Battle of Sanananda, 19 November 1942-22 January 1943
The battle of Sanananda, 19 November 1942-22 January 1943, was the longest of the three intertwined battles that saw the Allies eliminate the Japanese beachhead on the northern coast of Papua. This beachhead, spread out from Gona in the west to Buna in the east, had been established to support a Japanese offensive across the Kokoda Trail towards Port Moresby. The Japanese reached within 30 miles of Port Moresby, before first being ordered to go onto the defensive, and then being thrown back by an Australian counterattack. Even while this counterattack was going on, General MacArthur, the Allied Commander-in-Chief in the South West Pacific Area, was preparing for the attack on the Japanese beachhead.
Sanananda was defended in more depth than the positions at Buna or Gona. The fortified coastal belt ran from Wye Point in the west, past Sanananda Point and to the main Japanese headquarters at Giruwa. One of the best roads in the area ran south from Sanananda Point to Soputa, and a number of tracks branched off from this road to reach the coast close to Cape Killerton. If these tracks fell into Allied hands, then the main Japanese anchorage at Basabua (west of Cape Killerton) would be endangered, and so the Japanese created three strongly fortified areas centred on the track junctions, with the first one three and a half miles south of Sanananda Point.
These three fortified areas were on the only patches of dry land in the area, and were surrounded by waist-deep sago swamps. This line of outer defences would hold the Allies from November 1942 into the middle of January 1943. By the time the battle began, Sanananda was defended by 3,200 men, 1,800 of whom were posted in the southernmost defences at the trail junctions.
They were to be attacked by the three battalions of the Australian 16th Brigade (2/2nd, 2/3rd and 2/1st Battalions). Their march to the front was poorly organised – between 16 November when they crossed the Kumusi River and noon on 19 November, by which time they were approached Soputa and the first Japanese positions, they received no food. When food did arrive, it was dropped behind the column, and had to catch up with the troops. This brigade had been in combat for just under two months by this time, having fought its way over the Kokoda Trail, and was only just over half strength. By the end of the preliminary fighting just over 1,000 men remained in the brigade.
First contact with the Japanese was made on 19 November by the 2/3rd Battalion, just outside Soputa. A brief skirmish was ended by darkness, and by the next morning the Japanese had pulled back to their next line of defences. On 20 November the Japanese made a more determined stand at their most southerly prepared position, and held off a frontal assault, but a composite battalion under Lt. Colonel Paul A. Cullen managed to get onto the track behind the Japanese position and hold off heavy counterattacks while another frontal attack on 21 November forced the Japanese to abandon their outer defences and pull back to the track junction.
The 16th Brigade was now exhausted. General Vasey, commanding the Australian 7th Division, had already requested reinforcements, and on 19 November the US 126th Infantry, which was about to attack Buna Village, was ordered to cross the Girua River and report to the Australians. The 126th reached Soputa by the evening of 21 November, the same day that the Australians forced the Japanese back to the trail junction. On the next day half of the regiment – the 2nd Battalion – was ordered back across the river for a second time, this time to reinforce the American attack at Buna.
The American reinforcements now numbered 1,400 men – the headquarters company, a detachment under Major Boerem, the 3rd Battalion under Major Bond and the Cannon and Antitank Companies. Despite having lost half of his men, Colonel Tomlinson, the commander of the 126th decided to proceed with his original plan. While Major Boerem attacked up the track, Companies I and K would attack around the left and Company L would attack on the right. The original plan had been for the 2nd Battalion to provide a reserve force, and to exploit any opportunities that developed.
The attack began late on the morning of 22 November. The attack on the left ran into a number of Japanese patrols. Although the Japanese were driven off, the Americans got disoriented in the difficult terrain, and only advanced 350 yards during the day. On the right Company L ran into heavy Japanese opposition very quickly and only advanced 200 yards. Over the next few days the Americans attempted to improve their positions, in preparation for a new attack. This effort was somewhat successful, for I and K Companies managed to establish themselves in a position to the west of the main Japanese position. The next major attack was made on 26 November, and saw the two companies gain a new position only 700 yards west of the trail to Killerton.
The crucial breakthrough on the left, and one that would shape the rest of the battle, came on 29 November. I and K Companies had been joined by the Antitank and Cannon Companies, and were now under the command of Major Baetcke. Their objective was to reach the main trail behind the Japanese position, and establish a roadblock that would isolate the Japanese defenders of the trail junction. The attack began early on 30 November, and after a day of fierce fighting Major Baetcke’s men reached a Japanese bivouac area on the trail, 1,500 yards north of the track junction and 300 yards south of the next Japanese position. The area itself was an open clearing, 250 yards long and 150 yards wide. By 18:30 Major Baetcke’s force was firmly established in the roadblock, and that evening drove off the first two Japanese counterattacks.
The establishment of the roadblock did not guarantee quick Allied progress. Huggins was defended by Company I, the Antitank Company, one machine gun section from Company M and a detachment from headquarters. It was surrounded by a much larger Japanese force, and its lines of communication and supply were very vulnerable. To the south the main Japanese position was intact, and was still too strong for the combined Australian and American force to capture. Major Baetcke with Company K and the Cannon Company was still some way off to the west. Supplies did get into the roadblock on 2 December, but on the same day Captain Shirley, who had commanded the successful attack, was killed. He was replaced by Captain Huggins, whose name was soon given to the roadblock.
During the rest of December the fighting fell into three main categories – attempts to break through to the roadblock, attempts to get supplies to the roadblock, and Japanese attacks on the roadblock. On 7 December the Australian 30th Brigade relieved the 16th Brigade, and Brigadier Porter took overall command. The three American companies that had been on the front line on the trail were relieved, but Porter insisted on keeping them close to hand. The fresh Australian troops attempted another frontal assault down the trail on 7 December, without success. On the same day supplies finally reached the roadblock, and Huggins himself was evacuated. The garrison was now down to 225 men, of whom 100 were disabled by disease. Communications with the outside world relied on the supply parties, and they were only able to break through intermittently – attempts on 10 and 14 December were successful, but others failed.
The American defenders of the roadblock received their first substantial reinforcements on 18 December, when 350 men from the Australian 2/7th Cavalry Regiment fought their way in. On 19 December the cavalry regiment attacked north, outflanking the Japanese defenders of the road and establishing a second roadblock – Kano – 300 yards north east of Huggins. This period also saw the American defenders of the roadblock reinforced again, when the Australian 49th Battalion fought its way in. The 49th Battalion also had the strength to guard its supply lines, which now ran into the roadblock from the south east. The worst moments in Huggins were over, but the Japanese still held out north and south of Huggins and Kano.
By the end of December the roadblock contained the 39th Battalion and the headquarters of 21st Brigade. 49th Battalion was guarding the supply lines, and the 2/7th Cavalry was attacking to the north. On 22 December the troops of 126th Infantry were finally able to leave the roadblock, having held out for nearly a month in terrible conditions against repeated attacks.
The Australians and Americans were still faced with a difficult task. The Japanese had three strong positions – at the main trail junction, between the two roadblocks, and north of Kano, and progress was slow against all three. The constant fighting combined with disease reduced the strength of the Allied forces to dangerous levels – by the end of 1942 the entire American force was no stronger than a single company. On 10 December the Americans had had 635 effective troops; on 1 January they only had 244. Nearly two thirds of the 979 casualties suffered so far were due to disease.
The Japanese were in an even worse condition. Although they had strong defences and a reasonable number of men, they had virtually no supplies. The isolated troops at the road junction were in the same position as the Americans had been in the roadblock, but even if General Oda, by then the commander at Sanananda had wanted to get supplies to them, he didn’t have any to send. The last reinforcements to reach Oda were 700-800 men who arrived at the end of December, after having been stranded further up the coast, west of Gona.
Fresh American troops reached the front early in January. The US 163rd Infantry began to reach the front on 31 December 1942, and on 2 January 1943 took over in the two road blocks. More reinforcements would soon be available, for the fighting to the west at Gona was already over, and on 2 January the last organised resistance ended at Buna. The Australian 18th Brigade, two troops of 25-pounder artillery, a number of General Stuart tanks and the US 127th Infantry were all available to join the 163rd. A three-pronged attack was planned – the 18th Brigade would attack up the road to Cape Killerton, the 163rd up the main road to Sanananda and the 127th Infantry would attack from the east.
Before this plan could be put into effect, a number of preliminary steps needed to be taken. The 127th Infantry needed to capture Tarakena, on the coast east of the Japanese base at Giruwa and the 163rd Infantry would have to eliminate the Japanese position between the two roadblocks, and to establish a position across the Cape Killerton trail, and the 18th Brigade would have to clear out the Japanese positions south of Huggins. These positions had been holding out since the start of the battle, but the Japanese defenders were now coming to the end of their strength.
Just as these attacks were being made, the command structure on New Guinea changed. On 8 January 1943 General MacArthur returned to Brisbane. General Blamey followed him a few days later, and so General Herring, who had been commander of Advance New Guinea Force, moved back to Port Moresby to become Commander, New Guinea Force. This left General Eichelberger as commander, Advance New Guinea Force, with responsibility for the final attack on Sanananda.
The preliminary attacks began with a failed attack on the Japanese position between the roadblocks on 8 January. The first success came on the next day, when roadblock Rankin was established on the Cape Killerton road. On 10 January Tarakena was taken from the east. On 12 January an attack against the Japanese position at the trail junction, supported by tanks, appeared to have failed, but actually convinced Colonel Tsukamoto, the commander at the junction, to order a retreat.
By now Japanese Imperial Headquarters had decided to abandon the remaining positions at Sanananda and Giruwa, and attempt to move the surviving troops back to Lae and Salamaua. This decision was made on 4 January, but General Adachi, the commander on New Guinea, did not pass the orders on to General Yamagata until 13 January. As many troops as possible would use motor launches to escape at night, and the rest would have to attempt to slip through the Allied lines. The breakout was timetabled for 25-29 January. By that point the battle would be over.
On 14 January the Allies discovered that most of the Japanese defenders had left the track junction, and launched a three-pronged attack that quickly overran the strong positions that had held them up for so long. Only 158 Japanese soldiers were found within the defences, and only six survived to be taken prisoner.
With this major block gone, the main attack could begin. On 14 January the 18th Brigade moved to the Rankin roadblock. On the following day they began the advance towards Cape Killerton, reaching within 800 yards of the coast. Killerton Village was occupied that evening. 15 January also saw the US 163rd Infantry break into the Japanese position between the road blocks.
The main attack came on 16 January. The 18th Brigade attack reached the coast on both sides of Cape Killerton, while other parts of the brigade were able to advance east to support the fighting on the main trail. The US 163rd was able to attack the Japanese troops north of the two roadblocks from front and back, clearing up that position by the end of the day.
On 17 January one battalion from the 18th Brigade moved east to the main trail, then turned north to attack towards Sanananda. To the south the US 163rd Infantry began an attack on the last strong Japanese position on the trail, which would hold out until 22 January. Further north the Australians reached Wye Point. By the end of the day the Japanese had been pinned back into a position on the coast north west of Sanananda, another close to the village on the main trail, and one further east around Giruwa. All three of these positions would come under attack from several directions at once.
The Japanese now attempted to withdraw from these last positions. General Yamagata ordered the evacuation to begin on 20 January. On 19 January the general made his own escape, reaching the mouth of the Kumusi River. That night General Oda and Colonel Yazawa, now the two senior Japanese officers in the beachhead, made their own attempts to escape, but were both killed when they ran into Australian troops.
In the aftermath of this attempted evacuation the Japanese positions on the coast collapsed with surprisingly little resistance. The position south of Sanananda fell on 21 January, as did the main Japanese headquarters at Giruwa. Most of the position north west of Sanananda was also reduced that day, at the cost of one man wounded, and the final resistance ended on the following day.
The hardest fighting on 21 January came at the position on the main trail, where no evacuation had been possible, but even here the fighting was easier than expected. A heavy artillery bombardment from 10:15 to 10:30 pinned the defenders down, and was followed by a five minute mortar bombardment. The northern perimeter was soon overrun, and by the end of the day most resistance had ended. The final Japanese positions, on the eastern perimeter, were overrun by 13:00 on 22 January.
For once the Japanese had not fought to the death. Around 1,500 men were killed during the defence of the Sanananda beach-head, but 1,190 sick and wounded escaped by sea between 13-20 January, while 1,000 were able to successfully slip through the Allied lines and reach relative safety west of Gona.
The Allies had suffered 3,500 casualties in the fighting west of the Girua River – 2,700 Australian and 798 American (191 dead, 524 wounded and 83 missing). The final victory in Papua came one month before the Japanese withdrew from Guadalcanal, and together the two victories marked a clear turning point in the fighting in the Pacific – the last two Japanese offensives had both failed, and it was now the Allies turn to go onto the attack.
. I fear a war of attrition is taking place on this front. The Jap won't go till he is killed & in the process he is inflicting many casualties on us. I am beginning to wonder who will reach Zero first.
No other battle in Papua New Guinea tested the Allies so completely and unexpectedly as did the Battle of the Beachheads—Buna, Gona and Sanananda. To be sent to this battlefield was to pass figuratively through the gates of Hell. For two awful months, from 19 November 1942 to 22 January 1943, unit after unit was flailed against obstinate and lethal Japanese defences. Men fought and died in overgrown coconut plantations, swathes of kunai grass, dank jungle and foetid swamps, determined to defeat the enemy and pressing on despite frightening losses. When finally the ordeal ended in an acrid victory for the Allies, approximately 1300 Australians, 1000 Americans and 6000 Japanese lay dead, intermingled across the battlefronts. Thousands of other Allied troops had been evacuated sick, diseased or wounded, or all three.
The area around Buna was strategically and politically important. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces in the South-West Pacific Area (SWPA), originally issued orders in June 1942 for a small Australian force to occupy the area and establish a forward base, but the Japanese got there first. The enemy invasion force landed at Gona, a few kilometres west of Buna, on 21–22 July, establishing a base to support the advance on Port Moresby south over the Kokoda Track. It took nearly four months of determined and tough fighting for Australian troops to repel and push back the Japanese to the northern edge of the Owen Stanley Range, with a final push required to eliminate the Japanese fortified beachheads at Buna, Gona and, between them, on the Sanananda Track. As this was the last portion of the Australian territory of Papua in enemy hands, a clear victory here would suitably bring to an end the most bitter year of the war.
A joint Australian–American attack was planned. The Australians had borne the brunt of land fighting in Papua New Guinea to date, with the only American troops to see action up to this time being some engineers who fought briefly at Milne Bay. Major General George Vasey, General Officer Commanding, 7th Division, Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was ordered to complete his division's counter-attack over the Kokoda Track and then send one brigade against Gona, on the western flank, and a second brigade down the Sanananda Track. The 32nd Division, US Army, under Major General Edwin F Harding, would attack Buna, on the eastern flank. The Americans were 'green', having no combat experience and little or no jungle training. General Thomas Blamey, Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces and Commander, Allied Land Forces, SWPA, suggested deploying a third AIF brigade against Buna instead but MacArthur wanted American troops to play an active part in clearing the enemy from Papua, and this was their last chance. He thus ordered men obviously not ready for battle to make their combat debut.
MacArthur's intelligence staff estimated that up to 4000 Japanese were contained in the beachheads, believing them to be tattered survivors of Milne Bay and the Kokoda Track, and casualties of Allied bombing. MacArthur and Blamey thus believed the forthcoming battle would be won easily, requiring two or three days' fighting. In fact, the Japanese had about double this number defending the beachheads and many were reinforcements, as many of the sickest and most badly wounded had been evacuated. With nowhere to retreat, they were prepared to fight tenaciously and, if necessary, to the death. Engineers had built hundreds of bunkers sited in-depth to protect the perimeters and lines of retreat. Constructed of coconut palm logs and compacted earth, and camouflaged by fast-growing vegetation, they were hard to detect from the air or ground, could sustain great damage from bombing and shelling, and their flanks were protected by other bunkers or impenetrable swamps. Allied aerial reconnaissance photographs showed just a few of these bunkers. Allied troops had no real idea of what really lay ahead.
On 15–16 November, Australian troops crossed the Kumusi River, marking the northern edge of the Owen Stanley Range, on to the coastal plain. Vasey had two brigades, the 25th and 16th (a 6th Division brigade loaned to the 7th Division), but their battalions were down to one-third normal strength after their long advance over the mountains.
A suggestion to airlift the 21st Brigade, somewhat recovered after earlier fighting on the Kokoda Track, to Kokoda village to join the attack was dismissed as unnecessary because of the idea the battle would be relatively easy.
A map showing significant locations in Papua during the Battle of Beachheads in 1942-1943.
Meanwhile, units of the American 32nd Division were approaching the beachheads. One battalion trekked over a little-known track east of the Kokoda Track and linked up with the Australians, while other units were flown over the mountains. The first airstrip constructed was at Wanigela, which was secured by the 2/12th Battalion AIF, which had fought at Milne Bay and on Goodenough Island. Among the first units to land was the 2/6th Independent Company AIF, attached to the 32nd Division it began a trek through jungle and swamp so awful that men were soon 'dog-tired, bone-weary, completely stonkered, fed up to the back teeth and bloody hungry'. Another airstrip was built at Pongani, closer to Buna, to save men this dreadful trek. Harding also arranged for howitzers and gunners of the Australian 1st Mountain Battery to be flown to Pongani, and for guns and gunners of the 2/5th Field Regiment AIF to be shipped from Milne Bay.
The passage from Milne Bay was one of the world's most treacherous, with uncharted reefs and shifting sandbars dotting the coastline. Three Australian survey vessels, HMA Ships Paluma, Polaris and Stella, risked aerial attack to chart the coastline to Pongani, and the sloop HMAS Warrego marked a three mile wide channel with night vision marker buoys much of the way so the 1st Water Transport Group, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) and the Small Ships Section, US Army Services of Supply (USASOS) could begin supporting the advance and battle. The small ships included former pearling luggers, trawlers, tugboats, ketches and captured barges. Australian engineers and Papuans manned Australian vessels, while Australian civilians (on contract to the USASOS), Papuans and Americans manned American vessels. The civilian seamen ranged in age from fifteen to seventy years old, with one having served in the Boer War!
The first serious loss occurred on this shipping line on 16 November 1942, three days before the battle was to start, when four luggers and a barge nearing Hariko, the forward landing site, were attacked by Japanese fighters. The vessels were carrying Harding and his staff, two 25-pounder field guns and gunners of the 2/5th Field Regiment, and supplies. Lacking aerial cover and lightly armed, they had no chance:
. tracer bullets and cannon shells kicked into our side at the water-line . jagged splinters flew in all directions . the second pass set us ablaze . Our guns barked defiance, and rifles cracked desperately and heroically. I saw an American machine-gunner set his teeth in a mirthless smile and blaze away at a Zero that came in low . Suddenly a crimson splash appeared across the gunner's chest, and the smile turned to a look of surprise, as though in that instant he saw something strange that living men never see .
All five vessels were sunk. Twenty-four men, including six of the 2/5th Field Regiment and an army photographer, were killed in the stricken vessels or in the water. Survivors, including Harding, swam for shore, the strongest helping the wounded and non-swimmers. Private Tom Hale, 2/5th Field Regiment, swam for four hours with one foot hooked through the carrying loop of an empty Bren gun case to which clung three wounded mates he was mentioned in despatches. Over the following days, other vessels were attacked.
The 7th and 32nd Divisions began their final advances to their attack lines. Vasey sent Brigadier Ken Eather's 25th Brigade, comprising the 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions with the 3rd Battalion attached, to Gona while Brigadier John Lloyd's 16th Brigade, comprising the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions with the American II Battalion, 126th (II/126th) Regiment attached, headed for the Sanananda Track. Vasey's men had two days to traverse 40 miles (65km) of hot coastal plain, but they were weary and sick, the terrain was rougher than expected, and they found that steel helmets offered no protection from searing sunlight (not encountered in the jungle-clad mountains). Private Geoffrey Hamlyn-Harris, 2/31st Battalion, recalled how:
. [in] an indescribable condition of weariness, we fell into a state of apathy, just trudging or staggering or wading in waist-deep mud, mechanically almost insensibly. Increasing numbers began to lag behind . limping, staggering, falling, and getting up again with only their indomitable spirit keeping them going.
Vasey knew he was pushing his men beyond normal limits of endurance—as often occurs in soldiering—but had no choice. Determination and the expectation of a swift victory spurred most on, but sunstroke and fever took out many. Troops of the 2/4th Field Ambulance coming up the rear found in every village infantrymen who had dropped out, some hoping to gather the strength to rejoin their mates and others too ill to try.
Allied bombers and fighters droned overhead, continuing to 'soften up' the objectives. As they had done for many months, the aircrews bombed and strafed supply dumps and other targets. Sometimes aircraft and crews were shot down over the target or crashed in the mountains on the way back to Port Moresby. The bomber squadrons included No. 22 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), with Douglas Bostons and No. 6 Squadron RAAF with Lockheed Hudsons, while No. 30 Squadron RAAF strafed the target area with cannon-equipped Beaufighter strike-fighters. In addition, No. 4 Squadron RAAF, an army co-operation unit, began dive-bombing and tactical reconnaissance missions. Other Australians flew in American squadrons. In addition, Catalina flying boats of Nos 11 and 20 Squadrons RAAF and Beaufort torpedo-bombers of No. 100 Squadron RAAF flew anti-shipping patrols.
The 16th and 25th Brigades could not reach the start-lines in time, so the Americans were the first into action. On 19 November, troops of the 126th and 128th Regiments attacked Buna and Cape Endaiadere (the westernmost flank of that beachhead), advancing through swamp and jungle until ambushed. Snipers, machine-gunners and mortarmen produced a 'storm sweeping across and along the open spaces which had obviously been ranged as killing grounds'. Pinned down and taking excessive casualties, the Americans retreated, dragging as many wounded to safety as was possible.
That afternoon, the leading Australian troops reached the perimeter of the Gona beachhead and on the Sanananda Track struck a road-block. They probed the defences but realised that frontal attacks would be suicidal. The men were also exhausted and were low on supplies. They dug in opposite the Japanese, laying low to avoid snipers. Bad weather prevented aircraft from crossing the mountains at this time to drop supplies and, with 'bloody little to eat anywhere', men opened their last tins of bully beef. Some found Japanese rice and molasses to add to their meals. Finally, the clouds cleared that afternoon and aircraft dropped rations and ammunition.
On 20 November, the 2/1st Battalion tried pushing past the road-block on the Sanananda Track. Some mortars and bombs had been carried from Kokoda and, using tactics devised in the Owen Stanleys, they lobbed bombs at bunkers to suppress their machine-guns but the Japanese had observation posts in trees and shelled the Australians. Snipers also inflicted casualties. A company (down to ninety-one men) managed to get around the forward positions and break through the outer perimeter, a tremendous effort leading one soldier to reflect, 'Where we got the energy from is unexplainable'. Once inside, however, the men had no means of communicating with their battalion and, with no fire support, faced a desperate struggle. When relieved the next day, thirty-one men had been killed and thirty-six wounded.
Across the beachheads, units continued attacking. At Buna, the 2/6th Independent Company arrived to bolster the effort but conditions were appalling:
The [coconut] plantation was at sea-level and . drains that were criss-crossing it . had [become] choked up with weeds and coconut fronds and bits and pieces and the water table was right up at the surface . We were starting to get sick—plenty of malaria, dysentery, blokes had hookworm, ringworm, a little bit of scrub-typhus—you name it. Before we had been in any substantial action we were pretty-well knocked out of action.
The Allies were effectively bogged down.
With the battle tougher than expected, supply became a matter of concern because more equipment, ammunition and rations than had been planned for were needed. With most of the small ships knocked out, and supplies needed urgently, air supply became vital. Dropping supplies would not be enough, so the Americans cleared an airstrip at Dobodura and the Australians cleared two more at Soputa and Popondetta. The 2/5th and 2/6th Field Companies RAE, both units exhausted after weeks of hard work along the Kokoda Track, were given the task of clearing and maintaining the Australian airstrips with the assistance of local villagers. Supply runs were made whenever the weather permitted, with American fighters flying 'top cover' and a signal system developed to warn the unarmed transport aircraft to stay away when enemy fighters were around. The large-capacity Douglas C-47 (DC-3) transports of the 374th Troop Carrier Group, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), had priority at forward airstrips. Small Lockheed Lodestar transport aircraft, flown by USAAF and Qantas aircrews, and Hudsons of No. 6 Squadron RAAF continued dropping supplies behind Allied lines. Light transport aircraft of No. 33 Squadron RAAF flew courier flights to the forward area. Private Ernest Bennett-Bremner, 2/2nd Battalion, recalled:
All who fought on the beachhead knew how greatly their efficiency and welfare depended on aircraft being able to land . or at least to drop their cargoes behind the lines. Anxiously they looked each morning towards the mountains, and they were much heartened when the clear sky heralded the approach of the transports and the top cover of fighters.
As well as military supplies, aircraft dropped mail—boosting morale and, in some cases, helping feed hungry men with 'comforts' like fruit cake and sweets. Most prized were parcels containing tobacco, 'better than first prize in the lottery'.
Attacks continued for a time across all fronts. On 22 November, the 2/31st Battalion and men of Chaforce (volunteers from the 21st Brigade who took part in the advance over the Owen Stanleys) renewed the attack against Gona. In the face of heavy machine-gun fire, they reached the first bunkers but enfilading fire was coming from both sides and they were forced to withdraw. Not one of the 2/31st's companies had more than a dozen men standing afterwards. The busiest men on the battlefield were stretcher-bearers. By the following day, both of the Australian brigades had lost most of their men killed or wounded. Many of those remaining on the front-line were lightly wounded and almost all were sick 'tradition' decreed that a man would not present himself for evacuation until his temperature topped 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.44 degrees Celsius). The only fresh unit under Vasey's command was the American II/126th Regiment, but he found it maintaining 'a masterly inactivity'.
On the 32nd Division's front, where Australian artillerymen were in support, morale slumped. Major Martin O'Hare, Australian 1st Mountain Battery, claimed that some of the 'green' Americans were feigning sickness or 'accidently [sic] shot in the hands and feet while cleaning their rifles'. On Vasey's fronts, men were 'too thin on the ground . [and] too tired to achieve success'. It was obvious to most officers and men that reinforcements were needed if the battle was to be won. At Port Moresby, the Australian commander of New Guinea Force, Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, formulated plans to send more battalions by air. At a high level meeting, MacArthur proposed sending more Americans but Blamey, at Port Moresby overseeing operations, objected, stating he 'would rather put in more Australians, as he knew they would fight'.
At Port Moresby, Australian Army Service Corps and Australian Army Ordnance Corps personnel, pioneers in air supply, had become adept at sorting demands, allocating priorities, handling last-minute changes and coping with cancellations of flights due to bad weather. When the forward airfields opened, ordnance and supply troops were among the first flown over the mountains, ensuring efficient handling of stores at the receiving end and dispatch of supplies to units. Troops of the newly formed Corps of Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers were also flown over to reassemble and maintain Jeeps, artillery and other mechanical equipment.
Among the first loads were 25-pounder guns of the 2/1st Field Regiment AIF. Most American pilots had only recently arrived in Port Moresby, and one party of gunners was more than a little perturbed to have a pilot turn around before take-off and ask, 'Any of you guys know where this place Dobodura is?' Other guns of the 2/5th Field Regiment were sent on small ships, sailing under the cover of darkness. Within days, the Allies had two 3.7-inch howitzers, twelve 25-pounders and a solitary American 105-millimetre howitzer (initially without shells) that could be moved between the three battlefronts. When guns reached the Australian fronts on 23–24 November, a few rounds were fired to lift morale.
The job of the artillerymen was not easy, as forward observation officers found visibility limited by thick vegetation, grid maps were out by a few degrees, signallers were hard pressed trying to reel out signal lines, it was hard to move guns over poor tracks, and the supply of shells was limited. The Japanese also attempted to silence guns with counter-battery shelling and raiding parties. But shelling was made more accurate by the arrival of army co-operation pilots of No. 4 Squadron RAAF, which based several Wirraways and ground crews at Popondetta and Dobodura and flew tactical reconnaissance and artillery spotting sorties over both fronts. Flying low, the aircraft frequently attracted fire, the Allied troops marvelling at the bravery of their pilots and observers.
On 25 November, reinforcements in the form of the 21st Brigade AIF began arriving. The 2/14th Battalion was airlifted, with the 2/27th and 2/16th Battalions following. The airlift of nearly 1000 men over several days consumed most of the air transport capacity, so supplies again ran low, but the reinforcements were welcomed. Brigadier Ivan Dougherty led his men to Gona to relieve the remnants of the 25th Brigade, whose battalions were down to less than seventy men each, with dozens of others in and out of aid posts receiving treatment for fevers, swamp sores, tropical ulcers and heat exhaustion.
The 21st Brigade was meant to break the deadlock. Dougherty hoped to delay the first attack so that his men could reconnoitre the area, but was ordered to go ahead on 29 November. The 2/14th Battalion ran into trouble on the night of 28 November, and a 2/27th attack the next day proved futile. Allied bombers and fighters were meant to soften up enemy positions but their attacks did little material damage, with several aircraft bombing and strafing wide of the mark, and artillery support was disappointing because expenditure of shells 'was governed by the amount that could be brought in and not by what the targets demanded'. Over the following days, several attacks were made by the 2/14th, 2/16th and 2/27th Battalions. Despite fighting bravely and with a determination unmatched across the battlefronts at that time, their progress was negligible and losses mounted.
In early December, the 30th Brigade, under Brigadier Selwyn Porter, arrived. Vasey diverted its 39th and 49th Battalions to Gona and ordered an advance over terrain that was impassable he then sent the 49th back to the Sanananda Track to take up positions alongside Porter's third battalion, the 55/53rd. Dudley McCarthy, the Australian official historian of the campaign, believed there was 'more than a hint of bewildered desperation in these rapidly changing plans'.
At Buna, the Americans kept attacking, losing heavily but making ground. As the battle was effectively bogged down, senior officers searched for new weapons to assist in forcing a breakthrough. Some felt that tanks were the only answer. Light tanks were at Milne Bay but they could not be transported until a heavy transport vessel came from Australia. In the meantime, machine-gun carriers belonging to the 17th Brigade AIF were shipped in. Designed for rapid transportation and reconnaissance over open ground, their light armour, low sides and lack of overhead cover made them vulnerable in close fighting. The new senior American general at Buna, Lieutenant General Robert L Eichelberger, ignored an Australian officer's warning and sent the carriers into battle on 5 December. Five machine-gun carriers made frontal attacks on bunkers and, left unprotected by hesitant American troops, they were disabled by machine-gun fire and grenades. Six men of the 2/7th Battalion were killed (Lieutenant Ian Walker was awarded a posthumous American Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership) and others dragged out wounded. Brigadier Ronald Hopkins, a liaison officer with the Americans, lamented: 'The loss of these brave men was as sad as it was misguided'.
Eichelberger decreed that no more frontal attacks would be attempted until tanks arrived. Since the American troops had failed to protect the carriers and thus probably could not cover tanks, any tank attack would hinge on the arrival from Milne Bay of the veteran 18th Brigade AIF. Blamey considered landing one of its battalions inside the Buna perimeter, but naval officers vetoed the plan. They probably prevented a massacre of the battalion.
While attacks continued on the Gona front, a change of troops was taking place on the Sanananda Track. The 16th Brigade had used up its 'last dregs of strength', with most of the few remaining men suffering from malaria and dietary deficiencies and promptly evacuated sick, as 'the need for them to stay and help their mates disappeared'. As they trudged rearward to the field hospitals or airfields for evacuation, many would have welcomed stops at the YMCA and Salvation Army tea huts established at several locations around the battlefronts.
Brigadier Porter expressed confidence that his 49th and 55/53rd Battalions were up to the job, but he was over-confident. The 49th and 55/53rd were no better prepared than were the Americans. A smattering of experienced officers and senior non-commissioned officers had been posted in, and some of the 55/53rd had seen action on the Kokoda Track, but training had been impaired as the men were used as labourers in and around Port Moresby. Some had never fired automatic weapons or thrown a grenade.
The 30th Brigade's first attack was planned for 7 December, but reconnaissance patrols failed to locate all the bunkers to be attacked and the artillery and mortar barrage did not suppress the enemy machine-gunners. The 49th and 55/53rd crumpled before murderous fire, losing about half their men killed or wounded that day. The 36th Battalion and 2/7th Cavalry Regiment AIF (serving as infantry) were flown from Port Moresby to reinforce this front. The 2/7th was sent to Huggins' Road Block, which American troops had secured behind the enemy's forward positions, cutting off their supply lines, while the 36th was slotted alongside the shocked survivors of the 49th and 55/53rd. Over the following weeks, more attacks were made but the militiamen continued to lose heavily. Porter wrote that what success they achieved 'is due to a percentage of personnel who are brave in the extreme and, is the result of unskilful aggression' but most of the bravest were killed in futile attacks attempting to urge on others.
The first real success was achieved at Gona. As well as the 39th Battalion continuing to press against the defences around the village, troops of Chaforce (2/16th men, in this instance) and the 2/14th and 2/31st Battalions fought some sharp skirmishes on the western flank, fending off an attempt by some 200 Japanese reinforcements to penetrate the Australian lines and enter Gona. After repeated assaults, in which the 39th Battalion suffered heavy losses, the Australians had pushed the Japanese front-line back and on 8 December launched a final attack. Using tactics devised on the Western Front in World War I, troops advanced right behind the artillery barrage, risking 'drop shots', and broke into Gona. By this stage, the battalions had been 'bled almost white'. Many had been killed in front of bunkers and others desperately lobbing grenades through their slits. The bravery of many men in this attack and a supporting attack to the rear was perhaps exemplified by the actions of Lieutenant Leo Mayberry, 2/16th Battalion, who was awarded the Military Cross.
With a scratch crew of six men he stormed headlong against a key position. Badly wounded in the head and right arm he still fought on and urged his men forward. His shattered right arm refusing its function, he dragged the pin out of a grenade and essayed a throw with his left hand. But the arm was too weak. He forced the pin back with his teeth and then lay for some hours in his exposed position before he was rescued.
When the firing died down, Padre Albert Moore, of the Salvation Army, walked into the village, giving words of encouragement and solace to the survivors who had dropped down exhausted among their dead comrades and Japanese.
I stood and surveyed the whole field of desolation, hardly a square yard of this area had escaped the ravages of the attack. Buildings were wrecked, and great bomb craters would have swallowed 3 ton trucks without difficulty.
But two more fronts needed to fall.
At this time, the medical services were nearly overwhelmed by battle and sickness casualties. Papua and New Guinean carriers were used to evacuate many men to the field hospitals, and in some places where tracks were better, makeshift ambulances using Jeeps and captured cars could be used. The 2/4th Field Ambulance established the Main Dressing Station (MDS) at Soputa, with reinforcements from the 2/6th and 14th Field Ambulance and 5th Casualty Clearing Station bolstering the medical effort at this and other field hospitals and clearing stations. The 2/4th and 10th Field Ambulances soon arrived to boost medical services on the Buna front. The worst scourge was malaria, which struck down men at alarming rates, so much so that Blamey's deputy chief of staff, Brigadier Frank Berryman, reported: 'The Jap is, in one sense only, our worst enemy, as malaria and other tropical diseases claim far more victims'. The medical troops worked long and hard, fighting malaria themselves, and lost men when Japanese aircraft attacked the MDS on 27 November:
It was a scene of utter devastation tents holed, huts keeling over, the quartermaster's-cum-dispensary store burning. Dead [twenty-two in all] and wounded [over fifty] included patients, members of the field ambulance, natives and visitors to the hospital. In a few minutes a busy hospital was transformed into a miniature battlefield.
Without aerial evacuation made possible by the 'air bridge', many more men would have died of wounds and sickness. As it was, the hospitals in Port Moresby were 'heavily overtaxed' by the casualties flowing in.
On 15 December, the 18th Brigade began arriving at Buna. Australian corvettes, HMA Ships Ballarat, Broome, Colac and Whyalla were involved in three voyages shipping the 2/9th, 2/10th and 2/12th Battalions AIF in turn. HMAS Lithgow was also in the area, escorting the Dutch tank ferry Karsik carrying Stuart tanks and crewmen of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment AIF to Oro Bay, while HMA Ships Ballarat and Katoomba had carried out anti-submarine patrols to prevent the enemy from using submarines for resupply. Oro Bay was developed to handle merchant ships that began venturing into these waters. The 2/4th Field Company RAE was sent to construct port facilities, while the 2/14th Field Company constructed roads around the battlefronts, alongside American engineers and Papua New Guinean labourers.
Much was expected of the 18th Brigade because it was jungle-experienced and fresh. The American 127th Regiment captured Buna village on 14 December but there remained many Japanese in the beachhead that stretched over to Cape Endaiadere. On 18 December, the 2/9th Battalion and seven tanks were used against a line of Japanese bunkers. For the 2/9th, it was a shocking introduction to the battle, losing 171 men, or over one-third of its strength, that day. One of the tank crewmen recalled:
The saddest memory I have of that day is seeing the infantry advancing in line into murderous machine gun fire and being shot to pieces. I saw many acts of individual bravery, particularly when they would crawl forward to bomb bunkers. One would go down and another would replace him until the job was done.
The Japanese were better prepared to face tanks the next time. Small advances were made and, on 24 December, the 2/10th Battalion and American troops attacked Old Strip, an overgrown aerodrome, with four tanks. The Japanese used naval and anti-aircraft guns to knock out all four. Boggy ground also impeded tank operations, though fire support was boosted by the 13th Field Regiment arriving with four 4.5-inch howitzers. Supply problems meant shells for the various Australian guns sometimes ran out. The infantry continued attacking, with platoons and sections rushing bunkers and using grenades, sub-machineguns and rifles to 'literally dig the enemy out of his posts'. On 1 January 1943, the 2/12th Battalion attacked with tank support and by the end of the next day the last enemy positions on this front were over-run. MacArthur declared victory. Historian, David Horner, has commented:
The fighting on the beachhead was not, of course, over, but MacArthur hailed the capture of Buna as a great victory—he needed a great victory. To onlookers around the world it appeared as though the campaign was at an end.
However, the Sanananda front had still to be eliminated.
On 4 January, the survivors of the 18th Brigade—with nearly 600 reinforcements posted in—were ordered to march over to the Sanananda Track. The quality of the reinforcements was difficult to assess but they were slotted in among experienced men and told to 'take notice of the old timers, what they tell you to do, do it!' The 18th Brigade's commander, Brigadier George Wootten, planned to use tanks to break through but in the first attack on 12 January all three tanks were knocked out by anti-aircraft guns. Deep swamps prevented them being used in encircling movements. The 2/7th Cavalry Regiment continued to block the enemy supply line, in appalling conditions amid mosquito infested swamps. But senior officers could see no way of breaking through the road-blocks to the main beachhead area around Sanananda Point, other than repeated frontal assaults that would prove far too costly.
Then on 17 January, quite unexpectedly, the Allies found that the Japanese had abandoned the road-blocks. It was, Vasey wrote, 'a marvellous turn for the good'. Australian and American troops advanced and found themselves mopping-up. The Japanese, many dead from battle and starvation, were too weak to continue resisting. On coming across an enemy field hospital, the advancing troops found:
. the scene was a grisly one. Sick and wounded were scattered through the area, a large number of them in the last stages of starvation. There were many unburied dead, and . 'several skeletons walking around'. There was evidence too that some of the enemy had been practising cannibalism. Even in this extremity the Japanese fought back. Twenty were killed in the hospital area resisting capture sixty-nine others, too helpless to resist, were taken prisoner.
Some Japanese tried escaping, as others had done from Gona, but were intercepted by troops of the 21st Brigade patrolling around Haddy's Village and the Amboga River, west of Gona.
By midday on 22 January 1943, resistance had ceased. The Allies had won their hardest victory in Papua New Guinea. The time taken and cost in lives had been so much greater than expected, and the physical and mental toll on survivors was so profound, that it would take months for the forces and men involved to recover and continue with the counter-offensive.
Order of battle [ edit | edit source ]
This list of Allied forces is for units directly engage in combat operations. American forces deployed included service units but were largely bereft of supporting arms units. Sources consulted do not give a clear picture of the support units deployed with the American infantry. On the other hand, sources are available which list Australian support units in detail. These details have been omitted in deference to their American counterparts. Ώ] Sources give strengths and losses for units at various stages throughout the battle. Figures have been reported here where sources give a clear indication of a unit's strength upon entering the battle and losses incurred over the course of its engagement in the battle.
Australian units were well below establishment, especially those that had come directly from fighting along the Kokoda Track. Most other Australian units deployed to the beachheads had already been engaged in fighting in New Guinea. The 36th and 49th Militia battalions, which had not seen previous active service at all, were significantly under strength before being deployed forward. The 49th Bn arrived with a strength of 505 all ranks. ΐ] The establishment strength of an Australian battalion at this time was 910 troops including all ranks. Α] The American forces were deployed to New Guinea at something close to their full strength and, notwithstanding sickness, arrived on the battlefield with a force much closer to their establishment than the Australian forces. [notes 2] The Americans deployed at total of 13,645 troops to the combat zone. Δ] It is estimated that the Australians deployed in excess of 7,000 troops. [notes 3] The Papuan Infantry Battalion patrolled in the vicinity for Japanese stragglers from the Kokoda Track Campaign but was not engaged directly in the battle. Ε] The contribution of Papuans engaged as labourers or porters was a significant part of the Allied logistic effort. Ζ] Η] ⎖] More than 3,000 Papuans worked to support the Allies during the battle. ⎗] [notes 4]
US units [ edit | edit source ]
Troops of I/128th Bn being moved ashore at Oro Bay in outrigger canoes from the ketch in the background. AWM069274
Headquarters, US I Corps Commanding General (CG) Lt Gen Robert Eichelberger
Infantry [ edit | edit source ]
126th Infantry Regimental Combat Team III/126th Battalion detached to 7th Division at Sanananda Track Strength on 21 November: 56 officers and 1268 other ranks. ⎙] Returned to command 9 January with a strength of 165 all ranks. ⎚] 128th Infantry Regimental Combat Team 127th Infantry Regimental Combat Team Arrived from 4 December (advance elements) ⎛] III/127th Bn Arrived 9 December ⎜] II/127th Bn Arrived by 17 December ⎝] I/127th Bn Arriving from 17 December ⎝]
41st Division troops arriving at Dobodura airstrip 4 February 1943.
163rd Infantry Regimental Combat Team Arrived 30 December
Artillery [ edit | edit source ]
Battery 'A', 129th Field Artillery Battalion: One 105-mm howitzer
Arrived about 29 November [notes 5]
Australian units [ edit | edit source ]
General Officer Commanding (GOC) Maj Gen G. A. Vasey
A 37mm anti-tank gun in action at Buna Government Station
Trained and employed as infantry. Arrived 16 December. Strength – 350 All ranks. ⎢]
A composite squadron of 19 M3 Stuart tanks ⎣]
Infantry [ edit | edit source ]
The brigade had been committed to fighting along the Kokoda Track since 13 September. Withdrawn to Port Moresby on 4 December.
Soldiers of the 128th Inf Regt on the move at Wanigela as they head towards Buna.
2/25th Infantry Battalion. Strength on withdrawal: 15 officers and 248 other ranks. ⎤] 2/31st Infantry Battalion Strength on withdrawal: 9 officers and 197 other ranks. ⎤] 2/33rd Infantry Battalion Strength on withdrawal: 8 officers and 170 other ranks. ⎤] 3rd Infantry Battalion AMF (attached) Returned to Fighting on Kokoda Track on 3 November 20 November – Strength 179 all ranks ⎥]
Troops were continually faced with having to move and fight through the mud and slush of the swamp around Buna-Gona. AWM013971
Chaforce (attached) A composite force initially formed in September from the fitter men of the 21st Brigade and initially numbering about 400. Initial strength of each company by parent battalion at the start of the battle: 2/14 Bn – 6 officers and 103 other ranks. ⎦] 2/16 Bn – 6 officers and 103 other ranks. ⎧] 2/27 Bn – 6 officers and 105 other ranks. ⎨]
The brigade had been committed to fighting on the Kokoda Track since 20 October 2/1st Infantry Battalion 18 November – Strength 320 all ranks. ⎩] Withdrawn to Port Moresby 17 December. Strength: 105 all ranks. ⎪]
At sea, off Papua. 1942-12-14. A photograph taken from HMAS Broome, with the Australian corvettes Ballarat and Colac ahead, all three ships heading towards Buna to disembark troops of the 18th Bde. AWM041250
2/2nd Infantry Battalion 2/3rd Infantry Battalion
Initially attached to 32nd Division at Buna 2/9th Infantry Battalion Arrived 16 December. Strength: 26 officers and 638 other ranks. ⎫] 2/10th Infantry Battalion Arrived 19 December. Strength: 34 officers and 648 other ranks. ⎬]
An Australian mortar crew firing, Sanananda, January 1943. AWM030258
2/12th Infantry Battalion Arrived 30 December. Strength – 33 officers and 582 other ranks. ⎭]
2/14th Infantry Battalion Arrived 25 November – 350 all ranks ⎦] 2/16th Infantry Battalion Arrived 29 November. Strength – 22 officers and 251 other ranks. ⎮] 2/27th Infantry Battalion Arrived from 25 November. Strength – 21 officers and 353 other ranks. ⎨]
An Australian 25-pounder gun crew. AWM 013855
36th Infantry Battalion Arrived from 15 December. ⎯] 49th Infantry Battalion Arrived 4 December. Strength – 24 officers and 481 other ranks ΐ] 55/53rd Infantry Battalion Arrived 5 December
Headquarters arrived 31 December. The allocation of battalions to the two AMF brigades had been blurred. The 36th Bn and 55/53rd Bn were more properly part of this brigade and returned to its command. ⎰]
A Wirraway of No. 4 Sqn RAAF at Popondetta strip. One flight was detached forward to Popondetta and another to Dobodura. AWMP00484.001
Attached to 32nd Division, Warren Force. Flew to Wanigela in mid October and then marched to Pongani to link up with the advance of 32nd Division. Strength when bought forward on 20 November – 9 officers and 109 other ranks. ⎱] Withdrawn to Port Moresby 11 December ⎲]
Allied forces launch attack [ edit | edit source ]
Map of early operations in the battle of Buna-Gona.
On 14 October 1942, elements of 2/6th Independent Company were flown from 14-Mile Drome across the mountains to Wanigela Airfield, Wanigela. [notes 4] ⎴] :81 From Wanigela, the company moved to Pongani. When the offensive started, the 2/6th patrolled in front of the U.S. 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment along the coast from Pongani to Buna. Under the command of Major Harry Harcourt, they provided flank protection and reconnaissance and were engaged in heavy fighting around the airfield named New Strip until early December 1942. ⎴] :97–119 ⎵] :360 Situated in the coastal area south of Cape Endaiadere, on a line running inland to Sinemi Creek, this became known as the Warren Force. ⎝] :154
The U.S. 32nd Infantry Division—commanded by Major General Edwin F. Harding—launched the initial attack on Buna on 16 November. Deployed along the Ango-Buna track, they contacted the enemy about 1 mi (1.6 km) south of Buna. General Harding requested tanks from Milne Bay but the Allies lacked the boats required to ship them. They were later sent thinly armoured, open-top, and lightly armed Bren gun carriers, a machine gun or mortar and transport platform. Ε] :255 These were rapidly knocked out by the Japanese. The Stuart light tanks delivered to Oro Bay by Karsik were loaded into recently arrived barges and then towed up the coast and landed within miles of the battlefront. ΐ] Α] ⎱] Mayo notes in On Beachhead And Battlefront:
These tanks, and those following a few days later, had little effect on the battle for Buna the light, fast Stuarts, slowed by swamp mud choked with kunai grass, were, in the words of the Australian historian of the battle, “like race horses harnessed to heavy ploughs” moreover, they were “almost blind” because tank vision, restricted at the best of times, was shut off by the tropical growth. [notes 5]
Yet the fact that the tanks could be landed on that coast at all, only a month after General Harding's ill-starred effort to bring them up by barge from Milne Bay, showed how far the sea supply operation had progressed in a very short time. ⎱] The regular delivery of heavy supplies began with the regular Milne Bay to Oro Bay operations of Lilliput convoys with the first arriving on 20 December. ⎳] ΐ] A key initial objective was building airfields at Dobodura and building a 72 miles (116 km) road from Oro Bay to Dobodura, 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Buna. ⎶]
Limited artillery [ edit | edit source ]
Harding reluctantly accepted MacArthur's decision to rely on direct air support, and his troops were stopped cold by the formidable Japanese field fortifications. ⎷] Despite Harding's objection, one battalion—minus one brigade—of the U.S. 126th Infantry Regiment was detached from the 32nd Division Ε] :249 and crossed the Girua River at Inonde to join the Australian 7th Division under Maj. Gen. George Vasey. This group, named the Urbana Force, were charged with defending Soputa and with the subsequent attack on Sanananda.
The Gona push was reinforced by the remnants of Maroubra Force, made up of the battered 30th Brigade, a Militia unit which included the "ragged bloody heroes" of the Kokoda Track, the 39th Battalion. Ε] :258 The Australian 16th Brigade—detached from the 6th Division—would push toward Sanananda. Ε] :249 The Australian and U.S. forces were shifted between the Buna and Sanananda fronts, resulting in blurred lines of communication and leadership. Β]
By the evening of the first day, the Allied lines had barely moved. Units of the U.S. 1/126th Infantry got close enough to the Japanese positions to learn that the Japanese machine guns were positioned in bunkers reinforced with oil drums and covered with roofs. Δ] Fighting was bitter from the outset: the Australian 7th Division took 204 casualties in the first three days of its thrust.
Each Japanese bunker contained several well-concealed machine guns. At times, the jungle was so dense that the Allied troops could not tell from which direction the Japanese were firing. Β] Japanese snipers tied themselves to the tops of coconut trees and picked off targets. The 32d Division was the first American unit during the war to encounter this type of defense.
Morale low [ edit | edit source ]
By the time the Allied advance on Buna had stalled in late November, morale was low due to heavy casualties and disease. Self-inflicted wounds were increasingly responsible for American casualties. ⎸] ⎹]
The men at the front in New Guinea were perhaps among the most wretched-looking soldiers ever to wear the American uniform. They were gaunt and thin, with deep black circles under their sunken eyes. They were covered with tropical sores. . They were clothed in tattered, stained jackets and pants. . Often the soles had been sucked off their shoes by the tenacious, stinking mud. Many of them fought for days with fevers and didn't know it. . Malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and, in a few cases, typhus hit man after man. There was hardly a soldier, among the thousands who went into the jungle, who didn't come down with some kind of fever at least once. ⎺]
The Japanese were bombarded by air and artillery all day. To avoid revealing their positions, they refused to fire at attacking aircraft. Like the Allied troops, their foxholes and even their bunkers were flooded. Under constant attack and subject to ongoing, unremitting rain, it was hard for them to get much sleep. They could not leave their positions. A Japanese officer described in his diary watching several men go mad "before my eyes" due to the constant pounding. Another officer expressed his regret at the "wretched sight" of casualties who had to prop themselves upright to avoid drowning in their bedrolls. ⎗] A Japanese machine-gunner hastily scribbled in his diary on 17 November: "Our food is completely gone. We are eating tree bark and grass." On 19 November, he wrote, "In other units there are men eating the flesh of dead Australians. There is nothing to eat." During December, supplies to the Japanese forces were reduced further, and the isolated forces subsisted on a half-pint of rice per day. ⎗]
An average of 20 Japanese troops died of illness every day. A Tokyo staff officer commented, "Even regimental and battalion commanders do not play their proper roles and lack spirited morale." Like the Allied troops, the soldiers were sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. Some were virtually comatose in their foxholes, but the remaining Japanese stubbornly clung to their defenses. ⎗]
Advance on Buna Village [ edit | edit source ]
Papuan stretcher bearers carrying U.S. Army wounded from the Buna front lines, pause to rest themselves and the soldiers in the shade of a coconut grove, en route to hospitals in the rear.
A camouflaged Japanese machine gun bunker in the Buna area badly damaged by shellfire from a tank.
There were about 5,500 Japanese army and navy troops in and around Buna. Opposite the 126th Infantry was the Yokosuka 5th Special Naval Landing Force, composed of about 400 tough naval infantrymen with an additional 600 naval construction troops. As recently as 17 November, Japanese destroyers had delivered 2,300 troops fresh from Rabaul, New Britain. These included the veteran 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry Regiment, 38th Division, which had fought in China, Hong Kong and Java. ⎗]
On 20 November, MacArthur—operating from his comfortable headquarters in Port Moresby—ordered Harding to attack "regardless of losses". The following day, he sent another missive to Harding, telling him to "take Buna today at all costs". General Edmund Herring arrived at the American front on 25 November and reported that the American infantry had "maintained a masterly inactivity at Buna".
When MacArthur offered the 41st American Division as reinforcements for the advance on Gona, Australian General Thomas Blamey declined. This was later seen as payback for earlier statements by MacArthur about the fighting ability of Australian troops. Blamey stated he would rely on his depleted 21st Brigade as he "knew they would fight". ⎻]
The jokes of the American officers in Australia, making fun of the Australian Army were told all over Australia. Therefore, when we've got the least thing on the American troops fighting in the Buna sector, our high command has gone to General MacArthur and rubbed salt into his wounds.
—General Berryman to General Eichelberger. ⎼]
On 19 November, Blamey sent a communication through MacArthur and tried to persuade Admiral Arthur S. Carpender—who controlled U.S. Navy vessels—to provide support.
The bulk of the land forces in New Guinea have had to move into positions where it is impossible to support them and extremely difficult to give them the necessary ammunition and supplies to maintain them. Β] :138
Carpender would not commit destroyers to the mission in poorly charted, reef strewn waters limiting their maneuver and sea room under air attack and suggested corvettes and night approach the best plan—one instituted in Operation Lilliput. ⎽] Blamey had made serious mistakes in his assumptions regarding such naval forces, for example stating "the navy is only being asked to go where the Japanese have frequently gone" when the Japanese had never operated large ships in the waters between Milne Bay and Buna. Japanese ships making attacks on Milne Bay had used a route avoiding that passage and had access to the pre-war route for Australian vessels from Rabaul and an approach from the north. [notes 6] ⎾] ⎿]
With the only artillery support provided by a single 25 pounder battery with 200 rounds of ammunition, the 32nd Division began its attack on 19 November and was immediately met by strong resistance from well-entrenched and camouflaged Japanese positions manned by fresh soldiers. During their initial assault, the Americans were met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Near the Duropa Plantation, the 1/128 found that due to the dense jungle growth, they could not identify the position of the hidden enemy machine gun positions and were uncertain where to fire. The Japanese weapons gave off no flash, and the jungle concealed the reverberation of their fire. The heavy jungle canopy also made it difficult for them to fire their mortars or use their grenades effectively. ⎧] Veterans of the battle said later that their field of vision was very limited, from 2–20 feet (0.61–6.10 m), and they couldn't be certain of which direction the enemy was firing from. ⏀] Despite the lack of progress made by U.S. and Australian forces, naval support remained unavailable.
On the trail junction between the old and new airstrips, the Simemi Trail narrowed into a path with swamp on either side. At the trail junction between the air strips, the 3/128 were met with intense fire from three directions. The battalion could not use their mortars which had been left behind in Port Moresby. They discovered that most of their machine gun cartridges were the wrong type and that a large number of their grenades failed to detonate. They quickly ran out of .30-caliber ammunition and failed to advance the first day. ⎧] On the next day, the 1/128th advanced a mere 200 yards the 3/128th made no progress. When the Americans saw the few Japanese killed, they were surprised to see the men were robust and well-fed and not in the emaciated, weak state they had been led to believe. Late on the 20th, the 1/126th, who had been flown across the Owen Stanley Mountains, completed a difficult trek from Pongani, arrived to reinforce the attacking force. ⎧]
On the 21st, the 126th Infantry was detached from General Harding's organisation and reassigned to the Australian 7th Division across the Girua River. Harding objected to the splitting of his forces and was overruled. A scheduled attack at 0800 was aborted when the commanding officers didn't get word until after the attack was set to begin. Aircraft assigned to support the assault missed some of their targets, wounding soldiers in the 3/128th. Harding reset the attack to 1300 but the air cover promised didn't arrive until 1400. Most of the planes could not find the target area while one B-25 dropped its bomb load on Companies B and C of the 128th, wounding several men, hurting the group's morale and will to fight. The subsequent attack by the Americans, armed only with rifles, Thompson submachine guns, light machine guns, and hand grenades, was easily stopped by the Japanese. ⎧] Company C of the 128th lost 63 men including all four of its officers in the first three days of combat. ⎧]
Short of men, Harding committed his reserve force, the 2/128th to replace the detached 126th and reinforce the left side. As it tried to advance, it too was hit by heavy machine gun fire from concealed positions and was soon thrown back. Flanking the Japanese meant crawling through the swamps, unable to see more than a few yards in any direction. The division repeatedly failed to make any progress against the Japanese positions, and a stalemate ensued. The Japanese had occupied and fortified all of the high ground, and some of the Americans were in swamps for three to four days at a time. They built foxholes, but they filled with water up to their knees, and the GIs slept in them, ate in them, and relieved themselves in them because they had nowhere else to go. ⏀] General Harding, despite having been told not to ask, requested return of at least one of his battalions. The 2/126, the "Ghost Battalion", was sent back across the Girua River but was delayed by the high flood waters. They finally returned late on 22 November. Harding requested some light tanks from the Australians, but the captured barges used to transport them sank under the weight of the tanks. ⎧]
MacArthur was frustrated by Maj. Gen. Harding's lack of progress. Late on 22 November, MacArthur’s headquarters sent an order to Harding to attack the next day regardless of cost. Harding was convinced that his commanding officers could not know the strength of the defending Japanese. He felt that if he strictly obeyed the order, his entire force on the right flank could be destroyed. Harding relayed the order in its entirety to General MacNider, but modified it. He told MacNider to put everything he had available and to press the attack, but that if it became evident that they could not progress and further action would result in needless casualties, to call off the advance. Harding took the extra step of telling MacNider that he assumed full responsibility for modifying MacArthur's order. ⎧] The attack made some progress but was finally halted by the Japanese.
By 23 November, it was obvious that capturing Gona was unlikely due to a lack of Allied troops and insufficient tank and artillery support. Without support from tanks that could have taken out a strongpoint in minutes, the Japanese positions were very difficult to defeat and had to be taken one by one, which required troops crawling through murderous cross-fire and snipers to the bunkers and pushing grenades through the slits. ⎸] General Vasey requested that Lieutenant General Edmund Herring send the 21st Brigade as reinforcements. The 32nd Division had only two M101 howitzers belonging to Battery A of the 129th Field Artillery in New Guinea, the remaining batteries having been left at Camp Cable in Australia due to a lack of transport. The four gun sections of Battery A were the first howitzers flown into combat, first landing at Port Moresby. Then, ½ of Battery A—two gun sections—were air-lifted over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Buna and reassembled, becoming the first U.S. Army artillery flown into combat in the Pacific in World War II. ⏁]
Beaufighter of No. 30 Squadron RAAF over the Owen Stanley Range, New Guinea, 1942
When additional artillery finally arrived on 26 November, the accuracy of artillery fire was limited by poor maps and the inability of the forward artillery observer's to see far enough through the dense jungle. On that morning, the Japanese lines were strafed and bombed at tree-top level for nearly an hour by Curtiss P-40s and Beaufighters. Douglas A-20s bombed the Japanese rear areas for another 30 minutes. The air attacks were then followed by 30 minutes of pounding by mortars, machine guns, and the newly available artillery. At 9:30, the infantry advanced as scheduled, but it immediately became apparent that the two hours of bombardment had not touched the enemy, still hidden in their bunkers. Δ]
The Allies made preparation for another offensive operation on 26 November, Thanksgiving Day. The attack was prepared with air, artillery, mortar and heavy machine gun fire, but it had little affect on the well-emplaced Japanese. Harding came well forward to observe and watched as the 3/128th ran into fierce resistance. ⎧]
Finally, the Cannon and Anti-tank Companies of the 126th arrived on 27 November and were put to use supporting the remaining two battalions of the 126th and the 7th Australian. They made some progress, but supply problems contributed to delays and lack of progress. Only one supply boat was operational to get supplies from the Dobodura air strip, and natives were recruited, but they would not advance to the front lines. ⎧]
On 29 November, the Japanese were reinforced by the remaining 500 troops from the South Seas Detachment (mostly the 41st Infantry Regiment under Colonel Kiyomi Yazawa), which had led the Kokoda Track campaign and retreated to the sea at a point north of Gona. They were shuttled by boat to the Sananada stronghold.
Harding relieved of command [ edit | edit source ]
By 29 November, the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, had become frustrated at what he saw as poor performance by the 32nd Division, especially its commissioned officers. He told the US I Corps commander, Major General Robert L. Eichelberger:
Bob, I'm putting you in command at Buna. Relieve Harding . I want you to remove all officers who won't fight. Relieve regimental and battalion commanders if necessary, put sergeants in charge of battalions and corporals in charge of companies—anyone who will fight. Time is of the essence. Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive . And that goes for your chief of staff, too. ⏂] ⏃]
Brigadier Generals Hanford MacNider, Albert W. Waldron, and Clovis E. Byers recuperate in hospital in Australia after being wounded in the Battle of Buna-Gona.
On 30 November, the 2/126th became the first to significantly penetrate the enemy lines at Buna, successfully pushing the Japanese back several hundred metres. ⎦] On 1 December, Harding directed attacks on both the Urbana and the Warren front. On the Urbana front, Company E of the 126th, reinforced by the headquarters companies of both battalions, was able with support from the available 25-pounder artillery piece and mortar support to advance across an open area below the bridge over the Girua River, but then inexplicably withdrew, perhaps due to a communications problem. E and F Companies from the 126th, along with a platoon from the 128th, resumed the attack on 2 December, but were stopped by heavy machine gun fire from every direction they approached. A visiting medical officer reported that the men looked like "Christ of the Cross." Β] :165 These and other reports did not mollify Eichelberger's view of the situation. Eichelberger arrived in Buna to inspect the troops on 2 December.
On the Warren front, the attack on 2 December began with an air attack, but a planned artillery barrage was late. When the infantry finally advanced, they were stopped once again by the Japanese without significant gains. Many troops dropped from heat exhaustion. Β] :166
With the 32nd Division failing to advance in keeping with MacArthur's expectations, MacArthur sent two staff officers—Col. Clarance Martin and Col. Gordon Rogers—to evaluate the situation on the Warren front. They arrived in midafternoon after the conclusion of an intense battle which had put all available reserves on the line. Martin could not understand why the men were not pushing forward. They questioned whether there had been any fighting at all. Β] :167 They found the troops were ill with malaria, dengue fever, tropical dysentery, and other ailments. They discovered the men had few rations causing them to lose weight, and lacked hot meals, vitamins, and cigarettes. Some were unshaven, their uniforms and boots were dirty and in tatters, and they showed "little discipline or military courtesy." ⏂] Without fresh clothing, walking through swamps, and lacking sanitation, many were afflicted with trench foot. ⎦] Having been on the front at Buna for two weeks with virtually no progress to show for it except for hundreds of casualties, the U.S. troops' morale was very poor. ⏂]
Accompanied by Harding and Brigadier General Albert W. Waldron, Eichelberger inspected the Urbana front after the combat action for the day had played itself out. When they stopped to visit an aid station, Eichelberger saw among the casualties unwounded men who were sick with fever and exhaustion and a few with combat fatigue. Eichelberger was further upset when he learned that day's attack had failed. They walked forward, and when he was not fired on by the Japanese concluded that the U.S. troops faced little opposition. He was disturbed when he found there wasn't a continuous front and criticised the placement of a machine gun, seeing this as proof the men were not pressing a weak enemy. He queried troops about where a path led and was told it was covered by a Japanese machine gun. He offered to decorate any man who would run 50 yd (46 m) down the path. No one took him up on his offer, and he decided they were cowards. Β] :167
Eichelberger vented his anger on Major Mott and Smith, pointing out the unwounded men in the aid station and the machine gunner's hesitance. Mott vehemently exploded, pointed out the suffering and bravery of his men. Harding angrily threw his cigarette on the ground, agreeing with Mott. Eichelberger responded, "You're licked." Β] :167
Martin and Rogers returned from the Warren front to the 32nd Division headquarters at Dobodura at 22:00 to find that Eichelberger had already relieved Harding of command. Eichelberger replaced him with the division's artillery commander, General Waldron. Eichelberger also sacked the regimental commanders and most battalion commanders, ordered improved food and medical supplies, and halted operations on the Buna front for two days, to allow units to reorganise. Β] :167
Eichelberger later noted that after he relieved Harding he "ordered the medicos to take the temperature of an entire company of hollow-eyed men near the front. Every member, I repeat, every member of that company was running a fever." Β] :165 Eichelberger found the men lacked even the oil and patches required to keep their guns free of rust. He put an officer in charge of supply who ignored all protocols to obtain whatever the men needed. Eichelberger conspicuously wore his three stars on his shoulders among the front-line troops, ignoring the rule that officers remove their insignia at the front because they will attract the enemy. He lost thirty pounds in thirty days at the front. Γ] :327
Martin later admitted, after some experience with the Japanese defences, that had attacks been continued on the day he conducted his inspection, they would not have been successful. Β] :167
Allied reconnaissance [ edit | edit source ]
Eichelberger also ordered additional reconnaissance to help fix the enemy positions. What he learned impressed him.
For the Allies, Japanese seemed to be everywhere, but their strongest positions were on the shore-zone terrain. Here troops could move from place to place quickly, and numerous bunkers constructed of coconut logs and sand provided added protection and a superb defensive perimeter. In looking at Japanese positions, MacArthur's staff reported that "every contour of the terrain was exploited and the driest stretches of land were carefully chosen to be occupied and fortified, making it impossible for the Allies to execute any lateral movements without becoming mired in swamp." Lt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger, U.S. Corps Commander, called the Japanese terrain utilization "perfect' and "brilliant." ⏄] :239
On the same day, 500 Japanese reinforcements, in the form of the inexperienced 21st Independent Mixed Brigade (based on the 170th Infantry Regiment), arrived at Gona under Maj. Gen. Kurihanao Yamagata. The Japanese fought tenaciously and the 32nd Division lost 392 personnel within the first two weeks.
Attack reinitiated [ edit | edit source ]
Brig. Gen. Clovis E. Byers. He became commander of the 32nd Division after Harding was relieved of command, and following Brig. Gen. Albert W. Waldron who was wounded by a sniper.
On 5 December, Eichelberger ordered an attack across the entire front. Waldron was shot in the shoulder by a sniper while observing the fighting, and Eichelberger replaced him with his Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Clovis E. Byers. Eichelberger moved the I Corps command to the Buna area, running his HQ with a batman and radio operator. "Some of the 32nd's officers privately denounced Eichelberger as ruthless, Prussian. The men of the 32nd. called their division cemetery 'Eichelberger Square.'" ⏅]
Japanese lines split [ edit | edit source ]
On the same day, the Allies split the Japanese lines. Staff Sergeant Herman Bottcher, Platoon Commander G Company, 126th Infantry, led 18 men against the defending and heavily entrenched Japanese forces. He stood up and threw hand grenades at the enemy in their emplacements and was able to drive a wedge between the Japanese positions in Buna and Buna village. Forty Japanese soldiers were killed on the beach a dozen were wounded. Sergeant Bottcher and his troops fought off attacks for seven days, taking over enemy machine guns for their own use. Bottcher was wounded twice before he was relieved. ⏆]
. With 18 men, one machine gun, and 'sheer guts under fire' SSgt Bottcher held off a Japanese force that flanked him on two sides and numbered in the thousands. Despite being out-gunned and out-numbered, Bottcher and his men so effectively fought the enemy that they were never able to launch a coordinated attack and secure the narrow beach of Buna, New Guinea. When the enemy finally grew impatient and attacked, Bottcher 'mowed them down like wheat in a field'. For bravery under fire, he was awarded the battlefield commission of Captain. Two year later, Captain Bottcher was killed in combat fighting in the Philippines. With grateful appreciation The American Legion remembers Capt. Herman J. Bottcher and 'G' Company Erected on behalf of the American Legion by Dominic D. Difrancesco National Commander April 1992. ⏇]
Australian war correspondent George Johnston wrote in Time magazine on 20 September 1943:
"The American, Herman Bottcher, led twelve volunteers into the Japanese positions, built fortifications on the beach. Constantly under fire, Bottcher provided a diversion that resulted in Allied victory. By a conservative count . Bottcher and his twelve men . killed more than 120 Japs." ⏈]
Bottcher had finally turned the tide of the battle at Buna. His platoon's efforts cut off the Japanese in Buna Village from resupply and reinforcements, enabling the rest of the division to take the village. Bottcher was awarded the battlefield commission of captain and his first of two Distinguished Service Cross Medals. A plaque was later placed at the entrance to Buna Village in memory of his actions that day. ⏆]
Gona village captured [ edit | edit source ]
A M3 tank manned by the Australian 2/6th Armoured Regiment supports infantry advancing through a coconut grove at Buna.
On 8 December, following savage close-quarter fighting, the Australians captured Gona village. Ε] :258 That same day, Eichelberger organised a new attack on Buna Village and the 32nd Division captured the position on 14 December. ⏉] General Clovis Byers was in turn wounded on 16 December, forcing Eichelberger to take direct command of the division. The Japanese landed 1,300 reinforcements, but by 18 December the Allies were reinforced by the Australian 7th Division's 18th Brigade along with the M3 Stuart light tanks of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment Ε] :263 —the first tanks available to the Allied forces. In spite of this boost, the Australians suffered some of their worst losses of the entire battle, although they eventually broke through the Japanese defensive positions along the coast.
Buna Mission overtaken [ edit | edit source ]
Three American G.I.s lay dead on Buna Beach. ⏊] The image was captured by George Strock on 31 December 1942 ⏋] though it is sometimes described as having been taken in February 1943, a month after the battle ended. ⏌] LIFE magazine was finally able to publish it on 20 September 1943 after President Roosevelt authorised its release. It was the first photograph to depict American soldiers dead on the battlefield. Roosevelt was concerned that the American public were growing complacent about the cost of the war on human life.
Japanese soldiers killed during the final phase of the battle at Buna Mission, January 1943. The large number of dead Japanese and Allied bodies on the beach led the Allies to nickname it "Maggot Beach". ⏍] ⏎]
The Australians had found that area suitable for tanks and the Allies decided to initiate a tank-infantry attack on the Duropa Plantation and New Strip areas. With the help of newly arrived artillery and mortar the attack began at 0700 on 18 December. ⎶] In 10 days of fighting, the 32nd Division, reinforced by the fresh Australian 18th Brigade and with the help of the tanks, advanced along the coast from Duropa plantation to Buna Mission, taking the remaining Japanese positions on 2 January 1943. Ε] :270 In the Japanese positions they located the bodies of Allied soldiers who had been captured and found evidence of cannibalism. During the prior attempt to capture Port Moresby over the Kokoda Track, and during their defense of Buna-Gona, the Japanese regularly practiced cannibalism. [notes 7] ⏏] :80 None of the Allied soldiers taken captive during the entire Kokoda Track campaign and the fight for Buna-Gona were allowed to live, and a number of those who were captured had been tortured, used for bayonet practice, or eaten. Ώ]
Battle for Sanananda [ edit | edit source ]
The battle of Sanananda was the longest of the three battles. The Japanese position was well-defended, astride a raised road on relatively dry ground, surrounded by waist-deep jungle swamp. In an attempt to cut off the forward Japanese positions, the elements of 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment flanked the Japanese road block and capture the road behind them. Although they were successful in establishing the roadblock, the Japanese maintained their position, receiving resupply through the swamp.
The Australian 16th Brigade—by now half-strength—was sent to attack the position, but their march was poorly organised. From 16 November to their first contact with the enemy on 19 November, the troops went without food. The 1,400 men of 126th Infantry regiment were ordered to report to the Australians but did not arrive until 21 November, by which time the Australians had suffered more than 30% casualties. On 7 December, the Australian 30th Brigade relieved the 16th Brigade, and Brigadier Porter took overall command. Ε] :260 The 126th was also relieved but 635 troops manned a roadblock under constant Japanese attack. The remainder of the 2/6th was withdrawn to Soputa and then Port Moresby, where they spent Christmas prior to returning to Australia for re-organization and refurbishment. ⎴] :110 ⎵] :126
Sanananda Front, 22 November 1942 – 22 January 1943
The Americans received their first reinforcements on 18 December when 350 men from the Australian 2/7th Cavalry Regiment fought their way through to the roadblock. The following day, the 2/7th outflanked the Japanese and established another roadblock 300 m (980 ft) ahead of the American position and the Australian 49th Battalion now reinforced the 126th. Ε] :260–262 By now, illness and low morale was taking its toll and the 126th were retired on 22 December.
On 25 December, eight companies of the 127th Infantry followed a large artillery and mortar barrage and attacked the Japanese position in the "Government Gardens" section of Buna. The commanding officer of Company C was killed. Eichelberger later wrote that "the fighting was desperate and the outcome of the whole miserable, tortured campaign was in doubt". Γ] :328 Having never visited the front, MacArthur sent his Chief of Staff—Richard K. Sutherland—with a letter for Eichelberger which Sutherland delivered on Christmas Day. Γ] :328
Where you have a company on your firing line, you should have a battalion and where you have a battalion, you should have a regiment. And your attacks, instead of being made up of two or three hundred rifles, should be made up by two or three thousand. Your battle casualties to date compared with your total strength are slight so that you have a big margin to work with. ⏐]
Eichelberger wrote back that he was pushing the offensive with the kinds of numbers he felt the situation warranted. He reassured MacArthur that his men were fighting hard. On 28 December, he received a communique from MacArthur that he had released to the press describing the action at Buna Gona. It read, "On Christmas Day, our activities were limited to routine safety precautions. Divine services were held." It left Eichelberger fuming. Γ] :328 ⏐]
On the night of 25 December, a Japanese submarine unloaded supplies and ammunition at Buna Government Station, the last time the Japanese received supplies. ⏐]
Of the 635 American troops who engaged the Japanese, only 244 effective troops remained by the end of December.
Allies attack Japanese-held junction [ edit | edit source ]
On 2 January, the U.S. 163rd Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Division—fresh from Australia—arrived and took over the two roadblocks and relieved the Australians. Ε] :273
Sanananda road block positions 1–22 January 1943.
The preliminary attacks began with a failed attack on the Japanese position between the two roadblocks on 8 January. Ε] :274 Two days later, the Allies supported by tanks attacked the Japanese position at the trail junction. The attack failed but convinced Col. Tsukamoto to order a retreat. Japanese Imperial Headquarters had already decided on 4 January to retreat to Lae and Salamaua, but the order did not reach Sanananda until 12 January. Ε] :276 On 14 January, the Allies discovered that most of the Japanese defenders had left and quickly overran the junction stronghold now held by only 158 Japanese.
15 January saw the U.S. 163rd Infantry finally broke the Japanese position between the road blocks. The main attack began the next day with the 163rd attacking the Japanese troops north of the two roadblocks while the Australian 18th Brigade's attack reached the coast on both sides of Sanananda and also supported the American attack, effecting a link-up at Huggins and on the Killerton Track. Ε] :276 Japanese resistance was stiff nevertheless, by 17 January, they had been pinned down in three positions, on the coast north of Sanananda, on the coast west of Giruwa and on the main track north of the roadblocks which was still holding out. On 20 January, General Yamagata ordered an evacuation and escaped while General Oda and Colonel Yazawa ran into Australian troops and were killed the Japanese positions on the coast collapsed with little resistance. Evacuation of the main track was not possible and this last position was overrun on 22 January. Ε] :276
Battle of Sanananda, 19 November 1942-22 January 1943 - History
[Additional Medical Department histories (not part of the "US Army in World War II" series):]
- Organization and Administration in World War II
- Medical Training in World War II
- Medical Supply in World War II
- Medical Statistics in World War II
- Personnel in World War II
- Blood Program in World War II
- Cold Injury, Ground Type
- Radiology in World War II
- Physical Standards in World War II
- Combat Psychiatry
- Developments in Military Medicine During the Administration of Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk
- A History of the United States Army Dental Service in World War II
- A History of the United States Army Veterinary Service in World War II
- Wound Ballistics
- Volume I: Actions of Medical Consultants
- Volume II: Infectious Diseases
- Volume III: Infectious Diseases and General Medicine
- Volume I was never published
- Volume II: Environmental Hygeine The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services, Volume I
- The Quartermaster Corps: Organization, Supply, and Services, Volume II
- The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War Against Japan
- The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War Against Germany
Australian victories at Milne Bay (25 August – 7 September 1942) and Kokoda (21 July – 16 November 1942) destroyed Japanese plans for capturing Port Moresby but 9,000 Japanese remained entrenched in the eminently defensible northern beachheads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda.
The weary Australian units, who had pushed the Japanese across the Owen Stanley Range, were called upon to attack and capture Sanananda and Gona, even though many units were down to one-third normal strength. Two regiments of the American 32nd Division were given the task of capturing Buna.
The untried American 128th Regiment launched their attack on Buna and nearby Cape Endaiadere on 19 November 1942 but failed against experienced Japanese troops. A day later the Australian 25th Brigade attacked Gona, while the 16th Brigade advanced up the central Sanananda Track. These attacks also faltered.
Walking wounded in the Sanananda area, possibly a member of the 2/7th Cavalry Commando assisted by QX16184 Corporal A G 'Scrap Iron' Arthur.
Japanese aircraft had inflicted a serious blow three days earlier, on 16 November 1942, when they destroyed an American convoy carrying heavy weapons and supplies. The sinking of these vessels increased the importance of air transport and engineers established two airfields behind the Allied front before 21 November 1942.
PAPUA, GIROPA POINT. AUSTRALIAN MANNED M3 GENERAL STUART TANKS ATTACKING JAPANESE PILLBOXES IN THE FINAL ASSAULT ON BUNA. MEN OF D COMPANY, 2/12TH BATTALION, FIRE ON 25 JAPANESE (NOT SEEN), USING BREN MK 1 MACHINE GUNS AND SMLE NO 1 MKIII* RIFLES, WHO ARE FLEEING FROM A WRECKED PILLBOX 150 YARDS AWAY. THE PILLBOX WAS DESTROYED BY THE GENERAL STUART TANK SHOWN HERE. IN THE FOREGROUND ARE PRIVATE J. SEARLE AND CORPORAL G. G. FLETCHER. THIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS TAKEN DURING THE ACTUAL FIGHTING.
An ‘air bridge’ flew men and bulk equipment from Port Moresby while a fighter ‘umbrella’ protected the transports from Japanese fighters. Allied air superiority over the beachheads was soon established when Japanese Mitsubishi Zero and Nakajima Oscar fighters, based at Lae and Salamaua, encountered superior American Lockheed Lightnings.
PAPUA. ALLIES ATTACK BUNA. A SIGNALLERS' POST, MANNED BY AMERICANS, AT A FORWARD AREA IN BUNA. (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).
Lacking air-cover, resupply became a serious problem for Japanese troops. Food and medical supplies began to run low and a malaria epidemic took hold. The spirit of the Japanese, however, remained defiant and further Allied offensives stalled as the Australians and Americans also succumbed to exhaustion and malaria.
NEW GUINEA. REINFORCEMENTS FOR THE BUNA AREA. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME AUSTRALIAN TROOPS HAVE BEEN FLOWN INTO ACTION. GENERAL SIR THOMAS BLAMEY WISHES THE TROOPS "GOOD LUCK". (NEGATIVE BY G. SILK).
The heroes of the early phase of the Kokoda Campaign, the understrength but rested 21st Brigade and the 39th Battalion, were now flown into the beachheads sector with a reformed 30th Brigade, comprising 36th, 49th and 55th/53rd Militia Battalions. These men relieved the exhausted 16th and 25th Brigades but took terrible losses in the fighting that followed. The men cleared the area nonetheless. On 9 December 1942, the 39th Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner (1904 - 94) sent 21st Brigade HQ the famous signal: ‘Gona’s gone.’
The Australian 18th Brigade, meanwhile, was brought up from Milne Bay to assist the Americans attacking Buna. Australian soldiers and tanks crossed the Simemi Creek and delivered the coup de grace to the Japanese at Giropa Point on 1 January 1943. The Allies now turned their attention to the last bastion, Sanananda. It fell on 22 January 1943.
The Battle of the Beachheads had been the bloodiest of all the Papuan campaigns. The Australians had lost 1,261 killed and 2,210 wounded, the Americans 734 Killed and 2,037 wounded. Total Japanese casualties in Papua for the period between July 1942 and January 1943 are estimated around 14,000.
Lessons of the Papua Campaign
Victory in Papua meant that the immediate threat to Australia was over. About 13,000 Japanese troops perished during the terrible fighting, but Allied casualties were also heavy 8,500 men fell in battle (5,698 of them Australians) and 27,000 cases of malaria were reported, mainly because of shortages of medical supplies. The Papua Campaign made clear that Allied units committed to combat in the summer of 1942 were insufficiently trained, equipped, led, and supported in comparison to the Japanese who had been fighting for five years. Many of the deficiencies were recognized and improvements made, to be tested again very quickly. The Japanese had not abandoned New Guinea. Sizable Japanese forces remained at several points west of Bona, with reinforcements still coming in from Raul. The next battle was only days away as MacArthur's Allied troops continued to push west along New Guinea's northern shore.
The Patient General Adachi
Adachi had no chance of fulfilling his aims or taking an active part in the rest of the war. But he did not give, and New Guinea remained a war zone. He held out for another year, only surrendering at the very end of the war, along with 13,500 of his men.
The fighting in New Guinea was marked by patience and persistence on both sides, which drew the fighting out, and by terrifyingly disproportionate losses on the Japanese side.
Wewak, 1945-09-13. Major-General HCH Robertson, GOC of the Australian 6th Division, at the ceremony at which the commander of the 18th Japanese Army in New Guinea, Lieutenant-General Hatazo Adachi, signed the surrender document, accepting from general Adachi his sword, symbol of the defeat of the Japanese.
Battle of Sanananda, 19 November 1942-22 January 1943 - History
With the clearing of the area south of Musket, the fighting on the Sanananda front entered its last phase. The Japanese were about to be enveloped by the 18th Brigade, the 163d Infantry, and the 127th Infantry from the west, the south, and the east. The end could not be far off.
The Three-Way Push
The Preparations in General Vasey's Area
On the evening of 14 January the mop up in the track junction was turned over to the 2/7 Cavalry and the 39 and 49 Battalions, and the 18th Brigade began moving to Rankin, the 2/10 Battalion leading. After spending the night in the area, the troops passed through Rankin and moved up to a coconut plantation a mile and a half north. One company of 2/12 Battalion thereupon moved to secure a track junction 500 yards east of the plantation, the 2/9 Battalion and the rest of the 2/12 Battalion went into bivouac in the plantation area, and the 2/10 Battalion and brigade headquarters moved a mile and a quarter farther north where they secured a track junction about 900 yards from the coast. Toward evening the 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, took over the junction east of the plantation secured earlier by the 2/12 Battalion, and Company B of the 2/10 Battalion began moving east to occupy Killerton Village, about 1,000 yards south of Cape Killerton. 1 (Map 17)
No opposition had been met during the day, and the brigade was now poised to move on Cape Killerton, Wye Point, and Sanananda. It could attack south to the M.T. Road from Killerton Village, and north to the coast from the village and the junction secured by the 2/10 Battalion. The 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, was also in position and was preparing to attack eastward toward the M.T. Road as the rest of the 163d Infantry attacked northward from Fisk. 2
The 163d Infantry at Musket and Fisk also had progress to report at the end of the day. The alertness of Company A, which had been operating out of the captured perimeter between Musket and Fisk, was largely responsible for the day's successes. At 0730 that morning a platoon of the company crossed the M.T. Road and sneaked into the large Japanese perimeter on the other side from the north without being detected by its defenders. Under the company commander, 1st Lt. Howard McKinney,
the rest of the company moved in at once and began to attack. The perimeter, about 300 yards long and 150 wide, consisted of a labyrinth of interconnected bunkers and fire trenches, and the enemy, though taken by surprise, resisted fiercely. Colonel Doe lost no time in ordering a platoon of Company C from Fisk to attack the perimeter from the east and Company B (which with Companies E, G, and K, had by this time completed its part in the mop-up south of Musket) to attack from the west. The encirclement was complete, but so strong was the Japanese bunker line and so desperate the Japanese defense that it quickly became apparent that the perimeter was not going to be reduced that day. 3
Just before noon that day, 15 January, General Vasey came up to Colonel Doe's command post to give him his instructions for an all-out attack the following morning on the Japanese line north of Fisk. The 2d Battalion was already committed to the attack eastward from the coconut plantation to the M.T. Road, and Colonel Doe chose the 1st Battalion, by this time his most experienced unit, for the northward attack. The 3d Battalion's role would be to complete the reduction of the Japanese pocket between Musket and Fisk and to support the attack with its heavy weapons and those of the rest of the battalion massed in Musket.
The decision to use the 1st Battalion in the attack north of Fisk made it necessary for Colonel Doe to regroup. Company I took over from Company C at Moore and Fisk, and Companies K and L relieved Companies A and B and the platoon of Company C which had been working on the Japanese pocket between Musket and Fisk. For the first time since its arrival at the front, all of the 1st Battalion was under the direct control of Colonel Lindstrom, the battalion commander. 4
The plan of attack was carefully drawn. Fifteen 81-mm. mortars from Musket, and the 25-pounders of the Manning and Hall Troops from the other side of the river would give support. The 2/6 Armored Regiment's remaining two tanks would stand by southwest of Fisk to be used at Colonel Lindstrom's discretion. After harassing artillery fire during the night and a fifteen minute preparation in the morning, the battalion would attack from the woods west of Fisk. It would envelop the enemy's right flank and rear west of the road, effect a junction with the 2d Battalion as it came in from the west, and move forward with it to the M.T. Road. 5
The Situation on the Right
From its bridgehead on the west bank of Konombi Creek the 127th Infantry had meanwhile been patrolling toward Giruwa, which was now only a mile away. An advance under enemy fire along a track five or six feet wide over which the waves broke at high tide and innudated the mangrove swamp on the other side was no easy matter. But with the 18th Brigade and the 163d Infantry in position for an all-out attack on 16 January the time had come for the 127th Infantry to begin moving forward again.
On 14 January General Eichelberger had put Colonel Howe, 32d Division G-3, in
Last Phase, 15-22 January 1943
command of Urbana Force. Colonel Grose returned to headquarters, and Boerem, now a lieutenant colonel, became Colonel Howe's executive officer. The next day, General Eichelberger ordered Howe to begin moving on Giruwa in the morning. 6
On the 15th, the day he assumed command, Howe ordered Company B to try moving up the coast. The artillery and the mortars gave the known enemy positions in the area a complete going over before the troops moved forward, but when the company was a few hundred yards out the Japanese opened up with a machine gun at almost point-blank range, killing two and wounding five. The artillery and the mortars thereupon went over the area even more carefully than before, and the company again tried to advance, only to have a second machine gun open up on it from a new position. A squad moved into the swamp to find the enemy guns and outflank them but ran into the fire of another machine gun. Another squad ordered in from another point on the track ran into such dense swamp growth that it was unable to hack its way through.
Describing the situation for Colonel Bradley over the phone that evening, Colonel Howe had this to say:
This damn swamp up here consists of big mangrove trees, not small ones like they have in Australia, but great big ones. Their knees stick up in the air . . . as much as six or eight feet above the ground, and where a big tree grows it is right on top of a clay knoll.
A man or possibly two men can . . . dig in a little bit, but in no place do they have an adequate dug-in position. The rest of this area is swamp that stinks like hell. You step into it and go up to your knees. That's the whole damn area, except for the narrow strip on the beach. I waded over the whole thing myself to make sure I saw it all. . . . There is no place along that beach that would not be under water when the tide comes in. . . .
To make matters worse, there seemed to be Japanese to the southward who could have got there from Sanananda only by a trail unknown to the 127th Infantry. Colonel Howe reported that one of his patrols (which the enemy tried unsuccessfully to ambush before it left the area) had discovered a whole series of Japanese defensive positions, a five-ton hoist, a small jetty, and a rubber boat along the bank of a branch stream running into Konombi Creek. In these circumstances, Howe wanted to know whether "the Old Man" still wanted "to go on with this thing." "It will take a whole regiment," he added, "if we do." 7
Late that night Colonel Bradley telephoned Colonel Howe that General Eichelberger was releasing the entire regiment to him except for Companies D, H, and M, the heavy weapons units, which would be left in the Buna Mission-Giropa Point area for beach defense. He told him further that, except for the remnant of the 126th Infantry which was in no circumstances to be touched, he could in an emergency count on the support of Colonel Martin's troops as well. 8
The forces for the envelopment of Sanananda were in place and the attack was ready to go. The weather, so long adverse, had finally turned favorable. The rains had stopped on the 13th, and for the first time in weeks the track was dry. 9
The Troops Jump Off
The many-pronged attack was launched early on the morning of 16 January. On the left, from the track junction near the coast where he had his headquarters, Brigadier Wootten ordered Companies C and D, 2/10 Battalion, to push to the coast and turn east toward Cape Killerton and Wye Point. Company A, 2/10 Battalion, was to move east and south to a track junction a mile southeast of Killerton Village. From there it was to attack eastward toward the M.T. Road. The 2/9 and 2/12 Battalions were left for the time being in reserve.
On Colonel Doe's front the 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, pushed off toward the road from the junction east of the plantation and marched southeast to take the enemy troops north of Fisk in the rear. In the center the 1st Battalion, 163d Infantry, attacked the left flank of the enemy line immediately to its front. The 3d Battalion, operating to the rear of the 1st Battalion, continued to work
on the Japanese pocket between Musket and Fisk.
On Colonel Howe's front the 127th Infantry moved south and west. Company I moved south to investigate the area where the chain hoist had been found the day before, and Companies A and B attacked west along the coastal track, Company A in the swamp covering Company B from the left. 10
The Japanese Line Falls Apart
Companies C and D, 2/10 Battalion, reached the coast on the morning of the 16th without encountering any enemy troops. They met strong opposition, however, at a bridge over an unnamed creek just west of Cape Killerton. Brigadier Wootten thereupon ordered Company B (which had just reached Killerton Village after losing its way during the night and bivouacking a mile to the south) to advance from the village northeast to the coast. It was then to turn east and move on Wye Point. As it came out on the coast, the company ran into light opposition and scattered it. Moving east, it hit a strong line of Japanese bunkers on the beach just west of Wye Point and was held up there for the rest of the day. Company A, after a very difficult march through swamp, had meanwhile come out on the M.T. Road, about a mile south of Sanananda and a mile and a half north of the main Japanese defense line on the M.T. Road. Turning northeast toward Sanananda, it was stopped by a secondary Japanese defense line across the road.
Having now felt out the enemy, Brigadier Wootten knew what to do. The 39 Battalion was moving up from the south to cover his rearward communications, and he still had both the 2/9 and 2/12 Battalions in reserve in the plantation area. Leaving the three companies of the 2/10 Battalion on the coast to work on the opposition they had encountered near Cape Killerton and Wye Point, he ordered Colonel Arnold to move forward with his entire battalion to the M.T. Road. As soon as he reached it, he was to take Company A, 2/10 Battalion, under command and move directly on Sanananda. 11
The 2/12 Battalion joined Company A on the M.T. Road the following afternoon, 17 January. Colonel Arnold attacked at once to the northeastward, but was stopped by heavy enemy opposition. The 2/10 Battalion, under Lt. Col. C. J. Geard, took both Cape Killerton and Wye Point that day. Past Wye Point it met strong opposition and was also stopped. To hasten a decision there and along the M.T. Road, Brigadier Wootten ordered the 2/9 Battalion to march cross-country from its bivouac in the plantation area to a large kunai strip about a mile and a half east. At one point this strip was only a few hundred yards from Sanananda Village. Brigadier Wootten reasoned that the Japanese, relying upon the unfavorable terrain which surrounded the strip, might not have taken the trouble to defend it. The 2/9 Battalion, under Colonel Cummings' successor, Maj. W. N. Parry-Okeden, reached the strip that evening to find that Brigadier Wootten's surmise had been correct. The strip was completely undefended, and all that separated the Australians from the village was a stretch of heavy swamp, no
worse than others they had already crossed.
After a difficult advance through the swamp, the battalion launched a surprise attack on Sanananda the following morning and took it by 1300. Leaving a platoon to hold Sanananda, the battalion commander ordered one company south to meet the 2/12 Battalion and pushed on eastward along the beach with the rest of his battalion. By evening the 2/9th had overrun Sanananda Point and reached the approaches to Giruwa Village. There the Japanese resistance stiffened, and advance came to a halt. Except for a 1,500-yard strip between Wye Point and Sanananda, the beach from Cape Killerton almost to the outskirts of Giruwa was in Australian hands. 12
The attack of the 163d Infantry had also gone well. Early on 16 January, after an all-night artillery harassment of the Japanese main line north of Fisk, the 1st Battalion began forming up for the attack on the west side of the road along the edge of a woods west of Fisk. Companies A and C, Lieutenant McKinney and Capt. Jack Van Duyn commanding, were abreast on an 800-yard front, and Company B (Capt. Robert M. Hamilton commanding) was immediately to the rear in battalion reserve. Company A was on the right, and its right flank was anchored on the road. Company C, on the left, extended beyond the Japanese right flank in order to get around it and come in on the Japanese rear.
The attack was well prepared. The artillery opened fire at 0845. The .30-caliber machine guns of Company D started spraying the woods and underbrush on both flanks of the battalion, while those of Company M, in place east of Fisk, began searching out the area to the south and southeast. At 0857 the fifteen 81-mm. mortars of companies D, H, and M opened up from Musket, and at 0859 the 60-mm. mortars of the 3d Battalion, in battery south of Fisk, opened fire on the Japanese line. At 0900 the artillery and 81-mm. mortars ceased firing, and the troops moved forward. The direction was northeast, roughly parallel to the track. 13
Fairly heavy fire came from the Japanese positions as the troops crawled out from the line of departure. A strongpoint on the right gave Company A a lot of trouble, especially when riflemen opened up from positions in the tall trees behind it. Light machine guns were brought up to clean out the snipers, and the crawling skirmishers advanced steadily. Company C on the left continued to move forward and around the enemy, but Company A ran into trouble as it neared the enemy strongpoint immediately to its front.
"The assault line [the company commander recalls] got within twenty yards of the Jap bunkers when it was definitely stopped by a combination of flat ground and at least four machine guns. The sun was blazing hot and the heat was terrific. The air in the small open space was dead still. The heat and nervous strain tore at everyone two officers and eighteen men collapsed and were evacuated . . " 14
Worse was in store. The troops used up all their machine gun ammunition. The Japanese tree snipers grew bolder, and it was impossible to use the mortars and artillery because the front line was too close to the Japanese positions. Colonel Lindstrom
ordered in a platoon from Company B, but it too was pinned down. By noon the situation was clearly hopeless, and Lindstrom gave the order to withdraw. There had been nine killed and seventeen wounded in the attack. 15
Company C meanwhile had met only negligible opposition. Seeing that its attack was going through, Colonel Lindstrom had pushed in Company B. The two companies swept around the Japanese right flank and quickly established a perimeter 200 yards behind the Japanese line. The new position, to which the 1st Battalion moved as quickly as it could, was about 400 yards west of the road. 16
The 2d Battalion was now reaching the area with Companies F and G in the lead. Part of Company H had been left behind at trail junction east of the plantation to cover the battalion's rear. Although the battalion had to cut its way through on a compass course when all traces of the trail it was following disappeared, it came out just south of the 1st Battalion. A patrol of Company B met it and guided it into the 1st Battalion perimeter. After a meal and a short rest, Major Rankin's troops chopped their way east to a point on the M.T. Road about 1,000 yards behind the Japanese line, and there they made contact with the 2/12 Battalion.
Early that afternoon Companies K and L overcame the last enemy resistance in the pocket between Musket and Kano. The entire area south of Fisk was finally clear of the enemy. 17
The 1st and 2d Battalions were now north of Fisk and behind the main Japanese line. As a result, Colonel Doe was in a position to envelop the remaining enemy troops in the area from the front, flanks, and rear. He first attached Company K to the 1st Battalion to chop a supply trail from a new battalion supply point to the southwest of Fisk. Then, after seeing to it that the troops of the battalion had some rest and food, he proceeded to his task.
On 17 January patrols of Company B located the Japanese stronghold which had balked Company A the day before. The company left the 1st Battalion bivouac, moved southwest, and spent the night about 100 yards from the enemy position. In the morning the men attacked across a fifteen foot-wide, chest-high stream. In the face of heavy fire from a line of enemy bunkers on the other side of the stream, only one platoon was able to get across. The platoon knocked out one of the bunkers to its front, only to find itself up against a second line of bunkers immediately to the rear. Pinned down by heavy fire, it made no further progress that day. Patrols were sent to the left to look for an easier crossing. When they returned with a report that the double line of bunkers extended as far as the eye could see, Captain Hamilton, the company commander, ordered the company into bivouac for another try at the enemy position in the morning.
Companies A and K had moved out that morning to envelop the enemy position from the M.T. Road. While trying to reach the road, they ran into an enemy strongpoint in a road bend about 250 yards behind the Japanese line and were also halted. Company F, advancing southward along the M. T. Road from the 2d Battalion bivouac, ran into Company K's right flank as it began
approaching the road bend, and moved off to the left to make contact with the enemy positions on the east side of the road. The company soon encountered very strong enemy resistance and began working on it. 18
The 163d Infantry had accounted for more than 250 of the enemy since the 16th and was now in contact with the remaining Japanese positions in its area. All that remained for Colonel Doe to do was to surround and destroy them.
On Colonel Howe's front gains on the 16th, the opening day of the advance, had been negligible. The area of the chain hoist was investigated and found to be deserted, but an attempt to move forward on Giruwa along the coastal track had made virtually no progress. Although the attack on the coastal track had been preceded by a rolling barrage of both artillery and mortar fire, the 127th Infantry had gained only a few yards in a full day's fighting. Toward evening Companies F and G relieved Companies A and B, and plans were drawn for a stronger and better-supported attack in the morning. 19
The next morning, 17 January, Companies I and K moved southward along the west bank of Konombi Creek to see whether there were Japanese beyond the place where the chain hoist had been found. Companies G and F, following the usual artillery and mortar barrage, attacked westward. Company G moved forward along the track, and Company F (as in the advance on Tarakena) covered it from the swamp on the left. The going was infinitely more difficult than on the other side of the river. The swamp was deeper and harder to cut through, and there was no spit from which enfilading fire could be put down on the enemy.
The advance did not go far that day. After Company G had gained a few yards and taken one machine gun, it was stopped by a second machine gun so cleverly sited that the troops were unable to flank it. Companies I and K, operating to the southward, had meanwhile run into an enemy outpost about fifty yards south of the chain hoist. They killed eleven ragged and horribly emaciated Japanese in the encounter.
The coastal attack was resumed on 18 January with Company G still on the right, and Company F, as before, on its left. Companies K and I were on Company F's left rear, and an element of Company L was between K and F. The opposition had perceptibly weakened, and the two lead companies gained 300 yards that day. 20 Although the fantastically difficult terrain in which the 127th Infantry was operating heavily favored the enemy, he was finally on the run on that flank too.
Finishing the Job
The Mop-up Begins
By 19 January operations had definitely entered the mop-up stage. The enemy was fighting to the death, and the opposition continued to be heavy, so heavy in fact, that the companies of the 2/10 Battalion on the coast west of Sanananda and of the 2/9 Battalion on the eastern outskirts of Giruwa were held up that day and the day
following. 21 The 2/12 Battalion and the company of the 2/9 Battalion that had been working from south and north on the enemy position immediately south of Sanananda were more fortunate. They managed to make contact west of the road on the afternoon on the 19th, although the job was accomplished, as the historian of the 18th Brigade notes, "under the most miserable conditions, the troops . . . never being out of the water and frequently remaining for hours in the water up to their waist." 22 There was still opposition in the area east of the road, and the next day was devoted to reducing it. At nightfall on 20 January the task was almost complete, and Brigadier Wootten had already ordered Colonel Arnold to move north as soon as the last organized enemy opposition in the area was overcome. 23
Colonel Doe's efforts to reduce the three remaining enemy pockets in his area were intensified on 19 January. The pockets--remnants of the Japanese main line on the M.T. Road immediately northeast of Fisk--were heavily engaged during the day. Company C moved in on the left of Company B at daybreak, and the two companies attacked the westernmost Japanese strongpoint north of the road. Company F, after advancing 250 yards since the day before, attacked the larger perimeter south of the road from the northeast. From the northwest Companies A and K continued their attack on the roadbend perimeter, a few hundred yards to the northeast of the first two. 24
The plan for the reduction of the west perimeter called for Company B on the right to drive ahead from its shallow penetration of the day before and clear out the Japanese second line, while Company C on the left rolled up the first line. Preparations for the attack were thorough. The four rifle platoons and the 60-mm. mortars were linked up with sound-power telephones on a party line, and the two company commanders, Captain Hamilton of Company B and Captain Van Duyn of Company C, working closely together, took turns at the telephone and in the front lines.
As long as the stream still had to be crossed, the advantage was with the enemy. Enemy fire from the other side of the creek was again very heavy, and Company C, which attacked first, had a hard time crossing. At first, part of only one platoon, under the platoon leader, S. Sgt. John L. Mohl, managed to get across. Mohl, who had only nine men with him, moved out on the enemy bunkers at once with another enlisted man, Cpl. Wilbur H. Rummel. The two men, covered by fire from the other eight, knocked out six bunkers in quick succession, making it a comparatively easy matter for the rest of the company to cross. 25 While the enemy was occupied with Company C, Company B was able to get across without undue trouble. It spent all afternoon working on the second bunker line. Just when its attack seemed on the point of going through, the Japanese pulled out of both the first and second lines into a third line immediately to the rear of the first two and once again blocked further advance.
.50-CAL BROWNING MACHINE GUN, directed at Giruwa Point.
It had turned dark by this time. Taking up a defensive bivouac in the middle of the Japanese position, the troops had their evening meal and prepared for further action in the morning.
East of the road Company F had also met heavy opposition during the morning. Finding a double line of log and dirt bunkers in its way, it called for the artillery and the 81-mm. mortars. The company commander, Capt. Conway M. Ellers, established an observation post about thirty yards from the Japanese bunker line and was joined there by Major Rankin and an Australian forward observer. The artillery and the 81-mm. mortars ranged in and at 1400 opened up on the bunkers. At 1530 the preparation ceased and the troops, who had been a short distance to the rear, attacked. They found that the artillery and mortars had done their work well. The bunkers, made of softwood logs and not so well constructed as at Buna, had been demolished, and most of the Japanese inside had been killed.
After advancing 150 yards past the Japanese bunker line, the company found itself wedged between two shoulder-deep streams with Japanese machine guns on front and flank. Five men were killed while trying to clear out one of the machine gun nests, and a flanking move by the support platoon along the bank of one of the streams failed. Because it was growing dark and the company
had nearly expended its ammunition, Major Rankin ordered Company E, Capt. James Buckland commanding, to relieve Company F. While the relief was in progress, the Japanese discovered what was going on and counterattacked, but fire from Buckland's company drove them off.
The push of Companies A and K on the road-bend perimeter had been supported by a platoon of heavy machine guns on the right flank, and by their own light machine guns thrust out to the front. Everything went well until the advance masked the fire of the machine guns. Taking advantage of their opportunity, the Japanese counterattacked and halted the movement. From a wounded Japanese who crawled into the perimeter at dusk and gave himself up, the two company commanders, Lieutenant McKinney and 1st Lt. Allen Zimmerman, learned that they were approaching the main Japanese headquarters in the area, presumably that of Colonel Yokoyama. 26
The next day, 20 January, while Companies B and C continued working on the desperately resisting Japanese in the west perimeter, and Companies A and K on those in the road bend, Company I moved up from the south and launched a strong attack on the south perimeter. Preceded by 250 rounds from the 25-pounders and 750 from the 81-mm. mortars at Musket, the attack had also the support of the machine guns of Company M at Fisk. The heavy weapons crews swept the trees and underbrush in the area thoroughly before the troops jumped off. Just as the company was about to move forward, a mortar shot killed its commander, Capt. Duncan V. Dupree, and its 1st sergeant, James W. Boland. Seconds later, enemy rifle fire killed one of the platoon leaders. The company faltered just long enough for the Japanese to leave their bunkers, get into firing position, and repulse the attack. 27
The 163d Infantry had taken heavy toll of the enemy during the preceding two days, but the latter, though encircled and cut off, were still holding their positions. It was obvious they would be unable to do so much longer.
The mop-up on the 127th Infantry's front had gone well. At daybreak on 19 January Company E had started pushing up the beach with Company K on its left. To help Company K overcome continued heavy opposition in the swamp, a .50-caliber machine gun was brought up. It proved very effective against the hastily improvised enemy positions there. The 37-mm. gun which had played so notable a part in the taking of Tarakena was also brought up. Emplaced on the beach to cover Company E's advance, it again proved extremely effective against the enemy.
The next morning Company F joined Company E along the beach, Company C moved in on the left, and Companies I and L began moving forward on the far left. There was little opposition now. Several enemy machine guns were captured, and a number of prisoners were taken, all of them suffering from dysentery and starvation. By 1630 in the afternoon the Americans were in sight of Giruwa and could see the Australians moving forward along the coastal track on the other side of the village. 28
General Yamagata Gets Out in Time
By the 18th General Yamagata, with the Sanananda front collapsing about his ears, 29 had seen enough to convince him that his troops could not wait until the 25th to abandon their positions and try to make their way westward through the Allied lines as General Adachi had ordered five days before. He therefore drew up orders at noon on the 18th which advanced the withdrawal five days: from 2000 hours, 25 January, to 2000 hours, 20 January. After slipping through the Allied lines, his troops were to assemble near Bakumbari, a point about seven miles north of Gona, where boats would be waiting to take them to safety. General Yamagata, his staff, and his headquarters would leave the area by motor launch on 19 January--X minus 1. 30
Early on 19 January Yamagata handed the orders personally to General Oda, who was holding the western approaches to Giruwa, and one of his staff officers delivered them personally to Colonel Yazawa, who was in command of operations east of Giruwa. The orders were sealed, and the two commanders (apparently for morale reasons) were instructed not to open them until 1600. At 2130 Yamagata, his staff, a section of his headquarters, and 140 sick and wounded left for the mouth of the Kumusi in two large motor launches. Though bombed on the way, they arrived safely at their destination at 0230 the next morning. 31
That night several Japanese motor boats tried to put in at Giruwa in order to take off all remaining communications equipment and as many as possible of the sick and wounded. Allied artillery drove them off. At the same time General Oda, Colonel Yazawa, and an unknown number of their troops abandoned their positions, east and west of Giruwa and took to the swamp, trying to escape toward Bakumbari as their orders bade them. Some got through, but Oda and Yazawa did not. Both were killed the same night when they apparently ran into Australian outposts that stood in the way. 32
The End at Last
Along the M.T. Road immediately south of Sanananda, the 2/12 Battalion overcame the last vestiges of enemy opposition in the area. Relieved by the 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, early on 21 January, Colonel Arnold moved north to take over the Sanananda Point-Giruwa area from the 2/9 Battalion. The relief was completed that afternoon, and the 2/9 Battalion moved out against the Japanese pocket west of Sanananda which had so long held back the 2/10 Battalion.
There was to be a three-way envelopment of the pocket. Two companies of the 2/10 Battalion would attack from the northwest, the 2/9 Battalion would attack from the southeast, and Company C of the 2/10 Battalion would attack from the top of the large kunai strip west of Sanananda, and take the Japanese in the center. The Australians moved out that afternoon. They met surprisingly little opposition, and only one man was wounded in the day's fighting. At the end of the day a single enemy pocket remained. It was quickly reduced the next morning with the help of artillery fire from Hanson Troop. The three attacking forces made contact along the beach at 1315, a meeting that marked the end of organized resistance in the area. More than 200 Japanese had been killed in the two-day attack. 33 The enemy position west of Sanananda had finally been reduced.
The reduction of Giruwa was also to prove an easy task. Companies E, C, and A, 127th Infantry, pushed forward along the coastal track early on 21 January with Company E leading. They found the terrain much better now the track was broader, and there was less swamp. The enemy was no longer trying to hold, and only scattered rifle fire was met. At 1230 Company E, under Lieutenant Fraser, swept through Giruwa Village, meeting virtually no opposition. Forty-five minutes later Fraser and his company joined the Australians on the east bank of the Giruwa lagoon. Soon after, a patrol of Company E, exploring the area just east of Giruwa, came upon what was left of the 67th Line of Communications Hospital. The scene was a grisly one. Sick and wounded were scattered through the area, a large number of them in the last stages of starvation. There were many unburied dead, and what the patrol described as "several skeletons walking around." There was evidence too that some of the enemy had been practicing cannibalism. Even in this extremity, the Japanese fought back. Twenty were killed in the hospital area resisting capture sixty-nine others, too helpless to resist, were taken prisoner.
The Japanese tried to land boats at Giruwa during the night and were again driven off by the artillery. The fighting came to an end early the next morning when the troops mopped up the last resisting Japanese in the area. Giruwa, the main Japanese headquarters west of the river, had fallen after only token resistance. 34
The heaviest fighting of all developed on the 163d Infantry front where the bulk of the enemy troops still left at the beachhead were penned in. As at Giruwa and the pocket west of Sanananda, the climactic day was the 21st. Colonel Doe was in at the kill, personally directing operations from an exposed position in the front line. 35 The attacks that morning went off well. At 1015, after Companies A and K pulled back 150 yards, the
artillery began firing on the last Japanese bunker line in the road-bend perimeter. When the artillery barrage ceased at 1030, the massed 81-mm. mortars at Musket supplemented by the machine guns, began firing on the position. Five minutes later, just as the last mortar salvo was fired, Companies A and K attacked. Covered by their own assault fire, they caught most of the Japanese still in their shelters or trying to get out of them. The Japanese were killed in droves, and the perimeter was quickly overrun. Company A on the right fanned out and lent some of its fire power to Companies B and C, which were still working on the west perimeter. Feeling the pressure ease, Companies B and C surged forward and quickly cleaned out the enemy position. All four companies thereupon moved south to the M.T. Road, where Companies B and K, the one wheeling right and the other left, joined forces and completed the mop-up. More than 500 enemy dead were counted at the end of the day, the largest single day's destruction of the enemy since Gorari. The 163d Infantry lost one killed and six wounded.
That same day, 1st Lt. John R. Jacobucci, S-2 of the 3d Battalion, personally located the main enemy strongpoint in the east perimeter after several patrols failed to do so. The next morning at 1047, Companies I and L, 1st Lt. Loren E. O'Dell and Capt. Edward L. Reams commanding, attacked the perimeter from the south, concentrating on the strongpoint that Jacobucci had discovered. As before, the troops went in on the run behind the last mortar salvo and again caught the Japanese still in their holes or trying to leave them. The position was overrun by 1152, and the mop-up was completed by 1300 with the help of Company E, which had been at the northeast end of the perimeter supporting the attack by fire. This attack marked the end of all organized resistance on the M.T. Road. By evening the mop-up on either side of the road was complete. 36 Giruwa and the Japanese pocket west of Sanananda had already been reduced some hours before. The 18th Brigade and the 127th and 163d Infantry Regiments had suffered 828 casualties since being committed to the Sanananda front, 37 but they had finished the job. The Papuan Campaign was over, six months to the day after it had begun.
The Victory at Sanananda
The Cost to the Enemy
The 18th Brigade, the 127th Infantry, and the 163d Infantry at Sanananda, and the 14th Brigade at Gona, captured a great deal of enemy matériel, including rifles, machine guns, mortars, antitank guns, land mines, radio transmitters, signal equipment, medical supplies, tools of all kinds, and a dozen motor vehicles, some with U.S. Army markings. They buried 1,993 of the enemy,
DOBODURA AIRSTRIP. 41st Division troops arriving from Port Moresby, 4 February 1943.
and took more than 200 prisoners, including 159 Japanese. 38
The final count of enemy dead in General Vasey's area since the beginning of operations was 2,537--959 of them killed at Gona and in the area west of Gona. 39 The victory however, was not as complete as could be desired, for a great many of the enemy's able-bodied troops escaped, leaving mostly sick and wounded behind. General Willoughby may have suspected as much when he wrote that the count of enemy dead at Sanananda could not be considered "a true count of effective enemy strength" since it
DOBODURA AIRSTRIP. 32d Division troops departing for Port Moresby, 4 February 1943.
included many "sick and wounded who were killed." 40
The Australians on the ground, especially at Gona, realized that Japanese troops in considerable numbers were slipping past them. Because of the thick and tangled jungle terrain, they were able to intercept only a portion of them. The Australians estimated at the time that about 700 Japanese had succeeded in getting through their lines, 41 but the actual figure was far higher. A total of 1,190 enemy sick and wounded were evacuated by sea between 13 and 20 January, and by the end of the month about 1,000 able-bodied Japanese succeeded in filtering through the Allied lines and reaching safety on the other side of Gona. 42
The Allied Cost
The cost of the victory had not been light. The Australian troops who fought on the Sanananda side of the river--the 2/7 Cavalry, and the 14th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 25th, and 30th Brigades--sustained some 2,700 casualties. 43 The American units on this
front--the 127th Infantry, the 163d Infantry, and the detachment of the 126th Infantry--suffered 798. 44 The casualties incurred in clearing the 7th Division area were thus about 3,500, roughly 700 more than at Buna.
The 41st Division Takes Over
With the campaign at an end, the time had come to relieve the worn-out troops of the 7th and 32d Divisions, some of whom had been in the area since early November. The 41st Division, whose remaining regiments had by this time begun reaching the front, was designated for the task, and the reliefs were effected as quickly as possible.
General Fuller took over operational control of all Allied troops in the Oro Bay-Gona area on 25 January, and General Eichelberger and the I Corps staff returned to Port Moresby the same day. Eichelberger was followed there a few days later by General Berryman and a nucleus of Advance New Guinea Force which had remained behind to assist General Fuller with the reliefs.
By prior arrangement the hard-hit 126th Infantry left the combat zone on the 22d, and relief of the remaining troops was completed by the end of the month. As air space became available, the men were flown to Port Moresby and, after a short stay, were returned to Australia by sea. 45
The victory in Papua had been crushing and decisive. By the end of January all that was left of the enemy troops who had fought there were broken remnants at the mouths of the Kumusi and Mambare Rivers, whom the air force had under constant attack and against whom the 41st Division was already moving. 46
It was not the only victory. On 7 February, the Japanese finished evacuating Guadalcanal. Two days later the fighting on the island came to a end, as in Papua, exactly six months after it began. 47 The Japanese had been defeated all along the line. The initiative both in New Guinea and in the Solomons was finally in Allied hands.
Campaigns of The Pacific Theater in World War II
A few hours after the raid on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked the Philippines. Three days later Japanese troops landed on Luzon. Americaï¿½s meager air power in the islands was soon destroyed. Unable to obtain reinforcements and supplies, MacArthur could do nothing more than fight a delaying action. Between 16 and 18 December the few bombing planes that remained were evacuated, by their crews, to Australia, where US air power in the Far East was to be concentrated. Other members of the air units took up arms and fought as infantrymen in the battle that ended, at Bataan and Corregidor, with the loss of the Philippines in May 1942.
Central Pacific 7 December 1941 - 6 December 1943
The war in the Central Pacific began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Six months later an AAF task force took part in the Battle of Midway, in which a great Japanese fleet was defeated. But another year and a half elapsed before American forces began an offensive against Japanese positions in the Central Pacific. It was then, on 20 November 1943, that landings were made in the Gilberts, on Makin and Tarawa, with the Marines at the latter place becoming engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Aleutian Islands 3 June 1942 - 24 August 1943
On 3-4 June 1942, at the time of the Battle of Midway, a Japanese force attacked Dutch Harbor and inflicted considerable damage before it was driven off. The Japanese then occupied Attu and Kiska. For the rest of 1942 and into 1943, Eleventh Air Force struck enemy bases and installations whenever weather over the Aleutians permitted. The United States troops that landed on Attu on 11 May 1943 had possession of the island by the end of the month. The capture of Attu isolated Kiska, which was bombed repeatedly by American aircraft. The troops that invaded Kiska on 15 August 1943 discovered that the Japanese, under the cover of fog, had secretly evacuated their garrison.
Papua 23 July 1942 - 23 January 1943
In another effort to take Port Moresby the Japanese landed troops at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda in July 1942. At first the Allies could offer only feeble resistance to the enemy forces that pushed southward through Papua, but the Allies were building up their strength in Australia. By mid September Fifth Air Force had superiority in the air over New Guinea, and the Japanese drive had been stopped. The Allies then began to push the enemy back, with Fifth Air Force ferrying supplies and reinforcements to the troops fighting in the jungle. Buna was taken on 2 January 1943, and enemy resistance at Sanananda ended three weeks later.
Guadalcanal 7 August 1942 - 21 February 1943
On 7 August 1942 the first stage of the offensive began with landings by a Marine division on Guadalcanal and nearby islands. The Japanese reacted vigorously. They inflicted a serious defeat on Ghormley's naval forces in the Battle of Savo Island (8 August 1942), landed large numbers of reinforcements on Guadalcanal, and ultimately lost strong ground, air and naval forces in a desperate effort to hold Guadalcanal. Six major naval engagements were fought off the island. Air battles raged almost daily until the end of October 1942. On shore the issue was in doubt for almost three months. Before the island was finally secured in February 1943, the United States had committed two Marine divisions, two Army divisions, and an additional Army regiment to the fight. Late in February 1943 an Army division was unopposed in taking the Russell Islands, 35 miles northwest of Guadalcanal. The Allies thus firmly established themselves in the Solomons.
New Guinea 24 January 1943 - 31 December 1944
After the loss of Buna and Gona in New Guinea, the Japanese fell back on their stronghold at Lae. Their attempt to reinforce Lae by sea in March 1943 met with disaster when American and Australian planes sank most of the convoy in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Salamaua and Lae then became the objectives for an Allied advance along the northern coast of New Guinea. Fifth Air Force bombers attacked airfields at Wewak, 300 miles west of Lae, to neutralize them. The Allies dropped paratroops at Nadzab, just beyond Lae. Enemy resistance at Salamaua broke on 14 September 1943 Lae fell two days later. In the months that followed, MacArthurï¿½s forces pushed westward, capturing some Japanese strongholds and bypassing others. After taking Hollandia in April 1944, the Allies attacked islands off the northern coast of New Guinea, taking Wakde and Biak in May, Owi in June, and Noemfoor in July. Sansapor on New Guinea also was gained in July. Aerial attacks on the Philippines began in August, and Morotai was seized in October to provide air bases for the invasion of the Philippines. Allied planes also bombed the oil center at Balikpapan and other targets in Borneo and Celebes.
Northern Solomons 22 February 1943 - 21 November 1944
After the conquest of Guadalcanal, Halseys forces, supported by Thirteenth Air Force, began a campaign to capture Japanese strongholds in the Northern Solomons. In February 1943 American forces landed in the Russell Islands to obtain an air strip. Air bases at Munda (New Georgia) and on Kolombangara Island were attacked as the Allies fought to gain superiority in the air. American troops landed on Rendova and on New Georgia at the end of June. The air base at Munda was taken in August, and the base on Kolombangara was neutralized. Landings were made in the Treasury Islands in October. Allied air power struck the great Japanese naval and air bases at Rabaul on New Britain to support the assault on Bougainville, which began on I November 1943. Enemy garrisons on Bougainville were contained, and other Japanese forces in the Northern Solomons were isolated. Although the enemy continued to resist, American air and naval power dominated the Solomons.
Eastern Mandates 31 January - 14 June 1944
After the operations in the Gilberts, American air and naval forces bombed and shelled Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands. In February 1944 American troops went ashore on Kwajakin, Roi, Namur, and Eniwetok. Other islands, including Jaluit and Wotje in the Marshalls and Truk in the Carolines, were bombed and shelled but were bypassed.
Bismarck Archipelago 15 December 1943 - 27 November 1944
To isolate and neutralize Rabaul on New Britain and the Japanese base at Kavieng on New Ireland, American forces landed at Arawe and Cape Gloucester in December 1943, on Green and Los Negros Islands in February 1944, and at Talasea on New Britain and on Manus Island in March. Some other enemy forces in the Bismarck Archipelago were bypassed.
Western Pacific 15 June 1944 - 2 September 1945
Attacks on Truk, where the Japanese had a major base, continued as preparations were made for the invasion of the Marianas. The American troops that landed on Saipan on 15 June 1944 met bitter opposition but, after a desperate Japanese counterattack on 7 July, organized resistance soon terminated. Tinian, invaded on 25 July, was won by I August. Guam, which had been seized by the Japanese on 10 December 1941, was invaded on 20 July and regained after 20 days of fighting. With the conquest of the Marianas, the United States gained valuable bases for an aerial offensive against Japan itself. To provide bases for operations against the Philipgines, the Palaus were invaded in mid-September. Later, aerial attacks were made on Formosa to support the invasion of the Philippines and Okinawa.
Leyte 17 October 1944 - 1 July 1945
On 17 October 1944, after preparatory bombardment, the invasion of the Philippines got under way with the seizure of islands guarding Leyte Gulf. The landing on Leyte itself on 20 October was strongly contested by Japanese forces on land and at sea. Organized resistance on the island did not end until after Christmas, and mopping up operations continued for a long time. Meanwhile, at the end of October, the neighboring island of Samar was occupied with little difficulty.
Luzon 15 December 1944 - 4 July 1945
After Leyte came Mindoro, which was invaded on 15 December 1944, an air strip being obtained to provide a base for operations during the invasion on Luzon. American troops landed on the shores of Lingayen Gulf on g January 1945 and pushed to Manila, which the Japanese defended vigorously until 24 February. Rather than meet the Americans in a decisive battle, the Japanese decided to fight delaying actions in numerous places. Organized resistance ended in southern Luzon in April and in central and northern Luzon in June.
Southern Philippines 27 February - 4 July 1945
After Luzon had been invaded and Manila taken, a series of landings were made in the southern Philippines, on Palawan, Mindanao, Panay, Cebu, Negros, and other islands. In some places the Japanese offered little resistance in others they held out for considerable time. The liberation of the Philippines was announced by MacArthur on 5 July 1945.
Ryukyus 26 March - 2 July 1945
The invasion of the Ryukyus was made by troops of the U.S. Tenth Army, which had been activated on 20 June 1944 with Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, Jr., as commanding general. The Ryukyus campaign began on 26 March 1945 with the capture of small islands near Okinawa, where forward naval bases were established. An amphibious assault on Okinawa took place on 1 April, and the fighting lasted until June. Here, for the first time, Americans were invading what the Japanese defenders considered their home soil, and the defense was fanatic in the extreme. American troops suffered heavy casualties, and the Navy, too, had heavy personnel losses as Japanese suicide flyers, the Kamikazes, sank some 25 American ships and damaged 165 others in a desperate attempt to save the Ryukyus. Among the nearly 35,000 American casualties were General Buckner, who was killed on 18 June. He was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, who was in turn succeeded by General Joseph W. Stilwell, who arrived to assume command of the Tenth Army on 22 June 1945.
Capture of the Ryukyus gave Allied naval and air forces excellent bases within 700 miles of Japan proper. Throughout June and July, Japan was subjected to increasingly intensive air attack and even to naval bombardment.