New Britain--ARAWE, CAPE GLOUCESTER
LANDING AT ARAWE
Allied troops landed on the Arawe Peninsula of New Britain on 15 December, 1943. Although beachheads and landing craft were heavily bombed by Japanese planes no ships were lost. On 13 December, 29 LVT(1)'s (unarmoured amphibious tractors) and 10 LVT(A)(2)'s (armoured amphibious tractors) were loaded with troops, equipment and supplies at Goodenough Island and embarked on the Carter Hall (LSD-3) in inverse order of disembarkation. On 15 December the Task Force arrived at a point about 5 miles off Cape Merkus. Disembarkation began at 0445. The plan called for all the amphibious tractors to be governed by the limit of visibility until daybreak, when they were to form five waves, the first to reach Beach White at 0630, the others to follow at 3 minute intervals. Instead of proceeding to Beach White the LVT(1)s were halted about 2 miles from Cape Merkus and ordered to lay to until further notice. The LVT(A)(2)s in assault formation had reached a point 2,000 yards off Beach White at about 0614, when they were ordered to return and rendezvous with the LVT (1)'s. At about 0700 all but one tractor again proceeded, travelling in column until about 600 yards off the old jetty on Beach White, where each wave executed in turn a right flank. One LVT(I) had drowned out upon leaving ship and subsequently sank while being towed. At 0728 the first wave crossed the beach followed by succeeding waves at about 3 minute intervals. The troops disembarked under cover and immediately advanced toward the 3 mile objective. By noon of D-day the front line was established at the neck of the peninsula after two LCT(A)(2)'s with picked crews were used to wipe out enemy machine gun positions. Of the 3,000 troops of the 112th U.S. Cavalry Regiment who went ashore on the first day, there were 13 killed, 29 missing, and 25 wounded. The enemy lost at least 60 killed. Allied troops reached the town of Arawe but were driven back on the 25th of December.
U.S. COAST GUARDSMEN AND MARINES BUILD A TEMPORARY CAUSEWAY FOR UNLOADING AS THE INVASION OF CAPE GLOUCESTER, NEW BRITAIN, GETS UNDERWAY
CAPE GLOUCESTER NATURAL DEFENSE FEATURES
The major landing on New Britain was that of the 1st Marine Division on 26 December, 1943 at Cape Gloucester. Preceding this the Southwest Pacific air force had attacked the area on 21 out of 31 days with an aggregate of 4,500 tons of bombs. The air strategy was unusual in that nearly all offensive strength was sent against enemy defensive ground positions rather than first against enemy air strength. While this lessened ground opposition to our landing it did permit the Japanese to mount an intense air offensive against our operations. The Japanese had occupied Cape Gloucester in December, 1942 and by December, 1943 were estimated to have about 10,000 troops in the area. These were not concentrated in strength along the coastal flat but principally in two rear areas. Fingers leading from Mt. Talawe, with streams and steep gullies between them, formed natural positions for defense against a combat team advancing northwest up the coast. The coastal flat, narrowing to 300 yards northeast of these fingers, became a treacherous corridor for advancing troops, threatened on the left flank and left front by high ground, abounding in strategic and covered locations for static defensive positions. High ground also provided the Japanese with advantageous jumping-off points and natural corridors for sharp flanking thrusts at our forces. Once in possession of our forces, however, this high ground would give us strategic advantage over the enemy.
LANDING AT CAPE GLOUCESTER
Following a 53 minute naval bombardment, coupled with air bombings, the Cape Gloucester landing took place at 0745 on 26 December, The Marines came ashore from landing craft at points 6 miles east and west of the Japanese airstrip. Although the landing itself was unopposed, and our fighters turned back a Japanese air attack during the morning, an afternoon attack sank the destroyer BROWNSON and damaged the destroyers LAMSON, MUGFORD and SHAW, the Coast Guard manned LST-66, and the APC-15, by near misses. On the first day 12,500 troops and 7,600 tons of equipment were landed and next day 2,400 additional troops and 3,500 tons of cargo came ashore. At noon on the 30th the Marines occupied the airstrip. Enemy air opposition was vigorous, coming entirely from Japanese Naval air forces at Rabaul, although there were also large Japanese Army air forces on New Guinea within range. Most of these attacks were by dive bombing and straffing and were concentrated in the first few days after the landing and then quickly faded, due to pressure on Rabaul by South Pacific air forces.
COAST GUARD LST-22 DOWNS JAP DIVE BOMBER
On 26 December, at about 1330, the Coast Guard manned LST-22, was entering the approaches to Borgen Bay, New Britain, preparing to beach on the eastern shore
of Cape Gloucester according to plan. At 1418 she beached along with the LST-465 and LST-26 and unloading began at 1428. At 1440 some fifteen Japanese "Val" dive bombers attacked the first LST echelon, which was at that time standing out thru the reefs, and many bombs appeared to be striking the water near these ships. At 1445 one Japanese "Val" dive bomber, which apparently had been driven off from the group attacking the first echelon, came in
OUT OF THE JAWS OF A U.S. COAST GUARD-MANNED LST AT CAPE GLOUCESTER, NEW BRITAIN, COME THE MARINES
from astern of the LST-22 straffing the stern and after deck house. As the plane swung slightly to the southwest and began to parallel the ship, it came within the range of the LST's guns. When directly on the starboard beam the plane burst into flames. It was seen to pass close over the trees fringing the beach and did not reappear. It was reported to have crashed a short distance inland.
COAST GUARD LST-204 SHOOTS DOWN PLANES
The Coast Guard manned LST-204 was off Cape Gloucester on the 26th at 1430 when an alert was sounded with a report of dive bombers in the vicinity. At 1435 a dive bomber attack was observed on the destroyers dead ahead about 2 miles, and at 1436 three Japanese dive bombers attacked the LST. The first bomb hit dead ahead 200 feet. The second hit 150 feet ahead and the third hit close aboard (75 feet) starboard amidships. All guns were firing and fatal hits were scored on the second "Val" which subsequently crashed into the sea. Damaging hits were observed on two other Val type planes as they were pulling away from the LST and one was seen to fall off her port quarter, crashing into the sea. The attack ended at 1450, with no casualties or direct damage to the LST-204. A near miss was observed on the LST-66.
COAST GUARD LST's LAND MARINES
The above were included in an Echelon, completely Coast Guard manned except the flagship (LST-466), consisting in addition of LST's 18, 66, 67, 68, 202, and 204 which had departed Cape Sudest on 24 December and Buna on the 25th.1 The first LST beached at Cape Gloucester at 0840 on 26 December. This was the flagship and it was the first American LST to touch the soil of New Britain. The Coast Guard manned LST's had on board the following:
LST-18 LST-66 LST-67 LST-68 LST-202 LST-204 Marine Corps Officers 39 28 34 33 41 32 Marine Corps Enlisted Men 610 516 562 611 585 531 Tons of Bulk Stores 100 112 122 150 240 237 Vehicles 93 98 108 104 85 117
In addition the LST-66 carried 4 Navy officers, 3 Navy enlisted men, 16 Army enlisted men, and 1 Australian war correspondent.
MANY ENEMY PLANES SHOT DOWN
After unloading and taking on half a dozen casualty cases, the LST's retracted and proceeded at slow speed waiting to be joined by the flagship LST-466. It was then that they were informed by escort that an enemy aircraft attack was imminent. They were in position with Borgen Bay entrance buoy off the starboard hand. They proceeded at full speed to clear the reefs. From 1445 to 1510 they were attacked by "Val" dive bombers. Three bombers were observed diving from dead ahead, two passing over the Echelon and the third driven off and possibly
CAPTAIN C. H. Peterson, USCG
destroyed by anti-aircraft fire from LST-18. The LST-67 scored hits on one "Val" and the plane was observed in flames 2 miles off the starboard quarters. Attacked by 4 planes and straffed by one, the LST-68 possibly destroyed one plane. The LST-202 observed nine bombers and seven bombs hit from 25 to 50 yards from the ship. Two enemy planes were destroyed with no damage or casualties to the LST. Besides the two planes the LST-204 shot down, the LST-66 shot down three enemy planes, after a near miss had inflicted damage and killed one enlisted Coastguardsman and one enlisted Navy man. At 1710 while in convoy, a formation of enemy planes was observed, identified as "Nells." These were driven off by escorts "Thunderbolts" and "Lightnings" and fighting ceased about 1730. The LST-67 reported a direct hit on one enemy plane which exploded and crashed in flames.
MORALE GOOD DESPITE LONG COMBAT DUTY
Captain C. E. Peterson, USCG, Commander of this almost completely Coast Guard manned LST group was asked about the morale of the men. "It was good," he said, "and I couldn't ask for more, but 'war fatigue' is beginning to appear. These men have been out here for eight months. They are continually giving all they have, continually in forward position, subject to attack at all times. Due to the nature of our work from advance bases, recreation or leave is impossible. They just have to 'sweat it out.' This duty, I believe, should be limited to eight months at the most, but some of the men feel the strain before that time."
LST IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT OF THIS WAR
"The LST," Captain Peterson continued, "is one of the most important developments of this war and it plays a part which cannot be ignored. The Air Corps, however, makes their success possible and words cannot express the gratitude and respect our men have for the Army and Allied fliers." Prior to his appointment as commander of the LST Group Captain Peterson served as Assistant Communications officer at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington. His twenty years of service had included destroyer and cutter duty, as well as three years at the Coast Guard Academy, between 1929 and 1932, as mathematics instructor.
Table of Contents
Previous Part (5) ** Next Part (7)
1. For complete list of Coast Guard manned vessels in this operation, see Appendix A.