Defense of the Beachhead

Expansion of the Perimeter

CONTINUED uncertainty seemed to mark the Japanese position throughout December. It became increasingly evident that:

  1. Our air superiority was no longer in dispute south of Rabaul.
  2. The enemy was not preparing to accept a naval challenge in the Northern Solomons, whatever the nature of his plan for the defense of Bougainville.
  3. The enemy had been so thoroughly thrown off balance as to be capable only of day-to-day counteraction.
  4. Enemy morale must have been strained to a point not heretofore envisaged.1

In the progressive enlargement of the perimeter, therefore, no engagements comparable to those of mid-November occurred. Intelligence reports, however, and constant long patrols showed the enemy to be digging in the hills beyond U.S. artillery range, with the presumed possibility of preparing a counteroffensive against our right flank, or of resisting our conceivable attempts on southern Bougainville.2

The exchange of regimental sectors, prescribed by General Turnage on 23 November, was completed on 26 November.3 During this period, active patrolling by all elements of IMAC was undertaken in all sectors. As a result of these patrols, outposts were set up in those areas which appeared to offer likely targets for Japanese infantry action. A vantage point was sighted in front of the lines held by the 21st Marines.


On 27 November, Colonel Evans O. Ames of the 21st Marines ordered an officer and 21 enlisted Marines equipped with a TBX radio to establish a detached post on the newly discovered site. On 1 December General Tumage directed that this detail be increased to a reinforced rifle platoon.4 On 3 December Colonel Ames requested that the strength of this detail be reduced to that originally prescribed on the ground that it was an observation post only and its relatively large size made concealment difficult. Colonel Blake, the Division chief of staff, approved this request. Meanwhile, communication wire was laid to the location to augment the facilities offered by the TBX radio. Supply of the detachment was so difficult, due to the poor condition of the trail leading to it, that food, water, and ammunition had to be carried forward by hand.5

After the battle at Piva Forks, when reconnaissance disclosed that the enemy was not occupying the hill mass just west of the Torokina River, General Turnage, despite the obvious supply and evacuation difficulties, decided to occupy a general line stretching from Hill 1000 in the north to Hill 600A in the south, along a ridge running westward from Hill 1000 and through Hill 600A, thus forming a barrier parallel to the Torokina River west bank.

First step in this plan involved occupation of an outpost line by the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Williams), less the 1st and 2d Battalions, with units of the 3d, 9th, and 21st Marines in support.

GUNS Of THE 2D 155MM BATTALION supported the advance of the 3d Marines at Piva Forks. This picture, taken during a harassing mission the night before the attack, shows one gun crew silhouetted by the muzzle flash.


This force was given explicit instructions to avoid, if possible, a major engagement.6

Carrying one-half a unit of fire and three days' rations, the Marines pushed forward pending construction of amphibian tractor routes for supply and evacuation. Difficulties encountered in this proposed construction, however, prevented expeditious completion of the project. On the fourth day in the advanced position, therefore, the Parachutists were supplied by air-drop in order to relieve the critical shortage of rations.7

In accordance with 3d Division plans to advance the final force beachhead line to the high ground overlooking the Torokina River, and to make the next move to that line, General Turnage on 5 December increased the Hill 600 detached post to a rifle company, reinforced by a machine-gun and a rocket platoon. The rifle company and machine-gun platoon went forward from the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, while the rocket platoon was attached from Corps Troops.8 On 6 December, the remainder of the battalion moved forward to a previously reconnoitered outpost line along the Torokina, just east of Hill 600. In the meantime, Colonel Williams had formed a Provisional Battalion from personnel of the Parachute Regiment Headquarters and Company I, and had assigned responsibility for the occupation of Hill 1000 to the battalion. The 3d Parachute Battalion covered a line from Hill 1000 to the junction of East-West Trail and Torokina River. Thus, with approximately 900 men, the 1st Parachute Regiment covered a front of about 3000 yards. Minor patrol clashes of increasing intensity began on 5 December.

On 7 December 3d Parachute Battalion patrols discovered abandoned enemy positions on the eastern spur of the ridge which they now occupied, and which commanded the Marine lines. A captured operation map indicated that a reinforced company (235 men) of the Japanese 23d Infantry defended this area.9 Major Robert T. Vance, commanding officer, 3d Parachute Battalion, therefore decided to straighten his lines to include the spur. For this purpose he ordered a patrol forward the following morning, but this unit was stopped by enemy fire. The Japanese apparently had reoccupied their positions during the night. Again on 8 December reconnaissance patrols met resistance on the spur. Vance therefore decided to attack with Company K and drive the enemy from his front. At 1000, 9 December, Company K launched its attack and penetrated the Japanese positions, but, due to heavy casualties and continuing resistance, was forced to withdraw to its original lines. Vance then tried to outflank the enemy with Companies I and L, but these units could make no headway up the steep slopes.10

Reinforcements were requested to strengthen weak points caused by casualties and the overextended line. Company C, 21st Marines, which was in process of occupying a bivouac area in the vicinity of Evansville to prepare for the movement of the 21st Marines to line How (final force beachhead line) the next day--10 December--was therefore attached to the 3d Parachute Battalion and moved forthwith into line, while the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines occupied a supporting position to the right rear.11

In accordance with plans, on the morning of 10 December, the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines (less Company C) moved forward under enemy fire, from line Fox to occupy the left flank of the 21st Marines sector on line How, and relieve the Paramarines. Relief was completed at 1645, and the 21st Marines assumed responsibility for driving the enemy off the spur of Hill 1000. The 3d and 9th Marines meanwhile had moved forward as planned, encountering no opposition during displacement.12


Map 20
Hellzapoppin Ridge
Attack by 21st Marines
18 Dec 1943

BITTERLY DEFENDED GROTTOES, such as that shown here, were utilized by the Japanese on Hellzapoppin Ridge. Dense underbrush and steep slopes made the fighting especially difficult.

Hellzapoppin Ridge13

From 12 to 18 December, operations were carried out by various elements of the 21st Marines to drive the enemy from his positions confronting the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, so that it could occupy and organize its portion of the force beachhead line.

Reconnaissance by several patrols, and the fortunate capture of a Japanese situation map, disclosed that the enemy occupied a well dug-in, all-around position located primarily on the eastern spur of the ridge now occupied by the 1st Battalion and commanding the present lines of that Battalion, being only about 100 yards to the north. The captured map indicated that the area was manned by a reinforced company (235 men) of the Japanese 23d Infantry.14

That this location came to be known as Hellzapoppin Ridge testifies to the bitter character of the fighting which resulted in its capture. It was a natural fortress, perhaps 300 yards long, with very sharp, almost vertical, slopes on two sides and a crest averaging only 40 yards in width. The whole was covered with giant trees rising from the wild tangle of the jungle. On the part of the Marines there was little familiarity with the lay of the land, and, as fresh information was brought by successive patrols and skirmishers, the rough little sketches which they prepared showed only the ground within the immediate vicinity of their limited observation, often serving to obscure, rather than clarify, the geographic detail. In consequence, neither air


nor artillery and naval gunfire bombardment could be put down with the pinpoint precision essential in this instance. As is so often the case in jungle warfare, it was impossible to determine just what to shoot at.15

Japanese reverse slope defenses were encountered at Hellzapoppin Ridge. All companies of the 21st Marines launched attacks against the Japanese; but the enemy was well dug in, had overhead cover, and a carefully prepared all-around defense, with interlocking bands of automatic weapons fire covering all approaches to the position. Enemy riflemen in trees offered close-in protection, and the very nature of the terrain precluded maneuver on the part of the Marines. Company commanders, due to insufficient space, were forced to push forward one platoon at a time to attack frontally, while employing another platoon in partial envelopment. However, the all-around defense employed by the Japanese repeatedly prevented envelopment, turning it eventually into yet another frontal assault.16

As was later discovered, the enemy had burrowed extensive dugouts, often underneath the very roots of trees, impervious to anything but a direct hit by artillery or a bomb, the effect of which might be minimized by a tree-burst. The whole defensive system was skillfully concealed; at the same time, no emplaced position could be approached without ample warning to its defenders. But the Marines fought on, returning time after time to the assault, gaining a precarious foothold only to yield it to seemingly insuperable odds--pushing forward once more, forcing the enemy back yard by yard until his exhausted troops no longer had the resolution to endure.17

The Japanese had constructed their foxholes at the foot of a knoll, a factor which offered them only a ten-yard field of fire, but the fire lanes from these positions were so cleverly constructed that the Marines did not know where the foxholes were until they stumbled into them. Furthermore, natural camouflage afforded by the thick jungle undergrowth had obliterated all evidence of enemy fortification. Marines utilized 60mm mortars in their attacks, but these proved ineffective, for they did not pack the punch necessary to open holes for our infantry. The use of the 81 mm mortar was extensive, but neither could it put the infantry across. Artillery was employed, but since the Japanese position was located on a reverse slope, and since the huge trees along the crest of the ridge caused tree bursts, it, too, was ineffective. Planes were called upon to bomb and strafe the area, but due to the difficulty of observation, these often missed their targets, on one occasion even firing into the lines of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, just to the north of Hill 600.18

Finally, on 18 December, after repeated infantry attacks supported by artillery, and three air strikes which did little more than blast trees and undergrowth so that infantry could see, an attack was planned that pushed the enemy off the ridge that night. A heavy artillery concentration was first placed on the area in order to stun the Japanese; a fourth air strike was made after careful coordination between air and infantry officers;19 and units of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 21st Marines launched an attack from two sides of the ridge, squeezing the Japanese positions as a nut-cracker squeezes a nut. The repeated artillery and bombing concentrations brought the Japanese to the surface, where they were dealt with easily.20

In the final air attack made on Hellzapoppin Ridge, six Marine TBF's from VMTB-134 dropped 48 100 pound bombs 75 yards forward of front line positions. Passes were made in succession by individual planes from tree-top height, parallel to our front lines, and strafing was combined with bombing. Colored smoke grenades marked out front lines, while 81mm mortars fired white phosphorus shells at the target area to mark it for the planes. The 21st Marines, throughout, were in close communication with the planes via radio, and after planes had completed attacks, each would make several


Map 21
XIV Corps Beachhead
Cape Torokina
18 Dec 1943

false passes at the target area in order to deceive the enemy and cause him to stay under cover.21

Capture of Hellzapoppin Ridge had cost the 21st Marines 12 killed and 23 wounded. Over 50 Japanese bodies were found in the area.22

Following the successful completion of these attacks, the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, pushed forward to the Eagle River (a tributary of the Torokina) on the morning of 19 December, and work was begun on organization of a line of deliberate defense.23

The Fight for Hill 600A

From 19 December 1943 to 1 January 1944, Marine operations consisted largely of patrol missions between the Eagle and Torokina Rivers. There was considerable Japanese activity in the area, but the enemy undertook no offensive measures during this period. Several three-day reconnaissance patrols were sent across the Torokina, deep into enemy territory, but these returned after difficult but uneventful struggles with the rough terrain. The Japanese periodically shelled our lines with 75mm guns and 90mm mortars, but this fire proved ineffective for the most part since the bulk of the concentration fell in the vicinity of Evansville, where we had supply dumps only. Consequently, few casualties resulted.24

On the morning of 21 December a reconnaissance patrol of the 21st Marines contacted a force consisting of 14 to 18 Japanese in the vicinity of Hill 600A and immediately returned to our lines with the information. That afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Eustace R. Smoak was ordered to dispatch a combat patrol from his 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, to attack the enemy force. This force moved out as ordered, again made contact, and at 1545 drove the enemy


DENSE JUNGLE CLOAKED THE POSITIONS OF JAPANESE RIFLEMEN. In this picture two Marines prepare to flush a sniper from his well-hidden location.

from the hill, losing one Marine killed and one wounded. Upon completing the mission, the patrol returned to our lines before dark.

When the report of this action reached the 3d Division command post, it was decided to order the 21st Marines to establish and maintain an outpost consisting of one reinforced platoon and an artillery forward observer team on Hill 600A during the hours of daylight. When Colonel Ames received this order, he directed that the 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, then in regimental reserve, provide troops for this post. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Archie V. Gerard, selected one platoon of Company I, and reinforced it with a heavy machine-gun platoon.

Early in the morning of 22 December this unit moved out toward Hill 600A, but when it neared the top of the hill, it unexpectedly met strong resistance from the Japanese, who had reoccupied the position during the night. The outpost detachment was unable to advance, for the enemy had moved into covered emplacements at the foot of the reverse slope of the sharp crest of the ridge-line. Since the Marines had been laying communication wire for the artillery forward observer party as they advanced, a description of the situation was immediately passed to the rear, whereupon the 3d Battalion was directed to reinforce the platoon with the remainder of Company I.

Company I moved out as ordered and quickly came up to its engaged platoon. The company commander therefore made a hasty estimate of the situation, and without verification by reconnaissance or conference with the platoon leader in contact, decided that the Japanese were holding the crest of the hill. He immediately decided to attempt a double envelopment which got underway at once. Unfortunately, however, due


to the lack of adequate information, the enveloping platoons moved into the flanks of the platoon in contact with the enemy rather than the flanks of the Japanese position. Shortly thereafter, the entire company was under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from the Japanese positions, so the company commander decided to draw back slightly in order to utilize artillery support. This failed to dislodge the enemy, however, and Company I had to withdraw into our own lines before dark.

On 23 December, Company K, reinforced by a heavy machine-gun platoon, moved out and attempted to attack the Japanese position. The company commander ordered one platoon to move along the narrow steep ridge in order to determine the exact location of the Japanese positions, but this platoon received such heavy fire that it was forced to withdraw without accomplishing its mission. Artillery fire was placed on the area for 30 minutes, but this was ineffectual, for large trees on the ridge caused shells to burst harmlessly in the air, and a second platoon, when it attempted to move along the ridge, was driven off by enemy fire. The second platoon was withdrawn and a ten-minute artillery and mortar concentration was called down, following which the company attacked, with one platoon attempting to envelop the Japanese. The preparation however, had again been ineffective, for heavy machine-gun fire was still preventing forward movement. The company again had to be withdrawn into our lines as night was falling.

The following day, reconnaissance patrols were sent forward to scout the enemy positions from several different directions, and these found that Hill 600A was unoccupied by the Japanese. It appeared that the enemy had withdrawn during darkness. Inspection revealed that the position had been well organized for defense, with about 25 covered emplacements, some of which had been partly destroyed by artillery fire; one dead Japanese found. The Marines lost four killed and eight wounded in several engagements fought for possession of Hill 600A.25

Map 22
Attack on Hill 600A
22-23 Dec 1943


Relief of IMAC and the 3d Division

With minor adjustments, the enlargement of the perimeter was now completed. The enemy having retired to areas east and northeast of the Torokina River, and further activities being limited to patrolling, deliberate organization of the ground was initiated immediately, together with continued construction of roads and trails over the swamp and hills of the subsectors. These projects were 85 percent completed at the time of relief of the 3d Marine Division by the Americal Division.26

As additional elements of the U.S. Army continued to arrive, Admiral Halsey directed the Commanding General, XIV Corps, Major General Oscar W. Griswold, to relieve the Commanding General, IMAC (General Geiger), about 15 December, and the Army assumed control of the beachhead at 0800 on that date.

A gratifying acknowledgement of a job well done came to General Geiger in the following dispatch:

On the occasion of your relinquishing command at Torokina I desire to express to you and to the officers of our staff my appreciation for your magnificent efforts in taking and holding a spot so vital to our efforts. You have literally succeeded in setting up and opening for business a shop in the Japs front yard. The competition is making them most unhappy. Halsey.27

Relief of front line elements of the 3d Marine Division began 21 December 1943, with relief of the 3d Marines by the 2d Raider Regiment and attached units, and continued as the Americal Division grew steadily up to strength. The Commanding General, 3d Marine Division relinquished command of the eastern sector to Major General John R. Hodge, of the Americal Division, at 1600, 28 December 1943. The 37th Infantry Division retained responsibility for the relatively quiet western sector.28

In closing his report, General Turnage said:

It is believed that seldom have troops experienced a more difficult combination of combat, supply and evacuation, than was encountered. From its very inception it was a bold and hazardous operation. Its success was due to the planning of all echelons and the indomitable will, courage, and devotion to duty of all members of all organizations participating.29

He was in a position to know and did not exaggerate. Although General Vandegrift was the senior officer present and exercised overall tactical command, General Turnage had landed and was in immediate tactical command of ground forces ashore in the Empress Augusta Bay area from D-day until D plus nine days. It had fallen to the lot of the 3d Marine Division (reinforced) to seize the initial beachhead line on D-day and to destroy or overcome the main forces of the enemy from D-day until seizure of the force beachhead line. This task had been accomplished aggressively and expeditiously.

Air Activity During Expansion of the Perimeter

The importance of air support to the success of the Bougainville operation was recognized by all arms of service which participated in the operation. Within ten days after the landing on Bougainville, Rear Admiral Robert B. Carney, Chief of Staff to Admiral Halsey, stated that the Bougainville landings had been successful beyond fondest hopes and expectations. He attributed a good measure of this success to the work of Marine aircraft; he stated further that there were practically no enemy planes operating off Bougainville airfields, and that those few Japanese planes which had attacked our positions at Cape Torokina, had come either from Rabaul or other areas of New Britain.

Air support for the Bougainville beachhead, during the period when the perimeter was being extended under IMAC, consisted of daily flights over the Cape Torokina area and strikes at such vital points as Kahili, Kieta, Matchin Bay, Atsimina Bay, and Shortland, Ballale, Faisi, and Buka Islands. During the first half of November alone Marine and Allied aircraft, in support of the beachhead, operating out of airfields further south in the Solomon Islands chain, flew a total of 407 sorties with a loss of only seven planes, while the enemy, during the same period, lost approximately 59 aircraft. Our air superiority remained virtually unchallenged, except at night when Japanese "hit and run" bombers dropped explosives on our ground positions and on our shipping. These night attacks were only annoying;


MAJOR GENERAL RALPH J. MITCHELL AND BRIGADIER GENERAL FIELD HARRIS, Marine air commanders, conducted air operations against the Japanese from Torokina fields.

occasionally enemy planes scored hits on command posts, supply dumps, ships, or small craft in Puruata Harbor (between Puruata Island and Cape Torokina), and on airfields which were under construction within the American perimeter. During daylight hours the enemy was never able to get through to bomb or strafe our positions effectively, and he soon stopped trying.

That the Japanese were potentially dangerous from the air, however, even after our beachhead had been more or less secured, was revealed to Admiral Halsey by General Mitchell in a memorandum of 20 November in which he estimated that 15 known enemy airfields with a radius of 250 miles of Empress Augusta Bay, were either under construction in new locations, or back in use or being repaired after having been destroyed by Allied air blows.

Completion of airstrips within the Bougainville perimeter became more and more important, and work on those strips was continued at a feverish rate. Simultaneous with airfield construction and extension of the perimeter by combatant units, roads were being built and improved constantly, communications facilities were being strengthened, stocks on hand in supply dumps were growing, and the boat pool, established soon after initial landings, was operating daily at Puruata Harbor. Of all construction and repair projects being conducted within the perimeter, however, completion of airfields was generally assigned highest priority.

Since 9 November the Naval Construction


Regiment had been working on the fighter strip, situated in the old Torokina Plantation area, immediately east of Cape Torokina and paralleling the shoreline. At dawn on 10 December, just one month later, a Marine Squadron (VMF-216, consisting of 17 F4U's, six SBD's and one R4D) landed to make the field their base. The following day three TBF's landed and joined the squadron. Seven days later, on 17 December, a flight of four P-39 aircraft of the 70th Army Fighter Squadron commenced operations from the Torokina strip. Two additional flights, including P-38 night fighters, began operations from the strip during the last week in December.

It was evident, particularly at Hellzapoppin Ridge and shortly thereafter at Hill 600A, that the close coordination between Marine air and ground forces on Bougainville was worthy of note. Under direction of General Turnage, the 3d Marine Division Air Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John T. L. D. Gabbert, supervised the employment of close-in air support by infantry units.

Particularly after 10 December, Gabbert was fortunate to have available on call, well trained Marine air units thoroughly acquainted with the tactics employed by Marine ground troops and ready, willing, and able to provide whatever air support those ground forces needed. Complete understanding of mutual problems, on the part of both Marine ground and air enabled General Turnage to make the most of the air units he had available, and put them to the best possible use.

Since air and ground components were a part of the same service, Gabbert could brief pilots and ground liaison personnel in one language. There was little opportunity for misunderstanding. Furthermore, since all interested parties to any given mission were physically present in the Torokina area, it was possible to assemble officers from supported rifle units for the briefing of pilots. Thus, infantry officers could orient flyers on particular problems of terrain, land-marks, enemy dispositions, and other local considerations before an air attack was launched. Ground officers often would accompany flight leaders during a strike, while air officers were stationed with rifle units to be supported.

COMMAND OF THE TOROKINA PERIMETER PASSED from Major General Roy S. Geiger (right) to Major General Oscar W. Griswold, USA, on 15 December 1943, as XIV Corps began relief of 1 Marine Amphibious Corps.

Long before inception of the campaign, the 3d Marine Division had evolved and practiced new techniques for close air support. By employing Marine aircraft, using colored smoke to mark front line positions and white smoke to mark target areas, and setting up a workable liaison between supporting and supported units, a technique developed that eventually became (with modifications) Fleet Marine Force doctrine for later campaigns.

During the Bougainville operation, the 3d Marine Division requested close air support on ten separate occasions. Each of these required that the strike be run within 500 yards or less of our front lines; three at 500 yards, three at 200 yards, one at 120 yards, one at 100 yards, and two at 75 yards.

Aside from the immediate tactical importance of having Marine planes on hand to assist troops occupying front-line positions on Bougainville itself,


opening of the fighter strip on Cape Torokina had great strategic value. The Torokina field was only 220 miles from Rabaul; fighter support could now be furnished from this strip to bombers conducting strikes against Japanese bases on New Britain and New Ireland from fields south of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

With the opening of a field at Torokina, the entire weight of Allied air power was shifted forward, further north in the Solomons. The 339th Fighter Squadron and Headquarters of the 347th Fighter Group (both Army units) left New Caledonia on 20 December to commence operations from the new air-strip on Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands. Two flights of the Army's 69th Bomber Squadron moved north from New Caledonia to the Russell Islands on the same date. Air echelons of three Army heavy bomber squadrons began operations from Munda on New Georgia on 23 December.

The primary aim of the Bougainville operation had been successfully achieved.

XIV Corps Defends the Beachhead

On 15 December 1943, when command of the Torokina Area passed from IMAC to XIV Corps, elements of the Marine force began to be withdrawn as the Americal Division (Major General John R. Hodge) moved in to take their place. Much of this replacement was accomplished by 28 December.30

The Americal Division had been activated in May, 1942 in New Caledonia, and shortly thereafter adopted the name by which it was known, never having been assigned a numbered designation. It was the first U.S. Army Division to take offensive action against the Japanese in the Pacific war, having participated with distinction in the latter phases of the Guadalcanal campaign. The regiments of Infantry constituting its base were the 132d, 164th, and 182d originally recruited from elements of National Guard Regiments in the States of Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Illinois.

Elements of the Division came forward to Bougainville from Guadalcanal in echelons; units of the 164th Infantry relieving the 1st, 2d, and 3d Battalions of the 9th Marines on Christmas Day, 1943.31

The Division was assigned that sector of the beachhead occupied by the 3d Marine Division but, as the Marines were gradually relieved, the 37th Division extended its right flank and took over some 2,000 additional yards of perimeter.

The 132d Infantry arrived at Cape Torokina on 9 January and relieved the 3d Marine Parachute Battalion, the 3d Battalion of the 2d Marine Raider Regiment, and units of the 145th Infantry, which then reverted to the 37th Division. It took over that portion of the perimeter paralleling the Torokina on the extreme right flank and engaged in patrolling and in strengthening defensive positions.

By this time, all Marine Corps elements except the 3d Defense Battalion had been withdrawn from Bougainville. The XIV Corps now commanded the Empress Augusta Bay perimeter and continued its defense, engaging in a number of bitter and hard-fought major actions against Japanese attacks during early 1944. Since these were fought chiefly by units of the Army, under Army command, it is not within the province of this Marine Corps narrative to describe them, important and gallantly fought though they were. It is sufficient to note that, by 24 April 1944, XIV Corps had crushed the last important enemy counter-offensive against the Bougainville perimeter. After that date, the situation crystalized into that patrolling and observation sufficient to keep the Japanese impotent for further operations. His offensive potential exhausted, the enemy on Bougainville was now effectively bottled up, and movements of U.S. forces for the invasion of the Philippines could be made without fear of retaliation from the Northern Solomons.32


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (2) * Next Chapter (4)


1. IMAC Opn Rpt, III, 3.

2. Ibid., 6. See also IMAC C-2 Estimate of the Situation, dated 19 December 1943.

3. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 8, 96-97. The 3d Marines, sadly depleted by battle casualties, sickness, and fatigue, had to be reinforced in its new sector by the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry. On 27 November, in order to allow the rifle battalions to rest and reorganize their troops, some of whom had been on the go for 27 consecutive days and had been heavily engaged on four separate occasions, Colonel George McHenry, the regimental commander, organized a Composite Battalion from among the Regimental Weapons Company, the Scout Company, the several Headquarters Companies, and from available service troops. This unit was assigned a position in the lines which it occupied from 28 November to 3 December, when, with the exception of the Scout Company, units forming the Composite Battalion were returned to their normal duties. The Scout Company remained in the lines until the Regiment was relieved of the sector.

From 28 November to 22 December the 3d Marines occupied the extreme south flank of the 3d Division position, with its right anchored on the sea and its left tied in with the 21st Marines on Hill 500. This sector bordered on deep swamps, fingers of which cut across supply routes, causing the old problem of maintaining men in position to once again confront the command group. Needless to say, this problem was once again surmounted. Though numerous patrols traversed the swamps daily and searched the east banks of the Torokina River from time to time, no evidence could be discovered that the Japanese intended to do more than keep this sector under observation. A number of sharp skirmishes were fought between small patrols which came upon each other in the cane-filled swamps. In time the enemy stopped sending his parties across the river and contented himself with attempts to maintain observation posts on the beach areas across the Torokina.

For further details concerning the exchange of sectors, see Chapter II, note 172, supra.

4. This platoon was reinforced with light machine-guns and 60mm mortars.

5. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 181.

6. Historical Section, Division of Public Information, HQMC, interrogation of LtCol Robert T. Vance, 2 December 1947. The Parachute Regiment had arrived on 4 December and was subsequently attached to the 3d Marine Division.

7. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 9; cf. Vance Interrogation, supra.

8. The Experimental Rocket Platoon participated in the operation for the purpose of using rockets under combat conditions.

9. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 182.

10. Vance Interrogation.

11. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 9, 156, 182.

12. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 9, 182-183; Vance Interrogation.

13. In some accounts this encounter has been called the "Battle of Fry's Nose" for LtCol E. W. Fry, Jr., CO of 1st Bn, 21st Marines, or "Snuffy's Nose", for Colonel Evans O. Ames, Commanding Officer, 21st Marines.

14. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 182.

15. Patrick O'Sheel, MSS news-story prepared for release by Headquarters, USMC.

16. 3d Mar Div Opn Rpt, 185.

17. O'Sheel, loc. cit., passim.

18. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 157, 185.

19. 6 TBF's of VMTB-134 were used in this attack. These used 4-5 second delay fuses on their 100 pound bombs. See USMC, An Evaluation of Air Operations Affecting the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, III-30.

20. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 182, 185, 186.

21. Ibid., 185-186, 187. The 21st Marines Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur H. Butler, accompanied the flight leader of the attacking planes during this flight in order to point out Marine lines and target.

22. 21st Marines Daily Action Reports, 12-18 December 1943.

23. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 182.

24. Ibid., 183.

25. Ibid., 183 et seq.

26. Ibid., 10.

27. IMAC Opn Rpt, III, 1.

28. 3d MarDiv Opn Rpt, 10.

29. Ibid., 12.

30. War 3715, III, 9.

31. War 2543, 30 Amer 70.1, 1.

32. The 3d Defense Battalion, FMF, which had landed with assault elements on 1 November 1943, remained on Bougainville until 21 June 1944. LtCol Edward H. Forney, Commanding Officer of the Battalion, had been responsible for coordination of beachhead antiaircraft protection from the time of the landing until February 1944, when he was relieved by an Army officer. During the Japanese attacks in March and April, Forney formed a 500 man infantry unit which--although never used as such--was to protect the shoreline against expected enemy landings. Artillery Groups of the battalion supported the Army's defense of the beachhead during this period.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation