The largest and most significant action of the Pacific War in the summer of 1943 was the TOENAILS operation. This included, in part, the XIV Corps seizure of Rendova, followed in turn by a shore-to-shore movement from Rendova to New Georgia and finally a coordinated drive along that island's south coast to the principal objective--Munda airfield. Marine participation in these actions, which began on D-Day (30 June), while not extensive as regards number of men involved, was vital and materially contributed to the final success achieved.
Preliminaries to the Landing
As May passed into June, troops assigned to the TOENAILS operations underwent final training and preparation in their staging bases in the Southern Solomons. Small unit tactics kept infantrymen in the field day after day; artillerymen test fired supporting arms; organizations responsible for the defense of Allied-held areas were replaced by other units not included in the plans. Supply agencies issued new equipment while Marines and soldiers fired familiarization courses with small arms on the rifle range. Naval transports conducted amphibious exercises in nearby rear areas.
During this period the 1st Marine Raider Regiment learned coordination and cooperation, and shook off its sea legs. Although organized on a regimental basis since 15 March, the several battalions, located in Noumea, Espiritu Santo, and in the Russells, had had no chance to work together. The 4th and 1st Battalions arrived on Guadalcanal on 2 and 7 June, respectively, leaving little time for further training and equipping.2
The 9th Defense Battalion remained in position for the defense of Guadalcanal airfields until relieved by the 70th Coast Artillery Battalion, USA, on 17 June. On that date these units exchanged their 90mm AA guns, the Marines leaving their old guns emplaced in most cases. At the same time the old dual-mount 20mm guns, left on Guadalcanal by the 3d Defense Battalion on its departure from the Solomons, were taken over by Scheyer's men, cleaned up and remounted on a 40mm chassis, which eventually proved much more satisfactory than the normal, but cumbersome pedestal mount. After the 17th, these Marines undertook an intensive training program including displacement of equipment from ship to
beach in order to orient new personnel joining daily. In mid-May the Seacoast Artillery Group formed and began training a fire direction center. A month later it test fired its newly received 155mm guns (M-1), never before seen in the South Pacific area. Utilizing powder flown in from New Zealand for that specific purpose, the unit calibrated its guns and within nine days, under the direction of Major Robert C. Hiatt, had completed the final transition from seacoast to field artillery. It was now designated the 155mm Gun Group.3
The last days of June were full of strenuous activity for 9th Defense Battalion Marines. Ammunition and stores were drawn from the 4th Base Depot in the Russells (the Marine supply agency for the area) and packed for the impending movement. Men assigned to 20mm, 40mm and 90mm guns practiced their specialties, not only on ranges but also in combating the occasional Japanese planes that raided the Southern Solomons. Communicators tuned up radios and switchboards while Tank Platoon mechanics checked their vehicles. The Navy Base Defense Warning Group (Argus 11), destined to work hand in glove with the antiaircraft gunners, daily attempted to increase the skill of its radar and sonar operators.
When, about 27 June, the battalion moved to Koli Point to load out for the operation, it was not wanting for experience, training or preparation.4
Meanwhile, Army and Navy units underwent similar preparations. A shortage of radio-equipped vehicles facing Task Force 31 was avoided when the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing provided these (and some trained communications men) to equip the air support and naval gunfire liaison parties.
The 172d Infantry and the 24th Naval Construction Battalion embarked on transports in mid-June for 10 days amphibious training in the Espiritu Santo and Efati areas. As a result of these exercises, Admiral Turner and General Hester decided that the assault shipping could discharge all troops and gear within five hours. When the vessels concluded their training, all excess ammunition, rations and other impedimenta were left in cargo nets in the holds to facilitate unloading.
Turner ordered his ships to load cargo in such a manner that rations, ammunition and petroleum products would arrive at the beach in reasonably equal, realistic quantities at all times. To the amazement of Marine observers, provision was made for troops to carry their barracks bags as they went ashore.5
Final loading took place at Guadalcanal during the morning of 29 June, and the Task Force flagship (the AP McCawley) sailed from Koli Point at 1600 that afternoon. Although low-hanging clouds and mists limited aerial observation of the approach of Turner's convoy, the periscope of the Japanese submarine RO-103 picked out the silhouettes of the American ships about midnight as they cruised south of Gatukai. Quickly surfacing after the convoy had passed, the commander alerted Munda Point and Rabaul.6
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth's Task Group 36.1 bombarded Kolombangara and Shortland Islands, and laid mines in Shortland Harbor. By these moves the Americans hoped to divert Japanese attention from Munda Point, to disrupt enemy air and surface operations, and interpose a strong naval force between the Japanese rearward bases and the target areas.7
The Japanese strategists and tacticians at Rabaul had estimated correctly that a new American offensive would soon burst upon them. They were not without sound evidence. During
the spring and early summer several of their submarine commanders had spotted the movement of troop and cargo vessels into the Southern Solomons. Watchful Japanese sentries had observed amphibious reconnaissance patrols operating on Vangunu, Gatukai and Rendova and had reported this activity to higher authority. American air power had increased materially after seizure of the Russells, and by mid-June--in hostile eyes--had reached overwhelming proportions. When, about 15 June, intercepted American radio traffic reached a tremendous volume, General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka naturally assumed that the blow was imminent.
At this time Rabaul's air strength stood near its pinnacle, despite heavy losses suffered during the ineffectual air offensives of April and May. Replacement planes and pilots flown in from the homeland or from Truk had more than met shortages. Well trained, eager flyers of Kusaka's Eleventh Air Fleet and Imamura's Fourth Air Army were convinced that they could stop any Allied thrust. Toward the end of June, therefore, the enemy decided to send their Air Attack Force to forward bases at Buin and in the Shortlands to meet the Allied offensive.
But after 26 June interception of Allied radio traffic fell off noticeably. There was little need for radio messages; Admiral Turner's force was fully prepared for the operation. Japanese aerial reconnaissance noted fewer American ships in the Guadalcanal area; transports, cargo vessels and large landing craft were conducting final amphibious training exercises in the New Hebrides at this time. These factors led the Rabaul command to revise previous surmises and temporarily call off the deployment of the Air Attack Force. Thus, when Task Force 31 struck on 30 June, the adversary did not have sufficient planes immediately available in forward areas for an effective counterblow.
Rendova: The Landing
Ominous black clouds blotted out the stars early in the morning of D-Day (30 June). As Admiral Turner's Task Group 31.1, covered by high-flying Black Cats (PBY's especially earmarked for night patrolling), sailed up Blanche Channel through rain squalls, a heavy fog settled on the coast line, obscuring landmarks and reference points.
At 0230 the APD's Dent and Waters (of the Advance Unit) hove to and Barracuda units followed their guide, Lieutenant F. A. Rhoades, RAN, over the side. According to the plan these units were to land, meet the Rendova coastwatcher, Flight Lieutenant Dick Horton, RAAF, and under his direction establish a beachhead into which the 172d Infantry could move with minimal opposition. But limited visibility that Stygian night prevented the soldiers from contacting Horton; wind and current carried the boats miles from their objective beaches, which they did not reach until 10 minutes after the first wave of boats from Turner's flagship hit shore.9
Meanwhile, Companies A and B of the 169th Infantry and the Commando unit of Fijiian and Tongan natives, debarked from the destroyer-transport Talbot and the destroyer-mine sweeper Zane, to seize the key islets Sasavele, Dume and Baraulu and protect Onaiavisi Entrance. Dame Fortune smiled on this action, for here Wickham's coastwatchers and Boyd's amphibious scouts contacted the soldiers' boats and led them to their targets without incident. Upon reaching shore the soldiers swept the islands and, after a brief fire fight, cleared an undetermined number of defenders from the vicinity of the Entrance. Only one event marred the clockwork excellence of the execution of this particular landing: Zane grounded on an unchartered reef and there remained dangerously exposed to hostile attack until pulled off by the tug Rail later in the day.
As dawn crept over the horizon the weather cleared somewhat. Curious men of the main body, anxious to get their first look at Rendova's lush, green mountain, crowded the ships' rails. At 0656 Admiral Turner's guide, Major Martin Clemens, BSIDF, indicated that the transports had come opposite Renard Entrance. Troops of the first wave climbed into small
FIRST WAVE OF BOATS races toward Renard Entrance between Bau (right) and Kokorana Islands, carrying assault troops for the initial landing on Rendova. Heavy rain nearly obscures Rendova Mountain in the background. (Navy Photo.)
boats at the rail and were lowered into the water. Ignoring a warning from the McCawley to expect oppositon, overeager coxswains, each anxious that his craft should ground on the supposedly Barracuda-held beach first, raced shoreward. Thus, this initial ship-to-shore movement had all the appearance of a regatta rather than a coordinated landing. Fortunately for the passengers on this wild ride, only spasmodic rifle and machine-gun fire contested the assault.10
Succeeding waves, bearing men of 9th Defense Battalion and 24th NCB, followed in the wake of the first boats. Upon reaching the beach the Marines and Seabees found to their dismay that it had not yet been cleared of Japanese. Conditions were chaotic in the extreme. Inexperienced coxswains, disregarding orders from shore or advice from embarked officers, landed their craft at improper places. Indiscriminate machine-gun fire from onrushing boats spattered through Rendova's coconut trees. Hysteria magnified a bad situation. Only when an American officer on the beach, annoyed by such an undisciplined display, threatened to shoot back did the boat crews still their fires. Meanwhile, the assaulting infantry had managed to push their forward skirmish line only 15 yards inland. Encumbered by barracks bags and embarrassed by the absence of the Barracudas, the soldiers milled about in confusion.
Finally one marksman killed an enemy sniper in a tree some 75 yards beyond of the southern extremity of the beachhead. And the general rush to the area which followed gave rise to a legend that the victim was stripped by souvenir hunters before he hit the ground. Colonel Ross, the 172d's commander, who despite wounds had been with his skirmishers valiantly trying to get them moving, came on the scene and soon restored order. Under Ross' direction, combat patrols of soldiers and Marines began to chase the foe from the beach; with
SUPPLIES OF ALL TYPES POURED ASHORE faster than working parties could handle them. An Alligator (LVT), filled with bedding rolls, has just halted in the middle of the ComAir New Georgia supply dump on the beach.
snipers cleared from its rear, the line of skirmishers began to advance. Assisted by a Marine officer and an Army Transport Quartermaster, Ross impressed unwilling combat troops into service as working parties to assist in the herculean task of unloading small boats of cots, water cans, lumber, stoves, tentage. rations, fuel and ammunition. A sudden, heavy rain turned roads into quagmires, drenched troops and supplies. But the working parties, using tractors and Athey trailers, soon operated smoothly to move the mountains of matériel then accumulating at the water's edge.11
Shortly after H-Hour a single BETTY (Japanese two-engine bomber), apparently on reconnaissance, sighted Task Force 31. The Americans sounded an air raid alarm; ships got under way and prepared to engage the intruder; troops on shore scattered to take cover. But the enemy plane did not attack. Although Turner's combat air patrol quickly drove it off, the turmoil it precipitated materially delayed the landing phases of the operation.12
Following this "air raid," all units resumed their normal functions. Major Robert C. Hiatt, executive officer of the 9th Defense Battalion's 155mm Artillery Group, led an advance party
along Rendova's coast toward prospective gun positions selected from aerial photographs before the operation. He soon found the areas, pronounced them suitable, and promptly began blasting trees, building an observation post, and clearing fields of fire. While this work progressed, reconnaissance parties of the 24th NCB and the 43d Division's medical clearing station started to set up their installations in the same area, thereby crowding it to an unfortunate extent.
Marines of the Special Weapons Group prepared positions for their 20mm and 40mm guns and tied in their .30-calibre and .50-calibre machine guns with the beach defenses as protection against either low-level air attack or counter-landing.
Rain and mud had their effect. Even the ubiquitous jeep bogged down in the slimy gumbo; culverts collapsed. Heavily laden trucks churned the morass, made no headway at all. Only by pressing into service the few wide-treaded prime movers (provided for the 155mm guns) to tow heavy combat equipment, and by hand carrying lighter gear, could the men move the guns, generators and radars into position.
Beachhead establishment continued almost without interruption. A few minutes after 1700, 105mm howitzers of the 103d FA Battalion began firing a series of registration shots. Late the following afternoon New Georgia itself felt the impact of American land-based artillery when shells from the 155mm howitzers of the 192d FA Battalion fell near Lambeti Plantation.13
Rendova's defenses on 30 June consisted of portions of Lieutenant (jg) Funada's 2d Company, Kure 6th SNLF, and detachments from First Lieutenant's Suzuki's 7th Company, 229th Infantry. With approximately 200 men, occupying a large number of small outposts at widely separated points, the optimistic Japanese hoped to protect this strategic island. When the first American boats crunched upon Rendova's sand and coral beaches, most of the enemy withdrew to the hinterland. Many escaped from Rendova to New Georgia that night and rejoined their comrades for the defense of Munda airfield. Others, however, remained behind to continue the hopeless fight.14
Major General Sasaki at Munda, alerted by the RO-103, was ready for Turner's approach. In his estimate of the situation, Sasaki expressed the conviction that his adversary would storm either Lambeti Plantation (see Map #12) or Munda Point. Nor did he alter his opinion when the transports hove to off Renard Entrance, for he believed this halt only the beginning of a diversionary effort. Therefore, during the Americans' initial ship-to-shore movement he held his fire so as to conceal his positions, and only a few scattered shots from 4.7-inch guns emplaced near Munda Point offered opposition. These shots, apparently, were directed against Turner's destroyer screen
RAIN AND HEAVY TRAFFIC TURNED ROADS INTO QUAGMIRES but indefatigable Seabees worked tirelessly and soon had stalled vehicles moving again. Here a group corduroys a road that appears to be an impassable mud hole.
westward of the transport area. The destroyers promptly returned fire and effectively silenced the enemy, but not before the destroyer Gwin received one hit. By the time Sasaki recognized the Rendova assault as the main effort, it was much too late to retaliate in strength.
At Rabaul, in accordance with a previous agreement, Admiral Kusaka took charge of the counterattack to the American landing. Upon receiving the submarine's report, the admiral decided immediately to put into operation the postponed air-interception-deployment plan. Morning reports the previous day had shown a count of 53 land-based attack planes, 83 fighters, 13 light bombers and 20 float planes in his Eleventh Air Fleet, deployed at Rabaul, Buka, and in the Shortlands (only a 20-minute flight distant from Rendova). These could launch vicious attacks against the American Task Force. Then, he would send in elements of his Southeast Area Fleet, consisting of one cruiser, eight destroyers and eight submarines. Meanwhile, Admiral Koga (the Japanese Combined Fleet commander) detached one cruiser and four destroyers from the Second Fleet at Truk, and these were on their way to Rabaul as reinforcements.
Early in the morning of 30 June Kusaka dispatched the previously mentioned BETTY on reconnaissance and issued his order. Aircraft would attack Turner's force at once; all available destroyers would sortie from the
REINFORCEMENTS LAND AS STORM CLOUDS GATHER. A few minutes after this picture was taken, sheets of rain concealed even the silhouettes of the landing craft. In the left foreground note the 9th Defense Battalion 40mm gun, prepared to engage enemy planes or small craft.
Shortlands and obliterate the Allied shipping during the night of 30 June-1 July.
Just one hour before noon, therefore, 30 enemy fighters roared out of the west to pounce upon TF-31 and its beachhead positions. As the hostile planes orbited to make strafing runs on the violently maneuvering ships and now crowded beaches, Mulcahy's Marine and Navy fighter umbrella of 16 Corsairs (F4U's)15 went into action. Vectored by the fighter-direction center in the Jenkins, the American pilots soon clashed with the enemy. At 1102 Fighter Command on Guadalcanal scrambled an additional 28 interceptors, which within 10 minutes were winging toward Munda to join in the scrap. Less than 20 minutes later, numerous piles of junk, once formidable Japanese ZEKES, littered the land and sea around Rendova.16
Meanwhile, the ground forces expanded their Rendova beachhead. Islands offshore were occupied and organized for defense. Men and matériel continued to pour ashore, so that by 1450 all the troops and all but 50 tons of supplies of the first echelon had been delivered to the beach.17
Shrugging off the pasting he had taken that morning, Kusaka committed a strike of 50 mixed-type aircraft at 1515, shortly after the McCawley, now unloaded, had weighed anchor to depart from the area. Disregarding Mulcahy's alert fighter umbrella, now consisting of 32 F4U's and 16 F4F's, and extremely heavy antiaircraft fire from the ships and the beach, the enemy launched an effective torpedo attack. While their fighters and dive-bombers held the attention of the American flyers, about 20 BETTYS, skimming above the surface of the water, dropped their torpedoes at close range in the path of Turner's ships. One, which fortunately proved a dud, struck the Farenholt on the port beam. Another, however, smashed into the 7,700-ton McCawley dead amidships, blasting her out of action and forcing Admiral Turner to transfer his flag to the Farenholt.
American pilots engaged the opposing fighters and dive bombers at high altitudes. Violent dogfights carried the planes miles from Munda Point. Low gasoline levels prevented pursuit of the enemy survivors who scurried back to the Shortlands. When, at about 1600, the Americans returned to their bases in Guadalcanal and the Russells, they found four of their comrades missing. Fighter Command (Colonel E. L. Pugh) credited its men with shooting down 30 hostile aircraft.18
Undaunted, the Japanese late in the afternoon struck a third time, now with an aggregation of 14 Aichi dive-bombers (VALS) supported by approximately 18 ZEKES. These intruders found U. S. fighter opposition as impenetrable as in earlier attacks, and several more planes fell in flames.
Box scores for the D-Day air battles are most difficult to determine, and may best be set forth in tabular form as follows:
Allied and Enemy Losses, 30 June 1943 Allied Losses Japanese Losses American figures 21 planes
1 Transport sunk
1 Destroyer damaged
106 planes Japanese figures 50 planes
1 Cruiser sunk
2 Destroyers sunk
8 Transports damaged
2 Destroyers damaged
By 1630 90mm Battery E (Captain William E. Tracy) of the 9th Defense Battalion was in place on Kokorana Island. Several "gun teams"
of the Special Weapons Group had already fired at the enemy. But until the Marines and Argus 11 could get their radars operating, preliminary warnings of enemy air attack would have to emanate from the destroyer screen or from coastwatchers on islands farther north. Ignoring the adverse conditions, the Marines, with the help of Seabees, had unloaded two cargo ships, had reduced an enemy machine-gun nest, and while reconnoitering for gun positions had killed several Japanese.19
For all his efforts on D-Day, Kusaka could show only minor success. The BETTY sighted early that morning, and the heavy air attacks later in the day served to delay the unloading of the ships, forced to take evasive measures. The midafternoon strike, directed against the shipping, damaged the McCawley to such an extent that she lay dead in the water. That night a friendly PT boat mistook her for an enemy transport and sank her. Luckily, Admiral Turner had sent most of his staff and all of his records to Camp Crocodile on Guadalcanal before the operation. Therefore, when forced to transfer his flag at sea, he accomplished this rapidly and with little loss of life. He thus continued in active command almost without interruption and witnessed the firm establishment of the Rendova beachhead before nightfall.20
The outcome of the D-Day landings elated all echelons of command. To Admiral Halsey the Japanese failure to attack Turner in strength while he lay to off Renard Sound, nearly immobile and particularly vulnerable, indicated that the foe was in no position to take vigorous retaliatory measures to an advance. Halsey's air commander, Admiral Fitch, attributed the tardiness with which the enemy struck Turner first to their system of staging aircraft from Rabaul to other bases in the south before making a strike, and secondly to the lack of experience on the part of their pilots. Having received little or no training in night operations, they had to await daylight before taking off. General Harmon, commanding all Army forces in the South Pacific for Admiral Halsey, reported to his superiors in Washington that the situation on shore was excellent.21
The Japanese on the other hand, having surmised correctly that Halsey's next target lay in the Central Solomons, were not nearly so surprised by the fact of the landing as by the speed of its accomplishment. But as they had never believed Turner capable of unloading and departing in less than 12 hours, they overestimated the amount of time available to them for launching a counterattack. Sasaki and Ota, moreover, had expected the Allies to land directly on New Georgia and had deployed their forces to meet such an attack.
Admiral Halsey, usually right in his estimate of enemy capabilities, was partly wrong this time. Indeed, Kusaka had demonstrated that he was in no position to retaliate to Halsey's move. But Halsey's antagonist had not yet shown his hand; some of his destroyers already were steaming out of the Shortlands to blast Turner's shipping and the new beachhead. Postponement of Air Attack Force deployment to the Shortlands had forced most of the Japanese "eagles" to fly from Rabaul and Buka and then assemble in Southern Bougainville and the Shortlands for their attacks. Once they reached those forward fields, they would launch a violent counteroffensive from the air that would continue unabated for days.
Having overestimated the effect of the "I" Operation in April and influenced by his pilot's exaggerated reports of success on D-Day, Kusaka believed that he had struck the Allies a serious blow in the Central Solomons. He did, however, pay tribute to the tenacious air interference of Marine and Navy fighter planes, which prevented him from delivering a knockout punch at that time. This would have to come later.22
Very early on D-Day morning Rear Admiral Aaron S. Merrill's 12th Cruiser Division had plastered the Buin-Shortlands area for 15 minutes in the hope of neutralizing enemy airfields there. This bombardment was to have been followed by strikes by MacArthur's heavy
A 90MM GUN of the 9th Defense Battalion rolls down the ramp of an LST beached on Rendova. The TD-9 towing this weapon could not negotiate the mud inland and was in turn towed by a TD-18 nearly twice its size.
bombers on Rabaul's airdromes and dawn raids by ComAirSols Strike Command (Colonel Christian F. Schilt) on Kahili, Munda and Vila. But, during the night of 29-30 June, a solid weather front closed in on the Solomons and Bismarcks, denying Merrill adequate observation of his effort and preventing the scheduled air attacks from taking off. Thus, despite the shelling, the Japanese had their Southern Bougainville bases in full operation shortly after daylight, and were able to launch the air raids described above.
The night of D-Day was relatively quiet. No hostile aircraft interfered with beachhead development. "Snipers,"22a who had harassed the Landing Force throughout the day, withdrew to Rendova's interior after dark.
The abominable weather that hindered movements on Rendova during the day, allied itself with the Americans that night for it interfered with Kusaka's planned naval counterattack. Kusaka had directed all of the Southeast Area Fleet destroyers to assemble in the Shortlands during the evening of 30 June, and then move out to Rendova that night and deliver a crushing blow to the Americans. Only five destroyers reached the rendezvous area in time to join in the expected attack. These ships arrived off
the west coast of Rendova at 0130 on 1 July, but an extremely heavy squall prevented them from making a landfall. They therefore had to withdraw without accomplishing anything.
Rendova: The Second Day
D-plus 1 (1 July) found the Landing Force feverishly working in the jungle heat, rain and mud to expand the Rendova beachhead. On this day the second echelon of the Landing Force arrived in LST's, bringing with it the 9th Defense Battalion's 155mm Batteries A and B and additional 90mm and Special Weapons Group units. Assisted by the ever helpful, cooperative Seabees, the Marines rapidly unloaded their ships.
Adverse conditions hampered all activities, but by dint of nearly superhuman effort and exercise of considerable ingenuity Captain Henry H. Reichner had Battery A in position at 1800, prepared to register the following morning. Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. Forney, then attached to the 9th Defense as an observer, had already set up an observation post in a 130-foot tree on a small knoll behind the Battery positions. A fire direction center, in communication with Hester's command post (some 1500 yards eastward down the beach), was established. Battery B (Captain Walter C. Wells) had cleared fields of fire, and constructed emplacements into which to move the next day. O'Neil's Group now came under the operational control of Brigadier General Harold R. Barker, the 43d Division artillery commander.
Because of a high water table and the oozing mud that filled below-surface foxholes as quickly as they were dug, the Marines hit upon the expedient of building above-surface personnel shelters with coconut logs and sandfilled containers of all types. Gun emplacements were protected in similar fashion. Although backbreaking and time-consuming, these labors paid dividends, for during the frequent air raids that followed, nearly all the Marines enjoyed some measure of protection.
During the course of the day patrols from the 169th Field Artillery Battalion, protected by 43d Division Infantrymen and South Pacific Scouts, landed on Roviana Island. There they sought sites, to be occupied when the main body of that artillery unit arrived on 4 July.23
The only enemy interference on 1 July was an air attack by an undetermined number of VALS and ZEKES at 1015. Allied fighter cover intercepted these before they reached the beachhead and turned them back. American losses included nine fighters, but five of the pilots soon reached friendly lines.24 This effective protection enabled troops on the ground to continue their labors without undue interruption.
Rendova: D-plus 2
Still another heavy storm drenched the Southern and Central Solomons the morning of 2 July. ComAirSols at Guadalcanal, reluctant to expend aircraft in such weather, recalled the fighter umbrella about 1010. About 1335, as the weather began to clear in the vicinity of Rendova, a flight of 24 enemy two-engine bombers (BETTYS), covered by 44 fighters (ZEKES), approached to attack Rendova's crowded beaches. At this moment Battery A's 155mm guns were completing a series of registration shots on Munda airfield; two guns of Battery B had just moved into position. In the 90mm Group, Battery C (Captain Milton M. Cardwell) was preparing emplacements for its weapons; operators of Battery E's water-soaked 602 radar were leisurely draining useless Diesel fuel from its gasoline tank.25 The 24th Seabees continued their seemingly endless task of road construction, felling trees, and other duties considered routine. Everywhere soldiers, sailors and Marines
proceeded with their normal functions, many too busy to construct personal foxholes or slit trenches.
Winging in from the south, the foe skirted Rendova Mountain and came over the beachhead before anyone knew planes were in the vicinity. Inexperienced ground troops, lacking sufficient training in aircraft identification, stood in open-mouthed admiration of the "friendly B-25's." Those few Marines with antiaircraft experience at Guadalcanal and in the Russells took one glance, screamed a warning, and dived for the nearest shelter. There was no time to put the heavy antiaircraft guns into action. Ground troops fired rifles, machine guns and 20mm and 40mm guns at the planes. Although the Americans observed no hits and made no claims, they actually inflicted considerable minor damage on the BETTYS. Nevertheless, the Japanese airmen dropped some 50 to 60 small 110 or 132-pound bombs, with unusual accuracy upon American positions.
Although a later survey showed that the enemy had laid a good pattern, with craters about 25 yards apart, material damage was not great, considering the crowded condition of the beachhead and the smallness of the target area. Fragmentation bombs hit the 43d Division's medical clearing station and damaged many craft in the Naval Boat Pool. Two fires flared in the 9th Defense Battalion supply and gasoline dump. The bombs also slightly damaged two of Battery A's 155mm guns, knocked out the inoperable 602 radar, demolished one TD-18 prime mover, hit three amphibious tractors, and put two 40mm guns out of action (one permanently). To add to Captain Reichner's woes in the Battery A area, the majority of the gunpowder on the Battery position was ablaze, while a burning truck loaded with small arms ammunition spewed popping bullets with abandon. Compounding the difficulties, one enemy bomb--a dud--landed squarely between the trails of a 155mm, effectively putting it out of action until the battalion bomb disposal officer removed the danger.
In the 24th Construction Battalion sector, a small finger of land jutting into Renard Sound, a gelignite dump exploded causing more casualties and damage than the bombs themselves. In this area, then inexcusably crowded with soldiers, sailors and Marines, 64 men were killed and about 89 suffered wounds. Medical officers' reports indicate that the Allies sustained well over 200 casualties on 2 July. Seabees promptly nicknamed their tiny peninsula "Suicide Point."26
This air raid revealed a number of deficiencies in American planning and actual conduct of operations. Some were obvious.
First, the Allies could not maintain a continuous fighter cover over Rendova from fields at Guadalcanal and in the Russells, particularly when weather closed in home facilities. The air warning system failed because of extreme dampness and a stupid mistake made weeks before at a rear area supply base. The Americans had become too dependent on coastwatchers, who could not report on-coming Japanese planes flying outside the range of ear or eye. Sometimes the coastwatchers could not transmit information they had gathered because enemy ground forces were operating close to coastwatcher hide-outs.
Second, the Americans had permitted a concentration of ground troops with insufficient foxholes or slit trenches. To several observers this indicated either poor training or lack of combat experience, but it is more probable that the cause was the torrential downpour that made underground shelters vertible swimming holes, filled to the brim with water. A man had a choice: Either stay on the surface and take a chance with bomb fragments, or dive into a foxhole or crater and drown. Moreover, troops had been working round the clock to move the huge piles of supplies dumped on the beach to dispersal areas inland. They just did not have the time to construct above-gound shelters.
Finally, there was inadequate protection against high-flying planes during the first 72 hours. The ineffectiveness of small antiaircraft weapons, such as those put into action by the
9th Defense Battalion's Special Weapons Group, especially pointed up this deficiency.27 Moreover, the necessity of training troops in plane identification and establishing local antiaircraft watches was manifest.
After the damage was done, ComAirSols returned the fighter umbrella to Rendova, where seven planes of VF-11 and eight of VMF-213 went on combat air patrol. At about 1730 the Japanese tried to follow up their earlier success when two waves of 25 ZEKES each bored in toward the island. Corsairs and Wildcats, diving from a great altitude, broke up the enemy formations before they reached the beachhead or shipping of the third echelon, then in the harbor. Six hostile and three friendly planes fell in this battle.28
That night (2-3 July) General Hester began ferrying small elements of the 172d Infantry across Blanche Channel into New Georgia to build up his force for the Munda drive. Inasmuch as the handful of defenders in this area had already been cleared out, only coral niggerheads and pounding surf caused difficulties for these first and succeeding increments.29
Before dawn the Japanese cruiser Yubari, accompanied by nine destroyers attempted a bombardment of the Rendova beachhead and the harbor. Now the bad weather and the smallness of the beachhead aided the Allies, for all hostile shells fell harmlessly in the jungle, none hitting the target area. On their retirement, the Japanese force tangled with three of Lieutenant Commander Kelly's MTB's, but both sides escaped without damage.30
Preparing for the Push
Daybreak found the New Georgia Occupation Force carrying out Hester's plan. Small infantry units, embarked in LCM's, moved to New Georgia's offshore islands; artillery emplaced on Roviana Island began lobbing shells in the direction of Munda and Lambeti Plantation. On Rendova ground units began cleaning up the debris left by yesterday's air raid, caring for the wounded and, because of the lack of a suitable cemetery site, preparing to bury the dead at sea. The large numbers of trucks, tractors and heavy weapons still stuck in axle-deep mud in the middle of "roads" attested to the excessive cost of transporting huge amounts of "luxury equipment"31 on D-Day. And the foul weather did not clear.
Battery B, 9th Defense Battalion, put all of its 155mm guns in action and, joined by three guns of Battery A, registered on Munda airfield and Kokengolo Hill (a prominent terrain feature in the airfield area). Battery C, 90mm Group, with all of its weapons emplaced, prepared to assist Battery E in the antiaircraft defense of the beachhead. Additional supplies and troops of the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry moved into the Rendova area with the fourth echelon of shipping.
One Red air alert disrupted the routine at about 1330, but no enemy appeared. A little over an hour later a mixed force of approximately 35 ZEKES and SALLYS attempted an attack, but the 23-plane combat air patrol, augmented by 10 Army P-38's, drove the enemy off, claiming the destruction of six ZEKES and five SALLYS and admitting the loss of three planes.32 At 1555, 43 TBF's from Strike Command, escorted by Marine, Navy, Army and New Zealand pilots of Fighter Command, hit Munda Point heavily. Ignoring intense antiaircraft fire, the Allied flyers pushed their attack home, returned to their base without loss, and reported that they had inflicted terrific damage on the enemy.
HUMAN CONVEYER BELTS UNLOADED LCI's of the second and third echelons landing at Rendova. Here one group of "zoot-suited" soldiers passes equipment and supplies from ship to beach. Unloading accomplished in this fashion proved efficacious and rapid. (Navy Photo.)
Fourth of July Celebration
By Independence Day Rendova could be considered "secure." Those few defenders who had survived the initial assault either escaped to New Georgia or fell victim to Hester's "anti-sniper" patrols. Although hostile planes harassed the Americans at night, large-scale, daylight air attacks generally failed, thanks to the excellent fighter umbrella. Two Japanese surface raids had proved abortive. American losses thus far consisted only of the McCawley sunk on D-Day and damage of varying degrees and natures, suffered mostly on D-plus 2, to guns, vehicles, installations and supplies. The 9th Defense Battalion had suffered seven killed and 22 wounded. Wickham Anchorage, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor were now in friendly hands. Tonight the Northern Landing Group would move against the Enogai-Bairoko area. (See Chapter IV.)
Today, in accordance with his plan, Hester intended to move across Blanche Channel and Roviana Lagoon to mass his troops east of Zanana Beach for the advance on Munda. First Lieutenant John R. Wismer's 3d Platoon, Battery G, 9th Defense Battalion received the antiaircraft and beach defense mission for Zanana.33
MARINES CELEBRATE THEIR VICTORY in the 4 July engagement with enemy aircraft by stenciling Japanese flags on the barrel of a 90mm gun. Lieutenant Colonel William J. Scheyer, 9th Defense Battalion commander, is at the extreme right.
The situation was such as to make even the most grumpy combat leader smile. On Rendova the radar sets operated satisfactorily; 90mm guns, now emplaced, were ready for action; both the Marine 155mm batteries delivered harassing fire on supply dumps north of Munda airfield. On New Georgia the Allies already held a shallow beachhead; patrols pushed into the jungle, found no enemy. On islands of the reef along New Georgia's south coast, Army artillery had occupied positions from which to support the planned infantry advance. Some LCM's had already carried troops of the 172d Infantry to Zanana Beach. Transports in Rendova Harbor were unloading the 37th Division's 136th FA Battalion on Kokorana's beaches. A 40-plane umbrella droned over Blanche Channel; eight B-25's of Strike Command were attacking Munda Point without opposition.34
At 1350 radar screens picked up pips indicating over 80 "bandits" (enemy planes)
approaching from the northwest. Swinging in over Munda the enemy formation, consisting of 17 BETTYS at 8,000 feet covered by 66 ZEKES at 14,800 feet, reversed course over Blanche Channel and began its bomb run from the east. At this point the ZEKES broke off to jump the Strike Command planes over Munda, a flight of 24 F4U's some ten miles south of Rendova, and a flight of 16 P-40's just west of the island.
Vapor trails of dog fights crisscrossed the sky as the BETTYS, in close formation, held course over the beachhead. Battery E's 268-B fire control radar plotted the course and transmitted the information to the Marines. At 1410 the cacophonic chatter of a 40mm gun heralded the opening of the holiday celebration. Within a few seconds the enemy planes became the target for every antiaircraft weapon on the island, joined in happy futility by a number of weapons with insufficient range or destructive power for such employment. Men of the 90mm Battery E reported 12 BETTYS and one fighter downed; the Special Weapons Group claimed six aircraft; the umbrella was credited with an additional nine. On the other hand, the Japanese while admitting loss of 11 planes, exaggeratedly and incorrectly announced the destruction of 23 Allied fighters, the sinking of five transports and many smaller craft. In any event two facts stand out above all others: First, the Marine antiaircraft work that day was effective; second, after this abortive raid the Japanese Army abandoned air assault operations against Rendova.35
Although ending favorably for the Allies, this battle was not won without loss. Four bombers dropped their loads to kill six (including one Marine officer) and wound thirteen (including three Marine enlisted men), holed two LCI's (which had to be run on the beach), destroyed a fuel dump, and damaged some supplies.
Shortly afterward Strike Command, covered by fighters of the Rendova air patrol, again hit Munda. This time a 37-plane force of SBD's and TBF's released 28 tons of bombs on Lambeti Plantation and the enemy bivouac area to the east. Despite a fairly heavy antiaircraft barrage, the American planes suffered no damage.36
Delays caused by terrain, weather and air attacks, forced General Hester, late that afternoon, to set back his scheduled offensive by two days. Nevertheless, the 9th Defense Battalion unit designated as the defense force for Zanana Beach was dispatched to its objective.
Just before dark Wismer led his force, embarked in LCM's, across Blanche Channel, through Onaiavisi Entrance and on to Zanana Beach. Because of low tide and coral niggerheads, the men did not land until after dusk. The lateness of the hour, and the approach of night--that in the jungle falls with the suddenness of an unexpected explosion and blinds even the most light-sensitive eye--prevented the Marines from setting up their four .50-calibre and four 40mm guns. Instead, they extended and reinforced a perimeter, already occupied by a platoon of the 169th Infantry, and dug in to await daylight.37 The night passed without incident.
Build-up on New Georgia
At daybreak 5 July Hester gave the signal to resume the shore-to-shore movement. As small boats shuttled back and forth, troops and supplies poured into the landing points, and the New Georgia perimeter expanded. Here, as on Rendova, heavily loaded trucks churned the sticky mud; before long all roads became streams of slime, impassable to vehicles, and supplies had to be manhandled from the shoreline to the dumps.
About 1230, while troops on the ground
Rendova Harbor AA Defenses
4 July 1943
struggled to prepare for the Munda drive, a coastwatcher on Vella Lavella gave an air raid alarm. He had just sighted an undetermined number of VALS flying down the Slot. At this time Fighter Command had deployed its combat air patrol in the vicinity of Rice Anchorage to protect the beachhead established there during the night. A force of 16 P-39's and P-40's was on station to the east over Wickham Anchorage. There was no umbrella immediately over the Rendova area.
Upon receiving the coastwatcher's report, Allied fighters moved to intercept. But the enemy did not approach Rendova. Instead, 25 ZEKES peeled off to engage the Army and New Zealand aircraft over Wickham Anchorage, while the remainder of the flight attempted unsuccessfully to fight its way through to the Russells. After this action Fighter Command claimed destruction of six ZEKES and ten bombers. One P-39 and one P-40 were lost.38
That afternoon Strike Command sent 20 SBD's and 18 TBF's to attack Munda with 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs. Hoping to
conceal their antiaircraft positions, the foe did not shoot until the American planes were irrevokably committed. When opened, the enemy fire was sporadic and ineffectual, and all the light bombers returned to Guadalcanal safely.
Another Red alert sounded at 1825, but no hostile planes appeared. Despite the interruptions occasioned by these air raid alarms, Nester had moved the bulk of his force to New Georgia by dark. The horrible terrain--dark and nearly impenetrable jungle interspersed with spiny coral ridges--and the mud gumbo would delay his operation even further. Accordingly he directed the 155mm Group to continue firing harassing missions on Munda airfield, and to take under fire all enemy activity on islands off Munda Point, while Army artillery placed screening fires between the enemy and the small perimeters on New Georgia.39 Early the next morning Hester would place an advance command post on Sasavele Island, the better to coordinate his projected attack.
Queen's Gambit Refused
Like an expert chess player in a championship match, Admiral Halsey had now made the opening moves. His pawns at Wickham, Segi, and Viru40 guarded avenues of approach for his naval bishops and rooks. His knights, exemplified by ComAirSols, had staved off the first enemy riposte in the big air battles that opened the Central Solomons campaign. And his queen, the reinforced infantry, was in a position from which it could bear on the enemy's king--Munda airfield.
Admiral Kusaka, playing the pieces on the Japanese side of the board, met this opening gambit with uncoordinated air and surface attacks. His outposts, like a thin line of
ZANANA BEACH DEFENSES were emplaced before a backdrop of black jungle. This 40mm gun team, having just received a "Red alert," anxiously scans the sky for signs of enemy planes. Note how the barrel of the gun blends in with the background.
APD "DENT" STEAMS INTO TULAGI HARBOR after participating in Central Solomons landings. In the background is CL Honolulu. (Navy Photo.)
unsupported pawns, fell one by one. They would not be in position to protect his queen and guard his king position when Halsey made an inevitable, coordinated advance. Kusaka realized he would need lots of help and need it fast if he were to checkmate Halsey or play him to a stalemate.
On 4 July the Japanese commanders at Rabaul held a conference. American air supremacy was complete in an area that Tokyo felt was vital; Allied bombing of their Central Solomons positions was intense. Their feeler counterattacks, with the exception of the 2 July air raid, had failed miserably. What to do?
Bearing in mind the Imperial General Headquarters directive to hold the Central Solomons at all costs, Kusaka and Imamura finally reached a joint agreement. They would direct their main effort against New Georgia, and hold New Guinea with local forces already deployed there. Imamura would reinforce the Southeast Detached Force with 4,000 men from the Eighth Area Army.
That night (4-5 July) the first echelon of Imamura's reinforcing unit sailed toward Kolombangara in four destroyers. But a chance encounter with Admiral Ainsworth's Task Group 36.1, then supporting the Northern Landing Group, forced it to turn back.41
The enemy tried again the following evening. During the day Hester had moved the bulk of his infantry across Blanche Channel; Kusaka therefore must succeed tonight if he were to counteract this maneuver. That afternoon, wearing his flag in the Chokai, the Eighth Fleet Commander (Vice Admiral Tomoshige Samejima) moved to the Shortlands to give the operation his personal supervision.
Just after dark, under cover of a heavy weather front, Rear Admiral Teruo Akiyama, IJN, steamed from the Shortlands with 10 destroyers, for a fast Tokyo Express run to Kolombangara. Three ships of the convoy served as a screen for two transport echelons, one of three destroyers, a second of four. The decks of the transporting destroyers, crowded with troops, had all the appearance of Times Square on New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, Admiral Halsey, alerted at midafternoon by coastwatchers and air spot of this impending move, had ordered Admiral Ainsworth with
three cruisers and four destroyers to return to Kula Gulf and intercept the enemy.42
Shortly after midnight (5-6 July) the first Japanese transport echelon made its landfall near Vila and began to debark its troops. But when the second unit, covered by the screening destroyers, rounded the northeast tip of Kolombangara, Ainsworth made contact. The battle was joined. Gun flashes lighted the night; the sounds of shell bursts, exploding ships and torpedos rent the air. By 0330 the American cruiser Helena and the hostile destroyers Niizuki and Nagatsuki were out of the battle, either sunk or beached. The Japanese survivors retired, having succeeded in landing only 850 troops.
The next day Admiral Kusaka himself, with sublime courage, transferred his flag from Rabaul to Buka, in order to get closer to the scene of action and to supervise the reinforcement of the Central Solomons. Meanwhile he acquainted Tokyo with his plan. Adequate defense of the area was possible only if Imperial Headquarters would allocate an additional Army division to the Southeast Area as a reinforcing element for New Georgia. The admiral believed that 2,000 new troops could hold the Rice Anchorage area, 3,000 the Munda airfield area, and 2,000 a line between the Americans and the airfield itself. Then, as a counterattacking force to sweep the Allies from New Georgia, he would use 4,000 men.
These elaborate plans met one insurmountable barrier: The Japanese Army central authorities would not allot the Southeast Area the one additional division deemed essential. In fact, even General Imamura harbored doubts that so important an island as Bougainville could be held; furthermore he had lost confidence in his ability to defend New Guinea.
Admiral Koga, the Combined Fleet commander, believed that the Solomons as a whole should be held. But he felt that the best way to do this job was at sea, not on land. He hoped to entice Admiral Nimitz into permitting Halsey to commit a large part of the Pacific Fleet in the Solomons area. Then the Combined Fleet could sortie and destroy the Americans in piecemeal fashion. Ergo, he--Koga--would hold the main body of his fleet, intact at Truk, and give Kusaka a few additional ships and some planes to serve as bait for the South Pacific Force.
Because his superiors could not reach agreement, Kusaka had to decline Halsey's gambit. He had to defend the area that "must be held at all costs" with the forces at hand.43
Attack out of the Beachhead
Only slight skirmishes interrupted developments on New Georgia during the first seven days of July. Torrential rain, unyielding jungle and viscid mud proved much more formidable adversaries than General Sasaki's Southeast Detached Force. The Japanese, evidently preferring to sit in their prepared emplacements and await attack, failed to launch any serious effort against the American positions. Harassment by enemy float planes at night caused little more than loss of sleep. On the other hand, Marine 155mm fire interdicted the Munda airfield, while Army artillery placed close in fires in front of the two separate perimeters from dusk to dawn.
General Hester's westward advance proceeded with agonizing slowness.44 The infantry experienced untoward difficulties in moving to the Barike River line of departure. Naturally there was confusion, but the very nature of the terrain compounded the problem. As the two regiments crept forward, the 169th Infantry on the right, operating far inland in extremely heavy growth, fell behind the 172d advancing down the coast. Thus, even before the Americans had reached the Barike, a gap was created through which small hostile patrols filtered to Hester's rear.
By 7 July forward elements of both regiments had closed the river, but only the 172d was ready to begin the attack. Overly imaginative soldiers reported that the previous night
Zanana & Piraka Beaches
several enemy patrols had infiltrated the 3d Battalion, 169th's lines, and that fanatic Japanese soldiers, armed with knives and grenades, had jumped right into American foxholes. Early the next morning, shortly after Colonel Eason had resumed his advance, a small Japanese outpost of Colonel Hirata's 229th Infantry engaged the soldiers and held them up until about noon.45 As the Barike was only about 3,000 yards west of Zanana Beach, the front lines were dangerously close to the command post and supply dump area at the landing point. General Hester, understandably anxious to get his attack rolling, ordered Lieutenant Blake to bring his Marine tanks to Zanana the next day.
Accordingly, Blake made another reconnaissance to locate the most suitable routes of approach to the front and rendezvous areas from which tanks could sortie to assault the foe. Meanwhile, the 169th Infantry chopped its way toward the Barike while engineers, following behind, painfully laid corduroy and coral roads.
Over on Rendova, as succeeding echelons of TF-31 brought in the first major reinforcing elements, including the 37th Division's 145th Infantry (less the 3d Battalion), Americans dredged a camp-site out of the mud. Living in pyramidal tents, men were now sleeping on cots, thus attesting to the lack of enemy ground activity. Despite three air raids throughout the day, the 155mm Batteries registered and fired for effect on Munda's beach defenses and air strip. Battery A engaged targets on Baanga Island, where lookouts had noted hostile gunfire on 5 July; Battery B fired on Nususongo Island, where enemy boat activity had been sighted.46
In the air the opposing forces had another of their daily encounters. On 7 July, however, radar picked up the "bandits" long before they reached Rendova. Those few that filtered through the air screen met 90mm and small-arms fire; thus they inflicted but little damage when they bombed and strafed the Allied positions. By the day's end ComAirSols claimed destruction of ten ZEKES and six BETTYS at the cost of one F4U.47 Strike Command dispatched 17 SBD's and 18 TBF's to Enogai Inlet, to attack known enemy installations with 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs in support of the approach of the Northern Landing Group.
Early the following day (8 July), Marine lookouts spotted an unidentified dinghy on the edge of a mangrove swamp near Zanana Beach. Higher headquarters, busy moving Blake's tanks to Zanana, building roads in the beachhead area, and expediting the movement of the 169th to the line of departure, took little note of this unsubstantiated report.
The day passed quietly enough, with routine preparations for launching the drive on Munda on 9 July. Although enemy planes again raided the American positions, Fighter Command, for the first day since D-Day, reported no contacts. But antiaircraft batteries engaged the intruders without success.
At about 1700, sentries observed a single enemy soldier at the edge of the Zanana Beach mangrove swamp, within 100 feet of a 3d Platoon, Special Weapons Group, gun position. The Marines promptly fired upon and wounded the Japanese who, upon interrogation after capture, revealed that he was one of six men who landed that morning from the previously mentioned dinghy to reconnoiter and harass the American lines of communication. Lieutenant Wismer immediately organized a small combat patrol, entered the swamp, killed two and captured the other three enemy. Wismer's action this day provided the first prisoners captured on New Georgia.48
Next morning (9 July) at 0300 one of the heaviest artillery preparations thus far in the Pacific war signaled the beginning of Hester's assault. All artillery battalions joined in laying prearranged fires on targets facing the 43d Division. At 0500 destroyers joined in, conducting a naval gunfire bombardment of Lambeti Plantation and Munda Point. The assault regiments, out of contact and lacking direct communication with one another, crossed the line of departure at 0800. A half-hour later Strike Command heavily hit Munda Point with dive and torpedo bombers. Speaking of this preparation, General Sasaki said:49
The 43d Division jumped off on schedule but moved forward most slowly. Infantrymen, artillerymen, engineers and supporting elements, exhausted by the effort expended in advancing to the line of departure, lacked aggressiveness and only half-heartedly patrolled to the front and flanks. This prevented the acquisition of vital intelligence information and permitted the foe to close in on the American lines where they escaped artillery preparations and prepared to meet Hester's attacks.50
NAVAL GUNFIRE AT NIGHT, while an impressive sight, proved relatively ineffectual against the well-entrenched enemy. On 12 July, when this photograph was shot, the impact area was far in advance of the front lines. The Japanese simply moved close to the American positions, however, and escaped the pounding our naval forces had intended to give. (Army Photo.)
General Hester visited New Georgia's front lines on 12 July to acquaint himself with the situation and to take personal charge of the assault planned for the next day. On the 11th he had attached Blake's Platoon to the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel James B. Wells). Hester intended to send this reinforced unit in an assault landing on Laiana Beach, some 5,500 yards southwest of Zanana on 13 July. (See Map #11.) Meanwhile, the 172d would turn left and attack Laiana from its inland side. Seizure of Laiana would shorten the supply line between the Rendova base and the front, already over-extended and nearly impassable because of weather; and permit employment of the Marine tanks, as yet uncommitted to action.51
Hester took a quick look at the situation and decided to postpone the landing phases of the operation by one day. The badly shaken 169th Infantry, but 3,000 yards from its landing point, had fallen far behind the 172d to the left. Hester's most advanced elements were still two miles short of his goal. The 172d, despite easier going along the coastal track was held up near a trail junction just east of Lambeti Plantation. These assault regiments still were out of contact with one another; communications could be conducted only through higher headquarters to the rear; small, infiltrating hostile groups continually harassed the flanks, lines of communications and rearward installations.52
Enemy patrol activity and snooper planes had kept the exhausted soldiers sleepless; the night before, a heavy but ineffectual53 naval gunfire bombardment of Munda Point had compounded the wakefulness. General Sasaki's
effective use of his 90mm mortars not only disrupted Hester's advance but also made the Americans distrustful of their own artillery. Sasaki habitually fired his mortars into the 43d Division lines whenever he himself was undergoing a shelling. Frequently this led troops on the front to believe that their own rounds were falling short.
By nightfall, 12 July, the 172d was still too far from Laiana to launch an assault the next morning. It was not until dusk the next day that the tired, dispirited regiment reached the vicinity of Laiana, and then the soldiers were too fatigued to do more than dig in for the night. General Sasaki took advantage of this situation. The 3d Battalion of the Japanese 13th Infantry Regiment (Major Takabayashi), which had arrived on New Georgia two nights before, moved into the gap in the American lines.54
At 0800 on 14 July, as the 172d Infantry pushed on toward Ilangana (see Map #11), landing boats bearing the 3d Battalion, 103d, and Marine tanks chugged from Rendova to Laiana. The infantry stormed ashore without incident, but a previously unobserved enemy 75mm gun to the left (west) of the beach brought the tank lighters under ineffective fire. Blake's tanks waddled ashore and proceeded to a protected rendezvous area where they remained until the next morning. Meanwhile, First Lieutenant Colin J. Reeves deployed his "gun team" of the 9th Defense Battalion's Special Weapons Group for antiaircraft defense of the new beachhead. Laiana would soon become New Georgia's principal debarkation point for troops and supplies.
Throughout the day the 172d, then inching westward toward Munda, met increasing
LOOKING EASTWARD OVER LAIANA BEACH a month after the battle ended. This is the "relatively clear" Ilangana Peninsula area, where the 43d Division was supposed to have had "easy going." Now all traces of the hot fight have been removed and an all-weather road follows the coast. (Navy Photo.)
resistance on its right (inland) flank, now manned by the 3d Battalion. Immediately ahead of this unit lay a steep hill, whose sparsely wooded, nearly brushless sides afforded the defenders ample fields of fire. Well concealed, mutually supporting bunkers, connected by trenches transversing the hill's crest, successfully thwarted every frontal assault or flanking movement. Artillery or naval gunfire concentrations proved ineffectual in dislodging the Japanese, safely ensconced in sturdily constructed personnel shelters. Only the direct hit of a heavy shell would knock out a position.
Likewise, on the left (beach) flank, the 2d Battalion faced severe opposition in extremely heavy growth from an undetermined number of enemy in strong points both on the beach and inland. On both flanks the advance had now halted.55
Admiral Halsey, understandably anxious to get the campaign rolling, directed General Harmon to determine the cause of the delay in the seizure of Munda and take any remedial action he deemed necessary. After a thorough investigation, therefore, Harmon ordered Major General Oscar W. Griswold, the XIV Corps commander, to assume control of the New Georgia Occupation Force.
Several factors influenced this decision. By this time the greater part of two divisions of Griswold's corps--the 43d and 37th (some elements of which even then were already engaged on the front lines)--were irrevokably
TANK LIGHTERS UNDER FIRE from a Japanese 75mm gun west of Laiana Beach. These craft were bringing Blake's 9th Defense Battalion Tank Platoon to the support of the 103d Infantry, then on shore. The Marines suffered no losses in this incident.
committed to the TOENAILS operation, while a third, the 25th, was scheduled to move in shortly. With the vast majority of his troops involved in combat, it was only natural that Griswold should command them. Moreover, the moment he was relieved of responsibility for the Occupation Force, General Hester would be able to devote his full, undivided attention to the needs of his own 43d Division.
According to a plan of long standing, Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson would replace Admiral Turner as CTF-31 on 15 July. Harmon felt that this was the logical time to install a new ground commander. Both reliefs, therefore, were accomplished on that date. Henceforward the ground aspects of the campaign would be conducted under Griswold's direction.
Marine Tanks in the Attack56
At 0730, 15 July, Blake (now a captain) ordered his men into their tanks. He directed Gunnery Sergeant Charles L. Spurlock to take charge of three vehicles, proceed inland with Army guides to the 3d Battalion command post, and support that unit in its attack. Blake himself led the other three tanks toward the command post of the 2d Battalion.
Captain Blake followed a narrow, muddy jeep trail along the coast for several hundred yards, but this ended suddenly in thick jungle growth. The tanks broke their own path through the unending thickets, occasionally bellying up on unseen logs, or reversing to bypass stumps. After a tortuous trip, he arrived at his destination and reported to Lieutenant Colonel James T. Walsh, the 2d Battalion's commanding officer. Walsh briefed the captain on the dispositions of friendly and enemy troops, assigned six infantrymen to each tank as close-in protection, and designated scouts as guides. Approximately 75 yards forward of the front lines near the banks of a small, shallow jungle stream, the leading vehicle emerged into an area partly cleared by shell fire. An alert crewman spotted the fire
MARINE TANKMEN INSPECT DAMAGE suffered by their machine during action in mid-July on Ilangana Peninsula. This superficial damage was soon repaired and the tank back in action the following day.
port of a bunker, almost hidden by brush, on the other side of the stream.
At once the tanks fanned to wedge formation and commenced hurling 37mm high explosive and canister ammunition at the target. Shell bursts mowed the underbrush to reveal additional bunkers and grass shacks; these too were taken under fire. When several Japanese were sighted scurrying through the jungle, the protecting infantrymen spread out and took up firing positions. But because of matted vegetation they could see neither their tanks nor their targets.
Although slow to develop, enemy retaliation came in the form of machine-gun fire. The first burst hit the open turret hatch of the lead vehicle, spattered the crew with lead fragments. The tanks "buttoned up" as shots pounded protective armor. Miraculously no damage or casualties resulted.
To determine the source of this fire, Blake ordered his tanks to move slowly forward. After they had proceeded 50 feet, the driver of the rearmost vehicle reported an enemy automatic weapon to the extreme left near the shore. When the Marines began to shoot in that direction, the Japanese held their fire, only to resume when the turrets swung away to seek
another target. At length, after careful scrutiny of the shore area, Blake detected the muzzle flash of a hostile machine gun in a clump of heavy brush. Efforts to hit this weapon directly were impeded first by parallax between the tank periscope and its gun bore at such close range, and second by the smoke from the 37mm gun blasts, which prevented observation of the impact area when the rounds hit. Machine guns and 37mm canister finally stripped the foliage to disclose not one, but two weapons, shooting from the rear entrances of a pair of log and coral bunkers. On these, coconuts had sprouted, thus providing excellent camouflage. Ignoring the three tanks, then not over 50 feet away, the Japanese continued to man the two guns. As soon as the Americans killed one gunner another would creep out to take his place, only to be killed in turn. Closely planted palm trees and an intervening stream (the bottom of which Blake feared too soft for fording) prevented the Marines from overrunning the opposing position.
Numerous Japanese continued to appear out of the brush and dash into the lee of the beleagured bunkers. Later examination revealed that these were members of a tank-killer unit sent forward to engage the American vehicles with magnetic mines and flame throwers.
When Blake's men found they could not maneuver to bring their antagonists under fire, they hurled armor piercing projectiles at the bunkers, and followed these with high explosive shells, fired through the resultant aperture. By this means survivors were flushed like quail from one shelter after another, to run the gamut of the tanks' bow guns. Additional defense works were handled in like manner until the Marines discerned no further hostile fire or movement.
After a last general raking of the area a supporting rifleman was hailed and told all was clear. Soldiers then occupied the sector without further incident.
On dismounting the Marines discovered many enemy dead and an amazing number of abandoned automatic weapons, not only in the vicinity of those strong points on the beach, but from others inland from which no shot was known to have been fired. Evidently the Japanese had planned to permit the tanks to penetrate as far as the tank-killer squads, and then from positions inland open up on the supporting American infantry. Fortunately Blake, knowing that inland fortifications had held up the foot troops the preceding day, had machine-gunned the entire area, killing or pinning down these enemy. When they could stand it no longer, those who survived, withdrew. Thus fell the extreme left (east) flank of the beach defenses for the Munda area.57 But many potent, enemy-held positions still remained in the Ilangana area, to be discovered later by the 103d Infantry when XIV Corps began its 25 July offensive.
Meanwhile, Gunnery Sergeant Spurlock had reached the foot of the hill facing the 3d Battalion (Major James W. Devine). Peering through his periscope, Spurlock observed five bunkers nearly concealed on the forward slope; trenches crossing the crest appeared to connect with dugouts on the reverse slope. The tanks, closely followed by soldiers, attacked at once. Cruising back and forth across the side and top of the hill, the Marines fired into all visible targets pointed out by Spurlock or by accompanying soldiers' tracer fire.
Operations on the hill became extremely difficult. At times the tankmen could not depress the muzzles of their guns sufficiently to bring fire to bear on the targets. At one point, a magnetic antitank mine, tossed at Spurlock's machine fell short and burst upon the ground. Grenades from launchers ("Knee-Mortars") or thrown by hand rattled off the sides, one exploding on the front armor and cracking the glass in the driver's vision slot. The resistance soon melted, however, and the infantry moved in to hold the newly won position.
Late that afternoon as the lead tank returned to the base, one of the most fantastic accidents of the campaign occurred when a log entered the driver's open door, deflected upward into the turret, and broke Sergeant Spurlock's leg. This was the only severe Marine casualty resulting from the day's activity. No vehicles were damaged.
On 16 July the 9th Defense Battalion tanks rejoined the units they had supported the preceding day. On the right, three jumped off from the rear of the previously seized hill, maneuvered around its base through heavy underbrush, and climbed up into a 200-yard long saddle between the American positions and an enemy-held knoll to the west. The attack began shortly after 1000 and continued with various interruptions caused by rugged terrain and visual difficulties until about 1430. Four or five pillboxes along with their occupants fell to the Marines, and closely following infantry quickly seized the high ground. The slight volume of small-arms fire received by the tanks succeeded only in battering the paint on the Bulls and damaging vision devices. As a result of excellent tank-infantry coordination the 2d Battalion gained this important ground with little loss.
On the coast, meanwhile, Captain Blake made two sorties. Six riflemen covered each tank as the Marines plowed through brush and palm trees some 200 yards along the crest of a coastal embankment. From this spot five bunkers, a grass shack, and a number of dugouts were destroyed. It soon became apparent that the dazed enemy would not or could not fight; the sector, therefore, could be occupied immediately. Suddenly Blake discovered that the supporting infantry had failed to follow him.
The dangers and difficulties experienced by the soldiers in that dense growth were tremendous. Early in the sortie, for example, one machine attempted to fire at a bunker with high explosive shells. But because of parallax, the first round severed a tree causing it to fall across the turret and crash upon the head of a nearby rifleman. Another soldier was injured when he dove behind a tank for protection, just as it began to back up to maneuver between some trees. To protect the tanks, the troops had to stay close, but in staying close they were endangered not only by the vehicles themselves, but also by ricocheting projectiles. Tank-infantry operations in deep jungle at this stage of the war were far from perfect; but the Marine tankmen and the 43d division soldiers were proving that such operations were possible.
After a long wait on the newly won ground, Blake led his machines back to the line of departure, informed the battalion commander of the lack of opposition and received assurance
CAPTAIN BLAKE EXAMINES A JAPANESE FLAMETHROWER used against him on 17 July. This weapon had sprayed Blake's vehicle with fluid, but failed to ignite. Accompanying infantrymen killed the enemy soldier and presented his weapon to the grateful Marines.
LOG AND CORAL BUNKERS opposed the American advance. More than 70 of these well-camouflaged works formed strong points on the main enemy defense line between Kia Village and Munda Airfield. Until artillery and naval gunfire cleared the thick growth, the bunkers were difficult to locate.
that the foot troops would move out at once. Blake sortied again. This time, upon reaching a position 50 to 100 yards beyond their previous point of farthest advance, the attackers came under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire. The first bursts wounded several accompanying soldiers; the rest of the foot troops abandoned the tanks, from which bullets and fragments richocheted in all directions. Now the unprotected machines were standing in a thicket so heavy that their occupants could not see more than 20 feet in any direction.
After raking the area with machine-gun and canister fire to silence the enemy, the Marines tried to reestablish contact with the soldiers. When movement was detected all about them, and thinking it to be friendly, they resumed the advance. At this point a Japanese soldier stepped out from behind a nearby tree and planted a magnetic mine in the path of the lead tank. It backed away; simultaneously, heavy explosions to front and rear rocked the machine.
The other two vehicles endured similar close attack. On one an opponent clapped a magnetic mine, which carried away the tool box, air cleaner and fender. Another adversary placed a mine or grenade between the yokes of the rear idler of the third, bulging the yoke and denting the idler. Here heavy brush enabled the foe to accomplish all this without giving the tankmen a clear view of more than a single man at a time. Despite this swift, well executed attack, the Marines responded with a deluge of machine-gun, canister, and high-explosive fire. At 1600, since no friendly troops appeared, the tanks rumbled back to their own lines. The track of the lead vehicle finally broke before reaching sanctuary, but it was eventually repaired without incident.
That evening the 145th Infantry began to relieve the 169th and the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel James B. Wells) replaced the 2d Battalion, 172d on the lines. The new units would renew the attack the next morning. At 1000, 17 July, therefore, Blake with the remaining five tanks, returned to the front line command post and there received
orders a few minutes after arrival,58 to support Company I, then encountering stiff resistance in a large thicket, a short distance behind the beach.
No sooner had the Marines entered the thicket than Japanese bullets began bouncing off the armor like hail from a tin roof. Again the infantry had to retire. One tank fired canister at a flimsy hut to the right front, where movement had been spotted. Shortly thereafter the Marines sighted what they believed to be Army aidmen hurrying toward the target. While speculating on this singular circumstance and attempting to contact a friendly soldier to learn if Americans indeed had occupied that particular hut, several men ran out of it. After slight hesitation these were identified as foe, armed with grenades and flame throwers. Both adversaries fired simultaneously, but the Marine fire was fatal. Suddenly a terrific explosion rocked the third tank in the column. An enemy soldier had slapped a magnetic mine atop the hull at the base of the turret, staving in the hull and wounding two men. As the captain swung his turret aft to view the damage, he spotted enemy lurking in the brush on both sides of the trail where, only a few minutes before, friendly troops had been deployed. Under cover of heavy fire a cable was attached to the disabled machine permitting the entire column to back out and finally, at 1400, reach American lines. Blake then reported to the battalion command post to obtain a more accurate picture of friendly and enemy dispositions and to recommend better coordination. Upon arrival, however, he was informed that the attack was to be discontinued for that day. In this sector two Marines had become casualties, one tank was permanently disabled, and no ground had been gained.
Early in July, as the Allies increased their strength on Rendova, began the advance on Munda, and effected a lodgement on Dragons Peninsula, Admiral Kusaka and General Imamura argued about the methods by which they would defend the Central Solomons. Bitter experience had taught them that piecemeal commitment of troops would not regain the initiative for Japan in the New Georgia area. Yet no other means was open, thanks to the effective naval and air barrier that Admiral Halsey had erected between the American beachheads and the Japanese bases in the Northern Solomons.
Because of Imperial Army Headquarters intransigence, the only reinforcements to come to Rabaul consisted of a few units from Admiral Koga's Combined Fleet. The land-based 21st Air Flotilla (20 fighters, 12 attack planes, 2 reconnaissance planes) and the carrier Ryuho's air group (25 fighters and 28 light bombers) moved in to augment the Eleventh Air Fleet on 2 July. About five days later Koga sent three cruisers and three destroyers to Rabaul to support Vice Admiral Samejima's Eighth Fleet. Admiral Kusaka had already expended much of his air strength in abortive attacks against American positions and shipping. Now he had to make repeated attempts to reinforce Admiral Ota and General Sasaka in the Central Solomons.
During the night of 9 July Admiral Samejima successfully carried 1,200 of Imamura's troops to Kolombangara. That same night 1,300 men of the 13th Infantry moved by small boat from Kolombangara to Bairoko thence overland to Munda and reported to General Sasaki. The 13th was followed the next night by the 1,200-man reinforcing unit mentioned above. At the same time one battalion of the 13th reinforced the Kure 6th SNLF for the defense of Dragons Peninsula. During the night of 12-13 July another 1,200 enemy troops landed on Kolombangara.59
General Sasaki felt that he had accumulated sufficient strength by 14 July to launch a counteroffensive along New Georgia's south coast. The night previous, he had interposed Takabayashi's battalion of the 13th Infantry
between the American 172d and 169th Regiments. He had observed the landing of the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry, and the Marine tanks at Laiana that morning, and realized that to attain a reasonable degree of success, he must strike at once. In the vicinity of Munda airfield Sasaki held the main body of Hirata's 229th Infantry and Colonel Satoshi Tomonari's 13th; here too were parts of Commander Takeda's Yokosuka 7th SNLF, and a few troops of the 230th.60 Ignoring the heavy artillery and naval shelling and constant air bombardment, the Japanese prepared to attack when the order came.
Like many high-level concepts Sasaki's plan, while appearing simple on paper, was most difficult to execute. The same problems of rugged terrain and lack of contact that plagued the American commanders now beset the enemy. Sasaki ordered Tomonari to swing wide to the left, encircle the Allied right, cut the Munda Trail between the front and Zanana Beach, then destroy the 169th (now commanded by Colonel Temple Holland). Simultaneously Captain Kojima's 3d Battalion, 229th Infantry, would launch a frontal assault on the 2d Battalion, 172d Infantry. Admiral Ota's men could execute a series of infiltration landings west of Laiana Beach, destroy Hester's beach defenses and cut lines of supply and communication along the shores. Meanwhile,
ARTILLERY AND NAVAL GUNFIRE CONCENTRATIONS stripped foliage from the trees and laid waste the jungle. Within a few months, however, the jungle had reclaimed this particular clearing.
Hirata would hold the remainder of his 229th61 in the vicinity of Lambeti Plantation, prepared to exploit any advantage gained or defend against any unforeseen American countermeasures.
Late in the afternoon of 14 July, Tomonari set out at the head of his 13th Infantry on a long 3-day trek through mud and jungle around the right flank of the 169th. Meanwhile, Hirata's patrols became more active, some even going to the extent of making minor attacks during daylight hours. Kojima's men in the Ilangana sector clung even more tenaciously than before to their bunkers.
By 17 July Sasaki was in position to launch his assault, but lack of communications prevented adequate coordination. Because of heavy American attacks on his forward positions at 1130 that morning, Captain Kojima could not regain his balance for a jump-off; the incessant American artillery shelling and air strikes had completely disorganized Commander Takeda's boat pool, thus making impossible an organized amphibious assault behind American lines.
Colonel Tomonari's 13th Infantry, however, managed to encircle the right flank of the 43d Division and by 1600 organized in a mangrove swamp on the banks of the Barike River for a thrust against the Zanana Beach supply dumps and the 43d Division command post. About sundown Tomonari attacked. Within a few minutes he had surrounded the 43d Division's command post, then located on the shore about 400 yards west of Zanana Beach, and severed the supply lines leading to front and rear. Fortunately, the foe overlooked and failed to cut one telephone wire over which the Americans gave the alarm and called in artillery support from Roviana and Sasavele Islands.
General Barker's 43d Division guns responded magnificently. With the general himself acting as one of the forward observers, the artillerymen planted heavy shells 100 to 500 yards from the edge of the camp. Barker called in box barrages at irregular intervals for the remainder of the night to prevent the enemy from organizing a banzai. Of the great number of
BRIGADIER GENERAL HAROLD R. BARKER, USA, 43d Division artillery commander, who coordinated all artillery activities during the XIV Corps advance. (Army Photo.)
rounds fired that night only one fell short, and that a single shot fired during registration.62
Zanana Beach Defense
When the sounds of the first shots reached the 3d Platoon, Special Weapons Group back on Zanana Beach, Lieutenant Wismer promptly sent out a small patrol to investigate. Within ten minutes the Marines returned to report that a hostile force approaching battalion strength occupied the trail between the 43d Division command post and Zanana Beach. Making a quick estimate of the situation, Wismer decided that the handful of combat troops could not hold the gun positions sited to give Zanana beach antiaircraft and antiboat
protection. Defense of the beach against infantry attack was of paramount importance; should Zanana fall, the enemy would capture a large portion of the American supplies on New Georgia. Moreover, at that time Zanana was the primary landing point for XIV Corps personnel and matériel, and its loss might be fatal to American plans.
With the approval of Major Charles C. Cox, USA, senior officer in the area,63 Wismer arrived at an effective solution of his problem. About 150 yards inland from the beach was a prominent knoll overlooking an open draw through which ran a trail leading to the division command post. Wismer elected to half-man his 20mm and 40mm guns and with the remainder of his platoon occupy the high ground. From the XIV Corps salvage dump nearby the Marines obtained two light .30-calibre machine guns, and by cannibalizing other damaged weapons made these operative. Hastily the platoon dug in on its knoll. To the right was the 172d Infantry Antitank Platoon; to the left approximately 50 Army service troops and artillerymen. Wismer set up a perimeter defense and laid his newly acquired machine guns, manned by Corporal Maier J. Rothschild and Private John J. Wantuck, respectively, to fire down the critical trail.
The sounds of the fire around General Hester's position made a cacophony that spurred on Marine preparations. The shrill whistle of American artillery shells ending in ear-splitting explosions served to keep every man alert and ready. Some time passed without incident, but (and now Wismer tells the story):
At about nine o'clock at night approximately 100 Japanese came into the draw and started to set up mortars. We held our fire until the last moment before they started firing in order that the greatest concentration of enemy troops would be present. Upon opening fire, we drove back the Japanese into the jungle. They regrouped and made a banzai charge. The forward positions were overrun and individually we made our way back to the gun positions on the beach, where we prepared to defend against the next charge. To our surprise, it did not materialize.64
Why that charge had failed to materialize became evident the following morning when Wismer led his men back to the hill where Wantuck and Rothschild had been cut off while still manning their guns. More than 100 enemy dead, littering the blood-soaked forward slope, gave mute evidence of the effectiveness with which these two Marines had covered their comrades' withdrawal. The patrol found Wantuck's body beside his now ammunitionless gun, surrounded by Japanese he had killed with knife and grenade. Rothschild, slightly wounded, lay hidden under some brush in a nearby gully, similarly surrounded.
These two men alone may well have saved Zanana Beach for the XIV Corps. General Hester, properly appreciative, recommended both for the Medal of Honor.65
For the next week the front lines east of Munda remained static. Having executed the initial phases of the operation with alacrity and cleverness, the 43d Division now found itself faced by a stubborn, tenacious adversary who, from well-organized, hidden positions, parried every American thrust. The energy expended on its wide swing into position had utterly exhausted the 169th Regiment. The 172d had come to a halt with its effective strength at 50 percent of normal. Lack of either communications or physical contact and the old ally of a defending force, sticky, oozing mud, frustrated all efforts at cooperation between the two regiments.
During the first 20 days of the operation, enemy aircraft had attacked the American holdings no less than 80 times. Although the combat air patrol and the 9th Defense Battalion's antiaircraft fire prevented these attacks from causing more than superficial damage, the adverse effect on the ground troops' nerves and physical endurance was tremendous. Sleepless and enervated, once eager troops no longer possessed the will to fight.
On the morning of 18 July the 148th Infantry (less its 3d Battalion) of Major General Robert S. Beightler's 37th Division landed at Zanana Beach, and immediately moved
Munda Airfield Area
forward to begin relief of the 172d. Two days later its sister regiment, the 145th (less the 3d Battalion), completed the relief of the 169th. The two 43d Division regiments now shifted to the left to shore up that front. On the 21st, the 161st Combat Team of the 25th Division (Major General J. Lawton Collins) landed on Baraulu Island and began to move to positions between the 145th and 148th. (See Map #16.) The 2d Battalion, 103d, landed at Laiana Beach on the 22d and was immediately guided to a bivouac. Its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lester E. Brown, was relieved (by Major Raymond M. Dunning) and placed in command of the regiment, replacing Colonel Hundley, the new Chief of Staff, 43d Division. By 23 July General Griswold had two divisions on a 4,000-yard front, some 4,500 yards short of the XIV Corps objective.66
While the 9th Defense Battalion tanks remained at Zanana Beach without a plan of action, Blake returned to Rendova and conferred with General Griswold. The latter directed him to conduct a thorough reconnaissance along the front to determine just how and where tanks could be best employed in the immediate future. Accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel James M. Smith, the 3d Marine Division observer attached to XIV Corps,67 Blake returned to New Georgia, and after viewing each sector reported that the center of the left zone of action (now occupied by the 2d Battalion, 172d) presented the most favorable terrain for tank maneuvers. Griswold thereupon ordered the 43d Division to attack the following day.
At 0700 the morning of 24 July during a heavy artillery preparation, five Marine tanks moved forward and waited for attack orders under cover of the high ground--now named Coolidge Hill--seized by Spurlock the week before. For three hours, artillery churned enemy rearward positions into a choas of dust and kindling. Finally, the infantry moved only to find the opposing front-line positions largely untouched by the barrage and as strong as ever. Hostile troops on a large hill, dominating the whole coastal area, and not over 100 yards west of Coolidge Hill, thwarted every attempt to advance.
By 1030 the attack slowed down and, under Smith's direction, the Marine tanks crossed the crest. A few minutes later Smith was out of action, wounded by a machine-gun slug. The tanks, although bereft of infantry support, continued rolling down the steep, bullet-swept forward slope. As the lead vehicle nosed into the saddle between Coolidge and the enemy-held hill, machine-gun fire mercilessly pounded its hull. All five tanks responded by shooting into every observed Japanese position. The attack crept ahead, even as the enemy brought additional automatic weapons into play.
By 1400 mechanical failures and some minor damage inflicted by their antagonists' fire had forced three of the five Marine tanks to withdraw before the hostile hill was overrun. However, in face of the undeterred assault, those defenders who remained alive elected to retire in the direction of their airstrip. While the two undamaged machines continued to engage the fleeing enemy, the soldiers advanced and occupied the recently evacuated positions.
The 25 July Assault68
That evening staff officers gathered in conference around the XIV Corps operations map to hear General Griswold outline his intentions for the next day. Pointing out that the 43d Division's right flank was now advanced some 500 yards beyond the left, Griswold observed that his troops were now to the rear of the Ilangana Peninsula and held high ground dominating that locale. The general desired to continue the westward advance, with the 37th Division making the main effort along a ridge system inland.
The 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry (commanded by Captain Lloyd E. Barron, who relieved Lieutenant Colonel James B. Wells on the 24th) which had been operating near
BETWEEN LAMBETI PLANTATION AND MUNDA POINT lay flat ground which, less than a month after the fall of the airstrip, became a desolate camp site. From the "quarries" near the center of this picture came the coral with which Seabees and engineers paved roads and landing strip. (Navy Photo.)
Laiana Beach since 17 July would launch an attack, coordinated with artillery and tank support, by noon the following day. The mission: Drive the enemy from Ilangana Peninsula and move the Corps left wing westward to shorten the front line.
Miraculously no rain fell the morning of 25 July. Dry weather would help.
Griswold's plan called for naval gunfire, air bombing, and a general advance by ground forces. At 0605, therefore, seven destroyers began lobbing 5-inch shells toward the southern coast; later 171 planes of various types dropped 145 tons of bombs into the Munda area.69 The XIV Corps attack had begun.
On the left (Roviana Lagoon) flank, a Japanese strong point close to the beach soon held up the advance of the 3d Battalion, 103d. To outflank the position the 172d's 2d Battalion passed far to the north then swung south to face the Lagoon shore. The resultant gap between the two battalions was filled by the 1st Battalion, 169th (Major Joseph E. Zimmer), previously the 43d Division's reserve. This was the situation when 9th Defense Battalion tanks finally moved forward.70
A fresh and experienced infantry company met Blake's five Marine tanks when they reported to the command post behind Coolidge Hill. Just before noon front line companies pulled approximately 100 yards to the rear. For an hour Army artillery relentlessly pounded all known or suspected enemy positions. At 1300 the guns lifted their fire and tanks, closely followed by protecting riflemen, advanced from Coolidge Hill directly toward the shore to cut off the enemy on Ilangana Peninsula. Hearing the tanks operating so far behind them, the Japanese abandoned their emplacements and raced to escape. Two deadly 47mm antitank guns, located in bunkers and sighted along the beach, were taken from their blind side. Marine machine guns and 37mm's
quickly reduced the inconsequential smattering of answering small-arms fire, while the soldiers mopped up the dazed Japanese stragglers.
As soon as the report of this fight reached the rear, troops of the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry, advanced without opposition and occupied Ilangana. Coordination of infantry with tanks and artillery, which usually assures success, had finally been accomplished with resultant easy seizure of the day's objective.
Gathering Momentum: 26-27 July71
The 10th Defense Battalion Tank Platoon (First Lieutenant Albert E. Bailey) had arrived on Rendova on 23 July and had reported to the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry, then attached to the 37th Division. On the 26th, in accordance with General Griswold's decision to support his right wing, Bailey would move to New Georgia and lead six of his tanks in an assault on an 800-yard-long hill mass, named Bartley Ridge, immediately in front of the XIV Corps right. Meanwhile, the 103d Infantry on the left would advance to shorten and straighten the 43d Division front line, which then slanted from southeast to northwest.
Before jumping off, Bailey deployed his vehicles in two lines of three each: the leading element as the striking force, that following as the support. Eighteen soldiers armed with flame throwers, automatic weapons, rifles and grenades were provided for close protection.
Steep slopes, cloaked by heavy underbrush, closely spaced trees, and fallen logs made tank operations extremely difficult. Almost immediately after the attackers crossed the line of departure, enemy enfilade fire rapidly eliminated all vestiges of infantry support, which left Bailey's rear unprotected. As a result, one adventurous Japanese marine72 clambered up the back of a Marine tank and attached a magnetic mine to the hull. Machine guns in companion vehicles promptly cut down this antagonist, but the mine's explosion knocked out one vehicle even before the main action was joined.
A rather large clearing surrounded by tall trees and dense vegetation became the battleground. Around the edges of this clearing Japanese engineers had constructed ground-level pillboxes and bunkers, covered by riflemen in trees or in surrounding thickets, and well-emplaced mortars and machine guns.
Here the fight lasted approximately five hours, as the Marines picked targets, and maneuvered for position. One unfortunate tank wedged itself against a large stump; crewmen left the comparative shelter of the other vehicles to attach tow chains and cables. But withering automatic weapons fire drove them back, two with comparatively severe wounds. Getting nowhere, his ammunition and fuel supply depleted below the minimum essential to continue combat, his infantry support vanished, Bailey ordered a general withdrawal.
Enemy fire lashed the retiring Marines. Among the trees and scrub growth the several tanks soon lost contact, and one driver completely lost his way. Two men dismounted and sought a route to friendly lines, but before they returned, the Japanese closed in on the machine, blew off its track, and killed or wounded its occupants. A second became widely separated but eventually reentered American lines only after following a circuitous route through hostile territory.
The three remaining tanks returned to their park to refuel and rearm prior to resuming the fight and recovering the disabled and lost vehicles. Upon reentering the battle ground, however, they came under such heavy fire that Bailey soon realized that his gamble could result only in sending good money after bad and ordered the two badly damaged machines abandoned. That night artillery and mortars laid continuous concentrations in that vicinity. Next morning Bailey plodded back to the scene on foot and finding one vehicle beyond field repair, destroyed it with an incendiary grenade; the other was later towed back to safety.
Elsewhere the attack of 26 July achieved only limited success. Both the 37th and 43d Divisions gained some ground, the 103d Infantry (less its 1st Battalion) of the latter cracking through a line of some 74 bunkers to reach Kia Village. But the ultimate objective--Munda--remained in enemy hands. For the
Marines, elation over the Japanese withdrawal from the Ilangana area was tempered by the sobering realization that Bailey had now lost half of his machines, and several of his tankmen were dead or wounded. More than 30 hours would pass before 10th Defense Battalion tanks could again operate.73
The inconsequential achievement on the right wing, already well advanced and slightly over extended, was not as serious as the lack of appreciable progress on the left. The main effort, Griswold insisted, must be made along the coast where advance units lagged far behind those on the right. He need only contain the foe to the north while continuing the attack along the shore. Griswold perforce ordered the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry, supported by 9th Defense Battalion tanks, to strike Lambeti Plantation the next day.
Accordingly at 0800, 27 July, Blake led his five machines out of their bivouac. A few minutes later inadequate servicing after constant employment forced one to turn back. The other four continued onward and reported to the 3d Battalion command post, where they received instructions to cover the advance of the entire battalion by moving out in a double column, about 50 feet apart.
Again the thick growth made contact difficult to maintain and extensive deployment impossible. Seventy-five yards beyond the front the Marines halted to machine gun the ground ahead. Almost immediately a heavy projectile slapped into the side of the leader, jarring it from stem to stern. In rapid succession two additional high velocity 47mm shells jolted the stricken vehicle. Before the source of fire could be located a fourth shot smashed into the
MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT S. BEIGHTLER (left), commander of the 37th Infantry Division, with a group of his officers in early August. Beightler's division, the right wing of XIV Corps, had just cut through the jungle and had reached the coast north of Munda airfield when this picture was snapped. (Army Photo.)
hull with such violence that sparks and bits of metal sprayed about the interior, severely injuring the driver.
In hasty confusion the wounded driver backed his tank and collided with the one following, causing its turret to jam. With great difficulty he finally succeeded in getting into forward gear, turning around and retiring from the area. A third, meanwhile, received damage from the same gun that had hit the leader when a shell blasted the forward door seams, splattered the driver's face with small fragments, and forced it also from the action. The fourth tank covered the withdrawal of its damaged comrades, but could not locate the enemy weapon and had to retire without shooting at a sighted target.
With feverish haste the Marines labored to put their vehicles back in action. By noon, with a new fuel and ammunition supply aboard, the undamaged machine and a spare brought forward from the beach bivouac renewed the attack, now supported by two infantry companies. The plan envisaged a movement around the hostile left (inland) flank, followed by a drive to the sea, to bring the friendly forces in the rear of the main Japanese defenses.
The assault began as planned. Tanks and infantry climbed the low coastal escarpment and moved along it to a point calculated to be behind the hostile gun. Just then a hail of machine-gun bullets and mortar shells raked the escarpment, wounding numerous troops and scattering the rest. The Marines, after spraying the coastal thicket, plunged into it. At this point mechanical failure temporarily immobilized one vehicle. The other then probed a grass shack from which the opposition seemed to come. Just as this tank nudged against the hut, an enemy soldier jumped from shelter and planted a magnetic mine against the left side of the tank's engine compartment. The detonations of the mine and a 37mm high explosive shell hitting the Japanese were simultaneous.
A second adversary, undeterred by his comrade's sudden demise, dashed forward, ducked under the bustle of the same vehicle, and affixed another mine to the doors of the engine compartment. He, too, was killed. But an instant
NOT ALL JAPANESE FOUGHT TO THE DEATH, for a few were taken prisoner. These two were captured by native scouts on Ilangana Peninsula. (Army Photo.)
later the mine exploded, enshrouding the tank in a cloud of thick, white smoke. Although its occupants were unhurt, the resultant damage obliged the vehicle to withdraw.
The other tank, now back in action, continued the engagement. Every time it fired, "knee mortar" grenades arched toward it and the supporting troops pinned on the escarpment. Suddenly a blast of flame erupted in the brush, a resounding jolt shook the machine from stem to stern, and a shower of sparks and fragments filled the interior. Although the driver was injured, the tenacious Marines nursed their vehicle back to the embankment, and there continued to engage the hostile gun until it was silenced. The tank then limped back toward friendly lines. On the way it located its companion, now stalled, and stood by to give protection until a bulldozer could come out to drag the cripples to safety.
Although five tanks had been knocked out and the infantry had not advanced, the enemy had received such a terrific beating from
FLAMETHROWERS SUPPORTED THE TANKS during the advance on Munda Point. Here an operator fires a burst on a Japanese position while two of his comrades warily watch for enemy riflemen nearby. (Army Photo.)
American fire, that they withdrew leaving their dead, two well-emplaced machine guns and a damaged 47mm antitank gun. The following day soldiers marched through the position without opposition.
Blake now had eight vehicles out of action, four permanently. Several days would pass before his mechanics could ready the others for combat.
By 28 July XIV Corps had made some progress along its entire front except on that infinitely important portion to the extreme south. Strong points made even local advances difficult in all sectors, while American insistence on consolidation of position obviated employment of bypassing tactics, greatly retarding forward movement. Although Allied aircraft struck heavily against located Japanese rearward guns, they could not directly aid the slogging ground troops, struggling to overcome the ubiquitous bunker defenses.
Infantry commanders, highly commending Marine tank operations in jungle warfare, demanded armored support. General Hester, realizing that his left would not advance without adequate coordination between tanks and infantry, sent his assistant, Brigadier General Leonard F. Wing, forward to the command post of the 3d Battalion, 103d Infantry, with instructions to plan and conduct the 28 July attack of that battalion.74 Wing accordingly ordered the battalion commander, Captain Barron, to assign one flame thrower, two automatic rifles, and six riflemen armed with incendiary
and fragmentation grenades to each of the four machines in Lieutenant Bailey's 10th Defense Battalion tank platoon. He then demanded that a rifle company and a heavy weapons company closely follow the armored attack to hold the ground won. The tank protectors would stay close to their assigned vehicle, and the supporting companies would move out immediately behind the assault wave. All hands received a detailed account of the general's plan.
Beginning at 0900 artillery shells roared overhead to drop within 150 yards of the front lines. After a 30-minute preparation, mortar shells blanketed the objective area, while men and machines advanced together. At first the enemy offered the heaviest resistance of the campaign, but close liaison and cooperation between infantry and armor, coupled with suitable terrain,75 paid off. Opposing forces, demoralized by heavy shelling and the coordinated advance, fled.
In the initial drive hostile 37mm antitank guns scored three hits on Bailey's machine, but failed to strike any vulnerable points. Retaliatory fire soon smothered this opposition, while the accompanying troops quickly disposed of the few antagonists who attempted to slap magnetic mines on the advancing vehicles. About 40 two-story, log and coral personnel shelters, well camouflaged and heavily constructed, lay athwart the axis of advance, but these quickly fell. Tanks and infantrymen also demolished
LOOKING NORTH TOWARD BIBILO HILL from the ruins of a mission atop Kokengolo Hill. XIV Corps soldiers, supported by Marine tanks, artillery, naval gunfire and aviation, fought for several days to seize these commanding terrain features.
innumerable automatic weapons as well as two antitank guns.
The momentum of the assault carried the Americans 500 yards into Japanese territory. Riflemen rapidly occupied each evacuated enemy strong point while Marines continued to engage those ahead. Although the tanks penetrated 400 yards farther, two companies of soldiers proved insufficient to mop up and occupy the additional ground. The Marines, therefore, completed their assignment by blasting every real or suspected hostile position and withdrew for the day.
During the retirement, one machine, the last in the column, bogged down momentarily in a shell hole on the beach. Seven shells fired from long range by an antitank gun struck it in rapid succession. One of these, presumably of the high explosive, armor-piercing variety, smashed through the turret and burst inside killing two men and wounding three. Nonetheless, the tank managed to reach friendly lines where the casualties were promptly evacuated and the damage repaired. Accompanying foot troops spotted the enemy weapon and quickly subdued it.
Thus, the last and strongest point on the enemy main line of resistance fell to Wing's well-planned thrust. A mutual admiration of Marines and soldiers, built up as a result of the general's insistence on cooperation, would last long after the campaign. Wing proved that direct command and mass action would insure success on even the most difficult front; that 43d Division soldiers, though exhausted after weeks of constant campaigning, were as good as any others when aggressively led. For a change, XIV Corps had scored a decisive victory, achieved by its previously lethargic 43d Division.76
Wing's success insured final victory. The following day, 29 July, Major General John R. Hodge, replaced Hester in command of the 43d Division.77 One week later Munda field was in American hands.
After Wing's victory on 28 July, XIV Corps made daily successive advances of 500 to 1200 yards directly westward. By 4 August it had reached the Lulu Lagoon shore, 600 yards north of Gurasai in the Kindu Area thus encircling Munda's last-ditch defenders, compressing them into an area measuring 1000 by 1400 yards.78 Obviously the Japanese could no longer reinforce their units in the airfield area and would probably attempt to withdraw key personnel by small boat at night.
The 27th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel George E. Bush), of Major General J. Lawton Collins' 25th Division, then covering the supply and evacuation route for the 148th Infantry on the Corps' right flank, was now released to prepare for the push toward Bairoko. General Griswold decided to seize the airstrip itself the next day. However, the foe stubbornly continued to occupy Bibilo and Kokengolo Hills, from which they delivered withering fire on the lines of 161st (Colonel James L. Dalton, II), then committed to the reduction of these strong points. On 4 August, therefore, 10th Defense Battalion tanks went back into action.
Four vehicles deployed in column and moved forward to shell Kokengolo Hill, honey-combed with caves and deep entrenchments impervious to artillery, naval gunfire, and airbombing. Immediately upon debouching on the airstrip at Kokongolo's base, the Marines came under fire from an antitank gun, sited beneath a wrecked Japanese bomber, and from several machine guns emplaced on the hillside. After a short exchange, Bailey's guns subdued the antitank weapon and then turned their attention to the hill itself. Concentrating on targets of opportunity, the tanks probed one side of the hill and, when opposition slackened, momentarily withdrew to refuel and reload with ammunition.
That completed, they returned to the attack on the opposite side, where another antitank gun, after firing a few ineffectual shots, met the fate of its companion. Continuing around the hill, Bailey's men blasted every possible position. Completion of the encirclement resulted in the rout of all antagonists. Other Army units, meanwhile, took Bibilo Hill.
Because of severe enfilade fire, infantry support for the Kokengolo operation was impossible, and all attempts to occupy the hill mass failed. During the night the enemy reoccupied their previously abandoned positions; Griswold, perforce, again called on the Marines.
Five 11th Defense Battalion tanks, commanded by Captain Irving P. Carlson, recently arrived at New Georgia, reinforced by six from the 9th and 10th Defense Battalions, spearheaded the final assault. On 5 August, Carlson led four sorties, all under cover of mortar fire, against the enemy positions. The first, directed along the south base of Kokengolo, neutralized all defenses in that sector; this enabled soldiers to occupy the high ground immediately. The second, made along the taxi-way skirting the hill's north slopes, silenced all resistance. The third moved through the brush to the north and toward the beach to eliminate any lurking opposing riflemen or machine guns. The fourth and last sortie completely encircled the hill. Enemy survivors retreated into storage caves under Kokengolo; Americans, whose demands that the Japanese surrender were met with rifle fire, dynamited the openings.
At 1500 on 5 August. General Griswold reported to Admiral Halsey, who in turn informed the Joint Chiefs that organized resistance in the Munda airfield area had terminated, that mopping up operations were in progress, and that reconstruction of the landing strip had already started. In his report Griswold expressed his gratification that all units involved had demonstrated such a high degree of cooperation in the final drive. His original message to Admiral Halsey stated:
Culminating 12 days of bitter offensive fighting, our ground troops today wrested Munda from the Japs. . . . This operation to date has seen the integrated use of naval bombardment, all forms of air bombardment, the use of tanks, flame throwers and superb
MAJOR GENERAL J. LAWTON COLLINS, USA, whose 25th Infantry Division landed in early August and participated extensively in the mop-up phases of the campaign, confers with the commander of the 3d Battalion, 27th Infantry, Major Charles Davis (kneeling). (Army Photo.)
artillery--all used in direct support of the Infantry, which still has to close and physically wrest the ground from a determined foe. Thus our Munda operation is the finest example in my experience of an all-service, all-American team.79
By this time General Griswold had more than 30,000 troops available. These were divided into seven regimental combat teams, each of which had contributed to the success of the TOENAILS venture. Against this force General Sasaki had committed in excess of 8 000 men. But of these 2,483 were buried by the Americans and an additional 28 took up residence in prisoner of war compounds. Of course these figures do not include the 2,200 enemy buried by their comrades nor the uncounted thousands who suffered wounds of varying degree. American Army casualties numbered approximately 4,994 killed and wounded.
For nearly three weeks after the fall of
SEABEES BEGAN REPAIRING MUNDA STRIP while infantry units continued the mortal struggle north and west of Bibilo Hill and enemy artillery on Baanga interdicted the runway. On 13 August, just eight days after Munda's capture, this strip was sufficiently repaired to receive its first plane, an Army P-40.
Munda, the 25th Division slogged northwestward through dark and dank jungle-swamp toward Bairoko. The purpose: Cut the retreat and supply route for any foe remaining on New Georgia, and mop up all strong points that continued to resist. On 9 August the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph F. Ryneska) contacted patrols of the Northern Landing Group and the two forces were joined. Finally on 24 August, in a coordinated drive, units of the 25th Division, reinforced by a battalion of the 37th Division entered Bairoko. The campaign on New Georgia Island had ended.
End of a Phase
To this point in the TOENAILS campaign, major parts of the 9th Defense Battalion (with attached elements of the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions) had performed offensive as well as their customary defensive missions. At the time of the Rendova landing the 90mm Antiaircraft Group provided patrols to seek out and destroy hostile troops in those areas the Group was destined to occupy. Platoons of the Special Weapons Group actively participated in the establishment and defense of the Zanana and Laiana beachheads. The Tank Platoon, augmented by tanks of the 10th and 11th Defense Battalions, ably supported the drive on Munda.
The Seacoast Artillery Group, which had changed its name with the acquisition of 155mm guns (M-1), had given long-range field artillery support to the XIV Corps advance. Under the 43d Division artillery commander, Brigadier General Harold R. Barker, Colonel O'Neil's group almost daily interdicted Baanga, Nususongo and Kilivaria Islands, and engaged Japanese antiaircraft guns and field artillery
on New Georgia itself. Initially observers stationed in trees near battery positions adjusted all firing missions, but after 9 July specially trained Army artillery observers in spotter planes, assisted in the performance of this function with commendable thoroughness and professional competence.80 Unfortunately, bad weather or enemy air interference sometimes limited the use of aerial spotters. Experience at Munda proved, however, that when spotter planes adjusted fires, the 155mm guns' effectiveness was greatly increased.
About mid-July an ammunition shortage beset O'Neil's men. On 10 July premature muzzle bursts revealed faulty M-51 fuses, and the entire lot had to be destroyed, thus limiting the available supply. To complicate matters, approximately one-tenth of the powder charges delivered to the 155mm Group was unserviceable. Frequent rough handlings required to move these from arsenals in the United States to battery positions on Rendova had broken or punctured containers. Rain soaked through cracks in the ends of cardboard tubes and made the powder useless.
Because of this shortage, rapidly changing weather conditions that would have required registration firing every few hours, and an inaccurate map (made from uncontrolled mosaics), General Barker limited O'Neil's men to firing nothing but observed missions. Although this limitation made battery officers unhappy, it was most realistic. At the conclusion of the operation all hands agreed that Barker's reasoning was valid.81
In the final assault on Munda the 155mm Group joined with the Army artillery battalions in rendering close support to the advancing infantry. And the work of the Marine artillerymen added materially to the weight of shells thrown against the Japanese defenses, particularly on Kokengolo Hill.
During the early stages of the campaign, coordination of the combat air patrol and antiaircraft units on the ground was attained only with considerable difficulty. Communicators set up a conference line that tied together the long-range radar units, ComAir New Georgia's fighter control center and the antiaircraft guns. Each unit thereby was informed of the course of action of each other unit. Moreover, General Mulcahy received the benefit of the 90mm Antiaircraft Group's fire control radar for the direction of friendly-plane interception of enemy "bandits."
Unfortunately, in the first days on Rendova, the Americans' inability to differentiate between hostile and friendly aircraft had caused no little headache. On several occasions mistaken recognition on the part of units newly arrived in the combat zone led to firing on friend as well as foe, three times with disastrous consequences; at least twice identification errors had permitted Admiral Kusaka's "eagles" to raid American positions without retaliation. To surmount this difficulty, General Hester ordered Marines experienced at aircraft recognition to board each ship entering the area and identify planes for the vessel's gun control officer.
Whenever raiders actually penetrated the screen of the combat air patrol, guns of the 90mm Group kept them at ineffectively high altitudes, and, on a number of occasions, shot down the intruders. Using radar to get "on target," the gunners fired by visual means when weather or distance did not interfere. The 40mm guns of the Special Weapons Group engaged dive bombers, strafers and medium level bombers with excellent results. The 40mm also proved to be an excellent antiboat gun, capable of destroying Japanese barges at long range with one short burst.
Although Munda airfield had fallen, the 9th Defense Battalion's participation in the TOENAILS campaign had not ended. General Griswold ordered Colonel Scheyer to move his antiaircraft units to the vicinity of the airfield, to Lambeti Plantation, and to Laiana Beach for the protection of those valuable pieces of real estate. Other battalion units, meanwhile, took up positions to protect New Georgia from enemy counterlandings and to support subsequent operations against Arundel and Kolombangara Islands. (See Chapter V.)
1. This account relates primarily to activities of Marine air and ground units that directly supported or were part of XIV Corps during the TOENAILS operation. Army and Navy activities are discussed only as a framework on which to affix the Marine story.
2. 1stRdrRgt, WD, Mar-Sep43, 1.
3. Col A. E. O'Neil ltr to CMC, 1Mar51; LtCol Frank J. Wenban, Jr., ltr to CMC, 10Mar51; LtCol Wright C. Taylor ltr to CMC, 4Mar52; Capt W. S. Frank ltr to BrigGen W. J. Scheyer, 5Mar51; LtCol Robert C. Hiatt ltr to CMC, 26Feb52.
4. 9thDefBn, WD, Jun43.
5. McNenny report, 2. In mitigation, however, it must be remembered that the planners expected the beachhead would already be in the friendly hands of the Barracudas. (Hester 15Mar52 ltr.)
6. Southeast Area Naval Operations, II, 26.
7. Combat Narratives, X, 6-9.
8. Unless otherwise cited all Japanese information contained in this chapter was extracted from ComSoPac (CIC), Translations of Enemy Documents and Interrogation Reports, or from Southeast Area Naval Operations, II, passim.
9. Feldt, op. cit., 151-152; Among Those Present, 56; Morison, Bismarcks, 148; McNenny report, 2; Combat Narratives, X, 10; 9thDefBn, WD; Scheyer interview.
10. Boyd interview; Army CofS ltr to CMC, 17Mar52; Col John B. Fowler ltr to CMC, 10Mar52; Zimmer, op. cit., 26; Morison, Bismarcks, 148, 154; McNenny report, 3; Wright Taylor ltr.
11. McNenny report, 3-4; McHenry diary; Maj Donald V. Sandager ltr to CMC, 29Feb52; Hiatt ltr; Col John H. Cook ltr to CMC, 19Feb52; Wright Taylor ltr.
12. TF-31 OpnPlan and Turner ltr. According to the unloading plans, the transports should have been emptied and withdrawing by 1200. This, and succeeding air raid alerts, forced postponement of the ships' retirement until midafternoon.
13. Morison, Bismarcks, 154; Army CofS 17Mar52 ltr to CMC; Col E. A. Craig report, 28Aug43; ltrs from Wenban, Hiatt, Turner and Wright Taylor.
14. Morison, Bismarcks, 148; ComSoPac ltr, serial 01244, 2Aug43; CIA document #1248-73A.
15. Furnished by ComAirSols Fighter Command; planes and pilots represented VMF's 121, 122, 221 and 213; VF's 11 and 21.
16. American pilots claimed 16 killed in this fight. However, Japanese records indicate that only 30 fighters were lost in the three air battles fought that day. In treating aviation statistics, this monograph, insofar as possible, will cite both American and Japanese claims. Pilot reports are difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate or substantiate.
17. JCS, TOENAILS, Running Account, Rendova Section, 30Jun and 1Jul.
18. RAdm F. W. Benson ltr to CMC, 4Mar51; Fighter Command, WD and Action Report, 30Jun, 4; Fighter Command Record of Events, 30Jun; ComSoPac, Weekly Air Combat Intelligence Report, 27Jun-3Jul.
19. 9th DefBn, WD, 1; McHenry diary.
20. Turner ltr; Combat Narratives, X, 13.
21. JCS, TOENAILS, Running Account, 30Jun; Combat Narratives, X, 13; ComSoPac, Weekly Air Combat Intelligence Reports.
22. Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, 51-52, 54-55.
22a. As used here, the term "sniper" was that employed by Americans throughout the Pacific war to indicate an enemy rifleman, hidden within or in proximity to friendly lines. Firing only at targets of opportunity, these riflemen, left behind in a sort of suicide mission, sometimes escaped liquidation for several days. Few, if any of them, had ever received the specialized sniper training familiar to Americans.
23. 155mm Gun Group, Work Sheets, 1Jul43; 9thDefBn, WD, Jul43; LtCol Henry H. Reichner ltr to CMC, 27Feb51. NGOF Field Order #3, 28Jun43; Hester ltr; Among Those Present, 56; Wright Taylor ltr.
24. Actual statistics relative to this fight are difficult to determine. No extant Japanese records concern this particular action. Morison, Bismarcks, 154n, states that six VALS and 35 ZEKES were in the fight, and of these 50 percent were destroyed. Fighter Command, Record of Events, 5, states only that the Japanese force was large and that nine dive bombers and 15 fighters were shot down. Various squadron War Diaries for this date all give equally inconclusive evidence.
25. The Diesel fuel had been poured into the gasoline tank from a drum incorrectly marked gasoline. (Capt Michael Taylor ltr to CMC, 9Feb51.)
26. 9thDefBn, WD, Jul43, 2; Michael Taylor ltr; Reichner ltr; Wenban ltr; 9thDefBn, Informal Combat Report, 9Sep43, 1; Morison, Bismarcks, 154. The last-named source derives its casualty figures from ComAirNew Georgia, Daily Intelligence Summary, 2Jul43. This document based its statistics on an incomplete telephone report, and later additions and corrections are not shown.
27. JCS, TOENAILS, 2Jul; 9thDefBn, WD, Jul43, 2; LtCol John T. L. D. Gabbert report, 3; McHenry diary; Fighter Command, Record of Events, Log.
28. ComSoPac, Air Combat Intelligence Report, 27Jun-3Jul; VMF-221, WD; VMF-213, WD.
29. Hester ltr; Maj John R. Wismer ltr to CMC, 2SFeb51; Zimmer, op. cit., 26.
30. Morison, Bismarcks, 155; McHenry diary; Turner ltr. Indicative of exaggerated Japanese claims is their report of inflicting great damage on the American beachhead and sinking one PT boat in this foray.
31. That equipment not absolutely essential to basic living and fighting. See Cook ltr; McHenry diary.
32. ComAirNew Georgia, Intelligence Summary, 3Jul; 9thDefBn, WD, 3Jul; ComSoPac Weekly Air Combat Intelligence Report, 27Jun-3Jul; Fighter Command, Record of Events, log. It is interesting to note that enemy sources do not indicate any plane losses in this fight.
33. In actuality this unit was a composite force, consisting basically of the 3d Platoon, but augmented by personnel and weapons from other platoons. Before the operation LtCol Taylor had formed his entire Group into "gun teams," ignoring the integrity of the battery or platoon. These "teams", composed of 20mm's, 40mm's and .50-cal's, were assigned identifying numbers and given specific missions. It was one of these that Wismer led to Zanana. (Wright Taylor ltr.)
34. 155mm Group Work Sheets, 4Jul43; Strike Command, WD; Stanley A. Frankel, The 37th Infantry Division in World War II (Washington, 1948), 79; Wright Taylor ltr.
35. There is wide disparity in records concerning this incident. It is reasonable to assume that the 9thDefBn shot down about 13 planes, but it is uncertain which Group should receive credit. The majority of records and eye witnesses give credit to the 90mm Group which in 13 minutes expended 88 shells. The Wright Taylor ltr and the Special Weapons Group action report for this day claim six of the planes shot down. Southeast Area Naval Operations, II, 30, admits loss of only 11 planes. ComSoPac Weekly Intelligence Reports, Fighter Command War Diary and Strike Command Record of Events are all in disagreement concerning numbers of planes involved and total losses on both sides.
36. Strike Command, WD.
37. Wismer ltr.
38. Fighter Command, Record of Events, 5Jul43; McHenry diary; Strike Command, WD, 5Jul43; ComAir New Georgia, Daily Intelligence Summary, 5Jul43; VMF-221, WD; VMF-213, WD.
39. NGOF Field Messages, 5Jul43; ComAirNew Georgia, Daily Intelligence Summary, 5Jul43; McHenry Diary.
40. Also at Rice Anchorage. See Chap IV ff.
41. In this battle the Americans lost DD Strong to the new, long range Japanese torpedo. The enemy suffered no loss.
42. Ainsworth's force (TG-36.1): Honolulu, Helena, St. Louis, and Nicholas, O'Bannon, Radford, and Jenkins.
43. Allied Campaign Against Rabaul, 46, 84-86, 92; Campaigns, 142-143; Interrogations, II, 409, 471, 512.
44. Gen Sasaki testifies: "The rate of speed of the infantry advance was extremely slow. They [the Americans] awaited the results of several days of bombardment before about a squad advanced." (Sasaki ltr to CofS, 17th Army, August 1943.)
45. Statement of Col John D. Eason, 9Jul43; McHenry diary.
46. 155mm Group Work Sheets; ComAirNew Georgia, Daily Intelligence Summary, 7Jul43; 9thDefBn Tank Platoon, Action Report; 9thDefBn, WD, 7Jul43; McHenry diary; Frankel, op. cit., 81.
47. VMF-221, Action Report, 7Jul43; Strike Command, WD, 7Jul43; Fighter Command, Record of Events, 7Jul43.
48. Wismer ltr; Fighter Command, Record of Events, 8Jul43; Reichner ltr; Taylor ltr; O'Neil interview, 1Mar51.
49. In a letter to the CofS, 17th Army.
The enemy, with complete material superiority, shelled and bombed us heavily day and night, and at times added naval fire to this. Enemy laid waste the battlefield and then ordered an infantry advance.
50. MajGen O. W. Griswold ltr to LtGen L. J. McNair, 29Aug43; Humphreys report; Frankel, op. cit., 79-81.
51. Three tanks had covered engineers building a supply road out of Zanana Beach to the front on 10Jul, but these had not been engaged in combat. (9thDefBn, TkPlat rpt, 2.)
52. Interview with Col G.W. McHenry, 12Apr48; Turner ltr; Humphreys report, 25Jul43; 155mm Gun Group Work Sheets, 9-13 July 1943.
53. The Japanese simply moved close to the American lines and stayed within the "safety zone" to Hester's front. Naval guns were not permitted to fire on targets in this area. (CinCPac, "Monthly Report of Operations," Jul43.)
54. Hester ltr; Turner ltr; McHenry diary.
55. McHenry diary; Hester diary (as quoted in Hester ltr); Combat Narratives, X, 54-55.
56. The following information is a synthesis of 9thDefBn WD, and TkPlat rpt; 10thDefBn TkPlat rpt; McHenry diary; Maj Robert W. Blake ltr to CMC, 18Dec51.
57. MajGen N. Sasaki ltr to CofS 17th Army, August 1943.
58. Scheduled to arrive at 0900, Blake was delayed until 1000 by the necessity of having to wait on Zanana Beach for lubricating oil. One engine became too overheated and that tank had to be left behind.
59. After unloading, this Japanese convoy (RAdm Shunji Izaki) met RAdm Ainsworth's Task Force 18 in the Battle of Kolombangara and lost its flagship Jintsu in exchange for the destroyer Gwin sunk and the cruisers Honolulu, St. Louis and HMNZS Leander, damaged.
60. The Yokosuka 7th was part of Adm Ota's Eighth Combined SNLF. The 230th had served on Guadalcanal.
61. The survivors of Maj Hara's 1st Battalion, defeated at Viru Harbor two weeks before, were just beginning to drift into the Munda positions.
62. The senior Marine observers present in the command post that night are unstinting in their praise of Barker and the work of his men. It became quite evident that Fort Sill doctrines, accurately applied by well-trained battery and gun commanders, were valid. Had any doubt previously existed, artillerymen this night effectively dissipated it. (McHenry diary; Wismer ltr; McAllister report; Report of Marine Observer with XIV Corps; 9thDefBn, Informal Combat Report.)
63. Maj Cox was a member of the Judge Advocate General's Department. Wisely he entrusted the active defense of the sector to trained combat troops.
64. Wismer ltr.
65. Eventually they were awarded the Navy Cross.
66. Hester 15Mar52 ltr; Maj Wilson F. Humphrey's ltr to CO, 14thDefBn, 25Jul43; 25thDiv History; Frankel, op. cit., 81, 83.
67. Griswold assigned Smith the responsibility for conducting liaison between tanks and infantry during the next attack. (McHenry diary.)
68. Unless otherwise specified, the following information was extracted from 9thDefBn TkPlat, OpnRpt; Zimmer, op. cit.; Frankel, op. cit.; 43dInfDiv and NGOF Field Orders; Blake ltr.
69. MajGen Nathan F. Twining, USAAF, relieved Adm Mitscher as ComAirSols on 25Jul.
70. JCS, TOENAILS, 27 July.
71. Extracted from 9th and 10thDefBn TkPlat OpnRpt; Frankel and Zimmer, op. cit.; 25th InfDiv History; Blake ltr.
72. SNLF personnel--especially trained landing troops.
73. Ward ltr.
74. Marine Observers Report, 20; Hester ltr.
75. The ground, covered by fewer trees and less dense undergrowth than previously encountered, was level and firm.
76. Innumerable sources attest to the previous lethargy of the 43d Division. Among others are included: Boyd interview; Halsey, op. cit.; Griswold remarks; McHenry Comments; Shaw ltr; Humphreys report; ONI, Combat Narratives, X; Morison, Bismarcks.
77. LtGen Millard Harmon, CG, USAFISPA, at Adm Halsey's direction, had ordered the change. This was one of a number of command shifts made by Halsey in an effort to pep-up his subordinate units.
78. It was during a limited, temporary retirement from an overly advanced position on 31 July 1943, that Private Rodger Young, Company B, 148th Infantry, was killed in a skirmish and made famous by a war-time ballad.
79. LtGen O. W. Griswold ltr to CMC, quoting msg to Adm Halsey, 12Mar52.
80. 9thDefBn, WD and Informal Combat Report, and 155mm Group Work Sheets are unstinting in their praise of the work of these Army observers.
81. 9thDefBn, Informal Combat Report; O'Neil ltr; Wenban ltr; Reichner ltr.