Chapter 9: The Bloody Butchers Strike

"The 41st Division butchers are at work again,” I screamed Radio Tokyo as the unhappy news of the latest Allied advances in the Southwest Pacific was announced to the residents of Nippon.  General Fuller was amused by the new nickname, first applied to the I63d Infantry, and quipped, “Nothing could make me happier.”

What great satisfaction this would have been to the late General White who had chided the newsmen because they could not find a nickname for his Division!  By 0600 on D-day the men had been fed and were lined in ranks along the railings and in every conceivable open spot above the deck. The stage was set and twenty-five thousand men on a hundred ships awaited the bloody dawn. Silently and gracefully the convoy slipped between the strange wall of islands that formed the channel into the clear water of Humboldt Bay.  Night was lifting, perceptibly, like a backdrop of a shifting scene in a play. Everyone stood quietly and only the grunts and gasps of men shifting their personal equipment, and the nervous whispering seemed to interrupt the noiseless coming of dawn. At this same moment men lined the rails of similar craft to the south, waiting to land on the sands of Aitape, while to the north another division stood silently as it watched Tanahmerah Bay evolve out of the lifting shadows of the night.

In the murky dawn of that 22 April the convoy lay within the bay. Admiral Barbey sent the Navy destroyers and the rocket-firing LCIs forward, as the cruisers took up their commanding positions on the convoy’s flanks and the large transports and LSTs began to lower their assault craft into the grey, still water. 

By 0625, a thousand antiaircraft guns were pointed to the heavens which were fast turning from darkness into the blue light of a new day. A thousand other guns were trained on the semicircular beaches, their palm fringes and the jungles that lay beyond. Five minutes later the silent, cool morning was ripped to shreds as the bombardment got under way. Shivering men moved their heads like spectators at a tennis match as they tried to comprehend every roaring phase of the attack. The blue-grey morning was alive with scarlet tracers and rafts of cloud-trailing rockets streaking into the already-burning shore. Yellow, searing flashes from the cruisers lit the skies like giant lightning flashes.  The destroyers and LCIs were swiftly approaching the shore line and were pouring a terrific concentration of fire into the Jap positions along Humboldt Bay. 

Before the naval bombardment was complete, wave upon wave of land-based Army Air Forces planes from Finschhafen and carrier-based Navy planes joined in the fight. They dove seemingly into the very jungle itself, only to rise again over the tree tops like startled geese, as they bombed and strafed everything in sight.  The beaches shook and waves of concussion rose visibly above the black smoke of destruction. The noise increased to Wagnerian proportions, and the soprano wail of the diving planes sang the weird score. 

By 0645 the initial waves of infantrymen were forming in their boats which were inscribing what seemed like hysterical circles in the bay. Precisely the same procedure was being followed at Aitape where the l63d Infantry Combat Team was landing, and at Tanahmerah Bay where the 24th Division was landing.  IVIost of the Japs who were left on Hollandia, and they were largely service troops, fled to the hills. As the air strike subsided the infantry, in its tiny LCIs, moved toward the shore while the destroyers continued the bombardment. The landing craft soon were obscured from those remaining behind by the low-hanging blanket of smoke. Landings were made at four points, designated as White Beaches 1, 2, 3 and 4. 

The 162d Infantry’s 3d Battalion, which made up the assault waves, landed at White Beach 1 without opposition.  The initial waves were followed by six tanks from the 603d Tank Company, elements of the 116th Engineers, the 146th Field Artillery, and the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 162d Regiment. Company E of the 162d Infantry had been attached to the 3d Battalion for the landing and after it was ashore it moved out along the edge of the mangrove swamp with the mission of cutting the Pim-Hollandia Track to the northwest of Pancake Hill.

There was a great deal of congestion on the beach since the only exit was extremely narrow. The tanks bogged down and it was impossible for the attack to proceed with the speed which had been anticipated.  Once the regiment was ashore it immediately formed for the attack and pushed inland. The 3d Battalion, after securing the beachhead, moved onto Pancake Hill to the north of the beach. The 2d Battalion began the move to the Pim-Hollandia Track, this move being used to serve as a screen for the main action, which was being made by the 186th Infantry against Leimok Hill.  The 3d Battalion continued its push north and sent Companies I and K along the beach route to take the heights overlooking Cape Tjoberi and Cape Jogoer.  The remainder of this battalion continued north toward Jarremoh Hill. By this time the 1st Battalion, which constituted the Division reserve, went into position on Pancake Hill.

By noon on D-day the 146th Field Artillery was successful in getting its howitzers dug in on Pancake Hill, the naked, shrubless knoll overlooking Humboldt Bay.  Pancake had a road which circled it and a branch road which cut up its side to the top. In order to get protection, the artillery pieces were nestled into one of the shoulders of the Hill; however, from the air they were very vulnerable.

One reinforced platoon from Company A, 162d Infantry, landed at H-hour on White Beach 2, captured and secured Dulcimer Hill , which overlooked the entrance to Jautefa Bay from the south end of the landing beach. After overcoming some slight resistance this company occupied the Cape Pie area.  Within a half hour after the initial assault waves had poured ashore, the first wounded were being returned to the troopships in the harbor by the small craft in which they had landed.

The landing had been made, the enemy had been engaged and once again history was recording the activities of the Jungleers as they fought and killed and were killed.  To the 162d Infantry was to fall the task of taking Hollandia Town, this being accomplished on the second day. Supporting this drive directly was the 146th Field Artillery; the 218th Field Artillery Battalion was furnishing general support to all forces.

The engineers had cleared the exit roads from the beaches but due to the rugged terrain and the swamp, rapid road construction was impossible and this program was abandoned temporarily.

In the early afternoon of D-day a reinforced platoon of the 1st Battalion seized Hamadi Island following a twenty-minute rocket barrage. At the same time the 3d Battalion was regrouping on the eastern slopes of Jarremoh Hill.

The 2d Battalion, which was moving westward toward the Pim-Hollandia Track, found the going very tough since the terrain was dense swamp, and by noon it had progressed only eight hundred yards, being forced to cut a trail most of this distance. Company G had taken a route more to the north and after several hours of hacking out a trail, the remainder of the 2d Battalion retraced its steps and followed the Company G route.

Meanwhile, Company E already had cut the Pim-Hollandia Track and was awaiting arrival of the 2d Battalion before proceeding north along the track.  When the 2d Battalion reached the trail it moved to the west slopes of Jarremoh Hill where it effected a junction with the 3d Battalion, this bringing to a close the first phase of the operation.

The 162d Infantry requested authority to move in and take Hollandia Town but was instructed to dig in at its present position for the night.

As the mellow dusk closed in on D-day, a single enemy bomber, too low for radar detection, flew in over Hollandia Town and White Beach 1 and dropped a string of four bombs on the beach. Three of the bombs resulted in great geysers of sand and water, but the fourth bomb made a direct hit on a Jap ammunition dump. The subsequent explosions ignited one of the landing force’s gasoline dumps, setting off in an instant a four-million-dollar fire which spread a thousand yards up and down the beach in a matter of minutes.

Some elements of the Division Artillery were caught on the beach that memorable night and at one time the guns of two battalions were seriously endangered. For two full days the fire burned furiously, destroying all ammunition, rations and a large quantity of engineering supplies. Throughout the night and following morning relief parties were formed but the intense heat drove back all efforts to salvage supplies. Additional medical men were called to the area to administer first aid and much effort was made to quarter and feed the many transients who were cut off from their units during the fiery night.

This was the first hostile air action of the campaign and it resulted in death to twenty-four soldiers and injury to more than a hundred as the fire spread along White Beaches 1 and 2. The only supplies left the task force were five hundred tons of ammunition and rations which had been landed at Beach 3. With this situation confronting them, the troops were ordered to go on half rations and an effort was made to expend only necessary amounts of ammunition. 

On the morning of 23 April, Hollandia was subjected to a bombardment from the air, from naval units standing off shore and from the artillery located on the heights to the south. Following this bombardment the 162d Infantry jumped off, with the 3d Battalion in the lead, and by noon it had passed through the town and was moving onto the high ground west of Imbi Bay.  Very little resistance was encountered and most enemy emplacements were found deserted. The objective of the 162d Infantry had been taken and the second phase line had been reached. Consolidation of positions and vigorous patrolling in the area north of Imbi Bay occupied the regiment until 28 April.

On 26 April, after a short artillery preparation, the 1st Battalion made a shore to shore movement across the mouth of Imbi Bay and landed on Cape Soedja with Companies A and C landing abreast. No resistance was encountered and by mid-morning Company C had swept across the cape, killed four Japs on Hill 640, and had occupied the ridges. The battalion swung to the north along the peninsula, eliminating small scattered enemy groups, and occupied an enemy field hospital.  Patrolling continued northwest along the coastal track.

On 28 April, the 2d Battalion, less Company G, moved to Hollekang by water and relieved elements of the 34th Infantry (24th Division).

The secondary objective of the 162d Infantry was Tami Drome, the airfield lying east of Humboldt Bay.  This field was located on a coastal flat, and was cut off from the Hollandia area by the Djar Mountains and the swamps around Hollekang. These terrain features made the activities in this sector more of a separate minor operation than a part of the main effort.  Two days after the landing two Alamo Scout Teams had reconnoitered the area and during a two-day period had located several scattered enemy groups. A party of 125 missionaries had been found and evacuated. 

On 27 April Company G of the 162d Infantry, reinforced with a platoon of machine guns, made an overwater movement from Hollandia Town to the beach north of the airdrome. The company swept the area toward the field and made no enemy contacts. Company G then provided security for the engineer units working on the drome and on 1 May enemy harassing forces, composed largely of individual snipers, became very active and the troops available were unable to provide adequate protection for the work details.

Company G requested reinforcement and was relieved by the 2d Battalion of the 34th Infantry which cleared the area by vigorous patrolling while Company G went back to rejoin the 162d Regiment at Hollekang.  While the 162d Infantry was moving north to overrun its objective, Hollandia Town, the 186th Infantry was moving westward to capture two of the three airdromes which were the prime objectives of the landing force.

Elements of the 1st Battalion landed on White Beach 1 in the third wave and proceeded north and west around Mangrove Swamp until they reached the Pim-Hollandia Track. They followed this trail south until they reached Leimok Hill . Meanwhile, Company I had landed on White Beach 3 at H-hour, seized Cape Tjeweri and blocked the peninsula from the south.  Cannon Company followed closely on the heels of Company I and blasted the slight resistance of three enemy positions. Company I then advanced south along the beach to a point two miles from Cape Tjeweri.

Shortly after it had landed. Company I was accidentally strafed by American planes, four men being killed and twelve wounded. Lack of communications prevented the company commander from requesting a halt to the strafing.

Two platoons of 4.2-inch mortars which had landed at Cape Pie were laying down a smoke screen across Jautefa Bay. The 3d Battalion, using Buffaloes and LVTs, passed through the narrow channel between Cape Pie and Cape Tjeweri and landed at the foot of Leimok Hill . The hill was too steep for the Buffaloes but the troops unloaded, fanned out and advanced up the slope unopposed.

The 2d Battalion, less some of its component units, landed at White Beach 1 and passed to Division re-serve. By late afternoon it had established a roadblock on the Pim-Hollandia Track. That night five Japs came along the trail, moving south, with two soldiers of the 162d Infantry in their custody. A 2d Battalion outpost killed one Jap while the other four took to the woods, leaving the American prisoners hiding in the jungles, where they were recovered the following morning.

The 186th Regiment was receiving direct support from the 205th Field Artillery and two companies of 4.2-inch chemical mortars of the 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion. Cape Pie offered the only suitable observation point and firing positions so the artillery was concentrated there. Several antiaircraft artillery units came ashore, but with egress from the beaches being blocked, all these batteries went into position along the shore line.

Early on the second morning the 1st Battalion of the 162d Infantry relieved the 2d Battalion at the roadblock position on the Pim-Hollandia Track. The 186th Infantry, spearheaded by the 3d Battalion, made a move down the trail. With support from the air, this column of battalions brushed aside the few enemy disposed to dispute this advance and by evening the 3d Battalion had reached a point a mile beyond Brinkman’s Plantation. At that point. Company I rejoined the battalion, its position on Cape Tjeweri having been taken over by the 41st Reconnaissance Troop. The 1st Battalion closely supported this movement and went into position about two miles northwest of Brinkman’s Plantation.

During the afternoon. Companies A and C repulsed a series of counterattacks launched against the perimeter by a force estimated to be 150 Japs.  The 3d Battalion was to move by LVTs on 24 April via Sentani Lake to capture Cyclops Drome. However, in moving up to the front area the LVTs bogged down in the swampy road and it became apparent that they would not arrive in time to make the attack. The 3d Battalion resumed its advance on the morning of 24 April, winding its way into the rugged hills east of Sentani Lake. Supporting artillery displaced forward as closely as the terrain would permit.

However, lack of transportation prevented the 4.2-inch mortars from displacing forward and they did not rejoin the regiment after the first day of fighting. The terrain was extremely favorable to defense and the somewhat demoralized enemy made some use of it. Such defensive positions as were encountered consisted of locally organized centers of resistance, based on dugouts and pillboxes. These isolated positions fell readily to the combined efforts of the artillery and infantry and as lengthening shadows began to fall the 3d Battalion had reached Koejaboe, on the eastern tip of Lake Sentani.  Some of the 24th Division artillery was moved to a position where it could lay fire on the drome areas.  The 186th Infantry started out to take Nefaar, southeast of Cyclops Drome, on 25 April.

Rather than pound its way through the swamps and rugged terrain, the regiment resorted to amphibious tactics. At 0800 the 1st Battalion loaded into Buffaloes and moved across the northern part of the lake, making the landing and securing the village by noon. The remaining battalions continued the overland movement along the shore road against steadily diminishing resistance. The regiment now was in position to lash out at the airdromes, but it was ordered to stand fast until the 24th Division Artillery lifted fire from the area.

By this date the 34th Infantry Combat Team had landed on White Beach 3 and was taking over the defense of the Pim area.  By the morning of 26 April, everything was in readiness for the assault on the dromes. The 205th and 218th Artillery Battalions were ready to give direct support, breaking up every enemy effort to make a defensive stand. Cyclops Drome was assigned to the 1st Battalion while the 3d Battalion swung down the lake shore to strike at Sentani Drome from the southeast.  The 3d Battalion was held in reserve.

The assault got under way at 0900 and in less than two hours Cyclops Drome had fallen while Sentani came under Allied control shortly before noon. In both cases only minor resistance was encountered. Defensive organization of the two fields was begun immediately and patrols moved out towards the Hollandia strip. By late afternoon a 1st Battalion patrol made contact with a 24th Division patrol and the junction of the two divisions completed the pincers movement and brought into American hands all the primary objectives, these having been taken just four days after the landing.

There was, however, some mopping up to do and the regiment took up the task of clearing the sector of scattered enemy groups and consolidating for defense.  Company K, operating in Buffaloes, made a comprehensive patrol of Sentani Lake, putting parties ashore to investigate Poegi and Ase Islands and the vicinity of Ajapo, on the south shore of the lake. The patrol found no enemy and returned to its starting point at Ifaar.

An estimated four hundred Japs were reported in a strong defensive pocket on Hill 1000, northeast of Cyclops Drome on 27 April. Companies B and C attacked the position the following day but were repulsed after they had killed an estimated fifty Japs.  These two companies withdrew under a 350-round artillery barrage. They then took up their original positions until 29 April when the entire 1st Battalion, on the heels of five artillery concentrations, launched a determined assault and overran the enemy, killing some seventy-two by rifle fire while an undetermined number were killed by artillery fire.

Revised estimates placed 150 enemy troops on the hill and the attack continued about one thousand yards beyond Hill 1000 where the enemy dispersed. One company set up defenses on the south slope of the hill while the remainder of the battalion returned to the regimental area. Patrolling and consolidating activities continued through 4 May.  The veterans of Sanananda and Salamaua had found little “butchering” to do at Hollandia.

The Japs had missed a golden opportunity. Some officers predicted that the enemy, if he had any imagination at all, could have kept the Allies away from the three airdromes for a month. However, captured documents and testimony by prisoners confirmed the contention that just prior to the landing the bulk of the enemy garrison had moved to Wewak where the Jap expected the next Allied thrust.

High-ranking Army and Navy officers who had witnessed the landing described it as the perfect amphibious assault. It went off, some said, just like a maneuver and casualties v/ere extremely light. General Mac-Arthur, who twice before had praised the veteran 41st Division, was on hand to see it perform. He directed and observed the landings from the deck of a Navy cruiser and later in the morning went ashore to inspect the beach and Pancake Hill.

Pancake Hill had been thick with red mud which made it tough for the artillery to move its weapons into position. However, when this mud dried and turned to dust it blew down throats, up noses, and into food and machinery. Long after the Hollandia campaign had ended and the 41st Division had plunged ashore on coral-white Biak, red dust still could be found.  Communications during the early stages of the operation had been very poor. To alleviate this condition wire had been laid over steep, muddy jungle tracks while another line had been laid under water from Beach 1 to Beach 4. Both of these lines failed, however.  It is worth noting that the Japs were surrendering more readily than they ever had. In one case a soldier interrupted seventeen unarmed Japs who immediately surrendered and were marched off to the stockade at Nefaar. Most of the Japs here were service troops and very much disgusted with things in general. All during the campaign groups of Indian soldiers, who had been captured by the Japs at Singapore and were being used as laborers, were captured or came wandering into American lines.

Ten days after the landings at Hollandia plans for future operations already were getting under way. General Fuller and several members of his staff boarded one of the Navy ships at noon on 2 May for a conference which would take the 41st Division another step along the way on the road to Tokyo and final victory.  The 24th Division began to relieve the Jungleers and took over the defense of the Tanahmerah Bay-Humboldt Bay-Tami Airdrome while the 41st Division began moving into a staging area near Hollekang.