Chapter 10: The Aitape Campaign

While the 162d Infantry and 186th Infantry were making the landings in Humboldt Bay, the 163d Regimental Combat Team, backbone of a task force of 22,500 men under the command of General Doe, was making a simultaneous landing at Aitape. The mission of this force was to land in the Aitape-Tadji area, rapidly seize the Tadji dromes and to prepare these airfields quickly to accommodate one fighter group.

H-hour was set for 0645 and the plan for the landing called for the 2d and 3d Battalions to land abreast and secure the beachhead. One hour later the 1st Battalion was to come ashore, pass through the 3d Battalion, and in conjunction with the 2d Battalion, attack west and secure the airstrips. By 0200 on D-day the troops were fed and at 0530 the small boats were loaded in the water and waiting. A well executed naval preparation fire began at 0600 and continued for a half hour. As the landing craft started for shore, escort-carrier planes took to the air to provide support. Naval rocket boats accompanied the assault waves and laid down a rocket barrage all the way. The landing was to have been made at Korako but was made, instead, in the vicinity of Wapil, approximately one thousand yards east of the selected beach. Only slight resistance from individual Japs was encountered.

When the road from Korako to the airstrip could not be located it was realized that the landing had been made at the wrong place. The Korako-Tadji road was located by the right (west) flank guard (Captain Zimmerman) and units were moved to assembly positions according to plan.

As soon as Company L came ashore it moved west along the beach and occupied the village of Relia. It then sent security detachments to the east as far as the Nigia River. The 1st Battalion landed, passed through elements of the 3d Battalion and began the move to capture the Tadji dromes. No enemy resistance was encountered and by mid-afternoon the dromes were in American hands. The Japanese garrison started to retreat to the west during the naval preparation.

The l67th Field Artillery had come ashore at 0745 and shortly before noon it announced that its guns were in position in the vicinity of Nor. The guns were registered in but the battalion was not called upon to deliver fire. The engineers were ashore early and had begun construction work on the coastal roads from Wapil to Korako to the airstrip and from Wapil east toward the Nigia River. Because of the swift advance, work on the north strip of Tadji Drome was started at 1300.  Five tanks of the 603d Tank Company supported the infantry in its advance down the airstrip and one battalion of 4.2-inch chemical mortars was in direct support.

Since the enemy had fled, it was decided that work should be continued throughout the night. Floodlights were used both on the beach and on the drome and there was no enemy reaction, not even by air.

The 127th Regimental Combat Team, less its 1st Battalion, arrived in the area in the early morning hours of 23 April. Two companies of this force were to be used in reducing Tumleo and Seleo Islands, which lay about two miles offshore. Naval and air bombardments preceded the landings, which were made by Companies F and G at 0700. There was no resistance on Seleo Island, and forces landing on Tumleo drew only weak fire from a lone enemy bunker on Hill 262.

Both islands had been secured by 1400. The remainder of the 127th RCT landed at Korako and relieved the 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry in the area east of the north-south road from Korako to the dromes. Company E relieved Company L at Relia and became responsible for protection of the east flank.

The 1st and 2d Battalions of the 163d RCT began the advance westward at the same time the 127th Regiment was making its landings. Shortly after noon they had reached the Raihu River and still there was only slight enemy resistance. Patrols were sent forward to determine the character of enemy installations in the area around Hill 200. Meanwhile, the 3d Battalion, after being relieved by the 127th Field Artillery, came ashore around Korako and immediately moved into positions at Pro, ready to support the westward advance of the 163d Regiment.

By now the engineers were laying matting on the north strip while other engineer units were constructing bridges over the Waitanan and Pimi Creeks and improving roads. Antiaircraft artillery units were selecting permanent positions, and dump areas were being established and supplies unloaded.

On D plus 2 the 1st and 2d Battalions were continuing the advance west from the Raihu River against disorganized resistance. The movement was so fast that by 1300 Aitape had been taken and was secured. The 2d Battalion organized the Aitape perimeter while the 1st Battalion withdrew east of the Raihu River and took up positions in the vicinity of Tadji Plantation along with the 3d Battalion. Patrols were dispatched west toward Tepier Plantation and south towards Kapoam Village. Meanwhile, the 127th Infantry was consolidating positions in the vicinity of Nigia River and was patrolling the area.

The field artillery still was inactive insofar as being called upon for fire missions but the liaison planes were being used for observation missions. The airstrip was pronounced ready for use, although improvement work was continued. Company B, 116th Engineers, had constructed a two-way road from Korako to Wapil. Work was being done at night and as yet there had been no enemy reaction.

The period from 25 April through 27 April was spent in patrolling and consolidating positions. Patrols from the 163d Infantry reconnoitered areas around the Tepier Plantation, Kapoam Village and Pultalul while the 127th Infantry patrolled to Chinopelli, Afue and Anamo, but there were no contacts with the enemy. On 25 April, Company G of the 127th Infantry occupied Ali Island against light resistance and thus completed the reduction of the three main islands offshore. Liaison planes, flying patrol missions along the coast twenty-five miles east and west of Aitape, reported disorganized enemy groups evacuating. It was on 25 April that the 78th Fighter Wing (RAAF) moved from Cape Gloucester to its new base at the north strip at Aitape. Ferry service was in operation across the Raihu River and work was begun on a bridge. Radar installations had been installed at Wapil, Seleo Island and Tumleo Island.

The unloading of supplies was progressing and the only delay came on 27 April when there was a four hour stoppage caused by a submarine alert in the early morning hours. No contact was made with the sub and work was resumed.

The first enemy action of any consequence occurred on the afternoon of 27 April. A platoon of Company L moved into the village of Kamti where it had established contact with an enemy force. An estimated two hundred Japs surrounded the platoon, which had taken up defensive positions, and that night the enemy attacked in three waves, each assault being repelled by the surrounded infantrymen. Forty-one Japs were killed. A liaison plane dropped rations and ammunition and on the afternoon of 28 April the remainder of Company L went to relieve the surrounded unit.

The first enemy air action occurred on the night of 27-28 April when a lone plane approached the beachhead from the west, flying low over the Torricelli Mountains. The plane made two runs over the harbor, dropped three 500-pound bombs and scored a hit on the USS Etamin, which settled at the stern but did not sink. One man was killed, five were missing and thirteen were wounded during this attack. Personnel abandoned the ship by way of small boats and received quarters and rations on shore. Later the crippled ship, which had been carrying gasoline and bombs but was early unloaded, was towed to the Admiralties. During the night of 28-29 April another red alert was sounded but no enemy planes appeared.

One battery of the 126th Field Artillery displaced forward on the morning of 29 April to support the action of Company L at Kamti. The remainder of the company had arrived to aid the surrounded platoon and in the ensuing skirmish killed nine Japs. During the night Company L repelled two enemy counterattacks.  At 1300 on 30 April another counter-attack forced Company L to withdraw, under cover of air and artillery support, to defensive positions near Margne.  Later that afternoon a platoon of Company K reinforced Company L and as darkness fell the situation was well in hand.

Company A (reinforced) departed from Aitape at 0800 on 30 April for Bes, a trail focal point seven miles to the southwest. The mission of this force was to block escape of the enemy to the west and to patrol this sector. During the night the artillery fired 240 rounds of harassing fire on the enemy at Kamti.

From 1-4 May aggressive patrolling was conducted in the vicinities of Serra, Bes and Kamti by Companies A, G and L. On 3 May the 32d Division arrived in the Aitape area and by the following day it had relieved elements of the 163d Regiment, which was moved to a staging area to await the next Allied move.