Southwest Pacific -- Conquest of New Guinea
The Southwest Pacific Area
1. TO THE BUNA CAMPAIGN
THE JAPANESE did not wait for the end of the Philippine campaign to launch their engulfing sweep to the south. Three weeks after the fall of Manila they made their first landings on Rabaul in New Britain and Kavieng in New Ireland. From Rabaul they spearheaded twin advances, one southeast through the Solomons, the other southwest into New New Guinea. The objective of both was the isolation or conquest of Australia.
New Guinea, which bars the approach at Australia from the north, is one of the world's largest, least-developed, and least-known islands, extending for nearly 1,500 miles on a northwest-southeast line and containing more than 300,000 square miles. Dense jungles and rugged mountains make its interior all but impassable and, for the most part, limited the Japanese advance to the coastline.
Early in March of 1942 the enemy landed on New Guinea at Lae and Salamaua in Huon Gulf and began to develop these bases as staging points for further moves down the Papuan coast. So compelling was his advance that in Australia serious consideration was given to plans to abandon most of Australia's northern province of Queensland and to fall back on a defense line just north of Brisbane.
At the time of the fall of Corregidor on May 6, there was in progress a naval battle, the first in history to be decided entirely by carrier planes, which for the time being checked the march toward Australia. This action, now known as the Battle of the Coral Sea, was fought from the 4th to the 8th of May in waters to the southeast of New Guinea. We lost the carrier Lexington and suffered damage to the carrier Yorktown, but the enemy was turned back with loss of the carrier Shoho and damage to other ships.
For the first time in the Pacific war, we had inflicted an important
setback on the enemy. Still, he was only checked; not stopped. On July 21 and 22 he landed troops at Gona, Buna, and Sanananda on the northern Papuan coast and began his drive across the Kokoda trail through the Owen Stanley Mountains toward Port Moresby on the south coast, the last Allied base north of Australia. He almost succeeded. The drive was stopped only 32 miles from Port Moresby.
In connection with the overland advance, the enemy landed troops in Milne Bay at the southeastern end of New Guinea, apparently in preparation for an amphibious assault on Port Moresby. Two Australian brigades engaged these forces so effectively that, after 3 days of fighting, Japanese destroyers evacuated them. The destroyers came into Milne Bay again on 3 nights early in September to shell the Australians. Destroyer Squadron 4, under Capt. Cornelius W. Flynn, moved north on September 11 to intercept the enemy surface forces, but could not find them. The Japanese never again attempted to send ships into Milne Bay.
This unusual lack of persistence on the part of the Japanese was undoubtedly a result of the fierceness of the struggle for Guadalcanal, to which the enemy was devoting all available sea, air, and land strength. With the major part of the enemy's forces committed to the Guadalcanal campaign, and with the arrival of U.S. ground forces in the Southwest Pacific, American and Australian troops were able to concentrate on clearing the enemy from eastern New Guinea. They pushed him back across the Kokoda trail and at the same time moved up the northern Papuan coast in a flanking movement aimed at Buna. After a long and bitter struggle, in which the rains and swamps and jungles proved to be enemies as formidable as the Japanese, Allied troops took Buna Mission on January 2 and completed mopping up the remaining enemy forces at Sanananda on January 23.
PT's were the first naval vessels to have action in New Guinea waters, and their first actions were in support of the coastal advance toward Buna.
2. THE CRUISE OF THE "HILO"
To bring the first PT's to New Guinea, it is necessary to go back to Pearl Harbor, where, it will be remembered, the captain and crew of the tender Hilo saw their first PT on July 5, 1942. Ten days later the Hilo left Pearl Harbor with PT's 21, 23, 25, and 26, which comprised MTB Division 2 of Squadron 1, under command of Lt. Jonathan F. Rice, USNR, for duty in
Palmyra Island, 1,100 miles to the southwest. Hilo towed two boats; the other two ran free, fueling from Hilo each morning while under way. At midpoint in the passage, the boats exchanged places to share equally the discomforts of towing.
Palmyra was quiet. There was nothing for the boats to do there but take part in the island's weekly battle problem and run as practice targets for the shore radar station. Lt. Comdr. Frank A. Munroe, Jr., USNR, commanding officer of Hilo, recalled later that "About the middle of September, Admiral Nimitz stopped overnight en route to Guadalcanal. He gave a talk to all the officers and afterwards [Lt. (jg.) Alvin P.] Cluster button-holed him and persuaded him that the boats would be more useful farther south. So the Admiral wrote out a dispatch to the Staff in Pearl telling them to send the boats southward. I got in my two-bits worth for drydocking and a radar."
Hilo made a quick run to Pearl Harbor for docking and radar, then returned to Palmyra to pick up the boats. They left Palmyra on October 25 and arrived at their new base, Funafuti, in the Ellice Islands, on November 2. On the way out they kept a sharp lookout for the plane in which Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker had been flying across the Pacific on a special mission for the War Department. It had not been heard from since October 21, when the pilot reported he was lost and running low on gasoline.
No trace of the plane was seen and nothing more was heard of it until November 11, when Lt. (jg.) Frederick E. Woodward, USNR, pilot of a Navy Kingfisher scout plane based at Funafuti, reported after an afternoon patrol that he had seen a yellow raft a few miles south of the atoll. Lieutenant Cluster got PT 21 underway, found the raft, and returned to Hilo with a very sick man. After treatment by Hilo's medical officer, Lt. Richard W. Garrity (MC), he revived sufficiently to say that he was Capt. William T. Cherry, Jr., pilot of the Rickenbacker plane; the other survivors were in two rafts; they had separated two days before; the rafts should be southwest of the point where the PT 21 had found him.
At first light on the 12th, Lieutenant Commander Munroe got underway with the Hilo and the four PT's. At 1630 he received a dispatch from the island saying a Kingfisher plane had found another raft northwest of the island and was landing near it. The four PT's took off at top speed. Just before dark Ens. J. M. Weeks, USNR, in PT 26, found the plane.
The pilot of the Kingfisher, Lt. William F. Eadie, knew when he saw the raft that he could not fly with extra passengers in his two-seater plane, but he was afraid that if he did not pick up the survivors, the PT's might miss them
in the approaching darkness. So he set his plane down on the water and took three men aboard. They were "Captain" Rickenbacker; his aide, Col. Hans C. Adamson; and Pvt. John F. Bartek, the flight engineer. Colonel Adamson, in great pain from a back injury, was put in the back seat of the Kingfisher with Eadie's radioman, L. H. Boutte, ARM1c, USNR. Then Eadie lashed Rickenbacker to the starboard wing and Bartek to the port wing, and began to taxi back to Funafuti, 40 miles away. Within minutes, PT 26 arrived. Rickenbacker and Bartek were transferred to the PT, but it was decided that the plane should continue taxiing to the base rather than risk moving the injured Adamson again.
Lt. Edward M. Gordon, USNR, executive officer of the Hilo, recalled that "One interesting sidelight on Captain Rickenbacker's condition was that when he was taken aboard he said that he had never seen a PT boat before, and, therefore, he would like to inspect it, in spite of the fact that he had been on this raft 21 days, and the captain of the PT boat took him all over his ship, showing him the various features."
As soon as Hilo anchored at Funafuti the next morning, Lt. Col. J. Franklin Good, USMC, came aboard to tell Lieutenant Commander Munroe that a coastwatcher on Nuku Fetau, 60 miles to the northwest, had reported that the third raft, with three survivors, had washed ashore there.
"I got underway immediately," Munroe said, "and arrived off the island in the middle of the afternoon. The lagoon looked too dirty so I sent in the whale boat with Mack Gordon and Dr. Garrity. They returned in about an hour with three survivors, Lt. J. C. Whittaker, the copilot, Lt. J. I. DeAngelis, and Staff Sgt. J. W. Reynolds. Whittaker was in quite good shape, but the other two were in a very bad state -- very thin and badly ulcerated. I had not realized that living bodies could smell so putrid and still be alive. It was remarkable that the two oldest men in the party, Rickenbacker and Whittaker, were in the best shape.
"Gordon and Garrity returned with very smug expressions and a tall tale of an extraordinarily beautiful native girl who had spoken to them in excellent English, asked them to have a drink, and perhaps spend the night. No further details could be drawn from either officer.
"I remained underway overnight and returned to Funafuti in the morning. Whittaker and DeAngelis were taken to the hospital but Reynolds was in such bad shape that it was necessary to keep him aboard for several days while Garrity gave him plasma and glucose.
"On 24 November I received a dispatch from ComSoPac. directing me to proceed to Noumea, leaving the four boats at Funafuti. That left the boats in a grim fix. There was no pier or jetty, no bulk gasoline, no torpedo compressor, no drydock, no shop, no living or messing facilities and water had to be delivered in gas drums. The Marines and SeaBees were helpful and cooperative and gave the boats whatever they could of their limited facilities. I off-loaded all spare engines, torpedoes and all Packard and Elco parts.
"Hilo left Funafuti the next day and arrived in Noumea on 2 December."
Lieutenant Commander Munroe was ordered to take the Hilo and four boats of Division 17 to Cairns, Australia, and report to the Commander Southwest Pacific Forces for duty. Division 17, it will be remembered, was made up of PT's 113 and 114 of Squadron 2 and PT's 119-122, of Squadron 6, and was commanded by Lt. Daniel S. Baughman,11 who had been executive officer of Squadron 6.
"I found that PT's 121 and 122 had departed for Cairns a few days previously in tow of a Liberty ship, with a substantial part of the division's spares in the Liberty," Munroe said. "Hilo fueled and then went alongside another Liberty to load the balance of the spares. Many of the vital Packard spares were missing as the result of a barge capsizing the previous day. Loading was accomplished with the usual confusion, and a small base force came aboard.
"Hilo and the four boats departed Noumea late in the afternoon of 3 December. Tow lines were passed to two of the boats and we proceeded at the usual 5 knots. We had an escort this time -- USS Aaron Ward. Weather was unfavorable, generally poor visibility with frequent squalls. None of the personnel in the boats had ever been to sea in them before, and considerable difficulty was had in keeping stations. One particularly dirty night, one of the boats was continually dropping out of sight. The boat quartermaster was green and unable to read blinker. It took 3 hours to get a visual message through to him that I desired the boat to come within hailing distance, and another hour for the boat to get there. When he was finally alongside I told the boat captain in an emphatic manner that he was to stay within 200 yards of Hilo, period. After we arrived in Cairns and we were holding a conference about the next leg, this particular boat captain, who shall be nameless, told me that he took exception to the tone of voice which I had used in
talking to him by megaphone! It was quite a trip. In the 7 days underway I had 21 hours sleep. When tow lines were not parting boat engines were failing. I had several consoling messages from the skipper of the escorting destroyer."
Hilo and the PT's arrived at Cairns on the morning of December 11, and the next day received orders to proceed as soon as possible to Milne Bay and to report there to the Commander Task Group 50.1, which was to be the PT task group in New Guinea. PT's 121 and 122 had left for Milne Bay 3 days earlier in tow of the gunboat Tulsa.
Also at Cairns was the advance echelon of PT Base 4. "Confusion reigned supreme," Munroe said. "The base site was in a mangrove swamp; there was no construction equipment; the squadron equipment which had accompanied the first two boats had been off-loaded into a municipal warehouse and thoroughly rifled. We took aboard as much gear as we could and an Advance Communications Unit with Ensign Simons in charge, plus one bottle of Australian beer and a Red Cross Christmas package per man. It was in Cairns that we first encountered HMAS Arunta [destroyer], and her doughty skipper, Comdr. J. D. Morrow, RAN, and his formidable wine mess. An evening aboard Arunta was a hair-raising experience.
"We left Cairns late on the 15th and picked up our escort outside, USS Patterson, commanded by a classmate, Lt. Comdr. W. C. Schultz, USN. On account of the comparatively short distance involved, and the possibility of enemy air attack, all boats ran under their own power, all being refueled during the 16th. The weather was quite dirty and many insulting remarks came from Schultz to the effect that it was a poor hen that couldn't keep its chickens under its wings.
"The New Guinea coast was picked up in the morning of the 17th, and position fixed. Whereupon Schultz turned around and said, 'Goodbye now, this is as far as I'm allowed to go.' That made us feel just wonderful. And that was the last U.S. naval vessel, other than the Tulsa and an occasional SC or YP, we saw until Rigel arrived late in May."
Milne Bay offered any number of good anchorages for Hilo, but was already too far behind the lines to be used as an operating base for PT's. Ground forces had driven 200 miles up the coast and were in possession of Oro Bay,
only 15 miles from Buna. The boats needed an operating base farther up the coast.
On December 13, PT's 121 and 122, which had arrived in Milne Bay 2 days earlier, were sent to Porlock Harbor, on the west side of the Cape Nelson Peninsula, to establish an advance base. The 121 and 122 made the first patrol in New Guinea waters on the night of December 18/19. They sighted a surfaced submarine and fired two torpedoes. The boat captains thought the torpedoes hit, but were certain they did not explode.
It soon was apparent that Porlock Harbor would not do. The land was swampy, there were no dispersal areas for the boats, and the water was so shallow that even a small Army supply ship could not enter the harbor to unload drum gasoline. The only way to get gasoline ashore was to dump drums over the side and have boat crews swim them to the beach. On December 18, Comdr. Edgar T. Neale, Commander Task Group 50.1, left Milne Bay with two PT's to explore the Cape Nelson area to find a more suitable base. He found it the next day at Tufi, on the east side of the cape.
Tufi Inlet resembled a fjord: narrow and winding, deep water, with hills rising abruptly on either side. Near the entrance was a little jetty and a small flat plot of land at the base of a steep hill, that could be used for a gasoline dump. Farther up the inlet there were places where the boats could tie up against the bank, reasonably secure from detection by enemy planes. A little fall of pure cold water cascaded into the inlet. Tufi was the government station for that section of New Guinea, with a resident representative of ANGAU (Australia-New Guinea Administrative Unit), who could arrange for native labor to roll gasoline drums and do other heavy work. The boats abandoned Porlock Harbor and moved to Tufi immediately. Within a few days Tulsa brought a load of base equipment and the Mobile Communications Unit to the new base.
The patrol on the night of December 23/24 reported sighting what might have been an enemy submarine. The following night, Christmas Eve, Lieutenant Baughman patrolled up the coast in PT 122 (Ens. Robert F. Lynch, USNR). Off the mouth of the Kumusi River, 15 miles beyond Buna, he saw a large submarine, fully surfaced, with a dark object beyond which he thought might be another submarine. While Ens. Theodore F. Bruno, USNR, guided the boat in, Lynch set up the torpedo director and fired his two after torpedoes at 1,000 yards. There was a geyser of water at the target and a small flash, but the submarine did not sink. Bruno continued in to 500 yards and
The jetty at Tufi, first PT advance base in New New Guinea.
Lynch fired his forward torpedoes. The starboard torpedo hit with a solid explosion, which was immediately followed by a second explosion. Large sheets of flame shot upwards and the submarine broke in half and sank. Immediately after the war, PT 122 was given official credit for sinking in this attack I-22, a submarine of 2,180 standard tons. More recent investigations, however, have thrown doubt on this assessment. The object of the 122's attack and the degree of damage inflicted must still be considered uncertain.
Ten minutes after the submarine exploded, the 122 had to maneuver to avoid four torpedoes. Apparently the other submarine had submerged and was trying to pay back the PT in kind.
On the same night PT's 114 and 121 had the first barge action in New Guinea, sinking two troop-laden landing craft at Douglas Harbor. The Japanese fired at the boats with small arms, but caused no damage or
casualties. "The tactics used by both sides," Commander Neale reported, "may best be described as a melee."
Early in January it became apparent that the fall of Buna would not be long delayed. It was reported on January 6 that a Japanese force of two cruisers, four destroyers, and four merchant ships were approaching from Gasmata, on the south coast of New Britain, possibly to attempt evacuation of Buna. PT's prepared to attack, but the threat did not materialize. It was learned later that the enemy convoy had put into Lae after suffering minor damage from our aircraft.
On the night of January 17/18, PT 120 intercepted three barges loaded with Japanese Army officers near Douglas Harbor. The 120 sank two of them and set the third afire, under heavy machine-gun and 20mm. fire which fatally wounded John J. Masters, Jr., CMoMM. Masters was awarded the Silver Star posthumously, with the citation: "Although mortally wounded at the outset of the action, he held valiantly to his battle station until he was too weak from loss of blood to carry on effectively. Even then, in the face of acute pain and imminent danger of falling overboard, he withheld an appeal for aid until the engagement was broken off, bravely devoting his last hours to the instruction of an inexperienced assistant to replace him. By his unyielding devotion to duty and cool courage under fire, he was in a large measure responsible for the sinking of two landing craft and the immobilization of the third."
As in the Philippines, lack of boats and insufficiency of repair facilities forced the PT's to make many patrols alone, instead of in the customary pairs. By the first of February, PT's 113 and 122 had been so badly reefed that they had to be towed back to Cairns for rebuilding. That left only four boats in operation. But this was not the Philippines, 1942; it was New Guinea, 1943 -- more PT's were on the way.
4. TASK GROUP 70.1
Commander Neale was relieved as Commander Task Group 50.1 on February 5, 1943, by Comdr. Morton C. Mumma, Jr., who had been commanding officer of the submarine Sailfish in the Philippines, and then had been on the Southwest Pacific submarine staff in western Australia and naval liaison officer at the Fifth Air Force Advance Headquarters at Port Moresby. On March 15, when the U.S. naval forces in the Southwest Pacific became the
Seventh Fleet, under command of Rear Adm. Arthur S. Carpender, Task Group 50.1 was changed to Task Group 70.1. Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet were to be so designated until the end of the war.
Task Force 70 existed only on paper and never operated as a tactical unit. It was composed of several independent task groups under direct operational control of the task force commander, who was the Commander Seventh Fleet. In this respect the New Guinea PT's were more fortunate than the Solomons PT's; the Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet was responsible directly to, and only to, the Commander Seventh Fleet. Furthermore, from the start he had full operational control of his boats, and specific areas were assigned for PT operations. As a task group commander he received complete information as to the movements of other naval vessels. While it is impossible in wartime to insure against every contingency, this operational plan reduced to a minimum the possibility of clashes between PT's and friendly surface forces. During the entire New Guinea campaign there was not a single instance of PT's firing on, or being fired on, by our own ships. Three years later, in the Philippines, two PT's were destroyed by our own ships, but that was caused by local confusion and not by any defect in the operational plan.
The closing days of February saw the arrival in Milne Bay of Squadron 8, under Lt. Comdr. Barry K. Atkins; the first three boats of Squadron 7, under Lt. Comdr. John D. Bulkeley; and Tulsa, carrying the advance echelon of PT Base 6, under Lt. (jg.) Ralph S. Cooley, USNR. Because of an acute shortage of cargo carriers, Bulkeley returned to Cairns with Tulsa to try to expedite the shipment of supplies, spares, and base material to Milne Bay. Early in March the Tulsa again entered Milne Bay, with three more boats of Squadron 7. It was planned for the time being to send to New Guinea six of Squadron 7's boats, under Lt. Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR, the squadron executive officer. John Bulkeley was to keep the other six boats at Cairns until such time as Base 6 should be sufficiently developed to support more boats.
Kana Kopa, a tiny circular bay, 250 yards across, at the southeastern end of Milne Bay, was selected as the site for Base 6. On the whole, it was a good site, as sites in New Guinea go, but for the first few months everyone ashore wallowed in apparently bottomless mud. One truck was actually lost in the mud of Kana Kopa. Eventually this became the main repair base; while it was building, Hilo did the best it could with its limited facilities.
Mud was a problem at Kana Kopa, New Guinea's first PT base.
Some of the repair and overhaul procedures were quaintly primitive. If a boat needed an engine changed, for example, it borrowed a chief motor machinist's mate from Hilo to supervise the installation, and ran down to Gili, Gili, at the western end of Milne Bay. There the boat captain would borrow a small crane from the Army, select a new engine from a small store of crates piled under a tree, pick it up with the crane and carry it to the jetty. The boat crew would unbutton the old engine, install the new one, and put the old one back in the crate. Then the boat would return to Hilo for tuning and adjustments.
Hilo's lack of a drydock was compensated for by an ancient marine railway on the island of Sariba in the China Strait off the entrance to Milne Bay. A hand winch, manned by frizzle-topped Papuans, was the sole motive power. On each end of the drum of the winch was a long crank handle. Two natives faced each other across each crank handle and started winding slowly. A fifth native blew a conch shell at intervals. After each blast the men on the crank handles increased their tempo, until at last they were spinning the drum in frenzy. After 10 or 15 minutes they sank to the ground exhausted. After a 15-minute rest they started all over again: slow
turning, tooting on the conch shell, gradual acceleration to unbearable speed, and finally exhaustion. It took 2 hours to haul a boat; even then the railway was so short that the stern was barely clear of the water and men working on propellers and struts had to stand in water up to their waists. Eventually a kerosene engine was installed to supplant the native crank turners. It was less picturesque, but cut the hauling time in half. By the time Base 6 got its first drydock operating about the first of June, every PT in New Guinea had been hauled at least once on the marine railway at Sariba.
Quaintly primitive, yes -- but only in retrospect. At the time it was a pain in the neck. There weren't enough tools, there weren't enough spares. There wasn't enough of anything, except, by some vagary of supply, hose clamps. There were enough hose clamps to hitch up a pipeline to the moon, but PT's couldn't run on hose clamps alone. Commander Mumma's letters to members of the Seventh Fleet Staff in Brisbane tell of the constant shortages. On March 5 he reported that gasoline delivered to the Advance Base at Tufi was 320 drums short of requirements. On April 23, he wrote, "I do not have a single shaft left to put in an 80-foot boat. At the moment I am converting two 77-foot shafts, which were damaged, to use as center shafts on two 80-foot boats."
A week later he wrote that the Seabees, scheduled to complete the construction of the Kana Kopa base, had again been delayed in arriving, "for the same old reason: no transportation."
As time went on progress was made on the base and it took over an increasing amount of the repair and overhaul of the boats. At the insistence of Commander Mumma, who as early as February had said that the Cairns base "at this stage is so far in the rear as to be practically useless," Base 4 was moved from Cairns to Kana Kopa on October 18 and eventually absorbed Base 6. In the meantime enough boats were kept in operation to maintain nightly patrols, through the ingenuity and determination of the squadron base forces, Hilo repair personnel, and the boat crews themselves.
For example, there was long a critical shortage of auxiliary generators, without which the boats could not operate. There just were not enough to go around. For a time it was standard practice for a boat, on its return from a night's patrol, to transfer its generator to another boat so that boat could make a patrol. The next day the generator would be switched back again, or even to a third boat. This practice was not confined to generators. Radar and radio sets, and many other items of equipment were freely shifted from boat to boat so that patrols could be maintained. Any boat that was going
PT crewmen lower hot food and coffee over side of a tender. Whenever possible, boat crews ate in the general mess at bases or aboard tenders to save wear on the auxiliary generators of the PT's.
to be laid up for any length of time for hull repairs would quickly be stripped of parts to keep other boats in operation. By the time the hull repairs were completed, there probably would be other boats laid up from which it could replenish itself.
5. BATTLE OF THE BISMARCK SEA
On the afternoon of March 1 a large convoy was sighted by reconnaissance planes north of Cape Gloucester, New Britain, apparently bound for Lae. The convoy consisted of 8 destroyers and 8 merchant vessels carrying a force of 6,912 troops to reinforce the enemy garrisons at Lae and Salamaua. Beginning at dawn of the 2d, every American and Australian plane that could take to the air, more than 100 in all, made repeated attacks on the convoy and fought off counterattacks by the enemy air cover, which slightly outnumbered our own planes.
Bad weather in the afternoon made the air attacks more difficult and less effective. During the night the convoy was shadowed by Catalina flying boats, which dropped bombs from time to time without results. At dawn of the 3d, the large-scale attack began again. All day long fighters and bombers shuttled over the Owen Stanley Mountains between Port Moresby and Huon Gulf. By nightfall it was reported that only three destroyers and two cargo vessels were still afloat. Both of the cargo vessels were on fire; one destroyer had a large hole in its side and another was surrounded by an oil slick.
Dispatches received at Milne Bay and Tufi indicated that the remaining Japanese force would be within striking distance of the PT's on the night of the 3d. Lieutenant Commander Atkins, who had relieved Lieutenant Baughman as commander of the advance base, readied the seven boats at Tufi. Commander Mumma arrived from Milne Bay with 3 additional boats and all 10 set out late in the afternoon in 3 sections, to take positions on a line in Huon Gulf. Atkins, with Lt. (jg.) John S. Baylis, USNR, in PT 143, led PT 119 (Ens. R. L. Jackson, USNR), PT 150 (Lt. (jg.) Russell E. Hamachek, USNR, and PT 132 (Ens. F. Gardner Cox, Jr., USNR). PT's 119 and 132 struck submerged objects, probably logs, and had to turn back.
At 2310 the 143 and 150 saw a fire ahead, to the north. On close approach they saw it was a cargo ship, Oigawa Maru of 6,493 tons, dead in the water, with a large fire in the forward hold and a smaller fire aft. It seemed to be abandoned. At 800 yards the 143 fired a torpedo which exploded near the stern and the ship began to heel to port and settle in the water. Five minutes later the 150 fired a torpedo at 700 yards. This one exploded amidships and the ship sank, stern first, with a brilliant blaze of fire just before she went under.
The second group of boats, PT 149 (Lt. William J. Flittie, USNR), PT 66 (Lt. (jg.) William C. Quinby, USNR), PT 121 (Ens. Edward R. Bergin, Jr.,
USNR), and PT 68 (Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Childs, USNR), also saw the fire and began to approach it at slow speed. To Lieutenant Flittie, on the 149, the fire appeared as several lights on a stationary ship, and when it blazed up before taking its final plunge he thought the ship had put a searchlight on him. He fired one torpedo, the light went out immediately, and he could not find the target again.
The third group, PT 67 (Ens. James W. Emmons, USNR) and PT 128 (Ens. James W. Herring), also saw the fire. PT 128 fired two torpedoes at long range, 1,500 yards, the second at about the same time the 143 fired. Both of the 128's torpedoes missed, but, seeing the explosion from the 143's torpedo, the crew of the 128 thought for a time that their torpedo had hit.
After the sinking Lieutenant Commander Atkins ordered the three groups to search an area further to the west. All boats encountered heavy seas and frequent rain squalls, but found no more ships.
It was learned later that there were only two ships still afloat when the PT's arrived in the area: the damaged cargo ship which they sank, and a destroyer which was finished off by planes the following morning.
On the 4th of March our planes returned and strafed everything afloat in Huon Gulf. Thousands of Japanese troops from the sunken transports were adrift in collapsible boats. For several days, the PT's, too, met many of these troop-filled boats and sank them. It was an unpleasant task, but there was no alternative. If the boats were permitted to reach shore, the troops, who were armed with rifles, would constitute a serious menace to our lightly held positions along the coast.
At daylight on March 5, Jack Baylis in PT 143 and Russ Hamachek in PT 150 sighted a large submarine on the surface well out to sea, 25 miles northeast of Cape Ward Hunt. Near it were three boats: a large one with more than 100 Japanese soldiers and two smaller ones with about 20 soldiers in each. The men were survivors of the Bismarck Sea battle; the submarine was taking them aboard. Each PT fired a torpedo. The 143's ran erratically. The 150's ran true, but missed as the submarine crash dived. The PT's strafed the conning tower as it submerged, then sank the three boats with machine-gun fire and depth charges.
Five days later Comdr. Geoffrey C. F. Branson, RN, Naval Officer in Charge, Milne Bay, received intelligence that a lifeboat containing 18 survivors of the battle had drifted ashore on Kiriwina, in the Trobriand Islands, 120 miles to the north of Milne Bay. The Trobriands were then a sort of no-man's land; the Japanese held New Britain to the north, we held the New
Guinea coast to the south. The only military installation in the Trobriands was an Allied radar station on Kiriwina, which might be endangered by the new arrivals. Ens. Frank H. Dean, Jr.,12 took Commander Branson to Kiriwina in PT 114, captured the 18 Japanese, who were in a docile mood, and returned to Milne Bay the next day. One of the prisoners, who had been badly wounded a week earlier in the Bismarck Sea and almost certainly would have died had he not been captured, later sent his American-made money belt to "Skipper" Dean as a token of gratitude.
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a striking victory for airpower, convinced the enemy that he could no longer run surface ships from Rabaul to Lae. He never tried to again. The Fifth Air Force began operating from Dobodura, near Buna, in April, and thereafter the enemy was unable to send cargo ships or destroyers anywhere on the north coast of New Guinea east of Wewak. He could still move some supplies overland through the Ramu and Markham River Valleys, a slow and arduous undertaking, and he could operate a submarine shuttle service between Rabaul and Lae, but the great bulk of supplies had to be moved by coastal barges. The Air Force was to prevent the barges from operating by day, and the PT's were to cut down the night traffic to such a thin trickle as literally to starve the enemy out.
6. SOME BARGES AND A FIRE
On the night of March 15/16, "Skipper" Dean in PT 114 and Lt. (jg.) Francis H. McAdoo, Jr., USNR, in PT 129, tried a new tactic, that of lying in wait to ambush barges in Mai-ama Bay, a suspected unloading point on the southern shore of Huon Gulf. The current kept setting the boats into the bay, so the 114 dropped anchor and the 129 idled out on one engine to see if any barges might be unloading on the beach outside the southern side of the entrance.
It was raining and visibility was so poor that neither boat realized six barges had entered the bay until two of them bumped into the side of the 114. Dean said later that the barges must have taken the PT for a Japanese vessel, because their crews were chattering unconcernedly and made no attempt to attack. The barges were so close, right up under the flare of the PT's side, that the
forward .50-caliber guns could not immediately be depressed to bear on them. The PT crew hosed down the barges with submachine-guns and got their boat underway, cutting their anchor line when the anchor refused to budge from the bottom. One of the two barges alongside was sunk by fire from the after .50-caliber turret and from submachine-guns; the other one caught under the bow of the 114, and as the boat got underway was pushed' under the surface and sank. Fire from the forward .50's sank two other barges as the 114 cleared the bay to rendezvous with the 129. Both boats returned, and each sank one of the two remaining barges.
Late in the afternoon of March 17, PT's 67 and 119 had completed fueling at the Tufi jetty, when a sheet of flames leaped up between the two boats. The flames spread so rapidly that the boats could not even be cast off. Their crews had barely enough time to go over the side. Ammunition and gasoline tanks exploded and the boats sank at the jetty. A small Australian cargo ship, the AS16, which had been unloading supplies just astern of the PT's, also caught fire and was destroyed. The flames spread quickly to the dock and to the gasoline dump ashore. Six depth charges stored ashore exploded in one mighty blast, spreading the fire still further. Soon the entire stock of gasoline, except for 700 or 800 drums on the far side of the cove, was ablaze. Gasoline from exploded drums seeped into the ground and the whole area continued to burn until late the next afternoon. Losses were the 2 PT's, the Australian AS16, 4,000 drums of gasoline, 6 depth charges, the jetty and a shack containing tools, spares, fueling pumps, and ammunition. In view of the rapid spread of the flames and complete destruction of everything at the base of the hill, it is almost miraculous that no one was killed or even injured. It was believed that the fire started when a native lighted a cigarette and threw his match into the water, touching off gasoline on the surface.
7. DOUGLAS HARBOR AND MOROBE
After the end of the Buna campaign our ground forces continued their slow advance up the coast, making possible the establishment of a further advanced operating base. From Tufi the boats patrolled into Huon Gulf, but the distance was so great that most of their time was used up in getting to their stations and returning, with only a few hours left for useful patrol. A base in
the vicinity of Cape Ward Hunt would bring the boats 90 miles closer to Huon Gulf, and save 180 miles on each patrol.
On March 24, Commander Mumma took PT 142 into Douglas Harbor, on the east side of Cape Ward Hunt, and remained there overnight. The harbor was suitable for a PT base and apparently was free of Japanese. Within a few days HMS Masaya steamed into Tufi and took aboard supplies, equipment, and a small base force under Ens. Donald F. Galloway, USNR. Masaya was an interesting old ship, World War I four-stack destroyer Dale (290) converted to diesel power in 1933 and used in South and Central American banana trade for some years before she wound up in Australasia. She left Tufi on March 28 for Oro Bay to take aboard 50 Army troops who were to be the local defense force for the Douglas Harbor PT base.
When the Masaya was still 6 or 7 miles off Oro Bay, a flight of enemy dive bombers swept in to raid Army installations ashore. As soon as the pilots saw the old banana boat, whose destroyer lines had not changed with the years, they pounced on her with obvious glee, thinking that they had caught a warship out alone. The Masaya took several direct hits and sank. There were some casualties to her own crew, but only one of the PT men was injured. All were rescued and brought to Oro Bay.
Lost with the Masaya were 400 drums of gasoline, a radio transmitter and receiver, and all of the tools, spare parts, fuel pumps, and other equipment for the advance base. Equipment was so scarce that it was almost another month before enough could be assembled to try again to establish a new base. The Japanese fliers had not, as they thought, sunk a destroyer, but they had put a nasty crimp in PT activity in Huon Gulf.
On April 8, Lieutenant Commander Atkins, with Maj. Gen. Horace H. Fuller, Commanding General of the 41st Infantry Division, made a reconnaissance of Morobe Harbor, 40 miles beyond Cape Ward Hunt, in Ensign Dean's PT 114. It appeared to be clear of the enemy and was a better site than Douglas Harbor. It was closer to Huon Gulf, and would cut more than 200 miles off each patrol. The Morobe River, flowing into the harbor, had deep water right up to the banks and lofty trees on either side. PT's moored to the riverbank and a base built under the trees would be practically invisible from the air.
Commander Mumma inspected Morobe in Jim Herring's PT 128 on
PT's lie hidden under trees in the Morobe River.
April 14, and arranged with General Fuller to have troops of the 41st Division occupy and defend the harbor. On April 20 Atkins, with PT's 142, 66, and 149, started to set up the advance base. From that time Tufi was used only as an emergency fueling station between Milne Bay and Morobe.
8. THURSDAY ISLAND
On the southwest coast of New Guinea the enemy pressed forward to Kaukenau, and sent reconnaissance parties up the rivers and eastward toward Tanahmerah, a Dutch settlement in the interior, situated on the broad and swift Merauke River. If troops could make their way in any numbers to Tanahmerah, they could easily float downstream in barges, or on rafts and
A PT is hauled on the marine railway at Thursday Island.
Lt. Thomas A. Arnold, USNR, Squadron 7 engineering officer, looks on.
capture Merauke, the capital of Dutch New Guinea, on the southern coast. Such a move would put them within 250 miles of the York Peninsula, Australia's northeastern extremity. Whether by land or by sea, it was feared that the enemy might attempt to force the Torres Straits, the reef-studded expanse of water separating the York Peninsula from New Guinea. It was also possible that he might land on Australia in the broad Gulf of Carpentaria, or make an all-out assault on Darwin, to the west.
Australian ground troops were moved into Merauke, and U.S. Army Engineers began construction of fighter strips there. On April 16, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley's second six boats, PT's 133-138, were towed from Cairns to Thursday Island, in the Torres Straits off the tip of the York Peninsula, with orders to prepare to base at Merauke. On May 1 the other six boats of Squadron 7, PT's 127-132, left Milne Bay for Thursday Island,
towed by Tulsa and two minesweepers. PT Base 10 was sent to Darwin so that the boats would have an operating base and repair facilities ready should it become necessary to move them suddenly westward.
By the end of May the enemy was still 1,000 miles away, and more boats were needed in eastern New Guinea for use in connection with the occupation of Kiriwina and Woodlark Islands. John Bulkeley took PT's 133-138 to Milne Bay on June 6, leaving PT's 127-132 and a base force in command of Lt. Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR. These boats, later designated Motor Torpedo Boat Division 19, remained at Thursday Island in view of the possibility that the enemy might make a diversionary attack on the Torres Straits while the major part of the Southwest Pacific Forces was committed to the Kiriwina-Woodlark operation.
There never was any action at Thursday Island; the enemy never came within range. Perhaps it was just as well. It would have been impossible to fire a torpedo anywhere within 15 miles of the southern coast of New Guinea. The water is so shallow that a torpedo would have buried itself in mud on its initial dive. Off Frederik Hendrik Island shoal water extends so far to sea, and the shoreline is so low, that a ship can go aground out of sight of land. Merauke itself is a miasmic little settlement built on a narrow bar of land a few feet above the level of the swamp which covers thousands of square miles of southern New Guinea.
The Merauke River is strange and wonderful. A few miles above the town the river crosses itself at right angles. Floating islands, logs and all manner of debris (very hazardous to PT's) sweep majestically downstream, east to west, eddy about at the crossing, continue westward and float for several miles around a large island, then return to the crossing, this time from north to south, and after eddying about again, proceed southward to the sea.
By the end of July, Australian troops were well established at Merauke, the RAAF was flying planes from the new airstrips, and the enemy appeared to be too heavily committed elsewhere to be capable of mounting a serious assault on the Torres Straits. The PT's, towed by three minesweepers, returned to Milne Bay. The threat to Darwin, though diminished, had not entirely disappeared. Although no PT's were ever sent to Darwin, PT Base 10 remained there, servicing patrol planes, throughout the New Guinea campaign.
9. KIRIWINA, WOODLARK, AND NASSAU BAY
The occupation of Kiriwina and Woodlark Islands, and of Nassau Bay, 15 miles southeast of Salamaua on the New Guinea coast, were coordinated with the South Pacific landings in the New Georgia group.
Kiriwina and Woodlark were desired as bases for air operations against New Britain. Since neither island was occupied by the enemy, it was not expected that he would react in force to our invasion. There was, however, the possibility that, once alerted, the enemy might send submarines and even destroyers from New Britain to strike at our supply ships. To guard against such a move, PT's accompanied the landing forces on June 30 and established nightly patrols off the islands. Lieutenant Pat Munroe, USNR, set up a base at Woodlark with the six boats of Division 23. Because of lack of suitable anchorage and difficulty of gasoline supply, no base was established at Kiriwina at the time of the landing. Instead, John Bulkeley took his boats to Kola Kola, on Fergusson Island, 70 miles south of Kiriwina, and started shuttle patrols which kept two boats each night on station off the north coast of Kiriwina. These security patrols continued until the end of September, without any contacts with the enemy.
Nassau Bay was desired as a supply point for the 7th Australian Division, which was working its way over the mountains and into the area back of Salamaua. All supplies for the division were being flown from Port Moresby to Wau, an airstrip 25 miles inland from Salamaua, and transported from the airstrip to the 7th Division positions by native carriers. It was impossible to handle sufficient quantities of 75mm. and 105mm. artillery ammunition by this method. The Nassau Bay landing was the result of Commander Mumma's suggestion that a beachhead there would greatly shorten the supply line to the 7th Australian Division.
In this operation PT's were used for the first time as troop carriers. Army landing craft of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade were to move troops of the 41st Division to Nassau Bay from Mort Bay,13 15 miles north of Morobe. PT's were to screen the landing craft and carry troops who would be taken ashore by the landing craft as soon as they had landed the first wave. Four PT's, the 142, 143, 120, and 68, were to take part in the initial landings on
Lt. E. B. Proctor, USNR, gives orders of the day to native working party at Fergusson Island PT advance base.
(ROBERT J. BULKLEY, JR.)
the night of June 29/30. Each of the 80-foot boats was to carry 70 men. PT 68, a 77-footer, was to patrol ahead and to seaward to intercept any enemy craft that might attempt to move down from Salamaua.
The seas were rough, it was raining hard, and visibility was extremely limited. The 68 lost visual contact with the other PT's after leaving Mort Bay, but continued to patrol through the night without sighting anything. The 142, with Lieutenant Commander Atkins aboard, led the first wave of landing craft out of Mort Bay, and because of poor visibility overshot Nassau Bay by about 3 miles. Some time was lost in getting all of the landing craft headed back for Nassau Bay. By the time they got there, PT 143 was arriving with the second wave of 12 landing craft. The landing craft of the first wave became alarmed and scattered. The 142 rounded them up again and
A PT disembarks troops into a landing craft at Nassau Bay, July 6, 1943.
led them into the bay. They landed their troops at 0130, came out to the 142, disembarked its troops and landed them. Then the landing craft of the second wave went in to the beach. In the meantime PT 120 arrived with the third wave. At 0250, PT's 143 and 120, still standing by to disembark their troops, received a radio communication from the beach, telling them that all of the landing craft had broached in the heavy surf and could not get off the beach. The 143 and 120 returned to Morobe, while the 142 set up a security patrol offshore for the rest of the night. Fortunately the landing was unopposed.
Subsequent reinforcement operations were more successful. In the early morning hours of July 2, PT 149, with Atkins aboard, and PT 142 covered the landing of 11 landing craft at Nassau Bay, strafed 2 enemy-held villages on the southern side of the bay, and then covered the arrival of 2 trawlers
with more landing craft in tow. On the afternoon of July 4, PT's 120 and 152 each carried 70 troops to Nassau Bay. The troops were successfully disembarked by Higgins landing boats. On the morning of the 6th, PT's 149 and 120 carried a total of 135 men to Nassau Bay and covered the landing of 11 landing craft which, after putting their own troops ashore, disembarked the men from the PT's.
Arrival of the reinforcements assured the success of the operation. Within a few days our forces at Nassau Bay were joined by Australian troops moving east from the Mubo area in a drive to strike at Salamaua from the south.
10. ACTIONS IN HUON GULF
During the period they operated from Tufi, the PT's sank 1 submarine and claimed 18 barges sunk and 2 more possibly sunk. Oddly enough, during the first 2 months of operations from Morobe, they sank no barges at all. Perhaps the barge traffic had not yet grown to the proportions it was later to assume; also, it is a good guess than the PT's, in their anxiety to intercept surfaced submarines on the Rabaul-Lae shuttle, spent too much time on the offshore submarine lanes and not enough on the close-inshore barge routes. There was no doubt the submarines were running. PT's often saw them lying on the surface, but it was like chasing a will-of-the-wisp. Usually the target vanished in a crash dive before the boats could come close enough to launch a torpedo.
On the night of May 13/14, Commander Mumma in Russ Hamachek's PT 150 and Lieutenant Commander Atkins in PT 152 (Ens. Herbert P. Knight, USNR) went sub hunting 5 miles off Lae, and met a smart submarine skipper. They saw a large submarine 6,000 yards away, proceeding on the surface at an estimated speed of 12 knots. Each boat lined up its sights and fired two torpedoes in a long-range shot. The submarine stopped. All torpedoes passed ahead. Closing the range to 4,000 yards, the 150 fired one torpedo at the stationary target. The submarine immediately increased speed to maximum, with sparks trailing from her exhaust. The torpedo missed astern. The boats ran parallel to the submarine's course to gain a favorable firing position and then turned to decrease the range. The submarine crash dived. As the PT's lay to, wondering what the next move
PT's leave the Morobe base at dusk to patrol in Huon Gulf.
would be, a torpedo from the submarine passed under the bow of PT 150. The PT was saved by her shallow draft at the bow.
"By God!" exclaimed Commander Mumma, himself an old submarine skipper, "I wish I had that fellow working for me!"
Later a division of Australian ML's, small wooden-hulled antisubmarine vessels equipped with sound gear, somewhat similar to our SC's, joined the task group at Morobe. Many joint PT-ML patrols were made in Huon Gulf, and on several occasions the ML's depth charged submarines, but never with any confirmable results. ML operations were greatly hampered by an almost complete lack of spare parts.
Barge actions began to pick up in July. During July, August, and September, the boats claimed 44 barges sunk or destroyed, 7 possibly sunk or destroyed, and 1 damaged, as well as one 120-foot cargo ship sunk. Even earlier than in the Solomons, the New Guinea boats had started mounting 37mm.
A shower in the jungle at Morobe. Note PT moored to riverbank in background.
cannon on the bow for antibarge work. Late in August, Squadron 12, under Lt. Comdr. John Harllee, arrived in the combat area. Four of the squadron's boats had been equipped with a 40mm. gun as an experimental mounting before leaving the United States. Comdr. Selman S. Bowling, whose Squadron 21 followed shortly after Squadron 12, admired Harllee's 40mms. so much that he got 12 Australian-built guns in Brisbane and had them mounted on his boats. Thereafter, as rapidly as guns could be obtained, every PT in the Southwest Pacific was equipped with a 40mm. on the stern and a 37mm. on the bow. In time these installations were accepted as standard and all PT's were fitted with them before leaving the United States.
An unusual action was fought on the night of July 28/29, when Barry Atkins, in the PT 149 of Lt. (jg.) James W. ("Tex") Emmons, USNR, with PT 142 (Lt. (jg.) John L. Carey, USNR), ran into a flotilla of 30 or more heavily laden barges bound from the direction of Cape Busching, New Britain,
toward Finschhafen, New Guinea. The night was so dark and rainy that the PT's were not aware of the barges until they were in the midst of the formation and saw lights blinking on their port beam and port and starboard quarters. The PT's sank six of them under extremely heavy return fire. Several barges tried to ram the PT's. One tried to ram the 149, firing 20mm. as it came. The PT sank it when it was only 10 feet away. One man was wounded on the 142. An enemy 20mm. shell exploded in the engineroom of the 149, severing a throttle rod, carrying away water lines and electrical connections and piercing exhaust stacks. For a time the boat had only one engine running. Charles E. Neff, MoMM1c, USNR, and Edward L. Bernie, MoMM2c, worked like beavers, repairing the wiring and taping up the throttle rod, water lines, and exhaust stacks. When they ran out of friction tape they robbed the first-aid kit of adhesive tape. Soon they had all engines back in commission and the 149 was able to make 24 knots on its return trip to Morobe.
On the following night, Lt. George E. Cox, Jr., USNR, in his first action since he left the Philippines, took his PT 135 with PT 143 to patrol the coast east of Lae. The boats sank three barges, two loaded with troops and one loaded with supplies. All of the barges returned heavy fire and one of them came close to ramming the 135, sinking just as the 135's stern cleared it. During the action, shore guns were firing at the PT's.
It was apparent that the Japanese were employing tactics similar to those adopted in the Solomons. Lieutenant Commander Atkins, in forwarding Cox's action report, commented, "The gunfire received from the beach in this action and from other points on the coast in previous encounters would indicate an effort on the part of the enemy to protect his line of communications by fortifying strategic points along the coast."
Another PT was lost early in August when the 113, which had been thoroughly rebuilt in Cairns, ran high and dry on Veale Reef, near Tufi, before she had a chance to make even a single patrol. All efforts to salvage the boat failed, so she was stripped of all equipment and parts that might be useful to other PT's, and the bare hull was left to decay on the reef.
Although the boats extended their patrols northward along the Huon Peninsula into Vitiaz Strait, they found fewer barges in August than they had in July. They began strafing shore installations with greater frequency, and often started sizable fires in Japanese camps and supply dumps. On the night of August 23/24, George Cox in PT 135, with Lt. (jg.) Ray F.
Boat captains report to intelligence officers at Morobe after a night's patrol.
Smith, destroyed a large beached barge and sank a small one at Walingai. Flames from the beached barge illuminated the shore and the boats strafed the beach area heavily, starting a large fire that burned with dense white smoke and red flames hundreds of feet in the air. The fire was still visible when the boats were 30 miles away.
On the night of August 28/29, John Bulkeley, who had been transferred to Morobe from Fergusson Island, patrolled Vitiaz Strait in PT 142 (Lt. (jg.) John L. Carey), with Ens. Herbert P. Knight, USNR, in PT 152. As they were passing Finschhafen on their return from patrol, they saw three barges, one of which they sank on their first run. Gunfire seemed ineffective against the other two barges, so at the end of the third run PT 152 dropped a depth charge near each barge without noticeable effect. The 142 then made two runs, dropping depth charges and sinking one barge. The third barge still floated, so the 142 pulled alongside and Bulkeley, followed by
Lt. (jg.) Joseph L. Broderick, USNR, and Lt. (jg.) Oliver B. Crager, USNR, boarded it. A man in the barge made a suspicious move and Bulkeley shot him with a .45. It turned out that the other occupants, 12 fully equipped soldiers, were already dead. The PT officers reboarded the 142 and pulled away while the 152 fired 37mm. at close range until the barge sank.
A wistful commentary on this action appears in the captured diary of a Japanese officer named Kobayashi, under date of August 29. "Last night," Kobayashi wrote, "with the utmost precautions, we were without incident fortunately transported safely by barge between Sio and Finschhafen. So far, there has not been a time during such trips when barges had not been attacked by enemy torpedo boats. However, it was reported that the barge unit which transported us was attacked and sunk on the return trip last night, and the barge commanding officer and his men were all lost."
11. LAE, SALAMAUA, AND FINSCHHAFEN
As a preliminary to the amphibious operations against Lae, four destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 5, Perkins, Smith, Conyngham, and Mahan, were directed to make a sweep of Huon Gulf and to bombard the Finschhafen area, paying particular attention to barge hideouts. The destroyers arrived at Buna on the morning of August 22. The squadron commander, Capt. Jesse H. Carter, conferred with Commander Mumma and went with him to the Fifth Air Force Headquarters at Dobodura to select targets for the night's bombardment. When the destroyers stood out from Buna late in the afternoon, Commander Mumma acompanied Captain Carter in the Perkins to assist in locating targets. The sweep of Huon Gulf was negative, but the shelling of Finschhafen achieved complete surprise and the shore area was well covered.
Ships of the Seventh Amphibious Force put troops of the 9th Australian Division ashore on beaches 14 and 18 miles east of Lae on the morning of September 4. Within 3 days 14,000 men had been landed. The main thrust of these forces was westward toward Lae; a subsidiary movement was started eastward toward Finschhafen. Meanwhile troops of the 7th Australian Division made parachute landings at Nadzab, behind Lae, and moved down the Markham Valley from the west. Other troops mounted a drive against Salamaua from the south.
Members of a PT crew inspect a Japanese 5-inch gun after the fall of Lae.
Guns of this type frequently fired on PT's patrolling in Huon Gulf.
Salamaua fell on September 11. Advance units of the 7th Australian Division entered Lae on the 16th. The occupation was completed 3 days later. PT's supported the operations by nightly patrols in Huon Gulf and northward into Vitiaz Strait. Between the 3d and 20th of September they claimed six barges destroyed, three probables and one damaged. During this period also, PT 136 (Lt. (jg.) Roger H. Hallowell, USNR) was lost. She went hard aground on an uncharted reef while on patrol in Vitiaz Strait on the night of September 16/17 and, since these were enemy waters, had to be destroyed. Her crew was taken aboard other PT's without casualties, and PT 142 set the 136 ablaze by gunfire.
The early fall of Lae and Salamaua cleared the way for the next major move, the occupation of Finschhafen. PT's already had helped prepare for this operation by landing six American and Australian scouts and four natives on the proposed beach north of Finschhafen on the night of September 11/12 and taking them off again on the 14th. On the night of September 21/22, while the ships of the Seventh Amphibious Force were approaching the landing beach, three sections of two PT's each set up a defensive screen to the northward in Vitiaz Strait.
Lieutenant Commander Harllee, in PT 191 (Ens. Rumsey Ewing, USNR), with Lt. (jg.) Robert R. Read, USNR, in PT 133, encountered a 120-foot cargo ship 10 miles off Vincke Point. "Upon sighting ship," Ewing reported, "PT 191 followed by PT 133 closed it at high speed and then slowed to make a firing run to starboard. Light machine-gun fire was encountered on this run, but none thereafter. After the first run, two more runs were made at closer ranges and fire was directed inside the boat as much of previous fire had glanced off side. After the third run, the ship caught fire and lost headway, and the PT's lay off in case of an explosion. Attempts to extinguish the blaze were observed on the ship. Another run and a depth charge set at 30 ft. was dropped, but was a little too far off to be destructive. About seven men attempted to embark in a dinghy and this was sunk, the men either regaining the ship or jumping into the water. Although the ship was well ablaze and had settled, it did not appear to be going to sink and another depth charge was dropped close to the bow, blowing it out of the water and apparently breaking the keel. When last seen, she was low in the water and still burning. It is considered that she was destroyed beyond further use."
An hour after this action ended, troops of the 9th Australian Division began to pour ashore at Finschhafen. The Japanese, after 18 months of occupation, had been cleared from Huon Gulf.
12. MOROBE: OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER
The liberation of Huon Gulf forced the PT's to extend their patrols further up the coast of the Huon Peninsula; to the islands to the north, Long Island, Umboi, Tolokiwa, and Sakar; and to the southern and western shores of New Britain. The patrols were long and rugged; the boats had to go at least 100 miles to get on station. But the crews were eager and there were plenty of barges -- the Japanese were making a determined stand in the Huon Peninsula and attempting to reinforce their garrison with bargeloads of troops and supplies from New Britain and from Madang and Wewak on the New Guinea coast.
New boats came to Morobe and the old ones were gradually withdrawn. By the end of October, Squadron 8, which had absorbed Division 17, went to Kana Kopa for overhaul. The boats of Squadron 7, which had been divided between Morobe and Fergusson Island, were moved to a new base at Kiriwina.
A boat crew relaxes on deck of a PT under camouflage net in the Morobe River.
Soon after these moves, Lt. Robert L. Childs, USNR, relieved Lieutenant Commander Atkins as commander of Squadron 8, and Lt. Edward W. Roberts, USNR, relieved Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley as commander of Squadron 7. Squadron 12, which had started patrols from Morobe with four boats at the end of August, had all of its boats operating in October. Squadron 21, the first to have a 40mm. on every boat, arrived at Morobe early in November.
Squadron 21's arrival was greeted with astonishment, not because of the size of its guns, but because of the size of its officers. Commander Bowling first became acquainted with PT's when, as a staff communications officer with the South Pacific Amphibious Force, he voluntarily went out on patrols with the Tulagi boats. He decided that PT officers should be tough, and when he returned to the United States to fit out his own squadron, he chose as officers the biggest, toughest athletes he could find.
Among them were Ens. Ernest W. Pannell, USNR, all-American tackle from Texas A.&M., who had played professional football with the Green Bay Packers; Ens. Alex Schibanoff, USNR, of Franklin & Marshall College and the Detroit Lions; and Ens. Steven J. Levanitis, USNR, of Boston College and the Philadelphia Eagles. Other football players included Ens. Bernard A. Crimmins, USNR, all-American, of Notre Dame; Lt. (jg.) Paul B. Lillis, USNR, Notre Dame captain; Ens. Louis E. Smith, USNR, University of California halfback; Ens. Kermit W. Montz, USNR, Franklin & Marshall; Ens. John M. Eastham, Jr., USNR, Texas A.&M.; Ens. Stuart A. Lewis, USNR, University of California; Ens. Cedric J. Janien, USNR, Harvard; and Ens. William P. Hall, USNR, Wabash.
Other sports were represented by Ens. Joseph W. Burk, USNR, holder of the world's record for single sculls; Ens. Kenneth D. Molloy, USNR, all American lacrosse player from Syracuse University; Lt. John B. Williams, USNR, Olympic swimmer from Oregon State; and Ens. James F. Foran, USNR, Princeton swimmer.
Whether athletes, as a class, could operate PT's any better than nonathletes is still open to debate. There is no doubt that Squadron 21 was a smart and efficient outfit.
New and old, the PT's had good hunting in the last months at Morobe. In October they claimed nine barges sunk or destroyed, one plane shot down, and one plane possibly damaged. In November the claims jumped to 45 barges sunk or destroyed, 6 damaged, and 1 plane possibly damaged.
"Sack drill" aboard a New Guinea PT.
The sudden increase was caused by a variety of factors. As our ground forces increased their pressure, the Japanese undoubtedly made more vigorous efforts to supply their troops, and sent more barges into the area. At the same time, the PT's became more efficient barge-destroyers by installation of 40mm. guns and a new and improved type of radar which greatly increased their ability to locate the enemy and aided in navigation as well. And, finally, the PT's improved their tactics by patrolling closer inshore, close enough to make sure that no barges could pass undetected between them and the beach, and to be able to see any barges that might be unloading on the beach. This doctrine, as will be seen, resulted in the loss of several PT's by grounding on uncharted reefs. In fact, more PT's were lost through grounding in enemy waters than from any other single cause, but the risk was acceptable in view of the vastly greater amount of damage inflicted on the enemy. Danger to crews was reduced by having boats patrol in echelon formation, with the following boat or boats farther offshore than the lead boat. In this formation, even if the lead boat should go aground, a following boat probably would not, and would be able to tow the lead boat off the reef or, failing in that, to rescue its crew.
Running close to shore was not, of course, a new invention in November. The tactic had been used with success many times before, and was used with greater frequency and with increasing success until by November it had become standard doctrine.
On the night of September 30/October 1, Lt. (jg.) Robert F. Lynch, USNR, in PT 68, with Ens. Rumsey Ewing, USNR, in PT 191, attacked and sank two barges near Vincke Point. During their run on the second barge, they sighted a third unloading troops on the beach. They opened fire on it, scoring many hits, and then swung to port to head out to sea. When the 68 had almost completed its turn, it ran hard aground, 40 yards offshore.
"PT 68 called PT 191 and the latter stood in to attempt to pull PT 68 free," Lynch reported. "At 0125 lines were passed from PT 68 to PT 191 and for 25 minutes PT 191 attempted to pull PT 68 free, but the latter could not be moved. It did not seem probable from the first that PT 68 could be freed, but all efforts were made, regardless of this. During this time, about 100 men, deduced to be Japanese troops by their shouts and chatter, collected on the beach. PT 68 kept its guns manned and trained on the beach, but did not open fire as it was feared that by doing so return fire from the beach would have ended all chance at salvage and would have unnecessarily endangered PT 191.
"At 0155, I ordered the crew of PT 68 to abandon ship, transferring to PT 191. The two anchor lines were still across, and PT 191 again tried to work PT 68 loose, but within a minute a gun judged to be 37mm. opened fire on the boats from the beach on the southwest shore and a light machine-gun was heard on the northeast side, and the lines were cut. I ordered PT 191 to destroy PT 68, which she did by opening fire on it and setting fires on it which very quickly spread completely over the boat. At 0220, PT 68 was a complete mass of flames and ammunition on board was exploding . . . At 0225, PT 191 left the scene of action and returned to base.
"During the second run on the barges, five large fires were started on the beach. These continued to grow in intensity and could still be seen from 35 to 40 miles away. One fire appeared to be oil stores, the others general stores but no ammunition."
On the night of October 8/9, Lt. (jg.) Lawrence M. Stutsman, USNR, in PT 128, and Ens. Robert M. Hursh, Jr., USNR, in PT 194, had the only contact with destroyers during the entire New Guinea campaign. The boats were guided to the western end of New Britain through the narrow passages
of the Siassi Islands by Lt. George O. Walbridge 2d, USNR, radar officer of Squadron 7, who was aboard Hursh's boat. Walbridge had made so many patrols to test radar equipment that he knew the coast better than most of the boat captains, and Lieutenant Commander Harllee, then in charge of operations at Morobe, used to send him out as a pilot.
The boats were lying to off Grass Point, New Britain, when to the north, off Lagoon Point, they observed a column of black smoke, similar to that made by a ship blowing its tubes. As the boats proceeded slowly northward, pips appeared on their radar screens, indicating the presence of six large ships near Lagoon Point. The boats lay to, trying to track the targets, when one of the "targets" opened fire at a range of 3½ miles. The first shell, apparently 5-inch, landed within 25 yards of the 194 and threw everyone to the deck. At least three more shells fell close before the boats could even get their engines in gear to get underway.
By the time the PT's brought their speed up to 40 knots, two destroyers, making not less than 35 knots, had closed within less than a mile, and were bracketing the boats with rapid salvos. One destroyer held the 194 in its searchlight beam. At first the PT's had not opened fire because it was thought that gun flashes might give the enemy a point of aim, but now the 194 poured 60 rounds of 40mm. at the searchlight, and it went out.
A second searchlight caught the 194, followed immediately by a shell which landed not more than 15 yards astern, lifting the stern out of the water and piercing the transom with many shrapnel holes. Soon afterwards another shell landed close astern, spraying shrapnel which killed two men and wounded two other men and an officer.
Both boats had been laying smoke, the 128 heading northwest and the 194 southwest. The 194's smoke generator jammed and could not be turned off. The continued emission of smoke was giving the destroyers a point of aim. Lieutenant Walbridge, though wounded, grabbed a fire ax, hacked the smoke bottle loose from the deck and kicked it over the stern. He then advised Hursh that his best escape route lay to the northwest. Hursh swung his boat northwards, passing through his smokescreen. Stutsman had just turned to the south to get behind his smoke. As they came through the screens the boats all but crashed head on. Each boat captain put his helm hard over. The boats responded instantly, and though they collided, it was a glancing blow. The bow of the 194 was damaged and there was a gaping hole in the portside of the 128 above the waterline, but the boats could still make top speed. Once the boats were behind the smoke, the destroyer fire
became increasingly inaccurate and the boats ran to safety behind Sakar Island.
At no time did the boats have a chance to fire torpedoes. The destroyers had the drop on them and fired with great accuracy from the first salvo. "We thought about firing torpedoes," Stutsman said, "but any attempt to turn simply brought a slight turn from the destroyer, and she remained head-on."
Several submarines were sighted during the period, but always dived before the boats could get a good shot at them. Lt. Charles H. Jackson, Jr., USNR, in PT 147 and Lt. (jg.) Raymond C. Turnbull, USNR, in PT 195, came closest to a kill on the night of November 1/2 when they sighted two surfaced submarines in column off Nunzen Plantation, north of Blucher Point. The boats closed to 800 yards and fired torpedoes, the 147 at the first submarine, the 195 at the second. One of Jackson's torpedoes missed. The other, he said "ran true, and hit. The explosion was accompanied by a flash of flame and the column of water was black . . . The target sank immediately."
Turnbull fired only one torpedo. "The torpedo run," he said, "was hot, straight and normal, followed to its target by boat captain and seen to explode on target with accompanying geyser of white water. No flash was observed. Thirty seconds later, a geyser of black water was observed broad on the port bow, which was the result of PT 147's torpedo hit. The submarines did not open fire during the attack, neither were targets sighted after the torpedo explosions. A search of the vicinity disclosed a large patch of white, boiling, phosphorescent water at the spot of the contact."
The following night PT's observed a large oil slick in the area.
The evidence is good as far as it goes but, lacking confirmation, is insufficient to support any definite claim.
Just 2 weeks later, on the night of November 19/20, while patrolling with Ensign Hursh's PT 194, Jackson drove the 147 aground off Teliata Point. PT's 144, 322, and 331 joined PT 194 in trying to pull her off the reef. The boats worked for 3 hours attempting to free the boat under intermittent sniper fire from shore. Then, as the tide was still running out, Jackson transferred his crew to the 194 and set a landmine next to a gasoline tank. The boat exploded and burned for 45 minutes.
Lieutenant Commander Harllee, in forwarding Jackson's report, said, "It is not felt that the officer-in-tactical-command is deserving of censure for this grounding, as PT's have had to take such risks in order to effectively attack Japanese coastal barge traffic. In the past, these risks have proven
worthwhile. On the other hand, it is felt that both boat captains deserve commendation for their prolonged efforts under fire to refloat the boat."
Less than a week later, on the night of November 23/24, Ens. John M. Eastham, USNR, in PT 322 went aground near Hardenberg Point, just after the 332, with Ens. Ernest W. Pannell's PT 324, had sunk two barges. The 322 also had to be destroyed after all efforts to refloat her failed.
13. A LETTER FROM GENERAL BERRYMAN
Costly as it sometimes proved, barge hunting was paying off. The barges that the PT's were sinking were vital to the entire Japanese effort in the area. Unless they got through, that effort must fail. The importance of the PT's role is emphasized by a letter from Gen. F. H. Berryman, Commanding General of the 2d Australian Corps, who was in charge of the ground forces in the Huon Peninsula campaign:
H.Q. 2 AUST CORPS, 1 Dec. 43.
Commander M. C. MUMMA USN,
Comd MTB Squadrons, Seventh Fleet, US NAVY
- On behalf of 2 Aust Corps I wish to express appreciation of the excellent work being done by units of your command in the VITIAZ STRAITS area.
- The immediate success of their operations will have been evident to the personnel as witness the continual and steady destruction of the enemy's barges over the last few months.
- But there is another and more far reaching aspect of these operations which I feel should be made known to all taking part, and that is the telling effect which has been wrought upon the enemy's land forces in the FINSCHHAFEN area.
- The following evidence emerging from the recent operations will illustrate the cumulative effect of the activities of your command.
- The small degree to which the enemy has used artillery indicates a shortage of ammunition.
- The enemy, in an endeavour to protect his barges, has been forced to dispose his normal field artillery over 50 miles of coast when those guns might well have been used in the coastal sector against our land troops.
- Many Japanese diary entries describe the shortage of rations and the regular fatigues of foraging parties to collect native food, which are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
- A Japanese PW * stated that three days rice augmented by native food now has to last 9 days, this is supported by the absence of food and the presence of native roots on enemy dead.
*PW: Prisoner of War.
- There is definite evidence that the enemy has in one area slaughtered and eaten his pack-carrying animals.
- There is evidence that reinforcements have arrived in the WEWAK area, but, it is believed, the enemy has been unable to send large numbers forward because of his inability to maintain larger forces in the forward area.
- A PW states that the enemy has been forced to send carrying parties back to KANOMI to carry supplies, thus reducing the fighting troops capable of being placed against our land troops.
From the above you will see how effective has been the work of your squadrons, and how it has contributed to the recent defeat of the enemy.
- Without your willing cooperation it would not have been possible for our officers to visit FINSCHHAFEN quickly or to have ensured the timely arrival of urgently needed medical supplies such as blood plasma. The number of officers you have carried from BUNA to FINSCHHAFEN has been considerable and must at times have been a strain on the food supplies in your PT Boats, but at all times the courtesy and open hearted hospitality has been most marked and has been deeply appreciated.
- All ranks of 2 Aust Corps appreciate your help, and, I know, will join me in wishing you every continued success. I would be grateful if you would convey to your officers and crews our appreciation of their cooperation, courtesy and hospitality.
F. H. BERRYMAN,
Maj-Gen, Comd 2 Aust Corps.
14. TENDERS, STAFF, AND LOGISTICS
By the middle of August the Fifth Air Force had its strips at Dobodura in full operation, and it was considered safe to move Hilo and a drydock forward from Milne Bay to Buna. This was a great economy. Morobe boats in need of repair had only to run 75 miles to Buna instead of 300 to Kana Kopa.
"Safe" is, of course, a relative term. The enemy still made raids on the Buna area from time to time. On the morning of October 14 Hilo was just leaving Oro Bay, where she had gone to take on fresh water, when 45 enemy planes came over. Our fighters were already in the air, about to set out on a strike against Rabaul. They shot down every enemy plane. Hilo scored several hits on one, but could not claim it because one of our P-38's finished it off; conversely, SS John Ross, riding low at anchor with a load of bombs and mustard gas, claimed an already crippled plane that narrowly missed her stack as the pilot was riddled by the Liberty ship's 20mm. guns at point-blank range. "At one time," Commander Munroe said, "we could see 10 planes burning on the water."
Three days later, when the Hilo was back at Buna, there was another raid, mostly over Dobodura. A P-38 crashed into the sea about 8 miles from the Hilo. Herb Knight took PT 152 to the scene of the crash and rescued the
Hilo in Buna Roads.
pilot, 1st Lt. Tommy McGuire, USAAF, who had shot down his 10th and 11th Japanese planes that morning.
USS Portunus, first of the LST-type tenders assigned to the Southwest Pacific, arrived in Milne Bay on October 18 and put ashore officers and men of PT Base 4. Commander Mumma, who had begun to assemble a staff to assist him in the administration of his growing task group, wished to use Portunus as his command ship. Although far superior to Hilo in the matter of shop space, Portunus had almost no room for office space or living quarters for staff personnel. Commander Mumma resolved the difficulty by having a 20- by 40-foot quonset hut erected on the forward deck, enhancing the already arklike appearance of the ungainly tender.
Portunus arrived at Buna on October 20. Commander Mumma shifted his pennant to her November 3, permitting Hilo to leave for Sydney for well-earned overhaul and liberty for her crew. She arrived in Sydney on November 13, exactly 333 days after she had stood out from Cairns with the boats of Division 17. En route to Brisbane, Hilo stopped briefly at Milne Bay. "I found Base 6 still without torpedo tools, parts and equipment," Commander Munroe wrote to Commander Mumma, "so I completely stripped the torpedo shop. All engine parts and tools also were transferred, some to LST 201, Mostly to Base 6."
The LST 201, mentioned by Commander Munroe, was in many ways the most unusual of all PT tenders. Commander Mumma was to receive increasing numbers of boats, which in all probability would be moving
An LST-type tender lifts a PT with its A-frame for repairs.
fairly quickly from base to base. He foresaw that he would need more tenders than he was scheduled to receive from the United States. When PT Base 14, under Lt. William B. Cameron, USNR, arrived in Australia, Commander Mumma obtained from the Commander Service Force Seventh Fleet the assignment of the Coast Guard-manned LST 201, commanded by Lt. S. D. LaRoue, USCGR. Under the general supervision of Lt. William J. Flittie, USNR, who had been taken from Squadron 8 to become the Task Group material officer, the LST 201 was fitted out in Australia and at Milne Bay as a PT tender, using as much of Base 14's equipment as possible. The personnel of Base 14 went aboard as the repair crew. It was not feasible to manufacture and mount an A-frame for lifting PT's, so the 201 towed a drydock with her wherever she went. She did acquire one superior piece of equipment, an 11-ton crane with a 50-foot boom, mounted on deck forward, which could be operated by one man. The other LST-type tenders had only an inconveniently short boom, which could not be operated by less than seven men. Despite her hybrid character -- a Coast Guard crew operated the ship and a Navy crew handled the PT repair work -- the LST 201 performed her function well, and in August 1944 was officially designated as a PT tender and dignified with a name, USS Pontus.
A PT is raised in a pontoon drydock. Lacking an A-frame, LST 201,
later USS Pontus, towed a drydock wherever she went. Note 40mm. gun on stern of PT.
The LST 201 completed her fitting out in Milne Bay and arrived at Buna on November 18. Five days later both Portunus and LST 201 moved to Morobe.
Soon after taking command of the Task Group, Commander Mumma realized it would be many months before adequate amounts of spare parts could be shipped to New Guinea from the United States. He worked out a plan for manufacture of essential spares in Australia, and sent Lieutenant Flittie to Australia to assist the Commander Service Force in getting
the spares into production. Many Australian-built spares eventually were used on the boats. Mufflers and struts compared favorably with those of U.S. manufacture, and the propellers, though usually not perfectly balanced, were far better than none at all. Only the shafts, made of bronze instead of monel, which was not available in Australia, were entirely unsatisfactory. They were more apt than not to shear off after the first hour or so of peration.
Besides spare parts and tenders, advance base equipment was needed for future moves. Late in 1943 Commander Mumma arranged with the Commander Service Force for the assembly at Milne Bay of a number of advance base units, each of which could be loaded for transportation on one LST, and would be capable of supporting two operating squadrons. These units contained only the barest essentials to keep squadrons in operation -- tents, galley gear, a mobile communications unit, a field torpedo unit, and a small medical unit -- for any major repairs the boats would have to return to the repair base.
In addition to the equipment that would be put ashore at the base, Commander Mumma had various types of pontoon floating equipment constructed. These included drydocks; barges with two 1,000-barrel gasoline tanks on them, which, from their strange appearance, came to be known as "double bubbles"; self-propelled barges with a motor-driven crane and a quonset hut machine shop aboard, useful for changing engines and minor repairs; and small barges fitted out as radar shops.
An advance base unit of this type, with its floating equipment, could be set up as soon as a beachhead was established, and because it could be well dispersed was far less vulnerable to air attack than a tender.
Supervision of the assembly of the advance base units at Milne Bay originally was under Lt. Philip Q. Sawin, USNR, who succeeded Lieutenant Flittie as Task Group material officer, and later under Lt. Comdr. Herman F. Straw, USNR, who not only assembled the materials but went ashore with one base after another as officer in charge.
Commander Mumma built up his staff gradually over a period of months. Commander Munroe was his Chief Staff Officer; most of the other members of the staff were drawn from the squadrons. Two staff officers who should be mentioned were Maj. James T. Throsby, AIF, who joined the task group late in December 1942, to provide liaison between the PT's and the Australian ground forces, and Lt. Eric M. Howitt, RANVR, who joined the boats at Morobe as a pilot. Major Throsby had longer continuous service
A tug (left) arrives at Amsterdam Island, Dutch New Guinea, towing a floating drydock, a "double-bubble" gasoline barge, a crane barge, and a radar repair barge.
in Task Group 70.1 than any other person, American or Australian. He accompanied the boats all the way up the New Guinea coast, into Morotai in the Halmaheras, and finally to Balikpapan in Borneo. Lieutenant Howitt, who in peacetime had been, among other things, a master of vessels engaged in interisland trade, knew the New Guinea and New Britain coasts like the back of his hand. He guided the boats through reefs and into harbors at night with uncanny accuracy, and usually was the coolest person on the boat when the shooting began. For their invaluable assistance both of these officers were awarded the Legion of Merit; Throsby in the degree of Legionnaire, Howitt in the degree of Officer.
On May 18 the task group acquired the first of an odd collection of cargo craft, HMAS Potrero, a 70-foot, wooden-hull, diesel-driven coaster that could carry 30 to 40 tons. Theoretically it was the job of the Service Force to see that the squadrons got what they needed where and when they needed it, but PT's needed so many special spares that were not common to the rest of the Navy, and so frequently were operating in advance of the
places ordinarily reached by Navy supply, that it turned out to be simpler and more satisfactory for all concerned to have the Task Group run its own cargo carriers between bases. Eventually the Task Group was operating the equivalent of a small shipping line to keep its forward bases supplied.
Since the first of July, two PT's from Fergusson Island had patrolled off the north shore of Kiriwina each night. By the end of September the Royal Australian Air Force was getting ample supplies of gasoline at Kiriwina, and was willing to allocate some of it to the PT's in order to have them at hand for air-sea rescue work.
Kiriwina was far from ideal for a PT base. The only anchorage was in the open roadstead on the north side of the island. But it had one advantage: the Japanese base of Gasmata on New Britain lay across 130 miles of open water to the north. It might be possible to intercept barges running from Rabaul to Gasmata. Accordingly, with the six boats of Squadron 7 from Fergusson Island and the six boats of Division 23 from Woodlark, a base was set up at Kiriwina on October 2, under Lt. Comdr. Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR. Lt. Edward W. Roberts, USNR, took over the base on October 17 and Bulkley became Task Group operations officer. Roberts was relieved in January by Lt. Robert L. Childs, USNR.
At the time the base was established, plans were being made for the invasion of New Britain, and the first task of the boats was to land a party of American, Australian, and native scouts at Ablingi Harbor, west of Gasmata. The scouts were taken out by PT's 2 weeks later, after collecting considerable information on enemy dispositions in the Gasmata area.
Results from Kiriwina were, on the whole, disappointing. During nearly 5 months of operation, the PT's claimed only 1 lugger and 2 barges sunk or destroyed, 1 barge probably destroyed, and 3 barges damaged. On three occasions they attacked submarines with undetermined results. To a greater extent than anywhere else in the New Guinea campaign, the PT's were harassed by enemy planes, which twice dropped bombs close enough to wound men on the boats. Lt. (jg.) Joseph R. Ellicott, USNR, in PT 131 and Lt. (jg.) Robert R. Read, USNR, in PT 133 evened the score on the night of December 15/16 when they shot down an enemy four-engine seaplane off Gasmata.
One of the worst accidents of the New Guinea campaign occurred during a patrol in Ablingi Harbor on the night of January 25/26, when PT's 110 and 114 collided. A depth charge, which had been set in ready condition because of the likelihood of submarine contacts, was broken loose and exploded under the 110, blowing the boat out of the water and breaking it in two pieces. The 114 was heavily jolted, but not damaged. Two officers and one enlisted man of the 110 were missing, one man killed, and one officer and six men wounded.
Because of the infrequency of barge contacts, as well as the fact that by then the south coast of New Britain could be covered as well from Dreger Harbor as from Kiriwina, the Kiriwina base was closed on February 27, 1944.
16. DREGER HARBOR
Dreger Harbor, which eventually was to supplant Kana Kopa as the main PT supply and repair base in New Guinea, was established as an advance base on November 25 when Commander Bowling moved there with boats of Squadron 21 and two LCT loads of base equipment. Boats of Squadrons 12 and 21 began patrols from Dreger Harbor 5 days later. The new base added 65 miles to the distance the boats could patrol along the New Guinea and New Britain coasts. It is not surprising, therefore, that after December 5 Morobe was abandoned as an operating base.
The length of patrols was further extended after the U.S. Army landings at Arawe, on the southwestern coast of New Britain, on December 15, and at Saidor, on the New Guinea coast, on January 2, 1944. Fuel barges were placed at both of these points so that PT's could leave Dreger Harbor in the morning or early afternoon, top off their tanks at Arawe or Saidor, and then start their patrol. Arawe was about 75 miles from Dreger Harbor; Saidor 110. The Task Group acquired operational control of an APC (small transport), which was kept busy most of the time towing fuel barges back and forth between Dreger Harbor and the advance fueling points. She was always escorted by PT's on these missions, and as she could barely make 5 knots while towing, this was one of the least coveted assignments for PT skippers. When not engaged in towing, the APC, like Potrero, was used for carrying supplies between bases.
Portunus moved to Dreger on January 6, followed within a week by the LST 201. Our air strength had developed to such an extent that the
PT crewmen came young. Forrest Hall, S1c, USNR (left), 17 years old, helps Charles Ferguson, GM2c, USNR (right), and Carl Ochsner, CMM, USNR, bring .50-caliber ammunition aboard his boat at Dreger Harbor.
Japanese made no large raids on the Dreger-Finschhafen area, but many times during the first few months they sent one or two planes in for a nuisance raid. On the evening of January 23, enemy planes which sneaked past the warning system dropped several bombs in Dreger Harbor. Two fell within 25 yards of LST 201 without causing damage. Another, a small fragmentation bomb, hit squarely on the deck of LST 201, causing minor damage to the ship and wounding five men. A fourth bomb fell harmlessly between the LST 201 and Portunus, and a fifth killed several men on a dock at the north end of the harbor, where the Liberty ship John Muir was being unloaded.
Operations at Dreger were started by Squadrons 12 and 21. During the latter part of December and most of January, they were joined by PT's 127, 134, and 138 of Squadron 7, and PT's 110 and 144 of Squadron 8. In addition, three new squadrons began their operations from Dreger Harbor: Squadron 18, under Lt. Henry M. S. Swift, USNR, on December 14; Squadron 24, under Lt. Comdr. N. Burt Davis, Jr., on January 10; and Squadron 25, under Lt. James R. Thompson, USNR, on February 28.
The PT's continued to extend their patrols until they were covering most of the south coast of New Britain and the north coast as far east as the Willaumez Peninsula, and were traveling 200 miles and more up the New Guinea coast. And the patrols continued to pay off. In December the boats claimed 55 barges sunk or destroyed, 14 damaged, and 4 aircraft shot down; in January 47 barges sunk or destroyed, 7 damaged, and 3 aircraft possibly damaged; and in February, 17 barges sunk or destroyed, 1 damaged and 1 aircraft possibly damaged. The slump in February was attributed primarily to the withdrawal of the enemy.
On February 8, Commander Mumma, who had had 3 years of duty in the Pacific, was relieved as Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Seventh Fleet and Commander Task Group 70.1 by Commander Bowling. Commander Bowling, in turn, was relieved of command of Squadron 21 by Lt. Paul T. Rennell, USNR, who had been his executive officer.
17. ACTION ON A REEF
On the night of December 18/19, Lieutenant Swift, in PT 369 (Lt. (jg.) John F. Ganong, USNR), with PT 323 (Ens. James F. Foran, USNR), patrolled up the Huon Peninsula from Wandokai. The 369 opened fire on a small barge near the beach at Walingai, and while maneuvering to get in
position for a second run, went aground on a reef. Foran brought the 323 in close and put lines over, but after breaking two anchor lines without budging the 369, stood off a few hundred yards to call other PT's to the scene by radio.
About an hour and a half after the grounding, a small loaded barge came past, running down the coast 200 yards offshore. The 323 made one run on it and sank it. An hour later eight more barges passed the 369, 250 yards to seaward. As he did not then know the location of the other PT, Swift held the 369's fire until the barges opened fire on the 323 and the 323 returned the fire. The 369 then opened fire with all the guns it could bring to bear from its stationary position. The 323 was having engine trouble, and so made a very slow run past the barges, firing with all guns. Because of the darkness and great volume of tracer fire from both sides, it was not possible to determine the results of the action accurately, but from the 369 one barge was seen to sink and it was believed that the others were at least heavily damaged. The 323 stood by for another 2 hours, until Ray Turnbull's PT 195 arrived and assisted the 323 in freeing the 369 from the reef. The 195 towed the 369 back to base.
18. A SUBMERSIBLE
Ens. Rumsey Ewing, USNR, in PT 191, and Ens. Herbert P. Knight, USNR, in PT 152, were returning from an uneventful patrol on the morning of December 24, when, shortly after daylight, one of the lookouts on the 191 saw a barge making for the beach at Gneisenau Point.
"Both boats closed the beach from about 2½ miles out," Ewing reported, "and saw another object which at first looked like a large barge. In the meanwhile, the barge had arrived at the beach and three men appeared to leave it and run to the bush.
"On approaching more closely, the object which at first had appeared to be a large barge was identified as a submarine about 100 feet long. At the same time a picket boat was seen on the beach with a large pile of stores next to it. The stores were contained in what seemed to be gunny sacks.
"Both boats opened fire on the submarine, and a loud hissing noise comparable to the sound of escaping compressed air was heard during a lull in the firing. The submarine had its stern to the beach, and began to settle by the bow. It only went down about 4 feet when it hit the bottom. The
hull was shot up badly, and fire was now turned on the barge and picket boat, riddling both with 37mm., 20mm., and .50-caliber fire. Both of these latter craft were made definitely unserviceable for further use.
"The PT's 191 and 152 were about 50 to 75 yards from their targets at all times, laying to while firing. No shore fire was encountered."
Three weeks later, after Allied ground forces had taken Gneisenau Point, Major Throsby, with Lt. George Vanderbilt, USNR, intelligence officer of Squadron 12, examined the vessel sunk by ther 191 and 152. They found it lying heeled over on its side in 8 feet of water, and learned that it was not a submarine, but a curious type of submersible, capable of carrying either. fuel or cargo, but having no propulsion machinery of its own. The vessel, 104 feet long, was equipped with fixed horizontal stabilizers so that if it were towed by a surface vessel its superstructure would be awash, and if towed by a submarine it would travel beneath the surface. It was equipped with a heavy bollard aft, which suggested the possibility that two or more submersible carriers might be towed in line.
19. PLANES AT ARAWE
Immediately following the landing of our troops at Arawe, New Britain, on December 15, PT's instituted regular nightly patrols of the Arawe area to forestall any attempts by the enemy to move troops in by barge. Lt. William C. Quinby, USNR, in PT 110 and Lt. (jg.) Elliott H. Goodwin, USNR, in PT 138 made one of these patrols on the night of December 25/26, and in the morning stopped at Arawe to embark 16 passengers for Dreger, including several wounded soldiers.
As the PT's stood out of Arawe Harbor, 15 to 20 enemy dive bombers flew directly out of the sun, attacking the PT's, the APC 15, the SC 747, and an LCT. The attack was so sudden that the first bombs dropped before the PT's could open fire. The first bomb hit only 30 feet from the 110, severely jolting the boat and crew, and knocking the 20mm. gunner, Stephen P. LeFebvre, TM3c, down the engineroom hatch. As other bombs were dropping 50 and 75 feet away, LeFebvre scrambled back to his gun and opened fire on a plane off the port quarter, following it around to the starboard bow. The plane caught fire and crashed ashore.
Several bombs fell near the 138, exploding under water and spraying fragments, opening up seams, and piercing the hull. One small bomb
landed on the deck forward, falling at an angle, and passed through the deck and out the starboard side of the boat above the waterline without exploding. The 138 was taking on water so rapidly that Goodwin ran her bow up on a reef on the south side of Arawe Island.
The planes made only one pass and then went away. Aboard the 110, Quinby and William F. Lohman, GM2c, USNR had suffered superficial wounds. LeFebvre had a bruised shoulder from a bullet which hit the shoulder rest of his gun, missing him by less than an inch. No one was injured on the 138.
In a few minutes it was apparent that the leaks in the 138 could be controlled. The SC 747 pulled her off the reef and she returned to Dreger Harbor under her own power.
Twenty-four hours later Lieutenant Swift, in PT 190 (Lt. Edward I. Farley, USNR) with Ens. Ewing's PT 191, were 25 miles northwest of Arawe, on the way back to Dreger Harbor after an uneventful patrol. A large flight of enemy dive bombers and fighters -- estimates ran from 30 to 38 -- came in from the north and began to bomb and strafe the boats in groups of three and four. The PT's separated, increased speed, and started zigzagging toward a bank of low-hanging clouds 12 miles away.
Unlike the planes of the day before, these made repeated dives, strafing and dropping a total of forty 100-pound bombs. As soon as the attack began, the boats asked for fighter cover, but they had difficulty getting the message through, and it was 40 minutes before a flight of P-47's arrived from Finschhafen.
The 191 took the heaviest part of the attack. Ensign Ewing was wounded in the lung early in the action, and his second officer, Ens. Fred Calhoun, USNR, took charge of the boat. Himself hit in the thigh by a machine-gun bullet, Calhoun stuck to the wheel, watching each bomb drop and twisting the PT out of its path. Bomb fragments ricocheted from the 20mm. magazine, putting the gun out of action and severely wounding Thomas H. Dean, CMoMM, USNR, the gunner, and August Sciutto, MoMM2c, the loader. Other near-misses blew an 18-inch hole in the portside and peppered the entire boat with fragments.
On the third and fourth run, the port and starboard engine water jackets were hit, and jets of hot water spurted through the engineroom. The starboard intake manifold also was hit, and the supercharger forced gasoline fumes into the engineroom. Victor A. Bloom, MoMM1c, USNR, despite bomb splinters and bullets, fumes and spraying hot water, swiftly taped and
stuffed the leaks, keeping the engines running. Then, fearing that the fumes might explode, he closed off the fuel tank compartment and pulled the release valve to smother it with carbon dioxide. Finally, when he had brought order to his engineroom, he went to work to give first aid to the wounded.
The action was far from one sided, however. The gunners on both boats met every attacking plane with a withering blast of fire. Four Japanese planes crashed into the sea near the boats. "Toward the end of the attack," Lieutenant Farley reported, "the enemy became more and more inaccurate and less willing to close us. It is possible that we may have knocked down the squadron leader as the planes milled about in considerable confusion, as if lacking leadership."
The remaining planes were routed by our P-47's, which shot down at least one more of the enemy. One P-47, hit by an enemy plane, made a belly landing half a mile from the 190. The pilot, though badly cut in the head and wounded in the arm, freed himself just before his plane sank. The 190 sped to him, and Lieutenant Swift and Joe H. Cope, S1c, USNR, dived into the water and towed him to the PT.
The 190 was undamaged. The 191, thanks to the accuracy of her gunners, the skillful boat handling of Ensign Calhoun, and the remarkable performance of Bloom, was able to return to base under her own power.
"This action," Commander Mumma reported, "is believed to be one of the outstanding fights between PT boats and aircraft. It has shown that the automatic weapon armament is most effective. It has demonstrated that ably handled PT's can in daylight withstand heavy air attack, however not without disabling damage."
20. ACTIONS ALONG THE NEW GUINEA COAST
The New Guinea coast gave the boats the best hunting until the barge traffic declined in February 1944. Although our forces had landed at Saidor on January 2, there were still long stretches of enemy-held coastline to the east, as well as to the west, of Saidor. Scarcely a night went by in January without the PT's meeting barges.
On the night of January 1/2, Ens. Oliver J. Schnieders, USNR, in PT 145, and Lt. Laurence B. Green, in PT 370, patrolled to the west of Saidor. The boats, with 145 leading, made a run on a barge close to shore off Mindiri
Village and sank it. Just as his boat opened fire, Schneiders saw foul water ahead. He ordered the helmsman to come to port and attempted to back down, but the boat was already on a reef. Heavy swells caused the PT to broach and drove her further aground. Green tried to come in to put lines over, and also went on the reef, but was able to back off. By the time he was clear, the 145 had pounded holes in her bottom and was taking on water rapidly. The crew swam to the 370, which fired 20mm. into the 145 until she burned and exploded.
Four nights later, Ens. Ernest W. Pannell, USNR, in PT 324, and Ens. Frederick C. Feeser, USNR, in PT 363, sank five 80-foot barges loaded with personnel and supplies 3 miles north of Pommern Bay. There was some return fire from the barges, and during the first few seconds of the action, Frank C. Walker, GM1c, USNR, manning the 37mm. gun on the 363, was fatally wounded. He kept firing accurately at the barges until the first run was over. Then he collapsed on the deck. Later he recovered consciousness for a time and asked, "Did we get them? How did my guns fire?" He spoke his last words to the man who was to succeed him as gunner's mate. "Get those guns cleaned up, son," he said.
On the same night, Lt. John K. Williams, USNR, in PT 134, and Ens. James R. McCafferty, USNR, in PT 146, stopped to investigate two rafts near Nambariwa. The rafts were piled with rubber bags of rice, and near them were floating tins of dried fish and waterproof boxes of medical supplies. While they were examining these supplies, the 146 picked up a radar pip, 2½ miles away. The boats started toward it and soon sighted a submarine, the I-177, which dived immediately. As the boats returned they had another radar contact, this time only a mile away. They proceeded toward it, and saw a periscope only 200 yards away. Each boat dropped two depth charges, with no apparent results. At daylight they sank the food rafts. Apparently the submarines, instead of waiting to be unloaded, had adopted a new technique of dumping supplies overboard in waterproof containers and trusting to the tide to float them ashore.
Ens. Joseph W. Burk, USNR, one of the coolest boat captains in the business, added to his already impressive score on the night of January 8/9, when he led his own PT 320 and Ens. James F. Foran, USNR, in PT 323 to destroy 10 barges and to silence a shore battery that was trying to break up the attack.
"At 2225, four barges were sighted 1 mile north of Mindiri, about one-quarter mile offshore and headed south," Burk reported. "All barges were
about 70-80 feet in length and one was definitely seen to be carrying troops. As the PT's closed for a port run, the troop-carrying barge opened fire with light machine-gun fire and a huge amount of rifle fire. On the first run three of the barges were sunk, one exploding when hit by the 323's 40mm. gun. The fourth barge made the beach but was destroyed by the PT 320 on its second run. There was an explosion of what appeared to be ammunition on this barge. All barges had been loaded. The barges took no evasive tactics other than to head for the beach and to fire upon the PT 320, which was the lead boat.
"At 0030, three barges were sighted about ½ mile off the beach at Maragum, 4 miles north of Enke Point. By the time the 320 and 323 closed to attacking distance, the barges were ½ mile from the beach, proceeding very rapidly. They were close aboard when both PT's opened fire, and there was no doubt about all three barges having taken plenty of hits. One was definitely hit by a 40mm. When the PT's returned immediately after the first run, none of the three was observed floating. However, three other barges were seen lined up on the beach, ramps down and stern seaward. These barges were empty while the others were loaded. While destroying the three barges on the beach, a shore gun that seemed to be about 3-inch in size opened fire from a position 2½ miles north of Enke Point. Both boats proceeded to close in on the shore gun at high speed, firing .50-caliber, 20 and 40mm. shells. This caused the shore battery to cease firing at both PT's, and they proceeded to finish the task of destroying the beached barges. All barges involved in this action were of 70 to 80 foot length.
"At 0400, in Pommern Bay, about 50 boxes of Japanese foodstuffs were sighted and after collecting 8 samples, the remainder was destroyed by light machine-gun and small arms fire.
"The personnel of both boats acquitted themselves very well, especially in view of the fact that so much of the action took place while under return fire."
The boxes of foodstuffs were the same type waterproof containers that Williams and McCafferty had met the previous night. After sinking 10 barges, silencing the shore batteries, and destroying 50 food containers, the boats were completely out of ammunition. "If a plane had jumped us on the way home," Foran said later, "we'd have had to throw rocks at it."
By March 1944, Dreger Harbor was becoming a rear area. Most of the Japanese had been forced from the Huon Peninsula to Madang, in Astrolabe Bay. The next job for the boats -- already they had started to work on it from Dreger -- was to cut the barge supply line to Madang.
On March 4, Squadron 24, under Lt. Comdr. N. Burt Davis, Jr., started operations from a new base at Saidor, the first of the advance base units planned by Commander Mumma and assembled in Milne Bay. On March 17 LST 201 arrived at the new base. The site was Nom Plantation. Squadron humorists called it Nom de Nom Plantation, a name that later found its way into many official reports.
Army units landed February 29 on Los Negros Island in the Admiralties, nearly 300 miles to the north of Dreger Harbor. What was planned as a reconnaissance in force became a full-fledged occupation when enemy resistance proved less formidable than had been anticipated. Fifteen PT's of Squadrons 18 and 21, under Lt. Henry M. S. Swift, USNR, and Lt. Paul T. Rennell, USNR, left Dreger on March 9 for Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralties. With the PT's went the tender Oyster Bay (Lt. Comdr. Walter W. Holroyd, USNR), a new seaplane-type tender which had arrived at Dreger Harbor on February 21.
On New Britain, PT's from Dreger had landed and picked up reconnaissance parties in preparation for the Cape Gloucester landings on December 26. As our troops moved eastward in northwestern New Britain, Dreger PT's swept the coast past Rein Bay, 50 miles to the east of Cape Gloucester. Finally the distance between Dreger Harbor and enemy territory became too great, and it was necessary to move the operating point forward. Hilo arrived at Dreger on March 7 fresh from overhaul. A week later, after Lt. Comdr. Herrmann G. Page relieved Commander Munroe, Hilo left for Rein Bay with Squadron 8, under Lt. Edward I. Farley, USNR, and Squadron 25, under Lt. James R. Thompson, USNR.
On March 26 Hilo and the two squadrons again moved forward to Talasea, on the eastern side of the Willaumez Peninsula. From there the boats could patrol the entire northern New Britain coast as far east as the dividing line between Southwest Pacific and South Pacific waters at Cape Lambert, only 40 miles from Rabaul.
Dreger then became primarily a supply and repair base. It was used as an operating base for patrols against the southern coast of New Britain until
A crane barge lowers a new Packard engine into PT 242 at a Pacific base.
April 14, when patrols were secured for lack of targets. Some of the southern New Britain patrols were among the longest ever undertaken by PT's, extending all the way to the Southwest Pacific-South Pacific dividing line at Cape Archway, more than 350 miles from Dreger Harbor.
Operating in four distinct areas -- New Guinea, the Admiralties, northern New Britain, and southern New Britain -- the PTs' claims in March were 17 barges, 3 luggers, 1 175-foot cargo ship, 1 plane, and 31 canoes destroyed; 1 barge damaged; and 1 barge captured. In April the boats claimed destruction of 44 barges and a picket boat, and damage to 8 barges.
22. DESTRUCTION IN HANSA BAY
On the night of March 1/2, Lt. R. H. Miller, USNR, in PT 335 (Lt. Bernard C. Denvir, USNR), with PT 343 (Ens. Fred L. Jacobson, USNR), destroyed two enemy luggers and set fire to a storehouse, a fuel dump, and an ammunition dump at Bogia Harbor, 125 miles northwest of Saidor. On the following night, Lieutenant Commander Davis, in PT 338 (Lt. (jg.) Carl T. Gleason), with PT 337 (Ens. Henry W. Cutter, USNR), went 10 miles farther up the coast to Hansa Bay, a known enemy strongpoint.
The boats idled into the bay at 0200, the 338 leading. They picked up a radar target a mile and a quarter ahead, close to shore. Closing to 400 yards, they saw two heavily camouflaged luggers moored together. Heavy machine-gun fire opened from the beach. As the PT's turned and started to strafe the beach, more machine-guns started firing along the shore, and a heavy-caliber battery opened from Awar Point, at the northwestern entrance of the bay.
The first shell hit so close to the port bow of the 337 that some of the crew were splashed with water and heard fragments whizzing overhead. Three or four more shells dropped near the 337; then one hit the tank compartment just below the port turret, going through the engineroom. All engines were knocked out and the tanks burst into flame. Ensign Cutter pulled the carbon dioxide release, but the blaze already was too furious to be checked.
Francis C. Watson, MoMM3c, USNR, who had been thrown from the port turret, got to his feet and saw William Daley, Jr., MoMM1c, USNR, staggering out of the flaming engineroom, badly wounded in the neck and jaw. Watson guided Daley forward, slipped to the deck and shouted to Morgan J.
Canterbury, TM2c, USNR, to help the wounded man. In the meantime Cutter gave the order to abandon ship and the men put the liferaft over the starboard, or offshore, side, and began taking to the water. Daley was dazed but obedient. He got in the water by himself, and Ensign Cutter and Ens. Robert W. Hyde, USNR, towed him to the raft.
The crew paddled and swam, trying to guide the raft away from the exploding boat and out to sea. They must have been working against the current, because after 2 hours they were only 700 yards away from the boat, and were considerably shaken by a tremendous explosion. After the explosion the flames subsided somewhat, but the hulk was still burning at dawn.
Several times the survivors saw searchlights' sweep the bay from shore and heard the shore guns firing. They did not know the guns were firing at the 338, outside the bay. When the heavy battery had first opened on the boats, Davis ordered a high-speed retirement and the 338 laid a smokescreen. When the 337 did not come through the screen, Davis tried repeatedly to reenter the bay, but every time the 338 approached the entrance, the shore battery bracketed the PT so closely that it had to retire. Finally, knowing that the 338 would be a sitting duck not only for shore guns but enemy planes in daylight, Davis set course back to Saidor.
Daley died before dawn and was committed to the sea. That left three officers and eight men in the raft. Besides Cutter, Hyde, Watson, and Canterbury, there were Ens. Bruce S. Bales, USNR; Allen B. Gregory, QM2c, USNR; Harry E. Barnett, RM2c, USNR; Henry S. Timmons, Y2c; Edgar L. Schmidt, TM3c, USNR; Evo A. Fucili, MoMM3c, USNR; and James P. Mitchell, SC3c.
To say that the men were in the raft perhaps gives an exaggerated impression of comfort. It was an oval of balsa, 7 feet by 3, with a slatted bottom open to the waves. With 11 men, it was awash. Usually they did not even try to stay in it at the same time. Some stayed in it and paddled, others tried to guide it by swimming.
At dawn on the 7th the raft still was less than a mile off the entrance of Hansa Bay. During the morning the current carried it toward Manam Island, 6 miles offshore. Cutter wanted to go ashore on Manam, thinking it would be easier to escape detection in the woods than on the surface so close to Hansa Bay. Besides, the men could find food, water, and shelter ashore, and might be able to steal a canoe or a sailboat. All afternoon they paddled and swam, but whenever they came close to shore another current pushed them out again.
That night Cutter and Bales tried to paddle ashore on logs. If they could get ashore they would try to find a boat and come back for the others. After 3 hours the unaccountable currents swept the two exhausted officers and the raft together again. While they were away, Hyde and Gregory set out to swim to the island. They were not seen again.
During the night the men saw gunfire toward Hansa Bay, as though PT's and shore batteries were firing at each other, but they saw no PT's. By dawn of the 8th the raft had drifted around to the north side of Manam, no more than a mile from the beach. Mitchell already had set out to swim to the island. Cutter, Schmidt, and Canterbury were delirious that night. During the storm Canterbury suddenly swam away. Barnett, a strong swimmer, tried to save him, but could not find him. Soon after dawn, Bales, Fucili, and Schmidt also set out for shore. The others were too weak to move. Most of the men thought that Bales, Fucili, and Schmidt reached the island, but Watson, who said he saw Bales walking on the beach, is the only one who claimed to have seen any of them ashore. Soon afterward Japanese were seen on the beach.
Mitchell returned to the raft in the middle of the morning. He was only 75 yards from shore when he saw several Japanese working on the beach, apparently building boats. Plans to go to Manam were abandoned.
Soon after dark that night a small boat put out from shore, circled the raft and stood off at about 200 yards. There were two men in it who, some of the men said, were armed with machine-guns. They made no attempt to molest the men in the raft, but kept close to them until about 0400, when a sudden squall blew up, with 6- to 8-foot waves. When calm came again the boat was nowhere to be seen.
On the morning of the 9th the remaining men, Cutter, Barnett, Timmons, Watson, and Mitchell, saw an overturned Japanese collapsible boat floating a few yards away. It was only 15 feet long, but it looked luxurious in comparison with the raft. They righted it, bailed it and boarded it. Mitchell saw a crab clinging to the boat, and in catching it let the raft slip away. No one thought it was worth retrieving.
The crab was not the only food during the day. Later the men picked up a drifting cocoanut. The food helped some, but the men were tortured by thirst. They had lost their waterbreaker in the storm, and the cocoanut was dry. They were suffering, too, from exposure. Scorched by day and chilled at night, they were covered with salt water sores.
The night of the 9th and the morning of the 10th were monotonous agony. At noon, three Army B-25's flew over, wheeled about and circled the boat. Cutter waved his arms, trying to identify himself by semaphore. One of the bombers came in low and dropped a box. It collapsed and sank on hitting the water. Then came two more boxes and a small package attached to a life preserver, all within 10 feet of the boat. The boxes contained food, water, cigarettes, and medicines. In the package was a chart showing their position and a message saying that a Catalina would come to pick them up.
The next morning a Catalina, covered by two P-47's, circled the boat. The Catalina picked up the five men. Within 2½ hours they were back in Dreger Harbor.
A liferaft is a hard thing to spot. During the 5 days since the loss of the 337, planes by day and PT's by night had searched for the survivors. Of those who tried to go ashore at Manam, little is known. A captured document indicates that 1 officer and 2 enlisted men were taken prisoner by the Japanese, but none of the crew of the 337 was reported as a prisoner of war.
23. THE ADMIRALTIES
Oyster Bay and 15 PT's of Squadrons 18 and 21 arrived March 10 in Seeadler Harbor, the elbow of Los Negros Island in the Admiralties. Although the 1st Cavalry Division, under Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift, had landed on Los Negros 10 days before, the island was not yet under control. The perimeter defenses of the harbor were still in dispute. Snipers still fired occasionally at the tender and PT's at anchor. Fortunately, there were no casualties.
It was unlikely that the Japanese could bring reinforcements to the Admiralties, separated by more than 150 miles of open water from New Guinea to the south, and by almost the same distance from New Hanover to the east. The boats were there to prevent interisland reinforcement or evacuation, to land scouting parties, and to provide fire support for a series of minor amphibious landings on small islands around Manus. Enemy airstrips at Momote on Los Negros and at Lorengau on the adjoining island of Manus, largest of the group, had been thoroughly bombed out before the initial landings. With no air opposition, the boats could operate as well by day as by night. Apparently the Japanese had resigned themselves to the loss of the Admiralties and were unwilling to risk any of their dwindling hoard of planes on New Guinea in a futile defense of the islands to the north.
When the PT's arrived, the Army was planning an amphibious assault on Lorengau, just west of Seeadler Harbor. On the morning of March 11, PT's were assigned to escort Army reconnaissance parties in LCV's to Butio Luo Island, Bear Point, and Hauwei Island. PT 366 strafed Butio Luo, scouts went ashore and found the island suitable for an artillery emplacement. At Bear Point the 323 strafed the shore, scouts completed their mission without opposition, but found that there was no beach for bringing artillery ashore. After the scouts had withdrawn, the 323 destroyed two barges on the beach a quarter mile southeast of Bear Point. The party escorted to Hauwei Island by PT 329 ran into trouble. As soon as it had advanced 100 yards inland, it was taken under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from a large enemy force in well-fortified positions. The PT crew heard the fire, but could not bring the boat closer than a quarter of a mile because of wide fringing reefs. The island was very small and covered with dense underbrush. It was impossible to see anyone ashore, so the boat had to hold its fire. A sniper bullet from shore bored through the left ankle of the boat captain, who then committed an unfortunate error in judgment. Unable to give fire support because he could not distinguish friend from foe, he thought his boat could be of no further use. He ordered it to return to the tender.
The reconnaissance party already was trying to withdraw, but was cut off by the enemy. After a bitter fight the men reached the beach to find that their LCV had been sunk by a mortar shell. They waded out into the water and stayed there several hours under mortar and machine-gun fire until PT's 366 and 328 arrived from the tender to pick them up. Of 35 men in the party, 11 had been killed and 15 wounded. The 366 returned the wounded to the tender while the 328 strafed the island, destroying a pillbox.
The next day, after the island had been worked over by an artillery barrage and by RAAF P-40's from Momote, Army troops went ashore. Despite strong opposition they cleaned out the enemy by the afternoon of the 13th. Artillery was set up on Hauwei and Butjo Luo in time to join B-25's and five destroyers in bombarding Lorengau in preparation for landings on the morning of March 15.
During the landings at Lorengau, PT 323 (Lt. (jg.) Emery M. Newton, USNR), was used as an observation boat by Capt. Karl J. Christoph, senior naval officer in the Admiralties. PT 363 (Lt. Laurence B. Green, USNR) with Lt. Eric M. Howitt, RANVR, and Lt. H. M. S. Swift, USNR, aboard, laid marker buoys to show the landing craft the way to the beaches, and
PT 325 (Lt. (jg) Stuart A. Lewis, USNR), with Lt. Rennell aboard, anchored 2 miles off the beach and directed movements of landing craft to the beaches. After laying its buoys, the 363 strafed and mortared the coastline as the landing craft approached. Some of the first troops ashore informed the 363 that there was a sniper's nest at Lugos Mission. Green brought his boat within 75 yards of the beach, strafed the area, and had the satisfaction of seeing a sniper fall out of a tree.
The boats met few barges in the Admiralties. Lieutenant Green's PT 363 and Lt. (jg.) Lawrence J. Kelley's PT 330 got credit for the only one sunk underway, on the night of March 11/12. The boats also strafed a jetty, house, and lookout tower on Pak Island, to the east of Los Negros.
On the night of March 16/17, Lieutenant Swift, in PT 367 (Lt. (jg.) Eugene E. Klecan, USNR), with Lewis's PT 325, intercepted nine Japanese in a native canoe south of Pak Island. As the PT's approached, one of the Japanese committed suicide with a hand grenade, killing three of his fellows as well. Of those who survived the grenade, one was shot when he refused to be taken prisoner, and the others were captured. One of the prisoners asked for pencil and paper and wrote an odd little note. It was later translated:
My name is Kaminaga. After finishing Ota High School I worked in a Yokohama Army factory as an American spy. I set fire to Yokohama's arsenal. Later, I was conscripted into Japanese Army, unfortunately. I was very unhappy, but now I am very happy because I was saved by American Army. To repay your kindness I will work as a spy for your American Army.
Kaminaga was turned over to Army authorities, who did not accept his offer.
On the morning of March 20, Lt. (jg.) Cedric J. Janien, USNR, in PT 321, and Lt. (jg.) John F. Ganong, USNR, in PT 369, strafed enemy installations at Loniu Village, on Los Negros Island. Finding that he could not set fire to the buildings by gunfire, Janien decided to take more direct action. He and Ganong went ashore in a dinghy with a volunteer crew, taking two buckets of gasoline with them. They found 25 buildings, under which were stored 30 new canoes, each capable of carrying 35 men. They set fire to the canoes and some of the buildings, among them one which housed an ammunition dump, and returned to the PT's to get more gasoline. They had heard sniper fire ashore, and when they returned to the boats learned that an officer on the 321 had been grazed by a sniper bullet.
After the ammunition dump stopped exploding, they went ashore again, and examined the remaining buildings. They found several tons of food and supplies, and in one building picked up a Japanese naval code book, which they took with them. From time to time they heard the whine of a sniper bullet, but did not leave the beach until they had made certain of the destruction of all the buildings and stores.
Organized resistance to the Army's advance on Manus collapsed on March 25 with the enemy's flight to the southwest. The Army then turned its attention to cleaning up the outlying islands, of which the most important were Koruniat, Ndrilo, and Pityill Islands in Seeadler Harbor, and Tong, Pak, and Rambutyo Islands to the southeast.
On the morning of March 23, Lt. (jg.) Ernest W. Pannell, USNR, in PT 324, and Lt. (jg.) Stuart A. Lewis, USNR, in PT 325, landed Army, ANGAU, and native scouts on Tong Island, and native scouts on Rambutyo, picking them up the same day except for the natives on Tong, who said they had seen four Japanese armed with two rifles. Three days later Joe Burk's PT 320 and Ens. Francis L. Cappaert, USNR, in PT 370 picked up the natives, who had captured the four Japanese, thus clearing the island of the enemy. Some of the natives had given food to the Japanese. As soon as the Japanese laid down their rifles to eat, they were surrounded by armed natives.
Pityilu Island had been bombed and strafed by aircraft and shelled by destroyers at intervals for more than 2 weeks before the landings on March 30. The Oyster Bay had been pressed into service on March 14 to knock out enemy positions on the island with 60 rounds from her 5-inch guns. On the morning of March 30, 10 PT's got underway to support the landings. Joe Burk's PT 320 dropped a marker buoy to guide the amphibious craft through a channel between two reefs. PT's 324 and 326, patrolling the southeast tip of the island to prevent evacuation, quickly silenced light sniper fire with their guns. After the island had been shelled by destroyers and strafed by P-40's and Spitfires, PT's 320, 325, 328, 362, 363, 365, and 367 moved in ahead of the landing craft and mortared and strafed the beach. Machineguns fired inaccurately at the boats from shore. PT 331 (Lt. (jg.) Bernard A. Crimmins, USNR), with General Swift aboard, was used as an observation post for the high command in the immediate vicinity of the landing area. The troops met stiff resistance, but by nightfall had gained complete control of the island.
The following morning PT's 362, 363, 365, 366, and 367 bombarded Koruniat Island with mortars, and Oyster Bay, with PT's 320, 321, 325,
and 326, shelled and strafed Ndrilo Island. On April 1 an Army combat team went ashore on Koruniat and later moved to Ndrilo. Both islands were deserted.
On April 2 PT's 366 and 326 put ANGAU and native scouts ashore on Rambutyo and Tong Islands. They reported that the Japanese were concentrated at Malambok Village. The boats strafed the village without visible results. The next morning PT's 365, 323, 331, and 364 covered the landing of troops by LCV's and LCM's. There were only about 40 Japanese on the island, but it took 3 weeks to ferret them out because of difficult terrain and dense vegetation. One of the natives landed by the PT's was to make his way to the adjoining island of Bundro, where eight Japanese had been reported. He planned to feed the Japanese drugged cocoanuts, tie them up, and bring them out to the PT's in a canoe. That was the last the PT's saw of the scout. It was later learned that the native succeeded in part of his mission. The eight Japs were easily duped and trussed up. But when the native went for help, renegade natives came along and cut their bonds, allowing them to escape.
On the morning of April 9, PT's 324 and 328 strafed the beach of Pak Island for 15 minutes before troops went ashore. The landing was unopposed, and the island was secured by April 12.
Squadron 21 was withdrawn to Dreger Harbor on April 11, and Squadron 16 and Oyster Bay on the 17th.
24. REIN BAY AND TALASEA
Early in March, PT's from Dreger Harbor were active in the waters off northwest New Britain, patrolling as far as Cape Hollman, on the northern tip of the Willaumez Peninsula. They landed scouts on Garowe Island, 5 miles to the north of New Britain, and helped prepare for landings on the Willaumez Peninsula by putting scouts ashore at Cape Schellong on the night of March 2/3 and picking them up the following night. On the night of March 5/6, PT's 323, 326, 329, 331, 347, and 370 took part in the landing operations, escorting 5 LCT's, 48 LCM'S, 2 picket boats, and 18 LCV's to Volupai and covering them while a landing force of the Fifth Marine Regiment went ashore.
On March 17 the Hilo, with Squadrons 8 and 25, arrived at Rein Bay, and on the 26th moved to Talasea, on the eastern side of the Willaumez
Peninsula. There was little barge traffic in the area, however. PT's patrolled the coast until the end of May, but destroyed only two barges in March, seven in April, and none in May.
On the night of April 2/3, Lieutenant Thompson, in PT 355 (Ens. J. T. Cressey), with PT 120 (Ens. W. T. Shine, Jr., USNR) and PT 352 (Ens. T. A. Tucker, USNR), sighted a surfaced submarine standing out to sea from Hixon Bay and fired a spread of seven torpedoes at a range of 2 miles. The submarine appeared to lose headway, then slowly submerged. Five minutes after the torpedoes were released, the proper interval for a run to the target, all hands felt a heavy concussion. There were no reefs or land within 9 miles that could have detonated the torpedoes.
A few minutes later the boats sighted a barge half a mile to seaward. They sank it with gunfire and took one prisoner. Although PT's could find no signs of damage to the submarine, the next day aircraft sighted an oil slick half a mile square, which persisted and spread for several days. This, again, was not sufficient evidence to support a claim of damage or destruction.
Late in May two PT's landed Army commando troops at Ea Ea, 75 miles east of Talasea, and on the neighboring island of Lolobau.
For more than a year PT's had operated in the Southwest Pacific without casualties from mistaken identification. At Talasea, in little more than a month, two cruel errors cost 24 lives, 25 wounded, 4 PT's, and 2 aircraft.
On the morning of March 27, Lt. Crowell C. Hall, USNR, executive officer of Squadron 25, in PT 353 (Ens. George H. Guckert, USNR), with PT 121 (Ens. Richard B. Secrest, USNR), was trying to thread a way through reefs to Ewasse, in Bangula Bay, to investigate a reported enemy schooner. At 0745 four P-40's of the 78th Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, operating out of Kiriwina, flew over and Lieutenant Hall asked them by radio to investigate the schooner. The planes complied, and reported it had been strafed previously and was no longer a worthwhile target. No sooner had the boats turned to leave than they were attacked by four other P-40's of the 78th Squadron and a Beatifighter of the 30th Squadron, RAAF. A second Beaufighter recognized the PT's and throughout the attack attempted to call off the other Beaufighter by radio and to maneuver to head off the P-40's.
No order to open fire was given on either boat. After the planes made several runs, gunners on the 353 fired seven or eight rounds of 40 mm. and five rounds of 37mm., and those on the 121 fired seven rounds of 20mm. and three short bursts of .50 caliber. Lieutenant Hall on the 353 and Ensign Secrest on the 121 stopped the firing immediately. Both boats burned,
exploded, and sank, except for a portion of the bow of the 121. Shortly after the attack two P-40's of the group that had investigated the schooner returned. They dropped a liferaft to the survivors and sent in a radio report of the tragedy. Five hours later a P-40 guided PT's 346 and 354 to the survivors.
Four officers and four enlisted men were dead; four officers and eight enlisted men were wounded; two PT's were completely destroyed. In part the losses were caused by a failure in communications. The message reporting the intended movements of PT's had been placed in the wrong file at 78th Squadron headquarters, so the pilots had not been told that PT's would be operating in the area. In part the losses were caused by failure of the pilots to recognize the PT's. The first P-40's recognized them and gave them a helping hand. One Beaufighter in the second group recognized them and tried to stop the attack. The other pilots simply mistook them for enemy craft.
On the night of April 28/29, PT 347 (Lt. (jg.) Robert J. Williams), while patrolling with PT 350 (Lt. (jg.) Stanley L. Manning, USNR), went on a reef at Cape Pomas, 5 miles from the Southwest Pacific-South Pacific dividing line at Cape Lambert. The 350 was still trying to tow off the 347 when, at 0700, two Marine Corps Corsairs attacked the boats. The PT's did not recognize the planes as our own until the attack was over, and shot one of them down. Three men were killed aboard the 350, and the boat was damaged, so it set out at once for Talasea.
Lieutenant Thompson, aboard Hilo at Talasea, received word of the attack by radio. He requested air cover from Cape Gloucester and immediately got underway for Cape Pomas in PT 346 (Lt. (jg.) James R. Burk, USNR).
In the meantime, the pilot of the remaining Corsair reported to his base at Green Island in the Solomons that he had attacked two enemy gunboats, 125 feet long, in Lassul Bay. He was guilty not only of mistaken identification; he had placed the attack 15 miles inside of South Pacific territory, and 20 miles from Cape Pomas. As a result, four Corsairs, six Avengers, four Hellcats, and eight Dauntless dive bombers were ordered to strike immediately to finish off the gunboats. They did not find the targets in Lassul Bay, but eventually located them in Southwest Pacific waters, at Cape Pomas.
By then Lieutenant Thompson had arrived and was attempting to free the 347. Lieutenant Williams told him that planes were approaching from
the north. Thompson recognized them as friendly, told Williams that they were the air cover he had requested, and gave instructions for the salvage work to continue. Then the planes attacked, so quickly that the boats had no time even to try to identify themselves until bombs were dropping all around them. When all attempts at identification failed, the 346, in desperation, opened fire and shot down one Hellcat. This only aggravated the attack. The planes strafed and bombed until both boats were completely destroyed.
The flight commander notified the Green Island base of the loss of the Hellcat, and a Catalina was sent to try to find the pilot. The Catalina failed in this, but brought back 13 survivors from the PT's. Their arrival at Green Island was the first intimation to the air operations office there that the plane targets had not been enemy vessels.
Three PT officers, 11 PT enlisted men, and 2 plane pilots were dead; 4 PT officers and 9 PT enlisted men were wounded; 2 PT's and 2 planes were completely destroyed. The primary causes of the losses were failure to identify the boats, faulty navigation, and failure of the pilots to observe the dividing line between the two operating areas.
25. NEW BRITAIN: SOUTH COAST
During March and April, PT's from Dreger made 28 patrols along the south coast of New Britain, and claimed destruction of one 175-foot cargo ship, a lugger, 9 barges, and a floatplane. While there was not enough enemy activity to justify nightly patrols, occasional patrols paid off. Also, there was ample evidence that the mere presence of PT's served to hold down the barge traffic.
The patrols were intended to cut the supply line from Rabaul to Gasmata, which still was believed to be the principal Japanese stronghold on the south coast. On the night of March 16/17, Lt. (jg.) Raymond C. Turnbull, USNR, in PT 146 (Ens. George W. Burgers, USNR), with PT 353, set out to patrol from Gasmata eastward to Rainbow Bay. The boats became separated about 0230, and at daylight the 353 returned to Dreger Harbor, but Turnbull kept the 146 at Fulleborn Harbor, 25 miles east of Gasmata, until 0830, when he started a slow daylight sweep westward. Five miles east of Lindenhaven the 146 sank a 354-foot landing craft, and half a mile east of Lindenhaven sank two more barges of the same type.
Crew members dine aboard a New Guinea PT in informal attire.
The tropical sun beating down on the decks made shirts an unbearable discomfort.
The 146 continued slowly west until it was just east of Gasmata. Turnbull saw a large, freshly camouflaged barge on the beach at the Anwek River mouth, and another, 60 yards up the river. He took the 146 in to close range and destroyed both barges. Since there had been no resistance, or indeed any signs of enemy activity whatsoever, he continued into the harbor of Gasmata, passing 75mm. gun emplacements at the entrance. The waterfront was studded with machine-gun nests and pillboxes. None of them was manned. Finally the 146 tied up at the jetty on Gasmata Island. Turnbull led a party of men ashore to make a close inspection. When he returned to Dreger Harbor he brought surprising and wonderful news: Gasmata had been completely evacuated.
Turnbull's exploit led the next day to a close reconnaissance of Lindenhaven, an enemy base 10 miles east of Gasmata, by Lt. (jg.) Roland B. Steele, USNR, in PT 150 (Lt. (jg.) Robert S. Milford, USNR), with PT 192 (Lt. (jg.) T. J. Lovvorn, USNR). The boats tested out the harbor defenses with close-range gunfire, scoring hits on nine pillboxes, a large storage tank, a heavy gun emplacement, a supply dump, and a bivouac area. They found that Lindenhaven, like Gasmata, had been recently but thoroughly evacuated.
Thereafter the southern New Britain patrols had to extend further eastward to find targets. On one of these patrols, on the night of April 12/13, Lt. Robert Leeson, USNR, who had relieved Lt. Edward W. Roberts, USNR, as commander of Squadron 7, ran PT 135 aground near Crater Point, during a rain squall. Heavy surf drove the 135 up on the beach and the accompanying boat, PT 137, could not pull it off. The 137 took the 135's crew aboard and set the grounded boat ablaze with gunfire.
As had been the case in the past, when the boats were operating from Kiriwina, the south coast of New Britain continued to be the only area where enemy planes attempted to harass the PT's with any regularity. The planes caused no damage, and on the night of March 12/13, Lt. (jg.) Alfred G. Vanderbilt, USNR, in PT 196, and Lt. (jg.) Cyrus R. Taylor, USNR, in PT 193, had the satisfaction of shooting down a floatplane in flames after it had dropped a bomb 150 yards astern of the 193.
On the night of April 13/14, Lt. (jg.) Julius O. Aschenbach, USNR, in PT 132, and Ens. Fendall M. Clagett, USNR, in PT 133, attacked eight barges in Henry Reid Bay, sinking four, destroying two on the beach, and damaging the other two. During repeated runs on the barges, the PT's were attacked by an enemy plane which dropped four bombs and made two strafing runs. The PT's refused to be diverted from their own attack and kept blasting away at the barges until they were out of ammunition.
Saidor continued as an operating base longer than any other location in eastern New Guinea. From the establishment of the base in March until the end of June, Saidor PT's made 185 patrols, extending up the coast as far as Cape Girgir, 30 miles beyond Hansa Bay. Squadron 24 remained at Saidor until June 17, when it was withdrawn to Dreger for overhaul. Squadron 10, under Lt. Comdr. Jack E. Gibson, first of the Solomons squadrons to be transferred to New Guinea, joined Squadron 24 at Saidor on April 28. Heavy barge traffic made Saidor a productive operating point; the strongly defended coastline -- PT's drew shore fire at least 64 times in March, April, and May -- made it a dangerous one.
On the night of April 2/3, Lt. (jg.) Henry M. Curry 3d, USNR, in PT 339, with PT 341 (Ens. Oscar C. Blanchard, USNR), found four barges in Sarang
Harbor. As the PT's closed to 500 yards to make their first run, the barges opened fire. Before the run was completed, the boats met heavy fire from 37mm. batteries and machine-guns on shore. The 339 made a high-speed firing run on the batteries, while the 341 concentrated on the barges. The boats then made five more runs, dividing their fire between shore and barges. Return fire from the barges ceased after the first run, and the shore batteries were silenced on the third run. The 341 was hit three times by 37 mm. shells on the second run and two men were slightly wounded by fragments, but the boat kept fighting until three barges had been sunk. The fourth barge, damaged, escaped behind reefs in the harbor. Besides silencing the shore batteries, the PT's started a large fire on the beach, apparently a fuel dump, which burned brilliantly for three-quarters of an hour.
On the night of April 4/5, Lt. (jg.) Roman G. Mislicky, in PT 334, and Ens. Edward F. Lyons, USNR, in PT 340, sank two of three 110-foot barges near Puttkamer Point, 15 miles beyond Sarang Harbor, despite heavy fire from the barges and from shore. The boats broke off the action when a hit on the 334 started a fire in the crew's quarters. Heading out to sea, Mislicky found that he had very little rudder control. It turned out that the fire was confined to three mattresses, which were heaved over the side, but a rudder bar had been shot away, so the boats could not return to pursue the third barge. During this action the 334 fired 25 rounds from its new 75mm. gun at the shore batteries. Although the 75 operated well and carried a terrific punch, it eventually was discarded in favor of the 40mm., which was faster firing and had tracer control.
On the night of April 8/9, Lt. (jg.) Elmer L. Douglas, USNR, in PT 336, and Ens. Oscar C. Blanchard, USNR, in PT 341, were searching for barges close to shore near Cape Gourdon, 20 miles beyond Puttkamer Point, when three shore batteries started firing 3-inch shells at them. The 341 pumped over 50 rounds of 40mm. into the first one and silenced it. On the 336, Richard E. Betty, MoMM1c, the 20mm. gunner, was hit by shell fragments in the right arm and ankle and was thrown to the deck. He picked himself up and returned to his gun, firing until he was out of ammunition.
Several of the Saidor boats were hit by shore fire, but none sustained serious damage except the 337, lost in Hansa Bay on the night of March 6/7, 1944. The only other PT lost during the operations from Saidor was PT 339 (Lt. Henry M. Curry, USNR), which grounded on a sandbar on the night of May 26/27 while preparing to strafe the beach at Purpur, at the mouth of
the Ramu River. The crew was taken aboard PT 335 and the boat was destroyed to prevent possible capture.
Besides the usual barge patrols, the Saidor boats performed a variety of missions, including the rescue of several downed aviators; landing scouting parties, frequently composed of PT personnel, in the Bogadjim-Erima area in Astrolabe Bay; and a close-range dawn bombardment of the beach in support of an Army landing at Yalau Plantation, 20 miles above Saidor. These boats were particularly well equipped for work against shore installations. Starting with Lt. (jg.) Elmer L. Douglass's PT 336, five boats of Squadron 24 were armed with racks for 4.5-inch barrage rockets. Although not sufficiently accurate for regular employment against surface targets, the rockets were excellent for shore bombardment. A barrage of 24 rockets, each weighing 27 pounds, could be released in 4 seconds to blanket a wide area with high explosives.
At dawn on April 7, 10 PT's and 11 B-25 bombers made a coordinated strike against Japanese shore positions on Karkar Island, and on June 2 6 PT's participated in amphibious landings by units of the Fifth Australian Division at Biu and Kavilo Bays on Karkar. On April 10, Lieutenant Commander Davis boarded the destroyer Hutchins to pinpoint coastal targets for the Hutchins, Bache, and Daly at Hansa Bay, Ulingan Harbor, Alexishafen, and Madang. Capt. Kenmore M. McManes, Commander Destroyer Squadron 24, reported, "His assistance, backed by his familiarity with the targets all along this long coast, was invaluable in making the small ammunition allowance count. Lieutenant Commander Davis was particularly pleased at the opportunity to range shots into the confines of Ulingen Harbor where MTB's have been unable to penetrate because of the narrow entrance."
Allied troops drove overland to Madang on April 24 and Alexishafen on April 26, clearing Astrolabe Bay of the Japanese. For another month the Saidor boats had good hunting along the coast beyond Astrolabe Bay, claiming 19 barges destroyed and 5 damaged in the 75-mile stretch between Dove Point and the mouth of the Sepik River. In June the enemy, trapped in the Wewak area by new Allied landings, was forced to withdraw his remaining barges to the west. The Saidor PT's found barges only once during the month, on the night of June 4/5, when Lt. (ig.) Otis J. Hiebeler, USNR, in PT 338, and Ens. E. L. Mills, USNR, in PT 332, destroyed two of them near the mouth of the Sepik River. The enemy also withdrew his artillery; the boats encountered no shore fire except at Hansa Bay. Patrols from Saidor were discontinued on June 25 for lack of targets.
By the middle of April, Allied forces controlled the New Guinea coast past Saidor and were pushing toward Madang and Alexishafen. The occupation of western New Britain, the Admiralties, and Emirau Island had effectively neutralized Rabaul. The growing Southwest Pacific Forces were ready to strike again, in a bypassing operation of far greater magnitude than any they had been able to undertake in the past.
Supported by warships, including carriers, of the Fifth and Seventh Fleets, the Seventh Amphibious Force landed units of the Sixth Army on the morning of April 22 at Humboldt and Tanahmerah Bays, more than 500 miles to the northwest of Dreger Harbor, and at Aitape, about 400 miles northwest of Dreger. The landings isolated the 18th Imperial Japanese Army, some 50,000 strong, in the area between Wewak and Hansa Bay. This force had no aircraft and no naval vessels except barges, but it had vast supplies of stores and equipment at Wewak. During May and June the enemy moved westward and launched a powerful and determined drive toward Aitape, defended by the 32d Infantry Division.
As usual, the enemy depended heavily on barges to maintain his supply line, and in this region, to a greater extent than anywhere else in the Southwest Pacific, attempted to protect his barges with shore batteries. In 8 out of 10 attacks the PT's were under fire from enemy guns. The boats of Squadron 7 alone were fired on by shore batteries on 64 out of 100 nights.
Squadron 7, under Lt. Comdr. Robert Leeson, USNR, and Squadron 18, under Lt. Comdr. Henry M. S. Swift, USNR, arrived at Aitape with Oyster Bay on April 26, 4 days after the first landings. Squadron 8, under Lt. Edward I. Farley, USNR, arrived on May 1 with the LST 201, and the next day Squadron 18 and Oyster Bay moved up the line to Hollandia, in Humboldt Bay.
The boats had their first action on the night of April 28/29, when Ens. Francis L. Cappaert, USNR, in PT 370, and Ens. Louis A. Fanget, USNR, in PT 368, sank three barges in Nightingale Bay, east of Wewak. One of the barges had been loaded with two 75mm. fieldpieces and 45 soldiers. The boats tried to take prisoners, but could only get two. The others resisted capture and some deliberately drowned themselves rather than be taken aboard the boats.
One of the prisoners announced, "Me officer," and after questioning told Cappaert that more barges were headed toward Nightingale Bay. The boats
waited, and sure enough, three more barges arrived. The PT's sank them and took a third prisoner, who was clutching a box of documents which he was reluctant to give up. His reluctance was understandable. It was learned later that he was one of three men assigned to guard a box of secret Army documents being sent from Hansa Bay to Wewak.
When the PT's returned to Aitdpe the officer who had so obligingly told Cappaert that more barges were on the way was questioned further in Japanese by Army authorities. In his own language he was even more voluble. He dictated a barge movement schedule which greatly aided the PT's in intercepting and destroying 15 barges and a picket boat, and damaging 8 barges during the next 5 nights.
That was an odd trait of Japanese prisoners. Most of them preferred death to capture but, once captured, they usually were docile and willing, almost eager, to give information. And while their information might be limited, it was generally reliable. They seldom attempted deception. The big job was to capture them, and PT crews became fairly adept at it. One method was to crack a man over the head with a boathook and haul him up on deck. Another technique, more certain, was to drop a cargo net over the bow. Two men climbed down on the net. Other members of the crew held them by lines around their waists, so that their hands were free. They would blackjack a floating Japanese and put a line on him so that he could be hauled aboard. These were rough methods, but gentle ones didn't work. The Japanese almost never took a line willingly, and as long as they were conscious would fight to free themselves from a boathook.
On the night of May 2, PT's 114 and 144 sank two barges and damaged four more on the beach west of Bogia Harbor. Three hours later, at 0130, the 114 went aground on a fringing reef 400 yards offshore from Yarin, on Kairiru Island. The 114 jettisoned its torpedoes and depth charges, and at 0630 was pulled off the reef by the 144. Preparations had been made to abandon ship, and by the time the boat was freed, the crew of the 114 had carelessly permitted a raft containing the boat's codes and other confidential publications to drift away.
As soon as the boats returned to the tender and reported their loss, Lieutenant Commander Leeson set out to recover the publications in PT 129, of which his brother, Ens. A. Dix Leeson, USNR, was boat captain. With the 129 was Ens. Edmund F. Wakelin, USNR, in PT 134. Late in the afternoon the boats sighted the raft on the beach at Yarin. With knowledge that the Japanese had big guns nearby, and in full view of a native village
and a Japanese military lean-to within 600 yards of the raft, Bob Leeson swam. 400 yards across the reef in daylight to tow the raft back to the waiting PT's. The publications were intact. Ten minutes after Leeson's return, a 3-inch gun opened fire on the boats from a position half a mile from Yarin. The boats returned fire and withdrew to seaward. After dark they again closed the coast of Kairiru Island when they sighted three heavily laden barges, which ran toward the beach to get under cover of shore batteries. The PT's sank two of them and damaged the third before damage to the 129 forced them to retire. A 20mm. shell had blown a 14-inch hole in an exhaust stack and started a small fire under the starboard engine. Clarence L. Nelson, MoMM2c, USNR, put out the fire with a hand extinguisher before he was overcome by exhaust fumes and carbon dioxide from the extinguisher. A. F. Hall, MoMM3c, USNR, also was overcome. Ens. Richard Holt, USNR, third officer of the 129, quickly revived both men by artificial respiration. The squadron medical officer said that Holt's prompt action saved Hall's life.
After the engineroom had been aired out, the 129 led the way back to the beach on two engines to launch a salvo of 24 rockets against several beached barges and shore guns that were still firing at the boats. The rocket barrage silenced the enemy fire. During the entire action the boats also had been under inaccurate fire from large naval guns situated on the beach several miles away.
There were many actions of this type at Aitape. Nowhere else were the Japanese so determined to maintain their coastal supply line and to protect their barges with shore batteries; nowhere else were the PT's more determined to strangle the supply. PT's were in action almost every night, and the action was usually violent. During 5 months at Aitape (most of the actions took place in the first 3), the PT's claimed 115 barges sunk or destroyed, more than a dozen trucks destroyed or damaged on the coastal roads, and damage to many coastal installations. In view of the intensity of enemy resistance, the PT's suffered remarkably few losses. Three men were killed and seven were wounded. Eleven PT's were hit by enemy fire, but only one, the 133, was destroyed.
Lt. (jg.) Fendall M. Clagett, USNR, in PT 133, with Ens. T. E. Moran, USNR, in PT 128, attacked three barges near Cape Pus, in Muschu Strait, on the night of 15/16 July, sinking one and damaging the other two on their first run. As the PT's were circling for a second run, a 40mm. gun opened fire from shore. The first round hit the 133 amidships, setting the gasoline tanks
ablaze. For 5 minutes the crew tried to bring the flames under control. Then Clagett gave the order to abandon ship. The entire crew, except for one man lost overboard immediately after the hit, got away in two rubber liferafts. Ten minutes later the boat started exploding. In another 10 minutes a huge explosion split it in two sections, which sank at once. The 128 was holed in four places and had two men wounded. PT 143, called in by radio from an adjoining patrol area, picked up the crew of the 133.
Throughout the Aitape campaign the PT's worked in close cooperation with the 32d Infantry Division, which was meeting the drive of the 18th Japanese Army. Our Army found that air reconnaissance was not particularly satisfactory because of dense jungle growth right down to the shoreline. "PT boat reconnaissance," the 32d Division's report on the Aitape operation said, "provided considerable information of the enemy movements during the periods of darkness. These boats, observing from 100 to 800 yards offshore between our front lines and the enemy troop concentrations in the vicinity of Wewak, were more able to report accurately on the location of enemy troops and supply movements and enemy bivouac areas."
As usual, the PT's landed and picked up many Army scouting parties, and on several occasions provided fire support for minor amphibious operations. In the early hours of May 15, Leeson received an urgent request from the Army for PT's to cover the withdrawal of 300 men surrounded near Ulau Mission, 25 miles east of Aitape and at Marubian Mission, another mile and a half east. Leeson, in PT 131; Farley, in PT 149, with PT's 120, 127, 132, and 142, escorted two LCT's and two LCM's to Marubian and Ulau. The PT's strafed enemy positions heavily and laid a smokescreen which enabled the landing craft to beach and evacuate the troops without casualty despite heavy enemy mortar and small arms fire.
PT's also worked closely with Beaufighters and P-39's of the 78th Wing, Royal Australian Air Force, based at Aitape. Covered by these planes the boats could make daylight strikes without undue risk. The enemy was reluctant to unmask his coastal guns while the planes were overhead. The most successful of these strikes was made late in the afternoon of June 26, when Beaufighters on patrol with PT 130 (Lt. (jg.) Ian D. Malcolm, USNR) and PT 132 (Ens. Paul H. Jones, USNR) asked the boats to investigate a possible target on the coast of Muschu Island. The boats had to close within 75 yards of the beach before they could see two barges behind nets of fresh green foliage strung down to the water from overhanging trees. Further
investigation located several more camouflaged nests. The boats made four deliberate firing runs. Camouflage nets came tumbling down, revealing at least 14 barges shot up, of which 6 were ablaze. Ricochets from the 20mm. guns started a grass fire ashore which in turn touched off a concealed ammunition dump. After the first explosion flames billowed 100 feet in the air, with great clouds of smoke rising above them. Four more tremendous explosions followed. By this time it was dark and the boats were low on ammunition, so they returned to the tender, took on a fresh supply, and came back to Muschu after daylight under cover of four P-39's. The boats made four more slow firing runs, completing the destruction of 15 barges. Then they rocketed a supply dump and withdrew while the P-39's bombed and strafed the area. The boats received considerable sniper fire from shore, which did no damage, and a few inaccurate rounds of 40mm. fire from Cape Pus, across Muschu Strait.
Night-flying Beaufort bombers of the 71st Wing, RAAF, also cooperated with the boats. On the night of July 2/3, a Beaufort told PT 134 (Ens. Edmund F. Wakelin, USNR) and PT 189 (Lt. (jg.) Joseph J. Fitzpatrick, USNR) that six barges were moving close to the beach at Sowam, 7 miles east of the PT's. As the boats approached Sowam, the Beaufort dropped a flare and reported that there were now eight barges. The PT's still were not close enough to see them, so the Beaufort dropped a bomb on the barges. The boats headed for the spot where the bomb exploded. The Beaufort told them that the barges then were half a mile further east. The PT's found five barges and sank three of them in two gunnery runs. The 134 then fired 12 rockets which exploded all around the remaining barges. The Beaufort reported that both had sunk. Soon afterwards the Beaufort reported that the last three of the original eight barges were escaping to the east, and dropped a flare 500 feet over them. The PT's forced them to the beach, made 2 strafing runs on them, and fired a salvo of 10 rockets around them. The Beaufort dropped a bomb near them. The PT's returned to the tender, 40 miles away, for more ammunition, and first thing in the morning came back with two P-39's to finish off the barges. They had been removed from the beach, so the PT's strafed and rocketed and the planes strafed and bombed two possible barge hideouts nearby. From time to time during the night action, 75mm. and machine-guns started to fire on the boats from shore. The Beaufort promptly strafed and silenced every gun that opened fire, permitting the PT's to continue their runs on the barges.
Sometimes the PT's were able to give the Air Force a hand. PT's 128 and 131 had started out to patrol on the afternoon of May 28 when they received word from the base that an RAAF pilot, Flight Officer R. A. Graetz, had been forced down at the mouth of the Danmap River, in enemy territory 35 miles east of Aitape. The boats found the flier on the beach. He was injured and could not swim out to them or haul in a line which the boats shot to him with a line-throwing gun. Lt. William W. Stewart, USNR, and Ens. Gregory J. Azarigian, USNR, disregarding sniper fire from the beach, paddled ashore in a rubber raft and rescued the pilot.
Lieutenant Farley made an interesting experiment, having a 60-inch Army searchlight mounted on one of the boats of his squadron, PT 143, to aid the boats in spotting barges close to the beach. "We used it for about 2 weeks on about six patrols with no tangible results," Farley said. "This was not so much the fault of the light but the fact that there seemed to be little barge movement during that period. By the time the barge traffic started up, the boys on the 143 had tired a little of being the guinea pigs and we were also afraid of causing some permanent strain on the hull so we dismounted the light and generator and considered the test a success insofar as being able to prove that the boats could handle the light and that control of the beam by radio instructions was practical. The searchlight boat would stay two to five thousand yards offshore -- the two accompanying boats close inshore. The control boat would call for illumination of suspicious areas and direct the beam by a fairly simple system of training and elevating orders. The searchlight was fired at several times but the boys doused the light quick and being pretty far out it wasn't very dangerous. The beam was amply effective at a mile and a half range. Of course the water had to be calm to use it effectively."
The Aitape boats made several joint patrols with the Australian destroyers, HMAS Arunta and HMAS Warramunga. On the night of 19/20 July, PT 144 (Lt. (jg.) J. K. Cunningham, USNR) and PT 149 (Ens. Mason H. Blandford, USNR), patrolling with the Warramunga, attacked a group of barges at the mouth of the Ninahau River. On their first run the boats made many hits on two barges, but the fire from shore batteries was so intense that Warramunga ordered the PT's to pull out while the destroyer shelled the batteries and silenced them. Warramunga then fired starshell to illuminate the barges, but the boats were unable to find them. Later, when the patrol had proceeded 15 miles to the east, Warramunga picked up a radar target close to the beach and vectored the boats toward it. The boats
found the target, a group of three barges, and sank two of them. The third escaped to the beach. At the request of the PT's Warramunga fired a starshell. Under this illumination the PT's sighted the barge on the beach and destroyed it. The boats received light fire from shore batteries, so when they had completed their run they withdrew and Warramunga bombarded the area.
On May 11, Destroyer Division 48, comprising the Abner Read, Bache, and Beale, under Comdr. John B. McLean, was ordered to shell the coast in the Wewak area to destroy gun positions which were endangering PT operations. Four PT officers went aboard each destroyer to point out targets. The destroyers shelled 29 target areas in which 39 shore batteries were known to be situated. Similar missions were carried out, again with PT officers aboard to pinpoint targets, on the night of June 18/19 by Abner Read, Ammen, Bache, and HMS Ariadne and on the night of August 31/September 1 by Lang, Stack, and Murray and again HMS Ariadne.
In operations ashore, the enemy made his most ambitious strike on the night of July 10/11, when two regiments, supported by a heavy artillery barrage, broke through the center of our lines on the Driniumor River, 10 miles from Aitape. Many enemy troops crossed the river and penetrated several miles toward Aitape. By July 19 the enemy had been pushed back again across the Driniumor River. His attack, originally successful, had been turned to disaster. The two regiments that broke through our lines were nearly annihilated. By the middle of August the enemy was being driven south and east toward the Torricelli Mountains and the 18th Japanese Army was no longer an effective threat. Wewak, like Rabaul, was neutralized.
Barge contacts in the Aitape area were few after the end of July. The PT's continued to harass the enemy during August and September by strafing and rocketing shore installations, frequently in daylight strikes with Beaufighters and P-39's. Squadrons 7 and 8 were joined on July 18 by Squadron 33, a new squadron freshly arrived from the United States, commanded by Lt. A. Murray Preston, USNR. The tender Mobjack arrived from the South Pacific on August 1, and later in the month Orestes, a new LST-type tender, arrived to relieve the LST 201, which by then had been renamed USS Pontus. The Pontus departed Aitape on August 22 for overhaul in Brisbane. Squadron 33 and the Mobjack moved 380 miles up the line at the end of August to a new base at Mios Woendi, where they were joined a month later by Squadrons 7 and 8 and Orestes.
28. MIOS WOENDI
Squadron 18 and Oyster Bay had moved to Hollandia on May 2. On the 11th they were joined by Squadron 12, under Lt. Comdr. Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR. The area was not a rewarding one. There were no great concentrations of the enemy along the coast, and almost no barge traffic. The boats landed several Army scouting parties and made nightly patrols, but by June 5 had sighted only eight barges, of which they claimed to have destroyed seven.
Army forces occupied Wakde Island, 115 miles beyond Hollandia, on May 18th, and 9 days later moved another 180 miles up the line to land at Bosnek, on Biak Island in Geelvink Bay.
The great distance of Hollandia, Wakde, and Biak from Dreger Harbor made it imperative to establish a new major repair and supply base. PT Base 21, under Lt. David M. Alexander, USNR, was sent into Hollandia on a Liberty ship, James Buchanan, but because of the difficult terrain and the greater need of other units for the few suitable base sites, was not unloaded from the ship. When plans were made for the Biak operation, it seemed likely that Mios Woendi, a small island in a coral atoll 10 miles south of Biak, would be a suitable location for the new base. Army forces occupied Mios Woendi without opposition on June 2. The flat, sandy island, situated on a deep water lagoon, was the finest base site the boats had had in New Guinea.
The original plan was to reserve Mios Woendi for the repair and supply base, and to establish a small operating base at Sorido Lagoon, on Biak. The Army met unexpectedly stiff resistance on Biak, however, and did not take Sorido on schedule, so when it came time for the PT's to move into Geelvink Bay, they went to Mios Woendi.
Patrols from Hollandia were secured June 5 and Oyster Bay and Squadrons 12 and 18 moved to Wakde. Squadron 12 moved on to Mios Woendi the following day and started patrols on the 8th. Squadron 21, under Lt. Paul T. Rennell, USNR, arrived on June II, and Squadron 9, under Lt. Michael R. Pessolano, on June 19.
The threat of enemy air attack made it unwise to send in a tender at the beginning. PT Advance Base 2, under Lt. Comdr. Herman F. Straw, USNR, was put ashore on June 6. With the base came a newly formed unit, the PT Advance Base Construction Detachment of the 113th Naval Construction Battalion, under Lt. Harold F. Liberty, USNR. This Seabee detachment,
comprising 2 officers and 55 men with construction equipment, set up the base facilities and built piers in record time. Later in the month, when we had gained sufficient control of the air to permit bringing the Liberty ship with Base 21 into the lagoon, the Seabees greatly expedited the construction of the repair and overhaul base. The unit was retained as part of Task Group 70.1 until the end of the war, and contributed greatly to the success of PT operations by rapid construction of operating bases throughout the Philippines.
The same considerations that led to the establishment of a major base at Mios Woendi led to the disestablishment of PT Base 4 at Kana Kopa. Base 4 was so far behind the scene of action as to be practically useless as a repair base. Port facilities at Finschhafen and Langemak Bay had been developed to the point where supply ships arrived there directly from the United States, so Dreger Harbor became a more favorable site for a rear supply base than Kana Kopa. On June 15 Base 4 was decommissioned and all personnel and equipment were moved to Dreger Harbor except for the main engine overhaul shop, which was consolidated with other Navy repair facilities at Ladava
Torpedo dump at Mios Woendi.
Mission, Milne Bay. On the same day, the base at Dreger Harbor, which until then technically was an advance base under Task Group 70.1, was commissioned as a regular PT base under the administrative jurisdiction of the Commander Service Force Seventh Fleet.
Squadrons and tenders arriving from the Solomons and the United States staged through Dreger Harbor. Squadron 6, which arrived at Dreger on May 20, was decommissioned on May 29, and its eight boats were distributed among Squadrons 8, 9, 10, and 25, which had suffered operational losses.
As the supply line lengthened and the number of boats increased, it became imperative to acquire more cargo ships to carry spare parts and other special PT equipment between bases. At the time of the Aitape and Hollandia landings, Commander Bowling obtained from the Sixth Army the assignment of four F-ships, little freighters built on the lines of a Dutch wooden shoe, each of which had a capacity of about 100 tons. For the rest of the war these little ships plied back and forth between PT bases, making a maximum speed of 8 knots.
With the expansion of the task group, the staff grew, and Portunus, with its quonset hut on deck, became more and more congested. The arrival of new tenders made it possible to convert Hilo, which had never been entirely adequate as a tender, to a command ship. Shops and repair equipment were removed and the space was used for staff offices. Commander Bowling shifted his pennant to Hilo on June 20, and early in July moved the base of his command from Dreger Harbor to Mios Woendi, arriving there in Hilo on the 9th.
29. OPERATIONS IN GEELVINK BAY
The first action at Mios Woendi came unexpectedly on the morning of June 12, when Lieutenant Rennell, in Lt. (jg.) Kenneth D. Molloy's PT 326, set out for Biak for a meeting with Army officers. On the way four enemy planes dived out of the sun and dropped four bombs which landed within 75 feet of the boat. The 326 scored a 40mm. hit on one plane, which fell into the sea in flames. The remaining planes attacked the destroyer Kalk, patrolling 2 miles to the west. The Kalk shot down another plane, but herself took a direct bomb hit amidships which heavily damaged her superstructure and started fires below decks. Four officers and 26 men were killed; 4 officers and 36 men were wounded.
The entire action was visible from Mios Woendi. As soon as Kalk was hit, every PT in the lagoon got underway at top speed for the stricken ship. One after another the PT's drew alongside Kalk, which was still underway, and removed wounded. The PT's carried them to Bosnek and transferred them to the LST 469, which had a surgical team on board. En route boat officers gave first aid, administering plasma to the more seriously wounded.
That night Lt. (jg.) William N. Bannard, USNR, in PT 190, and Lt. (jg.) James C. Higgins, USNR, in PT 146, had the first barge action in the area, sinking three large barges on the north coast of Biak. A prisoner of war later reported that these barges had been carrying 200 men of the 202d Pioneer Unit. He said that the commanding officer, a Lieutenant Commander Nagata, and most of his men had been killed.
Geelvink Bay was not as productive an area as Aitape, but for several months the boats did a steady business in destroying barges. During June the enemy made sporadic attempts to reinforce his garrison on Biak, sending barges from Manokwari, at the northwestern end of Geelvink Bay, via the island of Noemfoor to the west of Biak. The boats' claims for the month were seven barges destroyed around Biak, three near Noemfoor and three in the vicinity of Manokwari. Attempts at reinforcement ended about the first of July. By then most of the remaining Japanese forces on Biak were bottled up in the northern part of the island, and on July 2 our Army occupied Noemfoor. Thereafter the PT's had practically all of their barge contacts on the western shores of Geelvink Bay. The enemy was trying to evacuate the entire area, running bargeloads of personnel and supplies to the western side of the bay, south of Manokwari, whence they could travel overland across the narrow neck of the Vogelkop (head of the New Guinea bird) to MacCluer Gulf, out of reach of our surface forces.
In July the PT's claimed 16 barges destroyed. There was also ample evidence from scouts, prisoners of war, and liberated Javanese that the threat of PT's was forcing the enemy to conduct most of his evacuation overland. This meant, of course, abandonment of most of his equipment, and a slow and dangerous trek for personnel -- besides the natural hazards of overland travel in New Guinea, there was constant daylight coverage of evacuation routes by our aircraft.
Squadron 18 boats made shuttle patrols between Wakde and Mios Woendi in June. Leaving Wakde, the boats followed the New Guinea coast to the eastern entrance of Geelvink Bay, and then patrolled either the eastern
Evaporator and water tower at Mios Woendi. Here, as at many bases,
there was not enough natural fresh water and it was necessary to distill sea water.
shore of the bay or the coast of Japen Island, south of Mios Woendi. The boats arrived at Mios Woendi in the morning, laid over for the day and patrolled back to Wakde the following night. Although Catalinas joined the boats in these searches, the patrols were unproductive.
On July 9, Squadron 18, Oyster Bay, Portunus, and Hilo moved into Mios Woendi. Squadron 25, under Lt. Comdr. Richard E. Johnson, had arrived 2 days earlier. Squadron 24, under Lt. Comdr. N. Burt Davis, Jr., arrived on the 22d to stage for a new move up the coast to Sansapor.
While barge actions around Biak were few, the PT's carried out a variety of other missions. It was believed that the Japanese would try to evacuate key personnel by submarine from Korim Bay, on the north coast, so PT's kept a round-the-clock patrol off Korim Bay for a week, pairs of boats relieving one another on station. The boats saw no sign of enemy craft, but it was learned later that a submarine had approached and turned back with
without attempting to enter the bay, because of the presence of the PT's.
From NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administration) the PT's received interpreters. Natives, extremely loyal to the Dutch, would paddle out from shore in canoes and tell the interpreters where there were concentrations of Japanese along the shore. Sometimes they would come aboard the boats and help pilot them within range of the enemy camps. The boats would strafe the area and come back in a day or two, when the natives would give them a detailed account of the damage they had done. As time went on the Japanese on Biak ran low on rations. It was easy for natives to lure small groups of them away from their camps with promises of food. The natives overpowered the weakened Japanese and kept them in stockades until the next PT came by. Several times the natives turned over groups of prisoners to the PT's, as many as 30 at a time, with the promise that they would have more next time the PT's came to see them.
Of the barge actions at Biak, the most unusual was fought on the night of June 20/21 by Lt. (jg.) Joseph W. Burk, USNR, in PT 320, with PT 161 (Lt. (jg.) Rogers V. Waugh, USNR). Burk led the way into the Sorendidori River mouth on southern Biak, looking for suspected barge hideouts, and set the 320 on a reef. Soon afterwards three barges loaded with personnel and supplies approached from seaward. Although the 320 was stuck fast and could not maneuver, both PT's opened fire and the 320 illuminated the barges with mortar flares. Within 20 minutes the PT's sank all three barges. Then the 161 pulled the 320 off the reef.
As part of the preparations for Army landings on Noemfoor, PT's landed and picked up several scouting parties. Lt. Cyrus R. Taylor, USNR, in PT 193, with Lt. (jg.) Kermit W. Montz, USNR, in PT 331, put one of these parties ashore at Bani Point on the night of June 24/25. After picking up the scouts again the boats patrolled the north coast of Noemfoor, and attacked two barges. One sank quickly, the other ran up on a reef. As Taylor started his third run on this barge, the 193 also went hard aground. For over 3 hours the barge, which had been loaded with ammunition, burned and exploded, illuminating the 193. The 331 and the crew of the 193 kept working to refloat the PT until they saw enemy trucks move up and come to a stop on the beach half a mile away. It seemed probable that the enemy was moving up guns to shell the boat. All of the crew was put aboard the 331, except Taylor and three others who remained behind to destroy confidential material.
The waterfront at Camp Taylor, Mios Woendi, largest PT base in New Guinea.
The base was named for Lt. Cyrus R. Taylor, USNR, who was fatally wounded in action.
When this had been done Taylor released gasoline into the bilges to make sure that the boat would be thoroughly destroyed. Taylor was still below decks when there was a premature explosion. He made his way topside and into the water, and was taken, with the others, to the 331, but he was fatally burned.
Taylor was a brave and capable officer, who had been through many engagements with barges, aircraft, and shore batteries. The PT base at Mios Woendi was named Camp Taylor in his memory.
After the occupation of Noemfoor, when the boats had to go to the western shores of Geelvink Bay to find barges, encounters with shore batteries were not infrequent. On the night of July 6/7, Lieutenant (jg.) Burk, in PT 320, and Ens. Emil O. Sommer, Jr., USNR, in PT 160, fired mortar flares to illuminate a large barge on the beach at Waren Plantation. Immediately six to eight 90mm. guns back of the beach and several 3-inch guns on the beach itself opened fire on the boats. Burk kept his 40mm. firing at the shore batteries while the rest of his guns and all of the guns of the 160 concentrated on the barge. The boats kept firing until they thought they had rendered the barge unserviceable and then withdrew. Three hours later, after a sweep down the coast, they returned and saw another barge, 2 miles south of the first one. This time they used no flares, and destroyed the barge before the shore guns opened fire, but shells fell close during their retirement.
On the night of July 7/8, Lt. (jg.) William P. Hall, USNR, in PT 329, with Lt. (jg.) Rogers V. Waugh, USNR, in PT 161, sank a 130-foot lugger south of Cape Oransbari by gunfire and a well-placed depth charge from the 329. The boats took four prisoners, one of whom was a lieutenant colonel, one of the highest ranking Japanese prisoners taken in the entire New Guinea campaign. Hall won his Purple Heart in a peculiar way that night, being quite literally "wounded in the face of the enemy." One of the prisoners tried to attack him. Hall knocked him cold with a well-placed right to the mouth, but in doing so sprained his thumb and gashed his hand badly on the prisoner's teeth.
That was not the only case of hand-to-hand combat. PT personnel sometimes accompanied the NICA scouts on their reconnaissance missions to the islands of southwestern Geelvink Bay. Lt. Charles A. Black, USNR, was with a scouting party that surprised three Japanese sentries on the beach on Roemberpon Island. One of the sentries ran. Black chased him down the beach and clubbed him over the head with the butt of his rifle. In the meantime the scouts took the other two sentries, and within an hour Black, scouts, and captured sentries were aboard a PT on their way back to Mios Woendi.
30. AMSTERDAM ISLAND
The final amphibious operation of the New Guinea campaign was the landing on July 30, 1944, in the vicinity of Cape Sansapor, 250 miles west of Mios Woendi. The primary purpose of the landings, which completed Allied domination of the north coast of New Guinea, was to take a site for construction of an airfield from which fighter planes could take off to cover the projected invasion of the island of Morotai, in the Halmaheras.
PT's from Mios Woendi put a reconnaissance party ashore east of Cape Opmarai, near Cape Sansapor, on the night of July 14/15, and picked it up 2 nights later. The party found that there were suitable landing beaches, a good site for an airstrip, and no enemy troops in the immediate vicinity. Troops of the 6th Infantry Division went ashore on the morning of July 30 near Cape Opmari without opposition, and on the same day took three nearby islands, Mios Soe, Amsterdam, and Middleburg. The next day, in a shore-to-shore landing, troops occupied Cape Sansapor.
The Army had agreed to take a cove near Cape Sansapor for a PT base, but discovered that the cove was full of reefs which had not been apparent in aerial photographs. PT Advance Base 3, under Lt. Comdr. Herman F. Straw, USNR, arrived in LST 546 on the morning of August 2 with Squadron 24, under Lieutenant Commander Davis, and Squadron 25, under Lieutenant Commander Johnson. On the Army's recommendation, Davis accepted Amsterdam Island as a site for the base. The site was, indeed, the best in the area, but it offered little protection from shifting winds and seas. During the 2 months the base was in operation, there was a constant struggle to keep boats and floating equipment from blowing aground on reefs.
Although Amsterdam Island was favorably situated for interception of barge traffic between Manokwari and Sorong, the principal enemy base on the western end of the Vogelkop, the boats found only a few surface targets. They claimed eight barges and two 100-foot luggers in August, and three barges in September. They also claimed one of the largest vessels of the New Guinea campaign, a 200-foot ship, believed to be a minelayer, torpedoed on the night of September 21/22 by PT 342 (Lt. (jg.) Herbert W. Punches, USNR). Aerial reconnaissance on September 22 showed that this ship was sunk, resting on the bottom in shallow water.
The boats frequently met fire from heavy shore guns in the Sorong area, but the only damage to any boats came on the afternoon of August 30,
PT's nose up on beach for unloading of camp gear to set up advance base at Amsterdam Island.
when three enemy planes attacked PT 344 (Lt. (jg.) John R. Tennant, USNR) and PT 115 (Ens. Robert G. Kittrell, USNR). The boats were only slightly damaged; one officer and six men were wounded, none critically.
PT's made 20 special missions to land and retrieve Army and NICA scouts, and on 11 occasions put ashore reconnaissance and raiding forces composed of PT personnel and led by Lieutenant Commander Davis. This force took 11 prisoners, killed perhaps twice that many Japanese, destroyed enemy stores and equipment, and captured many military documents, all without loss or injury to its own personnel.
A typical report is that of the action of September 20, when Davis, in Lt. (jg.) Herbert W. Punches's PT 342, with PT 341 (Lt. (jg.) Oscar C. Blanchard, USNR), led a daylight reconnaissance of the coast eastward from Cape of Good Hope to Cape Boropen.
"At 1310," the report said, "the patrol reached Cape Boropen, its eastern limit, and was about to return when the hull of a partially camouflaged lugger was sighted near the reef. While approaching the lugger for closer inspection, a small tent was sighted on the beach. It was immediately taken under fire by the 40mm.'s from both boats at a range of about 400 yards. A landing party of 10 men and 2 officers was then landed through the surf in rubber life rafts. A thorough search revealed the recent and hurried evacuation of the area by the enemy. In addition to the tent first sighted, which contained a portable radio station, a bivouac and stores area composed of eight shacks were located about a hundred yards inland. Some sniper fire was experienced and three Japs were sighted by the landing party. One was killed and the others, believed wounded, escaped inland. It is believed about 50 of the enemy were encamped at this outpost. The main camp, to a distance of about 100 yards outside its perimeter, was protected by slit trenches and pill boxes. Two large bomb shelters were located near the central and largest shack. At 1350, the landing party withdrew after capturing one Japanese Army 7-7 model 29 machine gun intact, destroying the drinking well and the majority of the stores sighted and setting fire to the largest shacks. Boats then proceeded in company to the base, arriving at 1730. All captured documents were turned over to the Army. . . The main radio set was destroyed by the opening barrage fire from the boats and hence no attempt was made to salvage."
Combat patrols were secured at Amsterdam on September 28, and in October the two squadrons returned to Mios Woendi for overhaul.
31. END OF THE NEW GUINEA CAMPAIGN
August was the best month at Mios Woendi, with claims of 26 barges destroyed. By September the Japanese evacuation was nearly completed, and the boats claimed only eight barges. Squadrons 9, 10, 12, 18, and 21 conducted 133 patrols during the 2 months. They were joined in September by part of Squadron 36, under Lt. Comdr. Francis D. Tappaan, USNR, and by the first two Higgins squadrons to arrive in the Southwest Pacific, squadrons that previously had served in the Aleutians. These were Squadron 13, under Lt. Comdr. Alvin W. Fargo, Jr., USNR, and Squadron 16, under Lt. Comdr. Almer P. Colvin.
Since June the Mios Woendi PT's had been assisted by night-flying Catalinas. Late in July, RAAF Beaufort bombers and Beaufighters began to work with them so they could do some of their hunting in daylight. Lt. (jg.) Kenneth D. Molloy, USNR, in PT 326, and Lt. (jg.) James N. Elliott, Jr., USNR, in PT 325, had had an unproductive night patrol when, on the morning of August 10, they met natives in canoes off the southern end of Roemberpon Island. The natives told them where a camouflaged barge was hidden and piloted the boats as far as they could through the reefs. The boats still could not reach the hideout, so Lieutenant Molloy, William Boldt, GM2c, and Richard Lawrence, MoMM1c, went with some natives in a dugout to inspect the barge. The natives showed them where the barge was, but refused to approach closer than 35 yards for fear of snipers. Molloy returned to the PT and directed two Beauforts to the barge. They strafed it several times but soon had to leave because they were low on gasoline. Boldt, Peter Kolar, TM2c, and Wilbur Burkett, TM3c, then went ashore in a native canoe with a .30-caliber machine-gun. They set it up 50 yards from the barge and pumped 500 rounds into it, leaving it smoking. Before the boats left for the base, natives turned over to them a Javanese laborer who had escaped from the Japanese.
The most concentrated destruction of barges came on August 17 and 18. Lt. Malcolm Toon, USNR, in PT 155, and Lt. (jg.) Rex L. Anderson, USNR, in PT 156, entered Dore Bay, near Manokwari, on the morning of the 17th covered by one Beaufighter. The boats found 18 serviceable barges on the beach of Mansinam Island, and made 3 runs, concentrating their fire on 12 of them. Increasingly accurate fire from 90mm. shore batteries forced the boats to retire before they could make an accurate assessment of the results
PT's from Mios Woendi fire at beached barges in daylight strike on August 17, 1944.
of their fire, but it was a fair estimate that they had destroyed six barges and damaged three more.
The following morning Lieutenant (jg.) Molloy, in PT 326, with Ens. Nelson Davis, USNR, in PT 191, swept the coast of Mansinam Island, strafing nine barges, two marine railways, a fuel dump, a floating platform, and several buildings. Three of the barges were sunk and the others damaged. The boats received desultory fire from 90mm. guns on the mainland, and heavy machine-gun fire from several points on Mansinam. As they withdrew, they met two Beaufighters and directed them to a barge the PT's had been unable to reach because of reefs. Lt. (jg.) Emery M. Newton, Jr., USNR, in PT 323, with Lt. (jg.) Robert L. Lanning, Jr., USNR, in PT 329, followed the Beaufighters into the bay. These boats, under machine-gun fire from Mansinam
and 90mm. fire from the mainland, made a firing run along the whole western side of the island, scoring many hits on four barges which showed signs of previous damage, and definitely destroying a fifth with 40mm. hits. At one point on the shore, three men, attempting to set up a machine-gun on the beach, were seen to fall. The 323 was hit in several places by fragments and one man was slightly wounded.
Barge contacts dwindled into insignificance after September, but the boats continued making special missions to evacuate Javanese, Formosans, and Indian Army personnel who had been impressed as laborers by the Japanese and who had escaped with the assistance of natives, coastwatchers, or NICA or U.S. Army scouts. Accurate figures are not available before October, but in October and November alone, the boats evacuated 782 former prisoners of the Japanese.
PT 301 was lost at Mios Woendi as a result of an accidental engineroom explosion on November 4, which killed two men and damaged the boat so badly that it had to be scrapped.
On September 12 Commander Bowling temporarily shifted his pennant to Oyster Bay and sailed with the Mobjack and Squadrons 9, 10, 18, and 33 for Morotai in the Halmaheras, arriving there September 16, the day after the initial amphibious landings. Oyster Bay with 10 boats of Squadron 33 returned to Mios Woendi on October 6, and a week later, with Commander Bowling again aboard, departed with two new seaplane-type tenders, Wachapreague and Willoughby, and 45 PT's of Squadrons 7, 12, 21, 33, and 36, for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. They arrived there at dawn on October 21, a day after the major assault landings on the island of Leyte.
Combat patrols from Mios Woendi, last operating base in New Guinea, were secured on November 16. It was not quite 23 months since PT's 121 and 122 had made their first patrol from Porlock Harbor. During that time the Task Group had expanded from 1 small tender and 6 PT's to 8 tenders and 14 squadrons of PT's. Its boats had had almost nightly action along 1,500 miles of the coastline of New Guinea, and along the coasts of New Britain and the Admiralties as well. From first to last they met and overcame the bitterest opposition the enemy could mount against them; with relatively little damage to themselves they took terrible toll of the Japanese. Along the coastline was the wreckage of hundreds of blasted barges; in former enemy encampments were bodies of thousands of soldiers who died for lack of supplies.
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