The Solomons--NEW GEORGIA GROUP
NEW GEORGIA GROUP
ENEMY AIRDROME AT MUNDA
The offensive which opened on 30 June, 1943, to clear the New Georgia area of Japanese was the first continued land, sea, and air effort undertaken by our forces after the capture of Guadalcanal. After their failure to gain command of the air over Guadalcanal in November, 1942, the Japanese had begun the construction of an airdrome near Munda Point on the southwest coast of New Georgia Island. This location had only two approaches by sea, one from the north through a deep, narrow channel and the other from the west across shallow Munda Bay. The construction of the airdrome was cleverly camouflaged so that it was not discovered until 3 December, 1942, about three weeks before its completion. During the next three months aircraft from Guadalcanal conducted more than 80 raids on the airdrome without much interruption to its continued use. A bombardment by a task group of cruisers and destroyers on 4 January, 1943 seemed the most destructive, but it was again in operation within 18 hours. Meanwhile the Japanese had begun to build a second air base near the mouth of the Vila River on the southern tip of Kolombangara Island.
AIRDROME AT SEGI POINT
OCCUPATION OF RUSSELL ISLANDS
Plans for occupying the Russell Islands were made soon after the fall of Guadalcanal. These were to he used as a staging point for our advance on New Georgia, Unopposed landings were made in the Russells on 21 February and we began the construction of a radar station, a PT boat base and an air strip. Reinforcements of men, supplies and equipment were brought in nightly and by the end of February there were more than 9,000 of our men in the islands. During June, 1943 supplies for the New Georgia campaign were moved up to the Russell Islands from the Guadalcanal area.
NEW GEORGIA OPERATION PLAN
D-day for New Georgia landings was set for 30 June, 1943 when we were to make simultaneous landings at several points on Rendova Island, at Viru Harbor and Segi Point on New Georgia and at Wickham Anchorage off Vangunu Island, just south of New Georgia. A landing field would then be constructed on Segi Plantation, while Wickham Anchorage and Viru Harbor would be used as staging refuges for small craft. Troops from Rendova were to move across Roviana Lagoon and land east of Munda, capturing the airfield. There would be preliminary landings on Sasavela and Baraulu Islands, securing the Onaiavisi entrance to the Lagoon. This attack would be accompanied by seizure of positions in the Bairoko-Enogai area on northeast New Georgia to prevent reinforcements reaching the Munda garrison. This attack would come from our forces on the Russell Islands, After these positions were occupied, preparation would be made to capture the Vila-Stanmore position on Kolombangara.
LANDING AT SEGI POINT
As there were reports that the Japanese were moving into the Segi Point area, the landings there took place on 21 June. Two companies of the 4th Marine Raider battalion made an unopposed landing from the APD's Dent and Waters. The next day the APD's Schley and Crosby landed two companies of the 103rd infantry and the Acorn SEVEN Survey. The Army took over on the 28th and on the 30th the construction of a fighter strip began.
LANDING ON RENDOVA
After a diversionary bombardment of the Vila-Stanmore area and also of the Buin-Shortland area on southeast Bougainville, 200 miles away, so as to disrupt temporary enemy surface raids and reduce temporarily his air strength, the second landing took place at Rendova Harbor, on the north side of Rendova Island at 0700 on 30 June, Two groups of our destroyers patrolled the two entrances of the harbor, while others screened the transports. Our boats went ashore in the face of machine gun fire from the beach. Batteries on Munda Point scored a hit on the Gwin and the Buchanan and Farenholt obtained hits on the Munda Point area putting seven batteries out of action. By 0730 all troops except working details had been landed and within two hours newly emplaced shore batteries on Kokurana Island, just north of Rendova, were shelling enemy installations at Munda. A 32 plane combat air patrol from our bases in Guadalcanal and the Russells drove off two enemy air attacks in the forenoon. Within an hour after unloading had been completed at 1500 a group of 24 to 28 enemy torpedo bombers, escorted
AERIAL VIEW OF VIRU HARBOR
by an unknown number of Zero fighters was sighted coming in very low over the northwest corner of New Georgia Island. All vessels opened fire and hits were scored, but ignoring their losses the bombers released their torpedoes at 500 yards. The Farenholt was hit by a dud and the McCalla bracketed by three torpedoes. The 7,712 ton transport McCawley was struck amidship in the vicinity of the engine room and a hole 18 to 20 feet in diameter was opened in her side. An hour later the McCawley, dead in the water, was attacked by 12 to 15 dive bombers who were driven off by the salvage crew who manned the guns. When it became apparent that she could no longer be kept afloat all hands were ordered to abandon ship. At 2023 she was struck by three torpedoes and sank. At first an enemy submarine was believed to have fired the torpedoes but later it was learned that she had been sunk by friendly PT boats who mistook her for an enemy,
REINFORCEMENTS MOVED IN
Between 30 June and 31 July, 25,556 Army, 1,547 Navy and 1,645 Marine personnel were moved into Rendova by our transport command. Thousands of tons of rations, fuel, ammunition, vehicles and other freight were unloaded at Rendova.
LANDINGS AT ONAIAVISI WICKHAM ANCHORAGE, VIRU AND RICE ANCHORAGE
On 30 June a destroyer and a minesweeper arrived off Onaiavisi at 0230 and began to debark units of the 169th -Infantry on Sasavele and Barulu Islands. On 2 July a good beach was located at Zanana on the south coast of New Georgia six miles east of Munda and several units of Infantry were landed there. Assault boats conveyed the troops from Rendova. The first landings in the Wickham Anchorage area were made at Oloana Bay at 0630 on the morning of 30 June and consisted of Marines in seven LCI's escorted by a Task force composed of a minesweeper and 2 APD's. They landed without opposition after some confusion resulting from the APD's lying off the wrong side of Oloana Bay. The landing at Viru was delayed until 1 July awaiting the arrival of the advance unit landed at Segi on the 21st and dispatched overland to Viru, Eventually they were landed at Nono Point and proceeded overland to Viru capturing it at 1700, after which additional forces were able to land directly from seaward that night. On 5 July landings were made at Rice Anchorage on the north coast of New Georgia in order to make possible an advance on the Bairoko-Enogai area preventing reinforcements reaching Munda from Kolombangara. After a bombardment of artillery emplacements at Enogai Inlet during the night of 4-5 July, during which one of our destroyers, the STRONG, was sunk by the batteries at Enogai, the transports were unloaded into Higgins boats. Many of the boats touched bottom in crossing a narrow, shallow bar at the entrance to the beach, which was so short that it accommodated only four boats at a time. The transports cleared the area before dawn when fire from shore batteries was rapidly increasing.
COAST GUARD PARTICIPATION
One Coastguardsmen, John Gadowski, MoMM 2c, gives a vivid account of operations which followed. He was on board the Troop Transport Waters which, shortly after the Battle of Kula Gulf on the night of 6 July,
SUPPLY ECHELON APPROACHES RENDOVA
was bringing reinforcements and supplies to the Marines on Enogai off New Georgia. They got in and started to unload. They were taking the last load in when the Japanese opened up with heavy guns from Kolombangara, just across Kula Gulf. The transports had to pull out leaving them behind. This was the regular procedure under such circumstances, it being understood that the men left behind would be picked up later. This time they were all reported missing as there was. no way of communicating with them. Months later the crew of the Waters was surprised when they saw the missing men, whom they thought were all dead. Altogether they spent four months on the New Georgia group. They were attached to Amphibious Force Boat Pool #8 on New Georgia, which the Japs tried very hard to knock out by bombings and shellings. The Japs, however, never could seem to find out where they were hiding. They were continually carrying troops and supplies from island to island. They were often shelled or straffed by planes and bombers dropped their loads all around them.
FALL OF MUNDA
The end of the New Georgia Island operation came early in August when the Munda airfield was captured by our forces following a campaign marked by the coordinated use of infantry, artillery, tanks, flame throwers, and air and naval bombardment. On 2 August the left flank of one of our Divisions finally pushed across the Lambeti Plantation and reached the east end of the airfield. Two days later the northern flank of another Division spearheaded by elements of two Infantry Divisions broke through to the western shore 600 yards north of the airfield, completely severing communications with Bairoko. By 1500 on 5 August all major organized resistance at Munda had ceased, after an operation lasting six weeks.
LANDING ON NASSAU BAY, NEW GUINEA
While the attack was being made on New Georgia a powerful attack was made on the night of 29-30 June by Allied troops in New Guinea, A successful landing was made on Nassau Bay, ten miles south of the Japanese base at Salamaua and the landing force moved inland to Mubo and Komiatum. Navy PT boats and planes prevented enemy reinforcements from being put ashore by harassing enemy landing barges.
WOODLARK AND TROBRIAND ISLANDS
On 30 June surprise landings were made virtually unopposed in the Woodlark and Trobriand Island groups, located between the Solomons and New Guinea. By 5 August we had thus ended the first phase of our progress northward. Despite the 1,671 Japanese dead counted at Munda some Japanese were able to withdraw to the last major center of. Japanese resistance at Bairoko Harbor on New Georgia. Others had evacuated by barge to Vila-Stanmore on Kolombangara.
A CHANGE IN STRATEGY
The Japanese apparently had no intention, of withdrawing from Kolombangara, despite the effective neutralization of the Vila-Stanmore airfield by the capture and use of the Munda airstrip. There were indications that they
VILA AIRFIELD AND BLACKETT STRAIT
intended to augment the garrison there by barges and destroyers from the north under cover of darkness. On the night of 6-7 August, a force of six of our destroyers encountered four enemy destroyers off the northwest coast of Kolombangara and destroyed all of them without loss to ourselves. As a result, heavy enemy reinforcements were prevented from reaching Kolombangara and this probably decided the Japanese to evacuate the island instead of holding it. Again on the night of 9-10 August our task force sunk at least four enemy barges evidently bound for Vila. Meanwhile, plans to attack Kolombangara had been set aside in favor of an assault on Vella LaVella. This was an important departure from the strategy hitherto followed in the South Pacific of advancing from one enemy occupied and defended island to the next. We were now to by-pass Kolombangara with a garrison of 5,000 Japanese troops, strong fortifications and a formidable airstrip, and advance to an island many miles beyond with negligible defenses and no airfield. Vella LaVella lay in the path of the supply routes to Kolombangara and could be used for bases for the more effective patrol of Vella Gulf and Blackett Strait, which provided the favored route for Japanese barges running supplier to the garrison at Vila. From a minor naval base and airstrip to be established on Vella LaVella, Japanese shipping and air bases of southern Bougainville might also be attacked. On the night of 21-22 July a reconnaissance party landed on the southern part of the island, unoccupied by the Japanese, and selected Barakoma as the site for the landing and for the construction of an airstrip.
LANDING ON VELLA LAVELLA
At dawn on 15 August, 1943, the advance group of seven APD's arrived off Barakoma with 6 destroyers as escorts and began unloading troops and equipment. Within an hour they had completed the operation and departed on the return trip to Guadalcanal with a screen of four destroyers. When the second group of 12 LCI's arrived at 0715 it was discovered that only 8 of them could be accommodated at one time by the three beaches and the unloading of the last four was delayed until about 0900. Meanwhile, the third Group of 3 LST's had arrived on schedule at 0800 and were awaiting their turn to beach. At 0801 between 15 and 20 enemy fighters and dive bombers attacked for 20 minutes without damage. At 1227 when the LST's were still unloading, came the heaviest air attack by 8 to 12 dive bombers and 7 fighters. This attack was broken up with the loss of 10 enemy planes. About 1736 still another attack by 8 dive bombers was broken up by our Combat Air Patrol. At 1810 the third group of LST's got under my, leaving about 130 tons of supplies still unloaded in order to avoid night attacks while without fighter cover. On the return to Guadalcanal, under a full moon and clear sky, two of the three Groups were subjected to repeated air attacks but without damage. Altogether 4,600 troops, including 700 naval personnel had been landed with 15 days supplies. Within the next fifteen days four more echelons of from 3 to 4 LST's each, with destroyer escort, made the trip from Guadalcanal to Vella LaVella with additional supplies. While all of these were attacked by air only slight damage resulted. One LST ignited by its own ship's fire burned to the water, but survivors were taken off by destroyers. On the night of 17-18 August four of our destroyers attacked four enemy destroyers, 2 large barges and several tugs or trawlers towing a number of smaller barges off northern
KOLOMBANGARA AFTER OUR LANDING
Vella LaVella. One enemy destroyer was sunk and 2 damaged. One or two of the larger barges and several of the smaller were also sunk.
EVACUATION OF KOLOMBANGARA
By 27 September the airfield at Barakoma was placed in operation and, caught between Munda on the southeast and Barakoma on the northwest, and with no strong air or surface support, the 10,000 Japanese on Kolombangara were expected to attempt evacuation on the moonless nights of 1 and 2 October. On the night of 27 September a task unit destroyed 3 or 4 enemy barges and again on the night of 29 September, 7 or 8 barges were damaged or sunk. On the 30th further attempts to evacuate were broken up by our destroyers, 6 out of 12 barges being destroyed. On the night of 1 October about 35 barges were encountered of which 20 were sunk and twenty more were sunk on the night of 2 October. Between 28 September and 2 October, however, some 10,000 Japanese were reported evacuated from Kolombangara, 3,000 to Choiseul by barge and the remainder to Rabaul by destroyers. Our forces had destroyed 60 barges and damaged many more.
EVACUATION OF VELLA LAVELLA
On 18 September, a New Zealand Division relieved our 35 Regimental Combat Team on Vella LaVella and it was planned to pocket the Japanese in the northwest corner by moving combat teams simultaneously up the east and west coasts, the operation to be semi-amphibious, moving from bay to bay in invasion craft. By 5 October one combat team had reached Marguana Bay on the west and another Warambari Bay on the east. The 500 Japanese were hemmed in on the narrow strip of land between. Under cover of a naval battle off northwest Vella LaVella on the night of 6 October the evacuation of the last of the Japanese troops was accomplished. The successful occupation of Vella LaVella, at the cost of only 150 of our men killed, demonstrated the soundness of by-passing enemy strongholds, then blockading and starving them out.
COAST GUARD AT VELLA LAVELLA
The Coast Guard manned LST-167 was a unit in a convoy which departed Guadalcanal on 24 September and was ordered to beach at Ruravai, Vella LaVella, a beach not previously used by LST's. It was consequently without shore defenses and with a minimum of facilities for beaching and unloading. The beaching was made on the 25th at 0745 and all of the 77th Marine Combat Battalion's equipment had been unloaded by 1115. At 1116 the executive officer reported a possible "bogie" distant about 40 miles. Thirty seconds later a patrol plane reported "lots of bogies and about 20 angels." A few seconds later three dive bombers were picked up coming in directly out of the sun and diving at the ship. At 1117 the order was given to open fire. All 20 guns opened fire but before any of the planes were hit, their bombs had been released. Then one plane burst into flames and another began to smoke heavily. Two bombs struck the LST 167-and a third was a near miss. When the bombs struck, the terrific impact knocked nearly everyone off his feet. One bomb struck the main deck port side, exploded, penetrated the deck and came out through the skin of the ship. The second struck the main deck forward and exploded in the provision room. This started a fire on the
LST-204 AT FINSCHHAFEN
tank deck in the gasoline and oil which had not been unloaded. Flames immediately leapt up through the cargo hatch and after ventilators. The electrical circuits had been damaged and power could not be kept on. Dead and wounded littered the main deck. The order was given to secure all engines and abandon ship. Between 1122 and 1135 all living casualties were removed and given first aid at an emergency casualty station in a native dwelling on the beach. In fighting the fire on the LST the CO2 extinguishers were ineffective due to the draft of air through the tank deck. There was no pressure on the fire main. The 40 mm ammunition on the main deck began exploding about 1140, so fire fighting was discontinued and the order given to stay clear of the ship. At 0900 on the 26th the ship was still burning and exploding too heavily to permit inspection. At 1530 when the fire had subsided, a portable fire pump was rigged and water played on the fire. The total casualties were 2 officers and 5 enlisted men killed in action, 3 enlisted men died of wounds, 5 enlisted men missing in action and 1 officer and 19 enlisted men wounded in action. All except the wounded embarked on the LST-472 for Guadalcanal and the LST-167 was unbeached and towed to Rendova.
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