Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Papua Campaign (7/1942-1/1943) - Nov. 30th, 2003
Posted on 11/30/2003 12:00:39 AM PST by SAMWolf
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23 July 1942-23 January 1943
On 7 December 1941, Japan turned its war on the Asian mainland eastward into the Pacific. Simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, the Malayan peninsula, and other places surprised Allied governments and exposed serious weaknesses in Allied dispositions in the Pacific. At the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, Australia had sent most of its ground units to the British Commonwealth Forces in the Middle East. During the next two years the U.S. Pacific Fleet sent one-quarter of its ships to the Atlantic, and the U.S. Army continued mobilizing, although it would not be ready for an offensive mission until late 1942. Hastily gathering scarce units, the Allies tried to halt the Japanese at the Malay Barrier, the mountainous chain of islands stretching from Malaya through the Netherlands East Indies to New Guinea. But the pace and extent of Japanese conquests soon overran these preparations. The fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and the bombing of the Australian city of Darwin four days later shattered the Malay Barrier. Australia and New Zealand lay virtually undefended.
The arrival in Australia on 17 March of General Douglas MacArthur, ordered from the Philippines by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signaled the start of a new phase in the defense of the Pacific. Instead of supplying and supporting its Allies, the United States would commit its own troops to the effort to halt the Japanese. A major area command, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), was created in April with General MacArthur commanding. An international command, SWPA had separate land, air, and naval forces, with commanders drawn from the two major contributing nations: Australian General Sir Thomas A. Blamey for Allied Land Forces, American Lt. Gen. George H. Brett for Allied Air Forces, and American Vice Adm. Herbert F. Leary for Allied Naval Forces. Allied Land Forces would consist of two Australian and two American divisions. Recalled from the Middle East, the 7th Australian Infantry Division arrived home at the end of March; the 6th Australian Infantry Division, the next month. Most of the U.S. 41st Infantry Division arrived in Australia in early April. The U.S. 32d Infantry Division, originally slated for Northern Ireland, received new orders to join SWPA in mid-May with the rest of the 41st Division. Allied Air Forces would eventually consist of eight aircraft groups. Allied Naval Forces began with twenty-one surface warships and thirty-one submarines and could expect augmentation by American carrier task forces. Resupply of the Southwest Pacific Area would come from Hawaii through a line of island bases secured in February: Palmyra, Christmas Island, Canton Island, Bora Bora, Samoa, and the Fiji Islands.
Japanese Dead near Buna Mission, 3 January.
Working with the Australian Chiefs of Staff, General MacArthur prepared a joint estimate of the situation. The Allies agreed that the Japanese advance would continue and that it would soon threaten the Australian supply line as well as the island nation itself. As General MacArthur viewed the situation, the best way to defend Australia was to meet the Japanese on New Guinea, and the way into New Guinea lay through Port Moresby, a harbor on the southeast Papuan coast lightly garrisoned by Australians. Accordingly, in early April MacArthur directed the reinforcement of Port Moresby.
While the Allies rushed to strengthen Port Moresby, the Japanese acted on their own strategic assessment. They also considered Port Moresby the key to Australia. But before approaching the port city, the Japanese moved to finish a naval mission begun earlier. The Imperial Japanese Navy saw its strike against Pearl Harbor as only half of a two-part strategy. To secure exploitation of Burma, Malaya, and the Indies, the Japanese had to neutralize the British Eastern Fleet. For that purpose, a large Japanese naval task force left the southwest Pacific for the Indian Ocean in April. The Japanese succeeded in disabling the British Eastern Fleet, but in doing so they also gave SWPA an extra month to reinforce Port Moresby.
General Blamey tours the battle area with General Eichelberger (left). (DA photograph)
By 4 May, when a Japanese landing force embarked at Rabaul for Port Moresby, Allied air an) naval forces had grown to decisive strength. The result for the Japanese was a major setback. As enemy troopships and an escorting carrier task force approached the eastern end of New Guinea, they were met by two American carrier task forces. In the ensuing Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese Navy lost so many ships that the landing force had to return to Rabaul. Though they lost more ships than the Japanese, the Allies won a strategic victory in the Coral Sea: the enemy had to reschedule its Port Moresby landing for July.
The Japanese had barely counted their losses in the Coral Sea when they met a much more costly defeat. In an effort to take Midway Island and the Aleutians, the Imperial Japanese Navy put together a huge task force centered on four fast carriers. A unique message-interception effort code-named MAGIC enabled the Allies to learn of the enemy move toward Midway, and three American carriers were sent to intercept. In the sea-air battle that followed on 4 June, the Japanese lost all four of their carriers and hundreds of aircraft and pilots. The stunning defeat at Midway was more than a temporary setback. The Japanese Navy never replaced its carrier losses, and as a result its land operations thereafter suffered from a chronic shortage of naval and air support.
But two defeats in rapid succession did not end the threat to Australia. On 22 July a Japanese landing force under Maj. Gen. Tomitaro Horii slipped ashore at Basabua and made its way to Buna on the northeast coast of New Guinea. The landing itself came as a shock to SWPA headquarters, then considering the very same move. Even more disquieting was the discovery that the enemy had landed without air cover.
Anxious to take advantage of the victory of Midway, Allied staffs drew up an operations plan. Called the 2 July Directive, the plan laid down three tasks: 1. seizure and occupation of the Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi, and adjacent areas; 2. seizure and occupation of the remainder of the Solomon Islands, Lae, Salamaua, and the northeast coast of New Guinea; and 3. seizure and occupation of Rabaul and adjacent positions in the New Guinea-New Ireland area. The U.S. Navy's South Pacific Area commander assumed the first mission; General MacArthur took up the latter two tasks. To support the Navy in the first task and to execute its own two tasks, SWPA created new commands, moved units closer to target areas, and continued airfield construction and reinforcement, especially at Port Moresby and at Milne Bay on the eastern tip of New Guinea. The U.S. 32d and 41st Infantry Divisions began jungle training, organized in a new corps under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger.
A Fox Hole on Giruwa Beach.
Men of the 127th Infantry holding a position reached on 20 January.
Short of aircraft carriers after Midway, the Japanese decided to attack Port Moresby by an overland advance from Buna instead of around Milne Bay by sea. This plan dictated a push through some of the most forbidding terrain in the world. The Papuan peninsula of eastern New Guinea is dominated by the Owen Stanley Mountains, a saw-toothed jungle range reaching a height of 13,000 feet. High temperatures and humidity near the coasts contrast with biting cold above 5,000 feet. Rainfall is typically torrential and can amount to as much as 10 inches per day during the rainy season. Tangled growth requires a machete to cut through it. Knife-edged kunai grass up to 7 feet high, reeking swamps full of leeches and malarial mosquitoes, and a slippery ground surface under dripping vegetation add to the formidable obstacle course.
For the advance out of Buna the Japanese assembled a force of about 1,800 men augmented by 1,300 laborers from Rabaul and Formosa and 52 horses. This force proposed to cross Papua through the village of Kokoda, some 50 miles from Buna and over 100 miles from Port Moresby. Next to the village lay a facility highly valued by both sides: an airfield. Quickly moving inland, the Japanese met their first opposition late in the afternoon of 22 July. During the next two weeks, General Horii's troops defeated several Australian and Papuan units and took over the entire Kokoda-Buna Trail. When Horii received reinforcements on 18 August, he headed a well-supplied force of 8,OOO Imperial Japanese Army troops and 3,450 naval troops.
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger Commanding General, I Corps, United States Army
By mid-August the two adversaries were inadvertently helping each other by relying on poor intelligence assessments. Caught off-guard by U.S. Marine landings in the Solomons, General Horii had to spread his resources over two fronts, Guadalcanal and Buna. But the Allies underestimated the Japanese determination to build up a large force at Buna and push overland to Port Moresby. Brig. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief, repeatedly discounted an enemy attack through the mountains because of the difficult terrain and climate. As a result, the Allies continued reinforcing small units on the trail, and the enemy continued overrunning them.
With the Japanese well established at Buna and Kokoda, SWPA reorganized to counterattack on two fronts: along the Kokoda Trail and 200 miles east at Milne Bay. Three Australian brigades with American reinforcements strengthened the two fronts. At Milne Bay the Allies assembled a force of some 7,500 troops, including three companies of U.S. engineers and a battery of U.S. airborne antiaircraft artillery. Named Milne Force, this two-brigade concentration took positions around two Allied airfields. On the night of 25-26 August the Japanese landed 1,500 men six miles east of the airfields. Spearheaded by two light tanks, the Japanese mounted night assaults on the 26th and 27th, and reached Airstrip No. 3. Milne Force stiffened its line and then pushed the enemy into a general retreat. On 4 September the Japanese called in the Navy for evacuation. In this first Allied ground victoryand first significant American action in PapuaMilne Force killed 600 of the enemy, while losing 322 dead and 200 wounded.
On the Way to Buna: The Inland Route. Men of M Company, 128th Infantry, on the trail between Dobodura and Buna.
Along the Kokoda Trail the Allies found a different situation. Instead of continuing their drive toward the certain capture of Port Moresby, the Japanese stopped at the village of Ioribaiwa, thirty miles short of their objective. Surprised at the sudden halt, the Allies soon learned that the Japanese agreed with their own strategic view: that success on New Guinea was directly related to success on Guadalcanal. The Japanese drive against the U.S. Marine beachhead in the Solomons had been repulsed, and on 18 September General Horii received orders to withdraw to Buna for a possible reinforcement of the Imperial Japanese Army forces on Guadalcanal. Once again the enemy had given the Allies time to regroup.
General MacArthur took advantage of the victory at Milne Bay and the enemy withdrawal from the Kokoda Trail to draw up a comprehensive plan to clear New Guinea of the enemy. SWPA's 1 October plan called for a series of sweeps and envelopments along three axes of advance that would position Allied forces for an attack on Buna in mid-November. On the first axis, the 7th Australian Infantry Division would move up the main trail from Port Moresby, cross the Owen Stanley Range through Kokoda, and occupy Wairopi, only twenty-five miles from Buna. On the second axis, the American 2d Battalion of the 126th Infantry, setting out from Port Moresby, would turn inland at Kapa Kapa and move through the mountains to Jaure on a track parallel to, but thirty miles southeast of, the Australians. On the third axis, the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade, fresh from victory at Milne Bay, would sweep the north coast of the island and meet the U.S. 128th Infantry, airlifted from Port Moresby, at Wanigela. The two units would then cross Cape Nelson and stage at Embogo for the assault on enemy lines less than ten miles away.
The Old Strip, Buna, Showing Japanese Fortifications.
The 1 October plan was marked by the innovation which would characterize MacArthur's leadership throughout the Pacific War: resupply by air. Once units entered the jungled mountains, resupply became a major problem. The Australian practice of relying on the strong backs of New Guineans did not solve the problem, since the bearers usually deserted when they suspected enemy presence. The Allies settled on the airdrop. Expanding its range as fast as new airfields could be constructed, the Fifth Air Force proved invaluable in overcoming the obstacles of sea distance and rugged terrain. Crates of food and supplies were pushed out the hatches of low-flying C - 7s over breaks in the jungle ceiling. Though not perfecthungry, diseased troops sometimes saw crates of food, medicine, and ammunition fall down mountainsides just out of reachthe airdrops continued and improved as aircrews gained experience.
An innovation in resupply by sea also helped. Despite Japanese command of the seas in the Solomons-New Guinea areathe U.S. Navy had withdrawn from the area in late October after losing an aircraft carrier and seeing another badly damagedthe Allies were asked to take advantage of the shallow coastal waters of New Guinea. In their advance from Milne Bay the Allies moved troops and supplies by fishing boats, tuggers, rowboats, and even outrigger canoes.
The Allied ground advances across Cape Nelson and up the Kapa Kapa-Jaure axis proved severe trials of endurance. Moving across the base of Cape Nelson, the 3d Battalion of the 128th Infantry soon found itself floundering through the knee-deep mud of a malarial swamp. The unit abandoned its planned route and made directly for the coast. When the battalion reached its objective of Pongani by sea on 28 October, many of its men were suffering from malaria and other fevers.
Retreating enemy forces set up a beachhead defense stretching some sixteen miles along the coast and seven miles inland. The Japanese held several important locations within their perimeter: Gona Village, the west anchor of the enemy beachhead; Sanananda Point in the center; Duropa Plantation, the eastern anchor of the beachhead; Buna Village; Buna Mission, the prewar Australian administrative center; and two airfields. Also inside the perimeter lay more swamps and streams than appeared on Allied maps and more enemy troops than SWPA estimated. In a major intelligence blunder, Allied staffs told frontline commanders that they faced no more than 1,500 to 2,000 enemy and could expect the Japanese to surrender about 1 December. In fact, some 6,500 enemy held the beachhead.
The attack began the morning of 16 November on both sides of the Girua. On the left, the 7th Australian Infantry Division met no enemy opposition the first two days but found other problems nearly as serious. The Australians soon outran their supply line and had to go on short rations; heat exhaustion and the myriad fevers of New Guinea steadily reduced troop strength. When the first shots were exchanged on the 18th, the troops found that every approach avoiding the swamps and streams brought them into enemy machine-gun-fire lanes. Despite this formidable defense, and without artillery support, the Australians pushed ahead. In three days of fighting they lost 204 dead and wounded, and they were still in no position to take Gona. Two days later, after brief air and artillery preparations, troops of the 7th reached the innermost defenses of Gona but were quickly pushed back. On the division's right a separate thrust at Sanananda fell short, though troops managed to set a roadblock behind the enemy.
The United States Army learned much from the Papua Campaign but at a high cost. Allied losses totaled 8,546 killed and wounded. Of those, the 32d Division lost 687 killed in action and 2,161 wounded or lost from other causes. The lack of leaders experienced in jungle fighting accounted in part for these losses. Because the campaign was the Army's first in a world war tropical theater, everyone involved had to learn while under fire. The last combat experience of the Allied leaders had ended in 1918. The Australians had spent recent years in the Middle East. Only General MacArthur, with years of duty in the Philippines, brought to the campaign any familiarity with jungle fighting, but as theater commander he exercised leadership far from the front. The necessarily trial-and-error tactical approach of the Allies in the early stages of the campaign inevitably delayed the victory.
Supplies for Headquarters.
Native carriers and guards on the trail from Oro Bay to the Buna Front.
The campaign also made serious training deficiencies obvious. The beginning of the campaign revealed that the American troops were insufficiently hardened for extended forced marches, poorly schooled in the techniques of night patrolling and assaulting fortified positions, and unprepared for operations in a tropical environment. Too much had to be learned by experimentation, such as how to read terrain to avoid swamps or how to identify locations of enemy bunkers and fields of fire. In future campaigns American troops would have to complete arduous marches like that over the Owen Stanley Mountains and still be able to mount assaults or turn back enemy counterattacks. Some of the deficiencies in training could be laid to the radical changes in deployment plans experienced by the 32d Division. After its training on the east coast had been interrupted by orders to board ship for the British Isles, the division was turned around and sent cross-country to the west coast to embark for the Southwest Pacific. In Australia the division again started a training schedule, only to see it too interrupted when the Japanese advanced toward Port Moresby. Although SWPA staff officers considered the 32d Division not yet ready for combat, they rushed the unit to New Guinea. For the 32d Division there had been too much time spent in transit and not enough in actual training.
Combat support in nearly all facets fell short of needs during much of the campaign. Military intelligence, the basis of all operational planning, failed to provide a true understanding of the enemy on New Guinea. In two notable failures, SWPA underestimated the Japanese determination to take Port Moresby and, later, the number of enemy troops at Buna. These two errors led to the unrealistic expectation that the campaign could be completed by 1 December. Also, for too long MacArthur believed better leadership could overcome any obstacle presented by enemy or terrain.
American Light Tanks Manned by Australians.
A tank stalled in the mud is being hauled out. Duropa Plantation, 21 December.
Another glaring lack was operational fires to support attacking infantry. Ground officers argued long and loud against the prevailing SWPA attitude on artillery support, an attitude summarized by General Kenney when he said, "The artillery in this theater flies." The result of this bias in favor of air power was a chronic shortage of on-call artillery fire that made the work of attacking infantry units much more difficult. During the failed November attacks, the 32d Division on the Warren front had only eight Australian 25-pounders and two 3.7-inch mountain howitzers in addition to the 60-mm. and 81-mm. mortars normally carried by battalions, and on the Urbana front it had only four 25-pounders in addition to the mortars. Only one 105-mm. howitzer was used during the entire campaign.
In the absence of heavier artillery, tanks would have greatly aided infantry advances in the early months of the campaign. Attacking troops badly needed a weapon to help them overcome well-prepared Japanese defensive positions, and tanks would have been the best choice. Despite the swampy terrain, tanks had shown their value in the December attacks on the Warren front. At the very least, tanks held the promise of reducing, in a matter of minutes, enemy positions that could for days hold units armed only with rifles and hand grenades. In November General Harding requested tanks he knew to be at Milne Bay, but instead he received only the ineffective Bren gun carriers. Not until late in the campaign did SWPA send tanks to the battlefronts.
Offensive Action in Buna Mission.
Men of G Company, 128th Infantry, firing into Japanese bunker.
Air support was also inadequate, and it was often poorly coordinated with ground units. Not only did aircraft bomb friendly units several times, they also on occasion missed targets entirely. The Fifth Air Force also gave a low priority to the protection of supply lines, with the result that coastal tuggers were run ashore or sunk on several occasions. At the same time, however, air squadrons performed valuable service in delivering fresh troops and supplies over the Owen Stanleys to battlefronts and in evacuating the sick and the wounded to Port Moresby. Troop airlifts allowed entire regiments to minimize the debilitating effects of mountainous terrain and tropical climate.
Naval gunfire and aircraft could have partially compensated for the lack of artillery and land-based air support, but the enemy's presence and a support mission in the Solomons reduced the availability of such support. Twice Navy ships withdrew from the southwest Pacific area in response to the Japanese fleet movements. Both of these withdrawals reflected the Navy's reluctance to expose its carriers and transports to enemy air squadrons based at Rabaul. General MacArthur opposed the withdrawals because they exposed friendly units ashore to enemy air attack and delayed ship-to-shore movement of troops and supplies. In search of more reliable air and amphibious support, MacArthur decided to organize a new unit for future campaigns: the engineer special brigade. These brigades would soon carry troops and equipment ashore, organize beaches, and construct airfields.
Buna Mission after the Battle.
The generally unreliable supply situation during the campaign seriously damaged troop morale, already threatened by the climate of New Guinea. Troops who had to carry most of their supplies on their backs, who opened tins of meat only to find it rancid, who could not drink the water all around them because they had no purification equipment, and who ran out of ammunition soon became exhausted, demoralized, hungry, and vulnerable to disease. The 32d Division's experience with illness shows how the climate became an adversary itself. Of the 10,825 men in the division, 7,125 became sick at some time, an extraordinary rate of 66 percent.
Airdrops and coastal vessels introduced more supply problems than they solved. The best solution was more airfields closer to battlefronts. When engineer special brigades became available for future campaigns, aircraft could bring fresh supplies to engaged units even if the battle raged only a few hundred yards ahead. Resupply pauses after assaults could be much reduced, allowing attacking infantry to maintain pressure on the enemy.
The Papua Campaign made clear that U.S. Army units committed to combat in the summer of 1942 were insufficiently trained, equipped, led, and supported in comparison to an enemy that had been fighting for five years. Under the imperative of combat, new leaders had emerged, and new battle tactics and support techniques had been developed. But the Army would not have long to wait or far to go before testing its new leaders, tactics, and techniques. The Japanese had been defeated at the eastern end of Papua, but they had not abandoned New Guinea. Sizable Japanese forces remained at several points west of Buna, and reinforcements and supplies were still coming in from Rabaul. The next battle was only days away.
The detail of our early jungle fighting had me shaking my head. Of course hind sight is 20/20. Seems there were so many errors. I wonder what ever happened to the intellegence group there that seemed to always be wrong.
Those poor fellows that took that long trek only to find out the next group flew in! The terrain, the leeches, the disease and lack of supply, it's easy to see how morale could break, it's well described here.
Finding out the Japanese resorted to cannabalism let's one know the mind of the enemy better. We got tired and died instead.
Reading about these young men that we lost makes for a sad but necessary read. On the bright side, what we learned hopefully saved lives in future jungle battles.
Your tagline brightens my mood! LOL.
Good morning Valin.
The Winter War erupted on 30 November 1939, when Stalin unleashed his Red Army in an all-out assault against Finland. In August that year Stalin and Hitler had divided eastern Europe between them in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, leaving Finland isolated in the Soviet sphere of influence. During the fall Stalin demanded that Finland cede key parts of the country to the USSR. When Finland refused to meet all his demands Stalin unleashed his armies.
In the winter dawn of 30 November four Soviet Armies with 23 divisions - some 460,000 men with over 2,000 tanks - began advancing across the length of Finland's 1,200 km long eastern border. Their objective was to occupy the entire territory of Finland by the end of the year, installing Moscow's puppet 'Terijoki Government' in Helsinki, and establishing a new 'Democratic Republic of Finland'. Their troops were issued with detailed written warnings not to cross into Sweden once they had reached Finland's western border, and the 7. Army included a military band for the victory parade in Helsinki.
On December 3, 1939, three days after the Red Armys unprovoked attack on Finland, the newly appointed foreign minister, Väinö Tanner, spoke to American radio listeners in a live broadcast from Helsinki.
Few at the time expected the tiny Finnish nation of 3.6 million to survive. But despite the odds Finland reacted with desperate determination. On the one hand the country was determined to fight, and the full field army of some 160,000 men had been mobilized and sent eastwards into position along the front during the fall. On the other hand Finland also was grimly prepared for the worst, and began sending her national treasure - her children - to safety in Sweden, to cover the possibility of a Soviet victory and Stalin's national extermination programmes. Leaving at night from blacked out harbours along Finland's western coast, in the gaps between wailing sirens warning of Soviet bombers, none of the thousands of departing children or their parents remaining behind knew whether they would see each other again.
Four months later, after the hardest fighting seen in Europe since the first World War and massive Soviet reinforcements, Finland's lines remained unbroken, while the Red Army had lost up to 400.000 soldiers in casualties. Finland's soldiers were now down to their last bullets, but Stalin did not know that, and he was running out of time. With the spring thaws approaching, his forces risked becoming bogged down in the extensive wetland forests along the front, while politically every week lost increased his humiliation and vulnerability vis a vis a vengeful Japan in the Far East, an ambitious Hitler in the west, and a Britain and France that were considering intervention on Finland's side.
In early March Stalin conceded defeat, abandoning his occupation plans and settling for a compromise agreement, leaving Finland independent. With the signing of the Peace Agreement on 13 March Finland had to cede 10 % of her territory to the USSR, but Finland herself remained free.
The Winter War is one of the milestones in the history of independent Finland, and the conclusions subsequently drawn by Finland's political leaders, along with the lessons of the Continuation War with Russia between 1941 - 1944, became the foundation for Finland's security policy during the Cold War.
I'll join you!
Geez you're tough! If that's a requirement, sure, White Castles.
How about a nice apple...
Hello troops and veterans!
THANK YOU for serving the USA!
A captured Sanrinsha of the Imperial Japanese Navy--Papua
One of the Port Moresby airfields. B-24 bombers and
C-47 transports are parked in splinter-proof revetments.
Lae airfield on 4th January, 1943. Japanese Betty
bombers, Val dive-bombers and Zero fighters are visible.
A typical perimeter, known as "Q," which was on the west side of the road between Huggins and Fisk, is illustrated in Sketch No. 5 (above)
A few days later after the capture of Buna Mission US General Berryman, 32 Division, wrote down his thoughts, and concluded; "We have air superiority and are superior in numbers, guns, mortars and tanks. The problem is to use them to the best effect in the jungle." For the AIF & AMF formations, US Army and the remaining deployable tanks of 2/6AR there was another task, the reduction of the beachhead at Sanananda, as all organised Japanese resistance east of Buna was now at an end. The Japanese command were deploying as many mixed troop formations as possible, including hospital patients, in the beachhead sector. During the Japanese defensive operations the strength of the besieged was increased by about five hundred whom Colonel Yazawa brought in, about eight hundred more fresh newcomers of the 170 Regiment and possible 200 to 300 escapers, stragglers from the Buna area and the sick, tired and wounded. Cape Killerton track junction was the most forward position defended by the remaining strength of 144 Battalion, a detachment from 41 Battalion, some of the skilled 15 Independent Engineers, a battery of mountain gunners and anti-aircraft weapons all under the commanded of Colonel Tsukamoto. In the Sanananda fortification quadrant the acting commander Colonel Yokoyama set up his HQ with the balance of the 41 Regiment, the main force of the engineers, mixed troops, service conscripts and hidden artillery pieces manned by obstinate gunners.
General Herring defined his plans to resume intensive operations against Sanananda - Cape Killerton positions with the AIF 7Division, was allotted a third formation the AMF 4th Brigade (Bde), joining the 18Bde and 30Bde, and the US 163IR. Only three Stuarts moved overland to participate in the planned smashing of a roadblock on Cape Killerton track, so by the evening of the 7 January they arrived at the bivouac area about three miles south of Supota and with a fourth tank soon to arrive at Popondetta. The rest of the AFVs were weather bound at Cape Endaiadere by incessant rains and were to move as soon as possible. The same rains prevented planned artillery placement of 25pdrs and 4.5inch guns belonging to the artillery mettle of the 2/5 and 2/1FldRgts. The Australians, with a company from the 2/10Btn to strengthen the attack onto the road from the east, and at the same time limiting the movement of the Stuarts to the track, the 2/12Btn would drive down the artery. The track ahead was a confined defile and the track so narrow there seemed no hope of turning and the only way for the Stuarts was straight on, the tank crews had also been told that there were no anti-tank guns to hinder their advance. On 12 January 1943 in the morning mist through the thick jungle and soggy ground two attacking companies of the 2/9Btn, Lieuts Jackson and Lloyd both killed in action during the day, started the flanking move. The day started to go wrong from the beginning when the tanks began to cross the start line at one minute past 8am, where they were subjected to an intense Japanese reception of firepower from machine-guns, mortars and various calibre guns.
Lieut Heap led his troop of Stuarts out in line ahead receiving the clinking and clatter of fire-arms and stopped after going sixty yards, traversing his turret slowly to the left where hed been told of a suspected bunker, a shell struck the front of the tank and ricocheted onto the drivers flap with a fiery clang stunning him. Heap glimpsed the gun flash while wielding round his own weapon to aim, a second shell hit the tank tracks, and he briskly engaged the target. A third shell hit the tank, sprung the hull gunners flap stunning him too and a fourth shell smashed through the AFV bursting inside it. Heap wounded therefore wirelessed Corporal Boughton he was getting off the track and that he was to come forward. Boughtons tank was in turn hammered badly before it could retaliate and he was mortally wounded, but the driver, Lance-Corporal Lynn remained brave and cool while peering through the gaping hole performed the seemingly impossible feat of turning the broken vehicle about on the narrow track limping out of the fight. Undaunted Sergeant McGregor next closed in, he was not long engaging the enemy, was struck many times by a Japanese ballistic barrage and had halted then flames exploded around his Stuart, probably by a explosive charge pushed beneath it on the end of a forked stick.
The Australian commanders were bitterly disappointed at the apparent failure of this misfortune stamped day. Maj-General Vasey, commander of the AIF 7Division, himself had decided, "To attack these (entrenched Japanese defensive positions) with infantry using their own weapons is repeating the costly mistake of 1915-17 and, in view of the limited resources which can be, at present, put into the field in this area, such attacks seem unlikely to succeed." In the meantime two Stuarts had arrived on the 15 January from Cape Endaiadere, and Lieut McCrohon in command of the tanks was sent forward to liaison with the Americans later that afternoon and to reconnoitre the area of operations. It was at once clear to him that no tanks could outflank through the morass of bog and swamp along this part of the track. American Army Colonel Does newly arrived 163IR, gaining operating experience behind the enemy roadblock, was ordered to clear the track of remaining Japanese soldiers between objectives Huggins and James, harass the line of communications and block the road leading to Sanananda as well. Thus without tanks the American battalions in the immediate wake of fifteen minutes of intense heavy artillery and 81mm mortar bombardment took all day to complete the reduction of the enemy pocket defended to the last by feeble Japanese in this sector and opening the path to the enemies coastal fortress. Back at Rabual General Adachi was most anxious about the worsening plight of his determined forces gripping the Papuan coast. The Japanese had been ordered to withdraw all of its fit men back to the coastal garrison for eventual evacuation through the nights ahead, or by going bush through the dark green jungle escaping the net AMF 14Bde cast for them and leaving only the starving invalids to defend the beachheads to the last.
Bren Gun Carrier has top down signifying "elected to receive"
M-5A1 Stuart Light Tank
Photo: Courtesy of Frank Robertson.
This early M3 Stuart features a riveted turret and hexagonal commander's cupola. This vehicle is powered by a gasoline engine, as evidenced by the pipes from the air cleaners going immediately into the rear deck. The driver's and assistant driver's doors are open, and it is evident that the assistant driver would have a very tough time exiting the vehicle under duress, since the bow machine gun takes the place of a second door in the hull. The driver could open a door in the front hull plate as well as the door with his vision devices, but the assistant driver must exit through the turret. This tank has not been fitted with machine guns. (Picture taken 18 Dec 1941; available from the 9th Engineer Battalion homepage.)
Rank and organization: First Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company 1, 127th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division. Place and date: Buna, New Guinea, 24 December 1942. Entered service at: Menasha, Wis. Birth: Neenah, Wis. G.O. No.: 66, 11 Oct. 1943.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. During an attack near Buna, New Guinea, on 24 December 1942, 1st Sgt. Burr saw an enemy grenade strike near his company commander. Instantly and with heroic self-sacrifice he threw himself upon it, smothering the explosion with his body. 1st Sgt. Burr thus gave his life in saving that of his commander.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company L, 127th Infantry, 32d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Buna, New Guinea, 24 December 1942. Entered service at: Helenville, Wis. Birth: Helenville, Wis. G.O. No: 66, 11 October 1943.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. On 24 December 1942, near Buna, New Guinea, Sgt. Gruennert was second in command of a platoon with a mission to drive through the enemy lines to the beach 600 yards ahead. Within 150 yards of the objective, the platoon encountered 2 hostile pillboxes. Sgt. Gruennert advanced alone on the first and put it out of action with hand grenades and rifle fire, killing 3 of the enemy. Seriously wounded in the shoulder, he bandaged his wound under cover of the pillbox, refusing to withdraw to the aid station and leave his men. He then, with undiminished daring, and under extremely heavy fire, attacked the second pillbox. As he neared it he threw grenades which forced the enemy out where they were easy targets for his platoon. Before the leading elements of his platoon could reach him he was shot by enemy snipers. His inspiring valor cleared the way for his platoon which was the first to attain the beach in this successful effort to split the enemy position.
Forward Bunker observer squawks coordinates
Captain Napalm responds with the smell of victory
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