The Southwest Pacific Area
As defined during the closing months of 1943, General MacArthur's command, designated Southwest Pacific Area, embraced everything south of the Equator from the 159th Parallel East Longitude to the 133d Parallel East Longitude. From this point the line of demarcation jumped north to 20 degrees Latitude, west to the China coast, down the coast of Indo-China and Malaya, around the east coast of Sumatra, then east to the 110th Parallel East Longitude and south to an indefinite point. This included most of the Solomons, all of Australia, New Guinea, the Bismarcks, the Philippines, and a major part of the Netherlands East Indies. Originally the boundary had been set at 160 degrees East Longitude, but it had been moved westward to bring all of Guadalcanal within control of the South Pacific Area, commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey.1
For operations in this vast area, General MacArthur commanded Allied as well as American troops, ships and aircraft: notably Australian, a few Dutch and occasional British elements. Major organizational echelons were Allied Land Forces (Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey), Allied Air Forces (Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, USA) and Allied Naval Forces (Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid).2 For operational purposes in 1943, two major forces were established: New Guinea Force commanded by Blamey, and New Britain Force3 under Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, Commanding General, U.S. Sixth Army. The latter force was created in June 1943 to provide a command operating directly under GHQ, SWPA, inasmuch as Sixth Army was under Allied Land Forces. But Krueger, the force commander, was unable to obtain elements from Krueger, the Army commander, without approval of GHQ, SWPA.4
However, in early 1943 MacArthur had far too little of practically everything, and his
position might be described justly as precarious.5 Thus, when the badly battered 1st Marine Division was relieved at Guadalcanal, it was removed from SoPac Area to SWPA6 to provide him with a trained amphibious division as well as to provide the Marines with rest and rehabilitation. The division was not carried under Allied Land Forces in Australia, however, but was held in GHQ reserve directly under General MacArthur until its assignment to the New Britain Force.7
So much had been related concerning the 1st Division's fabulous sojourn in and around Melbourne as to render that interlude close to legendary in Marine Corps annals. Important to this narrative is merely the fact that the unit was there, recovering its collective fitness and efficiency during a nine-months period that saw sweeping changes take place in the Southwest Pacific Area. As inpouring fresh troops increased General MacArthur's strength, and the tide of battle set in against the Japanese in New Guinea, all hands knew without being told that they were destined to be committed on the offensive under Army command.
The realization made no one especially happy when formulation of definite plans for the forthcoming operation disclosed some rather marked variations in Army and Marine Corps tactical thinking.
Throughout most of 1943 reduction, and later isolation, of Rabaul continued to preoccupy the thinking of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their concept of the western New Britain operation fitted this into the over-all strategy of extending and tightening the net around the enemy stronghold.
This concept was contained in a directive issued 29 March 1943 which visualized it as a part of a three-pronged offensive carrying the code name CARTWHEEL. To implement CARTWHEEL, the ELKTON Plan8 was devised for the joint employment of SWPA and SoPac forces. Its goal was seizure of bases in the New Britain-New Ireland-New Guinea-Solomons areas and it listed New Guinea and the Solomons as primary objectives.9 The final objective was New Britain and Rabaul.
Within CARTWHEEL, Operation One (CHRONICLE) was the occupation of Kiriwina and Woodlark Islands; Operation Two (POSTERN) was the capture of Lae, Salamaua, Finschhafen, Madang area and Buin-Faisi area; Operation Three (DEXTERITY) was the occupation of western New Britain and Kieta and the neutralization of Buka.10
The New Britain operation entailed certain secondary values as well. Seizure of a foothold at the western end of the island meant control of Vitiaz Strait and constituted a desirable, possibly essential preliminary to attacking the Admiralties to clear the way, in turn, for further westward advance along northern New Guinea, a required project if the SWPA was to remain in operation. Possession of the Cape Gloucester airdrome by U.S. forces would effectively sever the Japanese supply route
between Rabaul and New Guinea,11 and conceivably provide the base necessary to a ground assault on Rabaul.12
General MacArthur maintained his General Headquarters as CinCSWPA13 at Brisbane, with a forward command post at Port Moresby, in southeastern New Guinea. General Krueger had his Sixth Army headquarters on Goodenough Island, one of the D'Entrecasteaux Group, some 20 miles north of New Guinea's eastern tip. These were the echelons under which the 1st Marine Division was destined to operate in the forthcoming campaign, and as early as June 1943, ". . . certain Division Staff Officers were ordered to GHQ at Brisbane to collaborate in the formation of the initial plans."14
On 15 July General MacArthur's headquarters circulated the MARFA plan for the occupation of western New Britain to include the general line Gasmata-Talasea.15 No units were mentioned, but the plan noted, "This operation must be economically conducted in order to conserve forces for the assault on Rabaul . . ." It called for one regimental combat team to "neutralize" Gasmata, followed by an attack in force on Cape
THE MARFA PLAN scheduled Combat Team A to land at Gasmata, and the airstrip there was pounded by Beauforts, Bostons and Beaufighters of the Allied Air Forces. (AF Photo)
Gloucester and then moving eastward to Talasea in a series of shore-to-shore operations. The scheme of maneuver for Cape Gloucester provided that one regiment would land east and west of the airstrip, while artillery landed further westward to establish fire support and a parachute regiment "will be launched onto the airdrome." Target date for D-Day was 15 November, the Gasmata landing preceding that by seven days.
This was followed by MARFA Plan II, dated 26 August, which directed the ALAMO Force to "seize the Cape Gloucester area and neutralize Gasmata . . . and establish control over Western New Britain to include the general line Talasea-Gasmata, the Vitu Islands and Long Island." It also ordered ALAMO Force to prepare to participate "in over-seas landing operations to capture Rabaul."16
By 31 August, this planning had progressed to the point where the 1st Marine Division was alerted for movement
IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE COLLINS STREET! These Marines of the 1st Division have just landed at their Milne Bay staging base after the sojourn in Melbourne.
northward to advance staging areas, in accordance with which three operational orders were issued on the above date. The division Special Action Report summarizes this complicated business succinctly as follows:
Division Operations Orders were issued forming the AMOEBA Force . . . , the LAZARETTO Force . . . and the BACKHANDER Force . . . . These forces were all a part of the ALAMO Force under command of Lieutenant General Krueger, U.S. Army, Commanding General, Sixth U.S. Army. The mission of the ALAMO Force was to occupy western New Britain to include the general line Gasmata-Talasea and by combined airborne and overwater operations to establish airdromes therein for subsequent operations against Rabaul.17
Essentially, MARFA Plan II provided that the LAZARETTO Force, composed principally of Combat Team A (5th Marines) less the 3d Battalion, would land at Gasmata on D-minus 7: the BACKHANDER Force, Combat Team C (7th Marines) plus a detachment of Division Headquarters and reinforcing elements would land on Cape Gloucester on D-Day, to be followed on D-plus 7 by the 503d Parachute Regiment; the AMOEBA Force, Combat Team B (1st Marines), 3/5 and all other uncommitted elements of the division, would be in reserve, the battalion for Gasmata and the combat team for Cape Gloucester. Also included in the reserve forces was the 32d Infantry Division. Target date for D-Day remained 15 November, but was changed two weeks later to 1 December.
The plan as set forth met with objections from division officers. Primarily they felt that the BACKHANDER Force was not large enough nor well enough coordinated to
COMMAND CHANNELS SWPA
cope with the enemy they expected to meet on Cape Gloucester. In addition to a natural desire to keep the division intact, the planners argued against a three-way split on the grounds that it would not permit the landing of a sizable force against an enemy believed to be numerically equal or superior, well established and determined. These arguments having no effect, however, the division began its movement to three different staging areas.
On 4 September 1943 division issued Warning Order 2-43 relating to the movement of the combat teams. This was followed two days later by Operation Order 17-43 directing that such movement be carried out.18
As early as 19 August, however, advance echelons had started toward the staging area. On that date a detachment from H&S, 17th Marines, had departed Melbourne to be followed a few days later by the 1st and 2d Battalions. The 1st Battalion landed at Goodenough Island 1 September and began work on the advance staging camp there. The 2d Battalion proceded by rail to Brisbane to pick up the regiment's engineer equipment and rejoined its parent organization later in the month.19
Transportation from Melbourne to New Guinea was something less than satisfactory as far as the comfort of the division was concerned. It consisted of an assortment of Army transports which were Liberty ships hastily converted from cargo to troop carriers. As the 1st Marines War Diary aptly put it, "Construction of galleys and heads on deck marked the conversion."20
The first major unit to embark was Combat Team C. With the 1st and 4th Battalions, 11th Marines, and other reinforcing elements, the 7th Marines began moving to Melbourne's docks on 7 September and embarked 19 September. The convoy of three ships arrived at Cape Sudest, New Guinea, on 2 October, to be followed a week later by a second echelon.
On 8 October Combat Team A and reinforcing units headed by Brigadier General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Assistant Division Commander, reached its Milne Bay base at New Guinea's eastern extremity. Combat Team B (1st Marines, Reinforced), designated division reserve at this period, based at Goodenough Island (together with 1st Division, 11th Marines and 17th Marines command posts and miscellaneous elements), and completed the division forward movement on 24 October.
The advance echelon of division headquarters set up on Goodenough Island on 9 October. There the commanding general received ALAMO Force Field Order No. 4, dated 18 October 1943.
Although attaching Combat Team A to the Cape Gloucester Task Force, this order left much to be desired from the Marine point of view. It retained the essentials of the initial concept:21 the operation against Gasmata and the employment of a single RCT at Cape Gloucester, supported by one parachute regiment. The mission of neutralizing Gasmata was turned over to the 126th Regimental Combat Team, 32d Infantry Division,22 but instead of placing Combat Team A under direct division control, this fine assault unit was lumped in with the supporting garrison elements for Cape Gloucester, most of them specialist groups with the mission of exploiting the ground gained. Worst of all, from division's viewpoint, Combat Team C was split into two separate assault forces.
OFFICES OF 1st MARINE DIVISION HEADQUARTERS on Goodenough Island looked like this during the planning and preparation stage.
The scheme of maneuver23 directed that Combat Team C, less one battalion landing team, land at Cape Gloucester on D-Day (tentatively set for 20 November 1943), to be followed by the 503d Parachute Regiment on call of Commander, BACKHANDER Task Force. The lone battalion landing team remaining would land at Tauali and march rapidly north to the airdrome, sending a reconnaissance group via Aipati-Agulupella-Natamo. Combat Team B would move to Finschhafen on D-minus 6 prepared to land (less one BLT) in support of Combat Team C. That other battalion landing team would be ready to seize Rooke and Long Islands or to reinforce the Gloucester units on order of CG, ALAMO Force. Combat Team A would remain at Milne Bay until ordered to move by the ALAMO Force commander.24
From the outset, 1st Division planners had visualized Cape Gloucester as the key to the entire situation, because of its large airdrome, suitable to further enlarging, and its strategic location at the northwestern tip of the island. Their concern increased as new intelligence indicated that the Japanese held the same view and were building up their
First Marine Division
forces in that area to what might prove several times the maximum figure of 1,500 previously estimated;25 enough to jeopardize success of the whole expedition as currently conceived. This concern was conveyed to General Krueger on 3 November when General Rupertus wrote his superior, urging that Combat Team C not be split. As alternatives, he suggested using elements from either the parachute regiment or Combat Team B for the Tauali landing while permitting Combat Team C to land as an entity in the eastern sector of Cape Gloucester.26
The Gasmata project had been instigated
GENERALS KRUEGER, RUPERTUS AND MACARTHUR discuss the proposed scheme of maneuver for Cape Gloucester at the 1st Marine Division CP, 14 December 1943.
by General Kenney in order to establish an air base on New Britain's south coast.27 The Navy also wanted it for a PT boat base in order to intercept barge traffic passing that way. But Gasmata was closer to Rabaul than to Dobadura and there was increasing evidence that it was a poor place for an airdrome. By early November, therefore, General Kenney and his deputy, Major General Ennis C. Whitehead, cooled on the idea,28 and on 21 November a conference between Generals Krueger and Kenney, Admiral Barbey and Major General S. J. Chamberlin, MacArthur's G-3, recommended that Arawe be substituted as equally suitable for a PT base.
On 22 November GHQ Annex 15 to Operation Instructions 38 made the substitution and eight days later CG ESCALATOR issued Field Order No. 5 (superceding FO No. 4), cancelling the Gasmata plan29 at long last and activating a new task force (coded DIRECTOR), built around the 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team, to undertake the attack on Arawe in order to "seize and defend a suitable location for the establishment of light naval facilities." Tentative landing dates were set as 15 December (Z-Day) for Arawe and 26 December (D-Day) for Cape Gloucester.
While this order conceded the main objections of the Marines, i. e., splitting Combat Team C, the division staff remained less than happy and continued to look with jaundiced eye on the proposed scheme of maneuver. This called for landing one regimental combat team (7th Marines) east of the airdrome, one battalion landing team (2d Battalion, 1st Marines)30 west of it, and dropping the 503d Parachute Infantry in a large kunai grass patch some thousands of yards to the southeast, the three elements to converge on the target.31 Drawn on an operations map with neat blue arrows, this maneuver might look most impressive to students of tactics who had never seen the mountains, swamps and rain forest jungle of the Southwest Pacific. But it did not impress jungle-conscious 1st Division officers, only too aware of the difficulties of coordinating the movements of three widely dispersed forces in such terrain against an enemy probably outnumbering any one of them; and the danger inherent in such forces converging on each other under circumstances which made quick recognition of friendly troops virtually impossible.
And in early December the division received
unexpected support, if for not quite identical reasons, from an influential quarter. In a memorandum32 to General Chamberlin, General Kenney voiced his opposition to the use of paratroops in the operation. He argued that it was intended to use piecemeal paratroop drops instead of a mass drop; that piecemeal drops would require innumerable flights of troop carriers; that these flights would be required at a time dangerously approaching enemy air reaction, and he questioned whether alternate drop sites had been selected. In conclusion he declared, "Commander, Allied Air Forces, does not desire to participate in the planned employment of paratroops for DEXTERITY."
Thus matters stood on 14 December when General MacArthur paid a ceremonial (more or less) visit to the 1st Marine Division command post. Accompanied by General Krueger and members of both their staffs, he stood by a large table on which the operational maps were displayed while Colonel E. A. Pollock, Marine D-3, described the scheme of maneuver. The general watched with close attention, and when the demonstration was over inquired conversationally how the division liked the plan.
There was an instant of silence. Then Colonel Pollock took the bit in his teeth and, ignoring both of his immediate superiors, told the area commander bluntly that the Marines did not like any part of it.
This seeming violation of protocol apparently took General MacArthur somewhat aback, for after another perfunctory remark or two he strode from the meeting. That the incident made an impression on him soon became evident, however. General Chamberlain noted on the bottom of General Kenney's objections: "As a result of conference held by CINC at Goodenough on 14 December, decision was made to eliminate paratroops from BACKHANDER operation." More material was the issuance of Amendment 1 to ESCALATOR Field Order No. 5, dated 15 December 1943, conceding at last all, or nearly all,
COLONEL POLLOCK, DÔ3, VOICED HIS OPPOSITION to the original Gloucester attack plan.
of the points for which the Marines had contended.33
The scheme of maneuver stemming from these amendments had as its core the concentration of strength for a potentially decisive stroke, rather than dispersal of forces as converging blue arrows drawn on a map. In place of the cancelled paratroop operation, Combat Team B (less BLT 21), removed from task reserve, would land immediately behind the assault force (Combat Team C) on the eastern beaches, pass through the
newly established beachhead line, and attack westward toward the airdrome. The new scheme retained the secondary landing on the western shore of New Britain by BLT 21, but the mission of this unit became strictly defensive: to block reinforcement of the airdrome area from the south and cut off retreat of the garrison in that direction, rather than participating in any converging movement on the target.
Perhaps equally important from the division's point of view, Combat Team A was designated task force reserve, to be brought forward from Milne Bay to Cape Sudest where two battalions would be transshipped preparatory to quick reinforcement of operations on Cape Gloucester upon request of the division commander.34
Thus, what proved to be the final plan became effective only 11 days prior to the scheduled landing date, and on the very day that the newly conceived Arawe operation began.35 Details will be discussed in Chapter III.
1. A JCS directive issued 29Mar43 gave Halsey tactical command of the Solomons west of the 159th parallel, while retaining MacArthur's strategic authority. For operational purposes the two men moved the boundary between SoPac and SoWesPac westward several times, but the official line remained 159 degrees.
2. Kenney also commanded Fifth Air Force and Kinkaid the Seventh Fleet, relieving VAdm Arthur S. Carpender at this post 26Nov43.
3. Code name for New Guinea Force was PHOSPHOROUS. New Britain Force had two code names, ALAMO and ESCALATOR, the latter being its secret designation.
4. Ltr Col D. W. Fuller to Maj J. A. Crown, 28Jan 52, hereinafter cited as Fuller. New Britain Force was deactivated 16Sep44.
5. In January 1943 the bulk of MacArthur's Australian elements were committed to the defense of that continent leaving only four divisions--two Australian and two U.S.--for offensive operations. Seventh Fleet was created 15Mar43 and Sixth Army came under SWPA control 17Apr43. In May 1943 it required much diplomatic maneuvering to keep Sixth Army free from Australian defense plans and available for offensive campaigns.
6. In Dec 1942 three 1st MarDiv majors were sent as liaison officers to GHQ, SWPA. They were Robert O. Bowen, G-2 section, Donald W. Fuller, G-3 section, Frederick L. Wieseman, G-4 section.
8. The ELKTON Plan was later modified, becoming successively ELKTON II and III. "We named the campaign after that rapid marriage mart, Elkton, Md., because the plan was a get-together of Admiral Halsey and General MacArthur." Fuller.
9. The Bougainville invasion took place before New Britain plans reached full fruition. The operation against Kavieng, main enemy base on New Ireland, was subsequently cancelled as potentially too costly, the desired result achieved by seizure of undefended Emirau, to the northwest, on 20Mar44. Initial Admiralties landing took place on 29Feb44.
10. GHQ, SWPA, G-3, 6May43.
11. Japanese forces in western New Guinea were supplied more directly from the homeland via the Philippines and Palaus, but the Japanese Eighteenth Army, operating east of Wewak, remained under command of, and drew the bulk of its supplies from Eighth Area Army headquarters at Rabaul. See Chap IV.
12. Indicative of the strategic thinking then prevailing, the operational plan issued by ALAMO Force G-3 stipulated the early relief of 1stMarDiv at Cape Gloucester in order to make it available for "the final assault on Rabaul." (ALAMO Force G-3 Plan, 2.)
13. CinCSoWesPac was the abbreviation used mostly by Navy documents. SWPA documents and, after a time, the JCS documents, use the abbreviation CinCSWPA. Moreover, MacArthur's official title (per the JCS but never used in the SWPA) was "Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area."
14. 1st MarDiv Special Action Report, Phase I, Part II, 1. Source hereinafter cited as 1st MarDiv SAR, followed by numerals indicating phase, part and page. Officers referred to were LtCols E. A. Pollock and H. W. Buse of D-3 Section, and Maj G. F. Gober of D-4.
15. ALAMO Force G-3 Journal, Operation DEXTERITY, hereinafter cited as ALAMO G-3, 15Jul43.
16. ALAMO G-3, 26Aug43.
17. 1st MarDiv SAR, I, II, 1.
18. 1st MarDiv War Diary, Oct43, Annexes C and D. Hereinafter cited as 1st MarDiv WD.
19. Col R. G. Ballance. comments on prelim script, hereinafter cited as Ballance.
20. 1st Marines War Diary, Oct43, 3.
21. Conspicuous by its absence was any reference in the order to a future assault on Rabaul. All previous orders, directives and plans had refered to such a possibility.
22. 5th Marines War Diary, Oct43, notes that the LAZARETTO Force was dissolved 20Oct43 in accordance with oral orders of the Commanding General, 1st MarDiv. The designation, "LAZARETTO Force," actually was transferred to the 126th RCT until the Gasmata project was cancelled.
23. "Sixth Army Headquarters had a tendency to specify schemes of maneuver for its subordinate units, a departure from established Army practice." Ltr Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept of the Army, to CMC 28Apr52, hereinafter cited as CHIS.
24. ALAMO G-3, 18Oct43.
25. For Development of intelligence, see Chap III of this monograph; for what the Japanese were actually doing, see Chap IV.
26. ALAMO G-3, 3Nov43.
27. Ltr MajGen C. D. Eddleman to Maj J. A. Crown, 28Apr52, hereinafter cited as Eddleman.
28. Kenney, op. cit., 326, 327.
29. "Actually, the plans for all of the western New Britain operations were prepared in quite a bit of detail by the GHQ (SWPA) staff . . . the ALAMO Force was merely an agency of GHQ and did not schedule or cancel any of these operations." Eddleman.
30. 1st Mar (less 2/1) was designated task force reserve at this stage of planning.
31. Three alternative variations of the scheme were offered, but all boiled down to the same thing: initial dispersion, followed by conversion by forces out of physical contact through strange, heavily jungled country.
32. GHQ, SWPA, G-3 Journal, 8Dec43.
33. "General Douglas MacArthur, USA, ComSoWes Pac, made an inspection of the Division C.P. Proposed changes in operation plan for BACKHANDER force, necessitating re-writing of certain portions of the Operation Order." (1st MarDiv D-2 Record of Events, entry of 14Dec43. Source cited hereinafter as D-2 RofE.)
34. At this stage one BLT (3/5) of CT-A was designated for a special mission: seizure of Long Island and Rooke (Umboi) Island in Vitiaz Strait, still thought to constitute a threat to the main operation.
35. In order to maintain continuity of the Cape Gloucester action, treatment of the Arawe operation is deferred to Chap IX.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation