One of the concrete results of the New Britain operation was the development of a shore party plan which was subsequently used successfully at Peleliu and Okinawa by the 1st Marine Division and adopted by the Army for its jungle campaigns in New Guinea and the Philippines. New types of shipping--LST's, LCI's, LCT's--necessitated a new concept of shore party procedures, and at Cape Gloucester these were shaped and polished through use and experience.
In October, 1943, 2d Battalion, 17th Marines and Company C of the 1st Battalion were attached to Combat Team C at Cape Sudest,2 the plan being that the Shore Party would land with the assault organization. Although from time to time this was augmented by elements of other organizations, the hard core of the organization remained 2/17.
The plan evolved by Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Ballance and his two assistants, Major Levi W. Smith, Jr., and Captain Nathaniel Morgenthal, provided a system of overlapping dumps. Thus, for instance, dumps were segregated along the beach from left to right in the following manner: Class I (rations and water); Class III (lubricants and fuels); Classes II and IV (miscellaneous supplies and equipment); Class V (ammunition). The left flank LST utilized the first three dumps alone, but shared the ammunition dump with the LST on its right. This second LST, in turn, had its own Class I and Class III dumps and shared the miscellaneous dump with the LST on its right. And so on along the beach.
Four LST's were unloaded simultaneously on Beach YELLOW 2 and three on Beach YELLOW 1. Seven provisional companies were formed, one responsible for each LST, and two pools of equipment were planned, one for each beach.
First elements of the Shore Party to land on D-Day were reconnaissance teams charged with the specific missions of (1) marking beach flanks; (2) determining best landing sites for LST's, (3) marking road nets from these sites to proposed dump areas. Road nets and dump areas had been optimistically selected on the map before the landing in the mistaken belief that there were 300 yards of usable dispersal space between the beachline
SHORE PARTY AT WORK. Thousands of sandbags were needed to connect LST's with the beach.
and the swamp. Because of the infamous "damp flat," however, dumps had to be concentrated along the narrow strip of firmer ground just off the beach.3
Until overhead wires could be set up, internal communications were handled exclusively by radio since the tracked bulldozers and LVT's quickly chewed up wires laid along the ground. But eventually the Shore Party net became so efficient that its switchboard became a secondary switchboard for Division Headquarters.
Due to high surf and coral reefs, docks were not feasible, a factor which had been recognized before the landing. Consequently each LST carried about 1,000 filled sandbags to be used in a subsidiary ramp connecting the vessel with the beach. An astronomical number of sandbags were used in this fashion, each such ramp requiring between 3,000 and 4,000 and nearly every LST necessitating a new one.4 Later, empty oil drums were filled with sand to augment the vital bags. Although they were extremely difficult to handle, particularly in the surf, they remained in position longer than the sandbags.
BEFORE THE SANDBAG RAMPS were built, motor vehicles had to be pulled onto the beach.
Working with Sixth Army headquarters, the Marines had devised a scheme to mobile load some 500 Army 2½ ton trucks with supplies and equipment to be driven to the dumps and unloaded, as described in Chapter V. The plan looked good on paper and, in fact, worked successfully for the Marines after D-plus 1 as well as for the Army in subsequent operations. But on D-Day, as noted, it was thrown awry when the truck drivers abandoned their vehicles where they stood in a mad scramble to get away on the departing LST's, thereby presenting Division with a magnificent traffic jam. On D-plus 1 there was a recurrence of the incident as the second LST group beached and departed, but the shore party succeeded in placing a number of the previously abandoned vehicles back aboard. Thereafter the plan worked with increasing success.
As the first LST's began unloading at both YELLOW Beaches, the Shore Party encountered a problem that was to have near-serious consequences. By Navy orders the vessels were to withdraw within a specified time regardless of unloading progress. Thus, owing to the combination of physical difficulties, many LST's departed Cape Gloucester with such vital cargo as ammunition, which had been stowed aft, still aboard. The amount of bulk cargo unloaded on D-Day averaged 150 tons per LST, but a total of 395 tons returned to New Guinea. This made it necessary for division to request air drops of small arms and mortar ammunition, and at times the ration and fuel stores for the BACKHANDER Force fell to only two days supply on hand.5
However, failure to unload completely had positive value in that it resulted in a revision of LST loading methods. Originally cargo was loaded horizontally. For example, Class V cargo was loaded aft from port to starboard; in front of it would be Class III; then from port to starboard would be a layer of Class IV, and so on. In order to get to Class V, everything forward of it had to be removed. During the New Britain campaign this method was replaced by a vertical loading scheme, which, incidentally, worked with marked success in the Peleliu operation later in 1944.6 Under this, Class V supplies would be loaded along the starboard bulkhead from bow to stern. Parallel to them would be Class I supplies, and so on until loading was completed. This system provided a better balanced unloading program, and at the same time permitted removal of any one item in the event of an emergency.
The Shore Party also came to the conclusion that loading trucks three abreast on an LST's tank deck was the most efficient method; that attempting to unload without trucks is too inefficient; that 10 men per truck and two traffic control men per LST are required for unloading; that an LST should blow its bow ballast tanks just before making a run into the beach, fill them upon reaching the beach in order to hold the ship steady, and blow all ballast tanks before retracting. Liberty ships that put into Borgen Bay during later phases of the campaign gave the Shore Party Marines training in rigging and winch operations which was to prove of incalculable value at Peleliu on D-Day.
The shore party concept had come a long way indeed from the methods used at Guadalcanal. The shore party procedures that became SOP at Cape Gloucester as a matter of course were based on the beach and shore conditions found there. However, their ready adaptation by the 1st Marine Division to the very different conditions prevailing at Peleliu and Okinawa, and by the Army in subsequent New Guinea operations and the Philippines campaign, gave ample evidence of their efficacy.
1. This account draws principally upon an interview with LtCol Nathaniel Morgenthal, 24Apr52, hereinafter cited as Morgenthal.
2. The shore party was detached from Combat Team C and attached to the ADC Group upon that command's activation on 29Dec43.
3. "This concentration was bad in principle, but we lost nothing to the enemy because of it." Morgenthal.
4. It was virtually impossible to get an LST to hit an existing narrow ramp, and the action of the surf tore the sandbags apart and washed them away within a short time.
5. Annex C to 1st MarDiv SAR, 3, 4. Actually, Division had too small a perimeter for airdrops at that time and ammunition was scattered far and wide over the New Britain jungles, only a small amount of it being retrieved. (Interview with Lt Col G. F. Gober, 29Apr52.)
6. "Vertical loading required much more prior planning in order to give the ship a balanced cargo. but the results were worth the extra effort." Morgenthal.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation