
Stress which had been laid on small unit training, particularly in rifle squad and platoon tactics, now paid a dividend. Until the beach defense and its supports were overcome, the battle was one of small groups, composed of men, sometimes not even of the same squads, but in every case taken in charge by some Marine whose instinct for leadership enabled him to meet the emergency.
Attacks were well coordinated, well led, and well executed, and as a result the Marines who got safely ashore eventually reached each battalion's objectives where, with little delay, units somewhat automatically reorganized and either shifted position to the sector originally assigned, or merely exchanged responsibility for the sector with the consent of the battalion commander. Company C, which had been landed on the extreme right flank in place of Company A, which had been scheduled to land there, suffered particularly heavy casualties. 28
ON THE BEACH AT LAST, 3d Division Marines fan out on the double to get across the exposed shoreline and plunge, already deployed for combat, into Bougainville jungle.
That the troublesome 75mm gun did not succeed in causing an even greater number of casualties and increased havoc among the landing forces was due, in large measure, to a considered act of great bravery by Sergeant Robert A. Owens, Company A, 3d Marines. 29 Realizing that rifle fire and grenades were gaining no results in silencing the gun, he posted four comrades to cover with fire the two rifle bunkers adjacent to the gun position. As his mates were moving into position to take up fire on these bunkers, Owens observed them being shot one by one, but, realizing that once having begun the assault it would be useless to stop, he advanced toward the gun position alone, being hit several times on the way. Owens continued his assault nevertheless, entered the gun position through the fire port, killed some of the gun crew, and drove the remainder through the rear door, where they were instantly shot. His charge carried him just clear of the emplacement where he fell dead of the wounds he had received. It was afterwards discovered that a round had been placed in the gun chamber and that the block was nearly closed. Thus Owens undoubtedly prevented the gun from destroying additional lives. As a result of his action, Sergeant Owens was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. 30
There is no doubt but that seizure of the Cape was the key to success. Through the vigorous
efforts of Major L. M. Mason order appeared out of chaos. Although wounded, Mason refused to be evacuated until he was sure the landing of his battalion had been successful.
While the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines was involved in fighting on the Cape, elements of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, and the 2d Raider Battalion were also engaged. These units likewise had to land in the face of rifle and machine-gun fire and having been landed out of position, had become thoroughly disorganized on reaching the beach. 31 Companies were forced to move laterally on the beach, under fire, in order to reach their proper positions. In an effort to prevent additional confusion or immobilization by Japanese fire, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph P. McCaffery, Commanding Officer of the 2d Raider Battalion, moved under fire from mortars and automatic weapons, from unit to unit in order to dispose those units to insure maximum effectiveness of the troops. Initiating an attack which ultimately led to reduction of the Japanese positions, McCaffery led his men until he was felled by enemy fire. His valiant and inspiring leadership was largely responsible for reorganization of troops ashore on beaches immediately to the left (north) of Cape Torokina. Lieutenant Colonel McCaffery
MOPPING UP JAPANESE BUNKERS, two wary Marines of the 3d Regiment help to make Cape Torokina safe for democracy.
died aboard the U.S.S. George Clymer as a result of his wounds, but the inspiration which he had given his men, and the high esteem in which he was held, lived on. 32
On the left (north) flank of the beachhead, the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, and the 9th Marines landed against opposition not quite so formidable as that offered by the Japanese, but of a nature to make the landing difficult by any means. Here the beach was steep so much so that landing boats could not beach along the length of keel. Here jungle grew to the water's edge, and surf was extremely rough: These natural obstacles combined with lack of experience on the part of coxswains caused many landing boats to broach to in the surf. Before the 3d Marines and the Raiders had secured their beaches in the vicinity of Cape Torokina, in order that alternate beaches could be assigned to boats originally assigned in the 9th Marines' sector, 64 LCVP's and 22 LCM (3)'s had broached and stranded. This loss in landing craft resulted in unloading difficulties later. 33 Despite this, the 9th Marines quickly made their way ashore, established defensive positions as ordered, and despatched a strong combat patrol to the Laruma River mouth to protect the Division right flank.
On Puruata Island, the 3d Battalion, 2d Raiders,
THIS JAPANESE 75 MM CANNON PLAYED HAVOC with assault waves of the 3d Marines, sinking four landing craft and damaging ten before it was silenced by Sergeant Robert A. Owens, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his feat.
SERGEANT ROBERT A. OWENS, who posthumously won the Medal of Honor for singlehandedly assaulting and silencing, at the cost of his life, the Japanese 75 mm gun which brought down such destructive fire on 3d Marines landing craft from Cape Torokina.
met stiff opposition in the form of Japanese riflemen and machine-gunners in well-concealed pill-boxes, covered by riflemen in rifle pits and trees. The terrain was overgrown by heavy brush and afforded poor visibility. This opposition did not deter the Raiders, however, and individual combat training previously received now stood them in good stead. Throughout D-day and part of the next, the Raiders combed the island and finally succeeded in locating and reducing all opposition. By noon of D plus one day, resistance on Puruata Island had ceased. There were no prisoners. 34
The machine-guns on the western tip of the island which had caused such disorganization among landing boats were taken before the first day was over. The Raiders had done their job well.
More than half the leading force--between seven and eight thousand troops--had gotten ashore in the first trip of the boats and had gained footholds on the beaches before interference by Japanese air forces became threatening.
At 0730 large numbers of approaching enemy planes were picked up by radar. Fighter cover succceeded in breaking up most of the Japanese formations, but about 12 Val dive-bombers were able to break through and attack the transports, fortunately, however, only killing two men, and wounding five others in the Wadsworth. During this period, enemy fighting planes ineffectually strafed the beaches but inflicted few casualties since shore party personnel had dug slit trenches immediately upon landing.
Several serious attempts to attack our ships, however, were made by the Japanese within the next few hours. On one occasion, for example, a flight of four Marines fighters from VMF-215 35 was patrolling 13,000 feet above Cape Torokina, when six enemy planes were observed approaching our beachhead at 10,000 feet. Each Marine pilot jumped one enemy. After a brief melee, only one Japanese plane was left to streak homeward and one Marine F4U--that piloted by Lieutenant Hanson--was in the water. 36 Such interceptions were repeated a number of times throughout the day, and although the ships' antiaircraft fire was ineffective, the fine Marine fighter cover prevented effective enemy air attacks. 37
Most serious consequence of these air attacks, however, was the resultant delay in unloading, for twice during the day all ships were required to withdraw from the transport area for defensive maneuvers. Equipment and supplies had been reduced to approximately 500 tons per ship,
SURF WAS EXTREMELY ROUGH AND MANY BOATS BROACHED TO on the 9th Marines' beaches. Reading from left to right in background, lie Cape Torokina, Torokina Island, and Puruata Island.
and five hours was the time estimated for unloading. Interruption by air attacks caused certain misgivings with regard to a supply the future of which at that moment was by no means assured. But four transports, which had not finished their task, were able to return to the area on the morning of 2 November, and complete discharge of cargo without further difficulty or delay. 38
To add to unloading difficulties, the high attrition of landing craft due to enemy action and surf, reduced the number of boats available for movement of supplies. Coupled with this was the fact that the shore parties unloading on the beach, were taken under fire. As the heavy surf took toll of many boats, intervening shoals prevented the salvage tug, U.S.S. Sioux, from proceeding to assist stranded craft. To make matters worse, it was necessary to abandon beaches on the left because of surf, so ships assigned to those beaches had to shift to new stations. 39
Gunnery performance of several fire-support ships left much to be desired when firing on shore targets. Some ships fired short for almost five minutes, with all salvos landing in the water. When finally on target, however, our gunfire was helpful in the initial landing. It must be said, however, that the nature of the terrain was such that effective support was difficult, and shells frequently detonated against trees before they reached their targets. 40
Debarkation plans had called for the landing of engineer and anti-aircraft artillery organizations from Task Unit C on beaches within the 3d Marines' sector. Despite great difficulties, antiaircraft defenses were established on the beaches well before the debarkation of equipment and supplies was completed.
On Cape Torokina, as bunker after bunker
fell to the assault of squads and platoons, control was gradually reestablished over the separate battalions and the advance then begun had by evening successfully terminated in occupation of the proposed initial beachhead line. 41
With the fanning out of the first patrols, it became evident that, with the exception of two avenues of approach to Cape Torokina, the 3d Marine Division was hemmed in by swamp and the most dense and rugged jungle that Marines had ever seen. With each battalion on its final objective for the first day, it was only by exceptional effort on the part of communication personnel that even lateral command lines between various teams could be laid before dark. Patrols from the 2d Raider Battalion and from the 1st and 2d Battalions, 3d Marines, pushing through swamp and tangles that held their advance to a few dozen yards an hour, could not make contact. To plug gaps and close possible avenues of approach of Japanese reinforcements which, from documents discovered on bodies of dead in the bunkers, were known to be north of Piva Village, Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, and Company L, 3d Raider Battalion, were shifted to the Cape Torokina sector and put into position to cover the flank and rear of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, now nearly 1000 yards from its beach. 42
In the meanwhile, the 2d Raider Battalion, which had been assigned the mission of establishing
MOPPING UP ON TOROKINA ISLAND, a platoon of the 2d Raider Battalion finds the going tough, despite the fact that only seven Japanese garrisoned the labyrinthine jungles of the tough little island.
Situation, End of D-Day
1 Nov 1943
a roadblock across the trail to the northeast into the Cape Torokina area before the Japanese could determine a course of action, was securely established. This prevented Japanese forces from having access to the area. The expected counterattack from this vicinity never materialized. In the course of this action the Raiders captured a wounded Japanese Sergeant Major, first prisoner taken in the course of the operation. 43
On the day of the landing, the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, had been the right battalion of its regiment. On 2 and 3 November the 1st and 2d Battalions were moved in succession to the right (east) flank of the perimeter. This left the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, on the extreme left flank, still in the same area it had occupied upon landing. Consequently, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Asmuth, Jr., commanding the battalion, curved his left flank back to the sea. Late in the day on 3 November, the battalion was attached to the 3d Marines, which (less 1st Battalion) had been moved from the right to the left sector. Meanwhile the 2d and 3d Battalions, 3d Marines, had begun an advance inland through the swamps.
The line of advance of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, was generally to the north to enable it to maintain contact with the Raiders on the right for this purpose Company A, 3d Marines, was attached to the 2d Battalion from 6 to 11 November. General route of the 3d Battalion was north, then east along the perimeter of the Division beachhead the 3d Battalion was assigned the mission of locating the route of a lateral road from right to left flank. 44
Unloading supplies onto the beachhead of the 3d Marine Division and subsequent distribution of those supplies to beach dumps was a major task on D-day and those immediately following. All transports and cargo vessels supplied personnel to assist in this unloading. Each of the eight APA's furnished a complete shore party, from among troops aboard, consisting of approximately 550 officers and men. Of these, 120 worked unloading
THE 9TH MARINES SHIFTING POSITIONS on the afternoon of D-Day. Men of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, moving eastward to new areas due to the unsuitability of the beaches, and because of expected enemy resistance in that direction.
the ship itself, 60 were boat riders, and 200 were used on the beach with sole duty of unloading cargo from boats. Remaining personnel were used for shore party headquarters, pioneer work, vehicle drivers, dump supervisors, communicators, medical personnel, beach party personnel, and for work at the dumps created.
It had been planned to have the AKA's furnish 120 men for work in holds, 50 men to ride boats to and from shore, and 200 men to work on the beach, unloading cargo from boats as they landed. Only 350 officers and men were available to each AKA, however, it therefore became necessary to make up the difference by drawing men from the APA's. This drain upon personnel embarked in the APA's was felt principally by combatant units.
Used in initial stages of the operation as working parties to assist shore parties was a large percentage of personnel of the 12th Marines. One battery of this regiment was to be landed with each battalion of the 3d and 9th Marines. Since many artillerymen were not released from shore party duties until 4 November, several batteries could not be placed in operation until that date.
In addition to 12th Marines personnel, men from H & S Company, 19th Marines (whose regular duties consisted of reconnoitering for orientation of high and low ground areas, in order to disseminate terrain information rapidly for tactical, engineer, and dispersal purposes), were used until 3 November by the shore party. Other elements of the 19th Marines were assigned completely, with the exception of a few demolition personnel, and were also engaged in shore party activity until 9 November. Naval Construction Battalions augmented shore parties and were not released until 3 November to begin road construction. Some personnel from companies of the 3d Medical Battalion were held with shore parties until 11 November.
Other units used in shore party work and in
establishment of supply dumps were assigned regularly to the task. These included elements of the 3d Service Battalion, 3d Motor Transport Battalion, 3d Amphibious Tractor Battalion, and 3d Medical Battalion. Also included during D-Day landings were elements of Division Special Troops: Headquarters Battalion (Headquarters, Military Police, and Signal Companies) Special Weapons Battalion and parts of the Tank Battalion.
Three platoons of the Special Weapons Battalion landed on D-Day, the remainder coming in on 6 November. The entire Battalion was attached for operational purposes to the 3d Defense Battalion. Those elements of the Tank Battalion which landed, acted for the first several days as scouts and reconnoitered terrain over which they would be required to fight.
In spite of the tie-up during D-Day, the 3d Defense Battalion brought ashore on beaches of the 3d Marines most of their bulky anti-aicraft equipment, and managed to establish antiaircraft defenses on 1 November before unloading of equipment and supplies was completed. Battery D (90mm), however, landed on D-Day as infantry and did not land its guns until the following day.
Although the landings had been made with comparatively small loss in men and material, some confusion still existed on several beaches due to circumstances which had arisen after boats had left their line of departure. The impossibility of landing supplies and equipment on the three western beaches, forced boats originally destined for them to discharge at points farther east. Despite this, the job of unloading was completed.
Daylight hours of 2 and 3 November were devoted to sending out patrols to flanks and front for the purpose of insuring security and reconnaissance in establishing beach defenses and in reinforcing and improving defenses of the Cape Torokina sector. On 3 November, after a ten minute preparation by a 12th Marines 75mm Pack Howitzer battery and automatic weapons of the 3d Defense Battalion, the 3d Raider Battalion sent a combat patrol consisting of two platoons from its Demolition Company to Torokina Island, where a small but determined band of Japanese had harassed Cape Torokina and Puruata beaches with machine-guns for two days. No Japanese were found. Initial resistance to our landing had come to an end. 45
During the first three days, 192 Japanese dead were buried in all sectors. 46 The stoutly-held defenses around Cape Torokina had been reduced with facility, at a cost of 78 killed and 104 wounded. The beachhead was firmly established to a depth of about 2000 yards. 47
Naval Battle of 1-2 November
The Japanese wasted no time in reacting to the landing on Bougainville. As soon as they could divine U.S. intentions in the Bougainville area, the enemy immediately began to assemble available naval forces in the vicinity of Rabaul. Returning Allied pilots and coastwatchers reported that at least two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, 10 destroyers, and other light units had been sighted in that area. It appeared that the Japanese were going to make a major effort on the surface. 48
The only U.S. Navy striking force available in this area was Admiral Merrill's task force, which had bombarded the Buka-Bonis and Shortland areas in preparation for initial landings. Immediately after the Shortlands bombardment, this force had refueled and returned to the Cape Torokina region to protect landing forces from surface attack, and to cover retirement of the transports. 49 Admiral Merrill at this time had with him under his command four light cruisers and eight destroyers. 50
Very early on the morning of 2 November the Merrill Task Force was in position off the entrance to Empress Augusta Bay to intercept enemy surface forces reported in the vicinity and which appeared to be approaching Cape Torokina. A new moon afforded little light, but occasional flashes of heat lightning silhouetted the ships. Although the night was dark and cloudy, a light southwest wind sometimes puffed the clouds away to reveal patches of clear sky. 51
Rear Admiral S. Omori, sailing from Rabaul in the heavy cruiser Myoko, with the heavy cruisers Haguro and Agano, the light cruiser Sendai, and six destroyers, was Admiral Merrill's opponent. 52
At about 0027, radar contact with the Japanese force was made and our destroyers were ordered to attack with torpedoes. Since the Japanese force was divided into three groups and was spread over a wide area, it was impossible to keep the entire force simultaneously on the radar screens. In addition to this difficulty, certain units of the U.S. task force were inexperienced and were required to conduct a difficult maneuver under very adverse conditions. 53 At about 0230, nevertheless, in an area roughly 45 miles west northwest of Empress Augusta Bay, U.S. destroyers delivered the initial torpedo attack. In the ensuing action, the Sendai and the destroyer Hatsukaze were sunk while the Haguro, the Myoko and the destroyer Shiratsuyu were damaged. On the United States side, the Foote was hit in the stern by a torpedo, and the Spence and the light cruiser Denver received minor damage from gunfire. Throughout the engagement the Japanese commander had difficulty in locating our forces despite the fact that star shells and aircraft flares were employed repeatedly. Although the night was dark and overcast, Admiral Merrill employed smoke to screen his maneuvers, thus hampering Japanese efforts at illumination. Admiral Omori broke off action because the radar-controlled fire of the U.S. ships was vastly more effective than his own optically-controlled weapons, and because he had no accurate estimate of the size of the opposing American force. In addition to this, he rightly feared being in position where American planes could find him at daylight. 54
As a result of this battle, Task Force Merrill enjoyed the satisfaction of defeating and turning back a strong Japanese force and thereby saved the Bougainville transports and landing forces from what might well have been disaster.
By nightfall 3 November, the beachhead on Bougainville had in any case been firmly established, and all immediate objectives secured. Construction of an airstrip and an advance naval base began.
Establishment of the Perimeter
Establishment of the perimeter, which formed the second phase of the operation, took place largely within the month of November. Five major actions (one defensive and four offensive) were fought during this period, while non-combatant activity included the building of a network of roads, construction of a fighter strip, survey for a bomber field, location of dumps and other problems of support. Japanese opposition was for the time being less onerous than were natural obstacles, but, despite severe handicaps, communications functioned smoothly and satisfactory progress was made on the fighter strip during the month.
The second phase defined itself by the steps of progression leading from seizure of a foothold on Cape Torokina to establishment of a perimeter within which, by 30 November, the various objectives--fighter strip, projected bomber field and advance naval base--were defended by well-anchored lines.
In the first several days intelligence reports indicated only scattered enemy groups facing the right flank Marine forces on a line running from the Koromokina River to the vicinity of the Piva. Surprise, which had rolled over the meager Japanese defenses, was now exploited with speed.
The Japanese could offer nothing more serious than patrol action and sniper infiltration during the first six days after the beachhead had been secured.
For a considerable period, in fact, there was no indication that the enemy was aware of the true objective of the operation, that is, to establish and maintain a beachhead on Bougainville within which fighter and bomber fields could be built and an advance naval base established. That the Japanese had stationed only 300 troops in the vicinity of Cape Torokina, though aware of the possibility of a landing there, would indicate that they had not taken our threat seriously. It may be that, knowing the beach and terrain conditions rather intimately due to months of association, the enemy felt that we would never attempt a landing in that area, or that, if we did, then the operation would surely fail.
From an enemy prisoner and captured documents, it was determined that the Japanese had anticipated a landing at Cape Torokina on or about 30 October, but since his defenses were made up of only approximately 300 men and one 75mm gun, he could not have considered the threat except in the most casual expectancy. There was also evidence that the enemy considered a main landing more likely in lower Empress Augusta Bay with Motupena Point and the Jaba River as the prime objectives. Much stronger defenses against landing operations were organized at those points. 55
There were several courses of action that he might pursue: He could make counterlandings on either flank with movement of troops in small craft from Buka passage or the Kahili area, supplemented by movements in destroyers from Rabaul, or he could attack overland with forces in southern Bougainville. He might prevent occupation of the ground selected for the airfields. By shelling and air bombardment he might impede our shipping and the extension of our defensive positions.
But no course whatever was pressed home with sufficient determination to put in jeopardy ground we had won. The chief enemy threat, however, seemed mostly likely to emanate from the south against our right flank or center. 56 Nevertheless, the counterlanding at Atsinima Bay, which led to the Koromokina lagoon engagement, and air harrassment, almost exclusively by night, were the only tangible efforts mounted by the Japanese from among the many capabilities which we adjudged to be theirs during the early days of the beachhead.
Physical difficulties within the Bougainville beachhead were even greater than had been expected from reconnaissance and observation made prior to the landings. No roads existed in the area, and vehicular communication could be effected only along the narrow strip of beach where surf sometimes ran waist deep.
On the left flank some 10,000 yards west of Cape Torokina was the Laruma River, at places fairly wide and for the most part seeking its way to the sea with directness. On the right flank was the Piva, a tortured stream which writhed like a snake as it sought an outlet through jungle lowlands, making frequent bends which gave the Japanese excellent vantage points. To the center, the plume of smoke and glow of the active volcano, Mount Bagana, served as a guide, beckoning our troops to the serrated ridges of the Crown Prince mountain range.
When it became apparent immediately after the D-Day landing that the Japanese did not intend to offer resistance on the left (west) flank of the beachhead, General Turnage decided to have the 3d and 9th Marines exchange sectors, for the 3d had been more heavily engaged and had suffered numerous casualties, particularly on D-Day.
To this end, as we have seen, on 2 and 3 November, the 1st and 2d Battalions, 9th Marines, were moved to the right (east) sector, while the 3d Marines less 1st Battalion (attached to the 9th Marines in a reserve position in the right sector), moved to the left (west). The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, remained in position on the extreme left of the perimeter with its flank resting
on the sea this battalion was attached to the 3d Marines.
At 1800, 3 November, responsibility for each sector shifted to the newly occupying regiments. The 2d Raider Battalion was assigned the road block on the Piva Trail, and the 3d Raider Battalion constituted the Corps Reserve.
After reduction of Japanese resistance to the initial landing, enemy activity was confined on 4, 5, and 6 November to patrol activity against the flanks of our positions. Thirteen Japanese were killed. 57 Marines in the meantime were not inactive. Not only were extensive patrols sent out, but positions were improved and forces reorganized for further fighting. In addition, units
3D DEFENSE BATTALION ANTIAIRCRAFT gunners deliver trial fire in order to obtain best ballistic data for the 90mm gun which has just been set up overlooking Cape Torokina.
able to do so attempted to make conditions livable, particularly in the matter of galleys, in order that hot food might be served. 58
The 3d Marine Division and its attached units now began to feel for the enemy as they sought to widen the beachhead the second phase of the operation thus began.
On 6 November, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines reverted to control of its parent regiment and was moved as regimental reserve to positions east of the Koromokina River the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, which had arrived on Bougainville on that day, was attached to the 9th Marines and was assigned a reserve position of Puruata Island. 59 Before the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, could be moved to the right sector, however, events transpired which delayed their move still longer.
A few minutes before 0600 on the morning of 7 November, four Japanese destroyers hove to in Atsinima Bay, having just made the run from Rabaul. In the half-light of dawn, a force of about 475 Japanese troops debarked into 21 boats and barges, which made their way to shore. 60 Although observed from positions occupied by an anti-tank platoon on the beach in the west sector, no positive identification of the boats was made until it was too late to take action. 61 Fortunately, because the enemy landed over so wide a front that his full strength could not be assembled quickly, he had to decide whether to lose the initial advantage of initiative, or to attack with but a portion of his force. Characteristically, he chose to attack at once. 62
Company K, 9th Marines (Captain William K. Crawford), with the 3d Platoon, 9th Marines Weapons Company (First Lieutenant Robert S. Sullivan) attached, was holding the extreme left flank of the Division beachhead. A combat outpost had been set up in front of this position which consisted of the 2d Platoon, Company M with a platoon of Company D, 3d Tank Battalion (Scouts) attached. 63 This outpost was dug in between swamp and sea, astride the main avenue of approach to our lines from the west. In the meanwhile, a reconnaissance patrol consisting of one platoon of Company K, 9th Marines, was operating along the upper reaches of the Laruma River.
Two Japanese boats, containing an estimated 40 to 50 men, were observed to land with the initial wave only about 400 yards to the west of the U.S. perimeter, in rear of the 9th Marines' combat outpost. This enemy group immediately launched an attack on the positions occupied by the 9th Marines Weapons Platoon. Failing to penetrate the position, the enemy retired into the swamp to regroup for further attack. 64
Lieutenant Colonel Walter Asmuth, Jr., commanding the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, immediately ordered Company K to attack, and called for artillery and mortar support. The attack was launched at 0820, and after having moved only 150 yards, the left assault platoon encountered Japanese who were already digging positions facing the Division main line of resistance. Heavy firing with machine-guns and rifles began, and Company K's left platoon was soon pinned down. The center and right platoons attempted an envelopment in order to attack toward the south, but progress was extremely slow because of dense jungle and heavy swamp. By this time, however, the Japanese had already constructed effective fox-holes and made the most of natural concealment. Furthermore, the enemy was able to take advantage of fox-holes abandoned by the 1st and 2d Battalions, 9th Marines, upon the regrouping of forces several days before. Eventually, therefore, the two enveloping platoons were also pinned down by enemy fire. Since Japanese reinforcements were coming ashore from boats landing
INFIGHTING AT KOROMOKINA LAGOON took place when Japanese troops of the 54th Infantry came down from Rabaul and attempted a counterlanding against the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, on 7 November.
down the beach, additional troops had to be called. 65
At 1315 the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, was ordered into the attack. Company B was in assault, while Company C was echeloned to the right rear. This battalion was to move in left of Company K, 9th Marines. As soon as Company B, 3d Marines, was in position, Company K, which by this time had lost five killed and 13 wounded, was withdrawn. By this time the enemy numbered 200 or more. The attack was now in the hands of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines. 66
The character of the fighting on 7 November was hand-to-hand, shot for shot, grenade for grenade. The enemy was dug in our troops were forced to advance upon emplacements which, five yards away, were not even suspected. It was in this engagement that Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas of Company B, 3d Marines, gave his life in an act of heroism which earned him, posthumously, the Medal of Honor. As his squad advanced through the jungle undergrowth, it was held up by Japanese machine-gun fire. With the intention of knocking out a machine-gun with a grenade, he placed his men in a position to rush in after he had done his work. Sergeant Thomas hurled his grenade, but his comrades froze when they saw it catch in some vines and fall back among them. Thomas instantly threw himself upon the grenade to smother the explosion with his body, and was killed a few seconds later.
Among officers, the hero of the day was
Captain Gordon Warner, Company B commander, who lost his leg as a result of this action. With a helmet full of grenades in his hand, Warner personally led a tank from position to position in order to destroy six machine-gun posts. Warner shouted defiance at the enemy in Japanese, 67 ordering them to fix bayonets and charge they dutifully obeyed, only to be cut down by Marine rifle fire. By building up a firing line, Warner obtained fire superiority, and consequently prevented infiltration of Marine lines. Captain Warner was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross. 68
As the fight in front of the perimeter was developing, the patrol from Company K, 9th Marines, which had been reconnoitering the vicinity of the Laruma River, made contact with Japanese troops near the river mouth. A short fire-fight broke out, and rather than become involved with much stronger forces, the patrol leader, Second Lieutenant Orville L. Freeman, wisely decided to move upstream a short distance, then turn east and head for our lines. Every several hundred yards of movement, the Marines would set up an ambush and fire at the Japanese who were attempting to follow. This patrol returned to our lines about 30 hours later, having suffered loss of one killed and one wounded (Lieutenant Freeman) it had accounted for a minimum of three counted Japanese dead, 69 plus, in all probability, other casualties during its series of ambushes.
At the same time, a Japanese force estimated at company strength struck the combat outpost from positions near the mouth of the Laruma. Although the outpost had an artillery forward observer with it, at this juncture his radio failed to function. Consequently the observer had to make his way individually back to our perimeter, there to telephone his fire mission to his battery.
SERGEANT HERBERT J. THOMAS was awarded the Medal of Honor at Koromokina Lagoon for his heroism in smothering a grenade's explosion with his own body.
The concentration fell exactly as called, but the outpost continued to be hard pressed. Shortly afterwards, the officer in command of the outpost determined to withdraw to positions within the perimeter, but in so doing encountered the Japanese who had landed between the outpost and the perimeter. The Marines thus found themselves with their backs to the sea, hemmed in by Japanese on three sides. Lieutenant Frank H. Nolander, USNR, was ordered to take two tank lighters to the beach where the outpost was engaged, embark the men and withdraw them. This Nolander did, so that by 1430 he was able to report "60 men were evacuated from the Laruma River outpost without incident". 70
By nightfall the situation had clarified. The 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, was able to establish an entirely new set of lines forward of those which
Battle of Koromokina Lagoon
7-8 Nov 1943
had originally marked the perimeter. 71 The 9th Marines combat outpost had been safely evacuated from its precarious position, and the platoon of Company K, 9th Marines, which had been patrolling along the Laruma River, had retired into the swamp and was even now making its way back to safety. Just as darkness set in, however, the 1st Platoon, Company B, 3d Marines, became cut off from the main body.
Platoon Sergeant Clifton Carter, who at that time was in command, set up an all-around defense and prepared to wait for daylight before trying to contact with the adjacent units. With one light machine-gun, Browning Automatic Rifles, and hand grenades, Carter and his men held this exposed position throughout the night, returning to the U.S. lines at daybreak. The success of his action was not a fluke, for the men had received thorough training in night patrols during the stay of the 3d Marines on Samoa, and Carter's platoon was particularly well-qualified in that type of work. 72
Company C, 3d Marines, which had been held up by the swamp during the attack, now was able to tie in with Company B, so that the Marines now presented a single front to all enemy attempts to penetrate the perimeter during the night. Company officers in the front lines prepared and coordinated the artillery call fires which were shot during the night. To rearward regimental and battalion commanders planned an attack for the next day, despite the fact that some Japanese, trapped by the solid lines of Marines, operated behind our front. Artillery prevented additional enemy troops from moving up to attack. 73
In the late hours of 7 November a coordinated attack was planned by the Commanding Officer, 3d Marines. Action began early on 8 November, with a 20-minute preparation by five batteries of artillery assisted by machine-guns, mortars and anti-tank weapons. 74 The 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, (Lieutenant Colonel Ernest W. Fry, Jr.), which early in the fighting had been moved into the sector of the 3d Marines and attached thereto, passed through the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, and attacked with light tanks on a two-company front, A on the right, B on the left, with the reserve company to the right rear. 75 There was not opposition to this advance.
A tomb-like stillness settled over the jungle after the artillery preparation lifted, for over 300 enemy had been killed in an area 300 yards in width to at least 600 yards in depth. 76 Even though they advanced to a lagoon some 1500 yards west of the Koromokina River, the 21st Marines did not again make contact with enemy in this area until 13 November.
The Battle of Koromokina Lagoon had been won.
On 9 November, to insure that the Koromokina Lagoon-Laruma River area would be cleared of any possible concentrations of survivors, a dive bomber strike bombarded and strafed beaches, jungles, and swamps from the western edge of the perimeter to the Laruma River and 300 yards inland. Patrols later found bodies of many Japanese apparently caught by the strike as they returned to the area from the refuge they had taken in the back country. 77
The air strike of 9 November ended enemy activity on the west. At noon on that day the sector and control of the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, passed to the 37th Infantry Division, leading elements of which had now arrived. The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, reverted to the 9th Marines and was shifted to the Cape Torokina sector. The 1st Battalion, 3d Marines returned to regimental reserve. 78
From prisoners of war and captured documents, it was learned that General Imamura, Japanese area commander at Rabaul, had planned to put about 3,000 men ashore in three echelons, and the force which landed on 7 November was only the first of these. This unit had the mission of landing just beyond our beachhead, push inland, get behind the perimeter defense,
Evening of 7 Nov 1943
and engage in guerilla warfare. While they conducted this diversion in the west and north, the Japanese 23d Infantry Regiment, supported by field artillery, its Regimental Gun Company, and a Light Trench Mortar Company, was to attack our right (east) flank with two battalions at about 0600 on 9 November. This regiment was to attack from an assembly area near Peko, northeast of Mopara, and effect a junction with the force on our left flank in vicinity of Piva No. 2. Another force of undetermined size was to make a landing immediately west of the Torokina River, while a platoon of 40 men was to land just east of the river. The Japanese believed our beachhead to be farther east than it actually was, and had estimated our strength to be about five to ten thousand troops.
The first and only echelon to land was wiped out.
Marine losses for the battle were 17 killed and 30 wounded 377 Japanese bodies were counted on the field. 79
Thus the enemy's first serious effort to retake the beachhead was defeated by the vigorous action of the 3d Marine Division, whenever and wherever contact was made. As our troops pushed through tangled vines, suddenly, sometimes at their very feet, they would find a Japanese soldier hidden in a deep, well-concealed foxhole. Their attention would be drawn only by the crack of his machine-gun or rifle as he fired. That our losses were not more severe was due in large measure to poor Japanese marksmanship, although the enemy was well armed and the terrain suited him perfectly. 80
Piva Road Block
A part of the mission assigned to the 2d Raider Regiment for D-Day was established of a road block astride the Buretoni Mission-Piva Trail, which led from Beach Y ELLOW One inland, in order to deny the enemy use of this trail, the main
route of access to our position from the east. Company M, commanded by Captain Francis O. Cunningham, was initially assigned this duty. Cunningham was ordered to assemble immediately upon landing in order to advance along the trail for a distance of about 1500 yards, where he was to set up the road block. 81
Although Company M killed several stray Japanese, it met no organized resistance and was able in due course, to set up the road block about 300 yards west of the Piva-Numa Numa Trail junction without difficulty. 82
In the meantime the 2d Raider Battalion had advanced to the O-2 line, about 1200 yards inland from the beach. On 3 November, at 1520, Company E relieved Company M on the road block. The following day the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, relieved the 2d Raider Regiment on the O-2 line, and the 3d Raider Battalion reverted to its parent unit, having accomplished its task of clearing Puruata and Torokina Islands for the 9th Marines. The 2d Raider Regiment now was attached to the 9th Marines but retained responsibility for the road block, furnishing Company E for this duty. 83
Until this time there had been little or no resistance, but now the Japanese sent in reinforcements. These were larger men, in better physical condition and better equipped than enemy previously seen. 84 At 2200 and again at 2330 on 5 November, Company E was attacked in its positions by an undetermined number of Japanese, some of whom were able to filter through our lines. Finally at 1430, 7 November, coincident with the counterlanding at Koromokina, an assault was made on the road block, now held by Company H. As the tempo of the action increased, at 1500, Company G was sent forward to reinforce Company H. Mortars of the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines fired heavy concentrations in support of troops on the road block, and at 1550 the enemy broke off contact. 85 After this fight, Company H was withdrawn from the
Fight at Piva Roadblock
5-7 Nov 1943
road block Company G remained. Japanese were now observed digging in west of Piva Village, in the meanwhile harassing Company G throughout the night with mortar fire. 86
Early in the morning of 8 November, in order
MARINE WAR DOG assists in patrolling up Mission Trail.
to frustrate any further Japanese attempt to attack the road block, Company M, 3d Raider Battalion, was sent there to take up positions behind Company H, which was once again responsible for defense of the installation. At 0730 a force consisting of elements of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 23d Japanese Infantry Regiment, struck following a four-hour mortar preparation. 87 The defending Marines held until 1400, when Companies E and F effected a passage of lines and launched a counterattack which forced the Japanese back a short distance. At the same time, the 4th Platoon, Weapons Company, 9th Marines, supported by two tanks, was ordered to reinforce the attack, but, due to thick jungle and swampy trails, half-tracks and tanks were able to do nothing more than evacuate wounded who by now numbered 12. 88
Japanese resistance stiffened markedly, and the Raiders' attack bogged down about 1600, whereupon they were withdrawn to a bivouac area within the perimeter for the night. 89
During the night General Turnage ordered Colonel Edward A. Craig, commanding the 9th Marines, to plan an attack next day which would clear the Japanese from the area in front of the road block. 90 In the meantime Company I, 3d Raider Battalion, relieved Company H on the position the latter retired to the 2d Raider Battalion bivouac.
For his attack, Colonel Craig decided to use elements of the 2d Raider Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alan Shapley, since that regiment was more familiar with the terrain in the vicinity. He ordered Shapley to attack on a two-company front at 0800 following an artillery preparation, with the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, a section of tanks, and the 4th Platoon, Weapons Company, 9th Marines, in support. 91
Responsibility for the attack was further passed from Shapley to Lieutenant Colonel Fred D. Beans, commanding the 3d Raider Battalion. 92
According to plan, at 0620 on 9 November, Companies L and F of the 2d Raider Regiment deployed to the left and right of the trail behind the road block, now being defended by Companies M and I. 93
From 0730 to 0800, the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, fired an artillery preparation, during which Colonel Craig went forward to coordinate the attack. At 0800 Companies L and F passed through the lines of Companies M and I, and
began a slow advance through the jungle at the rate of about 100 yards an hour. 94 In the meantime, while our troops were moving into position to launch the attack, the Japanese attempted several attacks on the right of our road block causing one platoon of Company F to be held up so that contact was lost between the various platoons of that company. This contact was not effectively regained for the duration of the attack. By 0930 the attack had progressed only about 40 to 50 yards. A heavy fire-fight was in progress, the Japanese resisting our advance with light machine-guns and "knee mortars". Since flanking maneuver was inhibited by swamp, the assault necessarily had to be frontal. The Japanese were screeching defiance, while Marines yelled back. 95
By 1030, Company F had become so confused due to internal lack of contact, that Company I was sent in to relieve it. Almost immediately upon resuming the attack, Company I reported that the Japanese were attempting to move around the right flank of our assault. As a countermeasure, Colonel Craig deployed the Weapons Company, 9th Marines, to the right rear of Company I. This stopped the Japanese threat. At approximately 1130 Companies I and L drifted apart, so one of the two support platoons of Company M was sent into the gap in order that the advance would not be held up. In face of stubborn opposition, the advance continued slowly, until, quite suddenly at 1230, for reasons still obscure, enemy resistance collapsed. 96
The advance now became quite rapid, and by 1500 Marines had reached the junction of the Piva and Numa Numa Trails. Since no enemy had been encountered for a period of more than 70 minutes, assault elements were ordered to dig in and consolidate the ground so recently won with such difficulty. 97 Local security patrols were sent out about 200 yards to the front and upon returning these reported that no Japanese had been contacted, but that there was a large, empty
9 Nov 1943
bivouac area about 300 yards up Numa Numa Trail. At about 1720 several Japanese stragglers were reported withdrawing along the Numa Numa Trail, and at 1815 a defensive barrage was fired on three sides of the Marine position. This seems effectively to have discouraged the Japanese,
APPROACHING PIVA ROAD BLOCK, Marines of the 2d Raider Battalion keep clear of the trail.
for there was no further enemy activity that night. Although the Marines lost 12 killed and 30 wounded as a result of this operation, over 100 Japanese dead were counted on the field.
That night Colonel Craig once again planned an attack for the following day. This time he decided to have the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, pass through the defensive positions which had been set up at the trail junction, with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in support. The 3d Raider Battalion was assigned the mission of protecting the left (northwest) flank of the attack. The attack was to be preceded by a 15-minute artillery preparation followed by a five-minute bombing and strafing attack by VMTB-143. 98
As planned, the planes (12 TBF's) arrived on station at 0915. 99 The artillery preparation, however, had to be held up for about ten minutes in order that a reconnaissance patrol of the 2d Raider Regiment could withdraw from the target area. 100 Consequently the time of attack was postponed until 0945. The artillery fired its preparation, and marked the target area for the planes with smoke shells. Front lines were marked with colored smoke. Planes acknowledged the target area at 0920 and at 0945, when artillery lifted, made their run. Simultaneously, the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, jumped off in attack. There was no resistance, for the enemy had evacuated his positions leaving equipment, ammunition, and even rifles behind. Piva Village was secured by 1100, and the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, organized an all-around defense and prepared to hold the village against any attack. The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines moved north on the Numa Numa Trail, about 250 yards from the junction, and dug in astride that trail. The following day the line "A
MARINES AT CLOSE QUARTERS with Japanese of the 23d Infantry Regiment during the Piva Road-Block action, 9 November 1943.
to E" was established and the battle for the Piva Road Block was completed. 101
The artillery barrage which preceded the attack of 9 November was most effective in the Japanese rear areas. Nonetheless, in areas immediately to the front of the road block, although the barrage had been placed within 250 yards of our lines, it was relatively ineffective. This was due to the fact that during the night the Japanese had crept to positions within 25 yards of the road block, and during the barrage had remained quiet. Consequently, when the artillery lifted and the Marines jumped off, they were met by a sudden, intense volume of close-range rifle and automatic weapons fire.
It was later learned that the Japanese were making an all-out effort to break through our lines, believing that their attack was coordinated with the attack on the left (west) flank of the beachhead. At the Piva road-block, wide flanking movements were denied to the enemy by the difficult terrain on both flanks of the position. The Japanese, however, attempted such a maneuver, first on one flank, then on the other, but on both occasions they were repulsed, and the attacks degenerated into straight frontal assaults on companies deployed to the rear of those in assault.
Japanese attacks were very determined, but, due to the terrain and the disposition of our troops, the enemy was forced to expose himself. This probably accounts for the relatively heavy enemy casualties (over 550 dead) as compared with our own (19 killed and 32 wounded) in that area during the period 5 November to 11 November. 102
It was during the engagement of 9 November that Privates First Class Henry Gurke and Donald G. Probst, Company M, 3d Raider Battalion were occupying a two-man foxhole in an advanced outpost. Having located the two Marines,
the Japanese placed it under heavy machine-gun fire followed by a shower of grenade. Two Marines in a nearby foxhole were killed immediately, but Gurke and Probst continued to hold their position. During a lull in the firing, Gurke and Probst discussed the comparative capabilities of the rifle and automatic rifle, the weapons with which they were respectively armed. Both men agreed that the automatic rifle, Probst's weapon, was the more effective for the type of work they were doing. Observing that many grenades were falling close to their position, Gurke told Probst that he would "take it" if a grenade should fall into their hole, in order that Probst could continue in action against the Japanese with his automatic rifle.
The intensity of the Japanese attack increased a grenade suddenly landed squarely between them. Even though he was aware of the inevitable result, Gurke forcibly thrust Probst aside and flung himself down to smother the explosion, thereby sacrificing his life in order that his companion could carry on the fight. Gurke was awarded, posthumously, the Medal of Honor. Inspired by Gurke's courageous deed, Probst, although wounded, kept his automatic rifle in action and held his position. For his work, Probst was awarded the Silver Star. 103
In the midst of the action at the Piva Trail road block, on 9 November 1943, Major General Roy S. Geiger relieved General Vandegrift as Commanding General, IMAC, and simultaneously assumed command of Allied forces on
MACHINE-GUN CREW of the 3d Raider Battalion engaging the Japanese enemy from a typical Bougainville foxhole during the Piva Road-Block action, 9 November 1943.
- Enemy resistance in force throughout the entire Piva River Forks area
- Extremely swampy ground, unsuitable for continued occupation, located east of the Piva River, south of the East-West Trail and,
- Great difficulties encountered in road construction and ingress through swamps for supply and evacuation routes. Special care had to be exercised lest forces be advanced beyond our means of maintaining them. 106
cut through the jungle from Piva River mouth to the vicinity of Piva Number Two (a village along the banks of the Piva River). Beyond that point the Numa Numa Trail was passable. 107
Meanwhile, enemy dispositions became more clearly defined. The Japanese were evidently in force up the Piva River, north of a coconut grove along that river near the junction of the Numa Numa and Piva-Popotana Trails. Some Japanese were observed to have taken up positions on the east bank of the Piva, and apparently were contained in an area of about 1,000 yards by 1,000 yards. From those positions they directed both mortar and machine-gun fire into our lines. Furthermore, Marine patrols ascertained that enemy outposts were located on the west bank of the river, scattered through the coconut grove and around the junction of the Numa Numa and East-West Trails. 108
Shortly after the occupation of Piva Village, Commander William Painter, CEC, USNR, and a small party of Construction Battalion personnel moved out with a covering infantry patrol to make a reconnaissance for an airfield site. A suitable area was located, well to the north of the perimeter, but Painter, nevertheless, set about cutting two 5,000 foot lanes destined to become landing strips. Painter returned to the Marine positions a day in advance of the combat patrol, which, on 10 November, made contact with a Japanese patrol.
Subsequent patrols up the Piva Trail, beyond the coconut grove near the East-West Trail junction, failed to establish contact with the Japanese. However, due to tremendous difficulties encountered in movement and supply through the swamps, it was impossible to advance the perimeter of the beachhead far enough to cover the proposed airfield site selected by Commander Painter. It was therefore decided to establish a strong outpost, capable of sustaining itself until the lines could be advanced to include it, at the junction of the Numa Numa and East-West Trails, in order to avoid a fight for the airfield site should the Japanese occupy it first.
On the afternoon of 12 November, therefore,
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ROY S. GEIGER, pioneer Naval Aviator and veteran Marine combat commander, both ground and air, assumed command of IMAC on 9 November 1943, and carried through the Bougainville operations of the Corps to their close.
General Turnage directed the 21st Marines to send a patrol of company strength up the Numa Numa Trail at 0630 the following day. This patrol was to move up Numa Numa Trail to its junction with the East-West Trail and then reconnoiter each trail for a distance of about 1,000 yards, with a view to establishing a strong outpost in that vicinity in the near future. Company E, 21st Marines (Captain Sidney J. Altman) was originally assigned this mission. During the night however, further orders came from division headquarters to the effect that the patrol should be increased in strength to two companies, with a suitable command group and an artillery forward observer team. The mission was modified in that the outpost at the junction of the East-West and Numa Numa Trails was to be established immediately. 109
In view of importance of his assignment, Colonel Evans O. Ames, commanding the 21st Marines, decided to send the entire 2d Battalion the 3d Division chief-of-staff approved this plan. Accordingly, orders were issued to the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Eustace R. Smoak), to have Company E move out at 0630, 13 November, and proceed to an assembly area in rear of the front line of the 9th Marines, remaining there until the remainder of the Battalion would be able to join it. 110
No artillery preparation was planned for the advance of 13 November, an omission which proved costly, for it later came to be recognized as of prime importance against the Japanese system of defense. With their well dug-in, concealed, and covered foxholes, equipped with a high percentage of automatic weapons, in turn covered by equally invisible riflemen in trees and spider-holes, it had become evident that severe losses would be sustained by attacking infantry, regardless of the size of the force, unless attacks were preceded by artillery or mortar preparation or bombing--or better still, by all three. 111
On 13 November, Company E cleared its bivouac area at 0630 as planned and proceeded to an assembly area in rear of the 9th Marines' front lines, where it waited further orders. In the meantime, the remainder of the Battalion drew rations, water and ammunition, and waited for arrival of the artillery forward observer party. At 0730 Colonel Robert Blake, 3d Division chief-of-staff, called Colonel Ames, and directed that Company E proceed out the Numa Numa Trail and begin to set up the outpost. Altman led his company through the lines of the
A MARINE FOR THE TIME BEING, Admiral W. F. Halsey is briefed on the situation ashore by the Marine Commanders (left to right), Generals Noble, Geiger, and Turnage.
9th Marines at 0800 and proceeded up the Numa Numa Trail without incident. Suddenly at 1105, when the company had reached a point about 200 yards south of its objective, it was struck by heavy fire coming from a Japanese ambush. Deploying his company as best he could under the circumstances, Altman dispatched a runner to Smoak, informing him of the situation. By this time the company was sustaining a number of casualties from mortar fire as well as rifles and machine-gun. 112
When he received Altman's message (at 1200), Smoak was leading his battalion about 1200 yards south of the trail junction. His departure had been delayed by the late arrival of the forward observer team and difficulty in supplying his troops in their swampy assembly area. Acting on the meager information contained in Altman's message, Smoak immediately reduced his flank security, and proceeded down the trail as rapidly as possible in order to bring prompt support to Altman. One platoon of Company F was left behind to furnish security for the forward observer's wire team.
By 1245 the battalion was about 200 yards in rear of Company E. Here Smoak learned that Company E was pinned down by heavy fire and was slowly being cut to pieces that reinforcement was needed immediately and that the enemy opposition was located south of the trail junction. Smoak promptly ordered forward Company G (Captain William H. McDonough), to give needed assistance to Company E, while Company H (Major Edward A. Clark) was ordered to set up 81mm mortars to support the attack. Company F, less the platoon protecting the wire team, was ordered to a reserve position to await orders. Major Glenn E. Fissel, Smoak's executive officer, was ordered up with the artillery forward observer's party, to make an estimate of the situation and call in artillery concentrations to prevent the Japanese from maneuvering. 113
Upon arrival in Company E's lines, Fissel realized that the reports which had reached the battalion commander were substantially correct. He observed that the greatest volume of fire was coming from the east side of the trail, in the direction of Piva River. Therefore, he promptly called for an artillery concentration in that area.
In the meantime, however, Smoak continued to receive conflicting reports. In order to obtain more accurate information he displaced his command post forward into the edge of the coconut grove through which the Numa Numa Trail ran. At this juncture, Fissel phoned Smoak and told him that Company E needed help immediately. Smoak, after a quick reconnaissance, ordered Company F (Captain Robert P. Rapp) to pass through Company E, resume the attack, and allow Company E to withdraw, reorganize, and take up a protective position on the battalion right flank. Company G, which had reached a position to the left of Company E, was ordered to hold. Company F began its movement forward. Company E, finding an opportunity to disengage itself began a withdrawal, redeploying on the right of the battalion position. Unfortunately, however, Company F made contact neither with Company E nor with Company G, and in the meantime, Fissel was wounded. 114 Smoak therefore sent several staff officers to determine the exact positions of his companies. Company F could not be found, and a large gap existed between the right flank of Company G and the left flank of Company E. This left the battalion in a precarious position. 115
As a result of the reports of his staff officers, Smoak ordered Company E to move forward, contact Company G, and establish a line to protect the battalion front and right flank. Company G, in the meantime, was to extend its line to the right in order to tie in with Company E. By 1630 Smoak decided to dig in for the night. His companies had suffered fairly heavy casualties Company F was completely missing and communication with regimental headquarters and the artillery had been broken. Further attempts to press an attack at this time would have been unsound. 116
Battle of Coconut Grove
First Phase, 13 Nov 1943
(Attack by 2d Bn, 21st Marines)
At 1700 the gunnery sergeant of Company F reported in person to the battalion command post. The story he had to tell Colonel Smoak was discouraging. It appeared that Company F had moved out as ordered from its reserve position to the lines held by Company E. In the approach, however, Company F veered too far to the right and had missed Company E entirely. Company F proceeded onward, however, and went completely around the left, east flank of the enemy, ending in a position behind the Japanese lines. Captain Rapp found it increasingly difficult to control his Company. There were some casualties. Platoons intermingled and became disorganized. On hearing this story, Colonel Smoak ordered the gunnery sergeant to go back to Company F and guide it back to the battalion position. By 1745 Company F was back in the battalion lines and had taken a position on the perimeter which was set up for the night. 117
At 1830 communications were reestablished and the 12th Marines were ordered to register on the north, east, and west sides of Smoak's perimeter. The 2d Raider Battalion, then attached to the 21st Marines, was directed to protect the supply line from the main line of resistance to the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines. Colonel Ames ordered Smoak to send out patrols and prepare to attack the Japanese in the morning, with tank, artillery, and aircraft support. No action other than sporadic enemy rifle fire occurred throughout the night. 118
On the morning of 14 November all companies established outposts about 75 yards in front of the perimeter, and sent out patrols. At 0810 friendly aircraft from VMTB-143 appeared overhead, and Ames informed Smoak that these planes were ready to bomb and strafe the objective. Since patrols were out, and since the water supply was exhausted, Smoak had to wait until 0905 before he felt ready to call in the air strike. 119 At this time, artillery marked the target with smoke, and 18 Marine TBF's 120 effectively bombed the area. Immediately after this attack, Company E moved back into its
original position in the line. Smoak then ordered an attack, the time of which was based on arrival of water for the troops. Company E on the left and Company G on the right were to be in assault. Companies F and H would constitute the reserve. As designed, the attack was to be a simple frontal assault (supported by the 2d Platoon, Company B, 3d Tank Battalion), with each assault company attacking on a frontage of 100 yards on its particular side of the trail, the guide being toward the center. The tank platoon (five medium tanks) which had arrived a short time earlier, was to attack in line, equally spaced across the front. 121
At 1015 water arrived and H-hour was set for 1100. At 1045, however, communications were again broken, so the attack was ordered delayed. At 1115, communications were reestablished, and H-hour was set at 1155. The 2d Battalion, 12th Marines, in direct support, arranged to provide a 20-minute preparation followed by a rolling barrage. 122
At 1135 the preparation began and at 1155 the attack jumped off according to plan. The enemy, who immediately after the preparation had reoccupied their positions, opened fire with rifles and machine-guns. At the same time, moreover, several tanks became confused, began to fire into our own troops, and in maneuvering ran over several men. 123 For a period of five minutes there was complete loss of control and wild shooting, although no tendency to retreat appeared. Smoak, believing that the confusion was due to the noise of the rolling barrage, the snipers, and loss of control by the tanks, moved forward in person to the assault troops and gave orders to cease fire and halt the advance. In the meantime, enemy fire had stopped and company officers were soon able to make the troops realize how foolish they had been. 124
After order had been restored, Smoak directed all companies to stand fast in the positions where they found themselves and to send out patrols to a distance 100 yards north of the trail junction.
Battle of Coconut Grove
Second Phase, 14 Nov 1943
The tanks, less two damaged by enemy antitank weapons, were ordered to return to an assembly position in reserve. 125
At this time it was discovered that assaulting
ADVANCING INTO COCONUT GROVE, men of the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines move forward supported by tanks of the 3d Tank Battalion.
troops had overrun the enemy positions, and that some Japanese were still present in dugouts. These were quickly reduced by riflemen with grenades. By 1400 all enemy resistance had been overcome and patrols returned, reporting no further contact. At 1415, the advance was resumed and by 1530 the objective was in the Marines' hands. A perimeter defense was organized for the night. 126
Smoak estimated that the enemy resistance which his battalion faced that day was of company strength. Since the Japanese dead appeared to have been killed by rifle fire and by hand grenades, it was probable that either the bombing and shelling had been ineffective or, less probably, that the Japanese had evacuated or buried their dead under fire. It was observed that enemy positions were very extensive and well organized. Numerous machine-gun positions were well constructed and most of the dugouts were deep with good overhead cover. Although a careful count of enemy dead was not taken, it was estimated that a minimum of 40 Japanese were killed. Six enemy machine-guns were captured. On the other hand, Marine losses amounted to 20 killed (including five officers) and 39 wounded. 127
This action paved the way on 15 November for an advance on all fronts, about 1,000 yards on the left (west) flank and about 1,500 yards north in the center, to inland defense line Dog. 128
While combat action was proceeding generally as planned, continual difficulties were being experienced in logistic support for the beachhead.
DEEP, SLIMY MUD characterized the trails and made infantry progress difficult.
as a result of a torpedo-hit from a Japanese plane (Val type). In excess of 50 Marines were lost with the ship. 132
Because of physical difficulties facing the troops, and due to the lack of roads necessary for moving supplies to Marines in the line, road building rapidly became an "A" priority. Though the location of the bomber field had been selected, progress on its construction was seriously hampered by lack of access roads. This lack also handicapped work on the fighter strip. Engineers and Seabees fell to, however, and completed their formidable tasks with remarkable celerity and thoroughness.
After the remaining elements of the Atsinima Bay counterlanding force were destroyed on the left (west) flank, Japanese resistance to our extension of the perimeter was centered mainly on the right flank--to the south along the swampy banks of the Piva River and to the east among the jungle clad uplands.
On 11 November, General Geiger, who had previously ordered all units temporarily attached to the 3d Division to revert to IMAC control, 133 decided to advance inland in order that the proposed airfield sites could be included within the perimeter. On that date, therefore, he directed the 3d Marine Division to strike toward the east, and the 37th Infantry Division with 2d Battalion, 3d Marines attached, to attack to the west. 134
The combined artillery--now embodying five
battalions--was placed in general support and was ordered to mass fires for beach defenses and inland defense lines on call. 135 The 3d Defense Battalion was to provide antiaircraft and seacoast artillery protection for the beach area and Puruata and Torokina Islands. 136 Corps Reserve, which consisted of the 2d Marine Raider Regiment and the 1st Battalion 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, all under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Shapley, was directed to be prepared to counterattack in any sector, to reinforce defenses, to occupy defensive positions as designated, or to engage in land or waterborne raider operations. Attacks were to be supported by radar, antiaircraft artillery, and planes of COMAIRNORSOLS, under Brigadier General Field Harris. Division commanders were instructed to coordinate attacks, and contact on the sector boundary was a 3d Marine Division responsibility. 137
Active patrolling preceded the operation, and with the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, leading off with the support of artillery, tanks, and planes, the various task organizations advanced on all fronts, arriving at inland defense line Dog by 15 November. Steady progress was made and by 21 November inland defense line Easy was reached. During this period two comparatively bitter engagements had reduced prepared Japanese defenses in the vicinity of Piva Road Block and had swept the enemy clear of Coconut Grove. By this date the number of enemy dead was at 918, while American casualties were reported to be 208 killed, 646 wounded, and 131 missing. 138
It had appeared from documents captured in the engagement at Koromokina Lagoon that an attack was to be made against the Marine eastern flank by the 23d Japanese Infantry which, less one battalion, was in readiness in the hills north of Piva. This scheme was frustrated by the quick destruction of the counterlanding force on our west flank, and when the 23d Regiment moved to carry out its part of the plan, the latter unit found itself blocked by the Raider Regiment. Accordingly (as it was later discovered), the enemy withdrew again to the hills and began construction of defensive positions east of the east branch of the Piva River, and establishment of road blocks and ambuscades along the Numa Numa and East-West Trails, thereby preparing a base for further operations along other lines. 139
When the location of the enemy's main force had been fixed by U.S. patrols, the rate of advance of all units, the speed with which the lateral road was being built, and the number and range of combat and reconnaissance patrols was stepped up to the limit of endurance of men and machines. Neither jungle nor swamp interrupted the steady north and east advance to the vicinity of the junction of the Numa Numa Trail with the East-West Trail where, if no time were wasted, it was anticipated that a main action could be fought with the Japanese before they could complete their defensive arrangements. 140
Meanwhile, on 11 November, the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, cutting in the lateral road, crossed the front of the 2d Battalion. That Battalion then advanced 1000 yards north of the road and covered it and the interval between the 37th Division and the left flank of the 3d Marine Division, now committed to cover the Numa Numa Trail. On 12 November, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, began a movement through the jungle which, by 15 November, placed them in a position south of the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, covering the trail junction captured only a few days before. By 16 November, the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, was successful in effecting a junction with the Numa Numa
Advance to the East
EVACUATION OF CASUALTIES WAS DIFFICULT. At times, it was necessary to detail a squad of men to carry one wounded man back to the aid station.
Trail of the trail it was cutting. Thus, a continuous road was created through the beachhead, for an amphibian tractor trail had already been built that connected the end of Numa Numa Trail with the beaches. Accordingly, the supply problem of the units on the line was vastly improved. The 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, now took position north of the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, which in the meantime passed to control of the 3d Marines. 141
As a result of patrol activity on 17 November, an unoccupied road-block was discovered along the Numa Numa Trail about 1000 yards north of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines. To make the battalion available for occupation of the position, the 3d Raider Battalion was attached to the 3d Marines and moved into the lines. 142 Lieutenant Colonel Ralph M. King, commanding the 3d Battalion, ordered a platoon of Company L to occupy the position immediately. Accordingly, the platoon commanded by Second Lieutenant John O'Neil moved forward, to be joined later in the day by the Company K Weapons Platoon, commanded by Second Lieutenant Frank Railsback. The Marines organized the area for defense, and settled down to await developments. These were not long in coming.
Early in the morning of 18 November, the enemy, unaware of the presence of Marines, attempted to reoccupy their road-block. A short fire-fight ensued an uncounted number of Japanese were killed, and from the body of an officer a map was taken. This acquisition later proved to be of great value to American intelligence sections.
On the morning of 19 November, the 3d Battalion, accompanied by light tanks, advanced astride the Numa Numa Trail. No opposition was met, and O'Neil's and Railsback's platoons rejoined their companies without incident. The battalion then advanced another 500 yards, set
First Day, 19 Nov 1943
up a perimeter defense, and spent the remainder of the night unmolested. 143
The next day several patrols were sent out. Two of these met with disaster. As Second Lieutenant Arthur J. Hendershaw's platoon (Company L) was patrolling in front of the battalion lines with the Battalion Executive Officer, Major Edwin L. Hamilton, it was hit by Japanese mortar fire. Both officers and many men were wounded as a result. Another patrol, made up of First Lieutenant Edward R. Messer's First Platoon, Company K, was attacked by enemy riflemen, resulting in the death of three Marines.
On 21 November, King's battalion crossed the Piva River's west branch without mishap. As it advanced northeast astride a foot trail up a very steep cliff, its front narrowed to two squads abreast. At the moment the forward elements reached the crest of the hill, Japanese were sighted. First Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith of Company K, who was then with the scouts, quickly maneuvered the two leading squads, and with guns blazing drove the enemy from the hill. King immediately set about organizing the position, but before consolidation was complete, Japanese 90 mm mortars began registering. Although seven men were killed, the battalion held its newly won position. That night passed without incident. 144 The Marines now occupied a mass of high ground overlooking the main Japanese position which was east of the east branch of the Piva and astride the East-West Trail. In addition, the position held by King's battalion placed the Marines across the Japanese line of communication and supply between the Numa Numa Valley and the Jaba district. 145
At noon the next day the battalion was relieved in its positions by the 2d Raider Battalion.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, had reached its new lines in its assigned zone of action, and the 9th and 21st Marines advanced to their new lines without resistance. 146
On 19 November, the 37th Division extended its lines to the northeast, thus releasing the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, which was therefore earmarked
for the attack on the outpost located on the East-West Trail. The battalion approached an assembly area behind the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, and on the morning of 20 November passed through the lines and reduced the enemy position. 147 Having completed its mission the battalion continued across the west branch of the Piva and set up defensive positions reconnaissance patrols were sent out. 148
In the meantime the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, reverted to its parent organization, and the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, reinforced by Company L, 3d Raider Battalion, and elements of the Regimental Weapons Company, 3d Marines, assumed responsibility for the sector vacated by the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines. 149
While on combat patrol, the 1st Platoon, Company F, 3d Marines, commanded by First Lieutenant Steve John Cibik, engaged in a fight for possession of a ridge 400 feet long, later to be named in honor of the platoon leader.
Although this action was comparatively small, it had important aspects.
During the afternoon of 20 November, First Lieutenant Willis L. Kay, Intelligence Officer of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, had spotted Cibik Ridge while on patrol. This was the first high ground to be discovered near our front lines. Kay had rushed back to the battalion command post and reported his discovery to the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hector de Zayas. de Zayas immediately ordered Major Donald M. Schmuck, commanding Company F, to occupy the ground. Cibik's platoon got the call. Reinforced by a section of heavy machine guns, the platoon followed Kay, acting as guide, and made its way through the jungle to a spot where Kay could point out the approximate location of the hill. Laying field-telephone wire behind them, the men then followed Cibik up the steep slope. Fortunately they found the hill deserted, so, because night was fast approaching they immediately turned to in order to prepare defenses. Early next morning Cibik put out patrols and discovered that the crest had been organized for defense by the Japanese. The hill appeared to have been used throughout the day as an observation post during the night the enemy would pull out in order to escape U.S. artillery fire.
Just after daybreak a Marine sighted Japanese approaching the hill. Promptly he opened fire. The enemy seemed to be surprised, but they attempted to retake the hill about noontime and were repulsed. Later that afternoon Kay returned with communicators who had laid new lines to the position, for the wire laid on the preceeding day was out. With communication restored, Cibik requested Schmuck to send mortars. About 1630, First Lieutenant Herbert G. Young and ten men from Company F's mortar section arrived, and two 60mm mortars were emplaced. There were now 62 men on the ridge. By mid-afternoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, had closed the gap between Cibik's position and the left flank of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines. There was no more action that night.
At dawn 22 November, an outpost set up by Cibik along the East-West Trail opened fire on a group of Japanese approaching the ridge. Soon thereafter about 70 Japanese were seen forming for an attack, mortar fire was placed in that area. Toward the end of this barrage, Schmuck arrived. An enemy mortar opened on the ridge, but counterbattery fire from 2d Battalion 81mm mortars silenced it. Several succeeding Japanese attempts to retake or harass the position were quelled. That evening some 30 men of the Weapons Company, 3d Marines, arrived, originally to relieve Cibik's platoon, but, due to the fact that an attack was planned for the next day, Cibik was ordered to hold his position until the regimental line could be built up to it.
The following day (23 November), the enemy launched an organized attack against the ridge but were driven back when succeeding assault failed. In this action, two Marines were killed and two more were wounded. Late that afternoon, Cibik's platoon was relieved, as the remainder of the regiment built its line up to his
Second Day, 20 Nov 1943
position. 150 Cibik was awarded the Silver Star as a result of this action. 151
There is no doubt that the Japanese felt pressed to regain control of this commanding piece of terrain, for it afforded observation of the Empress Augusta Bay area, and in U.S. hands, it cut communications to the Numa Numa Valley. 152
While the action was underway on Cibik's Ridge, the remainder of the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, was conducting a reconnaissance in force, with a view to defining and reducing the strong Japanese positions east of the Piva's east fork. When it was discovered that the enemy was organized in considerable strength, Lieutenant Colonel de Zayas decided to withdraw his battalion through the line built up by the 1st Battalion. This was done with the utmost difficulty, for the wounded, of whom there were many, had to be evacuated, and the terrain was most difficult. Furthermore, the enemy, in more than battalion strength, attempted to prevent a disengagement. 153
While the 2d Battalion's movement to its assembly area was in progress, the Japanese suddenly attempted a double envelopment of the 1st Battalion's newly acquired positions, and it was necessary to recommit the 2d Battalion to the line immediately. Fortunately, however, the enemy followed the obvious routes of approach and his effort was destroyed in front of machine-guns sited for just such an eventuality. This turning movement was a spectacular affair, in which
21-23 Nov 1943
the gunner of a light machine-gun of Company A, 3d Marines, killed 74 of the 75 Japanese within 20 to 30 yards of his gun only one enemy escaped. 154 At this very time, a combat patrol of Company A, 21st Marines, under First Lieutenant Henry Helgen came up to join in the fight. Thereafter, and until the 21st Marines advanced their lines abreast of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, this patrol remained in a position covering the right flank of the 1st Battalion. 155
On the morning of 22 November, a plan for decisive action against the enemy had been formulated: as the first step in executing it, the 2d Battalion, 2d Raiders (now attached to the 3d Marines), advanced and relieved the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, in position. By evening, the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, had moved to an assembly area in rear of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, abreast of the 2d Battalion but north of the East-West trail.
The 3d Marines were now in a position to attack.
The enemy position, consisting of rifle pits and small bunkers, and supported by artillery, had been found to be disposed as if to resist an attack from the south towards the hills. But the Marine plan of attack contemplated an assault from west to east, enfilading the Japanese lines and paralleling the hill mass which the enemy apparently thought we would attempt to occupy. Intelligence had developed that the enemy force, consisting of the 23d Regiment, was estimated to have a strength of 1200 to 1500 men. 156
During 23 November, from posts on Cibik Ridge, artillery forward observers registered on all probable enemy positions, and the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, moved every available machine-gun into the line, even including several Japanese Nambu and Hotchkiss machine-guns, previously captured from the enemy. By evening, the 2d and 3d Battalions, 3d Marines, had completed
patrols in preparation for the following day's attack. 157 Meanwhile, the 37th Division, except on the limiting point with the 3d Marine Division, had advanced without opposition to inland defense line How, its final defense line. 158
The 3d Marines scheme of maneuver for the projected attack was that the 2d and 3d Battalions, following an artillery preparation, would advance abreast pass through the lines of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, and attack to the east for a distance of 800 yards beyond the east branch of the Piva. The East-West Trail was to be the boundary between battalions. 159
By dark, all was in readiness seven battalions of artillery (four from the 12th Marines, and the 135th, 136th, and 140th Field Artillery Battalions, 37th Division Artillery) were to fire several thousand 75 and 105mm rounds in a 20-minute preparation, into an area about 800 yards square 155mm guns and howitzers were ready to silence distant targets the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, had sited 44 machine-guns and coordinated the fires of 12 81mm and nine 60mm mortars for a close-in preparation across the zone of action of attacking battalions. 160
H-hour was 0900, 24 November (Thanksgiving Day).
From H minus 26 minutes to H minus 3 minutes, the seven battalions of artillery fired 5760 rounds on the Japanese positions in front of the 3d Marines, the heaviest preparation that had ever before been delivered prior to a Marine attack in this war the assault battalions of the 3d Marines advanced to the line of departure to the accompaniment of a continuous rattle and roar of machine-guns, mortars and artillery. At the same time, however, the Marines were subjected to a Japanese artillery barrage which inflicted the heaviest casualties of the campaign. Twice the enemy fire walked up and down the attacking Marines with great accuracy. This successful use of artillery by the Japanese seemed to Marines the worst feature of the entire fight. 161
Fortunately, however, a forward observer of the 4th Battalion, 12th Marines, spotted the enemy battery as it was delivering its devastating fire, and brought prompt, effective counter-battery fire on the Japanese battery, silencing it and destroying two of its guns, parts of which were discovered by our patrols on the succeeding day.
When the battalions entered the Japanese lines, they were met with awe-inspiring silence neutralization of the enemy within the beaten zone of the preparation had been complete. As the advance continued to its objective, however, Japanese survivors rallied and some reserves were committed. Enemy artillery again began to rake the Marine line and many Marines fell.
By the time the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, now on the left, had moved forward about 500 yards, the Japanese were ready a counterattack was launched against our left flank. The 3d Battalion met the attack in full stride and continued its advance in a hand-to-hand, tree-to-tree struggle which ended with destruction of the enemy's flanking force. As the 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, on the right, neared its objective, it, too, closed with Japanese reinforcements coming forward to make a stand.
The two battalions remained on their initial objectives only long enough to reorganize and reestablish contact: again they started forward, this time to a final objective 350 yards to the front, supported by 60mm and 81mm mortar concentrations. The Japanese here made a final desperate effort, but as our leading elements came to a halt about 1150 yards in front of the original line of departure, all resistance came to an end. 162
The Japanese 23d Infantry, leaving 1107 dead on the field, had been virtually destroyed. 163
The 2d Battalion, 3d Marines had met particularly
Final Phase, 24 Nov 1943
heavy resistance as it advanced about 500 yards over the ground in which it had conducted its reconnaissance several days before. In an area where the tributary streams of the Piva meandered back and forth through the jungle to form an intricate network of natural barriers, the Japanese had organized a maze of pillboxes, slit-trenches, and foxholes. At each stream bend, at least three mutually supporting pillboxes were emplaced. This is only one instance of the formidable difficulties encountered. 164
On 25 November, the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, was withdrawn to an assembly area near the Piva river the 2d Battalion extended its lines to the southeast to make contact with the 21st Marines on its right the 3d Battalion organized a defensive position on the left flank of the 2d Battalion the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, and the 2d Raider Battalion, plus two companies of the 3d Raider Battalion, went into the line in the eastern sector the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, was attached to the 3d Marines and moved into a reserve position in the 3d Marines sector and the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, was attached to the 9th Marines. The remainder of the 2d Raider Regiment reverted to control of IMAC. 165
In the meantime, in order to continue the advance, it was decided to commit the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Carey A. Randall), then occupying a regimental reserve position. Accordingly, at 1600, 24 November, the battalion was ordered to move to a position within the sector of the 3d Marines, prepared to attack the following day. This order was executed, and, in position some 200 yards south of the 3d Marines command post, the battalion spent the night preparing for the assault.
Next morning at 1000 the battalion crossed Cibik Ridge, now occupied by Company L, 3d Raider Battalion, and Weapons Company, 3d
Marines, and attacked on a front of 400 yards. The 2d Raider Regiment, on the left, attacked across a front of 800 yards. Preceding the attack, the artillery had fired a ten-minute preparation, and the mortars of the 3d Marines lent further support. The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, attacked with Company A (Captain Conrad M. Fowler) on the left, Company C (Captain Frank K. Finneran) on the right, and Company B (Captain Burtis W. Anderson) in reserve. Mortar positions were selected in the vicinity of Cibik Ridge, and machine-gun platoons were attached to each company. As leading elements of the assault companies moved down the steep side of Cibik Ridge, they came under the fire of Japanese automatic weapons, and, having advanced only 250 to 300 yards, quickly became pinned down. Fowler and Finneran attempted to maneuver their reserve platoons in order to develop the enemy positions. The prolonged fire-fight lasted until late in the evening.
The enemy was well dug in, having organized an all-around defense of a ridge running perpendicular to Cibik Ridge. On this ridge were an estimated 60 to 70 Japanese, armed with at least four heavy machine-guns, 12 light machine-guns, and plentifully supplied with grenades. Assault companies attempted again and again to carry the position, but each try was unsuccessful. Since the fight was conducted at distances varying from five to 50 yards, it was impossible to use the mortars emplaced on Cibik Ridge, for fear of endangering our own troops. Consequently, the fight had to be conducted almost exclusively with rifles, automatic rifles, and grenades. All around the hill, Marines would advance within a few yards of the crest, only to be thrown back each time by a hail of grenades. Many enemy dugouts below the crest were cleared out in the fighting. When the 1st Platoon of Company A reached the right rear of the enemy position, it found a trail. By fighting its way up this trail the platoon was almost able to reach the Japanese positions, but was unable to hold the ground it had won. Other platoons encountered similar situations in their sectors. The Japanese utilized grenades to such an extent that the Marines, in referring to this action later, called it "Grenade Hill." 166
By 1530 the advance had stalled completely, and a gap existed between the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, and the left flank of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, which by this time had made considerable progress. Since night was fast approaching, Randall therefore placed Company B in position to cover the gap. In moving up, Company B encountered opposition and was forced to fight until after dark. Close tying in of the lines was impossible.
Next morning, 26 November, scouts reported that "Grenade Hill" had been evacuated by the Japanese, and Companies A and C, 9th Marines, quickly occupied the ridge. At 1015 the attack was once again underway a junction with Company B was effected and the final objective, a small ridge astride the East-West Trail, was reached. In this action the Marines lost five killed and 42 wounded, while 32 Japanese bodies were found. 167 Meanwhile, the 2d Raider Regiment had reached its objective on the left, after an advance of 600 to 700 yards.
During the period 18-26 November, 1,196 enemy dead were counted. This brought the counted enemy dead since D-day to 2,014: total enemy casualties, however, must have considerably exceeded that figure. 168
This battle, known as the Battle of Piva Forks, marked the temporary decline of serious opposition to the occupation and development of the Empress Augusta Bay area as an American base the enemy, with the exception of small detachments and patrols, was driven east of the Torokina River, and the high ground west of the river from which he had controlled the site which was to become the Piva bomber field, and from which he could harass the entire beachhead, was now occupied by our forces. 169
It was not until March, 1944, some two months after withdrawal of the 3d Marine Division that the Japanese, in considerable strength, again attempted to breach our lines and drive
the U.S. forces into the sea. All attempts were stopped by the 37th Infantry and Americal Divisions of the XIV Corps, U.S. Army, then holding the beachhead.
By 15 November, IMAC had pushed out the perimeter to limits previously determined, and which were still further extended after 27 November as a clearer picture of the situation and terrain evolved. By that date, defenses were well organized and threats of effective Japanese counteraction appeared to be decreasing.
As the beachhead extended, Japanese resistance in strength materialized on 20 November to the north and east of the Piva River Forks and north of the East-West Trail. This was to develop into the Battle of Piva Forks which continued through 25 November. 170
Having attained inland defense line Easy, General Geiger decided to take inland defense line How from 23 to 30 November. Accordingly, he ordered the 37th Division, which had been encountering little opposition, to attack on 23 November at 0800, seizing its objective--inland defense line How--by 1800 on 24 November. In the meanwhile, the 3d Marine Division, which faced the preponderance of Japanese troops and had fought several sharp actions during the advance to inland defense line Easy, was to attack at 0800 on 23 November and advance to inland defense line How by 1800 on 30 November. The Marine division was to be prepared to seize additional inland defense lines Item or Jig on order. The Artillery Group was once again placed in general support, and COMAIRNORSOLS was called upon for support, by operational control of aircraft and anti-aircraft defense. Aggressive front line reconnaissance and patrol activity was ordered, and extensive use of dummy installations was enjoined. In the event the Japanese launched a counterattack, no ground within line How was to given up. Ground taken was to be organized for defense, protective wire was to be erected and trail blocks were to be established on all trails leading into the positions. 171
It was necessary to modify this order, however, for upon moving into position for the main attack, elements of the 3d Marine Division encountered opposition along the Piva River, the Popotana (East-West), and Numa Numa Trails, and by 22 November, the engagement at Piva Forks, the phase of which was later to be known as Cibik Ridge, was developing. Furthermore, artillery duels were being fought in the northeast sector. Although this stubborn Japanese resistance was eventually wiped out after considable casualties on both sides, it was decided to have the 37th Division anchor its right flank on the limiting point on the boundary, and advance to its objective at discretion, while the 3d Marine Division anchored its left flank on the limiting point and advanced to inland defense line Fox.
On 23 November, General Turnage ordered the 3d and 9th Marines to exchange sub-sectors, thereby allowing the latter, which had been only lightly engaged at any time thus far, to take over an active sub-sector and the 3d Marines, which had been heavily engaged on several occasions, to occupy the relatively quiet sector on the right (south) flank of the beachhead. This exchange was completed by 26 November. The 21st Marines remained in the center of the 3d Marine Division line, while the 2d Raider Regiment reverted to Corps reserve. The 3d Marines had been so badly depleted as a result of battle casualties, sickness and utter exhaustion, that the regiment was reinforced in its new area by the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry (which became the Regimental Reserve) and other special units. 172
On 25 November the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines and six companies of the 2d Raider Regiment passed through the 3d Marines and, against light retiring resistance, occupied the hill mass east of the Piva River dominating the East-West Trail. Reconnaissance to the Torokina River was initiated immediately.
The 37th Division encountered no opposition as it moved toward its objective, and by 27 November it had reached line How and had
completed about 50 percent of its installations and 25 percent of its protective wire. On the other hand, the 3d Marine Division moved forward in spurts against varying degrees of opposition, finally reaching part of its new objective on 28 November.
Air support was used extensively throughout the period, both to defend the beachhead against Japanese assaults by air and to soften Japanese strong points in the northeastern sector by bombing and strafing missions. Spotting planes and fighters were on station during daylight, while two night-fighters supplied air cover after darkness. Frequent strikes were made on targets in the Jaba and Piva River areas.
About noon, 24 November, men working on the still incompleted airstrip were amazed to observe a Marine SBD preparing to land. Hurriedly clearing equipment from the strip, Marines and Seabees made preparations to receive the incoming plane. A successful landing was made, and Captain John C. Richards, COMAIRSOLS Strike Command, climbed out of his plane. Richards' plane had been damaged by flak during a raid on the northeast coast of Bougainville, and had been forced to make an emergency landing. 173
The advance naval base gave support to operations during the month of November with its motor torpedo boats (PT's or MTB's) ranging along the coasts to the north, east, and south as far as Buka and Ako. LCI gunboats augmented the PT patrols, while destroyers accompanied succeeding convoys and conducted bombardment runs on areas along the coast of southern Empress Augusta Bay.
Throughout November the Japanese launched nightly air attacks against our beachhead, reaching greatest intensity on 20 and 21 November, in each of which 50 to 60 bombs were dropped and the beachhead strafed. During the final attack
FIRST PLANE TO LAND on the still uncompleted airfield at Cape Torokina was this Marine Corps Scout Dive Bomber. Piloted by Captain J. C. Richards, this plane made an emergency landing at noon on 24 November 1943.
Evening of 26 Nov 1943
on 21 November all five of the attacking planes were shot down by our fighter cover. Six men were killed and 26 wounded as a result of these attacks. 174
During the month of November, our troops were subjected to 90 air raid alerts, 22 of which resulted in bombings. Bombings, along with strafing attacks, caused a total of 24 deaths and 96 other casualties. 175 Damage included hits on both Division command posts, hits on several gun-positions, and other minor hits which produced negligible results. On the morning of 20 November, however, a well placed stick of enemy bombs demolished a 3d Defense Battalion 90mm gun, killing five and wounding eight of the crew. Fires started in the nearby fuel dump, which burned spectacularly all night. Again on the morning of 21 November the same area was struck and fires again lasted all night, this time destroying a trailer loaded with 3,000 rounds of mortar ammunition and artillery propelling charges. 176 While the Japanese seemed to be utilizing their air to a greater extent than any of their other capabilities, the relative damage which they inflicted was negligible as a return for their losses.
Few attempts were made to bomb the beachhead area during hours of daylight. On several occasions early in November the Japanese came in over the Crown Prince Range, diving out of the sun in order to plant bombs on the most rewarding targets, but the heavy losses inflicted on these daylight raiders was so severe that the enemy was quickly dissuaded from attempting further daylight raids. Credit for turning the raiders away must be given jointly to the effective air cover and the intense antiaircraft fire that antiaircraft defenses were able to throw up. 177 Through this period the Japanese made some determined attempts to counter our artillery and
PURUATA ISLAND FUEL DUMP goes up in flames as a result of a successful Japanese bombing raid, 20 November 1943.
succeeded in inflicting relatively heavy casualties among our assault troops. Some damage was done to our gun positions a few landing craft were hit, and work on air strips was interrupted for brief periods. But Japanese shelling was almost invariably silenced quickly by counterbattery fire from the Artillery Group or by our planes flying over their positions. Artillery and air bombing was employed, and DD's made many sorties down the coast of Empress Augusta Bay to shell, with good results, Japanese gun-positions and ammunition and supply dumps. On those sorties air spotting was used and fire from destroyers was directed by Marine naval gunfire officers.
At 1200, 23 November 1943, the 1st Parachute Battalion, commanded by Major Richard Fagan, arrived at Bougainville, and landed on Beach Y ELLOW One, where it was attached to the 2d Raider Regiment (then in the Corps Reserve Area), being thus designated part of the Corps Reserve. 178
Since enemy capabilities included the possibility of reinforcement of the 23d Infantry Regiment, a raid into the Japanese lines in the southern part of Empress Augusta Bay was proposed for the purpose of disrupting communications, destroying the enemy, his installations and supplies and gathering information. Consequently, on 27 November, General Geiger issued Operation Order No. 5, which directed the 1st Parachute Battalion to conduct such a raid. For this operation Company M, 3d Raider Battalion, a communication detachment of IMAC Signal Battalion, two forward observer parties of the Artillery Group, and native guides, were attached to Major Fagan's force. 179
Although little was known of Japanese strength or dispositions in this area, Fagan was ordered to land on a beach approximately 3000 yards northwest of Koiari, 180 where he was to establish a temporary base from which he could conduct raids along the coast and as far inland as the East-West trail. The order envisaged a stay ashore of not less than four days, and it expressly forbade Fagan to undertake any decisive engagement with a superior Japanese force with a further proviso that, if such resistance were met, the battalion should return to the Torokina beachhead. 181
Embarking at Beach B LUE Two aboard LCM's and LCVP's, the battalion sailed at 0300 and landed as planned, about 0400, 29 November, virtually on top of a Japanese detachment. 182 The Japanese were apparently expecting a landing of their own troops, for an officer, unarmed except for his sword, walked out and began an abruptly terminated conversation with the first Marines ashore, 183 who quickly established a beachhead which included some 350 yards of beach and extended inland approximately 180 yards.
Fagan soon realized that his battalion had landed in the middle of a large supply dump, and that a substantial force of enemy was close at hand. For these reasons, the only possibility was to dig in and hold. The situation was further complicated by the fact that Company M, 3d Raider Battalion and a large portion of the Parachute Battalion Headquarters Company had been landed about 1000 yards east of the beachhead, in fact failing to rejoin Fagan's main body until about 0930, after having engaged other enemy forces and suffered 13 casualties. 184
In the meantime, radio communication had been established and was being maintained with IMAC. By mid-morning, however, the radio with which the battalion was equipped failed to receive, although messages it transmitted continued audible at Cape Torokina. The resultant one-way communication therefore caused much subsequent confusion as some messages sent by IMAC did not get through to Fagan.
Soon recovering from the shock of discovering that the landing was being conducted by Americans rather than their own people, the Japanese began subjecting the beachhead to heavy fire from 90mm mortars, machine-guns and small arms. At daybreak, an undetermined number of enemy attacked the Marines, but were repulsed. Japanese fire increased steadily, and it soon became evident that the mission could not be successfully accomplished by 0800, believing that the action might end in disaster unless the battalion were evacuated, Major Fagan excitedly requested that his unit be withdrawn. 185 General Geiger shortly took steps to to grant this request, but his reply to Fagan concerning the plan for withdrawal did not get through. 186
The 1st Parachute Battalion was now in a tight spot. Fagan felt that he was facing a considerably stronger Japanese force and that he had become fully engaged. He believed that he was unable to maneuver, and that the enemy had a fair estimate of the size of the Marine force.
The only thing Fagan could do was to dig in and hold.
This he ordered, and the Marines turned to erecting hasty defenses under fire as companies established contact.
The combat efficiency of the command left little to be desired the men responded quickly, intelligently and bravely to all orders. Lines never gave ground despite severe casualties and determined enemy assaults. No panic existed at any time, although all hands knew that ammunition was greatly depleted and that the chances of withdrawing in the face of a night or dawn attack (which was considered inevitable) were slim.
The rescuing boats twice attempted to beach, but each time the enemy laid heavy concentrations of fire on the landing area, and the craft were driven off. Excellent spotting from the
beach enabled Fagan's artillery forward observers to direct concentration from the 155mm guns emplaced in the Torokina beachhead to great advantage. 187 The destroyers Fullam, Lansdowne, and Lardner and an LCI-gunboat arrived about 1800 and delivered excellent naval gunfire support covering the right and left flanks of the beachhead. 188 General Geiger had requested air support this was furnished intermittently throughout the day. 189 Finally, at 1920, boats were able to get ashore. Even then--with rescue in sight--it was necessary to draw the slowly retiring lines down to the beach.
Because the first two approaches by the boats had occasioned heavy concentration of enemy fire, a repetition was naturally expected when the boats finally made the beach, but inexplicably the enemy held his fire. However, it was momentarily expected, up to the time that the last craft cleared the beach, that the enemy would again open up, but despite about 20 minutes delay--to be sure that no men were left behind--he failed to do so. During most of this period artillery and naval gunfire concentrations were continuous. The night was now pitch dark visibility on the open beach was no more than a few feet, while in the jungle it was zero. This situation inevitably resulted in the loss of considerable
KOIARI BEACH LANDING. Troops of the 1st Parachute Battalion were under heavy fire the moment they reached the beach.
equipment, for few men were able to find their packs, while many damaged weapons, which had been put aside and replaced with those from dead and wounded Marines, were not found in the darkness. All crew-served weapons except the few destroyed by direct hits, were evacuated. By 2040 the evacuation was completed, and the boats retracted and began the return to Cape Torokina, which fortunately, was uneventful. 190
The primary mission of the Parachute Battalion had not been accomplished. The net result of the Koiari battle was unfavorable. The very fact that our forces had landed in the middle of an enemy supply dump should have led to destruction of three large medical supply dumps, large quantities of ammunition, and a considerable quantity of foodstuffs. This did not happen. Inasmuch as advance inland was impossible, no accurate count of Japanese casualties could be completed, but a conservative estimate of at least 145 Japanese dead was made after careful investigation and interrogation of Marines who returned. It also is probable that additional casualties were inflicted by artillery, air support, and naval gunfire. Marine casualties consisted of 15 killed and 95 wounded (of whom two later died as a result of their wounds). 191
The 37th Division
It might appear that the 37th Infantry Division should already have received more mention, but the landings had been made and the initial beachhead pretty firmly established before arrival of any but their initial echelons. Further, after repulse of the attack on the west flank of the perimeter at Koromokina Lagoon in early November, fighting shifted to the other flank. In consequence, it so happened that, in taking over the western sector, the 37th Division found itself little in actual contact with the enemy, whose efforts were then bent toward breaking through the lines of the 3d Marine Division, in the eastern
MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT S. BEIGHTLER, USA, 37th Infantry Division Commander.
portion of the beachhead. Marines, therefore, during November and December, 1943, bore the brunt of all hostile attacks in force, giving the 37th Division opportunity, in large measure unmolested, to advance its lines and strengthen its defenses.
The 37th Infantry Division had been made a part of the XIV Corps, U.S. Army, in July, 1943, and as such had participated in the seizure and final conquest of the New Georgia Group, in conjunction with the Marine Raider Regiment, 9th Marine Defense Battalion, 2d Marine Air Wing, and other Army troops. By late summer island after island had been occupied, Kolombangara had been by-passed and Japanese troops on Vella Lavella had been rendered impotent. In September the Division was attached to Task Force 31, and by command of Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson (CTF-31) was later attached to IMAC.
The Division Commander, Major General Robert S. Beightler, had, as the chief elements under his command the following: 129th Infantry--Colonel John D. Frederick
the 6th, 135th, and 140th Field Artillery Battalions (105mm howitzers) and the 136th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm howitzers). The 145th and the 148th Infantry Regiments already possessed considerable combat experience. 192
First elements of the Division were ordered to embark from Guadalcanal on 6 November and succeeding echelons were transported to Cape Torokina a few days apart, the last reaching the area of operations on 19 November. On arrival, the 148th Combat Team was attached temporarily to the 3d Marine Division. As the 37th Division was gradually built up to strength, it was assigned the western sector of the beachhead, directed to send out extensive patrols, and to dig in defenses as the perimeter was pushed forward. Lines Dog and Easy were successively reached without opposition on 15 and 21 November, but, as the 3d Marine Division on the limiting point between divisions, had been unable to accomplish a similar advance, in order to maintain contact, the right flank of the sector was refused by the 129th Infantry. 193
Orders to advance to line How were modified verbally on 23 November because of heavy opposition in front of the 3d Marine Division General Beightler was ordered to anchor his right at the limiting point and to gain line How at his discretion. 194 The Division, however, was able
Situation on 15 Dec
When IMAC is Relieved
By XIV Corps
to occupy this line on 25 November without meeting enemy opposition. 195
Over the next few days, while heavy fighting was taking place to their right, the 37th Division's sector remained comparatively quiet, and advantage was taken of the breather to send out long reconnaissance patrols in an endeavor to feel out the enemy and accumulate further information concerning the terrain. On 29 November, a patrol of the 129th Infantry made contact with a small Japanese force, an incident recorded with interest as the first combat action of the regiment in the war. After withdrawal of the enemy to the hills following his severe defeats on the northeastern portion of the perimeter, the activities of the 37th Division continued to be confined to distant patrolling and the installation of tactical wire and emplaced positions in the main line of resistance. Combat outposts of considerable strength were likewise set up well outside the perimeter. 196
The Battle of Tarawa would be the first of many amphibious landings made by the United States Marine Corps during World War 2. One of the greatest factors to arise out of the Tarawa Campaign, was that it helped convince the American public that they had a long, and bloody road ahead of them before victory would be achieved over the Japanese. The photographs of the numerous, dead Americans on the water’s edge would take back the public who had not been exposed to the gruesome details of many of the battles in the war. In just 4 days, there were almost 1,000 Marines who would lose their lives with a long way to go to get to Tokyo. As the main Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa would mark the first step across the Pacific on America’s offensive in the Pacific Theater of war.
Alexander, Joseph H. (1995). Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Naval Institute Press.
“Battle of Tarawa,” Wikipedia Entry. Accessed March 9th, 2013.
A Bloody Fight
Through the afternoon little ground was gained despite heavy fighting all along the line. The arrival of additional tanks bolstered the Marine cause and by nightfall the line was approximately half-way across the island and nearing the airfield (Map). The next day, the Marines on Red 1 (the westernmost beach) were ordered to swing west to capture Green Beach on Betio's west coast. This was accomplished with the aid of naval gunfire support. The Marines on Red 2 and 3 were tasked with pushing across the airfield. After heavy fighting, this was accomplished shortly after noon.
About this time, sightings reported that Japanese troops were moving east across a sandbar to the islet of Bairiki. To block their escape, elements of the 6th Marine Regiment were landed in the area around 5:00 PM. By the end of the day, American forces had advanced and consolidated their positions. In the course of the fighting, Shibasaki was killed causing issues among the Japanese command. On the morning of November 22, reinforcements were landed and that afternoon the 1st Battalion/6th Marines began an offensive across the southern shore of the island.
A Smaller Midway? Fighting Japan In The Solomon Isles Was Critical To Winning World War II
To neutralize the major Japanese base at Rabaul, American troops would need to take Bougainville in the Soloman Islands.
The Treasuries were defended by only a few hundred Japanese, and they were invaded by roughly 4,000 men of the 8th New Zealand Brigade Group on October 27. However, the Allied commanders knew that the Japanese had about 25,000 troops stationed in the Buin-Shortland Islands area at the southern end of Bougainville with the necessary barges to transport reinforcements to the Treasuries, so surprise and the coincident raid on Choiseul would be vital to keeping the Japanese defenders confused as to where to commit their reserves.
The Treasury Islands were successfully occupied by the Allies by the end of the invasion’s first day, with the small Japanese garrison being pushed into the jungle. By now having the Treasury Islands along with previously occupied Vella Lavella, Halsey would have the advance bases to support his Bougainville invasion and airfield construction, avoiding the supply crisis that he had experienced on Guadalcanal.
The first American planes landed at Vella Lavella on September 24, providing Halsey with another nearby airstrip to support his Torokina beachhead. By mid-October, the American airfield on Vella Lavella could accommodate almost 100 aircraft.
The Japanese high command in Tokyo remained puzzled by these Allied diversions, but the island assaults seemed to be producing the desired effect for Halsey’s staff, since Admiral Koga did not take any decisive action and remained highly suspicious of an immediate invasion of New Britain—more so than Bougainville.
According to Marine General Roy Geiger, who would take over the IMAC leadership from Vandegrift on Bougainville on November 9, the Treasury Islands occupation and the Choiseul raid were important preliminary operations to landing on Bougainville’s western coast, serving as “a series of short right jabs to throw the enemy off balance and to conceal the real power of our left hook to his belly at Empress Augusta Bay.”
Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson was named Commander, Bougainville Amphibious Force, Task Force 31. Along with Vandegrift—and then Geiger—serving as Commanding General, IMAC, these experienced leaders would help overcome the intelligence deficiencies that faced the 3rd Marine Division (Reinforced), under Maj. Gen. Allen Turnage.
According to the division’s history, “Virtually nothing was known of the hydrography, terrain conditions inland from selected beaches, and location of enemy defenses in the immediate area,” largely due to the delayed selection of the Cape Torokina amphibious landing site.
Although Vandegrift had obtained the requisite transport to land his 14,000 Marines, he was still anxious that there might be more than the 300 Japanese troops that were suspected to be in the area.
Followup convoys, after the initial landings at Torokina on November 1, 1943, would deliver additional supplies as well as the 21st Marines, the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, and the 37th Infantry Division, the latter under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert S. Beightler, comprising the 129th, 145th, and 148th Infantry Regiments.
Vandegrift’s anxiety was soon dispelled as his earlier intelligence estimates were confirmed that only one company of the IJA 23rd Infantry Regiment of Maj. Masatane Kanda’s 6th Division would be defending the landing site. However, imbued with Tokyo’s wishes to defend every spot tenaciously now, the opposition, although light, would mount a strong defense at Torokina.
A preliminary naval bombardment of Cape Torokina and strafing of the landing beaches by Navy dive bombers from Munda, New Georgia, began at 6 am on November 1, but drew no Japanese response.
Then, assault waves of 3rd Division Marines—the 9th Marines on the left and the 3rd Marines on the right—crossed their narrow beaches of only 30-50 yards in depth to enter Bougainville’s adjacent dense jungle. The 2nd Raider Battalion was situated between battalions of the 3rd Marine Regiment close to Cape Torokina.
Elements of the 3rd Raider Battalion seized Puruata Island, which was situated in Empress Augusta Bay to the northwest of Cape Torokina and adjacent to tiny Torokina Island in the bay to the east. The landing beaches were roughly 8,000 yards long and extended from Cape Torokina to just west of the Koromokina Lagoon, which was fed by a similarly named river.
Although the Marines did not encounter strong Japanese forces, heavy surf as well as a high beach mitigated proper anchoring of many of the 9th Marines’ landing craft on the western, or left flank, beaches, forcing many Marines to wade ashore in deep water to the far left of their assigned assault beaches.
With more than 80 LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel) and LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) disabled, Vandegrift, the IMAC commander, halted further landings along the 9th Marine beaches.
However, to the far right of the assault beaches the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines ran into at least 25 entrenched Japanese positions on Cape Torokina, which were only minimally damaged by the preceding naval bombardment.
A 75mm artillery piece, protected by pillboxes and infantry rifle pits on the northern face of the cape enfiladed the amphibious assault of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines and the 2nd Raider Battalion at a range of only 500 yards.
This entrenched 75mm gun hit 14 landing craft, of which four sank, and disrupted the proper landing sites of the battalions’ companies and headquarters. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 3rd Marines made easier landings on their beaches since there were no Japanese fortifications the few enemy troops there fled into the jungle after only token resistance.
Sergeant Robert A. Owens, observing the devastating effect that the 75mm gun was having on the beach and approaching landing craft, along with his squad from A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, attacked the gun position situated in a palm log bunker reinforced with sand-filled fuel drums.
Although other members of his squad at the base of the hill above the landing area were being felled by sniper fire, Owens, with four men in support, ran uphill to storm the bunker singlehandedly, despite being hit by Japanese snipers. After reaching the bunker’s gun port, Owens crawled through the aperture firing his Thompson submachine gun, killing several of the artillery crew. Escaping enemy troops exiting through the rear of the bunker were killed by other Marines.
When Owens, too, emerged from the bunker, he collapsed and died from his wounds. The bunker had an abundance of high-explosive ammunition that would have been fired at the beach and landing craft had Owens not wiped out most of the crew. Owens received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his bravery and sacrifice.
The other pillboxes were all destroyed by the afternoon by similar assaults that enabled other Marines to either force hand grenades down the ventilation shafts or take the structures from the rear. In the communicating trenches between the pillboxes, Marines resorted to hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese 23rd Infantry Regiment defenders.
More than half the 270 Japanese infantrymen from this regiment eventually fled into the jungle. The Marines suffered 180 killed and wounded. Puruata and Torokina Islands were taken by the 3rd Raider Battalion with minimal casualties. A few additional days were needed to root out snipers.
The battle for the narrow beachhead had ended, but combat along the jungle perimeter now began with G Company, 9th Marines situated well to the south of the Laruma River to oppose an enemy movement from the north while M Company, 3rd Raider Battalion, attached to the 2nd Raider Battalion for the main landing, took up positions on the Mission Trail should the Japanese approach from the south.
Japanese air attacks from Rabaul commenced immediately after the landings started, which briefly suspended operations, as American fighters from Vella Lavella and Munda engaged the Aichi D3A Val dive bombers and Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter escorts numbering about 120 planes that day.
By the time November 1 ended, the 75mm and 105mm howitzers of the 12th Marines were hauled through Bougainville’s muck into the perimeter, while the 90mm antiaircraft guns of the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion dug in and gave the 14,000 Marines ashore some added firepower. Within days, U.S. Navy “Seabees” began constructing rudimentary roadways and started work on a fighter strip at Cape Torokina. The shooting stopped.
Within a week, Marine patrolling could find no significant Japanese formations within two miles of the temporary perimeter the positions of the 3rd and 9th Marines were reversed by General Turnage. The Raiders from Puruata and Torokina Islands were held in reserve except for one company placed at a roadblock along the Piva Trail.
Elements of the 21st Marines arrived in the perimeter on November 6, while the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Division landed on November 9. Within two weeks, the 37th Division’s artillery along with its 129th and 145th Regiments would also land.
The Japanese had been confused about the site of Bougainville’s invasion and also underestimated the strength of the lodgement, as they had previously done at Guadalcanal. The IJA 17th Army Headquarters, led by bespectacled Lt. Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake, had given up the defensive initiative at Torokina, believing that the major American landing would still occur at Buka in the north or Buin on the island’s southern tip.
Hyakutake received elements of the 17th IJA Division’s 53rd and 54th Infantry Regiments from Rabaul, which landed on Bougainville on November 7, to engage the left of the Marine perimeter to force commitment of Marine reserves while the stronger attack from Buin would be hurled at the Piva Trail roadblock on the right of the perimeter.
Invasion of Puruata Island, 1-2 November 1943 - History
While MacArthur's and Halsey's troops were gaining the Trobriands, the Markham Valley, the Huon Peninsula, and the New Georgia group for the Allied cause, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their subordinate committees in Washington had been making a series of decisions affecting the course of the war in the Pacific. These decisions related not so much to C ARTWHEEL itself as to General MacArthur's desire to make the main effort in the Pacific along the north coast of New Guinea into the Philippines. But, since they called for troops to support the offensives in Admiral Nimitz' Central Pacific Area, they had an immediate impact upon C ARTWHEEL , especially on the Bougainville invasion (Operation B of E LKTON III) and on MacArthur's plans to seize Rabaul and Kavieng after C ARTWHEEL .
The Decision To Bypass Rabaul
Once the Combined Chiefs at Casablanca had approved an advance through the Central Pacific, the Joint Chiefs put their subordinates to work preparing a general strategic plan for the defeat of Japan. An outline plan was submitted at the meeting of the Combined Chiefs in Washington, 12-15 May 1943. The Combined Chiefs approved the plan as a basis for further study. 1
The plan, which governed in a general way the operations of Nimitz' and MacArthur's forces until the end of the war, aimed at securing the unconditional surrender of Japan by air and naval blockade of the Japanese homeland, by air bombardment, and, if necessary, by invasion. The American leaders agreed that naval control of the western Pacific might bring about surrender without invasion, and even without air bombardment. But if air bombardment, invasion, or both proved necessary, air and naval bases in the western Pacific would be required. Therefore, the United States forces were to fight their way westward across the Pacific along two axes of advance: a main effort through the Central Pacific and a subsidiary effort through the South and Southwest Pacific Areas. 2 (See Map 1.)
The Washington commanders and
planners preferred the Central Pacific route for the main effort because it was shorter and more healthful than the South-Southwest Pacific route it would require fewer ships, troops, and supplies success would cut off Japan from her overseas empire destruction of the Japanese fleet, which would probably come out fighting to oppose the advance, would enable naval forces to strike directly at Japan and it would outflank and cut off the Japanese in the Southeast Area. The main effort should not be made through the South and Southwest Pacific Areas, it was argued, because a drive from New Guinea to the Philippines would be a frontal assault against large islands with positions closely arranged in depth for mutual support. The Central Pacific route, in contrast, permitted the continuously expanding U.S. Pacific Fleet to strike at small, vulnerable positions too widely separated for mutual support.
The Joint Chiefs decided on the two axes, rather than the Central Pacific alone, because the Japanese conquests in the first phase of the war had compelled the establishment of comparatively large Allied forces in the South and Southwest Pacific Areas to shift all these to the Central Pacific would take too much time and too many ships, and would probably intensify the already strong and almost open disagreement between MacArthur and King over Pacific strategy. Further, the Joint Chiefs hoped to use the oil fields on the Vogelkop Peninsula. 3 Twin drives, co-ordinated and timed for mutual support, would give the U.S. forces great strategic advantages, for the Japanese would never know where the next blow would fall. 4
At Washington in May the Combined Chiefs, as they had at Casablanca, approved plans for seizure of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands as the opening phase of the Central Pacific advance. They also approved the existing plans for C ARTWHEEL , which the Joint Chiefs estimated would be ended by April 1944.
Next month, the Joint Chiefs, concerned with the problem of co-ordinating Nimitz' and MacArthur's operations, asked MacArthur for specific information on organization of forces and dates for future operations and informed him that they were planning to start the Central Pacific drive in mid-November. They planned to use the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions, then in the Southwest and South Pacific Areas, respectively, all the South Pacific's assault transports and cargo ships (APA's and AKA's), and the major portion of naval forces from Halsey's area. 5
Faced with the possibility of a rival offensive, using divisions and ships that he had planned to employ, General MacArthur hurled back a vigorous reply. Arguing against the Central Pacific (he
called the prospective invasion of the Marshalls a "diversionary attack"), he set forth the virtues of advancing through New Guinea to the Philippines. Withdrawal of the two Marine divisions, he maintained, would prevent the ultimate assault against Rabaul. He concluded his message with the information on target dates and forces that the Joint Chiefs had requested. 6 Two days later, 22 June, Admiral Halsey protested the proposed removal of the 2d Marine Division and most of his ships. 7
Although General MacArthur may not have known it at the time, his argument that transfer of the two divisions would jeopardize the Rabaul invasion was being vitiated. In 1942 there had been general agreement that Rabaul should be captured, but in June 1943 members of Washington planning committees held that a considerable economy of force would result if Rabaul was neutralized rather than captured. 8 The Joint Strategic Survey Committee, in expressing itself in favor of giving the Central Pacific offensive priority over C ARTWHEEL , also argued that the Allied drive northward against Rabaul was merely a reversal of the Japanese strategy of the year before and held "small promise of reasonable success in the near future." 9
On the other hand Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to the President and senior member of the Joint Chiefs, was always a strong supporter of MacArthur's views. 10 He argued strongly against any curtailment of C ARTWHEEL . Admiral King, however, was far from pleased (in June 1943) with the rate of "inch by inch" progress in the South and Southwest Pacific. He wanted to see Rabaul "cleaned up" so the Allies could "shoot for Luzon," and seemed to imply that if C ARTWHEEL did not move faster he would favor a curtailment. 11
The immediate question on the transfer of the Marine divisions was compromised. The 1st Marine Division would remain in the Southwest Pacific. The 2d Marine Division, heretofore slated for the invasion of Rabaul, was transferred from New Zealand to the Central Pacific, where it made its bloody, valorous assault on Tarawa in November 1943. Assured by King that the Central Pacific offensive would assist rather than curtail C ARTWHEEL , Leahy withdrew his objections. 12
By 21 July the arguments against capturing Rabaul had so impressed General Marshall that he radioed MacArthur to suggest that C ARTWHEEL be followed by the seizure of Kavieng on New Ireland and Manus in the Admiralties, with the
27 October-1 November 1943
purpose of isolating Rabaul, and by the capture of Wewak. But MacArthur saw it otherwise. Marshall's plan, he stated, involved too many hazards. Wewak, too strong for direct assault, should be isolated by seizing a base farther west. Rabaul would have to be captured rather than just neutralized, he insisted, because its strategic location and excellent harbor made it an ideal naval base with which to support an advance westward along New Guinea's north coast. 13
Marshall and King were not convinced. Thus the Combined Chiefs, meeting with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in Quebec during August, received and approved the Joint Chiefs' recommendation that Rabaul be neutralized, not captured. They further agreed that after C ARTWHEEL MacArthur and Halsey should neutralize New Guinea as far west as Wewak, and should capture Manus and Kavieng to use as naval bases for supporting additional advances westward. Once these operations were concluded, MacArthur was to move west along the north coast of New Guinea to the Vogelkop Peninsula. Subsequently MacArthur was informed that his cherished ambition to return to the Philippines would be realized Marshall radioed him that once the Vogelkop was reached, the Southwest Pacific's next logical objective would be Mindanao. 14
Papers containing the Combined Chiefs decisions were delivered to General MacArthur by Col. William L. Ritchie of the Operations Division, War Department General Staff, who reached GHQ on 17 September. 15
From then on MacArthur did not raise the question of Rabaul with the Joint Chiefs his radiograms dealt instead with broader questions relating to the Philippines and the relative importance of the Central and Southwest Pacific offensives. 16 Although the evidence is not conclusive, the general course of events and certain opinions MacArthur gave during the planning for Bougainville seem to indicate that he knew of the decision to neutralize rather than capture Rabaul, or else had reached the same decision independently, some time before Colonel Ritchie reached the Southwest Pacific.
The General Plan
If ever a series of offensives was conducted according to plan, it was the extremely systematic Allied moves in the Pacific that started in 1943. At the time that Allied forces were fighting in New Guinea and New Georgia, the Joint Chiefs were considering the wisdom of neutralizing Rabaul, and General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey were preparing for the invasion of Bougainville.
E LKTON III had initially provided that the southern Bougainville area (Buin and Faisi) was to be invaded during the
fifth month after the beginning of C ARTWHEEL , simultaneously with the conquest of New Georgia, and one month before the invasion of Cape Gloucester. (See Chart 2.) Admiral Halsey had altered the plan by managing to start his invasion of New Georgia on 30 June. In June General MacArthur, in ordering the Markham Valley-Huon Peninsula attack, directed Admiral Halsey to be ready to take southern Bougainville on orders from GHQ. 17 At this time Admiral Halsey, planning in accordance with E LKTON III, intended to use the 3d Marine Division and the 25th Division against southern Bougainville, the 2d Marine and 3d New Zealand Divisions against Rabaul. 18 Before long, however, the 25th Division, sent into New Georgia, was too worn for further combat and the 2d Marine Division was ordered to invade the Gilberts instead of Rabaul. 19
Tactical planning for Bougainville began in the South Pacific in July when Halsey assigned the Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Corps, to command the ground forces.(Map 15) His mission was the seizure of Buin, Kahili, and Tonolei Harbor on southern Bougainville and of the nearby islands in Bougainville Strait--the Shortlands, Faisi, and Ballale, where there were then an estimated twenty thousand Japanese soldiers and sailors.
Near the end of July Admiral Halsey suggested a change in plan to General MacArthur. It was based on two assumptions: first, that the objectives of the operation were denying the use of airfields and anchorage to the Japanese and securing airfields and anchorages for the Allies, as a step toward the capture of Rabaul and second, that because terrain, strategic position, and Japanese dispositions indicated that southern Bougainville was extremely important to the Japanese, the operation would be a major one. With the difficulties of the then bogged-down New Georgia invasion and the success of the artillery on the offshore islands against Munda both obviously in mind, he suggested that he could save men, matériel, and time by avoiding the Bougainville mainland completely. He proposed to seize the Shortlands and Ballale, to emplace artillery on the former with the mission of interdicting Kahili, to build one or more airfields in the Shortlands, and to use the anchorages there that the Japanese 8th Fleet then employed regularly. MacArthur heartily approved the scheme. 20
By early September, however, Admiral Halsey had decided on a further change
in plan. Several factors influenced his decision. The impressive and inexpensive success on Vella Lavella had demonstrated once more the validity of the old principle of striking soft spots, when possible, in preference to headlong assault against fixed positions. Further, reconnaissance had indicated that airdrome sites on the Shortlands were not very good. Landing in the Shortlands, which the Japanese were believed to be reinforcing, would entail heavy losses poor beaches would impede the landing of heavy construction equipment and artillery for the neutralization of Kahili. It was also estimated that assaulting the Shortlands-Ballale-Faisi area would require two divisions, while two more would be needed to operate on southern Bougainville proper. As the South Pacific had but four divisions--the 37th and Americal Divisions of the U.S. Army, the 3d Marine Division, and the 3d New Zealand Division--that were considered fit to fight, no more advances would be possible for months. 21
Looking for a method of neutralizing the southern Bougainville-Shortlands area without capturing it, a method that would retain enough troops for a major forward move later, Halsey acted on the advice of his principal subordinate commanders. He decided in favor of increased air effort from the New Georgia fields against southern Bougainville and Buka. Starting about 1 November, he proposed to capture the Treasury Islands and Choiseul Bay as airfield, radar, and PT base sites from which to "contain and strangle" southern Bougainville and the Shortlands. He proposed that after the mainland of Bougainville had been reconnoitered he and MacArthur could decide whether to advance from Choiseul to Kieta on the east coast or from the Treasuries to Empress Augusta Bay on the west if post-C ARTWHEEL plans required the establishment of positions on the mainland of Bougainville. 22
This plan was consistent with E LKTON III, and varied only slightly from the July schemes approved by MacArthur. But by now, MacArthur, perhaps aware of the decision to neutralize rather than capture Rabaul, and obviously anxious to hurry up C ARTWHEEL and get started on the drive toward the Philippines, had changed his mind about the scope and nature of the operation. Thus when Halsey's chief of staff, Rear Adm. Robert B. Carney, and his new war plans officer, Col. William E. Riley, USMC, presented the Treasuries-Choiseul plan to MacArthur at GHQ on 10 September, MacArthur was against it. With the successful airborne move to Nabzab in mind, he expressed his agreement with the principle of the bypass, but maintained that Halsey's plan would make it impossible for South Pacific aircraft to hit at Rabaul effectively before 1 March
15 October-1 November, Southwest Pacific air forces would make heavy attacks against Japanese aircraft, air installations, and shipping at Rabaul
20-25 October, South Pacific forces would occupy the Treasuries and positions on northern Choiseul in order to establish radar positions and PT boat bases
1 November, South Pacific forces would occupy Empress Augusta Bay on the west coast of Bougainville in order to establish airfields within fighter range of Rabaul
1-6 November, the Southwest Pacific would continue air attacks on Rabaul and would assist in the neutralization of Buka
25 December 1943-1 January 1944, Southwest Pacific forces would seize Cape Gloucester and Saidor in order to gain control of Vitiaz and Dampier Straits and to secure airdromes for the neutralization of Kavieng. During this period South Pacific forces would neutralize Rabaul. 23
General MacArthur stressed the importance of a landing on the mainland at another meeting on 17 September attended by General Harmon and Colonel Riley. Asked if he preferred a landing on the east or the west coast of Bougainville, he put the decision entirely in Admiral Halsey's hands.
And so on 22 September, Halsey issued warning orders which canceled all his earlier plans and assigned the units to constitute the invasion force. Admiral Wilkinson would lead it. The landing forces, under Wilkinson, were still to be under the commanding general of the I Marine Amphibious Corps. Halsey instructed Wilkinson and his units to be ready to carry out one of two plans: either they were to seize and hold the Treasury Islands and the airfield sites in the Empress Augusta Bay region on the west coast of Bougainville or they were to seize the Treasuries and Choiseul Bay, build airfields, PT boat bases, and landing craft staging points, and in late December seize the Japanese
airfield at Tenekau on the east coast of Bougainville. 24
Submarines took patrols to the east coast and to Empress Augusta Bay to gather data, and South Pacific intelligence officers interviewed missionaries, traders, planters, coastwatchers, and fliers who had been shot down over Bougainville. The east coast patrol, carried by the submarine Gato, delivered an unfavorable report. The west coast patrol, composed of marines, debarked from the submarine Guardfish about ten miles northwest of Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay. The marines were unable to examine Cape Torokina because it was occupied by the Japanese, but they took samples of soil similar to that at Torokina. When tested, it showed that Cape Torokina was suitable for airfields.
Between the sea and the mountains at Cape Torokina, which lay within fighter range of Munda, was a coastal plain of about seven square miles. It was lightly defended Halsey estimated that there were about one thousand Japanese in the area. So forbidding were the surrounding mountains that the area was almost isolated from the strong Japanese garrisons in southern Bougainville. Halsey and his planners estimated that if Allied forces seized Torokina the Japanese would require three or four months to bring enough heavy equipment over the mountains to launch an effective counterattack. But there were disadvantages. The heavy surf in Empress Augusta Bay, which had no protected anchorages, would make landing operations difficult. No more than 65 miles separated the cape from all the Japanese air bases on Bougainville, and Rabaul was only 215 miles to the northwest.
Admiral Halsey calculated the chances and decided on Torokina. In his words: "The conception was bold and the probability of provoking a violent air-land-surface action was accepted and welcomed on the premise that the by-products of enemy destruction would, in themselves, greatly further the over-all Pacific plan. Enthusiasm for the plan was far from unanimous, even in the South Pacific, but, the decision having been made, all hands were told to 'Get going.'" 25
Halsey informed MacArthur of his decision on 1 October. Expressing his complete agreement, MacArthur promised maximum air support from the Southwest Pacific. The invasion would be launched on 1 November. 26
Air Operations in October
The Fifth Air Force
By October the Fifth Air Force in the Southwest Pacific Area was well situated
to carry the fight against Rabaul. 27 Nearly all its warplanes had been displaced to forward bases. Port Moresby, an outpost in 1942, was now a rear base. Dobodura was the main staging base for heavy bombers, and Nadzab was being readied as the main base for future operations. P-38's from New Guinea could stage through Kiriwina and escort the bombers all the way to Rabaul.
Rabaul was ripe for air attack. Transports, cargo ships, and smaller craft, together with some warships, crowded Simpson Harbor. Supply depots were fully stocked. Four all-weather airfields--Lakunai, Vunakanau, Rapopo, and Tobera--were in operation in and near Rabaul. 28
Southwest Pacific aircraft had been harrying Rabaul with small raids since January 1942, but now the Allies were ready to attack this bastion on a large scale. General Kenney was ready for the first big attack on 12 October. All together, 349 planes took part: 87 heavy bombers, 114 B-25's, 12 Beaufighters, and 125 P-38's, plus some weather and photo reconnaissance planes--or, as he put it, "Everything that I owned that was in commission, and could fly that far." 29 B-25's and Beaufighters made sweeps over Vunakanau, Rapopo, and Tobera while the heavy bombers struck at shipping. The Allies lost four planes and estimated a great deal of damage to Japanese aircraft and ships. Their estimates were somewhat exaggerated, especially those on shipping damage, but some Japanese planes were destroyed. The Japanese, taken by surprise and unable to send up fighters to intercept, later reported that this and later raids in October were "a great obstacle to the execution of operations." 30
Bad weather over New Guinea halted Kenney's operations against Rabaul for the next few days. The Japanese used the respite to send out attacks against Oro Bay on 15 and 17 October, and Finschhafen on 17 and 19 October. The Allied planes did not sit idle while Rabaul was inaccessible, but struck at Wewak on the 16th and again the next day.
Kenney planned and sent out another big raid against Rabaul on 18 October, but when the air armada was over the Solomon Sea the weather closed in. Fifty-four B-25's went on to Rabaul anyway. Kenney followed this attack with three successive daylight raids on 23, 24, and 25 October before the weather again imposed a delay, this time until the 29th, when B-24's and P-38's bombed Vunakanau.
The weather intervened again, so that it was not until 2 November, the day after South Pacific forces landed at
Empress Augusta Bay, that Southwest Pacific aircraft again struck at Rabaul. On that day seventy-five B-25's escorted by P-38's attacked and ran into the fiercest opposition the Fifth Air Force encountered during World War II. A large number of carrier planes and pilots from the Combined Fleet at Truk had just been transferred to Rabaul, and they put up a stiff fight.
Although it is clear that these raids failed to wreak as much havoc at Rabaul as Kenney's fliers claimed, it is also clear that they caused a good deal of damage to aircraft and prevented the Japanese planes at Rabaul from undertaking any purely offensive missions. In short, the Southwest Pacific's air support for the Bougainville invasion, though not as devastating as was thought at the time, was effective.
Certainly American pilots, like the Japanese, and like soldiers and sailors on the ground and in ships, tended to exaggerate the damage they inflicted. But there were two important differences between American and Japanese claims. First, Japanese claims were wildly exaggerated whereas American claims were merely exaggerated. Second, Japanese commanders apparently took the claims seriously, so that nonexistent victories often served as the bases for decision. On the other hand American commanders, taking human frailty into account, evaluated and usually scaled down claims so that decisions were normally based on more realistic estimates of damage.
Air Command, Solomons
General Twining's composite force, Air Command, Solomons, had been striking hard at the northern Solomons bases during the same period and for the same purpose--to knock out the Bougainville bases so that Wilkinson's convoys could sail past in safety. Twining's available air strength had been displaced forward to bases within range of south Bougainville targets. At the start of operations in October, Twining had 614 Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Royal New Zealand Air Force planes. Of these, 264 fighters and 223 medium, dive, torpedo, and patrol bombers were at New Georgia and the Russells, and 127 heavy bombers and patrol planes were at Guadalcanal.
Ever since 1942 South Pacific planes had been battering at the Japanese bases at Kahili, the Shortlands, Ballale, Kieta, and Buka, and now the process was intensified in an effort to put them out of commission. 31 Starting on 18 October, Twining--whose high professional qualifications were matched by a physical appearance so striking that he looked like Hollywood's idea of a diplomat--drove his interservice, international force hard in a continuous series of high-level, low-level, dive, glide, and torpedo bombing attacks and fighter sweeps, all made with escorting fighters from the four air services in the command. The primary mission was accomplished. The hard-hit enemy showed skill and determination in keeping his airfields in repair, but these qualities were not enough. By 1 November all his Bougainville airfields had been knocked out of commission, and the continuous attacks kept them that way.
B-25'S LEAVING BOUGAINVILLE after an attack on airfields and supply areas.
Of Admiral Kusaka's 11th Air Fleet, a substantial portion was based at Rabaul in early October, the remainder in southern Bougainville. When Air Command, Solomons, intensified its operations, Kusaka withdrew his planes to Rabaul, and to avoid being completely destroyed by Kenney's heavy raids he frequently pulled his planes back to Kavieng in New Ireland. Despite these attacks Kusaka was usually able to maintain about two hundred planes in operating condition at Rabaul throughout October.
Now Admiral Koga, like the late Yamamato, decided to use his carrier planes jointly with the land-based planes of Kusaka's air fleet in an effort to improve the situation in the Southeast Area. As a result of the September decision to withdraw the main defensive perimeter, Koga developed a plan to cut the Allied lines of communication in the Southeast Area and so delay the Allies and buy time for the Japanese to build up the defenses along the main perimeter. This plan, called Operation RO, was to be executed by the operational carrier air groups of the Combined Fleet, transferred from Truk to Rabaul, and by the 11th Air Fleet. Vice Adm. Tokusaburo Ozawa, commander of the 3d Fleet, and Kusaka would conduct the operation jointly from Rabaul. Koga decided on this course of action fully aware that his surface strength would be immobilized
while his carrier planes were at Rabaul.
He had planned to transfer the planes in mid-October, but delayed the move because he received a false report that the U.S. Pacific Fleet was out against the Marshalls. On 20 October, now aware that Nimitz' forces were not moving against the Marshalls, Koga ordered the carrier planes dispatched. By the beginning of November, 173 carrier planes--82 fighters, 45 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 6 patrol planes--had reached Rabaul to team with Kusaka's 200. It was Ozawa's carrier pilots who gave Kenney's men such a hard fight on 2 November. Koga had first planned to deliver his main stroke against New Guinea but the increased tempo of Allied activity in the Solomons made him decide to strike in the Solomons.
Koga's decision to execute Operation RO was to have far-reaching results, results that were the precise opposite of what he expected. The transfer of the carrier planes coincided with the South Pacific's invasion of Bougainville.
Forces and Tactical Plans
Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands, is 125 miles long on its northwest-to-southeast axis, and 30 to 48 miles wide. 32 Its mountainous spine comprises two ranges, the Emperor and the Crown Prince. Two active volcanoes, 10,000-foot Mount Balbi and 8,000-foot Mount Bagana, send continual clouds of steam and smoke into the skies. Mount Bagana, a stark and symmetrical cone, overlooks Empress Augusta Bay and is the most outstanding feature of the region's dramatic beauty.
The mountain range ends toward the southern part of the island, and there, on the coastal plain near Buin, the Japanese had built the airfields of Kahili and Kara. On the western coast the mountains slope down through rugged foothills and flatten out into a narrow and swampy coastal plain that is cut by many small rivers. These silt-laden streams constantly build bars across their own mouths and thus frequently change their courses.
Good harbors in varying stages of development were to be found at Buka, Numa Numa, Tenekau, Tonolei, and in the islands off the south coast. Empress Augusta Bay, exposed as it was to the open sea, was a poor anchorage. The Japanese had airfields at Buka and Bonis on either side of Buka Passage, at Tenekau, Kieta, Kara, and Kahili on the mainland, and at Ballale near the Shortlands, and had seaplane anchorages and naval bases in the Shortlands. As on all the other islands, there were no real motor roads, only native trails near the coasts plus a few that led through the mountains.
The native population consisted of over forty thousand nominally Christian Melanesians, who were slightly darker in color than their fellows in the southern Solomons. Before the war about a hundred white missionaries, planters,
traders, and government officials had lived on the island. Some of the natives, it was known, were pro-Japanese and had aided the enemy in rooting out the coastwatchers earlier in the year.
Allied intelligence agencies estimated enemy strength at about 37,500 soldiers and 20,000 sailors, and correctly reported that the Army troops belonged to the 17th Army, commanded by General Hyakutake, who had been responsible for the direction of the Guadalcanal Campaign. 33 Over 25,000 of Hyakutake's men were thought to be in the Buin-Shortlands area, with an additional 5,000 on the east coast of Bougainville, 5,000 more at Buka and Bonis, and light forces at Empress Augusta Bay. Air reconnaissance enabled the Allies to keep a fairly accurate count of Japanese warships and planes in the New Guinea-Bismarcks-Solomons area.
Admiral Halsey, in preparing his attack, was not embarrassed by too many ships. Admiral Nimitz was getting ready to launch his great Central Pacific advance in November and had removed many of Halsey's ships, leaving him but eight transports and four cargo ships, or enough shipping to carry one reinforced division in the assault. Because South Pacific commanders expected the Japanese to oppose the invasion with vigorous air attacks, they decided not to use the slow LST's for the assault. The South Pacific had one carrier force, Task Force 38 under Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman, consisting of the 910-foot aircraft carrier Saratoga, the light carrier Princeton, two antiaircraft cruisers, and ten destroyers. Nimitz, in response to Halsey's requests for additional cruiser-destroyer and carrier task forces, assured Halsey that Central Pacific forces would be within reach to assist if necessary, and agreed to send Halsey another carrier task force on or about 7 November. 34
Halsey issued the basic orders for the operation on 12 October. He organized five task forces similar to those that had made up the New Georgia attack forces. They were: Task Force 31 (the attack force), under Admiral Wilkinson Task Force 33 (South Pacific land-based aircraft), under Admiral Fitch Sherman's Task Force 38 the cruisers and destroyers of Admiral Merrill's Task Force 39 and Captain Fife's submarines in Task Force 72.
The submarines were to carry out offensive reconnaissance in the waters of the Bismarck Archipelago, and would be supplemented in their work by Central Pacific submarines operating out of Pearl Harbor. Merrill's ships would support the invasion by operating against enemy surface ships and by bombarding Buka and the Shortlands. Halsey also planned to employ Sherman's Task Force 38 in a raid against Buka and Bonis, which lay beyond effective fighter range of the New Georgia airfields. Task Force 33 was ordered to carry out its usual missions of reconnaissance, destruction of enemy ships and aircraft, and air cover and support of the invasion force. Air
Command, Solomons, which was part of Task Force 33, was making its intensive effort during October against the Japanese airfields in southern Bougainville and the outlying islands, so that these areas could safely be bypassed. Arrangements for local air support were the same as for New Georgia. The local air commander with the invasion force was designated, as a subordinate of Twining's, Commander, Aircraft, Northern Solomons, and would take command of all support aircraft as they took off from their bases.
Admiral Wilkinson's invasion force, Task Force 31, consisted of eight transports, four cargo ships, two destroyer squadrons, mine craft, almost all the South Pacific's PT squadrons, and a large force of ground troops under the Commanding General, I Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC).
The ground commander was General Vandegrift, USMC, an apple-cheeked, deceptively soft-spoken Virginia gentleman, who had won distinction by his conduct of operations on Guadalcanal from 7 August 1942 until December of that year. Vandegrift was at this time slated to become commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, but was given the Bougainville command temporarily because Maj. Gen. Charles D. Barrett, who had replaced Vogel in command of the I Marine Amphibious Corps, had met accidental death in Noumea. Halsey's choice for the corps command fell upon Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, USMC, another hero of Guadalcanal, who was then in Washington as Director of Marine Corps Aviation. Vandegrift was to exercise the command until Geiger could arrive.
Ground forces assigned to the attack included the following: I Marine Amphibious Corps headquarters and corps troops 3d Marine Division 37th Division 8th Brigade Group, 3d New Zealand Division 3d Marine Defense Battalion 198th Coast Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft) 2d Provisional Marine Raider Battalion 1st Marine Parachute Battalion naval construction and communications units, and a boat pool.
In area reserve, to be committed on orders from Admiral Halsey, were the Americal Division in the Fijis the 2d Battalion, 54th Coast Artillery (Harbor Defense) Regiment at Espiritu Santo and the 251st Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) Regiment in the Fijis.
Naming D Day as 1 November, the date for the invasion of Empress Augusta Bay, Halsey ordered Task Force 31 to seize and hold the Treasury Islands on D minus 5 (27 October) and establish radar positions and a small naval base. Wilkinson's main attack would be the seizure of Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November, which would be followed by the speedy construction of two airfields on sites to be determined by ground reconnaissance after the troops had landed. Task Force 31 was initially ordered to be ready to establish a PT base on northern Choiseul. This part of the plan was changed on the recommendation of Vandegrift, who argued that the Treasury landings might reveal to the Japanese the intention to invade Empress Augusta Bay. Halsey, Wilkinson, and Vandegrift decided instead to use the 2d Marine Parachute Battalion in a twelve-day raid on Choiseul which they hoped would mislead the enemy into
believing that the real objective lay on Bougainville's east coast. 35
Halsey made Wilkinson, whose headquarters was then at Guadalcanal, responsible for co-ordination of all amphibious plans. Wilkinson was to command all elements of Task Force 31 until, at a time agreed upon by him and the ground commander, direction of all air, ground, and naval forces at Empress Augusta Bay would be transferred to the latter.
Wilkinson divided Task Force 31 into a northern force, which he commanded himself, for the main attack and a southern force, led by Admiral Fort, for the Choiseul raid and the seizure of the Treasuries. The assault echelon of the northern force, scheduled to land at Empress Augusta Bay on D Day, included destroyers, the transports and cargo ships, and Maj. Gen. Allen H. Turnage's 3d Marine Division, less one regimental combat team and plus supporting units. The Treasuries echelon of the southern force was made up of 8 APD's, 2 LST's, 8 LCI's, 4 LCT's, 2 APC's, the 8th Brigade Group of the 3d New Zealand Division, the 198th Coast Artillery, A Company of the 87th Naval Construction Battalion, and communications and naval base detachments. The parachute battalion would be transported by four APD's escorted by destroyers. The 37th Division, in corps reserve, would be picked up at Guadalcanal by the northern force transports and would start arriving at Bougainville soon after D Day to help hold the beachhead.
LT. GEN. ALEXANDER A. VANDEGRIFT
Guadalcanal and the Russells were to serve as the main staging and supply bases. However, the shortage of shipping led the I Marine Amphibious Corps to shorten the lines by establishing a supply base at Vella Lavella. Plans called for
the Vella depot to be stocked with a thirty-day supply of rations and petroleum products, but so strained was South Pacific shipping that only a ten-day supply had been stocked at Vella Lavella by 1 November.
During the last half of October the ground units completed their training and conducted final rehearsals. The 3d Marine Division, part of which had served in Samoa in 1942 before joining the main body in New Zealand, had recently transferred from New Zealand to Guadalcanal. It completed its amphibious and jungle training there and rehearsed for Empress Augusta Bay in the New Hebrides from 16 to 20 October. The 37th Division, returned from New Georgia to Guadalcanal in September, likewise conducted amphibious and jungle training at Guadalcanal. The 3d Marine Defense Battalion, which after serving in the Guadalcanal Campaign had been sent to New Zealand and from there back to Guadalcanal, rehearsed there. The 8th Brigade practiced landings at Efate en route to Guadalcanal from New Caledonia, and from 14 to 17 October rehearsed at Florida.
The Japanese fully expected Halsey to attack Bougainville and were busy preparing to meet the invasion. Imperial Headquarters' orders in September had stressed the importance of Bougainville as an outpost for Rabaul, and General Imamura had instructed General Hyakutake to make ready. This the 17th Army commander did, acting in conjunction with the commander of the 8th Fleet. The Japanese planned to use air and surface strength to smash any Allied attempt at invasion before the assault troops could get off their transports. But if troops did succeed in getting ashore, the Japanese hoped to attack and destroy their beachheads.
Hyakutake's army consisted mainly of the 6th Division, Lt. Gen. Masatane Kanda commanding. (This division had acquired an unsavory reputation for indiscipline by its sack of Nanking, China, in 1937). Also assigned were the 4th South Seas Garrison Unit (three infantry battalions and one field artillery battery), and field artillery, antiaircraft artillery, and service units. Imamura was sending four rifle battalions and one artillery battalion of the 17th Division from New Britain to northern Bougainville these were due in November. 36
Hyakutake, whose headquarters was on tiny Erventa Island near Tonolei Harbor, had disposed most of his strength to cover the Shortlands, Buin, and Tonolei Harbor, the rest to protect Kieta and Buka. Some 26,800 men--20,000 of the 17th Army and 6,800 of 8th Fleet headquarters and naval base forces--and an impressive number of guns ranging from machine guns to 140-mm. naval rifles were stationed in southern Bougainville and the islands. Over 4,000 men were at Kieta, and the arrival of the 17th Division units would bring the Buka Passage garrison to 6,000. 37
The unpromising nature of the terrain on the west coast of Bougainville had convinced Hyakutake that the Allies would not attempt to land there. Consequently only a small detachment was stationed at Empress Augusta Bay. Hyakutake was aware that he would be outnumbered and outgunned in any battle, but like most of his fellow Japanese generals he placed great faith in the superior morale he believed his troops possessed.
"The battle plan is to resist the enemy's material strength with perseverance, while at the same time displaying our spiritual strength and conducting raids and furious attacks against the enemy flanks and rear. On this basis we will secure the key to victory within the dead spaces produced in enemy strength, and, losing no opportunities, we will exploit successes and annihilate the enemy." 38 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
The assault echelon of Admiral Fort's southern force consisted of five transport groups: the advance transport group with 8 APD's and 3 escorting destroyers the second with 8 LCI(L)'s, 2 LCI(G)'s, 39 and 6 destroyers the third with 2 LST's, 2 destroyers, and 2 minesweepers the fourth with 1 APC, 3 LCT's, and 2 PT boats the fifth with 1 APC, 6 LCM's, and a rescue boat. 40 These ships loaded troops and supplies at Guadalcanal, Rendova, and Vella Lavella and departed for the Treasuries on 26 October. Their departures were timed for the five groups to arrive in Blanche Harbor, which is between Mono and Stirling Islands, between 0520 and 0830, 27 October. 41 All possible measures were taken to avoid detection, because the small forces had to get established in the Treasuries before the Japanese were able to send in reinforcements from their ample reserves in the nearby Shortlands. But detection was almost inevitable in an operation so close to enemy bases, and at 0420, 27 October, a reconnaissance seaplane sighted the ships near the Treasuries and reported their presence. Admiral Merrill's task force, covering the operation some distance westward, was also discovered.
Heavy rain fell as the leading APD's arrived off the western entrance to Blanche Harbor. Low-hanging clouds obscured the jungled hills of Mono Island. As Blanche Harbor was too narrow
to permit ships to maneuver safely, the fire support destroyers and seven APD's remained west of the harbor. While the troops boarded the landing craft, destroyers opened fire on the landing beaches on Mono's south shore, and the minesweepers checked Blanche Harbor. At the same time the APD McKean put a radar party ashore on Mono's north coast.
Covered by the destroyers' gunfire and accompanied by the LCI gunboats, the first wave of LCP(R)'s, carrying elements of two battalions of the 8th Brigade, moved through the channel in the wet, misty half-light. There were only a handful of Japanese on Mono, some 225 men of the special naval landing forces. The naval bombardment drove most of the defenders out of their beach positions, and as the New Zealand infantry went ashore they drove out or killed the Japanese in the vicinity of the beach. However, enemy mortars and machine guns from hidden positions in the jungle fired on the landing beaches and on the LST's of the fourth transport group, which beached at 0735. This fire caused some casualties, damaged some weapons and equipment, and delayed the unloading. But before noon the 8th Brigade troops captured two 75-mm. guns and one 90-mm. mortar and resistance to the landing ceased.
Stirling Island, which was not occupied by the enemy, was secured by a battalion during the morning. A total of 2,500 men--252 Americans of the 198th Coast Artillery and several detachments from other units, the rest New Zealanders--had been landed on the south shore of Mono. The radar detachment and accompanying combat troops that had landed on the north coast of Mono numbered 200.
Meanwhile the American destroyers were busy. In addition to providing fire support for the landings they escorted the unloaded transport groups back to Guadalcanal. Two picket destroyers with fighter director teams aboard were stationed east and west of the Treasuries to warn against enemy air attacks.
General Hyakutake had decided that the Treasury landings were a preliminary to a systematic operation, and that the Allies would build an airfield on the Treasuries, take Choiseul, and after intensified air and surface operations, would land three divisions on southern Bougainville in late November. He felt that they might possibly invade Buka. Warning that the recent decline in Japanese naval strength might cause the Allies to move faster, he stressed the importance of building up the south Bougainville defenses. In short, he believed just what the Allies hoped he would.
When Admiral Kusaka at Rabaul was notified of the Allied landing, he brought some planes forward from Kavieng and sent fighters and dive bombers against the Allies. Most of these were headed off by the New Georgia-based P-38's and P-40's that formed the southern force's air cover, but some got through to damage the picket destroyer Cony and harass the retiring LST's. The Japanese pilots reported that they had sunk two transports and two cruisers.
On shore, Brigadier R. A. Row of the New Zealand Army, the landing force commander, set up beach defenses. By 12 November his troops had killed or captured the enemy garrison which had
fled into the hills of Mono. Two hundred and five Japanese corpses were counted 40 New Zealanders and 12 Americans had been killed, 145 New Zealanders and 29 Americans wounded.
Succeeding transport echelons, thirteen in all, brought in more troops and equipment from 1 November 1943 through 15 January 1944. During this period the boat pool, an advanced naval base, and radars were established these supported the main operation at Empress Augusta Bay. Seabees of the U.S. Navy built a 5,600-foot-long airstrip on Stirling that was ready to receive fighter planes on Christmas Day.
The Choiseul Raid
Four of the APD's that had carried Brigadier Row's troops to the Treasuries sailed to Vella Lavella on 27 October and there took aboard 725 men of Lt. Col. Victor H. Krulak's 2d Marine Parachute Battalion, plus fourteen days' rations and two units of fire. Escorted by the destroyer Conway, the APD's steamed for the village of Voza on Choiseul, and that night landed the parachutists and their gear.
General Vandegrift had ordered Krulak so to conduct operations that the Japanese would believe a large force was present. Krulak therefore raided a barge staging point at Sagigai, some eight miles from Voza, and then sent strong combat patrols to the western part of Choiseul. But by 2 November the Japanese appeared to be concentrating at Sagigai with the obvious intention of destroying the 2d Parachute Battalion. From eight hundred to one thousand enemy were reported to have moved into Sagigai from positions farther east, with more on the way. By now the Empress Augusta Bay landing had been safely executed, and Vandegrift ordered Krulak to withdraw. The battalion embarked on three LCI's in the early morning hours of 4 November. The raid cost 11 Marines dead, 14 wounded 143 Japanese were estimated to have been slain.
Japanese sources do not indicate what estimates Imamura and Hyakutake placed on the operation. However, since Hyakutake expected that Choiseul would be invaded after the Treasuries and before southern Bougainville, it is not unlikely that Krulak's diversion confirmed his belief that southern Bougainville was the main Allied objective.
Seizure of Empress Augusta Bay
In invading Empress Augusta Bay, Halsey's forces were bypassing formidable enemy positions in southern Bougainville and the Shortlands, and placing themselves within close range of all the other Bougainville bases, as well as within fighter range of Rabaul--thus the strong air attacks by the Fifth Air Force and the Air Command, Solomons. In addition, Halsey had planned to make sure that the Japanese bases on Bougainville were in no condition to launch air attacks during the main landings on 1 November. 42 Forces assigned to this
mission were the 2 carriers, 2 antiaircraft light cruisers, and 10 destroyers of Admiral Sherman's Task Force 38 and the 4 light cruisers and 8 destroyers of Admiral Merrill's Task Force 39.
Task Force 38 sortied from Espiritu Santo on 29 October, Task Force 39 from Purvis Bay on Florida Island on 31 October. Both were bound initially for Buka.
Merrill, sailing well south of the Russells and west of the Treasuries on his 537-mile voyage in pursuance of Halsey's tight schedule, got there first. He arrived off Buka Passage at 0021, 1 November, and fired 300 6-inch and 2,400 5-inch shells at Buka and Bonis fields. Shore batteries replied but without effect. Merrill then retired at thirty knots toward the Shortland Islands. Enemy planes harassed the task force but the only damage they did was to the admiral's typewriter. One fire started by the bombardment was visible from sixty miles away.
About four hours after the beginning of Merrill's bombardment Task Force 38 reached a launching position some sixty-five miles southeast of Buka. This was the first time since the outbreak of the war in the Pacific that an Allied aircraft carrier had ventured within fighter range of Rabaul, and the first tactical employment of an Allied carrier in the South Pacific since the desperate battles of the Guadalcanal Campaign. In Admiral Sherman's words:
"We on the carriers had begun to think we would never get any action. All the previous assignments had gone to the shore-based air. Admiral Halsey had told me that he had to hold us for use against the Japanese fleet in case it came down from Truk. . . ." 43
The weather was bad for carrier operations as the planes detailed for the first strike, a force made up of eighteen fighters, fifteen dive bombers, and eleven torpedo bombers, prepared to take off in the darkness. The sea was glassy and calm occasional rain squalls fell. There was no breeze blowing over the flight decks, and the planes had to be catapulted into the air, a slow process that, coupled with the planes' difficulties in forming up in the dark, delayed their arrival over Buka until daylight. Two torpedo bombers and one dive bomber hit the water upon take-off, doubtless because of the calm air. The rest of the planes dropped three 1,000-pound bombs on Buka's runway and seventy-two 100 pound bombs on supply dumps and dispersal areas.
The next strike--fourteen fighters, twenty-one dive bombers, and eleven torpedo bombers--was launched at 0930 without casualties. These planes struck Buka again and bombed several small ships offshore. At dawn the next morning, 2 November, forty-four planes attacked Bonis, and at 1036 forty-one more repeated the attack. Then Sherman, under orders from Halsey, headed for the vicinity of Rennell, due south of Guadalcanal, to refuel. In two days of action Task Force 38, operating within sixty-five miles of Buka, estimated that it had destroyed about thirty Japanese planes and hit several small ships. More important, it had guaranteed that the Buka and Bonis runways could not be used for air attacks against Admiral Wilkinson's
MAJ. GEN. ALLEN H. TURNAGE (right) and Commodore Laurence F. Reifsnider aboard a transport before the landings on Bougainville.
ships. The Americans lost seven men and eleven planes in combat and operational crashes.
Meanwhile Merrill's ships had sped from Buka to the Shortlands in the early morning hours of 1 November to bombard Poporang, Ballale, Faisi, and smaller islands. Merrill had bombarded these before, on the night of 29-30 June, but in stormy darkness. Now the bombardment was in broad daylight it started at 0631, seventeen minutes after sunrise. Japanese shore batteries replied with inaccurate fire. Only the destroyer Dyson was hit, and its casualties and damage were minor. His mission completed, Merrill headed south.
Approach to the Target
The last days of October found Wilkinson's ships busy loading and rehearsing at Guadalcanal and the New Hebrides. 44 Wilkinson had organized his eight
transport and four cargo ships of Task Force 31's northern force into three transport divisions of four ships each. A reinforced regiment of marines was to be carried in each of two of the divisions, the reinforced 3d Marine Defense Battalion in the third. The four transports of Division A, carrying 6,421 men of the 3d Marines, reinforced, departed Espiritu Santo on 29 October and steamed for Koli Point on Guadalcanal. There Admiral Wilkinson and General Vandegrift boarded the George Clymer. General Turnage, 3d Marine Division commander, and Commodore Laurence F. Reifsnider, the transport group commander, had come up from the New Hebrides rehearsal in the Hunter Liggett. Transport Division B, after the rehearsal, took the 6,103 men of the reinforced 9th Marines from the New Hebrides and in the late afternoon of 30 October joined with the four cargo ships of Transport Division C south of San Cristobal. Division C carried the reinforced 3d Marine Defense Battalion, 1,400 men, and a good deal of heavy equipment.
All transport divisions, plus 11 destroyers, 4 destroyer-minesweepers, 4 small minesweepers, 7 minelayers, and 2 tugs, rendezvoused in the Solomon Sea west of Guadalcanal at 0740, 31 October. They sailed northwestward until 1800, then feinted toward the Shortlands, and after dark changed course again toward the northwest. During the night run to Empress Augusta Bay PB4Y4's (Navy Liberators), PV-1's (Vega Ventura night fighters), and PBY's (Black Cats) covered the ships. Enemy planes were out that night and made contact with the covering planes but apparently did not spot the ships, for none was attacked and Japanese higher headquarters received no warnings.
Empress Augusta Bay was imperfectly charted and the presence of several uncharted shoals was rightly suspected. Consequently Wilkinson delayed arrival at the transport area until daylight so that masthead navigation could be used to avoid the shoals.
At 0432 of 1 November, Wilkinson's ships changed course from northwest to northeast and approached Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay. Speed was reduced from fifteen to twelve knots. The minesweepers went out ahead to check the area. General quarters sounded on all ships at 0500, and forty-five minutes later the ships reached the transport area. The transport Crescent City struck a reef but suffered no damage.
Sunrise did not come until 0614, but the morning was bright and clear enough for the warships to begin a slow, deliberate bombardment of Cape Torokina at 0547. As each transport passed the cape it too fired with its 3-inch and antiaircraft guns. Wilkinson set H Hour for the landing at 0730. At 0645 the eight transports anchored in a line pointing north-northwest about three thousand yards from shore the cargo ships formed a similar line about five hundred yards to seaward of the transports.
Wilkinson, sure that the Japanese would launch heavy air attacks, had come
so lightly loaded that four to five hours of unloading time would find his ships emptied. Vandegrift and Turnage, anticipating little opposition at the beach, had planned to speed unloading by sending more than seven thousand men ashore in the assault wave. They would land along beaches (eleven on the mainland and one on Puruata Island off Cape Torokina) with a total length of eight thousand yards.
The assault wave boarded landing craft at the ships' rails. The winchmen quickly lowered the craft into the water and the first wave formed rapidly and started for shore.
The scene was one to be remembered, with torpedo bombers roaring overhead, trim gray destroyers firing at the beaches, the two lines of transports and cargo ships swinging on their anchors, and the landing craft full of marines churning toward the enemy. This scene was laid against a natural backdrop of awesome beauty. The early morning tropical sun shone in a bright blue sky. A moderately heavy sea was running, so that at the shore a white line showed where the surf pounded on the black and gray beaches, which were fringed for most of their length by the forbidding green of the jungle. Behind were the rugged hills, and Mount Bagana, towering skyward, emitting perpetual clouds of smoke and steam, dominated the entire scene.
The destroyers continued firing until 0731, when thirty-one torpedo bombers from New Georgia bombed and strafed the shore line for five minutes. The first troops reached the beach at 0726, and in the next few minutes all the assault wave came ashore. There was no opposition except at Puruata Island and at Cape Torokina and its immediate vicinity. There the Japanese, though few in numbers, fought with skill and ferocity.
Cape Torokina was held by 270 Japanese soldiers of the 2d Company, 1st Battalion, and of the Regimental Gun Company, 23d Infantry. One platoon held Puruata. On Cape Torokina the enemy had built about eighteen log-and-sandbag pillboxes, each with two machine guns, mutually supporting, camouflaged, and arranged in depth. He had also emplaced a 75-mm. gun in an open-ended log-and-sand bunker to fire on landing craft nearing the beach.
Neither air bombardment nor naval gunfire had had any appreciable effect on these positions. Because air reconnaissance had shown that the enemy had built defense positions on Cape Torokina (a low, flat, sandy area covered with palm trees), it had been a target for naval bombardment. Two destroyers had fired at the cape from the south, but had done no damage. Exploding shells and bombs sent up smoke and dust that made observation difficult some shells had burst prematurely in the palm trees. Poor gunnery was also a factor, for many shells were seen to hit the water. 45
Thus when landing craft bearing the 3d Marines neared the cape the 75-mm. gun and the machine guns opened fire. The men were forced to disembark under fire and to start fighting the moment they put foot to the ground. Casualties were lighter than might have been expected--78 men were killed and 104 wounded in the day's action--but only after fierce fighting and much valor were the men of the 3d Marines able to establish themselves ashore. The pillboxes were reduced by three-man fire teams: one BAR man and two riflemen with M1's, all three using grenades whenever possible. The gun position was taken by Sgt. Robert A. Owens of A Company, 3d Marines, who rushed the position under cover of fire from four riflemen. He killed part of the Japanese crew and drove off the rest before he died of wounds received in his assault. 46
By 1100 Cape Torokina was cleared. Most of its defenders were dead the survivors retreated inland. Puruata Island was secured at about the same time, although some Japanese remained alive until the next day. Elsewhere the landing waves, though not opposed by the enemy, pushed inland slowly through dense jungle and a knee-deep swamp that ran two miles inland and backed most of the beach north and east of Cape Torokina. The swamp's existence had not previously been suspected.
Air Attacks and Unloading
The Allied air forces of the South and Southwest Pacific Areas had performed mightily in their effort to neutralize the Japanese air bases at Rabaul, Bougainville, and the Shortlands, but they
3D MARINES LANDING ON CAPE TOROKINA
had not been able to neutralize Rabaul completely. In planning the invasion of Empress Augusta Bay, the South Pacific commanders were aware that the Japanese would probably counterattack from the air. General Twining had arranged for thirty-two New Georgia-based fighter planes of all types then in use in the South Pacific--Army Air Forces P-38's, New Zealand P-40's, and Marine F4U's--to be overhead in the vicinity all day. These planes were vectored by a fighter director team aboard the destroyer Conway. Turning in an outstanding performance, they destroyed or drove off most of the planes that the Japanese sent against Wilkinson. But they could not keep them all away.
At 0718, as the last boats of the assault wave were leaving their transports, the destroyers' radars picked up a flight of approaching enemy planes then fifty miles distant. The covering fighters kept most of the planes away, but a few, perhaps twelve, dive bombers broke through to attack the ships.
These bombers had come from Rabaul, where the enemy commanders were making haste to organize counterattacks. On 30 October Vice Adm. Sentaro Omori, commanding a heavy cruiser division, had brought a convoy into Simpson Harbor at Rabaul. Next morning a search plane reported an Allied convoy of three cruisers, ten destroyers, and thirty transports near Gatukai in the
New Georgia group. This was probably Merrill's task force it could not have been Wilkinson's. On receiving this report Admiral Kusaka ordered the planes of his 11th Air Fleet to start attacks, and he and Koga, over the protests of the 8th Fleet commander, who warned of the dangers of sending surface ships south of New Britain, directed Omori to take his force and all the 8th Fleet ships out to attack. This Omori did, but he missed Merrill and returned to Rabaul on the morning of 1 November.
Then came the news of the landing at Empress Augusta Bay. General Hyakutake was still sure that the main Allied attack would be delivered against southern Bougainville, but General Imamura ordered him to destroy the forces that had landed. Imamura also arranged with Kusaka for a counterattacking force from the 17th Division, made up of the 2d Battalion, 54th Infantry, and the 6th Company, 2d Battalion, 53d Infantry, to be transported to Empress Augusta Bay. 47 It would be carried on 6 destroyer-transports and escorted by 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 6 destroyers, all under Omori.
Admirals Koga and Kusaka, just completing their preparations for Operation RO, also ordered out their planes. The weather had come to their assistance by halting the heavy raid General Kenney had planned for 1 November. Koga alerted the 12th Air Fleet for transfer from Japan to Rabaul. Kusaka sent out planes of his 11th Air Fleet. The carrier planes apparently did not take part on 1 November.
According to enemy accounts, Japanese planes delivered three separate attacks against Wilkinson on 1 November. The Japanese used a total of 16 dive bombers and 104 fighters, of which 19 were lost and 10 were damaged. 48
When Wilkinson's ships received warning at 0718, the transports and cargo ships weighed anchor and steamed for the open sea. They escaped harm, and the dive bombers were able to inflict only light damage to the destroyers. Two sailors were killed. The transports returned and resumed unloading at 0930, having lost two hours.
Another enemy attack at 1248 succeeded in breaking through the fighter cover. Warned again by radar, the transports, with the exception of the American Legion, which stuck on an uncharted shoal, fled. The Japanese attacked the moving ships instead of the Legion. No damage was done, but the ships lost two more hours of unloading time. 49
The halts in unloading caused by air attacks, coupled with beach and terrain conditions that Admiral Halsey described as "worse than any we had previously encountered," slowed the movement of supplies and equipment. 50 Fully one third of the landing force--5,700 men in all--had been assigned to the shore party, but nature and the Japanese
LCVP'S ON THE BEACH AT EMPRESS AUGUSTA BAY damaged by the rough, driving surf.
aircraft thwarted efforts to unload all the ships on D Day.
Even on quiet days the surf at Empress Augusta Bay was rough, and on 1 November a stiff breeze whipped it higher. The northernmost beaches were steep and narrow. The surf, and possibly the inexperience of some of the crews, took a heavy toll of landing craft. No less than sixty-four LCVP's and twenty-two LCM's broached on shore and were swamped by the driving surf. As surf conditions got worse, several beaches became completely unusable. Five ships were shifted to beaches farther south, with more delay and congestion at the southern beaches. It was during this move that the American Legion ran aground.
By 1730 the eight transports were empty and Wilkinson took them back to Guadalcanal. But the four cargo ships, which carried heavy guns and equipment, were still practically full. Vandegrift, who had had ample experience at Guadalcanal in being left stranded on a hostile shore while much of his equipment remained in the holds of departing ships, persuaded Wilkinson to allow the cargo ships to put out to sea for the night and return the next morning to unload. 51 Most of the troops aboard went ashore in LCVP's before Commodore Reifsnider led the cargo ships out to sea. D Battery of the 3d Defense Battalion, for example, its 90-mm. antiaircraft
guns, fire control equipment, and radars deep in the holds of the Alchiba, which had lost all its LCM's in the raging surf, went ashore as infantry and occupied a support position in the sector of the 9th Marines.
Except for the full holds of the cargo ships, D Day had been thoroughly successful. All the landing force, including General Turnage, Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Noble, corps deputy commander, Col. Gerald C. Thomas, the corps chief of staff, and several other officers, were ashore. General Vandegrift returned to Guadalcanal on the George Clymer, leaving Turnage in command at Cape Torokina. By the day's end the division held a shallow beachhead from Torokina northward for about four thousand yards. Aside from unloading the cargo ships (a task that was expeditiously accomplished the next day), the main missions facing the amphibious and ground commanders and the troops were threefold: to bring in reinforcements to organize a perimeter defense capable of beating off the inevitable Japanese counterattack and to build the airfields that would put South Pacific fighter planes over Rabaul.
The first wave went ashore along an 8,000-yard front north of and including Cape Torokina at 07:10 hours on 1 November 1943. The 9th Marines assaulted the western beaches while the 3rd Marines took the eastern beaches and the cape itself. The 3rd Marine Raider Battalion captured Puruata Island about 1,000 yards west of the cape. [ citation needed ]
Because of the possibility of an immediate Japanese counterattack by air units, the initial assault wave landed 7,500 Marines by 07:30 hours. These troops seized the lightly defended area by 11:00 hours, suffering 78 killed in action while virtually annihilating the 270 troops of the Japanese 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment that were defending the area around the beachhead. [ citation needed ]
Sergeant Robert A. Owens, from Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in eliminating a Japanese 75 mm gun that had been shelling the landing force, after it had destroyed four landing craft and damaged ten others. At the cost of his life, Owens approached the gun emplacement, entered it through the fire port, and drove the crew out the back door. 
In the space of eight hours, Admiral Wilkinson's flotilla unloaded about 14,000 men and 6,200 tons of supplies. He then took his ships out of the area out of fear of an overnight attack by Japanese surface ships.  As it turned out, an American force of four light cruisers and eight destroyers encountered a Japanese force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay that night (morning of 2 November). [ citation needed ]