Forty six days after the Japanese crashed down on Pearl Harbor, eight grey ships moved out of the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation, picked up escorting Naval vessels and were gone. Few persons knew that Task Force 6814, blood mother of the Americal Division, was sailing into history through the harbor murk that night of January 23, 1942.
In recording the history of this hastily gathered force (first major U. S. Army operation in the Southwest Pacific), its organization, elements, difficulties and accomplishments, no attempt has been made to cover technical details of operation which are to be found in formal reports on record. This history aims to give background and meaning to the whole picture, parts of which even now are becoming blurred. It was a democracy just rolling up its sleeves, and in the future the marvel may well be not that it functioned so well, but that it functioned at all.
The force was not in any sense a division. Its parts had never operated together. Its equipment was scanty; its staff were strangers. But speed was of the essence. There was important holding work to be done, and quickly, on the other side of the world.
Assembled from all over the United States, the elements which went into 6814 were: Task Force Headquarters and Detachment, two Infantry regiments, two battalions of medium artillery, two Engineer regiments plus a battalion, two Ordnance companies and parts of two others, a Signal Company and MP Platoon, an evacuation and two station hospitals, plus a Medical regiment; Post Office, Finance and Chemical units. There were other units which sailed from Brooklyn and which remained in Australia. These will not be discussed because their duty with the Task Force which became the Americal Division, was mainly that of travel.
The vessels in the original convoy were: SS Argentina, SS Barry, SS Cristobal, SS Erickson, SS McAndrew, SS Santa Elena, SS Santa Rosa and the SS Island Mail. Several of these ships had been converted from luxury liners in record time by the simple process of removing nearly all appurtenances and installing pipe bunks. Such actual conversion had to be improvised on the trip.
From New York to Panama, the convoy was heavily screened by destroyers and planes and even occasional blimps. There was one submarine scare while in Southern waters, which brought the cool fact of war home to most of the personnel for the first time. Depth charges were dropped, destroyers raced about and the usual rumor went round that the sub was sunk.
The convoy reached Panama Jan 31, 1941. The seas had been calm and the trip comparatively uneventful. The shakedown to shipboard life and organization was accomplished, Excited preparations were made to visit Panama City. These dreams were never fulfilled as no troops were allowed ashore except on very official business. There was some excitement on the Flagship Argentina when one nurse and a medical officer were left behind, catching the convoy later, in the stream, but not making their own boat. The Task Force newspaper, TWIN-OCEAN GAZETTE, commented, "Navy leaves beauty behind -- Nurse takes another ship without extra slip."
Col. Edmund B. Sebree joined the force by plane at Panama as Chief of Staff. There were no changes of loading at Panama; water was taken on and Feb. 1, 1942 the ships moved into the Pacific. Immediately after clearing the canal the German radio reported the passage of the convoy, giving number and type of vessels.
Under direction of' Colonel Sebree, the staff organization was completed: Lt. Col. Willlamson, G-1; Lt. Col. Moore, G-2; Lt. Cole George, G-3; Lt. Cole Homewood, G-4.
Unit training was carried on aboard the ships by means of lectures and conferences as well as crowded conditions would permit. Jungle tactics, tropical diseases and gunnery were chief among subjects studied. Colonel Sebree and Colonel George addressed the officers on board the Argentina by way of orienting them as to what might be ahead. The destination was still unknown.
The long Pacific voyage was surprisingly uneventful. Calm seas marked the whole trip. There were two submarine alerts but no torpedoes were launched. Because of the hurried conversion of some of the ships, conditions for the men were not of the best. The water supply was very limited. The ration was a canteen a day. Bathing except in salt water was rare. The heat in the closed ships was intolerable at night, but the spirits of the men were good. Radio loudspeaker programs were given, carrying news and musical features. Impromptu vaudeville shows were presented. In several oases newspapers were published. These carried news jokes and contributions of the men. On the SS Argentina the TWIN-OCEAN GAZETTE led all ship crusades and in its own words, "Held the Convoy Together." 2500 copies were printed daily when weather and paper permitted.
The comic trial for all uninitiated by King Neptune's Court on passing the Equator was a highlight for all ship's companies. Generals and nurses alike took their bitter sentences with glee and received certificates of proof of their good standing as Equator-passers.
For 27 days this first U.S. thrust into the Southwest Pacific zigzagged its way toward Australia. One day the Jap radio reported the entire Task Force had been sunk in mid-Pacific. All concerned were glad of the exaggeration. Arriving at Melbourne Feb. 27, 1942, the command was met on board ship by Australian Liaison Officers. The disembarkation order was received from Southern Command, Australian military Forces. Debarkation was completed Feb. 28. The troops were dispersed in five major areas: Ballarat, Bendigo, Darley, Royal Park and Melbourne. Formation of plans for reloading and departure for New Caledonia was started.
This week ashore after 35 cramped days at sea was a moving experience for everyone. The Australians took the soldiers not only to their houses but to their hearts. Wherever possible and in Ballarat and Bendigo the troops were billetted with the townspeople and the latter outdid themselves as hosts. Hundreds of lasting friendships were started. Nine months later when Christmas came for these men in the Guadalcanal jungles, hundreds of mail bags from Australia showed the warmth of that fleeting week of close American-Australian collaboration. There was a lot of honest weeping when it ended.
The movement back to the ships was a difficult one because of limited transportation. Additions to cargo were made with little regard for combat needs. The heat at this time seemed terrific to Americans and Australians alike, reaching as high as 115 to 120 in the shade near the docks.
The artillery units had left the United States without their guns. In Australia British 18-pounders and 25-pounders were loaded. Two Australian officers and a crew of expert NCOs went along to instruct the Americans in the operation and nomenclature of the new weapons. This work was carried on intensively on the way to New Caledonia end for a period after the landing. March 6, 1942 the fleet departed for Noumea, New Caledonia. The advance party left March 6th by plane. The SS Erickson, formerly the old North Atlantic racer, Kungsholn, had experienced power trouble on the way over. The first night out of Australia she was delayed and finished the voyage out of convoy, arriving March 18.
The Task Force arrived at Noumea harbor March 12, 1942, and Major General Alexander M. Patch assumed active command. Troops went over the side in landing nets and were immediately dispersed to the hills, because intelligence reports indicated an air attack might be expected. The attack never materialized.
The unloading on the inadequate docks of Noumea was the biggest job yet to face the youthful Task Force. Thousands of tons of supplies piled up on and around the docks. Troops worked desperately in shifts. There was no way to protect the material from the weather. There was little transportation to move it away. For weeks, the next months' food and equipment for 17,000 men lay massed in huge piles under the burning sub-tropical sun.
There was no supply set-up; it was established. No vehicle pool; one was organized. The maps were poor end scarce; draughtsmen went to work. Slowly order began to return. By tremendous effort the cargoes were moved, stored and finally dispersed. One great phase of the "battle" of New Caledonia was won on the docks. There the Japs had missed another chance.
An amusing sidelight on those first days in New Caledonia, which will be remembered, was the use of bright blue French taxicabs for reconnaissance. These were requisitioned by the force, complete with drivers, who continued their old methods of swinging corners madly. The fact that their horns blew at all times gave them right of way, they felt. This practice was largely abandoned, along with some of the taxicabs, very soon after American six by sixes put in an appearance. Such was this French Colonial Island where the Americal Division was born.
When the Task Force reached New Caledonia, the inhabitants had been almost two years without a supply boat from France. Before the fall of that nation they had been kept dependent on the mother country for necessities and for luxuries. Stocks were low, to the disappearing point. They had made no improvements because they quite simply had expected the Japanese to come. Many of the best farmers were Japs. Morale was almost too low to be called morale. Vichy had many strong supporters. DeGaulle's military representatives had made themselves unpopular by their arbitrary methods. The cat could jump either way at this mountainous outpost.
This was the delicate political situation when the American troops arrived. This situation went even deeper than that. For some time afterward the people felt that the troops would make only a token resistance and then depart as had happened against the Japanese on other islands where they had kinsfolk. It developed there was more than a mission of defense for the command. There was the political mission of building up the self-respect of these people and their faith in what the allies would and could do. How this was done, the old-world palavering that had to be gone through to help assure these Colonial Frenchmen of their importance in the allied scheme might have appeared droll except in the light of what was at stake; whether it was to be a friendly base or one torn by bitterness and revolt.
As if to complete the picture there was even a coup d'etat thrown in. A new governor was inveigled to LaFoa where he was amicably confined in the hotel which had been taken over by the Task Force for a Forward CP. There was an international incident in the making. An officer who was ordered to check on the situation, was blandly told that "they always held the revolutions there. In a few days the French Home Guard appeared carrying '03 rifles in place of ancient Lebels. This had a very soothing effect on both factions.
Of the French garrison guarding Noumea, they had guns which the Force Command knew were probably ineffective, yet they had to be treated as though they were important cogs in the defense. There was a gun guarding the harbor for which there were only 96 rounds in the world. It had not been fired for s years. So it went. The success of this portion of the mission of 6814 need only be told in the fact that there were no unpleasant incidents. Relations were friendly, and when the troops finally left for combat it was almost an island tragedy.
This was the situation in March 1942. There was no Base Command. Transportation was meager. There was supply to be organized. Tontouta and Plaines des Gaiacs airports were still small and inadequate. For construction there, Task Force transportation would be required. And there still remained field training and defense. Headquarters was established at the Grand Hotel du Pacific in Noumea by General Patch. The strength of his command on arrival was; 799 officers; 113 nurses; 5 warrant officers, and 15,962 enlisted men.
The rugged geography of New Caledonia gives explanation for some of the difficulties of defense. It is a long, cigar-shaped island, running in a northwesterly direction for a distance of some 250 miles with an average width of 20 to 30 miles. The Chaine Centrale Mountain System runs the length of the island like a spine. Communication over this area of 8,000 square miles was largely limited to one narrow road winding the full length, with, occasional secondary spurs crossing it. This road had to be improved, was difficult to maintain and subject to floods and washouts.
There were three airports around which the defense was to be built: Tontouta, 32 miles from Noumea; Plaines des Gaiacs 160 miles north and Koumac, nearly 100 further north. The latter had been partly destroyed because of the problem of defending it.
Request was wired March 25, 1942, for one additional regiment of infantry, one regiment of Cavalry and one Signal Intelligence Company. The 97th F.A. Battalion, Pack Howitzers joined the force April 3, 1942. The 164th Infantry Regiment, April 19, and the 72nd F.A. April 23, 1942.
The organization of a Combat Reconnaissance Squadron was begun April 23. Lt. Col. George was relieved by Lt. Col. Moore as G-3 and given command. This organization was to exploit the mobility of the 1/4 ton reconnaissance vehicle in concentrating heavy fire power at a point quickly. The troop was unofficially known as the Peep Troop.
The Division Forward CP was set up at LaFoa, 75 miles north of Noumea, April 9. This CP was closed May 1 and a new CP established at Paita, a village 50 miles south. General Patch set up his headquarters there May 23.
The constitution and organization of the Americal Division, without numerical designation, was authorized May 27 (G.O. #10, 5/24/42). The name AMERICAL, was proposed by Pfc David Fonseca of the 26th Signal Company. He explained his suggestion by saying the first part of the name would suggest AMERICA and the last part CALEDONIA, the division's birthplace.
(The division was activated under provisions of War Department Letter, TAG 320.2, 4-1-43, OB-1-GNGCT-M, dated April 3, 1943,. General Orders #91, Headquarters, USAFISPA, dated April 18, 1943, and General Orders -#15, Headquarters Americal Division, April 3, 1943.)
At the time of the arrival of the Task Force at New Caledonia, the only garrison to the north was a unit of some 300 commandos of the Australian Army under command of Lt. Col. Matheson. These rugged soldiers had been used to explore the interior, man observation posts and, in the event of invasion, harass the enemy as long as possible. They were of great help to U.S. troops because of their knowledge of the terrain and the natives, in whose villages in many cases they lived. They also assisted in training troops in jungle patrolling. They were relieved and returned to Australia in July.
The plan involved a cordon type defense because of the wide separation of critical points. The 182nd was charged with the defense of the northern sector with particular attention to covering Plaines des Gaiacs and Koumac. Their headquarters were at Bourail, second town on the island, located 105 miles from Noumea.
The 182nd Infantry, less 2nd Battalion, set up headquarters in the vicinity of Bouloupari and were charged with the protection of the Thio- Bouloupari Road, St. Vincent's Bay and the waters around Thio. Theirs was in general the Central Sector.
The 164th Infantry, with headquarters at St. Vincent was charged with the protection of Tontouta airport and the South Sector.
The French Garrison, the 112th Cavalry and the 2nd battalion of the 182nd Infantry were assigned the defense of the Noumea area, with the 70th Coast Artillery, plus dubious French elements and supporting artillery.
Both light and medium artillery were assigned to support the Infantry combat teams in case of combat, and in addition were disposed to protect critical water approaches up the island. The third element of their mission was responsibility for airport defense.
The 754th Tank Battalion at St. Vincent was held as a striking force to be thrown in wherever needed. Also the Peep Troop in LaFoa was held as a highly mobile striking force to be used principally in the Northern and Central Sectors.
Units devoted their time principally to reconnaissance and organization of sensitive points and in training for combat on the island terrain. When, after the great and crucial battle of the Coral Sea, it became more or less a certainty that the island would not be attacked, the type of training was shifted to prepare for general operations in jungle areas.
Meanwhile, the story of the artillery of the division is a somewhat confusing one. In the force as constituted at New Caledonia, there were two battalions of medium artillery and one regiment of light artillery. From these troops, because of defense requirements, a third battalion of light artillery was organized provisionally, for the Bourail Sector. A Division Artillery Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (Prov.) were authorized August 15 (Spec. Order #162). At this time the artillery units were redesignated and activated as three light battalions; 245th, 246th, and 247th F.A. Battalions, and two medium battalions 221st and 223rd F.A. Battalions. (When the movement into combat began, the 223rd F.A. Battalions. was transferred to the Island Command).
During the months of June and July unit training was carried on under difficulties because troop stations were scattered over a distance of 180 miles. A11 OPs were being manned. The trucks of the division were constantly being requisitioned for hauling details to Plaines des Gaiacs airport, a round-trip run of more than 300 miles over washboard roads. The vehicles were showing the effects of hundreds of miles of this rugged going and there were many on deadline for lack of parts. Decision was made to rush the construction of an airport for bombers at Qua Tom, 60 miles from Noumea. This had been a secret fighter strip for some months. All trucks available were taken for this punishing detail, carrying Marston mats from the docks. By this time Route One was in the worst condition since the occupation of the island. However, this job was completed in record time.
All this made division and even combat team maneuvers practically out of the question. It was a dull time for officers and men alike. Recreation facilities were meager in Noumea and non-existent up country. The civilian resources came no where near filling the needs of the soldiers and leave of any kind meant long drives over back-breaking roads. Issue movie projectors were not yet available except in large centers of troops and Army beer was a rare event. Through it all the famous New Caledonian mosquitoes flourished in the intense heat, fed as they had never been fed before. But the climate was essentially a dry, healthy one. The men got brown and hard and their spirits, though restless, were excellent. The above period stands as the initial hump of the division's mission on New Caledonia. That mission had been to occupy and defend the island, its accomplishment is a simple matter of record. The other elements of that mission which cropped up because of the outpost situation and the length of supply lines, may not show so clearly. That the Americal Division turned over a friendly island instead of one torn by revolt, an island of five great airports built in good part with transportation of one division and in the meantime had organized from a group of spare parts a fighting division, may or may not be remembered when the final story of World War II is written. Suffice it for this chronicle to say only MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
From the end of July forward, the position of the Americal Division in New Caledonia was fading. Marine Raider Units had arrived and were staged for a move into combat. The establishment of the port of Noumea as a Naval Base was well under way. Naval and Marine installations largely dominated the Noumea area. August 7 the Division G-3 gave the island situation map to the advance elements of USAFISPA Command. That same day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Time was running out.
Lt. Col. Gavan relieved Colonel Moore as G-3 and Colonel Moore took command of the 164th Infantry September 15. September 19 (Gen. Ord. #30) the Americal Division was organized into a mobile command made up of all combat troops, less the 70th Coast Artillery and air units, under command of General Sebree. The Base Command under General Williamson encompassed all service units. Colonel Rich took the Air Force Command. (This set-up was reorganized in more workable detail by Gen. Ord. #37, Oct. 24). The ground forces of the Americal Division were thus ready for the new operation which was known to be coming.
Twenty days later, Oct. 9, 1942, the 164th Infantry embarked at Noumea, the first echelon of the Americal Division to go into combat. The remainder of the troops were alerted and movements to staging areas were begun.
The 43rd Division arrived at New Caledonia November 6, and established headquarters at LaFoa. The next day the general staff of the New Zealand Defense Division arrived to confer with division authorities on their mission, the relief of the Americal Division in New Caledonia. The new Island Command under General Rush A. Lincoln was authorized November 10. The New Zealand Kiwi Troops debarked at Noumea Nov. 11. The G-3 Section and forward echelon of the Americal Division left for Guadalcanal November 12: General Patch went forward November 20. From then on it was simply a period of checking equipment and waiting. The next echelon left Nov. 3. The third combat team, consisting of the 132nd Infantry and the 247th F.A. Battalion arrived at Lunga Beach Dec. 8. This completed the movement of the main body of the division to Guadalcanal.
The combat action of the Americal Division has been covered in appropriate War Department reports (see Combat History Americal Div., Guadalcanal). Only the general tactical phases and the relation of the division to other troops in the action will be outlined here.
The next move in the island strategy was an offensive launched November 1 west of the Matanikau River with Kokumbona as the objective. This action had advanced three miles by November 11 when information that there were concentrations of enemy transports in the Northern Solomon Area caused the withdrawal of troops to the Perimeter Defense positions to prepare to meet this threat. The East Sector, from the Tenaru to the Lunga River, was commanded by Brigadier General Rupertus, USMC; the West Sector from the Lunga to the Matanikau was commanded by Brigadier General Sebree. His troops were the 164th and 182nd Infantry and the 8th Marines.
The furious sea and air battle of Savo island, Nov. 12 changed this situation at Guadalcanal. The destruction of a Jap convoy of 12 vessels by U.S. Naval forces on the 14th and 15th practically concluded this phase of the battle for the island. At daylight on the 15th of November the last four Japanese transports were beached between Tassafaronga Point and Doom Cove, destined to make fine registration points for artillery action to come.
When the results of the naval action were established, the offensive to the west again was ordered with the objective, establishment of a bridgehead west of the river. The morning of November 18th the 2nd Battalion, 182nd Infantry, crossed the Matanikau River and went into position in the East Sector. A patrol of the 8th Marines covering this move encountered a strong Japanese force some 1500 yards west of Point Cruz. The Marines were forced to withdraw and took positions an the high ground running south from the base of Point Cruz. It became apparent that more troops would be needed to secure the point and the 164th Infantry was ordered up to attack at daylight, November 21, south of the positions held by the 1st Battalion, 182. The attack was made, and after severe fighting a line was established a short distance west of Point Cruz.
The going was difficult and it became obvious that further advance would be too costly. The 8th Marines made a feint attack Nov. 23 but could show little progress after an entire day of hard fighting. It was decided to stabilize and consolidate the positions pending the arrival of the remainder of the Americal Division. Nightly counter attacks were repulsed during this period with heavy losses for the enemy. The lines remained substantially unchanged until the Corps attack in January.
General Patch took command of the island Dec. 6th when the First Marine Division Headquarters was withdrawn. Elements of the XIV Corps arrived but during most of the action the Americal Division staff functioned in a dual capacity. At this time word was received that the 25th Division and the 6th Marines were enroute.
Plans were formulated for continued offensive action. These plans required the securing of Mt. Austen (Hill 27), the high ground east of the Matanikau, giving observation on Henderson Field, driving the Japs beyond Kokumbona and blocking the cross-island trail from Kokumbona to Beaufort Bay.
The 132nd Infantry w-as ordered to occupy Mt. Austen. The attack was started December 17 after G-2 reports had estimated the enemy forces as small. The 3rd Battalion moved a short way into the jungle at a shoulder of the hill where they were held up by machine gun fire, and dug in, for the night. While continuing the attack the morning of the 18th, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. William C. Wright, was killed. There was a heavy fire fight and the enemy resistance was found to be too strong for one battalion; so the 1st Battalion was ordered to envelope the enemy's east flank on the right. The Jap defense was stubborn and both battalions were pinned down. The supply problem was a critical one, entirely by hand carriers until the Engineers by magnificent efforts constructed a jeep road across the ridges to the hill. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. George W. Ferry, swung to the south in a flanking movement and cleared the northern and eastern slopes on January 2. General Sebree took command Jan 10.
The work of the artillery in this operation was considered highly instrumental in its eventual success. The terrain ~1s very rugged, virtually solid jungle. During the rapid envelopment by the 2nd Battalion, the troops were guided for direction by smoke shells, as the most practical way of keeping direction. The firing had to be entirely by forward observers and with the peculiar disposition of the friendly troops, the firing officers were often in the position of drawing fire in toward themselves. The 105 mm howitzer with high angle of fire proved a superior weapon in this kind of fighting.
Seven counter attacks were repulsed on Hill 27 and on January 9 the 25th Division moved in to relieve. The 35th Infantry executed a flanking movement and assisted by the 3rd Battalion, 182, bottled up the famous Oka Regiment which had dug in on the northwestern slope of Mt. Austen. This regiment was wiped out. With the successful finish of this phase of the action, the Japs lost all observation on Henderson Field.
The XIV Amy Corps immediately undertook the push westward with Kokumbona as the objective. The movement was successful and rapid. The 3rd Battalion, 182, and the Combat Reconnaissance Troop were attached to the 25th Division, which made the main effort around the Japanese south flank. The Composite Division, commanded by General DeCarra, USMC, consisting of the 182nd Infantry, less the 3rd Battalion, the 6th Marines and the 147th Infantry, attacked generally along the beach. Kokumbona was reached January 25, At this time General Patch on the spot ordered all-out pursuit of the enemy.
General Sebree took command of the sector February 1. It was decided to land troops by boat in rear of the enemy and drive east to join the main body. The 2nd Battalion, 132nd, plus a heavy weapons company and a battery of 75 mm howitzers under command of Col. Alexander George was landed at Verahue. The main force consisted of the 161st Infantry, 47th Infantry and the 6th Marine Regiment. These units were directly supported by the entire light artillery of the Americal Division. The last organized resistance was encountered by the 147th Infantry at the Bonegi River. The meeting of the two forces took place at Tenaro Village southeast of Cape Esperance at the Tenamba River the afternoon of February 8. The Golden Spike was driven by the 2nd Battalion of the 182nd Infantry and the 161st Infantry. This ended all organized Japanese resistance to U. S. Forces on the island of Guadalcanal.
With the termination of combat, troops of the division returned to bivouacs following in general the old Perimeter Defense. The malaria rate was rising and orders were issued to stress the rehabilitation of personnel. It was a time of respite for all concerned. Camp areas were improved and made more comfortable. The strenuous physical side of training was suspended. All defense requirements, however, were maintained.
It was a pleasant brief let-down in spite of conditions. Japanese bombing was considerably lighter after combat ended. It was no longer a night-shattering process. Now and then planes came over and dropped a few bombs in the vicinity of the airfields but the nicknamed Washing Machine Charley of the weeks before had lost his sting. Curiously enough all the bombers to attack the island had become singularized to the one name. There were approximately 145 condition reds during the stay of the division. In not all of these cases did planes actually succeed in getting over the island.
One of the gay spots of this period was the arrival of the movie star, Joe. E. Brown. accompanied by General Sebree. He toured the island entertaining all units wherever located. No day was ever too hot nor any trail too rough for them. He was made an honorary member of the division April 21, 1943, during a later visit.
The total casualties of the division during combat were 72 officers and 1,152 enlisted men. Of this number, 40 officers and 263 men were killed in action. Three officers and 28 men died of wounds; wounded who recovered, 28 officers, 850 men. There were eight enlisted men listed as missing in action.
In its baptism of fire the Americal Division had conducted itself creditably. Three of its ranking officers, Major General Patch, Brigadier General Sebree and Colonel Moore were awarded Distinguished Service Medals. General Sebree was awarded the Silver Star April 16, 1943.
Units of the division were cited by letter by the First Marine Division, dated April 30, 1943, for the Presidential Unit Citation. The division was also recipient of "Citation from Commanding General, XIV Corps, for outstanding performance of duty on Guadalcanal, October 13 to January 4." There was a second citation for the period Jan. 10, 1943 to Feb. 9, 1943.
Decorations of personnel, presented or recommended as of June 30, 1943 were; Legion of Merit, 242; Distinguished Service Cross, 25; Soldier's Medal, 13; Silver Star, 145; Purple Heart, 879. Total presented, including the three Distinguished Service Medals previously mentioned, 1104; Total pending, 204. Awards in these categories are not complete.
Preparations were made for the 37th Division to take over the mission of the Americal. All heavy equipment was to be taken over by them. The first echelon to leave, the 164th Infantry Combat Team with some elements of engineers, signal and medical embarked for Fiji, March 1, 1943. This echelon arrived at Suva March 5th. The 182nd Combat Team left the island March 25 and arrived in the Lautoka area March 29. The last of the division cleared Guadalcanal April 6 and it was not too soon because the heaviest Japanese air attack in months came at dusk that day, just as the ships were moving into the roadstead. An estimated 100 planes came in. How they missed the convoy is a mystery, but several ships were hit off Lunga Beach as the ack ack and the bombs boomed a dramatic good-bye to the Americal Division. This group disembarked in the Western Sector of Fiji, April 10.
The mission in Fiji was defense of the Western Sector and preparation for combat elsewhere. The 164th Infantry was disposed for the defense of the beach in the vicinity of Suva. The remainder of the division was dispersed from the so-called Brenner Pass to Singatoka with the 132nd to the north of Nandi and the 182nd to the south. The defense was organized in phase lines with a final defensive line set up to hold the Nandi Airport and adjacent installations.
Major General John R. Hodge, formerly Asst. Division Commander of the 25th Division, took command of the Americal Division May 29, 1943. Col. Crump Garvin took command of the 164th Infantry. Lt. Col. Gavan became acting Chief of Staff.
Training was highly organized with daily firing by the artillery under control of Division Artillery, commanded by Brigadier General Woodward. The infantry had intensive rifle and jungle squad training.
There was considerable concern at the rapid rise of the malaria rate in the division with the stopping of suppressive treatment. Special experts made a study of the problem. Many units found themselves practically crippled at times, and training during May and June was seriously disrupted. It was decided to continue operations without regard for the incidence of malaria, with medical authorities keeping close watch of the situation hoping to learn new treatments which might benefit other units in malarial zones. Once again the Americal Division found itself in a try-out spot in World War II.
Prepared by Major Lincoln W. Stoddard,
Special Service Officer,
movement to the Solomons by shuttling of combat teams began with the departure on October 9th, 1942 and arrival at Guadalcanal on October 13th of the 164th Infantry. The first twenty-four hours ashore was a trying experience for troops entering combat for the first time. Heavy daylight bombing attacks seriously interfered with the unloading and during the first night, Henderson Field was shelled by enemy battleships (14 inch shells), cruisers, and destroyers, causing many casualties. The enemy continued to act aggressively on land, sea, and in the air until defeated in his attack on Henderson Field, October 23-25, an operation in which the 164th Infantry took part in a manner which merited praise from Major General A.A. Vandegrift, USMC, Commanding.
On November 3rd, the 1st Battalion, 164th Infantry relieved a battalion of the 5th Marines in the front line of an offensive which had been launched west across the Matanikau on November 1st. During the period of November 4 to 11, the regiment, less this battalion, brigaded with the 7th Marines, operated successfully in offensive action against a Japanese force landed near Koli Point during the night of November 2-3.
The successful defense of Henderson Field, October 23-25, during which one Japanese Infantry regiment was practically annihilated, plus the pending arrival of the entire Americal Division had caused the Commanding General to launch an offensive west of the Matanikau River with Kokumbona as the objective. This was initiated by a successful crossing of the Matanikau on November 1st and had proceeded some 3 miles westward when on November 11th it became necessary to withdraw all troops (except one battalion of the 7th Marines, which remained at Koli Point) into the perimeter to meet a critical situation.
Aerial reconnaissance had for several days reported a concentration of transports in the Northern Solomons-New Britain area which, coupled with other intelligence, made it apparent that the enemy intended making a major effort to reinforce his troops on Guadalcanal. Enemy daylight bombing attacks interspersed with dive and torpedo bombing attacks on friendly shipping had been intensified and one ship had been torpedoed by a submarine while actually unloading off Lunga Point. As a result, General Vandegrift decided to occupy the position defenses of Henderson Field and adjacent installations, bounded on the east and west by the Tenaru and Matanikau Rivers and on the south by strung wire. The main position was divided into two sectors with the Lunga River as the boundary, the east sector from Lunga to Tenaru being commanded by Brigadier General William R. Rupertus, USMC; the west sector by Brigadier General Edmund B. Sebree, United States Army. Troops assigned the west sector were the 164th Infantry, the 182nd Infantry (then enroute), and the 8th Marines. The remainder of the 1st Marine Division and attached units occupied the east sector. Artillery was grouped within the perimeter to support either sector.
On the night of November 11-12, enemy warships heavily shelled Henderson Field and the area adjacent to the beach in the vicinity of Lunga Point, destroying four airplanes and causing some casualties. Shortly after midnight, November 12-13, the spearhead of a large enemy naval formation, including two battleships, reached the Guadalcanal area and was furiously attacked by U.S. Naval Task Forces, commanded by Admirals Scott and Callaghan. This engagement took place just off shore and generally around Savo Island, some of the shells falling on Guadalcanal. The successful results of this engagement are so generally known as to require no detailed repetition. About noon on November 14th, a convoy of 12 Jap transports heavily loaded with troops was sighted moving south about 200 miles north of Guadalcanal. Our air forces made three strikes that day, sinking 8 transports and damaging 4 others. Shortly after daylight, November 15, four damaged transports apparently from the convoy were beached along the Guadalcanal coast between Tassafaronga and Dome Cove and were destroyed before they could unload. November 15th marked the end of a definite phase of operations on Guadalcanal. This was made more evident by the fact that from November 13th to on or about January 25th, the enemy made no aerial attacks during daylight hours.
Early on November 18th, the 2nd Battalion, 182nd Infantry crossed the river and went into position in the left sector of the proposed bridgehead. The enemy make no attempt to interfere with this movement. On the following day, the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry, crossed the Matanikau with mission of occupying the right sector of the bridgehead. Company "B" 8th Marines covering this movement made contact with a strong Japanese force about 1,500 yards west of Point Cruz and a sharp fire fight resulted. This company was forced to withdraw to avoid being outflanked, took position on a ridge just east of and running south from the base of Point Cruz, reorganized and again attempted to move forward, with artillery support but could not make a substantial advance. During the action just described, the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry was moved to assembly areas, prepared to attack and seize their objective. The remainder of the day was devoted to patrol action and development and a limited objective attack was ordered for daylight 20 November with the mission of seizing the high ground which outlined the front of the right sector. During, the night of November 19-20, the. enemy shelled the assembly areas with artillery and mortar fire, causing many casualties, several of whom were officers, and interfering seriously with control. The attack began shortly after daylight on the 20th but encountered such severe and intense fire of all classes that the objective was not reached. The zone of heaviest enemy fire was along the right (beach) and Companies "A" and "'C" received the greatest number of casualties. It was the first combat experience of this unit and there was considerable confusion and some straggling. However, confidence was soon restored and a well-controlled and disciplined firing line organized. While the enemy strength was unknown, it was apparent that additional troops would be required to seize the objective and orders were issued that afternoon for the 164th Infantry to move forward under cover of darkness and attack at daylight November 21st generally south of the position held by the, 1st; Battalion.
The attack was launched as ordered and after severe fighting, the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry, advancing along the beach, seized Point Cruz and pushed their forward elements about 100 yards west of there but could advance no further. The 164th Infantry, after heavy fighting, was able to occupy that portion of the objective assigned. An attack was again ordered on the morning of November 22nd, but again no substantial advance was made. Therefore, on the afternoon of that day, the 8th Marines were directed to attack at daylight on November 23rd, passing through the lines of the 164th Infantry and seizing a ridge some 200 yards to the front of the lines then occupied. This attack was launched as ordered but after an entire day of severe fighting, it became evident that further advance would not be possible without accepting casualties in numbers to preclude the advisability of this action. Consequently, on the evening of November 23rd, units then in line were directed to dig in and hold their positions. Each night from November 20th to 24th and on many nights thereafter, the enemy launched attacks which were repelled with heavy enemy losses. Thus, on November 24th, the position west of the Matanikau was stabilized and the lines remained unchanged until the general Corps attack was launched on January 10th.
From a captured document it was later determined that a meeting engagement with the 2nd Japanese Division had taken place on the morning of November 20th.
Three intermediate steps essential to an eventual all out victory were as follows:
General Patch directed the 132nd infantry to occupy Mt. Austen and conduct necessary reconnaissance; this operation was initiated on December 17th. The Mt. Austen area had been patrolled previously and from the information obtained, it was not believed that the enemy had any sizeable force there. Consequently, the 3rd Battalion, 132nd Infantry moved out to accomplish this objective. They reached the edge of the jungle of Mt., Austen shortly after noon on December 17th and after penetrating the jungle were held up by enemy machine gun fire which inflicted some casualties and resulted in the battalion commander devoting the remainder of the afternoon to reconnaissance and disposing his force for an attack on the morning of December 18th. The attack was launched as scheduled, but shortly thereafter, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. William C. Wright, 132nd Infantry, was killed, which resulted in some confusion and required reorganization. The advance continued but it soon became apparent that enemy resistance was such that one battalion could not accomplish the mission. Consequently, the 1st Battalion; 132nd infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Earl R. Ripstra, was moved forward and directed to envelop the enemy's right east flank. Enemy resistance was stubborn. Supply, which at this time was entirely by hand carrier, was difficult and it eventually became necessary to delay until the Engineers could construct "jeep" roads along the grassy slopes to the edge of the jungle near the summit. When the enemy was fixed and his positions located, successful operations permitted the 2nd Battalion, 132nd Infantry, commanded by lt. Col. George F. Ferry, and a wide flanking movement to the south, to capture Hill 27, which resulted in clearing the enemy from the northern and eastern slopes of Mt. Austen. This was successfully accomplished on January 2nd against stubborn enemy resistance and repeated counterattacks. Enemy losses during this period approximated 400. On January 9th, the 35th Infantry executed a brilliant flanking movement which, assisted by the 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry (attached to the 25th Division) succeeded in pocketing and later annihilating the famed OKA regiment, which was strongly dug in on the northwestern slope of Mt. Austen near the head waters of the Matanikau.
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